Note: In anticipation of ECCC 2015, a look back at ECCC 2014:
Outside, the rain is coming down because, well, it’s Seattle. Inside the Convention Center, the freaks are out en masse, the aisles of the Exhibition Halls jammed, and it’s only Friday, noon, when most normal people are still at work.
There’s Wonder Woman.
Lots of bad guys too: Two Face, Scarecrow, more than a few Jokers.
There’s a group of, I think, Game of Thrones characters, the young women in a blonde wigs and long flowing gowns, the man in—wait, maybe they’re Lord of the Rings elves? Lady Galadriel and crew?
I’m at the Emerald City ComiCon, one of the bigger ‘comic book conventions’ in the country, where thousands of people will attend over the next three days. And it’s sold out! First time ever, I’m told. How this is determined I don’t know, since a lot of the ComiCon is just walking around three floors in two different buildings (connected by a sky bridge) and buying shit. Maybe we’ve actually maxed out the number of people allowed by the Fire Code? Could be, because though the Convention Center is HUGE, the three (three!) Exhibition Halls are filled with booths, and the aisles are filled with la folle, squeezing around each other.
A young couple dressed as Battlestar Galactica pilots (which did you know is also an on-going comic series?)
And there’s Lara Croft (also with an on-going comic series).
And a young teen girl dressed as a My Little Pony, with a purple tail and horn. Make that two, here’s a pink one.
And lots of people dressed in what’s called “steam punk” attire—leather top hats and bowlers for the guys, corsets and skirts for the ladies, seemingly all of them with futuristic glasses. Steam punk is this whole science fiction sub-genre based on the idea of an alternative past, one where steam engine technology remained en vogue. I don’t know, it’s a thing. Kinda cool-looking.
Plus tons of nerds, male and female alike, wearing superhero t-shirts—most iconically Batman and Green Lantern.
And just, you know, young women wearing wings.
This is costume play, or “cosplay.” It’s a thing. A huge thing. Dressing up in a costume at these comicons, for some people, seems to be the main attraction. Why? What’s the appeal of paying money to walk around dressed like your favorite character? The first few people I ask, somewhat randomly other than the fact that they’re beautiful women, all smile and shrug and say, “It’s fun.” Fortunately, since this is mainstream journalism, there’s no need to dig deeper with follow up questions, even if I could.
Not everybody is cosplaying of course. There are a lot of ‘regular’ people, like me, in jeans and t-shirts, though to say ‘regular’ here still means majorly nerding out. Just to be here at a comicon means you are a nerd. Which everyone, like me, embraces. Because really, a ComiCon is the comic fantasy of my youth made reality—a world where women actually go around in tight body suits, all day. Not that I would treat any of them with disrespect. Only maybe stare longingly. ComiCons are being extra careful to make women welcome, and not leered at, or groped, or have to listen to lewd comments, or have their pictures taken without permission, all of which has happened, or used to happen. Now, the ECCC official policy is, ‘A Costume Is Not Consent.’ Just because a woman is dressed half-naked, does not mean anything other than she’s dressed in a costume, though from what I can see, most women are enjoying being asked to have their pictures taken. Hell, they’ve put a lot of effort into some of these costumes, a little appreciation is appreciated.
Poison Ivy and Catwoman. Actually, there are more than a few Poison Ivys (Ivies?) and Catwomen. And the Harley Quinns! Why is she also so popular? Is there something about being uncontrollably attracted to a psychopathic boyfriend (the Joker) that all women can relate to? Note to the uninitiated: these are all villains in the Batman universe. Sexy villains. In sexy costumes. But what does that say about women that these characters seem to resonate with them? Or is it just that those costumes are easier to make? What does it say about me that I think the characters and the women dressing up like them are sexy? Is there something symbolic about being a sexy bad girl? Are they, in fact, readers of the Batman comics in which these characters appear?
