C2E2 Panels – Hits and Misses

C2E2 2016 at McCormick Place
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My general strategy at a comic book convention is to walk the show floor early before it gets too crowded, and then attend panels for the remainder of the day. I break with this procedure if there’s a panel I want to see earlier,¬†which is rarely an issue. I also have to adopt a different strategy at the largest conventions like NYCC where attendees need to queue more than an hour in advance to get into a 45 minute panel discussion. I won’t be going back to¬†NYCC until I forget about how miserable the lines were.

I choose panel and discussions that help me understand the technical details of producing comic books or provide some information about the history of comic books. Honestly, I spend enough time on twitter to have a sense for the current social issues and the near future of the industry. I don’t need to be in the room for a special announcement about next summer’s special event. I don’t need to feel a room fill up with anxiety and tension while we get upset about there not being enough women on comic book creative teams. As an added bonus, I find that the technical panels also have smaller crowds and more engaged panelists.

At C2E2, I accidentally got a taste for 3 different kinds of panels, despite walking into the room each time expecting something more inline with my preferences.

Celebrating 25 Years of Deadpool

What I expected: Marvel editors would go through a brief slideshow, maybe showing a popular cover from each era of Deadpool comic books. When they got to an era where an editor, artist, or writer was physically present, they would let them speak for a few minutes about what it meant for them to work with the character. I was hoping that all of the creators who worked with the character and who were in attendance at the convention would be part of the panel. They would conclude the survey with a reminder of all the new Deadpool series planned for the next year, you know, advertise to a captive audience?

What I got: Absolutely no planned content. Marvel editor Jordan D. White played ukelele. Fabian Nicieza threw¬†a pity party about how anyone else has written Deadpool since the character’s creation. He insulted fair-weather fans who only knew the character from Tumblr and memes. We listened to an hour of random questions from the audience where everyone on stage tried desperately to not insult everyone in the room with their answers. I didn’t make Deadpool pansexual! Fabian shouts, That was Tumblr! Notably absent from the event was writer Gail Simone, although statistics may have required her to lead yet another “women in comics” panel at the same time slot.

Color in Comics

What I expected: A discussion on the role colorists play in modern comics. Maybe a mention of how technology has improved techniques and allowed for faster work. Maybe a comment on how to get more recognition for colorists in addition to artists and writers. I wanted to see sample work, and explanations of technique. I was particularly curious about how how artist/colorist pairs form, for example, McKelvie/Wilson, Shalvey/Bellaire, or Cassiday/Martin. Is this an organic relationship or something that editors cultivate? I’ve also always wondered why so many more women seem to end up as colorists instead of artists.

What I got: A discussion about people of color in comics. While this is an important topic, it’s not what I was expecting. However, middle class white people can’t stand up and walk out of a conversation about race, so there I was. Half of the panelists were missing, so only two men were running the program instead of a team of half a dozen. After showing an introductory video they had no discussion planned, no visual aids beyond tracking a preposterous hashtag on twitter. They avoided answering any questions from the audience.

  • Is¬†tokenism a step in the right direction? Like isn’t it okay to start with 1 black Avenger, prove it’s a popular idea, and then start adding stand alone minority characters?
  • Similarly, are minority versions of existing characters a step in the right direction? How do we convince large companies that it’s working and we want more? Like it’s great that Thor is a woman right now, how do we convert that excitement into creating a new standalone female warrior book that’s not about a girl version of a man?
  • What about when a book does everything “right” on paper, but then sucks A LOT? Am I still obligated to buy a minority led/created book if it’s shitty?
  • If I have to choose between a book with a minority creative team, and a book with a minority character, which should I choose? Which sends a stronger signal to the publishers?
  • Wouldn’t a fair depiction of a transgender character be indiscernible from a depiction of a cisgender character? Like, if the transition isn’t part of the plot then how would we know? And wouldn’t making transition part of the plot feel a little exploitative?

I don’t expect these questions to have easy answers, but the nervous and panicked discussion hosts were barely able to put together a complete sentence. I’m still curious about the best way to support diversity in comic books, but even more confused than when the panel started.

Editorial Process in Comics

What I expected: An experienced comic book editor who has worked for several brand name publishers would lead a discussion which featured input from several well known writers and artists. Topics might include:

  • how to develop a pitch
  • some publishers put creative teams together vs. expecting creative teams to be included in the pitch
  • the added value of hiring an editor for self-publishing, and how to find a good editor
  • the difference between a beta reader and an editor (editors can be more like¬†project managers)

What I got: Exactly what I expected, plus bonus extra love and admiration for everyone in involved in the event.

