A Shape of Things, Part 1 (of 2)

(the following is a bunch of words pertaining to the 2008 New York Comic Con; I took no notes, recorded no interviews, and all "quotes" are paraphrased from memory for the purposes of narrative flow - this is not a news report, so please don't excerpt it as such)



7:15 AM - Across Town From the Train Station:

I should have known it'd be a mistake to bring Gary Panter.

That's the new project from PictureBox, Inc., hence the boldface. My copy had arrived from Amazon on Thursday afternoon; the pre-order rate was a very good $56.00 -- from a $95.00 cover price -- for a 5" x 11" two-volume hardcover slipcased set of art books, 688 deluxe pages in total.

Carried around in a gym bag, it weighs approximately one hundred million pounds. And I hadn't even realized I'd brought the shoulder strap; I was carrying the damned thing with my hands, huffing and spitting my way down city alleys and through the local mall. I couldn't believe the train station didn't have a parking lot the first time I'd traveled by rail, and it got no easier to accept just then. My car was parked in my work spot - I hoped the catalytic converter would still be attached when I got back.

But at least Chris Mautner and I could thrill to the works of Panter, whether on those long train rides or during any down time we might encounter!

We wound up looking at the book for maybe three minutes over the whole trip. My arms still thank me for the trouble.

8:35 AM - Aboard Some Train:

Chris entered the carriage just as I neared the conclusion of Bob Levin's Most Outrageous: The Trials and Trespasses of Dwaine Tinsley and Chester the Molester. I felt silly having written the day before, when I was only halfway through, about how it had "none of the heavy legal briefing" of Levin's prior book. It turns out that the second half of the thing is a step-by-step guide to the criminal trial process, although at least the structure is a lot tighter, with the first half floating around as a cloud of near-isolated chapters on connected topics, primed to compliment the day-by-day action of Part Two. Sort of a keen picture of how seemingly isolated clouds of social, political, legal and personal activity can meet at a certain moment to bring a man to his knees, forcing the days that follow to adopt a heavy crawl.

Speaking of legal hi-jinx, later that day it'd be announced that the Gordon Lee case had been dismissed, thank god. Hopefully it happened in a manner that would prevent the prosecution from simply refiling charges in a few weeks.

Anyway, Chris and I got to talking about our itinerary, which would have to be divided between us quite a lot - he had no less than four panels to cover for Newsarama, and I wasn't even going to be allowed in the show until at least 3:00 PM, since I hadn't bothered to apply for a press pass. What can I say - I didn't plan to 'cover' the event in any formal sense, and I'd feel silly walking around without writing things down or seeking people out or anything. Filing reports from tha floor. Fuck that. It was a nice day, and if I couldn't find some way to pass three hours in the middle of New York Goddamned City on a sunny Spring afternoon, I'd have to be seriously broken inside.

God, New York City. I'd just dreamed of it the other month. I was walking along some rolling, suburban-like green grassy hills, and then suddenly... there it was! Easy as that.

I've never lived in an urban area; I probably romantizice it. I'm still knocked out by the concept of subways, and public transportation that lots of people use. I'm pretty slow. I was something like 24 years old before I wrapped my head around the fact that some people don't have to beg their jobs to make accommodations for them when their car breaks down, at risk of going unemployed or mooching off a family member for weeks. Hell, even trains were something else. I mean, they transport goods and all that, but last year I was telling my brother about how I rode the train to get to MoCCA, and he just stared at me incredulously:

"Trains? People still ride those?!"

12:05 PM - The Hotel Lobby:

I caught Tom Spurgeon's eye from across the room; he knew to look for Harry Potter, Age 19. He must have wondered why Mr. Potter had packed all of Hogwarts' spellbooks into his gym bag, and not cast a floating spell. Because Harry Potter is physically weak.

Tom suggested we go off to 9th street and find a lunch spot that wouldn't make us puke. A nearby Irish sports bar was the answer. Tom and Chris got handsome sandwiches, while I ordered a plate of potato skins, exactly three of them as it turned out. Chris offered me some fries. Tom told us a bunch about Thursday's ICV2.com Graphic Novel Conference (his initial impressions are here), and shared a lot of good anecdotes.

