Special Edition: NYC 2015 was this past weekend and united by a common love of all things comics, we laughed, we cried, we learned, and we lived dammit! All under the roof of the very literally named Pier 94, a bevy of some of comic’s biggest names were available for signings, sketches, and fist bumps, with nary a movie promotion or D-list celebrity from a 70’s sitcom in sight. Glorious. If you followed our twitter feed (@AllComic_) you received up-to-the-minute details from a number of panels, replete with all the hashtaggy goodness and quick pics of creators desperately trying to be heard over the sound of other panels. It was a great show overall, so join me on the magical mystery tour of the mind as we take a look back at some of the overall impressions and takeaways from the show:
Right off the bat, something that was readily apparent and became something of an underlying theme to the weekend was diversity. The crowd itself was comprised of a vast swath of ethnicities, ages and genders, so much so that trying to determine an exact ratio would be difficult, but suffice to say that if women didn’t comprise more than half of the audience, I’d be shocked. It was incredibly heartening to see the convention crowd mirror the world around us and see for myself that comic fandom is becoming (key word there) a realistic reflection of the world immediately outside those convention doors. Obviously, the apex of this diverse showing came at the #BlackComicsMonth panel organized by VixenVarsity.com that featured an eclectic group of creators (including Mr. Darryl “DMC” McDaniels) really digging into the issue of diversity in comics and entertainment. But here’s the thing: this dialogue wasn’t limited to just that panel. At nearly every single panel I attended the topic of representation and diversity came up. Either by the moderator, the panelists, or the attendees, it was clear that this is in the front of everyone’s minds and tip of everyone’s tongues. That is beyond awesome and by far the biggest takeaway from Special Edition.
There were few negatives to the show, but unfortunately they were glaringly obvious to all. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, or rather, I suppose the room IS the elephant. Pier 94 is exactly that: an outstretched structure extending over a body of water that feels like being inside an airplane hangar. It felt slightly dingy if not quite dank and Saturday’s rain created a perfect storm of humidity when combining the wet crowd with the fact that, y’know, the whole place is like 10 feet above the Hudson River. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was muggy and when combined with the semi-industrial atmosphere, it was certainly a far cry from the Javitz Center of Special Edition 2014. Which brings me to the biggest problem of the show: the panels. Set up immediately to your right upon entering Pier 94 were two curtained-off areas, side-by-side, that represented the “Theater” space for where panels will be held. Theater 1 and Theater 2 were about the exact same size and separating them was a black curtain. A black curtain, my friends, has the sound-dampening power of a…well, of a black curtain! Come on! So when two panels would inevitably be occurring at the same time (hint: always) it became exceptionally difficult to properly or comfortably hear the panelists over their neighbor panelists and I imagine just as difficult to be up on the stage trying to talk over the next-door panel’s applause and what have you. Pssstt….take a look behind the curtain, what do you see? Surprise, it’s another freaking crowd of hundreds and another freaking panel, but you already knew that because the only thing separating you was a freaking curtain! *Ahem* Nonetheless, it’s something that clearly needs to be re-thought for next year and in full fairness, it’s probably the only real criticism of the organizers I have. Oh, I also paid $3 for a bottle of water, so I’m not sure if that makes me the biggest idiot of the entire con or not. (Hint: probably).
Most of the creators I talked to were in very good spirits and several hardly moved at all over the course of the day because they were so busy meeting demand for sketches and signatures. Brian Michael Bendis was being spotlighted, so he had a whole special section carved out to accommodating the long lines to see him. While the lines were long for him, I did overhear that no one walked away unsatisfied as Bendis spent a great deal of time with each and every person who waited. Scott Snyder attended briefly only on Sunday (he and Brian Wood had split a table, so Wood was there on Saturday only) and drew a heavy crowd for his brief attendance as well. But by far the most consistently large line of both days was for Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez. The serpentine queue appeared to never relent and huge kudos to both Jason and Robbi for enthusiastically meeting and greeting everyone who lined up. I talked to Robbi for a bit and aside from the culture shock of the cost of beer in New York City, he reiterated what a great show it was for him and Jason. Spider-Gwen is a legitimate phenomenon, y’all, not a fad at all. The number of other creators being asked to sketch Gwen (I saw Adam Warren, Kaare Andrews, and Annie Wu, among dozens of others) was enough to reassure you that this character has legs and means a lot to a large group of fans.
