Very sorry to say I’m not in San Diego this week for Comic-Con. But some of my best friends are.
I’m told the people do hold comics and sequential art confabs on this side of the Atlantic – both here in the UK as well as in the countries that can’t speak English – and I’ll be getting to as many of those as I can. But there is, as we well know, only one Comic-Con.
Actually, there are two Comic-Cons now, aren’t there? There is a spring-time New York Comic-Con. But this is not the real Comic-Con, no. It is a pale and wretched East Coast imitation, concocted purely as a money-making venture.
Of course, I really want to go some time.
But being thousands of miles away still isn’t going to stop me from trying to push you around. Of course, Comic-Con’s got endless panoplies of stuff to see, do, learns, but if you’re an artist or writer looking for some enlightenment, I recommend:
Thursday, July 26
11:30-12:30 Too Much Coffee Man Opera— The Too Much Coffee Man Opera is laid bare as Shannon Wheeler details his experience with the high art of opera. Is this the first opera to be based on a comic book? What does the opera community think of it? How did it come about? Is it in English or Italian? How did it get performed at one of the most respectable performance spaces in Portland? Will there be a sequel? Will it be go “on the road”? Does Shannon sing in it? Is there nudity? These questions and more will be answered by a whiskey-drinking Shannon Wheeler
1:30-2:30 Blade Runner and More— Syd Mead will be on hand in person to recall his experiences while working on the motion picture Blade Runner and to introduce his newest DVD release: Visual Futurist: The Art & Life of Syd Mead. The DVD takes the viewer behind the scenes and beyond the images he created for this film as well as Tron, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, private 747s, games, yachts, cars, and a seemingly endless list of major design projects around the world. Syd looks forward to entertaining questions and providing his unique perspective on topics of design for the film industry. Joining him will be Paul M. Sammon, author of Future Noir: The making of Blade Runner, the definitive book on its subject. Paul will add his own anecdotes about BR’s creation while divulging new details about his brand-new Second Edition Future Noir, due for publication in late 2007. Room 6B
3:00-4:00 DC: Crossing Over— These days it seems like all roads lead to comics, whether they’re a stop on the road to other media or a final destination. The incredible media talent crossing into the comic book world has had an enormous impact. On hand to discuss their paths are Cecil Castellucci (The Plain Janes), Paul Dini (Countdown, Detective Comics), Christos N. Gage (Stormwatch PHD), Greg Rucka (52, Checkmate), Steve Niles (Batman: County Line), Mark Verheiden (Superman/Batman), and Gregory Noveck, DC’s Senior VP of Creative Affairs! Room 5AB
Friday, July 27
11:00-12:00 She/He Who Understands History Gets to Rewrite It— Authors discuss how an appreciation of world history and modern events as well as mythology influences and colors their worlds of fantasy, science fiction, and alternate realities. Panelists Jacqueline Carey (Kushiel’s Legacy series), David Anthony Durham (Acacia: Book One: The War with the Mein ), David Keck (In the Eye of Heaven), Harry Turtledove ( Settling Accounts: In at the Death), Peter David (Darkness of the Light), R.A. Salvatore (The Ancient), and Mel Odom (Quest for the Trilogy) adapt and build on world events for their own purposes. Maryelizabeth Hart of Mysterious Galaxy moderates. Room 8
2:30-4:00 Dimension Films: Halloween and The Mist— Join acclaimed musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses) and several cast members in a special preview of Zombie’s entirely new take on the highly successful and terrifying Halloween legacy that began in 1978. While revealing a new chapter in the established Michael Myers saga, the film will surprise both classic and modern horror fans with a departure from prior films in the Halloween franchise. Brace yourself for unprecedented fear as Zombie turns back time to uncover the making of a pathologically disturbed, even cursed child named Michael Myers. Halloween comes early this year—opening everywhere on August 31, 2007.
4:00-5:00 Lessons from Masters in Visual Storytelling – Marshall Vandruff will show how such masters of comic art as Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland) and Harvey Kurtzman (MAD) brought images and story structure together that form a foundation for all visual storytelling, including children’s books, animation, and film. This session is part of the Crash-Course in Sequential Art being offered next weekend at The Art Institute of California, San Diego. Room 30CDE
(I highly recommend Marshall’s seminar. If you’re a visual artist of any kind seeking to perfect your skills, Marshall Vandruff is the man for you! Ask Bernie Wrightson if I lie!)
