Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

Some thoughts on Comic-Con

Flickr photo by marshponds

I’m back from the San Diego Comic-Con, and against all odds, I had a great time! I say “against all odds” kind of jokingly because the show can be extraordinarily wearing — for the attendees no less than for the exhibitors. Yet I got to meet lots of fun people, hung out with friends, did a bunch of cool sketches, and came home jazzed and inspired!

I’ve also been trying to sort out my feelings about Comic-Con as an entity. It’s big and loud and exhausting and expensive to participate in, but at the same time it’s this amazing passel of energy that assembles, charges itself up like a lightning storm, and then disassembles in the space of a week, leaving no trace. It’s like Burning Man in that way, except where Burning Man isn’t concerned with commerce, Comic-Con is exquisitely concerned with commerce. And it’s one of these things in life that’s now so big that it can only be appreciated in facets.

To that end I’ve been pleased to share some thoughts on the convention with friends and colleagues over the last few days. First, my fellow cartoonist Jeph Jacques wrote a bit here on a very real problem with Comic-Con, that it’s becoming completely inaccessible to the casual fan:

Part of the problem is that SDCC has run out of room. They can’t add any more booth space, and they can’t sell any more tickets than they already do. This means that the convention is a zero-sum game now — there is a set number of people who can attend, and a set number of people/companies/etc who can exhibit. Tickets for the convention sell out incredibly fast, which means that they’re mostly snapped up by the die-hard Comic Con fans who stay up all night hitting “refresh” in order to buy tickets. You can’t just casually decide to go check out the convention anymore — you have to commit to it months and months in advance.

In addition to the limited number of new people who can attend, every year there’s more to do outside of Comic-Con itself. It’s become something like a fair, full of attractions in neighboring parking lots and hotels. So the people who do come to the con don’t spend as much time on the floor. More fun for them, but it makes business tougher for the exhibitors who’ve paid a premium to get inside.

Still, I wrote a piece myself (in reaction to Jeph’s) about another advantage the Con still has:

Pro badges are non-ticketed badges supplied to industry professionals. Comic-Con’s definition of “industry professional” has been narrowing over the years as crowding becomes more and more of an issue, but it is still possible for a comic creator or (certain type of) film or gaming professional to get into the show without buying a ticket. That represents the ongoing role that Comic-Con plays in the life of a creator in terms of networking. My career is made from bits and pieces of all kinds of different projects, and Comic-Con contains a ton of people who can enable, encourage, patronize or collaborate on those projects.

In response to which Ryan North weighed in:

DC and Marvel’s monthly comic print sales are not what they used to be, and Hollywood licensing has filled that gap for a long time. But popular tastes aren’t going to be for superhero movies forever, and this current boom in superhero movies that started with X-Men in 2000 has to end sometime. Maybe that means in a few years Comic-Con shrinks a little, and with extra room, the casual comics fan can stop by on Saturday and check things out by buying a ticket at the door and without having to get a hotel in the city months and months in advance. That’d be nice!

After reading Ryan’s piece, I read some of Tom Spurgeon’s thoughts about the Con. Tom wrote an extensive series of recaps each day, a monumental feat I laud him for, and related tons of meetings with comics pros, and deals and announcements being struck and announced, and art being discussed and debated and purchased… and in a weird way, the whole thing made me feel a bit small, just a little tiny footnote in one little tiny corner of the giant convention hall, doing my doodles and selling my stickers while Real Comics Business was being conducted elsewhere.

But then I realized that that’s the point of Comic-Con, that while there are certainly celebrities and superstars and veterans looming about, the place is bigger than even them, and that even the people for whom comics itself is a giant afterthought can come to this strange event, this massive amusement park that’s only open five days a year, and it’s a thing they can enjoy exactly as much as anyone else.

This crystallized when I spoke to a few of my non-comics-industry friends who’d also made it down to the show, and I wrote up some more thoughts here:

I think the Renaissance Faire comparison is most apt. You don’t attend a Ren Faire necessarily with the aim of buying an ocarina or some kind of blown glass artifact; you go to see people in costume, watch a joust, and eat a turkey leg. You go for the spectacle and the experience, and you usually go with an open mind. I think that’s how lots of people attend SDCC — just to see what’s there to see. It’s an amusement park.

And that’s something smaller creators like myself sometimes forget, because for us it’s very specifically a business…

I can sometimes feel very jaded about conventions, especially when the logistics are complicated or the revenues aren’t what I hoped for, but I have to remind myself that these events were created and labored over for the express purpose of human connection, and that’s a worthy goal unto itself. Anyway, I’m happy to have had the opportunity to think about the whole experience from a new angle, and I hope you click through to read our thoughts at greater length!