When I ask one green-tights-wearing Ivy this, she replies, “Um, kinda. More from the tv show.” Meaning Batman: The Animated Series from the early 90s. Hmm.
And Harley Quinn? Here’s one, a young girl, with her whole dressed-up family. I ask her why she likes Harley Quinn. She smiles. “She looks cool!”
But you know she’s a villain, right?
“Yes. That’s why I like her.”
Wow. Ok. And her Batman father smiles approvingly. Really? You’d encourage your daughter to dress like psychopathic killer who likes to hit people over the head with a big mallet? Not the mention the obvious Electra-Complex issues involved here?
Speaking of Electra, there’s an Elektra! With sai, even.
And what’s the deal with the women with the antlers? I’ve seen more than a few, wearing long flowing dresses, but with various types of horns on their heads. I’m stumped about this.
Also, questions for anybody/everybody, like: Who are you people in Real Life, and how much disposable income do you have to be spending on comics, movies, and entertainment in general? I have theories, like that many here are involved in the tech boom, and are the nouveau-middle-class—having some money, not caring about traditional arts like museums, theatre, opera, symphonies or jazz. But am I just over-thinking things? As usual? Is all this just something fun to do on a weekend? Is is just an opportunity to add another Halloween to the calendar? And yet, is that a loaded question too? Because what is the desire to wear costumes and masks? Which could be a book, and probably is, but there’s at least a wee bit of experimentation here, a trying on of other selves.
Also, do people here see comics/movies/tv shows as (mere) entertainment? Or do they see these as art forms? I myself see them as both, though preferring them as the later, and when they’re good, they’re really good, which is what brought me back to reading comics after I’d left them behind in high school. I think most people would agree now that some comics can be classed as literature and art, and/or some hybrid mix between. The question is, which ones? You’d probably get most people to agree on stuff like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and much of writer Alan Moore’s work, like The Watchmen and Lost Girls. Though, maybe not. Still, this is no different from the poetry world, say, where everyone would agree that 95% of published poetry is awful, but not about which 95%.
I do have some doubts, though. Or, uneasinesses. Should we be here? Not far from Seattle, what’s now being called the Osso Mud Slide has recently taken out a whole mountain village—26 confirmed dead, 90 missing as of this morning (later the missing are lowered to 30, but the dead go up to 33). Isn’t it weird to be here cosplaying while people are suffering not so far away? That said, isn’t it weird to read comic books while our government is officially occupying two countries and unofficially a few others, and people are dying because of that? One of my uneasinesses about comics in general is creators’, and especially companies like Marvel and DC, seeming unwillingness to take on contemporary issues like these, although sometimes they do, indirectly, using comics as kinds of parables. Marvel’s Avengers: Civil War, pitting Captain American against Iron Man, was a great story about privacy and power. Even farther back, Frank Miller’s Batman epic, The Dark Knight Returns was a kind of prescient look at the balance between safety and freedom. And there’s Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, about his father’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps.
Another of my uneasinesses: this is a pretty white bread event. There are some people of color, especially asian women. One black guy dressed as Samuel L. Jackson’s Mace Windu, though no Nick Fury. The only other black guy I see is in normal clothes, but holding up a cardboard sign that says, “Bring Back The Sonics.” But, there aren’t a lot of people of color in most mainstream comic series anyways. Nor, for that matter, in most movies or tv shows. The first panel I attend, “Self Publishing” is full of white folks, though at least there are people of all ages (older than me even!). Everybody wants to break into comics, including me btw, though the answer, here, and at other ComiCon panels I’ve attended, is to just do it. Put out you’re own comic, say the panelists, as a way to get noticed. But how, ask the attendees. By getting together with others, they say. But how do we get together with others? they are asked. Well, look around you, they say. Everyone here is either an artist or a writer. Network. Connect. They say. To a room full of introverts.
Back out in the hall, here’s a ten year old boy dressed as a Predator, with his mom in fishnet stockings, dressed as a sexy mom.
