New York Comic Con 2013

Photo Oct 10, 7 28 38 PM

by Dani Aronson and Caitlin Boston

There were so many nerdtastic highlights at New York Comic Con this year! Knowing how demanding con’s can be, we showed up with water to stay hydrated, granola bars to power up with, lady loins girded for the onslaught of scantily clad nerd men, and our minds clear for the thoughtgasms that awaited us at the panels.

Upon entering the Javits Center on Friday, we were met with an army of cosplayers representing an innumerable variety of comic books, mainstream movies, and video game universes. Luckily for us, all of the superheros and villains kept their grudges confined to the page and we were able to frolic amongst all of the spandex and dastardliness in an admiring peace.

Navigating the crowds was a challenge because of the sheer volume of people, but we made our way to the main convention floor to start exploring the booths. This wasn’t the easiest task: picture the basement of your best friend’s house (you know, the one with the endless collections of stuff and video games piled up) consummating with a Best Buy and that’s the sort of chaos that we were engulfed in. Our patience and determination to stay in line was eventually rewarded as Dani got the chance to meet the guys from Cyanide & Happiness and got a commissioned piece from them. Caitlin had her favorite copy of Image Comics’ East of West, autographed by its creators, Nick Dragotta (swoon) and Jonathan Hickman, resulting in her needing a new life’s goal.

We attended a panel that featured a number of the talented writers and artists from Image Comics including the incredibly charming Ales Kot, whom Dani couldn’t help objectifying after the panel when she assured the Czech writer that he was adorable (it’s true; he is). In addition to our shared con crush on Kot, Dani ran into Dragotta twice after Caitlin first chatted with him at the East of West signing.  The theme of this year’s NYCC was most definitely our love affair with Image Comics.

In addition to our Image Comics fun, we learned how to count to ten with Jim Henson-approved puppeteers, and were tempted with many exciting panels including Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Robot Chicken and Doctor Who. Attempting panels such as The Walking Dead requires waiting many hours, if not all day, to secure a spot; we decided to devote our time to panels that focused on the industry, the community, and where they intersect.

Dani: LGBT and Allies in Comics panel was the first panel I attended. Moderated by New York Times’ Jude Biersdorf, the panel featured Dan Parent, Marjorie Liu, Dan Ketchum, Rich Bernatovech, and Greg Pak. Before the panel, they played a short video produced by (new favorite nonprofit) Geeks Out that featured people talking about their favorite gay comic characters, some of which included Batwoman, Northstar, and Kevin Keller.

Dan Parent, who writes Kevin Keller for Archie Comics, spoke about the importance of Keller, the first gay character in the Archie series. Keller’s debut was the first Archie comic to ever sell out in stores, and despite protest from One Million Moms regarding the sale of his wedding issue in Toys ‘R’ Us, the issue sold very well and was met with praise. Parent spoke of parents who write him letters thanking him for Keller, a character that allows them to have an easy conversation with kids about gay acceptance, and Team Keller even did a video for the It Gets Better Project.

Before the same-sex nuptials in Archie-land, the first same-sex wedding in comic book history took place between a bi-national couple, Northstar and Kyle Jinadu, in Astonishing X-Men. Marjorie Liu wrote the X-Men wedding issue, which coincided with the actual take down of (the totally fucked up) DOMA. Liu noted that X-Men has had the most gay characters to date, but some on the panel recalled that not that long ago, you had to go up the food chain for ‘gay approval of characters’ at Marvel.

The discussion shifted to the subject of questionably less progressive DC Comics, who refused to let Batwoman (side note: so many Batwoman cosplayers this year) marry her longtime girlfriend. Many fans and critics weren’t satisfied by the response DC had, that “their heroes don’t have happy personal lives,” and many on the panel called the situation a case of lazy storytelling. Panelist Greg Pak, who writes X-Treme X-Men, a comic that features couple Howlett and Hercules, said that although acceptance of adult gay characters has become more mainstream, when it comes to teens, we still have a lot of (small-minded) adults that get worked up. Pak says, “once marriage happened in New York, a lot changed in terms of what we were able to do.” After the panel, some audience members asked about when there would be a representation of trans characters (DC announced the first trans character recently: Batgirl’s roommate). At a certain point in the panel, when talking about the need for more diversity of LGBTQAI characters, Pak noted that it is important to gain greater diversity, because maybe he wants to write about a gay couple that’s “totally miserable,” and “no one character should have to sustain the hopes and dreams of a whole community.” That’s some real talk, Pak!

