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Atlanta Comicon Report

Given the hectic nature of life (and the fact that I was busy at the con this weekend), this week’s Stream of Babbling is solely a rundown of the Atlanta Comicon 2002, held April 13-14, 2002. O’Shea’s Offhand Opinions will return next week.

First off, let me clarify. I came to a realization this weekend. It’s one I always knew, but now realize my reading public may not know. Many members of the comic fan/journalism industry are folks that aspire to be comic book creators themselves. I am not one of those people. What reinforced this fact was talking to some creators at the con this weekend, who fully admitted they have no time or interest in reading comics. That astonished me. I always want to have time for comics; I always want to be the reader. I never want to be the “man (or woman) behind the curtain.” Comics are as fun to read for me as they were the first time I started collecting in 1977. That being said, on with con rundown.

Three “I’m at a comic book convention” moments:
Parking next to Red Chevy Blazer emblazoned with signs declaring that the car belonged to the Klingon Assault Group (had to make sure I didn’t ding that door!)

Or walking into the bathroom which served as a makeshift dressing room for Star War characters.
As I walk out of the bathroom, Mark Waid is walking in and I almost want to warn him. But I don’t.

Mike Kunkel’s train of thought being broken by the sound of a passing-by Darth Vader’s breathing. I shared my relief once that we identified what it was that the sound had “Not been in my head!”

Sadly wires got crossed and no press pass was ready for me, instead I got a dealer pass (with no name, a situation I should have rectified, but I was too busy having fun to care and I’m grateful for the access the dealer pass afforded me [not to sound spoiled]). But it did lead to one conversation as follows: “What do you deal?” “Crack cocaine!” (Minimal laughter). “No really, I’m an amateur journalist.” (no laughter at all).

Immediately as you walk in the door, TwoMorrows Publishing’s John Morrow is there to greet you, with his wife and brand new baby daughter. We discuss the unfortunate demise of COMICOLOGY, the fact that Draw! is one of his best selling magazines, and the excitement he has about the new Danny Fingeroth-edited magazine WRITE NOW! (Yes I did get Danny’s e-mail address for a possible ORCA Q&A, stay tuned for details down the road.)

Then of course I went to see the men of humor magazine THWAK (see the interview from a few week’s back) and check out the issue 2. They were as friendly and funny as ever.

But before I went any further I had to go to Mike Kunkel’s Astonish Comics booth. It was great to finally meet Mike face to face and we discussed his upcoming work (issue 5 will be out at the end of next month), he autographed a limited edition cover of issue 1 that I bought (I’ll be donating it to ORCA for some lucky member) and even more kindly he autographed a copy of FLIPPED (the flip page animation book of HEROBEAR) for my two-year old son, Colin (HEROBEAR is the only comic he’s ever picked up and expressed interest in, for readers who have not heard that before).

I wandered around some more and met with various creators, including stopping by Chris Staros TOP SHELF COMICS booth and buying a copy of BOX OFFICE POISON by Alex Robinson.

After briefly chatting with artist Mark Bagley, I got to meet George Walker, who collaborates with Neil Gaiman on limited edition books ( entirely hand made (hand bound) and with art produced from wood engravings. Despite George saying he was the “oddball” at the con (not true as any attendee knows, there’s always someone unintentionally more “oddballish” or more unique), we agreed to do an e-interview down the line (and for those of you wondering, I may ask a question or two for Neil, but I genuinely am more interested in the wood engraving aspect of the project, for its ability to attract a different kind of person to the work of Gaiman [and hopefully lead to them checking out his comics [of course!])
Then I dashed off to my first panel, which I mistakenly thought featured Mike Mignola. As I walked in, I realized I was the only attendee (remember this is the con’s second year and while the con itself was well attended, some of the con’s were second priority to many of the attendees who preferred one to one connections with con’s guests of honor). One of the guy’s behind the panel tables said: “Hi, you’re here for the panel…what has you interested in the Hellboy Roleplaying Game?” (Later I found it was Phil Reed, Creative Director of Steve Jackson Games [developed of the Hellboy game]). I had to be honest and said: “I’m here by mistake, I thought I was walking into another panel!” At which point, writer Jai Nitz asked what I wanted to talk about and jokingly I said: “What do you think about this whole Yassir Arafat deal?” This lead to a two-minute (interesting) discussion. Then we actually got to discussing the roleplaying game and how the release will include a five-page Hellboy story (by Nitz and artist Zach Howard [who lost a bet because a person {me!} did show up to the panel! Sorry Zach]) And we discussed also how fans of Hellboy are enthusiastic about the prospect of the RPG, and I asked Phil what, if any, benefit are there to drawing RPG fans into the comic world, and vice versa. He thought it could benefit both sides. For a mistaken entry on my part, this turned into some great discussion, fortunately for all parties. (And thankfully an actual RPG fan or two showed up later to make the discussion more diverse and informed than I tended to be on the subject).