Saturday, July 28
10:30-11:30 Meet the Press: Writing About Comics— From blogs to books to magazines, the public conversation about comics is livelier—and faster—than it’s ever been. Heidi MacDonald (Publishers Weekly), Nisha Gopalan (Entertainment Weekly), Tom Spurgeon (The Comics Reporter), Tom McLean (Variety), Graeme McMillan (The Savage Critics), and moderator Douglas Wolk (Reading Comics) discuss the state of the art of comics criticism. Room 3
12:00-1:00 Minx: Evocative and Fearless— Learn more about DC’s newest imprint Minx, with Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg, the creators of the very first Minx book, The Plain Janes! They are joined by Mike Carey (Re-Gifters, Confessions of a Blabbermouth), Sonny Liew (Re-Gifters), Aaron Alexovich (Confessions of a Blabbermouth, Kimmie66), Minx group editor Shelly Bond, and some surprise new faces! Room 8 2:30-4:00 Remembering Caniff and Canyon: 100/60— Panelists Harry Guyton (Milton Caniff Estate), R. C. Harvey (Meanwhile…A Biography of Milton Caniff), Denis Kitchen (Steve Canyon Magazine), Russ Maheras (Steve Canyon 50th Anniversary comic strip), Diana Doalson (Milton Caniff’s grandniece), and John Ellis (Steve Canyon DVD producer) will offer a rollicking remembrance of all things Caniff! Includes the first public screening of the restored 1959 NBC Steve Canyon episode “Operation Intercept”
4:00-5:00 Two Rays: Bradbury and Harryhausen— Two of the living legends of science fiction and fantasy reunite in this Comic- Con exclusive event! Author Ray Bradbury and filmmaker Ray Harryhausen share a life-long friendship and passionate interest in all things fantastic. Joining them are Bradbury biographer Sam Weller and Harryhausen producer Arnold Kunert. Room 6CDEF
Sunday, July 29
10:30-11:45 Jack Kirby Tribute— Let’s face it: when it comes to comics, it’s Kirby’s World and we just live in it. 2007 has seen a bumper crop of Kirby projects, including the first volume of DC’s deluxe chronological reprinting of all the Fourth World stories, a major documentary about Jack on the Fantastic Four DVD, and Mark Evanier’s upcoming art book Kirby, King of Comics. Join Evanier as he talks to Neil Gaiman, Erik Larsen, Darwyn Cooke, Mike Royer, and members of the Kirby family about the lasting influence of the undisputed King of comics. Room 1AB
11:30-1:00 Comics Are Not Literature— For years, comics have presented themselves as a new kind of literature—but cartooning isn’t prose, and graphic novels aren’t novels. What if conflating comics with “literary” storytelling is a terrible mistake? Douglas Wolk (Reading Comics) moderates what should be a contentious discussion with Cecil Castellucci (The PLAIN Janes), Dan Nadel (PictureBox Inc.), Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible), Paul Tobin (Spider-Man Family), and Sara Ryan (The Rules for Hearts). Room 8
2:30-4:00 Starship Smackdown Ultimate Episode 4: The Final Showdown— A Comic-Con favorite returns with ships, aliens, computers, and robots, oh my! The original Starship Smackdown is back in San Diego and it’s never been smackier (or snarkier). Watch as the Enterprise battles Gort, Robby the Robot goes mano e mano with Hal 9000, and Death Star does the Klingon Empire. It’s the ultimate conflagration for the supreme winner of Starship Smackdown. This time it’s war, with an expert panel of spaceship-ologists, including Robert Meyer Burnett (director, Free Enterprise), Chris Gossett (creator, The Red Star), Steve Melching (writer, Star Wars: Clone Wars, X-Men Animated, The Batman), Daren Dochterman (Hollywood conceptual designer on Get Smart, X2, Master & Commander), Jeff Bond (editor, Geek Monthly), and the Richard Dawson of the stars, moderator Mark A. Altman (producer, DOA: Dead Or Alive). It’s Starship Smackdown, Robot Rumble, Alien Armageddon, and Computer Crashdown all in one 90-minute panel! Our prediction for the fight: pain! Room 2
I had the privilege of interviewing Mike Carey, writer of “X-Men” and the “Sandman” spin-off “Lucifer”, as well as creator of the Felix Castor series of horror/detective novels by Orbit Books. Mike has also recently written “Re-Gifters” for DC Comics’ new “Minx” imprint of graphic novels for teen girls. His third Felix Castor book, “Dead Men’s Boots”, will be available this September.