Logistics Make Everything OKAY

Overall, the programming at C2E2 wasn’t the best. However, it’s not my fault for having specific expectations for the content. I want to highlight for a minute what was perfect about these panels.

  • Sufficient seating in the rooms and waiting areas outside
  • Lines <15 minutes long, and only for the largest panels with TV stars
  • Functional Audio/Visual equipment in every panel room
  • Decent soundproofing between rooms (I have been to a convention that split panel sessions using a only¬†curtain…)
  • Good air circulation and lighting, unlike the dungeon basement of some convention centers

It may seem like these elements should be standard for any convention, but that’s definitely not the case. Maybe I’m cynical, but I’m always pleased when people do their jobs properly. I would add the well run panels to my long list of reasons why everyone should be trying to attended C2E2 next year.

C2E2 Should become the NEW Major US Comic Book Convention

C2E2 2016, Ash & Pikachu in the main entrance hall of McCormick Place
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I love comic books a lot, but even I can’t spend more than a day at a convention without getting tired. It’s not so much about the size of the convention. It’s not that I get bored and need more novelty. It’s more that the convention experience is overwhelming and not entirely pleasant. There’s so many people, every interaction is¬†so awkward; all of my introverted preferences start to dominate by the end of the day. Some other day, I may write entirely about the social discomfort associated with attending a convention.

When I was living in Chicago, I wasn’t a comic book fan yet. I also never had a reason to do more than walk past¬†McCormick Place. On a somewhat related note, I never learned about where to eat if you had more than $20. If you have $5 and you want polish sausage I can name 10 different places to go where you might also get shot. Otherwise, I can’t help you plan your Chicago vacation.

I’ve included this personal background information to¬†strengthen my argument, my opinion is not biased by my Chicago background, and it is not biased by an unequivocally positive emotional response to attending the convention this month. I’m trying to be rational here. I understand that San Diego and NYC are large conventions for a reason, but I believe that Chicago would be a better replacement for either event. Caveat, I’ve never been to San Diego, but that’s actually part of the problem.

1. Chicago is in the middle of the country. It’s only a half day of travel for anyone in the US, rather than losing an entire day to get from one coast to another.

2. Chicago has two large airports with a direct path to the convention center via cheap reliable public transportation. Seriously, $3 and an hour will get you from O’Hare or Midway to McCormick Place.

3. McCormick Place is accessible by light rail, by commuter rail, by bus, has a large covered taxi stand, and large on-site parking facilities (for 5000+ vehicles, compared to about 4000 at the San Diego Convention Center). As an added bonus C2E2 ran shuttle buses from the convention center, to and from the downtown hotels where blocks of rooms had been reserved.

4. McCormick place is huge, the largest convention center in North America. People didn’t have to bump into each other and there was plenty of room to expand.

5. There is a large range of hotel rooms available in Chicago, in terms of location and price range. You can get a cheap room at a budget motel near the airport, and then take the train to and from downtown. Less than one month before the event in Chicago, we were able to get a room with a view of the lake, within 2 miles of the convention center for less than $150 per night. NYC and San Diego cannot compete with that. I am willing to admit that as the C2E2 becomes more popular, the availability of great rooms may change.

6. Similarly for food, Chicago has a range of food options, especially cheap food options. I don’t know about San Diego, but I know that the food court at the Javits Center is abysmal, and the place on the pier where they held Special Edition was horrible in terms of food options. The Baltimore Convention Center is notable for being around the corner from a Potbelly’s franchise. The convention in Philly is near a market which is good food after waiting in a 30 minute line.

My experience may be unique, but everything went smoothly. There was no waiting. There were no oppressive crowds. There were no unexpected expenses.¬†In terms of logistics, I have never been more impressed by a convention. I’m hoping that timing works out again next year and that I can add Chicago to my list of annual convention visits for the future.

 

 

Inside Light, Outside Light

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I forget that golden hour happens twice a day; I prefer¬†to not be awake for the first one. I’ve been waiting all week for our neighbor’s magnolia tree to bloom. It popped this morning, and spring flowers are among the few things worth a pre-breakfast walk around the block. The weather was amazing.¬†I got a large number of pictures that I can play with for the next few days. Or weeks. Or months. Or honestly, I’ll still have unedited shots from today sitting on my computer next year. Who am I kidding?

These two photos have similar composition. They are both triangles of pink and white blossoms against a uniform blue sky. The main difference is that one shot is dramatically backlit, and the other is frontlit. Both pictures have a feeling of warmth, energy, and vitality.

When I came home from my walk, the light through the front window was also quite striking. I caught Jade admiring the shafts of light and shadows in the living room. These photos are less dramatic than the magnolia blossoms, but I find them more endearing. I also wanted to try to capture light in a more mundane setting, without the advantage of spectacular spring flowers.

