Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mr. Kirkman are you a bottom? Image Expo 2013

It's been a month since I attended the 2013 Image Expo held in the Lam Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  I think I've been repressing it a bit.  It was a hot, sweaty mass of pear-shaped male awkwardness.  Record heat temperatures, the beautifully glassed lobby of the YBC, and already questionable hygiene standards all combined to create micro-climate akin to rural equatorial Africa.  I don’t blame the architect.  It’s San Francisco, most likely it's going to be cool-ish.  But not today.

I was excited to see many of the guest writers/artists: Ed Brubaker, Robert Kirkman, Nick Dragotta….and Mark Millar.  That I thought that was really cool.  I have to find the email Image sent out but I really thought Millar was going to be there…and he was…by Skype.  By-muth-a-frackin’ SKYPE.  I pulled a lot of books for him to sign.  I was disappointed.  But I may have set myself up for it if I didn’t read that email right.   The guy who does Peter Panzerfest was there too.  I really haven’t had a chance to look into that one too much.  I gotta find that email.    
Image also announced some special surprise guests.  This was all speculation but I thought Jonathon Hickman might be there, since Nick Dragotta was going to be there and East of West is a big hit for them right now.  Image was pumping a new Matt Fraction/Howard Chaykin book on the Expo website as an Expo exclusive giveaway so I thought one, if not both, would be there for that.  I grabbed some Frank Quitely covers for the current Image/Millar/Jupiter’s Children connection…because Millar was going to be there, right?  Then I pulled some Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis books, just on the crazy one in a million chance they’d show up.  So with a backpack full of comic books, bottled water, snacks, and a camera I attacked the day.

The BART Strike, Episode I, gave me the opportunity to ride the San Francisco Bay Ferry Service’s Blue and White fleet, the nine port trans-bay aquatic people mover. The strike also tripled the number of ferry commuters.  The line (the first of what was to become a Day of Lines) was filled with easily eighty to one hundred, mostly jovial and friendly commuters.  I was in a line of slowly cooking humanity.  I could feel the heat on my neck.  I took a swig of water. Standing…shuffling…Standing…shuffling.  WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD.
The ferry was fine.  Got a spot a stern, and settled in.  It was cool.  The bay is beautiful in the morning.  I have sailed on the bay maybe a dozen times.  It’s just so pretty, so much fun.
I got to the Ferry Building and walked a few blocks up to Yerba Buena Center.  There was a line out the door.  I am accustomed to lines.  I am an adult…you have to wait some times, wait your turn.  I can do that…I can wait. I'm a big boy.
 I saw the proprietor of Alameda Cards and Comics and a shop employee (my local purveyors of fine sequential art) in the crowd.  We ended up hanging out most of day.  The Expo was billed as a retailers-professionals/fan-fest.  The morning kicked off with CEO Eric Stephenson’s keynote speech. During the speech he introduced the scheduled and surprise guests.  This was followed by lunch, then panels and signings simultaneously throughout the rest of the day.  

The business information presented felt like a comic book shareholders’ meeting.  Stephenson did a good job of selling the Image creator-owned work model.  All the bars and charts looked very pleasant and were easy to understand. I am glad Image is doing well.  They announced a new digital endeavor, current issues for sale right from the sight.   Wonderful.  I hope digital comics are great.  The only digital comics I have read I pirated because I couldn’t afford to buy them.  The art and stories that really struck me I ended up purchasing as trade paperbacks, REAL PAPER OBJECTS I CAN HOLD IN MY HANDS, LIKE A BOOK.  Maybe that is why I’ve heard/read that the only thing pirating has done is to weed out the bad work from the good.  People still buy good comics. I'm pretty sure it was Eric Stephenson who said that.
The surprise guests were Jason Aaron, Jason  Latour, and Matt Fraction.  It's hare to tell from this picture but Aaron has almost a full ZZ Top beard going on. I was a little jealous.  I really like Aaron’s current Thor run with Esad Ribic, full of so much cool. He and Latour are putting out a book together called Southern Bastards. It looks great.

I am becoming more and more willing to go along with Aaron’s story telling.  I really enjoyed his run on Wolverine too, very dark.     

 J. Michael Stracyinski came out to talk about his new stories.  I never watched Babylon Five, but his comics have entertained me.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for the sheer volume of his work.  There is no substitute for experience. The only real TV work of his I’ve seen is probably some Murder She Wrote.  

 I picked up Superman, Grounded (it helped Neil Cassaday was illustrating) but after the second or third issue I only felt so-so about it. The first issue is really great though.  Later on in the afternoon I got Superman #701, Silver Surfer Requiem #1, and Bullet Points #5 signed.  To do this I had to get in another line.  It ended up being the shortest of the day. It also allowed me a chance to ask him some quick questions.

 I asked if he had a favorite beer, said he doesn’t drink.  I then said “what about LSD?” He told me someone in college slipped it in something of his.  He didn’t give a trip report, but I’m guessing it was not the most positive.  “What about Cannabis?”  He said it should be legal.  So what do you know, me and JMS see something eye to eye.  If Superman would’ve gotten high and walked from coast to coast maybe I would have like the story more.  

After JMS, Stephenson introduced Matt Fraction.  I've been a big Matt Fraction fan since a friend of mine turned me on to Cassanova many years ago.  His Hawkeye run right now is something special, if you haven't checked it out. Two words: "pizza dog."  His dialogue is snappy and the issue arcs highly entertaining.   

