Chicago Vacation: Part II

Chicago South Loop
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Conventions can be awkward because of money (among a million other reasons). Everyone is trying to leave with as much money as possible in a giant zero-sum equation. Creators and vendors are trying to make enough money to live and fans are on the opposite side trying to limit impulse purchases. It doesn’t help that the creators and consumers in the comic book industry seem to¬†be especially strapped for cash; it all adds up to a giant pile of awkward.

At C2E2, I came to fully appreciate the benefits of traveling light and with some male company. With only our small backpacks and an offhanded comment,¬†“Oh, I’m sorry, but we’re just in town for the day and we can’t carry anything else home with us,” it was easier to escape even the most motivated salesmen. The excuse was a bit contrived, especially after repeating the words all afternoon, but it was a polite way to excuse my stinginess. My husband’s bored expression from a few feet over my shoulder, searching the crowd, was also an excuse to cut any unpleasant conversation short.

We did go out of our way to get a signature from Ray Fawkes, writer and artist of a few books I’ve really enjoyed, like Intersect and Spookshow. Fawkes tends to produce psychological horror with stylized abstract illustration. His work is not always enjoyable or easy,¬†I suppose that’s why it was so important to me that I tell him how much I appreciated his stories, because they are important without being fun.

¬†A great part of any convention is meeting up with other fans, and having ¬†exceptionally positive conversations. At the¬†local comic book store, it‚Äôs almost always the same complaints, but at a convention, it‚Äôs usually a lot more positive (usually‚Ķ grumble grumble). I was happy to have an hour to sit down, people watch, and get reading recommendations from some online friends who are now real life friends. Ali the Hunk, drew me a postcard of a Brandon Graham style monster. I haven’t found the right spot to hang it up, for uhh.. obvious reasons.¬†

When I was in college, I would walk from Hyde Park up the Lakefront, all the way to Lincoln Park sometimes, but at least up to River North on a regular basis. When we were ready to leave, I had been hoping to cut over to the lakefront and recreate part of the walk, from the convention at McCormick Place up to the South Loop, but I obviously missed the Lake Shore Drive pedestrian underpass. We walked up past Soldier Field along Lake Shore Drive up to the bottom of Grant Park. We were staying in the sketchy-ass Best Western right across from the Metra Stop south of Grant Park, it’s actually a good deal for a downtown hotel, if lacking in the appearance of luxury or working plumbing when regarded from the outside.¬†

In reality, the hotel was much nicer than I remembered. In fact, the entire South Loop area of the city has changed a lot in the last ten years. I was trying to get some good images of the beautiful new buildings, high rise luxury condominiums, I guess. It was difficult to control the exposure with the sun still halfway up the sky behind the buildings. The clouds and the well manicured bike paths were incredibly inviting though. I took at least 50 photos. In all of the images,¬†the¬†sun¬†left a burnt-out, overexposed patch in the bright sky. This defect wasn’t¬†visible on the camera screen.¬†

In retrospect, I could have used the histogram to check the exposure, but I hadn’t expected the pictures to be any less magical than reality.¬†It was a great day, I suppose no picture would have been as wonderful as how we were feeling.

 

Chicago Vacation: Part I

shoes are waiting
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I am defined by my self-reliance. It’s not always obvious, sometimes my independence is obscured by my laziness, but I promise the self-starter attitude is under there somewhere. The best example might be my history of planning whirlwind vacations at the (relatively) last-minute, mostly for dance exchanges or comic book conventions in places like Virginia Beach, Philadelphia, Montreal, and New York City.

A month before C2E2, I decided to set up a 36 hour vacation for me and my husband in the style of those trips. The plan was to fly to Chicago Saturday morning, attend the convention and spend the night in a hotel downtown. I booked flights for us with my leftover Southwest reward points. I got us a cheap hotel downtown in one of the blocks reserved for the convention. I ordered single-day passes to the convention. I was hoping to have a lazy morning to wander around downtown, finding some delicious brunch and visiting a museum before catching a flight home Sunday night.

Between planning for the trip and packing my backpack, I became incredibly excited about our mini-vacation. Of course I was looking forward to the comic book convention because comic books are amazing and so much fun. I was also looking forward to going back to Chicago, which I miss more than I’m comfortable admitting. Really, I was most excited about having given myself the luxury of unstructured time and very little responsibility. There were no critical plans, no stress, only a backpack with a tee-shirt and a camera, and a few ideas about how to spend the day. I need more time like that in my life, nowadays even our weekends off turn into doing chores around the house instead of adventures downtown.

We packed backpacks the night before. I made coffee for the morning drive and filled up my thermos ahead of time, a custom for when I’ve booked an early flight and promised my husband that I would handle the horrible drive to the airport.

Chicago Midway

Chicago Midway

I was able to get a few interesting pictures of the city as the plane descended. The constraint of the filthy window made it difficult to play with orientation, but also freed me from worrying about the quality of the exposure. This was image was taken as the plane crossed over the CSX terminal in Bedford Park. I cropped the picture and used a little bit of a filter to get the colors muted to emphasize the lines and hide the grimey artifacts on the plastic window.

Our 8am flight put us in Chicago before the convention was even open. I know we were hungry because breakfast at the Midway airport¬†McDonald’s was incredibly¬†delicious. I know we were relaxed because¬†the repetitive “moving walkway is ending” announcement was endearing rather than annoying. Even our ride on the CTA was uneventful beyond the brisk weather while we were waiting for a connecting train. We made it to McCormick Place on time, without waiting in a single line, without getting lost, and without any obligations for the remainder of the day. Heaven.¬†

 

My Photography

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Like pretty much every single human being in the universe, I don‚Äôt enjoy admitting when I‚Äôve done something wrong, or failed. I uhh‚Ķ definitely failed that March photo challenge. I think it‚Äôs important for me to make that confession, without qualification. I could obviously explain or justify myself, ‚Äúoh, I was busy,‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúobviously the challenge wasn‚Äôt inspiring,‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúI could have done better on my own‚ÄĚ and other such nonsense like “I was already too good”, but honestly, I just didn‚Äôt finish.

Maybe the most embarrassing part of the entire experience was that I said, out-loud, more than once, the phrase my photography, as though I meant something. In reality, my photography only refers to the fact that carrying a camera helps me be mindful, which relieves stress. My photography refers to the fact that I like looking at images analytically, trying to identify through experimentation what I find visually appealing. Despite the way it sounds, my photography does not refer to any greater ambition, pretense at expertise, or delusions of people paying me money for my low resolution cell phone pictures.

My photography also refers to the fact that I’ve been a little stuck recently. Mindfulness doesn’t come naturally to me; I prefer to focus on progress, on achieving specific goals. When I start thinking about the why of taking pictures, I get lost in my head because there is no specific reason. I’m still learning to cope with the notion that a pointless exercise isn’t a futile one.

There’s time for a metaphor before we go to bed, right?

Creating images is like baking a cake. I enjoy the process of baking. I like finding a good recipe, one that is a little bit complicated but not too difficult. I like carefully measuring and mixing everything together, watching all of the ingredients slowly transform. I feel¬†patience and anticipation while the oven hums, although I do get a little frustrated with messes and wasting ingredients. ¬†I like adding some decoration and presenting the final product as a complete¬†package. The best part is finally¬†sampling the creation when it‚Äôs finished but unfortunately I can’t eat an entire cake. If start¬†baking frequently without occasion then I’m going to be wasting an awful lot of flour and trashing a lot of frosting. I know that they say you have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelette, but like how many omelettes do you need?

 

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.