This Dragon Con was a return to form in a way for me, as I wanted to catch more panels and especially focus on the comics side of things this convention. The recent years there had been fantastic, but held less time for sitting in on things I wanted to see and didn’t allow me time for any interviews. Scouring through the list of upcoming events for the Con I managed to find more than enough, but so much of it was all taking place around the same time that I quickly had to give up on a few things. I think I chose wisely though, because my experiences this year showed me a couple of things many readers have been asking about, all from some still fresh voices in the industry and several independent creators.
I started the trip with an early afternoon panel about The Big 2 vs. Indie Comics, and one of my most memorable sessions of the whole weekend. Frank Tieri (World War Hulk: Gamma Corps), Steven T. Seagle of Man of Action (Ben 10, Mega Man), Van Jensen (Green Lantern Corps, Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer), and the always incredible Paul Jenkins (Civil War: Front Line, Fairy Quest) all round out an incredible group to discuss working for both sides. The conversation was interesting, even if I was already aware of most of their major points, several stories had me intrigued and laughing. Things were going better than expected all the way up to the Q&A section of the panel. I heard a couple of other people voice a few pretty standard queries with some very direct answers, so I decided to ask my own and embarrass my wife in the process.
“Mr. Jenkins, love your work, but I wanted to ask something. You see I married this British woman,” I motioned to my wife, playing off of Jenkins mentioning the troubles with his nationality earlier, “I have been trying so hard to get her to read more comics, but she just won’t do it. Could you tell her why she should read some more Garth Ennis?”
The question was a lark, not serious, just meant to get a laugh and make my wife slightly embarrassed. That part worked, but I should have considered that more carefully, since she was holding a toy chainsaw for her Mia Winters cosplay. The dais of guests though had paused in a few seconds of silence, maybe even disbelief, but Jenkins was quick to deny my request afterwards. There were some laughs and a few comments back and forth before he finally responded in full. Jenkins wanted to know what SHE wanted to read, what my wife was interested in, what would draw her into reading a comic. He pointed this out very specifically and said he’d rather help her find something she might stick with. Segal on the other hand said she simply needed an American comic book instead and walked down from the slightly raised platform, along the aisle, and handed her a free copy of Genius—thanks for that. Then the panel began to discuss about how all of their respective wives barely read their works, other than Jenkins’ spouse with The Darkness—because Darkness is that good. This all went on for about fifteen minutes, which I hadn’t meant for it to, but the point was made clear that getting new readers was about helping them find something they would like and relate to, not trying to push them into something we might like.
Saturday evening had me skipping on the beginning of a couple of parties for a Comic Studies Roundtable with guests Matt Fraction (Sex Criminals, Hawkeye), Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly, Bitch Planet, Captain Marvel), and Damien Williams, who is an instructor on philosophy, technology, and religion as well as popular culture and the occult, providing the academic insight for this talk. This was by far one of the most interesting panels I had ever set in on, but also a forum that just didn’t click. I saw what they were trying to do, the deep thoughts and jokes were all there, but it didn’t click together for me. There were some good points about what the comics could express and how they were reaching a greater audience as representation on the pages increased. The big takeaway here though was that there was still a long way to go. An example given was the number of black women working in the industry and a discussion about how various minorities and sub-cultures could find books that related to them. There are a lot of people trying to expand these aspects, but the industry is still going through a slow change, a new growing period as technology and social perspectives alter over time. Recently Marvel blamed some of their shortcomings on attempting to diversify too much with their characters, and that is a much longer discussion, but the truth is that the demand for new and different characters is there, and it is a lot harder to find those in the big two companies currently.
On Sunday morning I had an early interview with Annie Erskine (founder, lead artist) and Clint Waters (lead writer) of Ionic Comics. This is a small company that is only producing one main title, Variants: Stripes, but there are a lot of plans for the future as they prepare to introduce a slew of new characters and branch out with the Variants umbrella. Not only was it interesting to hear how both of these creators got their start—in video games—but also what they do to help supplement their work, like Erskine doing freelance work for Cartoon Network and College Humor. The company is still trying to get their creation out there, posting online and using Patreon, attempting to make a name with what they want to create. Their goal is to make something that people will like, but that will also help younger kids to see that there is normality for what everyone is in the comics world. In this, they don’t view homosexuality or disabilities as a superpower. It isn’t about coming out of the closet or forcing others to accept what makes someone different, but simply living. Both Erskine and Waters take their inspiration from traditional places, mixed with personal experiences, and are now making what they wanted to see when they were coming up. The experience was refreshing.
I also attended the Image Comics: 25th-Year Anniversary panel, something I was excited about, as a kid who got his start with WildCATs and loved Spawn. Fraction and DeConnick returned for this one and were joined by Jim Mahfood (artist on Spider-Man), Megan Hutchinson (artist on Rockstars), Joe Harris (Rockstars, Snowfall), and Brenden Fletcher (Black Canary, Gotham Academy). This was a bit disappointing at first, because maybe five minutes were spent on the company’s history, which I already knew, and the rest was joking and talking about the current lineup. Maybe I’m being harsh here and set my expectations a bit high, but the Q&A portion of the session was better and cemented what I felt was the real point of the weekend. This set of guests did reaffirm something from the first panel about how little freedom the big two companies give, and what flew back in the day, the chances they were willing to take, couldn’t be allowed anymore because of the money involved now. The truth is that companies do better and work harder when they are on the endangered species list.
There are a lot of current creators out there right now that might not fit the mold set by the history of the industry, but these are all people out there who are working on creating great content and trying to bring in more readers as the landscape of print comics changes. Creators are trying to make books that they would want to read and give options, making sure there is something out there for every possible person who might pick up something to read, and not just a drop in the bucket with a few token characters or scenarios, but more a large pool of various content. We, as readers, know this already, but we should be supporting the things we like and we want to see more of to show the desire and demand for those things. Whether it is a single book by someone small like Ionic Comics, the indie creators, Image, Archie, or even the big two, readers will traditionally get more of what they put their money towards. Now, more than ever, I feel the need to look for new and different creators who are striving to give me what I want. Now if everyone will excuse me, I need to budget for new comics.