Fraction announced two new books with Image, ODY-C and Sex Criminals.  ODY-C is a retelling of the Odyssey but gender flipped and set in space.  Fraction promised big cosmic gods toying with the heroine. 

Sex Criminals is about a woman who can stop time when she is having sex and then finds a boyfriend who can do the same thing. So what do they do with their new found erotic power? They start robbing banks. It's drawn by Chip Zdarsky.


Robert Kirkman's panel was first up after lunch during the JMS autograph siging.  Kirkman took questions from the audience...stuff about comics, stuff about the show, stuff about an older video game release (maybe AMC online?) that was pretty bad, stuff about the creative process.  Not bad questions, just kind of pedestrian.  I got in line.

Me: “Can you talk a little about the obvious homosexual undertones in ‘The Walking Dead?’…maybe elaborate a little on your relationship with Norman Reedus…he seems kinda butch, does that make you a bottom?”

Eric Stephenson: *facepalm*

Robert Kirkman: (laughing) “aaah I don’t think I’m a bottom…I…I don’t even know how to answer that question…My relationship with Norman Reedus is strictly platonic…for now.”

Everybody laughed.  There were a few more questions.  Seeing that my work there was done, I left to go get in line for the Nick Dragotta/now Matt Fraction signing.

I first met Nick at the Free Comic Book Day event at Alameda Cards and Comics this year.  He was friendly and very personable.  He signed East of West #1& #2, and a Marvel Zombies Return #1 for me...while cranking out individual sketches for people on white cardboard bag backs with a profound ease.  It was impressive. I gave him a series of questions at the signing in Alameda.  They are not….superficial.  I told him to take his time with them.  This was also my way of reminding him about them.  He said he has completed three of thirteen.  I thought that was pretty good. I didn’t have anything new for him to sign this time around.  I did bring the color reissue of Cassanova #1 and the #1 from Matt Fraction's recent Defenders run for Fraction to sign, but when I was about 10-15 people from the autograph booth Nick and Fraction were sitting at, Fraction had to leave to attend a scheduled panel in the theater.  I was a little bummed, but I stayed in line just to say hello to Nick. He is good people, his work is great and everyone should buy his books. The battle scene depicted over the recent issue of East of West (#4) is amazing and beautiful.  

Nick had to leave pretty soon after we got up to the front to say hello.  Ed Brubaker came up to the signing booth just as I had to move along in the line, past it.  I immediately realized if I was going to get my Criminal #1, Incognito #1, and Daredevil #100 variant signed I had to get back in line.  I'm a schmuck.  I brought them and I wanted to get them signed.   

I did it.  I got back in line...and that's when I saw what was the fist 20 people or so starting the line for Robert Kirkman.   My legs were starting to give out.  Now I exercise regularly, my legs are like that of Adonis, or Michelangelo's David, but I was tired.  These guys around me, these men with trunks for legs, these men whose sheer mass dwarfed me on average by a hundred pounds at least...they stood like Sentinels, unwavering in their conviction.   I brought a Marvels Zombies #1 variant and a Walking Dead #100 variant cover drawn by Tod McFarlane (also on the sheer chance TMcF would be there) for Kirkman to sign, but I really wanted to see the 4-5pm Comics and Creativity panel with most of the guests. 

I did it again.  I got back in another mother-f-ing line...and I knew in that moment it would not be the last of the day.  There would be the ferry.  Life is full of lines.  There would be tomorrow and the tomorrow after that and my whole life there after will come mother-f-ing lines, daily. And I will get into them because patience is a virtue and I AM F-ING VIRTUOUS. 

There has to be a better way to create a autograph line that moves efficiently.  Image wranglers tried to keeping the signing to one or two copies of something or another, but the guests were signing whatever you had---which was great. The guest artists/writers knew what was up, you bring it, they'll sign it happily, and tell you thanks for buying it.   There has to be a way to average out how long each person will take and figure out how many people can get through in an hour, then CUTTING THE LINE OFF.  There is no other way.  What's worse, standing in line for 2-3hrs then not getting your stuff signed or getting in line and having an active handler enforce the end of the line and helping you figure out don't waste your time? Wondercon had active handlers on the ends of lines, and it sucked when you got cut off before you even got there, but at least you could go do something else. It's the most fair to the guests, retailers, and press who don't want their time wasted either.  It was the One Day Only time restriction of the Image Expo that limited how much program you can pack.  I get that. I just wanted it to be more. Though I am reminded to be thankful for what I have when I look at all of the autographed books together.

San Francisco Ferry building Pier 41, local news van satellite relay mast.
I'm a little bitter too because I took the ferry in and the latest I could get back on the ferry was  8:15pm...and because of the BART strike I'm going to have to get back IN LINE for the ferry by 7:15.  There was a press/retailer mixer for a half hour at Jillian's in the Sony Metreon at 7pm.  Then there was supposed to be an Expo after party.  That I was really interested in, but dammit I had to go get in line for the ferry long before that. 
Looking back at the city from the ferry.
“Flood-tide below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face to face.
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious you
are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home,
are more curious to me than you suppose;
 And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to me,
 and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.”
-Walt Whitman,  “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” Leaves of Grass , 1856 -1881, 
published and edited throughout various editions.

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