Tidewater Comicon is a smaller con with quite a big bite. First of all, the location doesn’t hurt. The convention center is three miles away from a nice beach with a small boardwalk, amusement park, and all the seafood restaurants and bars your little tourist’s heart could desire. There is plenty to do when you’re not standing in line for creators or panels.
That’s correct. I didn’t have to wait in line for any panels or to meet comics creators even industry legends like Jae Lee (Inhumans, Batman/Superman) or Gerry Conway (creator of The Punisher, killed off Gwen Stacy, basically only Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have created more characters than him). I also had great seating at all the panels I attended, including the Punisher one featuring Conway and Mike Zeck (Secret Wars, the original Punisher miniseries) and a hilarious Q and A featuring actors Brian O’Halloran (Dante, various Hicks family members) and Marilyn Ghigliotti (Veronica) from Kevin Smith’s cult 1994 comedy Clerks.
Definitely the biggest highlight of Tidewater Comicon was getting to chat with comics creators (Most of whom I’ve had various interactions with on social media.) and support their work in person. Jae Lee was as kind as he was talented and signed my copy of the recent Dynamite Django/Zorro crossover comic. His covers are examples of iconic storytelling in a single image. I geeked out way too hard over meeting the creative team of my favorite Marvel title Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat, which consists of writer Kate Leth, artist Britney Williams, and colorist Megan Wilson. I got a print of a cover of future issue featuring Jessica Jones in Alias Investigations with Hellcat on her desk and found out from Leth that editorial wanted Jessica to show up in the series, and they didn’t have to fight for her inclusion. It will be nice to see Jessica off the couch in a couple months.
I also met artist Eryk Donovan and picked up a copy of the miniseries Memetic (BOOM! Studios) that he did with James Tynion. It’s a series set during an apocalypse set off by a meme of a sloth and features a gay, deaf protagonist, who finds a little love before the world comes to a dark end. I chatted with Josh Frankel, the publisher of Z2 Comics, about their upcoming slate of titles, including Legend and Hyper Force Neo. Z2 is a fun indie publisher with a wide variety of comics from spooky, Southern fried all ages comics (Welcome to Showside) to black and white noirs (Carver) and even fantasy parodies (Allen, Son of Hellcock), and I look forward to seeing what they publish in the future. On Sunday, I got to talk with comics legend Gerry Conway about his Amazing Spider-Man run, and his fight for comics creators to get fair royalties when their creations are used in films and TV shows. I even chatted with Steve Orlando about his upcoming Supergirl series while commiserating over the loss of Midnighter. (He signed the panel where Midnighter and Apollo kiss in Midnighter #12 almost immediately after having a serious conversation with someone who wanted to break into comics.)
And while I wasn’t perusing the quarter bins or looking for manga or trade paperbacks (I picked up two volumes of Y The Last Man for $7 and picked up the complete Codename Sailor V series), a nice little oasis in the middle of the show floor was the Video Game Zone. It was basically just a bunch of tables with various sponsors, some free swag including Jurassic World Legos and Legend of Zelda soundtrack albums, and loads of video games consoles from mini arcade cabinets to Xbox One and PS4’s with the latest Mortal Kombat game or Fallout 4. I stuck to the old school playing the classic Super Mario Bros 3 on the Super NES, struggling at Marvel vs. Capcom 2 on a tricked out Sega Dreamcast, and good ol’ Frogger (which there was never a line for) while waiting for a creator interview. This area was one of the highlights of Tidewater Comicon and did a nice job integrating gamers and comics fans in one happy corner.
On Saturday, I went to two panels: Welcome to Showside Live and the Action Lab panel because indie comics are the best. Welcome to Showside live was all about Ian McGinty‘s all ages comic Welcome to Showside about a little green monster named Kit, who wants to eat food, play video games all day, and hang out with his friends, but is actually the son of the Cthulhu-esque Shadow King. It’s a comic from Z2 comic as well as an animated pilot. Unfortunately, there were technical difficulties, and the pilot couldn’t be shown, but creator Ian McGinty, co-writer Samantha “Glow” Knapp, colorist and letterer Fred Stresing, and colorist Meg Casey put on quite an energetic panel with help of moderator Tini Howard (Poseidon IX). The team provided some great insights into the themes of the series (Basically, not being what your parents want you to be: namely evil and friends becoming a surrogate family.) as well as the process from going from a comic worked on by 3 or 4 people to a big animation project. McGinty talked about how working on licensed properties like Bravest Warriors or Adventure Time, helped him build an audience for a creator owned comic.
