If you asked me to sum up my Wondercon experience in a couple of short, witty phrases, I’d just tell you that I ate six pieces of pizza over the course of two days and that I spent more on karaoke than I did on anything even remotely comic-related.
That’s not the full experience, though. It was an interesting con for me, due in no small part to the ongoing evolution in the way I approach comics, and being a fan of comics. I got no signatures, no sketches, no freebies. I paid for three books and got one for free. I spent maybe twenty-five whole dollars at the con, a drastic decrease from the usual foolishness I get down to. I’ll get to that, though.
I left work a couple hours early on Friday to hit the con and get my pass. It was painless, with less than two people in line ahead of me. Other than my pass saying “4thletter!/Popcultureshock.com” for some reason, it was easy like Sunday morning.
I figured I’d walk the length of the hall from wall to wall, but the first thing I did at the con was find Matt Maxwell, Jeff Lester, and Heidi MacDonald chit-chatting in Artist’s Alley/Small Press. I killed some time with them for a while, talking about the con and comics, and that more or less set the tone for the con.
I spent a lot of time talking to people about comics and only attended a few panels. I stopped in on the DC Nation panel because a few friends (Esther, JK Parkin, Graeme McMillan, Carla Hoffman, Laura Hudson, a couple others) were there. It was, in a word, abysmal. They completely flubbed looking like they had any idea what they were doing with digital comics, there was a lot of “Wait and see,” there were a few “Wait until San Diego” answers… it was boring. I liked when someone asked about plans for Nightwing and got a succinct “Yeah, he’s Batman” in response, and I love that Dark Knight: Boy Wonder got announced, but it was a snoozer. I had a similar experience at the Marvel panel I accidentally attended the next day, again because friends were in effect and I had an opening in my schedule. I spent most of it poring over Darwyn Cooke’s The Man With the Getaway Face.
I attended a couple panels that were cool. The Greg Rucka spotlight moderated by Laura was a trip and well worth the price of admission. It was in a huge room, for some reason. The Boom! Studios panel was also pretty good, and Ian Brill seemed genuinely excited to be writing Darkwing Duck.
There was a Disney Comics superfan in the audience, too, who kept interrupting to ask about minutiae. At the end of the panel, I went up to say hi to Ian, and as I turned to leave, the superfan was right behind me. He was mumbling something about how we should print the Disney newspaper strips in black and white and not colorize them and something something Carl Barks. I tried to tell him I wasn’t part of Boom!, that that was the other black guy in the room, but he just said, “Yes, yes, but I think that…” and kept going. I shrugged and walked away while he was talking. I’m not getting trapped in an infinite conversation ever again, and that definitely had the makings of one.
(You ever had one of those? When someone keeps going and going and you can’t find a polite way to excuse yourself because they’re so focused that all they want to do is talk about whatever? Yeah. Infinite conversations. They’re gonna be the death of somebody one day.)
I attended the Black Cartoonists as Social Commentators panel, too. It was good, but the moderator was a little too overbearing. It was clear he had a very clear and academic formula he wanted to follow, but Keith Knight and Darrin Bell are hilarious, personable, and have great anecdotes. I would’ve much preferred to see them let loose with a conversation about themselves and their work. The glimpses we got were great, though, and if you aren’t reading either, get familiar. Bell’s story about how he was getting hate mail after hate mail before Hurricane Katrina and zilch after… that was a good one. It was a good panel.
I spent most of my time walking around with friends like Lauren Davis and Ana, digging in the various half off book booths and looking for stuff to buy. I didn’t buy much, as I said before, in part because I know exactly how much stuff is sitting on my coffee table, waiting to be read. I stuck to books I knew I’d love and get to relatively soon. This means I missed out on deep discounted hardcovers, but that’s okay. I think.
There was a weird thing on Saturday where I got a free book from a retailer. I spent some time going through the booth with my friend Keith, who is also a black guy, but shorter than me and without glasses. I found just the one book to buy, but Keith found a handful, one or two of which I talked him into with the old peer pressure. Keith went to check out before I did, and I guess the retailer lost his cool on an attendee or employee or something in front of him. The retailer gave him the books gratis, and Keith rolled out. I went to check out a couple minutes later and was completely baffled by the exchange I had. I walked up, he looked at the book, and asked me if I was on a roll. I had no idea what it meant, so I gave him a non-comital “Kinda sorta!” He said something about that being good and told me, “Last one” and gave me the book for free. When I talked to Keith shortly after, we put two and two together, and maybe he thought I was Keith? And that Keith was going for another freebie? Either way, vague racism got me a free comic! Go me! Except… it was a comic I was getting for Sean Witzke. Way to benefit off racism, Sean. I hope you’re happy >:|
Friday night meant karaoke with a few friends. Turns out my friends are karaoke pros and I am… not. Also, I’m now convinced that every woman I know knows every Disney tune by heart. However, drinks and fun times were had and I regret nothing. And I love Kokomo.
