Friday, June 26, 2009

Wizard World Philadelphia: The belated con report

Yes, Bill, I'm posting it now.


I can be hard on my friend Bill, a cataloguer in Technical Processing, the department across the hall from mine. When I agreed to go with him to this year's Wizard World Philadelphia I had actually broken precedent by agreeing almost immediately, without hemming and hawing for weeks while he nagged and cajoled me, as I had done in previous years.

By affirming that this year I was in almost as soon as the subject was brought up, I had, in essence, taken all of the fun out of it.

Sorry, Bill.

After I ruined everything by being so goddamn cooperative, our preparation for the convention mainly consisted of me checking in at his workstation to take a quick inventory of the guest list. We checked to see who had been added and who had been dropped almost every day. I personally kept an eye on Artist Alley, scanning it for names I recognized and doing a quick calculation of how much I'd be willing to pay for a sketch balanced against my budget for the day.

Thus were the days passed until...

The Day of the Con:

Bill picked me up and we headed down to the train station in Bryn Mawr to catch the R5. Despite just having had breakfast, my stomach felt like it was going to eat itself, so I went into the station and ordered a toasted bagel from the snack bar. The proprietor was a nice, sociable fellow, who even sat down with Bill and me to chat while we waited for the train.

Great bagel, too.

The R5 came and went with us on it, and we headed toward Center City with great feelings of anticipation.

Once we reached the con we checked in quickly and headed toward the main floor. The Convention Center staff kept the lines moving, though each and every one of them looked like they had been forced to eat a bug after clocking in.

The first thing I usually notice upon entering a convention is the costumes. This time was no exception. Harley Quinn and Emma Frost arrived together and posed for pictures (no doubt fueling many a fevered fanboy fantasy). There was a striking Black Manta costume, in the helmet of which the maker had installed a voice changer, making him sound much like the way the villain did on the old Super Friends show. Fan anticipation for the upcoming GI Joe movie was evidenced by the clusters around Snake-Eyes and The Baroness. And movie quality renditions of Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and an entire platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers were an inescapable presence.

Bill and I tooled around the floor a bit before separating to pursue our parallel lines of fandom. He headed for Autograph Alley while I started scouting out the bargain bins for trade paperbacks. I kept my focus on series that I had already started to collect instead of trying to break new ground. I was rewarded with a copy of Grendel: Devil's Reign, which rounds out my Grendel reprints from the original Comico run. Other books were had, but Reign is the day's crown jewel from the bins, as far as I'm concerned.

From there I went to Artist's Alley, where I found the booth of my favorite cartoonist, Evil, Inc.'s Brad Guigar.

By a weird little bit of serendipity, I was actually standing by, waiting my turn, while this video was being shot:

Meeting Brad Guigar from Rafael Irizarry on Vimeo.

I love meeting Brad Guigar. He's a great guy, and gracious to his fans, even refraining from telling them outright that the gag they thought of for his strip was too awful to use (cough-cough). I make a point to seek him out whenever I'm at Wizard World and this year his book was the only one for which I paid cover price. For each book purchased he added a quick head sketch on the flyleaf for free. Like I said, a great guy.

I was a bit boggled to find only one vendor - Krypton Comics - actually selling comic art supplies. I mean, it's a no-brainer that artists and artist wannabes like myself are drawn (heh) to these events. You'd think more vendors would have twigged to that. Still, that one did was enough for me, even if they had run out of non-photo blue leads for automatic pencils, thus forcing me to buy the old-fashioned variety (grrr...).

On the downside, scarcity seemed to be an unintended underlying theme to the convention. There were hardly any freebies to speak of, mainly due to the absence of the companies in the best position to hand them out. DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, none of the major publishers had a booth there and pickings were slim. I attributed it at the time to the economy, but that wasn't the whole story.

More on that later.

Well, Bill and I fulfilled our various personally-assigned missions and headed home. We were generally satisfied with the day, having both gotten what we'd came for.


After plowing through the adventures of the Ultimates, John Constantine, and the Justice Society, and beginning to savor the story of the rise of the Grendel-Khan, I got to wondering about the absence of the major publishers. And not just in comics, either. When I had last gone to Wizard World there were a couple of game companies taking up a lot of space that dealers and artists were then noticeably spread out to fill.

With the high of the trip having worn off, I thought about some of the rumblings I'd heard from the fans and vendors. I was hardly the only one to notice the big companies' absence. One or two gone might be attributed to economic forces, but all of them?

