After a few emails and phone calls we finally got the word - we'd been knocked back for this trip but should be free and clear to travel in 2008. However that was last Wednesday, so by that stage it was far too late to do anything anyway, hence we packed up and started our road trip. I can't say I'm not annoyed, disappointed and upset, but it's a hurdle in the path of life and hurdles are made to be leapt over. As I've told people, we've not cancelled, we' ve rescheduled. Plus I get to visit my dear ole ma, so that's a good thing in itself.
However a lot of people I know did visit the convention. Some of the reports were good, some weren't. My good pal, Steven Bove, went and emailed me this report and photo of himself and Michael Netzer and invited me to share it with the world. Have a read, Steven's report might hit a spot in a lot of people, but they might not want to admit it...
That World Inside
I haven't been to a comic convention in many years. The last one was in 2005 and that doesn't count as I ran in for 10 minutes to get Marshall Rogers autograph. This time I would spend hours and this would turn out to be my personal form of hell.
I went to meet up with Internet friends Michael Netzer, Daniel Best and Tim Gasco. I was really looking forward to this meeting because we all similar experiences through comics. This was intriguing to me considering that we were all over the place, geographically speaking. I missed Tim, and Daniel couldn't make it so there I was in NYC on Sunday about to meet Michael Netzer.
The show was at the Penn Plaza Pavilion across from Madison Square Garden. I'd been here a few times in the past when the shows were much bigger and didn't rely on sexy females to sell tickets. I have no problem with that but when your top billed celebrity is the cheerleader from Heroes then the convention really isn't about comics is it?
I bought my ticket and made my way through the costumed (and somewhat old) attendees* and found my way to the artists' alley on the lower level. This was the first of two spaces and there were names I recognized along with names I didn't. All were drawing and chatting with the crowd. But where were the kids with their portfolios looking to show this group of talented illustrators their work and get advice on how to improve? I didn't see them and that was strange to me. There use to be hundreds and I was one of them.
Michael was upstairs so I made my way through the costumes and swords (yikes!) and found not only Netzer but also the reason why there were no kids with portfolios around. The wannabes had become self-published creators selling their printed material. This idea was certainly not exclusive to comics so I gave it no further thought and went to meet my friend from Israel.
Michael Netzer has an aura that radiates intelligence and wit that you get just from his smile and handshake. Smaller than I imagined he still stands taller than most of the people around him. We spoke briefly about the look of comics today and he did agree with my assessment that much of the work looks like fashion illustration, good poses but not really doing much on the page. He introduced me to an associate of his and I can't say he was all that friendly. In fact he was quite cold and somewhat smug. I wondered why, but I'd run into this attitude before, as it was a kind of a comics' snobbery.
I left Michael to his sketch work and started to look for another friend I expected. Everywhere I went there were people made up in costumes and living fictional lives. It made me wonder what exactly was to be achieved by such worship of fictional worlds? Would anyone of these adults end up as a writer, artist or musician? Would any of them move beyond the worlds they obsessed? I'd seen this many years before and I too once wore the badge of obsession over comics but eventually the craft (in my case) took over to drive me in different directions. But here was a generation that had taken the idea of obsession to a new level.
At this point all I wanted was a copy of V For Vendetta and I found it quickly and very cheaply. That was always the great thing about Sunday; the high prices of Friday and Saturday would all but disappear. I couldn't find my friend so I sat in the lobby of the hotel as the cheerleader floated by wearing a bright red coat and black pumps. People in the lobby applauded as she passed and I wondered if she had cured cancer and no one had told me about it.
I wandered into the set up for a lecture by a favorite artist from the 60s. He'd aged since the last time I'd seen him and the wig he wore was starting to look preposterous. He wouldn't be the only one. I turned away and saw a face I hadn't seen in over a decade. James Fry is one of the great comic artist's of the late 80s and 90s and we shared a friendship with a special person now departed. I sat next to him and he recognized me immediately. We spoke of so many things in the short conversation we had. Sometimes thing like that happen and a shorthand language emerges to compensate for the years. That's how it was. I hope we get to talk again.
As I went into the hallway I had to stay clear of a light saber duel and the storm trooper who seemed to be standing watch in the main lobby. It seemed like everyone was handing me cards and material of all kinds promoting products I didn't understand or really wanted. Most of it seemed homemade with amateurish art and over rendered Photoshop color. I had to get out. I had something to eat and cleared my pockets of all the crap given to me.
I returned to the show and saw Michael Netzer in proximity of a rather famous artist of the past whom he once worked with. I offered to make a photo of the two of them but was told by Michael that the artist was in a negative frame of mind. He said I should say hello and cheer him up. I had planed to do so as I wanted to compliment the artist on his commercials utilizing a Bee.
That started a discussion on the Bee and the direction a new agency had taken it in. It also made the artist continually promote his product and push the 'sell'. This kind of sales tactic is old news to me after my years in marketing so after 15 minutes I found a space in the artists lecture and said thank you and left. Again there was that sense of smugness and I was glad I didn't bring up the movie the commercials obviously influenced.
I wanted to make some pictures of people but was told that I had to pay for that privilege. I was taken aback by requests for $25 and said no. Then I was hit by the amount of men (some I once knew in comics) all wearing wigs designed to fight the passing of the years. It was obvious that it wasn't working and if I knew it so did others.
Meanwhile Michael was entertaining a group of kids with his art and stories. Every sketch he made would be passed on to young hands. I saw no money exchanged. These were the fond memories I had of conventions long forgotten and how it was once about the craft. What I saw around me now was about the buck and false professionalism.
It was all too much so I said my goodbyes to Michael and hit the streets of NYC. I thought I'd go to Virgin Music on Time Square but that turned out to be a larger disappointment to me than the convention. Music seemed to be an afterthought to clothes, games and DVDs. It was all one big tourist trap and it just felt dirty.
On the train home I remembered a question Michael had asked me and I didn't answer. He asked why I wasn't trying to find work in the comics' field. The answer is that the language of comics is no longer something I can relate to. It's moved on and become a new form of communication based on a new generation of readers with a new style of speech, art and desires. In going to the convention I wasn't looking for the past but I was shocked by the present and obvious future of the industry.
I had let that industry go a long time ago. That was the realization I had made.
*I have to admit I cannot understand, for the life of me, why people over the age of say, 16, dress up as a Jedi, or a Stormtrooper or a comic book character and then go out into public. I know I recently wore a wookie costume, but that was intended for a costume party and I only wore it to my pals comic shop because I was asked to as they wanted to entertain kids for Free Comic Book Day. There's no way I'd wake up and go, "Hey, let's whack that wookie suit on and got to a convention for shits and giggles." It doesn't work for me really. And there's no way I'd dress up in anything where my face was showing for all the world to see...ye Gods!