There’s another Spider Man.
And a female Thor.
Here are two women dressed as Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman, with heavy-looking wings so huge that they can’t even navigate the crowd, pulling off to the side, trapped.
And some Star Wars stormtroopers, because this isn’t just about comics. We’re talking entire franchises now, many tied to movies, since the Big Two, Marvel and DC, are owned by entertainment conglomerates (Disney and Time-Warner, respectively). Though, for example, there is, and has been, an on-going Star Wars comic series, since the first movies came out, published first long ago by Marvel, and most recently by Dark Horse though, rumor has it, not for much longer.
So, I’m not even sure what ‘comics’ means to people here, or anywhere, anymore. There’s a panel about this, called What We Mean When We Say “Comics.” Moderator Chris Pederson (writer, founder of Monkeybrain Comics) starts with an idea taken from Scott Macleod (Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics) that the world of comics has become so huge that fans of one part aren’t even aware of other parts. For example, fans of the the Big Two (Marvel and DC) superhero comics know almost nothing about Japanese manga comics, and vice versa. And, the idea that comics, or comic books, or ‘sequential art,’ is/are only about superheroes is long past: another whole genre is autobiographical/memoir, like Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole Georges.
And, for example, I have friends who think ‘comics’ are for kids, but who read online comics like The Oatmeal and Hyperbole And A Half religiously. And what about fans of movies like The Avengers and Batman but who don’t even read much at all? Are they comics fans? Aren’t they?
All good questions. Writer Kurt Busiek is one of the panel members. He’s been writing for comics forever, and shares how when he first started reading comics, it was possible to know all the good comics, “because there were only seven of them.” Heck, back then it was possible to read all of the comics out there. Now, he says, it’s not even possible to know about all the good stuff being produced. Which, he notes, is a good thing.
That’s about the last interesting thing said though. The panel kind of devolves as the audience questions section begins, and all anybody seems to want to know about is, again, how to break in to comics, or how to get paid to write and draw. Pederson seems disappointed that no one wants to really keep going with this idea, but he kind of reluctantly, though politely, lets the panel go. So I leave.
In the meantime, there’s Captain America, and in separate group, a female Captain America—a sort of sexier asian version.
And Hellboy, sitting down taking a break.
I too am exhausted. Already. Events will go on into the evening, but I’ve had enough for one day, at least. Back outside, the rain has stopped, or let up anyways, though the streets are still wet and have that wet pavement smell. Normal people are all making their ways back home, the streets filled with cars, the sidewalks of people, with large groups of people waiting at bus stops. I can’t resist stopping into my favorite little anarchist bookstore down by Pike’s Place Market, Left Bank Books, just to browse real books, without pictures of women in tight bodysuits. And, I gotta say, I’ve had no desire to buy any comics today (currently unemployed and therefor no disposable income—I tend to read all my comics through the library) but I am tempted to buy a new anthology of anarchist writings. Which may show where I should be concentrating my energies. But, I get back into my car for the drive back down to Portland, the sun shining over the bay. And what should appear to the east, over the cloud-covered mountains, but a full double rainbow.
On Saturday, it’s back into la folle, back into the main Exhibition Halls, and the booths and booths and booths. Booths where one can buy old and new comics, including single issues and collections and graphic novels, where lonely-looking white men rifle through boxes. Some old single issues are going three for a buck, including comics I remember actually buying and reading way back in the 70s when they cost twenty-five cents! Oh, I am old.
Some booths are big, like Dark Horse’s, their logo sign and artwork posters looming over us, which I’m using as a landmark all weekend, because I still can’t figure this place out. Fortunately the ECCC has a crew of green-shirted “minions,” volunteers standing by at strategic places to help.
And booths for t-shirts and hoodies. And costumes. Even a ‘nerd make-up booth (“It’s a thing.”)
