Easily the most relaxed I’ve ever been at a con…

On the flight back to Chicago, with Common’s new album “BE” beatin’ through the headphones, and starting this year’s write-up several thousand miles up. Feels like I got almost everything accomplished, though over the next few days, sure I’ll remember something I missed, but for right now, I’m real cool about the whole thing. Put some faces to names, had another book see release, handed out a lot of God Complex pages, and got my hands on a couple interesting business cards. The word of the week was “chill,” and even though I was on that grind, went there intent on getting some actual vacationing in, and the result was probably my best con experience thus far. Saw a couple movies, went to a Padres game, ate a few meals at the hotel, slept in most of the days. So, sliding into Wizard World, I’m not only incredibly excited about future prospects, but I’m also well rested. Bad news for all of you, I’m afraid. Let’s break it all down…

 

Weirdness started on Wednesday, before I even got to SD, while sitting at my departure gate at O’Hare. Cracked open Joe Casey’s Avengers hardcover, and got only a couple pages in before someone walks up and asks if I’m headed to the convention. We start going back and forth, and turns out the guy is actually a lawyer that reps quite a few professionals in the industry, including Joe Casey. Instantly, I’m regretting not having any samples or business cards in my carry-on, but we do spend quite a bit of time talking about the upcoming God Complex, before he has to duck to the side, to make a few calls before take-off. In the air, he sits a few rows in front of me, and shortly after I set up the laptop, to write the solicit for the first issue of GC that should’ve been done before I left, he walks back with a copy of Larry Young’s The Black Diamond, tells me if I can write something that good, we need to talk.

So, from there, I split the flight constructing this solicit copy, which I can already feel is ultimately going to be too long, and watching Star Wars, thanking the FF and Black Panther, wherever they are, for allowing me to get a decent laptop. But anyway, guess the dude I was sitting next to, was peeking at the screen while I was fumbling through the GC copy, because near the end of the flight, he asked me if I wrote that column on Silver Bullets. Even stranger, he goes to the same shop I spent five years of Wednesdays at, when I was in college. Swear I’m not making this shit up. We get to jabbering about the con, the owner of ACME Comics, and why Seven Soldiers is the best thing to hit New Comic Day in a long while, which you know, is a whole other column in itself.

The plane landed, and I wished him a good trip, before heading off to baggage claim. Bumped into that lawyer again, and taking advantage of this strange opportunity, grabbed a sample pack after snatching my main bag off the conveyor, and handed it to him before he could get going. Then I found a cab to the hotel, thinking I was already off to a nice start.

The Sheraton Suites was the staging point this time, a significant upgrade from the Comfort Inn of last year, with the funny bathroom mirror that gave you a full view of yourself anytime you took a piss. Maybe it’s because I don’t travel much, but this room in the Sheraton was seriously the dopest place I’d ever stayed in, with a nice view from the 24th floor, and a lounge area off the bedroom with a couch, work desk, and an extra TV. That and an overpriced Symphony bar, in a basket with a bunch of other overpriced candy, that I had my eye on all weekend. But I’m gettin’ off track here, onto this alleged “Preview Night.”

Now, I’ve heard the rumors, probably same as you, that Preview Night once offered an atmosphere where pros nearly outnumbered fans on the show floor, giving those so inclined a real incentive to come out early to beat the crowds. At this point, they might as well count Wednesday as the first official day of the con, because if that was ever the case…we seem to have moved quite past it. The foul aroma that pools in certain sections of the show floor hasn’t formed yet, but the aisles are already pretty thick with attendees, and I heard onsite registration took some folks an hour or more. Still, it didn’t take much time to start feelin’ the vibe, the sensation that only results from being in the company of thousands of other people with similar interests and loves. Didn’t do more than check out the layout of the place, and plan a few definite stops, but definitely left with a good feeling and a small stack of the bigger releases from the week. Perhaps there is someone strong enough to resist the lure of stuff like All-Star Robin, The Guardian,
Ultimate FF, New Avengers, JLA
, and Desolation Jones, but it ain’t me. So, after the show, and some time in the hotel bar, making use of the wireless hot spot, stayed up late in my dope ass hotel suite, reading new comics. Good way to end the first day, I thought.

