Tuesday, April 30, 2013

C2E2 2013: This year, it all comes together

This past weekend, I attended the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, and while it looks like it's going to take the better part of a week to recover, any suffering was completely worth it, given the wealth of comics-related experiences that were had over the weekend. As ever, there was more to do and see than was humanly possible, including seeing what comics creators and publishers had to offer; discovering new talents and products; shopping for comics, toys, clothes, art, and most anything else you could think of; attending panel discussions on a variety of subjects; gawking at the eccentrically-attired (the most popular costumes this year seemed to be related to Adventure Time and Doctor Who, and I also spotted a large number of women clad in dresses patterned after Star Wars' R2D2 and Who's TARDIS), playing games of the board or video variety; or just wandering around in awe of everything that was happening. It could have lasted for several more days without exhausting all the possibilities.

Now in its fourth year, C2E2 seems to have settled into a groove, with the organizers having figured out what type of show they want to put on, with an emphasis on comics but the inclusion of nerdery from all across the pop-culture spectrum. The show floor was organized especially well this year, with prominent booths from major publishers and other entertainment companies accessible right inside the entrance, then various retailers grouped together in an intuitive manner (sellers with long-boxes full of comics and graphic novels or tables full of original art were in one section, while purveyors of toys, shirts, and other tchotchkes were in another) and sections like Artist Alley or the autograph tables not shoved too far off to the side. It didn't feel like you had to walk great distances to get from one area to another, but it wasn't overly crowded or prone to bottlenecks either, and everything had an appealing, welcoming feel. For this size of a convention, it definitely seemed like the ideal setup.

There were a couple new sub-sections of the show floor, including "The Block", which featured "lifestyle brands whose products include fashion, collectible designer toys, art and illustration, independent magazine publications, animation, tech, entertainment, and more!" In practice, this made for a more artsy version of the types of Artist Alley booths that sell flashy prints, and also a lot of t-shirts, expensive toys, and stuffed animals. Aside from the Nerd City booth, which featured artists Dave Crosland and Jim Mahfood, this wasn't really my scene, but it was interesting to see a portion of the show floor dedicated to merchandise that wasn't necessarily related to the typical nerd/geek/superhero subject matter.

More interesting, at least to me, was a section of booths dedicated to video games of the "indie" variety. Games made by small teams of developers have been a thriving scene in recent years, so making room to spotlight the endeavors of these talented creators is a great addition to the show. One definite highlight was the fighting game spoof Dive Kick, which pares the often complex mechanics of the genre down to two buttons ("dive" and "kick", of course), involves a bunch of imaginatively cartoony characters, and ends up being a highly enjoyable game to play. There were plenty of other nice-looking games on display, ranging from polished Ipad games like Le Vamp; to labors of love like Organ Trail, Delve Deeper, and Ray's the Dead; to interesting tech demos like Planet's Core. These aren't comics, but as another example of creativity and innovation, they definitely have a place in a show like this.

One definite highlight was meeting the French artist Boulet, who was only at the convention for a couple hours, signing and sketching in the autograph area of the show. He had copies of his 24 hour comic Noirness for sale, and he was happy to chat with everyone who was waiting in line. Watching him draw was a real treat; he didn't do any pencil pre-sketching, but inked directly onto the page, making for a virtuosic display of talent as the images took form. He seemed fascinated by the convention atmosphere, but not in a snooty French way; he was genuinely interested in the other celebrities who were appearing nearby, like an actor who played one of the Power Rangers, or Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor. He even recognized the performance of the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that was taking place on a nearby stage. Getting to meet him was a real treat, and I hope C2E2 continues to invite foreign cartoonists in future years, whether from France, Japan, or elsewhere.

As someone who likes my comics conventions to be about comics, I usually avoid celebrity appearances, but I love Patton Oswalt, the comedian, actor, and all-around nerd extraordinaire, so I was excited to attend the Q&A that he did in the convention's huge theater. He fit in well with the show's atmosphere, since he is renowned for his geeky enthusiasm, and he held forth on any number of subjects, from his much-watched scene on a recent episode of Parks and Recreation in which he played a character who filibustered a city council meeting with a description of what he thought the plot of the next Star Wars movie should be (amusingly, while he was parodying the type of pedantic nerd who obsesses over details of comics and sci-fi franchises, he still received a lot of comments correcting the details he got wrong or complaining that he said that Hawkeye wasn't a top-tier member of the Avengers), to his actual hopes that J.J. Abrams will deliver a quality Star Wars sequel. The room was packed with hundreds of people, and Oswalt had them eating out of his hand, demonstrating his shared enthusiasm toward their tastes, mocking the extreme passions that we all have toward the silly things we love, and just generally being hilarious. He was generous and warm with questions from the audience, and he occasionally stopped in mid-sentence to read tweets from fellow comedian Brian Posehn, who was in the audience sending him insulting comments like "This Kenny Baker panel sucks" and "If they add a foot, you can play Puck from Alpha Flight". I especially liked the words of encouragement which he gave the multiple people who asked for advice on how to break into stand-up comedy, acting, or filmmaking; his repeated words of wisdom were to keep doing what they want to do until they get good at it, and eventually success will come. It's inspiring to see someone who is so fiercely intelligent and funny do what he can to encourage those who share his interests. If I'm going to get star-struck by a famous personality, Oswalt is my celebrity of choice.

