Boston Comic Con 2010: A Venn Diagram of Artists, Storytellers, & Fans

This Spiderman has an important message for cosplayers: stay hydrated!

I've considered going to the New York or San Diego iterations of Comic Con -- you know, the really big Comic Cons -- but, based on how well Boston's Comic Con is doing, I don't think I need to buy a plane ticket for a great experience, especially if Boston's con continues to grow.

Last year's Boston Comic Con was on the small side, but still fun. Now? It's all grown up -- or at least it's reached an impressive adolescence. The convention upgraded to a larger space this year (the Westin on the Waterfront), and increased its price from $10 to $15. By the time I got to the con on Saturday, the line to get in was not only out the door but all the way down the block, and the inside was packed from wall to wall with guest booths, excited fans, and a smattering of cosplayers. I'm hoping they get even more space next year so that attendees have more room to line up in front of their favorite artists' booths for signings, browsing, schmoozing, etc.

There's very little about Boston Comic Con that I'd change, other than to say that I want more. More space, more vendors, and -- here's the important bit -- more events. The convention had three panels on Sunday, which is a start, but it'd be great to see some panels with multiple speakers. Topics could include indie publishing, self-promotion on the web, and/or more Q&A opportunities for some of the big-name guests present (or even some of the smaller-name guests). Crowding in front of booths is okay, especially if the space gets bigger again next year, but panels would prevent artists from having to answer the same questions over and over from different fans. If artists are too shy to talk and just want to make with the art, they could show powerpoints and/or demonstrations of the work they put into larger pieces and intricately planned storyboards.

As for atmosphere, the fan base present was polite, friendly, and extraordinarily excited about art. People who didn't know each other would point at each others' purchases and begin talking excitedly with one another about recommendations. It was a great event for comics fans, even those who don't plan on making big purchases and just want to geek out with the community for a while. Artists seemed surprisingly forgiving of folks hanging around their booths and not buying much, and most were happy to give out business cards or just shoot the shit about their pieces.

And now, here's a link storm of artists, storytellers, and fans that I spoke with -- and these are only a few snapshots of my day. The real thing was even more of a sensory overload.

Sci-Fi Saturday Night, the official podcast of Boston Comic Con, does weekly interviews with sci-fi artists and writers. They're currently doing some fund-raising work for author Spider Robinson, whose wife Jeanne is battling cancer. They'll be interviewing Robinson on 5/8, and you can find out about the rest of their guests (and their trivia contests!) on their site, or find them on Facebook.

I didn't get the chance to talk to artist/author duo Álvaro Carrasco Saa and Marcus Dean (the former lives in Chile, the latter is local), but their Death Cards -- which promoted their supernatural mystery Mardis Gras-themed comic -- were everywhere. Also on the list of artists that were either away from their tables, or feeling laconic (but whose work caught my eye): A. Ben Thompson, whose devotion to line detail is nothing short of astonishing, Anthony Morini, who looks like he takes some inspiration from Jhonen Vasquez, and the indie comics artists at HB Comics.

I also spent some time at the table for Strange Daze -- not exactly a comic so much as a showcase of the body of work of two brothers, Joshua and Jacob Santa-Cruz. I talked with Josh about the awesomeness of Mr. Sinister and spent some time fanning over his work which is, in a word, trippy. The picture on their site's front page reminds me of Doctor Orpheus (if he were a supervillain ... zombie ... guy). Just me? Maybe.

Speaking of Orpheus, Lauren Monardo was doing Venture Brothers commissions for $25 a pop ($40 for color). My not asking for one will go down in history as my Biggest Convention Regret. I was too overwhelmed by the possibilities! I could have had anything, and I asked for nothing. What is wrong with me?? She also had comic books on display titled The Slightly Askew Adventures of Inspector Ham & Eggs, which are about ... well, just look at it. Delightfully weird.

I tried to take pictures of the art at Tracy Lee Quinn's table, but somehow couldn't get a good shot. So, check out her work online: lots of superheroines, especially the tough-as-nails ladies from the Batman-verse. Her art style reminds me of Teen Titans' cartoonishness, but it's significantly sexier.

