Too Much Of A Good Thing Can Be Bad
In reference to the subtitle above, I had two incidents where this was true. The first started in the morning with a hangover I hadn’t experienced since New Year’s of 2015, which is a bad thing considering that I was so drunk I threw up in a nice car and passed out in the bathroom with my pants down. This did not occur in the hotel room I shared with Sean, Matt, and Jeff. I was snugly in bed, but with a throbbing headache I might as well have slept on concrete.
With a headache, spinning vision, and nausea, I made my way slowly to the fridge, eating cherry tomatoes and drinking water in hopes it would curb the dryness of my mouth. Later, this would backfire as I regurgitated my snackings in the toilet. Forcing myself out of the John Wick suit, I replaced it with my John Constantine cosplay. I got “into character” and skipped showering. Hey, at least I brushed my teeth. Today was Saturday, the busiest day for any convention, and my plan was to get more signatures from comic pros, particularly Jason Aaron and Dan Slott. After that, I would stop by a panel about breaking into comics digitally.
Outside, the heavy trench coat added to my woes as I sweated like crazy due to the Florida heat. Combine this with my headache and sensitive eyes, I feared the trek to the Orange County Convention Center would be hell (Hey, that would also be in character). As though a God send, a taxi stopped by and picked up the gang. Well, me and Matt anyway. Sean and Jeff were smart enough to go on ahead without us. It was a complimentary ride from Megacon, and the driver was a very nice gentlemen, so the ride turned out pleasant.
At the con, I rushed onto the floor. Starting around 11:00 AM, Jason Aaron would be showing up for autographs. Aaron is best known right now as the writer of Thor, but I’m a bigger fan of his creator-owned works such as Scalped, Southern Bastards, and The Goddamned about crime and the effects of traumatic experiences on people. I brought a trade of The Other Side, his miniseries with Cameron Stewart about two men from opposite sides of the Vietnam war slowly driven insane by the chaos around them. I waited in line eagerly, but bad things were taking place inside me. I could feel bile rising to my throat. I was getting ready to puke, and the urge got stronger as I approached closer and closer to Aaron. The feeling reached its peak at the front of the line. The Megacon staff guy asked me if I was okay? I told him no, that I felt like I was going to be sick and if I could quickly step out of line real quick? He told me yes, but I would have to go to the back afterwards. I was mad. What the heck, dude? I wait all this time and you don’t have the courtesy to at least let me back in my spot? I was determined not lose it. I took several deep threats and stayed put.
I managed to make it to Jason Aaron without puking. I was hoping to chat him up a little, tell him how much his work means to me and how great The Other Side is with his interpretation of the Vietnam War as a Lovecraftian entity that drove the people experiencing it mad. Unfortunately, I was pretty pale and shaking. I think Aaron could tell and was weirded out, so he kept things brief. I managed to get my signature and not puke on my hero, but at the same time I felt embarrassed for getting into such a crummy state. The first error of the day, and the lesson I learned was not going crazy with alcohol.
After Aaron’s signature I headed over to my friend Sorah’s booth. She was working on commissions but had time to talk. I told her about the hangover of which she felt bad even though I promised it was my fault for not keeping track of the drinks. After we finished talking, I got in line for my next autograph with an eager, mischievous grin. The next comic pro was Dan Slott.
Aside from Graphic Policy, I also happen to write for a website called the Outhouse. If you’re new to comics journalism, the Outhouse are muckrakers that hunt down awful things happening in the industry and bring them to light, much to the bane of professionals and publishers alike. One of our sworn enemies is Dan Slott, current writer of Spider Man and Silver Surfer. He has received criticism for being abrasive on social media, going so far as name searching himself and arguing with strangers. At one point, Slott got tired of seeing our criticisms and decided to block everyone associated with the Outhouse, including me. This was no great loss to me. I’ve read his work and have a mixed opinion of it. His Spider Man writing is boring, Silver Surfer is okay but borrows heavily from Doctor Who, and the only work of his I’ve enjoyed is Renew Your Vows, a miniseries about Peter Parker being a loving father and husband. You know, what fans want to see him as instead of a Tony Stark clone. However, when I learned he was going to be at Megacon, I could not pass up the opportunity. As far as I knew, he had no idea who I was and blocked me randomly. So, I brought my copy of Silver Surfer sign for him to sign.