I hit a couple of more booths at this point, namely Mark Waid. Sam Keith’s line was always too long, as was Don Hillsman II’s (or he was spending time with his family, who appeared to all be there, which I thought was nice and I wish more creators were able to do) It was my hope to talk to them on Sunday (when they were still as popular).

I met Dave Cook of Splatter Comix (a book much in the vein of Sam Raimi/EC/horror with a sense of humor); several anime artists (I need to try to understand that genre, but at 34 it may be too late for me, but I’m willing to try) and inker Wade Von Grawbadger, inker on several popular books, including the long run of STARMAN, not to mention the upcoming Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (Written by Greg Rucka with Art by JG Jones & Von Grawbadger). [Side note: Many thanks to Wade for doing an incredible sketch of the original Marvel Nova character of the 1970s for my old TCR associate Doug Smith. Doug responded to the sketch as follows: “HOLY FREAKING COW!!!! That is absolutely GORGEOUS!!!! WOW!!!” {And it is gorgeous, I must concur}]

The Mike Mignola panel was quite interesting as he discussed the prospect of the Hellboy film. As a folklore minor in college, it was fun to realize a lot of the mythology that influences his writing and art (namely English and Irish folklore) He shared that he has a whole bookshelf of mythology books that he’s bought over time (starting in high school) and whenever he even starts thinking he might run out of stories to create he just can think about looking at one of the books and suddenly he has a plethora of new ideas. Mignola discussed the pitfalls and benefits of his hands off attitude in terms controlling the Hellboy brand (the positive experience of letting the RPG folks do what they do best versus the negatives of the Hellboy video game [released abroad, never released in the U.S., is a bad game and other fiscal concerns]) It’s obvious as the movie prospects grow more likely he is more comfortable to allow others to control the brand. (in fact he said it would be a relief for him). At this point, he thinks back to the days when he woke up dreading to have sit all day at the drawing board, now he looks forward to the time he’s not taking phone calls, returning e-mails and taking meetings so that he can get to the drawing board. He also conceded that the DC Deadman covers will soon come to an end, as he committed to them without seeing the book (“always ask to see the book before taking a job like this”). He thought it was going to be more in the horror vein than what the book actually is, so he feels to have his covers on the issues is in essence false advertising. I tried to convince him that it wasn’t, but failed. He also discussed the experience of working on films (from Dracula with Francis Ford Coppola to Disney and Atlantis [they had his art diagrammed, explaining to the animators how to draw like Mignola] to Blade 2). One strange and disheartening moment (but hey you can’t know everything), one person asked why he didn’t do the Blade comic book for Marvel. He admitted he had no interest in the character and knew nothing about the character (he surprisingly said the same thing about Batman [saying he merely liked to draw the character]) As an artist, understandably Mignola is far more visual when it comes to characters it appears. I asked about the Hellboy/Starman/Batman project of a few years back. He explained that started out as him putting a bug in James Robinson’s ear (“wouldn’t it be great to do a Hellboy/Batman”), to which Robinson pitched Hellboy/Starman/Batman to Archie Goodwin. Sadly Goodwin died after only a few pages of the book had been drawn and Mignola conceded that the editorial/creative communication broke down from that point on. Many times in Mignola’s discussion about DC matters it became apparent that for him (and many others including fans like me), DC has become a different place after Archie’s death. I’m not saying it’s all negative, it’s just different, period. In discussing how artists change their style he pointed to David Mazzuchelli, who started out his career as a Gene Colan imitator, left the industry and became a musician for six years, only to come back and do Miller’s DD: Born Again in a totally different style. He also pointed out how Bill Sienkiewicz started out in a Neal Adams style.