Something was up.

I'm sure this is old news to fans who follow the politics of the convention scene, but I'm an occasional con goer, and my eye was completely off of this ball. Happily, I wasn't the only one disturbed by the omens and portents.

My go-to guy for the day after turned out to be the same as it was the day of: Brad Guigar. You can just hear the scribbling of signatures on restraining orders right now, can't you?

The fans had, indeed, noticed the absence of DC, Marvel, et al., from what was supposed to be a major East Coast convention. It boded ill for the future. Fans had even gone so far as wearing "WWP-RIP" t-shirts on Sunday, the con's final day.

Apparently Wizard had tried out its 800-pound gorilla status in the comics industry and came up about 500 pounds short, scheduling the Philadelphia con on the same weekend as the venerable HeroesCon in Charlotte, North Carolina. It blew up in their faces as DC, Marvel, and more took their toys down south, deciding that the Charlotte con was a better use of their resources.

This led to some bloodletting on the Wizard payroll, as the people responsible for the fiasco were sacked and their replacements were left to try to salvage the mess left with only a few short weeks to go.

So the egg on Wizard's face was unavoidable by that point. In retrospect, it was clear that this year's Wizard World Philadelphia was a holding action. That notion was reinforced by the fact that Wizard couldn't even staff its own booth, leaving only the merest fraction of a display in place (never has the original cover art for Watchmen looked so lonely...).

The day after the convention, damage control was already underway. The Wizard World site put up next year's dates as June 11-13, a full week earlier than HeroesCon's traditional Father's Day weekend dates. So it's a first step in a walk back from previous mistakes.

Time will tell if the show redeems itself in the eyes of the fans.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Stalking ≠ Romance

I'll get to the matter of Wizard World and the good time that was had by all momentarily. First, as a lover of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a loather of Twilight, I wanted to share this video that was posted up at Pandagon.

Without spoiling it, let's just say that one Edward Cullen picks the wrong teenager upon whom to try his creepy "stalk ya/control ya/maybe wanna kill ya" shtick.

I really don't know how Twilight manages to get pushed off as "romance." Vampire, shmampire, the dude is a stalker! Even in these little re-edited snippets the guy is giving off a vibe of genuine danger. Not the old writer's crutch of "bad boy with a heart of gold," but an actual predator to whom the only logical responses would be restraining orders, arrest, and/or the business end of a shotgun.

Friday, June 19, 2009

All the young zombies

Wizard World Philadelphia is underway even as I write this. I get my shot at the place tomorrow (details forthcoming, of course). But I want to draw your attention to a facet of the celebration that had me scratching my head.

I like to grab me a copy of the Philadelphia Metro on the way in to work. While paging through it an ad for Wizard World caught my eye. This wasn't a difficult task, as the ad featured Terminator 3 star Kristanna Loken (a wise choice; don't get me wrong, I love the Guest of Honor, Garth Ennis, but, well, look at him, then look at her, and tell me who you would put in the ad copy).

But while Ms. Loken grabbed my attention, what kept it was the copy at the bottom of the ad: "Kids 10 & under get FREE zombie face painting!"

Who what now?

I've known for some time now that, as long as three or more are gathered in any social function, someone will set up a table to paint kids' faces. But I had to wonder: Why zombies? I mean sure, there's the gross-out factor, and... well, we're dealing with 10-year-olds here. Do we need more than the gross-out factor?

But there's more going on here, it seems. In addition to the smell of comic ink, there's the definite whiff of the charnel in the Philadelphia air this weekend. Low, guttural moans emanate from the darker corners of Arch Street, and the stiff shuffling of feet can be heard in the shadows of the Trocadero Theater.

Wherein the Philly Zombie Beach Party is taking place.

And while I'm sure everybody wants to get in on the act, it's only open to zombies who are 21 and over.

Sorry kids. Back to scaring the neighbors.

UPDATE: OK, they won't be knocking back zombies with the grownups at the shindig, but it turns out that this ain't no "soccer-mom-with-a-tray-of-greasepaint" setup for the facepainting. This is professional caliber movie makeup.

Let me put it this way: If I came home with a face like that, nobody could blame my wife for using the only logical response:

She's got the knives and everything. Seriously.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


A classic Sesame Street song about the diversity of human experience.

With the notable exception of the lactose intolerant. Heavy. ;p

Test drving the 1.23 viewer.

