It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Well not the worst but Comic Con New York was a trifle more challenging than Comic Con San Diego. We’re not in California anymore Toto. Paging Miz Estrada. Paging Miz Estrada…However it did, in the end, turn out to be fantastic.
We all love New York but it is not an easy city to navigate unless you are dropping in somewhere by helicopter. Blade Runner, anyone? The Javits Center is the worst possible place to get to by car especially on the Columbus Day Weekend (yes, I sat in that god forsaken traffic jam) and it’s not too much easier by other transportation. I found the most convenient mode was to hop across from Hoboken on the ferry. It was also quite pleasant and I highly recommend it. Thanks to good friend Sharon Shahinian, I had luxurious digs in their beautiful brownstone. I have always loved the waterways around Manhattan and sometimes when you’re buried in the city you forget they’re there. Being on the water gives you a chance to see all the great views of the skyline and have a chance to grab some space and air.
The panel I was to be on morphed through quite a few changes so I found myself pulling it together at the last minute. I enlisted the aid of the delightful Pete Marston, son of William Moulton Marston, originator of Wonder Woman to be on the hot seat with me. Pete is always fun and he doesn’t miss much and kindly passes it on to yours truly whose head is usually in a whirl. Even though he had never been on a panel in this kind of setting Pete, like the gentleman he is quickly agreed to do so.
I visited Pete as noted in an earlier post and we talked about what and how we would present. I planned to present more in depth about the Major’s pulp fiction adventure stories and how that translated to the comics and Pete planned to talk about what it was like growing up in a household with Wonder Woman ever present. Our panel was under the auspices of the Comic Studies group—the Institute of Comics Studies, a non-profit group organized to promote critical studies of comic books for those in the academic field who are teaching popular culture. It is a great group of people chaired by Peter Coogan and the panels are attended by people who are genuinely interested in comic book history. The crowd is always attentive and very knowledgeable. You’d better know what you’re talking about with this group and be able to relate it articulately. It is a great pleasure talking about the Major’s work in front of people who appreciate it and understand the context without long involved explanations.
On the Monday before the event two of the planned presenters suddenly had serious family situations. At a certain age these kinds of things happen and there is nothing you can do about it. There is life and then there are comic book panels.
Luckily for me, the group of people I know in the comic book world happen to be some of the nicest people I know in any world and everyone jumped in to support. So many people came prepared to shout out help from the audience it read like a who’s who of comic book history. Besides Christopher Couch whose book on Jerry Robinson just came out (Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics) and David Armstrong, film maker extraordinaire who has been recording comics history at Comic Cons for years and Barbara Moss, who is up to date on all things Wonder Woman and Brad Ricca, of Last Son documentary fame and whose book on Siegel and Shuster will be out next year and Howard Cruse, the cartoonist of such greats as Wendel and the just re-released graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby among others, guess who dropped in to rescue the day? Why Batman of course! We are talking about comic books, right?
Michael Uslan, the producer of the Batman movies knows a great deal about the history of comics. As far as I know he was the first person to ever teach a course on comics history at the university level. The man knows what he’s talking about as he has been a serious fan from an early age. He refers to himself as a “fan boy.” Michael is also a marvelous speaker and a wonderful creator and writer. He has been writing the new series of Archie comics based on the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” This very unique concept has generated a lot of new interest in Archie not only from kids but also from adults who grew up with Archie. His book called Archie Marries is out now and you can get one for yourself here. His talk in the gigantic thousand plus fan venue earlier in the day was truly inspiring. I’m not kidding. He made me feel better about my daunting path just listening to him. I especially loved the answers he gave to all the young people who had the nerve to get up and ask them. If you have never heard Michael speak you must run to the next one because as Christie Marston, daughter of Pete said, there is no way to do it justice. Michael’s story is truly uplifting and especially encouraging to anyone who is attempting anything creatively no matter what age.
Michael gave a wonderful introduction to our panel and then generously stayed to field questions with Pete as did the rest of the smarty pants crowd. Thank you so much Michael and everyone who came. We all had a great time. As for me, I somehow managed to click the button on the computer and go through all the images. Pete did a wonderful job. We’re all hoping we can talk him into doing it again! It was fascinating to hear him speak about growing up in the depression and hearing how important comics were to people during that time. For all you whippersnappers out there that means pre TV, Phones, Blogs, Tweets, FB and all the rest of it. It was also fun to learn that Pete contributed some story ideas and a character to Wonder Woman while he was at school at Harvard.