Comic Con also included sculpture and film artists (see next paragraph for the latter). If you want a hyper-realistic bust of a Batman character for your mantle -- and who doesn't -- then Reevs is your man. He doesn't actually limit himself to Batman pieces, although that's most of what he brought with him to Comic Con. He also makes masks, all of which are insanely cool and the stuff that cosplayers' dreams are made of.

As for film, the crew for the documentary My Name Is Jonah managed to catch me and my co-Laser Orgy writer Shaula Clark on camera in a segment that they will probably never use. We asked them about their mission, took some pictures of them in costumes from one of Jonah's music videos (similarly weird costumes can be found in the film's teaser trailer), and talked to them about their subject matter: a man who defies description but whom they nonetheless endeavor to describe in their documentary.

Other costumes worth noting: Resident Evil cosplayers (yes, from the video-game, and no, I don't understand why they were there, but hey, I love it anyway), an insane amount of Ghostbusters cosplay at the New England Ghostbusters booth (their website plays the theme song once you click on the logo -- loudly), and a Batman cosplayer with very tiny Robin and Batgirl cosplayers in tow (the trio managed to elude our cameras at every turn).

There were a few webcomics artists here -- mostly Boston-based ones -- but not as many as I expected. I talked to Tak Toyoshima of Secret Asian Man about the webcomics racket (reconciling his stay-at-home job with raising his kids, spending time with his wife, and a part-time [sometimes full-time] newspaper job). However, Tak isn't your average webcomics artist, since his work used to be syndicated with United Features, but he still considers himself to be part of the community. Personally, I'd like to see more webcomics present next year, and I hope that non-local webcomic artists will be willing to travel here as the con grows.

The lines between paper comics, webcomics, and syndicated comics blur all the time. You can be all of the above, fit into multiple categories, and/or do different types of art and storytelling that shouldn't necessarily be called a "comic" ... and still fit in at Boston Comic Con.

I'll end this epic post with a question. What about newspaper comics? We have some comics here at the Phoenix, of course (Karl Stevens had a booth at the con), but I'm referring to the comics in the dailies. The Mary Worths and the Garfields. It's been a while since the halcyon days of Calvin & Hobbes; most of the newspapers' greats have retired, or their work has outlived relevancy. Mark Trail, Archie, Family Circus, and other long-lasting comics don't seem to have modern audiences in mind, and instead bank on past successes and nostalgic formulas. Meanwhile, the newspaper version of Spider-Man is a joke compared to the "real" Spider-Man comics.

Josh Fruhlinger blogs about daily newspaper comics over at his blog, the Comics Curmudgeon, and a while ago Hi & Lois did a storyline that mocked webcomics (scroll down on this post to find the Hi & Lois comic and Josh's response). Josh seems to have harnessed younger readers who enjoy archaic comics ironically, plus older audiences who've had years to get fed up with the same old "classics". Is a slow death by mockery the only future for newspapers' daily comics?

Artists at Marvel, DC, and the rest seem willing to embrace the web (and the iPad) to continue with their art, and webcomic artists by their very nature use the web. But what about the gag-a-day comics in newspapers, especially the ones with smaller audiences (or audiences that are literally dying out)? Will the stodgier newspaper artists ever turn to the 'net in search of newer, younger fans, rather than disdainfully viewing webcomic artists as immature punks who don't understand how comics "really" work?

If Comic Con is any indication of how to succeed at making art -- and the long line must indicate success and interest -- then every artist should have a Facebook fan page, a website, a blog, a twitter feed, and a willingness to trek out to conventions and talk to fans directly. It ain't easy keeping up with comments, tweets, and e-mails, and it can be a hopeless time-sink for the work-at-home artists who had trouble churning out comics even before the internet's distractions existed. But the devotion and constant connection to fans that only a web presence can provide has a great pay-off, and that pay-off is definitely tangible at events like Boston Comic Con.

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