Then I went and grabbed lunch, right before the Mike (HEROBEAR AND THE KID) Kunkel panel, which was hosted in a INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO format by a fellow whose name I did not get. (as a side note, George Lowe the voice of Space Ghost was there and to hear him making various comic announcements was a strange fun experience) but who was at the Space Ghost booth. Kunkel revealed some surprising influences including Norman Rockwell and Al Hirschfeld (“illustrators who are storytellers” as he classified them) and early on as a child, he was influenced by MAD magazine. His description of friends in recent years convincing him to do comics “Send it up to Canada and they send you back a box with your books!” was hilarious. He describes Herobear as more of a children’s book than a comic book, which I thought was apt. Originally Herobear was a grizzly bear, but a polar bear worked better, particularly we’ll apparently understand once the whole story is told. Other influences on his work is Miller/Mazzuchelli’s Born Again and C.S. Lewis. Kunkel is amazing to watch turning everything into a positive. At one point the moderator asked, “what’s negative about comics?” He said “Egos.” In that he hates when an industry legend seems annoyed to be at a show, Kunkel feels it’s a benefit to have the relationship of accessibility between fans and creators. In addressing this he told a funny story of getting to meet many of his idols early on in the days of HEROBEAR at a Texas con. “Here I am, going to a music store, riding in a van sitting between Charles Vess and Bernie Wrightson!”

A side note, Miller/Mazzuchelli’s Born Again came up again in a discussion with WBAI Nuff Said radio show host Ken Gale. Ken and Mercy Van Vlack have attended the con both years and will be back in 2003. It’s always a pleasure to talk to these two informed and kind industry veterans. It came up so many times, I decided I need to go back and reread this gem.

A how to (Breaking into) comics writing was as great as last year’s panel, mainly because of the great lineup (which included Mark Waid, Paul Jenkins, Dan Jolley and Bradley Kayl). I got in late, but the theme as they opened the panel seemed to be a suitable (and necessary) dose of cold hard reality. The writing industry, all parties stressed, was about perseverance (realizing that as a freelancer there are no benefits, like most folks in a 9 to 5 enjoy). It’s a life of peaks and valleys, as one of them so aptly described it. Kayl provided the examples of Dr. Seuss (rejections from 212 publishers) and Fitzgerald (plastered a room with his rejections). After numerous rejections, as Kayl warned: “If you want to stop, you already failed.” It’s obvious that the majority of the writers had dealt with harsh rejection or sacrifices (Waid told of his early days, trying to make a living off of his assistant editor salary, when in truth he had to live partially off credit cards). They trade the tales of rejection, as if a way to support each other. Waid pointed out (when discussing the peaks and valleys of the industry), that he knew several talent writers who should be working in comics that presently could not get an assignment. This year (much like last year) is a bad time to try to break into the industry.

Paul Jenkins, of course, was the exception; a former editor at TUNDRA who’s first writing assignment was DC’s Hellblazer. He got a lot of pleasure out of pointing out not everyone has to pay their dues (tongue firmly planted in cheek, as he realized how lucky he was, it appeared).

Writers shared how they work (from full script or otherwise). They advised how vital it was to network, be polite and to take any jobs possible. Of even more importance was as a writer, to read outside of comics (As Waid put it, if you decide you want to write comics, then stop reading comics because of you already know that’s what you want to do, you’ve already read enough comics. Read outside sources instead. Kayl suggested Hemingway, Chekhov, as well as several other writers [prompting Jenkins to jokingly mime writing the names down])

One panelist cited that strong writers technically with no passion made for a poor storyteller, noting that he would accept weak technique with a passionate story. He pointed to a 1960s/1970s industry veteran who late in the 1980s was still writing for DC, but was saddled with bad assignments and weak artists. And yet the writer still delivered tales that compelled the reader on some level, and the panelist wondered why aloud to a co-worker as to why the stuff still worked on one level. To which the co-worker replied: “Because he loves the medium so much, he would write this stuff for free.”