NEAL ROMANEK: How did you become involved in DC’s Minx line and “Re-Gifters”? Did you have to employ any new tools to write specifically for a young female audience?
MIKE CAREY: It was less of a stretch than it looks. I’d already written “My Faith In Frankie” (Vertigo), of course, and that gave me a chance to exercise these particular muscles – to try out writing for a younger audience or at least in a “teen fiction” mode. I really enjoyed it and I was hugely satisfied with the result. Then when Shelly invited me to pitch for Minx, her first suggestion was that I could team up with Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel – bringing the Frankie creative team back together again. We already knew each other’s strengths and foibles, and we’d already got into a really good work groove on that first outing, so pitching “Re-Gifters” didn’t feel like much of a leap at all. It was very much a question of applying the “Frankie” aesthetic to a different – non-fantasy – context. Structure wasn’t an issue because we knew that Sonny could take style shifts and flashbacks and multiple points of view in his stride. So we pulled out all the stops. “Re-Gifters” is “Frankie” with a bigger core cast and a bigger canvas. Well, that’s not true, of course, because “Frankie” also had that element of playing on mythological themes and questions of religious belief. In “Re-Gifters” that wider dimension is much more subliminally present in the relationships between the different L.A. subcultures and the protagonist’s trying to find her niche within that complex web of relationships. But what I mean is that we knew where we were going, and we knew how we wanted to get there. There was never a phase of sitting around and asking ourselves “How are we going to do this?” Clearly, though, the narrative techniques are very different from my superhero work and from most of my Vertigo work. That was part of the fun.
NEAL ROMANEK: As your career has progressed, and the popular media industry with it, how have your attitudes and your approaches changed?
MIKE CAREY:I guess the big difference is that I’m writing for a living now. When I started out, and way, way into my run on “Lucifer”, I was a teacher who wrote in the evenings and at weekends, around the edges of a very demanding job. Then I made the big jump – as two smaller jumps, because at the college’s invitation I took a sabbatical before I quit teaching for good – and for the past five years I’ve just been doing this, full-time. That was a huge change in my life, and at first it was hard to adjust. Obviously I began to take on a bigger volume of work, but that’s never really been a problem: what was weird was sitting at home, waving my wife off to the office and my kids to school, and then hammering away at the keyboard in a room by myself for eight hours.
But that’s just logistical stuff, obviously, and you get used to it. In a more significant sense, I had to start seeing writing as a career rather than a hobby and I had to start making decisions about where I was going, what I was aiming for. That didn’t come naturally to me: I’m both a disorganised person and a retiring one, so I don’t push hard towards specific goals, treading the slow and the unwary under my feet. My instinct is to keep plugging away and wait for things to happen, which was why it took me so long to progress from comics journalism into comic scriptwriting. I’m still not aggressive: but I do have more of a sense of direction now, even if it wavers a lot.
NEAL ROMANEK: What’s the biggest roadblock you’ve had to face as a writer?
MIKE CAREY:Probably the biggest crisis came quite early on in my relationship with DC. I wrote “The Morningstar Option” for Alisa Kwitney, and in the process became very good friends with her – which was hard not to do because she was an inspirational and very supportive editor. But then Alisa took maternity leave and left Vertigo – as it turned out permanently – and I didn’t know anyone else at DC from Adam. Or Eve. There was a very real danger that I’d suddenly find myself on the outside looking in again, losing all the ground I’d gained. Two things saved me. One was that Alisa commissioned a second miniseries – “Petrefax” – from me before she left DC, giving me a lifeline and an ongoing link to Vertigo for at least four months. And the other was that I made the decision to go to San Diego that year for Comic-Con and made contact with Shelly Bond, who edited me on a short story for the Flinch horror anthology and ultimately commissioned the “Lucifer” ongoing. I stayed in the game, in other words – with the help of two exceptional editors. And everything since, as far as my career is concerned, has really followed on from the decisions of that time.