Ultimately, Thursday is what made this con different from all others. Cause most of the time, I’m runnin’ around the entire weekend, rushing to get to the convention center soon as it opens, or dashing to some panel, or pressuring myself to hit X number of contacts, but like I said, word of the week was “chill.” So, not only did me and Nate Lee (my boy and frequent con traveler) miss the opening doors by almost an hour, but after getting there, we only stuck around the con for a couple hours, before heading off to a nearby theater to check out Fantastic Four, which really wasn’t that bad. I was expecting some kind of colossal embarrassment, but what I got was a totally harmless flick, with a decent sense of humor, serviceable FX, nice character moments, and some decent action sequences. You can hardly accuse it of being cerebral, but when it was finished, I was seriously tryin’ to understand some of the hate it’s garnering. It was just a lotta fun, and proof that not everything has to be a deep and complicated character examination, that’s in danger of drowning in its own emotional weight. Sometimes being a superhero is, you know…fun. Imagine that.

Figuring the movie wasn’t nearly enough delinquency for the day, we left the theater and headed for Petco Park to watch a Padres game. I’m a White Sox man myself, but the ballpark atmosphere is almost as distinctive as the convention one, and there’s really nothing else quite like it. Was there pretty early, so got the chance to sit on the lawn and watch batting practice, but to be honest, I was more interested in reading comics, which included my read through of Nitrogen. Initially, I found it nearly impossible to read something I’d written, but I’m becoming a little more comfortable with it, as it’s the only way to take an accurate stock of what I really messed up. At this point, I’ve taken to reading certain sections, parts of the script that I thought really worked when I originally wrote it, and then contrast those with ones I thought really didn’t, and see if I still feel the same way after everything’s been put together. Overall, think it came out fairly well, and the Arcade crew was really happy with it, so it’s all good.

 

Left the game early cause the home team wasn’t doing too hot, and hit the hotel restaurant again, to use the wireless connect to see what we missed, and the answer was not much. DC announced their upcoming Spirit stuff, but most of it was business as usual, and this seemed to be the vibe for the entire weekend. There wasn’t much of that “grenade tossing” mentality that often kicks off at these things, where the big companies are just announcing things back and forth, to show why they’ve got the juice for the next six months. Just a lot of solidifying the fanbases, and apologizing for not being able to comment on the huge storylines currently running at both camps. Marvel had a little dynamite to toss on Saturday, but for the most part, everything was real calm, which should make Wizard World a fun weekend, because the law of comic industry physics dictates this false complacency won’t last. Something’s coming…

Friday was pretty well-packed with stuff, kicking off at the House of M panel, that I went to primarily to support the “Kid” John Layman, who’s writing all types of books for Marvel recently. His FF tie-in to the massive crossover is easily some of his best work there, and was heavily under-ordered, so give it a read when the second print hits stores. The man writes a pretty mean Dr. Doom. Peter David’s new X-Factor series got announced as well, which is good news, cause the Madrox mini was pretty tight, and you can feel the genuine connection David has to those characters.

Only caught the first half of the Vertigo panel, but I think they announced about six new monthlies, and almost every one of them sounds like a certified hit. Especially looking forward to Brian Wood’s DMZ, Seagle’s American Virgin, and Azzarello’s Loveless. The imprint plays a very important role in the industry, and just when you start taking them for granted, they drop another flood of important projects onto the stands, to preserve and strengthen that well deserved rep. Had to cut out before it was over to make my next stop, the presentation that’s become a personal highlight over the last two years…The Black Panel.

Similar to last year, the discussion was clearly focused on talk of advancing the opportunities for both African-American creators and characters, without any juvenile finger pointing over real or perceived slights by the mainstream publishers or audience. Moderator Michael Davis kept the tone consistent, while panelists Reggie Hudlin, Denys Cowan, Jeremy Love, Michael Stradford, Mike Richardson, and Jason Medley shared their experiences, and expectations for what should come next. Hudlin was naturally the main draw, with his stint on Black Panther, and recent appointment as head of programming for the BET network. I hope this feature will become a permanent staple of the program schedule, because it’s just an inspiring thing to be exposed to, with a captive audience of hopefuls just waiting for a change, and for the big companies to take better advantage of the resources they don’t even realize they have, to broaden their readership across new directions. Because it’s out there, and soon, somebody is going to probably stumble across the right property, grafted to the right marketing and outreach scheme, and then it’s a whole new ballgame from that point on. But it’s only going to happen if enough people are willing to force the issue, and that’s what I absolutely LOVE about this panel…it’s all about forcing the issue.

After things wrapped up, I actually got the chance to meet Reggie Hudlin, and here’s the photographic evidence. As you can see, I wasn’t quite ready for the picture to be taken, and those close to me will be happy to know that even when I’m supposed to be taking pictures, I still can’t manage to shut up. And what I was in the middle of sayin’ here was probably of little consequence anyway. But hey, two Marvel writers, and both of them happen to be black. Think that is a fine enough reason to risk a little embarrassment over my facial expression.