As it turns out, Dan Slott was a nice man in person. He greeted me with a smile and signed my copy of Silver Surfer. I mentioned how it read like Doctor Who, and instead of being mad admitted how much he borrowed from the franchise. In fact, he mentioned how producers of the Doctor Who television series were fans of the comic. We exchanged a handshake, took a photograph, and parted ways on a friendly note. I was pleasantly surprised by this exchange. Perhaps the impersonal nature of the Internet causes people to be nastier than they would in person. I showed the gang my signature and we got a laugh out of it, but they were also glad Slott turned out to be cool.
Suddenly, I got a call from a friend of mine, Stephanie, who was attending the con. She told me that in 10 minutes there was going to be a panel on LGBT themes in comics. There was a similar panel the day before but I forgot to go. I decided this was something I wanted to attend and rushed over to the panel, just barely making it on time.
Leading the panel was Marc Andreyko, a comic book writer with quite the number of titles in his portfolio including Manhunter and Wonder Woman ‘77. He is also an openly gay man and the project organizer behind Love is Love, an anthology benefiting the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, America’s deadliest mass shooting in history that specifically targeted the LGBT community. Joining him were fellow LGBT comic creators, artist Cat Staggs ( artist of Crosswind, Womanthology), her wife, writer Amanda Deibert (Wonder Woman ‘77, John Carpenter’s Tales For A Halloween Night) accompanied with their baby daughter Vivian (so cute), artist/writer Phil Jimenez (Superwoman, Fairest), artist/writer Tana Ford (Silk, Duck), writer Tee Franklin (Nailbiter #27, Bingo Love), colorist Jose Villarubia (Sweet Tooth, American Chavez) and artist/writer Dee Fish (Finding Dee, The Wellkeeper).
After introductions were made, Marc Andreyko started the panel with mentions of the anthology’s success and how 7 foreign countries have asked for translated editions. Andreyko especially loved how there was next to no editing for each of the short stories. Yes, there were spell checks and typical tweaks like that, but no creative interference. The stories came directly from the creator’s hearts. Even so, Andreyko praised the editors on the book, two of whom volunteered for the book despite having 13-15 monthly titles on their plate. Without them, or the readers, the book would not exist.
The questions asked were kept short and simple, allowing the panelists to give some truly great answers. One young man talked about how he has to constantly argue with his LCS (local comic shop) to have more titles with women and queer characters in them. He asked if those types of characters are reasons certain segments of the market won’t buy them? Even though they hoped that isn’t the case, all the panelists agreed that those type of consumers shouldn’t matter. Andreyko stated that honesty matters the most, doesn’t matter if a character is gay or straight, black, Jewish, etc. If a story rings true to human experience, people will enjoy it. That’s why he doesn’t start with a social identity with a character. He figures out the type of person they are who so happens to be these other things. It’s also important to have diverse experiences for marginalized characters or they just become a cliche. He gave an example of a gay character from a show called Happy Endings who is socially awkward, overweight, and has trouble getting dates. He has friends that complain the character isn’t a role model, and Andreyko agrees but he relates to him so much. I believe his point is to write characters that are real and not negative stereotypes or didactic caricatures.
Tee Franklin jumped in on this conversation by discussing the creation of her graphic novel, Bingo Love about two grandmas that fall in love. A lot of questions asked of her on the creation of the book was “why?” With that kind of reaction, she knew it wouldn’t be published at Dark Horse or Image, so instead Tee took the idea online and was able to find an audience for the concept and get the book successfully funded via Kickstarter. “If someone doesn’t want the story, they don’t have to read it. I’m not making it for them, I’m making it for the people that want to read it. I’ve had people come up to my booth and cry because they say that their grandmothers are gay, or one girl said ‘I want to get your book but I can’t because I’m hiding from my mom who I am, and I’m afraid she’ll find it.’ You’ve got to know the people whom you’re writing this book for, and if someone doesn’t like it screw them, it doesn’t matter.”