Caitlin: Image Comics: Behind the Creations was definitely one of the highlights for me at this year’s con. Featuring Antony Johnston, Glen Brunswick, Joshua Williamson, Kieron Gillen, Ron Richards, Tim Seeley, Ales Kot, and a late arrival by Kelly Sue DeConnick (aka, the woman whom the concept of “girl-crush” was invented to serve).  This was the sort of panel that could have levitated you out of the room with the sheer fan-bliss that it created. Collectively, the panel talked about the work behind their works and what informed their creative processes. For example, Tim Seeley, creator of the prolific Hack/Slash spoke about how his upbringing in a small town in Wisconsin basically gave him the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when” for his newest comic, Revival, an incredibly atmospheric, “rural noir” horror story. Kieron Gillen – who may possibly be the most British British-man that I have ever met – talked about how he came home “absolutely smashed off of one drink of everything” one night (see?) and dreamt up Three, a reworking of the Warriors of Sparta myth. Kelly Sue DeConnick spoke about how her newest work Pretty Deadly which is a mix of spaghetti westerns, mythology, and the supernatural, plus some badass freaking women acting in the “man with no name” vigilante style. I could go on, but that’s what their PR people are for.

From there, the panelists proceeded to delve into what sort of prep work they did in terms of research (e.g. a lot – but not too much) and how they worked with their artists to get the right look and feel (I believe Antony Johnston is the one who mentioned using a mood board with his art collaborators, which is basically a Pinterest for artists). It was an incredibly lively discussion which shouldn’t have left me so surprised as all of these creators are incredibly entertaining writers – that’s why I like their work so much to begin with. Seeing all of the panelists together made me realise one of my favourite things about Image Comics is how they publish such a diverse line of work; their wheelhouse is immense and it covers almost every genre of storytelling, be it horror, fantasy, western, science-fiction, or historical retelling. They don’t specialise in superheros, they just champion good work. It was an incredibly fun panel to sit in on, and yes, as Dani mentioned, Ales Kot is extremely [adorable]* (*edited out for wanton crassness).

Dani: The Mary Sue Presents: Representation in Geek Media panel was the next on my list. And boy, was this panel competitive to get into! Overall, it became very clear that the demand for panels discussing LGBTQAI issues, feminism, and people of color has grown tremendously at comic con. It’s really promising, because these communities have already been comic and geek culture consumers for years, and I’m excited they are becoming more vocal for their need to be represented in this community! The Mary Sue panel was moderated by Jill Pantozzi, and the panelists were: Susana Polo, Jamal Igle, Kate Leth, N.K. Jemisin, and Phil Jimenez. After the mob of angry people that couldn’t get in had left, I made nice with the door people for a couple of minutes, and I sweet talked the adorably virginal doorman, I finally made my way in. The first question for the panel was about the importance of seeing yourself in entertainment, and comics. Phil Jimenez recalled how as a young gay kid, he related to the strength of many female superheroes. Kate Leth brought up how when she sees parents discouraging their boys from reading the ‘girl’ comics, she tries to help the kids get their way. Everyone agreed, we should all try to fight this idea of gender appropriate interests so perhaps more boys, like Jimenez, would relate to female characters. The idea of controversy surrounding gender swaps for comic reboots was also discussed; there were just rumors that Jimmy Olsen would become Jenny Olsen in the new Man of Steel, and some fanboys got angry — how dare you give the precious Olsen A VAGINE. In a world filled with superheroes, mutant creatures, a ginger who gets all the chicks (really Archie Comics?), and the supernatural, why is the idea of making a character a woman soooo controversial? The panel finished by concluding that the demand for diversity is here, and hopefully the industry listens.