Buzzing? Hm, sounds like, but couldn’t be? But is: two different booths offering tattoos, both doing a booming business. This is legal in a convention? Must be a Seattle thing.
Even more swag booths, where yes, you can buy painted ceramic statues of Spider Man and Batman, though Elektra and Wonder Woman seem much more popular. Why? Nothing will mark you as more un-dateable than a color statue of Elektra in your house, except maybe a sexualized poster of Wonder Woman or Catwoman (way more sexy than they’re drawn in comics, if you didn’t think that was possible). Young women might find this amusing in your dorm room, but out in the Real World? Not even in your Man Cave.
Many of the booths are manned (meaning mostly men, though not all) by individual artists selling original artwork, and work they’ve done for the Big Two (Marvel and DC). Some will even do commissions on the spot. Want a drawing of your favorite super hero? Or some kind of cool black cat? Or two anime-ish girls kissing? They’ll do it for twenty or thirty (or more) bucks while sitting at their booths. Come back in an hour or so.
The vast array of art is kind of astounding, and mostly all good, though even the women artists tend to have a plethora of large-breasted women. Comic art may be the last place people can read/see/buy figurative art—art with human figures—which would be laughed at in the Seattle Art Museum down the street, though thousands of people paid way more to be here than at the SAM today.
And here is Kurt Busiek again, sitting alone at his booth. Because he’s a writer, there’s no cool artwork for sale, just issues of recent comics he’s written. Why is he not being swamped with admirers? He’s written for comics forever, both for the Big Two, and his creator-owned stuff like Astro City, and has won multiple Eisner Awards (note to novices: Eisners are the equivalent of the Oscar, named after Will Eisner, one of the first big artists responsible for bringing comics to a larger audience). I have to say something, but what? I always had this problem when meeting rock musicians backstage (“So, what kind of strings do you use?”). How to express admiration without coming off as a complete brown-noser. No way, really, but I say hello, tell him I’m a fan, and that I’ve recently been going back and re-reading the Conan comics he wrote, which he doesn’t seem excited about, but he’s gracious enough to give me a fist bump as he politely sends me on my way.
Also, surprisingly (yet why should I be surprised? It’s a comic, just online) here’s The Oatmeal booth, with lots of Blerch swag. Seattle-ite Matthew Inman’s got his business plan down: Offer free online content, then sell merch based on it.
And, at one booth, you can get a fifteen minute massage from Deadpool. A Marvel Comics character (I’m not sure I can call him a hero or not) he’s popular here, especially (weirdly?) among young teens. Isn’t he kind of too creepy and violent for young teens? Or is that exactly why he’s so popular with them? Or do they not see him as creepy, but funny?
Here’s yet another young couple dressed in Star Trek costumes—Spock and an asian Uhuru. Old school Star Trek uniforms seem to be popular with women, the kind Uhuru always wore, the miniskirts with the lovely dark hosiery. Actually, of all the Star Trek costumes here, my heart is warmed to see that most are from the original series. It was always the best.
Speaking of old tv shows, Dr. Who is making many appearances, in various incarnations, the most popular being the one with the multi-colored scarf, though I might not even recognize later ones. I know, I know: “Heretic!”
Plus some guy (I think—no boob bumps visible) dressed (and completely covered) as some mechanized armored warrior, though I’m not even sure from what comic, or movie, or video game (because video games are part of the franchises too). The time and care put into the costume is amazing. At least, I think it’s a costume.
I really love seeing all the cute comic book nerd couples here together, cosplaying or not, enjoying the event together. Sigh. I wish I had a cute nerd girlfriend. I suppose I’m too old for that now, though there are a few older women here—mostly moms, I think, escorting their kids, though perhaps enjoying the spectacle. I’m willing to believe younger women read comics in some form, and wouldn’t mind a guy who did, but after 30? I can’t help thinking that by then they’re going to be wanting men who don’t look at drawings of men in tights. I could be wrong though. It’s happened before. Anyways, there are more older guy nerds by far. Which, you know, is my fear—becoming that comic-reading nerd guy who has posters of sexy Wonder Womans and Black Widows, and therefore always be single.