Phil Jimenez brought up how human experience isn’t universal, so he tries to write about very specific experiences. Although you do find from those specific experiences some universal patterns: looking for love, for confidence, for family, somewhere to belong, etc. Sometimes it takes exploring a specific experience outside of what we regularly see in media for universality. He tries to fill his stories with as many different people from diverse backgrounds as he can and is lucky enough to have worked with creative executives who are looking for that kind of work.
Dee Fish brought up when she came out as trans in a Webcomic of her’s that is oriented to a younger audience, Dandy & Company. She did a scene where she came out to the main character, Dandy, and was afraid of what would the reactions were going to be. “It went amazing! I had more people reading the comic and became more deeply invested and tried more of my work because they learned more about me. And if there was anyone really angry at me about it, I never got a letter or anything about it.”
The subject of queer erotica came up and someone asked if it should be considered just as essential as other media or if it’s holding the community back. Andreyko stated yet again good work is good work, including smut. Also, just because a storyteller is mostly known for smut doesn’t mean they can’t branch out to other types of stories. He brought up the mangaka Gengoroh Tagame who is mostly known for explicit gay erotica but recently came out with an all ages book called My Brother’s Husband, about a single father who’s brother has died and his Canadian husband comes to live with him and his daughter in Japan.
Tana Ford admitted that she has mixed feelings on this subject. Can people who don’t want diversity point to gay erotica and keep queer people in a ghetto because “Oh, they’re disgusting.” On this point, Phil Jimenez says that queer comic creators should decide how much they want their work sexualized. Keep in mind, the term queer does not mean gay sex. He uses it as a broad umbrella term for people that are outside of cis and heteronormativity. He theorizes queer people internalize this fear of their sex lives because culturally there has been pushback of openly expressing them. “The interesting part about the title Love is Love for me is it’s not just about who we love but who we’re attracted to. Who we want to build lives with romantically but also want to be with sexually.”
Amanda Deibert chimed in this is why she’s pro gay smut. If straight people get to enjoy it, queer people damn well have a right to it. Not everyone enjoys smut, gay or straight, but they don’t have to read it and the queer community shouldn’t have to be responsible for the uncomfortable feelings of non-queer people over their sex lives. Besides, if they have those type of feelings then they’re already against LGBT rights. Jose Villarubia brought up how he learned that a good number of his female art students are into gay boy-on-boy romances. So, even then straight people can be into gay erotica as well. It all boils down to having good work no matter what it is.
The Q&A got serious when a young trans woman asked if all the different labels for various queer identities muddled things? The reason she asked is that she had a bad experience going to her LGBT council center. After coming out, she got 30 death threats, had a huge drop of friends, and, worst part, was turned away by a clerk at the center for not being gay or trans enough. Andreyko told her to found out who turned her away because what the clerk did was unacceptable and should be fired. He confessed to not having the same struggles too many LGBT have had on coming out because he had incredibly accepting family and friends. The thing to do is look for like-minded people offline and online. They are out there and you will find acceptance.
The final questions of the day came from my friend Stephanie who asked what tropes the panelists would like to see disappear from comics. This prompted Tee Franklin to laugh out loud. “Oh, we ain’t got time for all of them, sweetie.” What Tee wanted to see less of was the tendency to portray black people in constantly negative light such as crackheads and criminals. Tana Ford wanted the trope of killing of queer characters to stop. Let them live, please. Marc Andreyko wanted the gay stereotype of a witty gay man with no relationship but highly apt at fashion go away. For Phil Jimenez, the idea all queerness is through a white cis male’s perspective. POC queer characters shouldn’t exist as just the significant other of the white queer protagonist. Let there be POC couples. Amanda Deibert was happy that at least the trope of the lesbian going back to the man has seemed to disappear completely.
After the panel, many of the audience members went over to the young trans woman to comfort her and show their support. Andreyko went over to make sure she was all right. It was a great panel that reaffirmed my belief that diversity in comics is important. The one thing I regretted was not having focused more on Love is Love during my time here. In fact, Megacon had a big showcase of it, including an art display and party that night. I didn’t go because it would have cost too much money, but I still felt guilty I didn’t find more opportunities to write about it. I think this was because of my focus on autographs. Error #2: Focusing too much on autographs can lead to missed opportunities. Make sure to find other opportunities.