Dan Jolley gave great advice as part of the “using life experiences as a fuel for stories.” Once he was in a Chick-Fil-A and heard one worker say to another behind a door “It’s not my fault we ran out of chicken!” Jolley swears he will use the line in a story some day. Another writer (it may have been Jenkins, but my notes are incomplete) showed how even the most current real events of the world may find themselves in comic book some way (for example, he said, imagine if it was attempted to comment on Israel/Palestine by having Spider-Man bite Electro.) Another point was made by one writer that some of the best written work he’d done was drawn by idiots and sold accordingly, while some of his worst writing was drawn by great artists and sold well.

A few other great pieces of advice. Do not sent submissions to submission editors, as their job is to reject. Send it to an assistant editor, who is always looking to find a new hit book or creator (as that’s how one gets promoted). Also try to encapsulate your proposal to be as brief as possible (one page), as people receive a great deal of mail at the comic companies and have little time to spare. Jenkins advised sending proposals by Fed Ex, to make them stand out from the regular mail.

Finally, Waid suggested that aspiring writers use the following references:
The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler ( )
Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting by William Goldman
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics By Dennis O’Neil (

While Jenkins suggested:
How to Draw the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and the late great John Buscema (
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (

One more thing, best quip to a question:
To Bradley Kayl of Team Red Star on the “Breaking into comics writing” panel “You make up your own stories…” (meaning that Paul Jenkins and Mark Waid write mainly in DC or Marvel continuities) At which point, Mark Waid throws up his hands and says “Oh yeah, JLA isn’t a documentary you know!”

At this point I had to hit the road for the day.

Day two. Barely anyone was there when it opened at 10 AM. But to really throw everyone there’s a local church that holds services at the Gwinnett County Civic Center (Christians meet Klingons as I put it). It was quite a sight to behold.
While barely anyone is there, Sam Kieth is, and he already has a line of folks wanting signatures and sketches. (To his credit his line was always long [Bob Schreck’s was most likely the second longest] Kieth signed and sketched for a good long time both days)

My second day I spent shopping (Roger Corman’s FF movie for $15 was too great a deal, plus I bought the JLA pilot and some old DC cartoons of the 1960s [plus the FF movie] for a total of $40)

Got lots of names of creators for future Q&A’s–too many to list. Talked to Mark Waid again for a spell (always fun), got Mignola’s autograph for the program (as well as many others). Attended a panel on cartoons with Mike Kunkel and Phil Noto, both of Disney (Noto still is with Disney, Kunkel freelances for them) and Tom Fiester, both of Cartoon Network and Jolly Roger Studios (out of Macon, Georgia). The combination of these folks made for a fun panel. Without a moderator, the panelists weren’t sure what folks wanted to hear so I told them what I had come to hear, as did Laurie Anderson, who was covering the con for After I turned to the rest of the crowd and asked what they wanted (the rest of the crowd consisted of a few children and 10 or so adults), I was met with silence, so the panel began. Laurie essentially moderated the thing, firing some really good questions at them and I interjected some (as did other audience members).

For animation fans, it was an interesting discussions, at one point Fiester made the distinction that (much as with comics) the way animation is accepted and embraced in Europe is vastly different than America. Fiester also made a great comparison when discussing Alex Toth’s time with Disney as like when “Sean [Penn] and Madonna were together.” Both Noto and Kunkel maintained that they enjoyed Monsters Inc. not because of the computer animation, but because there was actual storytelling and emotions to the story. They made the comparison that Schreck was Crude/Gag oriented funny moments that are soon forgotten versus something like Monsters Inc. where storytelling occurs that people will remember.
There was also an interesting discussion of the differences between the current JLA cartoon versus the Superman and Batman shows. As for a favorite movie of recent years, both Kunkel and Noto pointed to Iron Giant, a story with characters and subtle nuances that other animation stories may lack. Fiester also discussed a Aquaman Children’s Show that Cartoon Network had developed for Latin America. He was quick to point out it would never show in the United States.

Then at the end of that panel, again it was time for me to go

All in all it was a fun time for me and I look forward to next year (April 11-13, 2003). Tentatively the guest list includes Will Eisner (yes EISNER!), Gene Colan (I will not hyperventilate, but I cannot wait for this), Phil Hester, Ande Parks and many more. To find out more about the con, be sure to visit