Seattle’s Emerald City ComiCon 2013 was pure rockstar.
If you haven’t heard yet, Emerald City ComiCon—or ECCC if you prefer—is one of the best American comic book conventions. San Diego ComiCon may be the biggie, but there is a near-universal agreement that ECCC is a rising #2.
And that’s not just from the fan’s perspective. Over and over, I heard comics creators and professionals saying how much they love ECCC, and rank it above WonderCon, DragonCon, Wizard World, and all of the other big-time conventions across the country. I saw Wendy and Richard Pini excitedly confirming for next year, gushing about how much they loved it. And they weren’t the only ones. For every creator who feels lost in the Hollywood hoopla of San Diego, ECCC is an opportunity to make serious fan connections.
The gang at ECCC raised their game even higher this year: bringing in amazing guests, smartly distributing the space so that it never felt crowded, and keeping everything running like a well-oiled machine. The crowds were immense—70,000 is a rumor, a huge jump over the 50,000 of last year. A complete pre-show sell-out for Saturday and Sunday. Even the volunteer minions were polite and informed. I didn’t see a single problem the whole show.
Word is getting out: ECCC is the Con to be at. I have the luxury of a 15-minute bus ride down to the Seattle Convention Center, but I talked to people who had flown in from Texas, from New York, from Spain … it made me appreciate what is going on at the Con. There are people who save all year for one single trip, and they chose Seattle for ECCC. That’s awesome.
BIG PROPS on the guest list this year. I’m not personally interested in the “celebrity guests”—there are few people on Earth I would pay $30-70 dollars just to sign something, and definitely not Dirk Benedict. But for people into that sort of thing there were famous faces galore. And they undeniably bring people who wouldn’t otherwise set foot in a comic convention.
Last year, my big complaint was that ECCC didn’t bring in enough of the Old Guard—the Gold, Silver, and Bronze creators. That’s still obviously not a focus of ECCC, but they did better. I didn’t get all of my dream list (Roy Thomas, George Perez, and Jerry Ordway please!!). But there were enough living legends to make me happy; to talk to and shake hands with, and hear old stories from people who built comic books from the ground floor. Bliss.
My personal highlights:
Gerry Conway and Kelly-Sue DeConnick
For me, the joy of cons isn’t about the swag or spectacle (although I like both)—it’s taking names on a piece of paper and turning them into people. And nothing showed that more than the meeting between Ms. Marvel creator Gerry Conway and current Capt. Marvel scribe Kelly-Sue DeConnick.
This was a total right-place, right-time kind of story. I was talking to Gerry Conway when DeConnick (a superstar in her own right) came over—nervous and gushy as any fangirl meeting her idol. You could actually hear the tremble in her voice. She got her original Ms. Marvel #1 signed by Conway, and then shyly handed over a signed copy of her own Capt. Marvel #1. It was great to watch them talk, and a good reminder that even our idols have idols. Props to DeConnick for not being too cool to show how excited she was.
Gerry Conway, by the way, is one of the funniest guys I have talked to at any Con. He was happy to wax nostalgic about creating The Punisher, and talked honestly about his failed turn as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief. I asked him if it bothered him seeing people walking around in costumes of characters he created—like The Punisher, Power Girl, Ms. Marvel, etc—and how none of them came over to shake the hand of the person who created the character they were emulating. He responded along the lines of (not a direct quote, just assembled from memory):
“I wish some of the Power Girls would come over and ask me to sign their chests. I’d be up for that! But otherwise, they are the public’s characters now.I just made them.”
I felt humbled meeting Denny O’Neil. He’s one of those guys who has forgotten more about writing than most people will ever learn. More than almost anyone else, O’Neil is responsible for raising the level of comics writing from “punch the bad guy” to a nuanced art form. He currently teaches writing at New York University, and that’s not a job they give away for free. I read his book The Art of Comic Book Writing and it totally changed my perspective not only on writing, but also just reading comic books—how they are constructed, what are the techniques a writer can use to keep readers turning the page. I recommend it to any comics fan.
O’Neil definitely has a more professor-like feel about him—he wasn’t as approachable as Gerry Conway. But once you got him talking about writing he opened up. O’Neil was a wealth of information, about pacing, rhythm of language, hooks … I felt like I got a mini Master Class right there at the table. And some great personal stories about Robert Heinlein, Julius Schwartz, and a bunch of others.
O’Neil didn’t have much of a line for his table, which makes me sad. That’s indicative of the “What have you done for me lately?” nature of American comics that never ceases to disappoint me. It seems to me like everyone who has ever written (or read) a modern comic book should spend a few moments genuflecting to one of the men who brought us where we are today.
But what the hell—that’s show biz. And on the plus side, I got to have all the Denny O’ Neil time I wanted, which was amazing.
Mike Mignola and the King of Colors, Dave Stewart
These two drop by ECCC pretty regularly every two years. And every time I see them, I have this inner struggle between talking to th
em like normal humans versus pelting them with rose petals while belting out Wind Beneath My Wings (Did I ever tell you you’re my heeeeerooo!). Fortunately, common sense takes hold.