Of the various panels I attended, I was surprised that my favorite one was "The Chew Panel", a simple hour of chat between John Layman and Rob Guillory, creators of the Image Comics series about a government agent who gets psychic impressions from the food he eats and has adventures in a crazy world in which a bird flu epidemic has made chicken illegal, the FDA and USDA are the most powerful governmental bodies, aliens are meddling with humanity's food supply, and people with other bizarre food-based powers are causing all sorts of problems. It's a highly enjoyable series with a lot of personality, and seeing the creators talk about how it came to be and their methods of working together was not only an enlightening look behind the scenes, but also an inspiring example of a labor of love finding the success it deserves. Layman jumped right into the panel by answering the question that was sure to be asked, revealing that the rumored live action TV adaptation of the series was dead. Showtime had bought the rights to the series (although Layman repeatedly mentioned that he and Guillory never saw any actual money), thinking that it would make a good companion piece to Dexter, but the premise was altered so much by the development process, with the bird flu angle being scrapped, new characters being inserted, and lots of sex being added, that it was nearly unrecognizable. A pilot was shot, but it will probably never see the light of day, and Showtime is no longer interested in doing the series. Layman and Guillory always felt that one of the basic gags of the series, that of the main character being forced to eat disgusting things, just might not work in live action the way it does on paper, coming off as gross and unsettling rather than funny. That said, they are currently working on producing an animated adaptation that they feel would work much better.

But as interesting as an adaptation of the series might be, the comic is quite enjoyable and successful in its original incarnation, and Layman and Guillory related the story of how it came to be. It was an idea that Layman had been wanted to do for years, but it was so weird and kind of gross that he didn't think there was any way it could be successful. After years of trying to find somebody to publish it, he convinced Image to put it out, provided he could find an artist. He ended up being connected with Guillory through a mutual friend, but even then the partnership almost didn't work out due to the latter initially attempting a Vertigo style of artwork, which was darker and less funny than what Layman had in mind. Layman encouraged Guillory to draw in his own preferred style, which ended up being perfect, but even when the series finally came out, neither of them expected it to be successful. They thought that they might be able to do a single arc of five or six issues before getting cancelled, and then maybe get a chance to revive the series later on, but they were an unexpected success, which has allowed them to really do everything they wanted, building the story across more than thirty issues to date, and heading toward a planned conclusion in issue #60. It was fascinating to see how well the two creators seemed to click, with Layman quickly gaining such confidence in Guillory's work that he has become a true collaborator on the series, contributing his own ideas for characters and jokes and adding a huge number of gags and easter eggs in the background of the artwork. They're obviously very passionate about what they do, and they're having such a blast telling the stories they want to tell that one can't help but be inspired.

And, as at any convention, there was much, much more to do and see. One could wander Artist Alley for the entire show, discovering amazing artwork and comics and seeing things like, to name just one example among hundreds, Jill Thompson painting a beautiful picture of Morpheus:

You could wander through the retailer section and stumble across the most impressive collection of original comics art I've ever seen, featuring work from the likes of Jack Kirby, Chris Ware, R. Crumb, Alex Toth, Jim Woodring, Los Bros Hernandez, Johnny Ryan, Daniel Clowes, Seth, Tony Millionaire, Richard Sala, and many other great artists:

You could stumble across a full-scale replica of Speed Racer's car, the Mach 5:

Or see people dressed as Godzilla:

Or the house from Up:

You could find people who were coming up with interesting new ideas around comics and technology, like the graphic novel Anomaly, which was wowing people with an "augmented reality" app that allows one to point their Iphone or Ipad at its pages and see figures appear to jump out of the pages:

You could even see somebody dressed as Pikachu drawing an apparent self-portrait on a giant touch screen, as a promotion for something called Twistory:

There's no end of stuff to do, sights to see, and people to interact with at C2E2. I can't wait until I get to experience it all again next year.

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