NEAL ROMANEK:There’s the adage: “It’s not enough to have talent, you must have a talent for having talent.” So how do you operate as the Mike Carey “brand”, as a business person who may sometimes have to act and think differently from the author?
MIKE CAREY:I think you develop a kind of double-vision where – even while you’re immersed in one project – part of your mind is always engaged in racking up the next one. That’s a change that comes about as soon as you’re relying on your writing income: you worry about gaps, about periods when there’s nothing happening, so you try to keep them as short and infrequent as you can. I’m always talking to editors, and I’m always throwing out pitches or jotting down rough ideas for possible stories. Having said that, though, I know a lot of creators who are much more pro-active, much more aggressive than I am in doing that stuff – who set up and maintain the brand with great skill and great dedication. I’m kind of ham-fisted at it, if I’m honest. And I do the bits of it that come easy to me, like writing the blog and chatting on the occasional message board, and doing signings every so often. Stuff that looks daunting I shamelessly duck.
The part of marketing that I enjoy most is going to cons. I don’t really regard that as work, because my own inner fan-boy is still alive and well and any sci-fi or comics convention is going to provide me with a lot of pleasure and diversion. But it does also get you onto people’s radar, so in that sense it’s a promotional thing.
NEAL ROMANEK:The communications revolution has affected the balance of power in all areas of business. Do you see UK and European popular media changing in prominence or influence? Or do you suppose there’ll be more consolidation of US influence, with stuff farmed out to international artists?
MIKE CAREY: I think the hegemony of the US media is very deeply entrenched now, across the globe. And speaking as an English writer working overwhelmingly for US publishers, I can see exactly how this process works – at least in a niche market like comics. The truth is, although there is still arguably a UK comics market, there probably isn’t a living to be made in it. Certainly not for a writer, anyway. If you get in at 2000AD, you may end up writing a regular strip for them: but that means five or six pages a week, at forty or fifty quid a page, for however long the strip lasts – then a frantic round of pitching and developing to get the next strip up and running. It’s fine when you’re young and unencumbered, but it’s not going to get you all that far in the longer term. A lot of people see that as just a calling card for the American market, because there’s nowhere to progress to in the British market. Literally nowhere.
Having said that, European publishers like Humanoids and Soleil are making increasing use of British creators: unlike the UK they have a robust domestic market that scarcely intersects at all with the market for translated American books. So DC and Marvel rule the roost but they’re not the only game in town – and I don’t think we’re seeing a gradual process of cultural saturation and colonisation. It amazed me when I was at the Lille Comics Festival last year to see how the three audiences – for US superhero books, for the home-grown “Franco-Belge” strips, and for Manga – exist side by side and are even served to some extent by separate specialty shops.
NEAL ROMANEK:What have been your observations of “New Authorship”, with creators working easily across multiple media – in your case, films, prose, comics. Is there a real falling away of specialization – or pigeonholing? Or has it always been this way?
MIKE CAREY:It’s probably always been there. Look at how many successful novelists have written movie screenplays, going way back to the fifties. It’s almost inevitable, if you’re making a name for yourself in one creative field, that you’ll eventually get noticed and get offers from adjacent ones.
The degree of inter-penetration we’re seeing now though strikes me as something new, if only because it’s been formalised and institutionalised. San Diego Comic-Con has so many movie and TV people in attendance now that the straight comics stuff has come to seem almost like an off-shoot. DC and Marvel are aggressively recruiting novelists to write books for them, both because it’s a fair bet that they’ll already know how to write and because they bring fresh perspectives with them. Not to mention dedicated fan bases in a lot of cases.