What’s great about meeting Mignola and Stewart is that they themselves are such lovely people. There is an old saying about how you should never meet your idols because they are bound to disappoint you, but I have never found that true with Mignola and Stewart —witty, intelligent, self-deprecating but able to take a compliment; just nice guys. I shared some Japanese folklore books with them, and we spent some time talking about the nature of fairy tales, different versions of the Brothers Grimm, and what lies in store for Hellboy.
(And Dave Stewart confirmed one of my long-held suspicions—he colors just a little bit better on the books in which he likes the art … the King of Colors is just human, after all.)
I’m not going to lie to you—Chris Claremont wasn’t the most exciting guy in the room. But I don’t hold it against him. The man had the longest line in the Con, usually a double-wrap going around a corner. After signing thousands of books – which he did without complaint, proving he’s a true trooper – and hearing the same inane compliments thousands of times, the guy was probably out of witty banter. He was perfectly polite and perfectly nice, but not in the mood for personal connections.
And that was cool. I wasn’t expecting the huge response to Chris Claremont being there. Seeing Denny O’Neil and Gerry Conway a little lonely, I thought Chris Claremont would fall in the “honored but forgotten” category. Nope. A lot of people—a lot of guys my same age judging from the line—grew up on Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men. This was an incredibly meaningful comic for the time, and a chance to meet the guy who wrote the stories of our childhood.
Claremont signed X-Men #174 for me—the first comic I ever bought with my own money. It’s a personal treasure.
Matt Wagner and Mike Kunkle
These two didn’t come as a set, but I talked to them individually about the same thing. My all-time favorite superhero is the original Captain Marvel—and by that, I mean the Golden Age Captain Marvel. I don’t want the Big Red Cheese in the DCU. I want him in his own wacky wonderland of magical, talking tigers and tiny green worms in glasses trying to take over the world. That’s the only place he makes sense.
Both Wagner and Kunkle love Captain Marvel, and wish they could work with the character and his world, but said he is too tied up in DCU continuity now to be able to be done right. They both wished (and I agree) that he could be set aside and used for a series of mini-series, a special character that any creator could play with when they had a story they wanted to tell.
I loved talking to Wagner and Kunkle. It was both fun and sad. Fun, because I don’t get to geek out on Captain Marvel very often. Sad, because they were both pouring out ideas for comics that I desperately want to read but never will because of the current situation at DC comics. It was a good reminder why DC lost me as a reader years ago. Big events and tangled continuity have replaced good storytelling.
Oh, and Matt Wagner drew me a bitchin Captain Marvel sketch. What an amazing guy!!!
Kim “Warlock” Andersson and the Ghost of the Hard Rock Café
This is a true story.
So, Kim W. Andersson (Love Hurts; Dark Horse Comics) had never been to a Hard Rock Café. Seattle has one, so we headed over there for a beer and a chat. We were deep in conversations about what makes good horror, about the differences between Swedish, Japanese, and American horror, and had moved on to telling personal ghost stories. The atmosphere was thick, and we were both freaking each other out a bit.
Suddenly this woman appeared by our table. She was dressed strangely—not in a costume, but in an almost Arabian fashion. The woman didn’t say a word, but just stared at us both for a good while, right in the eyes. First Andersson. Then me. I thought at first she was meeting someone and had just gotten the wrong table, but that clearly wasn’t the case. I don’t know how to describe it, other than it was a tense situation. Neither of us could speak. It was incredibly eerie.
Then as quickly as she appeared, she turned and walked away. The waitress came running over, asking us if there was some sort of problem, because she was freaked out watching the whole thing take place. We all three tried to find the mystery woman, but she was gone—we suddenly couldn’t see her anywhere in the restaurant.
Everything Else …
Here’s the spot where I get to feel bad because I don’t have enough time and space to give props to everyone I met who was awesome. Talking Conan and Robert E. Howard with Dark Horse editor Patrick Thorpe. Meeting Rob Reger, and getting an Emily the Strange sketch for one of my friends. Aub Driver’s mad karaoke skillz. Mike Dringenberg’s beautiful Japanese tanka inspired art … lots of people.
Nothing really. Sure, some of the guests were less-than-pleasant (A $10 charge just to sign a comic? Really Neal Adams? Sheesh … you signed for free back at San Diego …), but it is easy to ignore the jerks and concentrate on everything good.
The only REALLY bad thing about ECCC is that when it is all over, I have to go back to regular life. Heading to work Monday morning was a letdown. I have total post-con syndrome while I am writing this. Sore muscles from lugging pounds of comics around from booth to booth to get signed. Exhaustion from non-stop 12+ hou
r days of being immersed in comics. And a sad regret that I have to re-enter the “real” world after the excitement and energy of ECCC. It hasn’t been over for even a day, and already I am looking forward to next year, wondering who I will get to meet, what adventures I will have, what unexpected moments will happen
… only 363 days away.