Saturday, October 22, 2011

New York Comic-Con / Anime Festival 2011 Recap: Part Two

Hey! You made it back for part two! Good for you! If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please refer to yesterday's post where we began this (epic, sprawling, and only a little whiny) recap of New York Comic-Con 2011.

Yesterday we covered Big Ideas, like how the layout of the convention was a bit offputting and how it really isn't a comic book convention anymore. Today we talk about the Good Stuff, like who we saw, what we bought, and what our favorite aspects of this absolutely massive show were.

Finally, without further preamble, here's part two. We dive right into the good stuff, so enjoy! And leave comments--we know some of you guys were there!


Alex: So, since we're talking about positive things. For me, the biggest positive? Hands-down it was Artist Alley (the comics version, I mean). The sheer number of quality creators at this show was staggering and impressive.

I've never been, but I can only surmise that NYCC's Artist Alley is comparable only to San Diego in terms of numbers and quality. You had the top artists in all of comics, all literally lined up in (several) rows.

While commission lists filled up at a ridiculous pace--some artists had over 60 names on their lists before Friday morning!--there were plenty of opportunities to say hello to people, get autographs, and to purchase prints, original art, or pre-prepared artwork.

This year's Artist Alley was a whole lot easier to navigate than was last year's, and walking around never felt too crowded. Which is a good thing when you're babbling on to Stéphane Roux about how big a fan of his you are.

I was (for once) smart enough to get on pre-convention commission lists and I made out like a bandit. Take, for example, this Victorian Huntress commission by artist Mike Dooney.

He had a long, long list of pre-show commissions which he opened up over a month before the first day of the con. On the other side of that particular coin, Marvel artist Ryan Stegman opened his commission list the weekend before the show started. And, I was told, I managed to be the first one on that list!

As I do at all cons, I added to my Death gallery (yes, yes, I know, very morbid), starting with this moody image by Mr. Stegman:

I was also fortunate in that an exhibitor's badge and a buddy who got in Thursday night allowed for me to get on commission lists at the show. So I managed to get on Supergirl artist Mahmud Asrar's list--one that grew exponentially throughout the weekend. I think I was number five on that one.

I was pretty much blown away with what he came up with, especially considering the amount of work he had to tackle over the span of four days. I know a lot of people give artists grief--"What do you mean you won't get to my sketch today?!?!"--but let me tell you something:

They work their butts off at these cons.

And a whole lot of them do so in an attempt just to cover their traveling expenses. I think people tend to forget that their art is their life, and even though it's someone the vast majority of us wishes we could do for a's still work.

And it's hard work.

My last addition to my Death Miscellany was by Matthew Clark, the fantastic DC artist on books like Doom Patrol and Superman/Batman. I've been a fan of his work for a while and I was thrilled to be able to get a sketch. And, really, "sketch" doesn't do this piece justice.

What can I say? I love Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and as endearing as Morpheus might be, I think it's safe to say that Death is everyone's favorite character from that seminal work.

But enough about Death. Let's move on to The Batman. Now, as with all of these pieces, I really do need to actually scan them and not just use my phone to snap quick photos of them.

But it's late, I'm tired, and at some point Nathaniel needs to add his bit to this here post. So, rounding things out, here's The Dark Knight in all his creepy, moody glory.

This one is by Stuart Sayger, who may be the nicest person in all of comics. And after this weekend I can safely say that there are a lot of nice people in comics.

I spent most of the con in Artist Alley, obviously, and with that lineup, why would I go anywhere else? I love original art, but there's something really special about commissioning a favorite artist to do a drawing just for you.

Nathaniel: Hey, I got some fancy doodles, too. I just can't talk about them until after Christmas. Wouldn't want to ruin the surprise.

[Checks calendar. Definitely after Christmas now. Venture Bros. fans might enjoy these sketches I commissioned for the two friends who introduced me to the show. The first is by storyboard artist Jon Roscetti; the second is by background artist Denny Fincke, whom I had the pleasure of chatting with for a bit. From both, I had asked for a character they haven't been asked to draw much of. Incredibly, without prompting, they both came up with Henchman 21.]

Actually, I can talk about my fiancée's sketchbook. After having spent two-and-a-half days marching around Comic-Con in costume, she wanted nothing more than to take a break on Sunday afternoon and sit in line anywhere just to get off her feet for a while...and she left me her sketchbook to get a few doodles from the attending artists.

Normally, I just gawk at art and then move on to the t-shirts and action figures that I understand. Buying prints I can do, but talking to...people? Convincing them to scribble something artistic in a little notebook?

Surprisingly fun.

Systematically working my way up one aisle and down the next, I passed by every artist in the comics alley, and later, the anime alley. Most of the doodles I got were from people I'd never heard of, which became overwhelmingly obvious when I started inadvertently soliciting colorists and artists' assistants for professional sketches. One person drew a shoe. Another drew a turret from Portal.

This is where my convention experience began to pick up: I was conventioning with a purpose again. "Show up and have fun" only works when you have no idea what you're getting into; this time around, I knew exactly who and what I wasn't willing to wait in line for 2+ hours to see, and I'd already done about all the shopping I could afford to do. Collecting pictures for my gal gave me a direction, and it got me to thinking about some doodle projects of my own...

I met an an artist whose work I'd seen and whose name I forget, complimenting him on the cool and unusual Blackest Night cover that was featured in an old Waiting for Wednesday post, which always catches my attention when the image shows up among the posts spotlighted in the LinkWithin widget at the bottom of each post we write.

I met up with my brother-in-law a few times, who was also collecting scribbles. While he was getting his first sketch of the day (I'm awful at names, so I don't recall who this person was, either), I stood nearby and perused the merchandise on the artist's table. I walked away with $3 worth of Chris Wnuk: Secret Jew comics (click to make the funny bigger).