I don’t see this as a bad thing. Very few writers in my experience think of the medium they work in as their natural home or as the limit of their ambitions. Most writers like telling stories, and most writers like to experiment: I know generalisations are dangerous but I believe those things to be true. The medium may be the message, in a lot of cases – has to be, in a lot of cases – but for that very reason, if you’ve got something different to say you’ll often reach out for a different medium to say it in.
NEAL ROMANEK:What’s the most practical lesson you’ve learned? The thing you’ve used most in improving your craft?
MIKE CAREY:This isn’t my insight – it’s Peter Gross’s (artist “Lucifer”, “Chosen”, et al)- but I quote it all the time because it’s so useful as a mantra when you’re breaking into the business and when you’re trying to establish a name for yourself.
Peter says there are three qualities that it’s desirable for a comics creator to have: to be really good, really quick or really nice. To be all three of those things would be great, but any two will do. It’s the honest-to-God truth.
NEAL ROMANEK: Will we see you this July at Comic-Con?
MIKE CAREY: I should be tacking between the Hachette, Marvel, DC and Virgin booths, and I expect I’ll have signing sessions at all three. Don’t know if I’ll be on a panel, but I’ll do it if I’m asked. On the floor… man, SDCC is so huge these days that you’re unlikely to meet the same person twice in the aisles over the whole week. But it is right at the end of a three-week signing tour for me, so I’ll be the guy who looks like a used dishrag.
The submission guidelines for the Comic-Con 2007’s Souvenir Book are posted. You have only two weeks left to get your illustrations, articles, tributes submitted.
Last year, Comic-Con – and it’s Souvenir Book – celebrated the 100th birthday of Conan creator Robert E. Howard – read the rabbit + crow Robert E. Howard tribute) – the 75th anniversary of “Dick Tracy”, and the 50th anniversary of the debut of The Flash – which some would argue begins the so-called “Silver Age” of American comic books.
A few themes of this year’s convention, which runs from July 26 – 29, to be featured in the Souvenir Book:
100th Birthday of artist Milton Caniff, creator of “Terry and the Pirates” and “Steve Canyon”
“For 38 years, Comic-Con has produced a Souvenir Book that commemorates the event. Over the past few years this book has grown to be a 160-page wonder, chockfull of articles, art, special guests’ biographies, and more. Best of all, it’s given free to all attendees, along with the separate show schedule, the all-important Events Guide.
Each year, Comic-Con solicits articles and artwork from professionals and fans alike, based on the anniversaries and themes we’re celebrating (see the list above).
The deadline for submissions is April 16, 2007. Artwork and text pieces cannot be accepted after April 16.”
Still more photos of the crashing, bashing, grunting combat demonstrations by the Society for Creative Anachronism at Comic-Con 2006 in San Diego last month. Afternoon temperatures topped 100 degrees fahrenheit.
Three times they showed the exclusive teaser-trailer. Three times the audience went wild. And three times I said to myself: “This is my favorite movie of the 21st century.”
I have only perused Frank Miller’s book in the store, never really sat down to read it beginning-to-end, which is odd, considering that the subject matter – 300 Spartan warriors trying to hold off the entire invading Persian army (the original “Alamo” story) – is in every way my milieu of choice. Zack Snyder emphasized that his primary intention was to be faithful to the style and tone of the original graphic novel. So I’m thinking I better not read it, because I don’t want anything to jeopardize my enjoyment of the movie when it comes out.
Of course, I was very excited by the “Van Helsing” (2004) teaser when it was shown at Comic-Con. And “Van Helsing” turned out to be one of my least favorite movies – so far – of the 21st century. But I trust Zack Snyder. His “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) remake was spot-on – new and innovative, or doggedly adherent to the rituals of the genre, depending on the need.
Attending the Comic-Con Q&A, first thing Saturday morning, were Frank Miller himself, actors Gerald Butler and David Wenham and director Snyder.
I have been desperately trying to locate the teaser on the Internet, to no avail. Surely someone in that 5000 seat hall must have ignored the warning against videotaping any of the big-screen portions of the program. Someone. Hey, you out there. Email me. I’ll give you money.
Zack Snyder is my new hero. You should all know this, readers, if we’re going to continue our relationship. Zack Snyder and me, we’re going to be an item from now on. I will find his home, and I will send him candy and flowers.