Along the same lines, my next panel was The Boondocks one, which featured creator Aaron McGruder sharing the stage with some of the voice talent, as the controversial comic strip makes the transition to full fledged animated show, courtesy of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Been following the racially and politically tinged strip for years now, primarily by way of the collected editions, and I almost completely bugged out, after they showed off one of the “teaser” promos for the show. One, it’s incredible to think of the characters and subject matter hitting critical mass, and two, comic creator LeSean Thomas is the show’s lead character designer, and it’s obvious from frame one. Really cool to see his unique style in flawless motion, and the response to the short clip was incredibly strong. I’m gonna put it out there, and say that The Boondocks will be THE most talked about program to air this fall. And no, I don’t mean “cable” program, I mean program…period. People are going to LOVE this, or hate it with every breath in their body, and I can already see the lines being drawn from here. Join the revolution when The Boondocks premieres at 11 PM, on Sunday, October 2.

Finished off the day with an advance screening of The Island, which can almost be classified as an intelligent Michael Bay movie, if such a thing can exist. It’s big, loud, and occasionally dumb, but there’s a really cool idea forming a backbone for it, which gives it a reasonable weight. For the most part though, it’s Bay doing what he does best, supplying candy for the eyes, and nourishment for the adrenaline soul. But it served as a nice capper to a really good day, and sure beat the alternative, which was working the Harry Potter Midnight Madness party at my bookstore back home.

Saturday was the crunch day, getting everything finished, so I could return back to Chicago reasonably satisfied. Cup o’ Joe is always a must for me, and this year was no different, with Quesada being supported on the dais, by some of the company’s writing talent. The usual candid responses to audience questions, were mixed with a slide show, that had a few cool announcements spread throughout, topped off with a very strong assertion that best-selling author Stephen King will be doing somethin’ for Marvel in ’06. Could be a fake-out, but Joe did reference a comment from a previous Cup o’ Joe panel, that seems to suggest it’s true. Also, if one is to trust the rumor mill, Marvel’s got more than a couple announcements to drop at Wiz World, that are gonna have people talkin’. None of my people will tell me what they are, but because of the supposed immensity, I have a few suspicions. If it’s even close to what I’m thinking, Marvel will be in very good shape for the future.

Other major deal was the Serenity panel, with Joss Whedon and crew. Watched Firefly from the very beginning, so I’m all about seeing the property return on the big screen, and judging by the dope ass clip shown, expectations will be met, then shattered into tiny pieces. Past that, all I had to do was wrap everything in a neat bow, check in with the contacts and artists I’d hit up over the weekend, and hand off those last few sample packages.

While cruising through Artist Alley, I ran into Clement Sauve, who was the original artist on The God Complex, when I first pitched it to Image. To be honest, his artwork is likely the main reason that Image even sent the contract through, and his schedule not working out, was one of the many setbacks to hit the project. It’s all love though, and I always try to keep in touch to see what he’s got coming, because he’s an incredible talent. Think right now, he’s doing work for a European publisher, which gives him a much more flexible schedule, and enough time to make sure every single page looks its best.

So, we’re just goin’ back and forth, catching up as I’m flipping through his portfolio, which includes the GC pages, and he tells me if I want it, the pencils for the cover piece are mine. I’ve always had this very romantic idea that I’d purchase one original page of art from every comic I wrote, a practice that was to become pretty expensive, if I had my way. My lack of funds put that on hold, so I was really grateful to start my collection with a page from my pet project. Think I’ve shown this here fully colored, but here are the “naked” pencils that’ll soon be hanging on the wall. Pretty tight, huh?

Finished things out at the Arcade booth, talking with Rob about industry stuff, and playing general catch-up, because I’d spent so much time running around, that I wasn’t able to really hang at the booth, like in past years. Have to fix that in Chicago, cause Rob’s put a tremendous amount of faith and responsibility in my hands, and it’s much appreciated. Plus, we’re seeing Nitrogen through to its natural conclusion, and thinking of stuff far beyond that.

Everything after that is mostly incidental, and with my word count climbing toward the 3K mark, time to bring things to a close. Special thanks to my boy Nate Lee, and all the creators I got a chance to hang with over the weekend. And to all the editors and publishers that got business cards and sample packages…don’t pretend you don’t know how to find me 😉

Thanks for reading, and the next column should be the Wizard World report, but I’m going to figure out some other way to do it, so you poor souls don’t have to trudge through so many words, and my editor doesn’t have to load so many pictures…

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