I was going to note that, while some women crossdress in cosplay, especially as Loki from the recent Thor movies for some reason, there is never a dude, say, who will dress as Wonder Woman or Catwoman. But, then I see a guy wearing a Darth Vader mask with fishnet pantyhose. But he’s the only one. So I will still note that it’s interesting that in this convention center full of weirdos in costumes that a dude dressed up in a Wonder Woman costume would stand out.
And here’s some Walking Dead zombies. Btw, Walking Dead was a comic series way before it was a tv show. Or, who knows, maybe these are just generic zombies.
Here’s a woman in Princess Leia’s slave costume from Return of the Jedi, the one with just a bikini top and two flaps of material covering the front and back of her lower torso. Which looks cold. And, approaching her from the side, from this angle—I swear I’m not trying—I can see that she is in fact not wearing underwear. And, there is no grass on the field. So, is that still just ‘fun’? But let’s not go there. Let’s just enjoy the few young women dressed as Death, the goth-y character from Sandman, though those who like Death seem to be the ones who sort of dress like her all the time anyways. Sigh. I hold a place in my heart for tragically cute goth girls.
Many people could care less about the panels at comicons, though it’s one of my favorite aspects. One, it’s a chance to sit down. Two, I like to hear/see creative people talk about the creative process, and/or talk about aspects of the comics industry. For the “Ethics in Comics” panel though, I’m at first a little, well, cynical, since it’s composed of four white guys from Canada, all friends, who aren’t even all artists or writers, just people into comics. Is it ethical to get your friends together, hold a panel, so you can get free admission?
Anyways, the point of the panel, according to the moderator dude, is to raise questions so that readers become more critical readers, not necessarily accepting what comics creators (or more importantly, the corporations behind them) feed us, the ethics infusing their stories. Which, I’m for, though when an audience member uses the cliché that readers can show their approval or disapproval—ie vote—with their money, I think, well, sort of true, though some franchises seems a little too big for that. On the other hand, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s new Captain Marvel series is a perfect example of people saying yes to strong smart women portrayed well. So too Gail Simone’s work writing for some of DC’s characters like Wonder Woman and Batgirl. When DC tried to pull her off of Batgirl, her fans tweeted up a storm and she was reinstated in a day.
But, you know, moderator dude does bring up the question of Batman: Is he really a hero? Should he be? He’s a mentally unstable man who breaks all kinds of laws, plus he’s willing to beat the shit out of someone (i.e. torture them) to get information but, because he holds to some kind of weird honor about not killing, we’re supposed to accept that he’s a good guy? Maybe, though I can’t tell if moderator dude is begging the question of whether acting within the law is the same as doing ‘good.’
But yeah, that’s one thing that’s prevalent in many (male) superhero character storylines, including one of my favorites, Daredevil: They torture. Comics writers didn’t seem to get the memo that torture, 1. doesn’t work, and 2. is something (almost by definition) that bad guys do. Another uneasiness.
The big question/topic brought up by one of the white Canadian men, or big to him, is about how women are portrayed in comics, meaning the mainstream superhero comics. He has some valid points, like, is it really necessary to fight bad guys in a bikini? If the character Power Girl is supposed to have the same exact powers as Superman, does she really need the “boob window” (google it) on her chest? Yes, and an audience member points out that when men are portrayed flying, it’s usually with their arms straight out, hands in fists, while when women fly, they do so with their arms at their sides, boob-powered, as it were.