Special acknowledgements to some creators who were particularly generous with their time would include the aforementioned Robbi Rodriguez; Greg Pak who chatted about one of my all time favorite story arcs, Eternal Emperor; Andrew MacLean and his wonderful wife, Erin (I hope that 5 hour drive back home went smoothly, guys); J.G. Jones, who is just downright charming and super approachable; Annie Wu, whom I more than happily bought a cup of coffee for after hearing of her Saturday disaster knocking over a full Venti latte with an espresso double shot and seeing her dive right in to work Sunday morning; Ramón Pérez and honestly, countless others who really reflected what this show is all about: a pure celebration of comics.
While we did live-tweet quite a bit from the panels, here’s a quick recap of those we attended:
Marvel: Next Big Thing panel with Brian Michael Bendis, Marguerite Bennett, Charles Soule and Marvel PR man, Chris D’Landro, was honestly a little underwhelming, but it did contain the only real “big” announcement from the con; namely, Bendis and David Marquez taking over Iron Man. There were also the announcements of some variant cover iniatives (including Manga and Cosplay inspired ones) as well as the True Believers line with a focus on Women in Comics with $1 issues of titles like Ms. Marvel, Silk, She-Hulk, etc. Far more interesting was hearing Bendis almost cackle with delight at how fans are completely buying into the paranoia of the X-Men being cast aside and, to paraphrase, someone at Marvel is screwing with you and you’re all buying into it. There was also the adamant declaration that post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe is not a reboot. Finally, Bennett answered a fan question regarding advice to give to female fans and aspiring female creators that was poetically poignant: “Don’t be scared.” It wasn’t wall-to-wall bonkers announcements by any stretch, but it was a solid panel to kick off the con with.
Image Comics: Where Creators Own Stories panel featured Alex de Campi, Brandon Graham, Becky Cloonan, Adam McGovern, Valentine De Landro and moderator David Brothers. This was simultaneously a rallying cry for Image’s mission and a focus on the panelists’ specific work. Brothers started the panel by asking the crowd how many aspiring comic creators were in attendance and then declaring that Image is all about trying to get that number up by the end of the year. The real takeaway’s here involved the praise for Image’s mission statements of bringing in a new, larger, more diverse fan base and praise for Image’s dedication to experimentation in the medium.
#BlackComicsMonth: Diversity in Comics panel may very well have been the most heavily attended panel at the show and for great reason; this one felt hugely important. With MizCaramelVixen herself on the mic, the crowd was treated to a panelist lineup of Greg Pak, Skuds McKinley, Kim Gaines, Che Grayson, Alitha E. Martinez, Valentine De Landro, Amy Chu, Brian Michael Bendis, and Darryl McDaniels. Jumping right into it, Vixen asked her panelists what diversity meant to them and McDaniels responded with a very apt, “Not being afraid to talk about what everybody’s afraid to talk about” which set the tone for exactly what this panel had set out to do. There was a cry for more diversity not just on comics’ pages, but behind them in editorial, which was received with raucous support from the crowd and panelists alike. Bendis reiterated the catalyst behind creating Miles (“people are starving for this!”) and Che Grayson gave a particularly strengthening piece of advice for those out there wanting to create more diverse comics, “You don’t have to ask permission.” Looking at the stage throughout the panel, it was hard to not appreciate the fact that this is exactly what diversity looks like and something worth working towards. Additionally, the projects from McKinley, Gaines, Grayson, and Martinez all sounds infinitely interesting and well worth your time to check out: current-events inspired supernatural adventure story Plunder from McKinley (art) and Swiftly Lang (writer); the Breakfast Club-inspired Eventide from Kim Gaines; Rigamo from Che Grayson that stars a girl who can bring back the dead with her tears, but it ages her every time she does; and Altiha Martinez’s interstellar Foreign. Of course there’s also the DMC comic that McDaniel’s explains as being, “Everything that I am…is going to be in that comic, but told from a superhero standpoint.” This was the panel to attend this past weekend and it didn’t disappoint.