The downside of drinks was that Saturday had two panels that were kind of a big deal: the podcasting panel at 1230 and the journalism panel at 6. I was a little hung over, Ron and Conor from iFanboy were a little hung over from going on the Isotope’s Tiki Tour, and Esther was not hung over and in a very smart business casual suit. It was a fun panel, though. We talked about being a baby podcast with less than a year under our belt, Ron and Conor talked about being vets, and we shared embarrassing stories.
The journalism panel was the biggest deal for me. I started thinking about it shortly after San Diego or so, and actual organizing in September or October. Everyone I asked was down to do it, even if it meant flying across the country to sit in a room and talk about writing. The lineup was Ron Richards of iFanboy, Kate Dacey of Manga Critic (among other sites, and we’re both PopCultureShock alumni), Graeme McMillan of Every Site Ever But Especially Fanboy Rampage, and JK Parkin of Robot 6. Each of them fills a specific niche in terms of comics journalism, whether it’s podcasting, aggressively reviewing releases, news gathering, or running a general interest site. JK had to bow out for personal reasons, and I called Laura Hudson of Comics Alliance up to the table to take his place. I want to thank all of these people for coming through, because they definitely didn’t have to. Without them, the panel wouldn’t have been anything. They were all frank, hilarious, astute, and several other very flattering words.
I can’t give a fair assessment of the panel. I’m entirely too close to it. Tom Spurgeon wrote it up, though, and was very, very kind after the panel. He describes Kate as formidable, which I think is a fair judgment. I think I called her a powerhouse when I introduced her to the room. If you aren’t reading Kate’s site, click here and rectify that.
We talked about writing, our process, fighting online, dealing with PR and pushy creators, building relationships, tracking hits, and several other things that are important to writers. I was very pleased to see that a large portion of the room were writers themselves, and I think that made the panel stronger. The questions were great, very pointed and lacking in fluff. There was no BS on display on the panel, no prima donna “I’m owed this” nonsense. Just four people who liked comics, liked writing about comics, and were honest about how they went about it.
I’ll be honest: I thought I was drowning up there as moderator. I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly good public speaker (I feel like I get very mushmouthy when talking about something I like, causing me to get ahead of myself and stumble over words, in addition to being fairly soft-spoken), and while I’d prepared some questions ahead of time, I found myself winging it far more than I thought I would. But then, after the panel, I met Tom Spurgeon after years of reading his work, which was really nice. It blew my mind when he said I was a natural moderator, and complimented my writing, but I’ll gladly accept it. I’ve heard from other people that the panel was fun, too, so take their word for it, not mine.
I’d be criminally remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to manga superblogger Deb Aoki of About.com: Manga. She was in the crowd and came in with game-saving and hilarious assists on a few questions, like the difference between yaoi and bara manga, and how Last Gasp should go for it and publish some over here. I think she’s doing a wrap-up of her own, I’ll be sure to link it here.
Turnout was great. We filled one of their smaller rooms, the same room Gail Simone had her spotlight panel in. Jeff has several pictures (one, two, three), one of which I bit for posting here. (Laura is hidden behind that terribly positioned monitor.) I couldn’t believe that we filled a room, had none of those awkward “Any questions?” pauses, and that we actually ran over our allotted time and no one noticed. No one looked at their watch and dipped out the back. I happened to check the time while a question was being answered and saw that it was past seven. We closed out the panel officially and then spent another 20 minutes or so talking to people in the room. So, to the audience: thank you for being so interested.
That night, I headed to Isotope and iFanboy’s party, featuring Darwyn Cooke, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Amanda Conner. I caught up with some con friends, some old friends, and some new friends. It was really nice. I’d intended to go to Comix Experience’s birthday bash, too, but I stepped outside of my apartment and practically froze to death. There’s no way I could’ve made it to Haight and back without dying. Next year.
All in all, though there were some funny and weird hitches, Wondercon was a success for me. I had a great time. Not chasing news, autographs, and sketches made it an interesting time. I focused on the people, rather than the culture, for lack of a better word, and I think this was the most fun I had in a long time. I know I forgot to mention a few people (I finally met Tom Bondurant, I hung out with Douglas Wolk a few times, I talked to Darwyn Cooke at the Isotope party for a while, etc.), but I loved talking to all of you. Except the Disney Superfan. That was just weird.
I did really only eat six pieces of pizza the whole weekend, though. That’s part of the reason why I stayed home on Sunday. I was starving.
(Weird running theme of the con: I make several people feel old, but they like my writing.)