As a final note, I should add that there do remain many problems with Comic-Con as it exists now, the biggest being what Jeph outlined; that is, how difficult it is to attend for the casual fan. Not only is it expensive, but the tickets sell out so quickly, and if you don’t have an industry connection that can bring you in on a different type of badge, you may be aced out.

Luckily I have a solution: the Emerald City Comicon. Held in Seattle every March, ECCC isn’t as huge as Comic-Con, but it still has a great mix of comics pros, folks in costumes, celebrity panels, and games and events. Plus, it’s in beautiful Seattle! And I am willing to wager that even if you live in Southern California, the cost of travel to + lodging in Seattle will be cheaper than the cost of travel to + lodging in San Diego. Come check it out next spring, it’s one of my favorite cons!

Finally — I enjoyed getting the perspective of my friends about Comic-Con, but what about you? Have you been to any cons, and if so, what did you enjoy? What made you decide to go, and how did you like it once you got there? Or if you haven’t been, what kind of event would you go to? Leave a comment on this post, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

BONUS LINK: If you’re new to Wondermark, you may not have seen my video from a few years ago, “Me Vs. Comic-Con: Who’s Better?” I recommend CHECKING IT OUT THOROUGHLY

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away the other week. He was one of the first writers I had a cognizant appreciation of as a writer, as someone who deliberately made choices as to which words should go in which order to achieve a desired effect. My first art mentor, John Arthur, introduced me and my fellow students to Ray at an impressionable age, and we idolized him. I devoured Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, although as time went on I choked a bit on some of his other short stories — the language was so thick. I blame myself, however, not Ray.

John took us to see Ray speak at a signing — it must have been about 1999 or so. I brought a friend’s copy of Fahrenheit 451 and my mom’s battered The Illustrated Man. When it was my turn to have my books signed, all I could stammer out was “You…uh…write very good.”

And that’s the picture up above: he smacked my face with his hand and said “Thank God!”

He signed both my books with an exclamation mark: “Ray Bradbury!” This was, shall we say, an instructive moment for me. I haven’t seen evidence that he signs his name like that often — I wish I could scan those books and show you how he did that day, but the Illustrated Man is somewhere in my mom’s house and the friend whose 451 I’d held onto for months suddenly became very interested in getting it back once I’d had it signed. Here’s a similar example I found online:

Anyway, the weird energy imparted by that exclamation mark in the signature stayed with me.

It’s after midnight as I write this. I’ve always felt comfortable at night; my own writing seems to come more easily at night. I remembered an old journal entry, just now, and looked it up and found the following:

Ray’s words crackle like ball lightning, never settling, dancing alight each concept, daring you to comprehend before they press on into the night. I’m listening to Something Wicked This Way Comes on CD, in my car, and when I concentrate and listen it’s like standing in a waterfall, weight pouring on me, trying to drink, feeling heavy and elated together.

Oddly, it’s very easy to get distracted from this book, sitting in traffic, realizing suddenly that I’ve been thinking about the chemical composition of jet contrails and a paragraph’s gone by and I’ve missed it. The words are oil-slick, loose and wriggling, and they have to be clutched and examined and tasted, or they slide off and flip away.

When I listen, they crush me, steamrolling with imagery. When I glance away, they pass by; but I glance quickly after and think back and still see the faint afterimage behind my lids. I hear the ringing echo and feel the warmth left in the air from their presence, like Montag in Fahrenheit 451. Even when I don’t hear them, they pass through me, speaking directly to my dreams. I drive, late on an empty freeway:

“Three in the morning,” thought Charles Halloway, seated on the edge of his bed, “why did the train come at that hour?”

For, he thought, it’s a special hour; women never awake, then, do they? They sleep the sleep of babes and children. But men, in middle age: they know that hour well. Oh, God!

Midnight’s not bad; you wake, and go back to sleep. One or two’s not bad; you toss, but sleep again. Five or six in the morning; there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon.

But three, now, Christ. Three A.M.

Doctors say the body’s at low tide then. The soul is out, the blood moves slow; you’re the closest to dead you’ll ever be, save dying. Sleep is a patch of death. But three in the morn, full, wide-eyed staring, is living death. You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rise up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot; but no, you lie, pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s bone dry.

You write very good, Ray. Thanks for everything.

An Alphabet Question

(Letters by Stack)

When I was a kid learning the alphabet I believed that certain letters were “weird letters.” In the same way that letters could be divided into consonants or vowels, or single-syllable and multi-syllable (everything else vs. W), I believed that letters could be divided into regular letters and weird letters.

I don’t know what the criterion for labeling letters “weird” was. It might have had something to do with rarity — my weird letters are mostly the ones with high Scrabble points.

I didn’t think much of it until one day when I visited my cousins. I was probably around eight or nine, and my cousin made an offhand reference to J as a “weird letter.” In that instant I thought: Is this common knowledge? Are the weird letters an actual thing that everybody knows about?