Dark Horse Builds Character’s panel would have been a bust as four scheduled creators no-showed (Brian Wood, Joëlle Jones, David Mack, and Alex Cox) but was more than saved by the enthusiastic Alex de Campi and Jim Zub. Quickly turning into a love-fest for Robert E. Howard and John Carpenter, as well as de Campi lamenting the fact that growing up she had to watch “all the shitty, sleazy movies” just to see female protagonists, it felt like a small comfortable gathering of friends relating influences and goals.
Another real highlight of the weekend was the Representation Beyond Character panel that featured Valentine De Landro, Amy Chu, Alitha Martinez, Greg Pak, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, Kim Gaines, and fantastic moderator Daisy Rosario. Aside from quite a bit of talk regarding ear wax (you had to be there) this was yet another interesting, insightful discussion at incorporating diversity into your work and contextualization surrounding these types of choices. This may have been my favorite panel of the weekend as it focused on a great deal of the craft of making comics with diversity in mind, all eloquently expressed from every single member of the panel.
Valiant’s 25th Anniversary Celebration panel was covered pretty extensively in our tweets, but suffice to say that the dedication and unbridled love for their characters and titles were on full display. Quality is first and foremost on their minds with everything they publish and CEO Dinesh Shamdasani took great pride in calling Valiant incredibly diverse. When a fan clamored for the third time in as many conventions about getting an ongoing series for The Goat, Warren Simons pledged that if the fan showed up dressed as the goat, he’ll see what he can do to get a Goat one-shot in the works. The fan ominously replied, “I’ll be back” to much laughter and applause.
I’d be remiss not to mention the absolutely amazing Creating Comics: The Real Stories panel that featured some of the most talented creators working today in Marjorie Liu, Annie Wu, Marguerite Bennett, Katie Cook, Becky Cloonan, Kate Leth, and Dylan Meconis, with The Mary Sue’s EIC, Jill Pantozzi moderating. Here’s the deal, this wasn’t a panel about “women in comics” it was a panel about the realities and personal experiences of creating comics and the impact it’s had on their lives; it just so happens that they were all women. A great, insightful look into the stories of the creators behind the stories, this was easily one of the highlights of the show with an atmosphere that felt unequivocally inspiring and now.
Wrapping up, the DC panel was also pretty well covered in tweets and served to highlight the changing tone in the DC landscape with creators Steve Orlando, Annie Wu, Greg Pak, Becky Cloonan, Ming Doyle, and moderator Brenden Fletcher discussing what we can expect from their titles in the coming months. Needless to say, both Black Canary and John Constantine: The Hellblazer look amazing.
Then, just like that, it was time to open all the doors and let you out into the world, time to turn all of the lights on over every boy and every girl; one last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here…Closing Time. (I’m so sorry). Special Edition was a great experience and ReedPOP (the organizers) worked tirelessly with what they had. Their anti-harassment policy was boldly displayed upon entry and on every badge and the diverse crowd certainly appeared to me to feel fully safe and comfortable throughout. Obviously, the venue itself was problematic and something that absolutely needs to be re-evaluated for next year. Amidst it all though was an undeniable flair and enthusiasm for the future of this industry and what it’s evolving into as well as an outpouring of love to those working so hard to shape it right now. The whole reason Special Edition was birthed a year ago was to firmly put comic books back into the spotlight of comic conventions (what a noble idea!) and it’s hard to argue that this show, ambiance warts and all, was anything less. In many ways, it’s a show that shares All-Comic’s war cry: Worship Comics. See you next year and thanks for the hospitality, Special Edition.