Caitlin: On Friday night, my last panel was Eat, Read, Love: CHEW’s Ascendance and it featured the comic CHEW and its creators John Layman and Rob Guillory. CHEW is sort of incredible because it’s about an FDA (as in, the USA’s Food and Drug Administration, as in…the regulators behind poultry and apples and manure) agent who lives in a world where people have incredible food powers (e.g. getting a psychic sense of the past after taking a bite out of any organic matter) and chicken has been outlawed because of a mass outbreak of bird flu. It all sounds like incredibly improbable material for any sort of narrative, but it’s actually one of the most interesting comics that I’ve ever read. This is mostly due to the fact that Layman’s writing is hilarious and Guillory’s art is the perfect complement to his cannibalistic sense of humour. While the two talked about what it was like working with each other and how they worked through the creative process together, the most interesting piece of information that I picked up was how Layman wants CHEW to tap out after it’s 60th issue has run – “the same length as Preacher,” in his words. It must be mentioned that Layman comes across as delightfully impish in his sense of humour and Guillory is totally the guy you would want to have as a best friend.

On Saturday I went to Traveling East of West with Hickman and Dragotta, the two creators behind one of the breakout hits of 2013, East of West. Excuse me while I regain my composure long enough to continue writing, but just thinking about how I met Nick Dragotta and Jonathan Hickman is making me hyperventilate into a paper bag festooned with drawings of Death, sci-fi horses, and the future. Dragotta and Hickman spent their panel discussing how their partnership came about and what it’s been like working together on what certainly feels like an epic storyline. Originally paired together at Marvel while working on the Fantastic Four in 2012, the two sat down for what they hoped would be a creator-owned story (i.e. a comic published by Image Comics). Hickman wanted to write a western; Dragotta wanted to do manga-influenced science fiction. Unlike most Asian fusion however, this pairing has been both incredibly palatable and emotionally engaging to partake in, the resonance of the story line being felt through both the romance and the mythologising of the characters’ narratives. I mean, how could the line “the woman who conquered Death,” featuring an absolutely sweeping layout of art, not make you want to die a little inside with awe and happiness? Watching the two creators interact felt very intimate from an audience perspective; maybe it’s because they’re southern (or have at least spent a bit of time in the south), but they both just seemed so relaxed and casual that I honestly felt like I was listening to a conversation that the two were having on a porch over sweet tea.  Listening to them talk, it’s very clear that the two respect each other and hopefully that means a nice long publishing run…fingers crossed.

Dani + Caitlin: It can be difficult being a geek of color if only because it’s still difficult being a person of color in general. That being said though, the Geeks of Color panel was relatively interesting and if anything, felt like a big ‘ole brain hug after a very long weekend of conning. For me, the highlight on this panel was cosplayer and blogger Jay Justice (dressed as the Scarlet Witch). I honestly just wanted to yell “Amen!” after nearly everything she said, particularly about how you should just cosplay however the heck you want to cosplay because even if you “follow the rules” as a POC, you still won’t be “doing it right” in some ignorant ass’s eyes. For example, dressing up as Nubia only to have some white-male-fool tell you, “Wonder Woman isn’t black!”.  It’s just such a shame when ignorance clouds your ability to nerd. I do wish there had been more opportunity to discuss how there is a socio-economic and political difference between Black women and Asian women cosplaying, but hey, for the time they had, the panel was quite thorough in its treatment of all things POC and nerd.

The panels definitely nourished our minds, and overall we like the direction NYCC is going in by growing discussions on diversity in this traditionally homogenous white male industry. At the Geeks Out panel, Dan Ketchum told the audience to “vote with your dollars” and, he’s right. It’s obvious that this industry can’t ignore the growing demand for diversity and visibility if they want to survive — if not, PREPARE TO BE EATEN BY ZOMBIES… or just go broke. Up to you, overlords!

Not all of our NYCC experience was cerebral. One of the other major highlights of NYCC was the amazing nail art we got on Saturday. A team of fabulous skilled nail art vixens hooked us up with fierce new claws. Caitlin got some Roy Lichtenstein-inspired “pow” and “zap” nails, and a unicorn. Dani got Skeletor, Leela of Futurama, and a Roy Lichtenstein “boom!” nail. To solidify our nerd love, and have a memento to remember NYCC, we got matching friendship necklaces from House of Darkly – hot pink acrylic 8bit hearts! The perfect reminder of our love for ALL THINGS COMIC CON.

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