So after much hype and ballyhoo, the 1.23 viewer is upon us, tool of the Great Sanitization, wherein all of SL's adult content has been moved to its own continent. This puzzles me because, well, SL is only meant for adults anyway. Why are we protecting adults from adult content?

My personal theory, uncontaminated by research or verified facts, has less to do with any squicky feelings residents might have regarding the more intimate side of the human experience than it does with corporate sensibilities. Coca-Cola isn't going to want Jodi's Fetish Castle as a neighbor in the virtual world anymore than in the real one.

Hence the new zoning scheme, which is all the new continent really is.

So what about the viewer itself? Well, the Linux version is still in beta, so not everything is smooth sailing in it regardless. But there seems to be a general cleaning up of the interface and it certainly presents better than previous versions.

Search is now divided into "PG," "Mature," and "Adult" (here we go again). One has to go into Preferences to enable "Adult" search (which I did immediately; I have no business in the adult sphere, but it grinds my gears to think, at my age, that someone is trying to tell me where I can't go).

My favorite new feature, so far, is the ability to set default permissions for uploads.* No more digging into each file to set permissions on a poster before passing it on to Karine, or, embarrassingly, getting the message "full perm please" when I forget to do so. So that'll speed things along nicely.

I have found one bug, and it's rather significant. I don't know yet whether I'm the only one who's experienced it (doubtful). Sometimes, when changing my av's clothing, rather than the usual changeover, I'm treated to the sight of my av disappearing entirely. If it's just changing pants, then it's just the lower half that vanishes leaving me a floating torso. This has never happened to me in previous versions.

Rebaking or going into Appearance mode sets things right, but still, it's an odd thing.

* - For the non-SLers in the readership: Graphics and other uploadable items can be assigned any, all or none of three permissions having to do with how you want others to treat your items. "Perms" can be allowed or disallowed for the ability to modify, copy, or to send them to someone else ("transfer").

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

'Ere, 'e says 'e's not dead!

He was being led down the courthouse steps in handcuffs. A hero to the nation for longer than most Americans had been alive, he was now a prisoner. All that was certain in his future was his day in court, and then, most likely, prison. He knew this, but, like the soldier that he was, he vowed to face the future fighting.

That future was suddenly shattered by the report of a high powered rifle. The prisoner fell, his life bleeding out at the feet of his captors. There was nothing anyone could do.

Captain America, the Living Legend of World War II, the Sentinel of Liberty, was dead.

And across the country, millions of comics fans rolled their eyes and said: "Yeah, right!"

Sure enough, two years later, the cynics have been proven right. Cap is back as of this week. Apparently for superheroes there's little to no difference between death and an extended sabbatical.

I'm sorry, but both Marvel and DC have drawn from this particular well too often for me to care anymore. Too many characters, major and minor, have gotten up from their dirt naps, brushed themselves off, and continued business as usual. It's past the point where nobody but the entirely uninitiated (like, say, the staff at The New York Times, who wrote Cap a nice obituary) can take a character's death seriously, especially if said character had a fetish for Spandex and liked to hit people.

Whether shot, stabbed (Elektra), blown to bits (Green Arrow), run down to a skeleton (the Silver Age Flash), or blasted with lethal energies (Supergirl, Jean Grey), and no matter how long they have been dead (Captain America's sidekick, Bucky, dead since World War II and one of the few characters defined in the Marvel Universe as being absolutely, definitively dead... isn't), sooner or later they're carrying on like nothing had happened.

It's actually gotten to the point where the characters themselves, heroes and villains alike, recognize that the Reaper is a round-trip local ride rather than a one-way express. In Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis miniseries, he plays with this a bit, as three villains at an underworld gathering discuss the passing of one of the white hats:

VILLAIN 1: Your'e sure Troia's dead?

VILLAIN 2: Dead.

VILLAIN 3: She'll be back...

Elsewhere in the room is a formerly-deceased time-traveling villain who claims to be a version of himself who slipped away a few seconds before he was killed. The headache you're experiencing now is a normal side effect of exposure to time-travel-related plot points. Just shake it off.

After the courthouse assassination, there's an entire issue of Wolverine working out his denial of Cap's death by infiltrating the secure facility where his body is being held to determine if he's morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead.

And of course, he is. That's actually part of the problem. Cap's death was so transparently a marketing strategy, meant to boost sales as Marvel paved the way for his eventual return, that it was impossible to take his demise seriously. No amount of histrionics over his departure from this mortal coil can obscure the fact that he has a guaranteed return ticket.

Really, it just needs to stop.