One of the highlights of the afternoon was meeting C. Martin Croker. Now, I wouldn't have immediately recognized the name, either, but a helpful handmade sign behind him covered all the basics: this was the animation director for Space Ghost Coast to Coast, who also voiced Zorak and Moltar.

Fantastic! This is why I go to conventions.

We had a nice little chat about Space Ghost, and I mentioned how my gal and I enjoy it the most when we're deliriously tired--the show suddenly becomes obscenely hysterical. He followed up with a story about how he and the people with him at the time, when the nonstop news coverage became too overwhelmingly depressing to bear, sat down to Space Ghost in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Wow.

After our conversation, I asked if he'd mind doing a quick sketch for my fiancée (I had to bribe him, as per the pricing guide on his sign), and he drew a partial Zorak, providing running commentary in his authentic Zorak voice the whole time. Once again, fantastic.

I actually covered a tremendous amount of ground at the convention--between Saturday and Sunday, I combed the entire Artist Alley for comics, the entire Artist Alley for anime, every corner of the Dealers' Room, the Autograph Room (once just about everybody had packed up and left) and most importantly, the food court. A few highlights of my wanderings:

- Star Trek action figures I'd never seen before. And I was a pretty avid collector when the Playmates line of TNG figures was out, tapering off (but still paying attention) shortly after the DS9 figures showed up. Remember Lt. Carey on VOY? No? Well, Playmates didn't forget.

- A t-shirt with the following wonderful (horrible) logo on it:

- The DeLorean from Back to the Future, the Michael Keatmobile, and the Adam Westmobile. Yes, the DeLorean is that blurry in real life.

- Lots of Mega Man costumes. Hey, they had a panel on Mega Man comics--these are totally valid costumes for this convention.

Lastly--and there are plenty of other tales and mini-tales to tell, but I'll close with this one--my brother-in-law, my wife-to-be, and I were headed out on Saturday evening as the Artist Alley was closing down when we ran into a table we were not expecting to see. Not, like, turned a corner too fast and toppled over a table; what I mean is that we were surprised to find a table showcasing my fiancée's all-time favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation: "The Inner Light."

I prod my gal, gesturing toward the table, and she rushes over with mouth agape at the stack of scripts and photos of "The Inner Light" (along with scripts of "Starship Mine" and pictures from the DS9 episode "Armageddon Game")...and for-sale replicas of Picard's iconic flute from the episode--the one that sold for $40,000 at auction. This is an episode that is incredibly dear to the Star Trek fan community.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law was saying, "Wait, what's 'The Inner Light'?"

While my fiancée recoiled in shock, I responded plainly and informatively, "It's one of the most popular episodes of Star Trek." Morgan Gendel, The bespectacled, respectably graying gentleman behind the table responded with what sounded like genuine, humble gratitude: "Thank you."

I turned to him, paused for a second, and asked, "You wrote the episode?" Indeed he had. At last, this table started to make sense. We didn't have much time to chat, as the convention volunteers were already shooing everyone off the floor, but I made a mental note to stop by the next day. I also reminded my fiancée to bring her copy of "The Inner Light"--just that individual episode on VHS--for a signature. We split up the next day and she went to see Morgan separately, but he apparently expressed surprise that such a VHS existed in the first place. Now it's a collector's item, for sure.

My brother-in-law and I stopped by first thing in the morning on Sunday to say hello, and a conversation ensued about pitching the script for "The Inner Light" multiple times before it was accepted, differences in opinion on the Captain America film (which I still haven't seen--gotta catch up!), and how obnoxious it is for Morgan's family to watch movies with him, a scriptwriter with a penchant for picking everything apart. We agreed that modern movies tend to have too big a focus on the special effects and not enough care put into the scripts...which led me to the Big Question.

"I assume you've seen the newest Star Trek movie?"

As you may recall, I was not the biggest fan of the newest Star Trek movie, yet anything I've ever heard from the casts and crews of the various Star Treks about the 2009 film has been nothing but positive. It revitalized the franchise, it made the series relevant again, it would've done creator Gene Roddenberry proud, etc.

"It had a lousy script." I don't believe those were Morgan's exact words, but the sentiment was the same. Begin spoilers.

Writers Orci and Kurtzman were determined to shoehorn in Leonard Nimoy as Spock, to reassure people that he was, is, and forever will be Spock (no matter who else after him wears those ears), and as a result, they couldn't just tell a good story--they had to work their story around Spock Prime. The new Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, could certainly pull of the role skillfully...but his romantic relationship and emotional outbursts drew his character in a different direction than the classic Spock he could have played so well.

I also brought up the lack of carefully crafted situations that organically created emotional responses from the audience. I used the example of Spock's mother, Amanda--oh she's falling, she's falling, we should probably grab her, she's falling, she's falling, oh she's dead. Now we've manipulated the audience's emotions and needlessly scarred one of the main characters for life. Paraphrasing Morgan: "Right. If you want to get an emotional response, just push a character off a cliff."

End spoilers.

After two years of being in the minority amongst fans and Trek actors alike, it was refreshing to find another writer (in addition to the author of Star Trek by the Minute) with an eye on the script who ended up with some of the same misgivings I did. Perhaps I'm more of a critical moviegoer and less of a curmudgeonly traditionalist fan than I once thought.

But hey, you probably didn't come here to read so much about Star Trek. Let's conclude with Chewbacca playing Pac-Man, some actual props and costumes used in the movie Iron Man 2 (which we jointly reviewed last year), more convention costumes (sorry to say, I missed my fleeting chance to snap a picture of Axe Cop), The Goon on wheels, and the most elaborate free sketch I could have hoped for (note the coffee cup).

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