Since then I’ve never heard a reference to any canonical set of weird letters, nor have I kept the torch alive. But for the record, my weird letters were:

Weird: J K Q V X Z
Kind of weird: G W Y

So here are my questions for you:

1. Does this make any sense? Is there a logic to it that my child brain sensed that I can’t make heads or tails of now?

2. Did anybody else think anything remotely similar?

3. What’s a weird way that you made sense of the world as a child?

Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Nine Years of Wondermark

Those of you with Wondermark Calendars may have noted that earlier this week marked the ninth birthday of Wondermark. Huzzah!

Nine years ago, in 2003, I was working the night shift at an advertising agency. One day, after reading Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics (and having consumed a fair amount of “Get Your War On” and “Red Meat”), I sat down in the apartment I shared with my girlfriend, opened a book of clip-art, and thought “I wonder if you could make comics out of these?” (I think I made ten the first day, and twenty in the first week.)

Nine years later, the girlfriend is now my wife, the clip-art book has led to a collection of 50+ volumes of Victorian newspapers and magazines, I’ve published seven books, and I have a studio dedicated to this nonsense. I guess the central question — “is this possible?” — has become rhetorical by this point as well. But I hope I never lose that curiosity — constantly asking myself “What could this become?”

Thanks for hanging out with me! I’ll be around for a while yet — I’m always the last to go home.


– David !

Verb Day 2012

Saturday I mean Sunday was March 4th, or as we know it, Verb Day! On one of the only dates that’s also an imperative, usually families and communities get together to make up new verbs. The official U.S. national verb this year was “scraddling,” defined by a ceremonial Act of Congress as:

scraddle (v): to rub a part of the body against an object in such a way as to scratch an itch

You probably saw the Chancellor of the National Verb Council make her speech calling for parents to begin using the word with their children “so that a new generation will grow up never knowing a world without the joy of scraddling,” and of course President Obama released a statement urging “Americans of every race, color, and creed to come together, scraddle against the obstacles before us, and keep America strong.”

I’m happy with scraddling — I’ll take whatever new verbs I can get, in this economy — but I’d also like to draw your attention to a verb I myself coined in 2004, when Wondermark was still pretty new:

Our research department took an informal survey of 10,032 Americans and Western Europeans, asking them a variety of questions including their emotional reaction to this news item. The survey also included “dummy” questions designed to disguise the true nature of the survey, so as to weed out “prampters”, or respondents who concoct bogus answers for sport (“prampting”).

The dummy questions included such irrelevant gems as “What criteria do you use when deciding which brand of mung beans to purchase?” and “Did ‘moral values’ play a role in deciding who you would vote for in the Presidential election?”

You may recall that ‘moral values’ was the media-cycled phrase of the hour in the Bush/Kerry election, the way ‘hope and change’ was in 2008 and ‘create jobs’ is today. So this bit was surely very funny at the time. But the point is: prampting, or to prampt.

A portmanteau of prompt and prank (and with a meaning along the lines of to prank when prompted), I’ve always liked ‘prampting’ and think it should come into wider use. I don’t know how common the actual practice of prampting is in the world, but when I consider it, I’m reminded of something that happened to me back in high school.

My two best friends and I had a nonsense sort of club or secret society, and although it didn’t do anything or serve any purpose at all besides having an elaborate, 100-move secret handshake, I loved concocting the trappings of a legitimate entity — things like business cards, letterhead, company memos and so on. We had nothing to say in the memos, but we had the letterhead if ever we needed it.

In eleventh grade we decided to pass out applications to some of our other friends, to officially initiate them into the club. It was a very elaborate application, four or five pages long as I recall, and we insisted that people fill it out fully (and then return it to one of us charter members, who would have to initial each page in colored ink to prevent forgery). It was all quite serious, and probably a bit rude because we only passed out applications to the people we liked, but whatever, it was high school.

Anyway, as we started to get applications back, I began to realize that some of the people filled out the application as a joke, putting funny answers instead of real ones. I remember, in particular, an answer given by one person whom we were keen on making an official member of the club:

Q: What do you typically eat for lunch?
A: Nothing. I am sustained by sex alone.

Not only was this answer vaguely scandalous to us dorks, we also had to deal with the issue of the application not being taken seriously. We’d gone to all this trouble to write up and pass out elaborate applications for our fake club that didn’t do anything and was all a joke, and these people didn’t stay deadpan with us. They cracked and called it out as a joke.

This sparked long, fevered internal discussions about whether we should accept this applicant into the club after this flagrant disrespect for our wholly invented and irrelevant process. Eventually, the reasoned response seemed to be to ask the applicant to redo her application, and in retrospect, this made us look even more like the biggest dorks possible. That is the power of prampting.

Have you any tales of prampting? Or, did your family make up any verbs of your own this weekend? Tell us in the comments!