Frank Verano, the excellent Master of Ceremonies got us all through it with ease and nary a glitch including the whole power point thingy for yours truly.
The rest of the event was a blur with panels and seeing people out on the floor of the exhibit hall. Luke Fontneau from WB has to be a magician. I have never seen anyone move a group of people around the way he did with our gang of Pete Marston, Christie Marston, Ann, Barbara Moss, Tony, me and a few others who appeared at various times. This man could easily be Chief of Staff of any country. He is smart, awake and knows what he’s doing. Thank you Luke!
I found this exhibit hall more daunting than San Diego for some strange reason. But one of the great things about Comic Con in NY is that many of the older legends of comics live in the area and many of them were in attendance like Al Jaffee, Jerry Robinson, Irwin Hasen and even 97 year-old Joe Simon! Boo, hiss to the Javits Center who does not have their act together for people in this age group. You know who you are and you know what you did. Another great thing about the New York show is that there are a lot more comic book booths and most of the publishers in the city are there not to mention that glamour girl from MoCCA, Ellen Abramowitz who has three great exhibits up right now–Al Jaffee, Liza Donnelly and Denis Kitchen.
I had fun at the IDW booth finally catching a glimpse of Craig Yoe who is looking like a new parent these days. Yes, Craig you looked like you hadn’t had a good night’s sleep lately. And I’ll say it again—Eisner award time for Mr. Yoe, anybody listening out there? I loved meeting Bruce Canwell and Dean Mullaney of the Eisner, Harvey award winning The Library of American Comics. They put out an astonishing array of books reprinting classic comic strips and produce books on industry greats. This year I saw them win an Eisner for their book Bloom County. Here is a link to their site which, by the way, is a great site. I think I have site envy. Bruce and I established immediate rapport because we are both big fans of Tom DeHaven. Tom just wrote a book for Yale University Press called Superman, Our Hero and he has written Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies and Funny Papers. Superman, Our Hero is one of the most comprehensive books I’ve read about Superman and it’s a great introduction to the whole phenomena. Just read anything Tom has written. You can’t go wrong. As someone who edits and does a lot of rewrites, believe me I know good writing and Bruce and I agree that Tom is one of the best. Bruce is not too shabby a writer himself. Check out his blog.
Jim Salicrup was fielding questions from fans as I struggled past his Paper Cutz booth and we managed a quick hello. I missed the Fred Astaire of comics, Batton Lash appearing without his Ginger, Jackie Estrada. He did a cameo at the Archie Booth and I never made it through the crowd—next time! The handsome and very talented Dan Parent, of course was front and center at Archie and he and friend Howard Cruse appeared later in the day at the panel LGBT Comics Creators and Characters.
David Armstrong squired me around for a while and thanks to David my big thrill/crazed fan moment on Sunday was finally getting to meet the legendary Jim Steranko whom I have been dying to meet for a long time. We had an “oh my goodness, one of my long lost relatives moment.” He is divine in all senses of the word as those of you in the know are well aware. More to come later about the fabulous Mr. Steranko, another person about whom Bruce Canwell and I share passionate feelings. Bruce, we have to stop this.
Barbara Moss and David Armstrong and I had a wonderful time on Saturday evening having dinner with the energetic academic crowd. They were each and every one interesting, smart and all doing amazing work in their fields. It was just a little scary that they were all approximately twelve years of age. I always love being able to chat in person with my friend Brad Ricca who teaches at Case Western. Brad is not only my resident Siegel and Shuster expert but patiently provides a sympathetic ear. Brad was one of the presenters on the panel on New York and spoke about the importance of the 1939-1940 World’s Fair on how we perceive super heroes. I especially enjoyed meeting the very talented D.C. Slider, who was out there presenting her portfolio and very kindly shared it with me. I love her work. If I can figure out how to work my scanner, I’m going to put a sample up here because you’ll like it too. Someone nice should use their brains and hire her or better yet publish her work.
So all in all it was a wonderful event and I would do it again—as long as Michael allows me to use the bat signal if I get into trouble and Sharon allows me to end up in Hoboken! What fun to arrive in the evening off the ferry and head down to meet her at the restaurant on the corner for incredible wine and food and all right there under the Manhattan skyline. Perfect!