 

Natural Lines

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I’m relatively proud of my nature photography, at least on a small scale – my landscapes need some work. In yesterday’s rain, I was able to get a great shot of this droplet covered forsythia. The lines of the fence in the background are a good contrast against the vertical branches of the shrub. The yellow also stands out well against the rainy, dreary colors of the sky. Finally, there’s a very sharp reflection in the largest droplet, which shows the parallel lines of the fence. Like my cherry blossom photo from last week, this is an image built to match a specific recipe, but I’m still proud of it.

There are a lot of these shrubs around the office park. Since these flowers appear relatively early in the season, I’ve already had some practice trying to capture images of them. I like that early, single flowers appear which can be played as lonely or melancholy. Later in the season, there are so many flowers that the shot can be more of a shades of yellow¬†abstract texture study. I’m looking forward to watching these plants grow and change over the next few weeks.

 

 

Big House, Big Tree

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I have a lot of inertia. I’m a very large mess of human that doesn’t change direction quickly.¬†It’s not that I dislike change. It’s mostly that it’s just not my natural tendency to switch what I’m working on or thinking about until I’m finished. It also takes me longer to get started on something, so I get frustrated if I’m asked to stop a project before I’ve really made progress.

And when I say “change” I mean really little things. I mean I can be so absorbed with writing a memo at work, that I will forget to take a break to use the bathroom. At some point, I will say to myself, “oh hey, I have to pee, I should take a break soon.” The next thing I know it’s been two hours and I’m now at critical absolutely need to pee, don’t bump into me on the way to the restroom or I’ll¬†have an accident¬†level. It goes without saying that I also¬†regularly delay eating until I’m too hungry to function.

I successfully took a break yesterday. I wanted to¬†see how close I could get to the cell tower (radio tower, I have no idea)¬†that’s visible from the Monrovia post office. There was a fence, a lot of shrubs, and low trees so the view would have been limited. Since¬†I’m not comfortable loitering around places where I’m obviously not welcome, especially holding a camera, I turned around.

On the way back to the office, I stopped at the Silk Mill in Urbana. This building is in the process of renovations to ultimately become a classy hotel and banquet hall, the sort of place where people might have weddings. The grounds are currently sparse, dotted with construction equipment and garbage, and some of the largest mature trees in the developed area of Urbana.

I was pleased to find that putting the house and the tree in the same frame¬†made the tree seem larger. However, I seemed to have some difficulty deciding if the tree was my subject or the house, and I think it shows in my final shots. I think that the horizontal orientation shows a little more empty space, which makes the house and tree feel larger. On the other hand, the vertical arrangement is a little more balanced. Honestly, I don’t like either picture.

I opted for black and white because the grounds were quite messy. There were bright blue tarps, a fire hydrant, garbage, and of course the exterior is incomplete. The bright blue logo on the moisture barrier seemed to clash with the classic appearance of the house and distracted from the really nice overall shape. By switching to black and white I eliminated a lot of the competition.

Or course, it’s even better to eliminate the competition between the two subjects. Several of the photos I took of only the building or only the tree were very nice, but failed to communicate the¬†sense of scale I was after. This is definitely an exercise to revisit, possibly when it’s not 50 degrees and raining.

Connection

East of East #23, Hickman Dragotta Martin
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I started reading comic books because I was alone. Tuesday afternoons, I was off from work, supposedly to study for my next actuarial exam. I was living in a 4oo square foot walk-up studio without heat or air conditioning, and I just couldn’t focus on my review problems while so close to my bed, so close I could just curl up and nap.

I generally ended up in the lobby of the Rotunda in Baltimore. In the middle of the day, the first floor was nearly deserted, and I would¬†help myself to one of the bistro tables under the skylight. After a few hours of studying, I would get a slice of pizza from Mario’s to eat before I attended a $5 movie.

The comic book store was around the corner from the movie theater and pizza place. I would browse for 10-15 minutes if I had time to kill before my movie started. For months, I didn’t buy anything, I just browsed.

That was almost seven years ago.

Now I read comic books weekly. I have a pull list at a local store. I regularly travel over an hour to attend special events in our area.We travel across state lines at least once a year for larger cons, we’ve even attended conventions in costume. I have been an employee at a local comic book store. I write reviews for a website with moderate traffic and a particular reputation in the field. I’m on a first name basis with several writers and artists.¬†I’ve been a podcast host. I am active on Twitter.

In retrospect, it’s astonishing that something which started as a momentary distraction has become such a huge part of my life. I have connections to people all around the world now because of a silly hobby that I picked up accidentally while I was lonely.