As a plot device it's become blunted and stale. There's no sense of tragedy (though the publishers treating us like we'll fall for this chestnut again is pretty tragic in its own way), and the drama of the moment is retarded by the fact that we know it just won't stick.

So the publishers have two options: One is to reserve killing a character for when they know they can deal with the actual consequences of keeping him or her dead. I don't think they can help themselves at this point, though. It's become a compulsive behavior to stand them back up after an appropriate mourning period.

The other is to just take it off the table. Stop killing the characters. It doesn't mean anything anymore and we're tired of it.

Case in point: Guess who's dead, right this very second, in the DC Universe?


You think he's going to stay that way?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


One of my favorite presents from last Christmas was a copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home, which was the first chapter in the ongoing "Season Eight," a continuation of the tv series in comic book form. I was eager and curious to see how characters I had known and loved had progressed since the destruction of Sunnydale, but I was also a bit worried. Would the things I had loved about the show translate over into comic form? God knows I'd seen some horrific adaptations in my day. Did Joss Whedon still have the touch?

Happily, he did. It was like meeting old friends again (though I'm still pissed about Anya getting killed off in the last episode of the show). Jokes, terror, one-liners, and head kicks were served up in their proper portion sizes as Whedon once again showed that he knew how to keep me both entertained and guessing.

So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that, though he is credited as Buffy's creator, Whedon doesn't actually own the rights to the Buffy franchise.

That honor belongs to Fran Rubel Kazui and her husband, Kaz. As you've no doubt heard from the wailing and gnashing of teeth of fans of the series, they plan to do a movie relaunch of the franchise without Whedon or any aspect of tv's "Buffyverse."

That is to say, no Angel, no Willow, no Xander, no Spike. No Giles, no Drusilla, no Cordelia, no Oz, no nobody, no how.

It's probably clear from my tone that I think that as ideas go, this one sucks more than every vampire on the show put together. I know, the Kazuis probably saw all of that Twilight money and decided that they wanted some of that cash flow, and figured that their original movie was at least as bad as Stephenie Meyer's bestselling literary turds. They probably felt entitled.

Oh, and that original movie? The 1992 damp squib that disappeared from the box office like a vampire in sunlight? Fran directed it.

Suffice to say that I don't think the current rights holders have their fingers on the pulse of what will sell.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"I'm Zippy! Who are you?"

The source of this clip,1988's Comic Book Confidential, was on the Ovation Channel on Sunday night. If you haven't seen the Ovation Channel, think of it as a sort of an A&E Lite: Highbrow programming combined with the usual basic cable commercials for quickie loans, herbal male enhancement, and other dubious pursuits. What might be easily overlooked on, say, the E! Channel is rather jarring when intercut with a performance of Bizet's Carmen.

The movie starts off as a fairly comprehensive history of American comics, right up to the Congressional investigations of the 1950's. The best parts, really, are the interview segments with William Gaines, publisher of EC's horror comics, like Tales from the Crypt, and later, MAD Magazine. Combined with footage of said hearings and a piece of "investigative journalism" linking comics and juvenile delinquency (replete with a good ol' fashioned book burning), one gets a clearer idea of how much comics as a medium were stunted and censored just as they were beginning to move beyond superheroes.

That story alone would have made for a great movie, but, alas, that wasn't meant to be. Instead we get the longest piece of the film (or did it just seem to go on forever?) revolving around the underground comics scene of the 1960's. I got the impression that the entire movie was leading up to this.

So after spending time with Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb, I would have been content and ready to move on to the next subject, with Art Spiegelman as an extra treat.

But sadly, no. This was not meant to be. I mean, you also need to see Lynda Barry! And Victor Moscoso! And Sue Coe! And more and more!

Mainstream comics rate an occasional "meanwhile" as the indie parade marches on. I admit that I boiled a little when I saw titles like Matt Wagner's art deco crime drama Grendel: Devil by the Deed and Mike Baron and Steve Rude's slick science fiction saga Nexus being lumped in (via montage) as more of that silly superhero stuff. The project seems to quickly devolve into promoting a film student's vision of the future of comics: Artsy, experimental, and often impenetrable to the casual reader.

Needless to say, it gets old with a quickness. Pity, too. It was such a promising start.

There's unintentional irony at the end, where Frank Miller pronounces the inevitable doom of the superhero, this two years after he helped change the game with the publication of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

The Dark... Knight? I seem to have heard that somewhere before. Oh, what does it matter, twenty years after the predicted demise of superheroes...