Yet, I think the white Canadian males kind of don’t have a clue. I just feel like when men talk about how bad female superhero costumes are, that they’re trying really hard to impress women with how sensitive they are, when I think skimpy costumes are not the issue for women readers (or, they’re way down on the list) and that what’s more important is what the women say and do, and how they do it. And/or just how few women there are (again, not to mention people of color). Like for example, in the Avengers movie, there is one female member, Black Widow. She is badass, but she’s also a minor character, more of a foil for the male characters.
As far as costumes, I feel, and I could be wrong —it’s happened before—that women feel that if you’re going to fight crimes, you might was well look fabulous doing it. Just write them as being as strong, intelligent, witty, conflicted—human—as you would the male characters. Give them their own stories and make them vital parts of group stories. Though yeah, maybe we don’t need so many large breasts.
Speaking of breasts, another thing to do at a ComiCon? Speed-dating! I’ve observed this down in Portland comicons, and remain intrigued. Seems to make sense, that someone else attending a ComiCon is probably going to have much in common with you, a similar kind of nerdy mindset. Seems much better than floundering around on online singles sites. Still, at the Rose City ComiCon, when I got up the guts to walk into the speed-dating room, all I saw was young people, so I fled in shame.
Another aspect, a huge one, of ComiCons is the celebrity appearance. Usually movie/tv stars of some kind of comics-related show, though sometimes comics stars like Marvel founder Stan Lee (who appeared at the Rose City Comicon). Usually, though not always, the star will make an hour appearance in one of the bigger halls, maybe say something, answer some questions, then they are whisked down to the autograph area, another huge separate room, where people can get in line and pay extra to get a picture with the star, and/or a photographed pic.
I understand completely why the stars do this—money—but I remain baffled at why this is so popular with fans. I like Ron Perlman, he’s a good actor and has been in some movies and tv shows I’ve enjoyed, and if I met him at a party I wouldn’t mind shaking his hand and telling him so, but can’t for the life of me conceive of wanting to pay money for a picture and an autograph. We’re talking thirty-five to fifty dollars for this. That much devotion to ‘famous’ people makes me uncomfortable, in a ‘cult of personality’ way. Or, I’m just jealous.
But, there’s Waldo!
And Spider Woman. Though the novel Kiss of the Spider Woman is not part of that franchise.
And Rorshach, from The Watchmen. I’ve seen six now. Glad to see he still resonates, meaning, I hope, that an uncompromising attitude still resonates, and a belief that the truth is important.
The biggest panel I attend is by Dark Horse Comics, a sneak peek at their four new Aliens/Predator series, what are called “crossovers” with each other, and tie-ins with the movie franchises, owned by Fox Pictures, including with the new Prometheus 2 movie. Why am I surprised that this event is packed? I too am a fan of the Aliens and Predator movies (well, most of them) and have poked my head into some of the previous comic book incarnations.
The panel is composed of Dark Horse editor-in-chief Scott Allie, and the five writers involved in the four series. Some cover art is shown on the big screen, and they discuss the creative super-collaborative process and…I am so jealous. I would fucking love to be involved with a group of like-minded writer souls on a cool project like Aliens and Predators.
By Saturday evening, I’m just exhausted. And I’m not the only one—the lobbies of both buildings are strewn with people sitting down anywhere, any open space against a wall. And yet, streams of fresh costumed folks are still heading up the escalators—people who had to work this morning maybe—the night is young I guess, and activities will go on into the night, both official and unofficial.
As I’m getting ready to go, a guy and his girlfriend come up to a group sitting next to me. Guy #1 is grinning. Guy #2 (seated) asks, “Having a good time?”
Guy #1: Oh hell yes. I’m spending so much money it’s not even funny.
Guy #2 (showing a stack of comic books): Yeah, I’ve spend like 120 dollars already.
Guy #1 (showing his stack of comic books): Dude, I’ve spent like 620. I don’t even know where it’s all going. But check this out.
He produces a 8×12 black and white photo of he and his girlfriend with Ron Perlman, autographed.
Guy #1: Isn’t that awesome?
Guy #2: Yeah, that is awesome.