The Action Lab panel was pretty small and featured Action Lab publisher Bryan Seaton, writer Bob Frantz (Monty the Dinosaur), and artist/animator Sam Ellis (Archer, Bravest Warriors). Ellis is also the head of Action Lab’s relatively new animation division. Seaton laid out some of Action Lab’s summer releases, including the comics version of Nickelodeon’s Miraculous Ladybug, which is the number 1 show in France, the UK, and South Korea, and the number 3 show in the United States. Action Lab also has the license for the Miraculous Ladybug card games, which was designed by Ellis. Other comics coming up include Franco’s (Itty Bitty Hellboy) Spot on Adventure, Sam Ellis’ Monster Dojo, and the comics adaptation of Peter David’s novel Artful, one of his rare non-Marvel comics. After announcements, Seaton, Frantz, and Ellis gave very in-depth answers to questions about the comics submission process, especially matching your comic to the company you’re pitching to. They also talked about Action Lab’s innovation in all ages comic starting with the critical acclaim of Princeless, and Seaton promised that there were more volumes of Fight Like A Girl, their mythical fight comic featuring a black teenage girl as a protagonist, coming down the line.
On Sunday, I went to a couple panels in the big panel room. The first one was about the Punisher and featured Gerry Conway and Mike Zeck. It was pretty well-attended probably due to the fantastic reception Jon Bernthal got for his performance as the character in Daredevil Season 2. Conway talked about how the Punisher was originally intended to be a one issue villain while he set up a larger storyline featuring the Jackal and Gwen Stacy in the first “Clone Saga”. The character was rooted in the 1970s when law and order was hard to come by in New York City, and the idea of vigilantism didn’t seem so bad in the wake of the real life actions of Bernard Goetz as well as the films Death Wish and Dirty Harry and Don Pendleton’s Executioner novels. Conway gave the Punisher a moral code to make him a more balanced character, and this led to him becoming a fan favorite character, who featured in Marvel’s black and white adult comics line and eventually had a miniseries and two ongoing series. Conway summed up the essence of the Punisher by saying he was a “Rorschach test for writers and artists”, who wanted to deal with the problems of their era. He said he liked a variety of takes on the Punisher from Garth Ennis’ realism in Punisher MAX to the more over the top violence of Steven Grant and Mike Zeck’s Punisher miniseries and graphic novel.
Both Conway and Zeck said that Jon Bernthal’s Punisher was their favorite on-screen version of the character and although Bernthal is a short actor, he brings presence to the role. Conway said that if they made a Punisher film in the 1970s when the character was first created that he would have cast “tough guy” actors, like Soylent Green-era Charlton Heston, Clint Eastwood, and of course, Death Wish‘s own Charles Bronson. On the artistic side, Zeck talked about his own design for the Punisher in the 1980s and said that he wanted to make him truly look like a killer while taking inspiration from Joe Kubert’s WWI and WWII-era German anti-hero Enemy Ace. Zeck also said that the Punisher was ripe to become a breakout character in the 1980s with the popularity of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone’s ultraviolent action films.
Conway and Zeck also talked a little about other characters they have worked on in response to fan questions with Zeck saying his dream character to work on for Marvel was Captain America, and he was happy that the character had a main role in the original Secret Wars. Conway said he was a big fan of Spider-Gwen and was glad he got the opportunity to write a story featuring her in Spider-Verse Team-Up saying that her new role as a superhero was much more fleshed out than the “nice girl” that she was back in Amazing Spider-Man in the 1960s and 1970s. He talked about enjoying the creative freedom of writing B and C list characters, like his current work on Marvel’s Carnage. Gerry Conway and Mike Zeck provided some great insights into these iconic characters drawing on their decades of work in the industry. (Conway sold his first story to DC Comics as a 16 year old!)
The final panel I went to was a Q and A with Brian O’Halloran and Marilyn Ghigliotti. O’Halloran played Dante in the cult comedy Clerks, directed by Kevin Smith, and has played various Hicks family members in virtually every Kevin Smith film set in his cinematic universe, the View Askewniverse. Ghigliotti played Dante’s girlfriend Veronica in Clerks (Of the “37 dicks” and lasagna fame) and now works in the film industry as a makeup artist. She will be reprising the role of Veronica in the upcoming Clerks III film. O’Halloran and Ghigliotti told wildly hilarious stories about working on Kevin Smith’s films and meeting various celebrities, like Mark Hamill, George Carlin, and Alan Rickman, who gave O’Halloran some advice when he flubbed a line in Dogma. O’Halloran showed up off his Dante-esque nerd cred and gave his opinion on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, including roasting the Starkiller base while saying that Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are equally good trilogies in a riff off some dialogue from Clerks II. Brian O’Halloran is a naturally funny person, and it was easy to see from his personality why he is such a good fit for Kevin Smith’s style of writing and filmmaking. The crowd was very animated, and it showed how Smith’s films and his down to Earth, slightly nerdy protagonists have resonated with fans even 22 years after Clerks was released.
Tidewater Comicon was a nice, relaxing convention that covered a wide gamut of fandom from anime voice actors to cult comedy actors, big time Marvel and DC artists, and indie comics darlings. One slight critique was that exhibitors mostly sold single issues and not trade paperbacks, but Tidewater Comicon is a great palate cleanser after going to huge, crowded shows like New York Comic Con.
Be on the look out for my upcoming articles about Tidewater Comicon cosplayers and interviews with comics creators Tini Howard (Skeptics) and Ian McGinty (Welcome to Showside).