At one point, Chris mentioned he was covering a Legion of Super-Heroes panel, and I noted that Jim Shooter was one of only two official cancellations thus far, along with Howard Zinn. Tom furrowed his brow.

"I like to imagine they're out fighting crime."

12:55 PM - 8th & 51st:

By the time we got back to the hotel our room still wasn't ready, so Chris decided to find a way to get to the Con while I wandered off with his handy maps and a system of post-it notes I'd dotted with arcane symbols the night before, in a futile effort to guide my path. I might as well have kept my head craned up toward the skyscrapers the whole time while shouting "GOSH" every fifteen seconds.

It was fairly easy to make my way down to Times Square. Lots of fellow tourists were out. Guys: those tight black pants don't look nearly as cool when you're wearing an I [heart] New York t-shirt. Lines snaked around the booming, video-spattered block. It was like everyone was waiting to get into the Shrek 3D ride at Universal Studios; I could hear the voice of Eddie Murphy beckoning me to hilarity heaven, but I resisted. I was a real streetwise New York person at heart, detesting all of this family-friendly nonsense (albeit in an academic sense)! I'd been in the city at least three times before, and I'd seen a lot of movies; I had to find something deeper.

Chris had suggested I look for the Kinokuniya Bookstore by Bryant Park, but I had absolutely no luck finding it; I probably should have asked someone for an address. I wound up spending 35 minutes standing in line for Jamba Juice, valuable time well-spent. You know, a lot of attractive women frequent Jamba Juice, and there's a lot of signs hanging about how healthy Jamba Juice is for you. Around minute 20, the guy in front of me turned and spoke in an implacable accent:

"I think having all these gorgeous women around is bad for my health!"

We laughed and almost high-fived, but then I remembered how much I hate the touch of others. As every second pulled me closer to my Strawberry Health Catastrophe, I made certain to plan the next place I needed to be.

2:30 PM - Midtown Comics (Times Square):

I can't say I've been everywhere, but the 40th & 7th location of Midtown Comics is probably the nicest comics shop I've seen in the eastern United States. It's two floors of stuff (on floors two and three of its building), well-organized, oddly roomy, and loaded with diversity of selection. I typically run "the Fanfare/Ponent Mon test" as my rule of thumb as to a store's selection: the more Fanfare/Ponent Mon titles on hand, the 'better' the overall selection is. Midtown passed with flying colors - I even found a copy of The Ice Wanderer, and Fanfare had basically given up on that one in preperation for an October 2008 change-in-distribution relaunch!

As it went, I bought a lot of stuff. I plucked issue #5 (of 5) of Ted Stearn's Fuzz & Pluck in Splitsville off the New Releases rack (I recall buying the brand-new issue #2 of that series when I was in college), and snapped up the elusive Ganges #2 and Matt Broersma's Insomnia #3 (of 3) from the Ignatz rack. They had some very generous alternative pamphlet back-issue bins too - I got the one Palooka-Ville issue I needed to complete by Clyde Fans set, plus the 2001 reprint of #1 (that's the story about Seth getting his ass kicked over his flowing white locks) with the author's introduction telling you how much the comic sucks.

But then, I committed a terrible sin.

I picked up The Drifting Classroom Vol. 11 (of 11), very impressed by how many shelf copies of the series Midtown had. There's maybe one store in 150 miles of my home (a Borders) that carries regular shelf copies of Umezu; I should have considered that it'd be more popular in centers of greater diversity. After all, VIZ keeps saying they're happy with its sales, so it makes sense that some locations would treat it like any other new release.

You never buy new releases of widely-available bookshelf-type comics as soon as you see them when a con's in town. Or visit any major local stores before checking the con floor.

Sure enough, I'd later find a huge stack of the things at the con for 25% off. What's worse, I'd eventually be handed a coupon for 25% off my whole order at a Midtown Comics location. That could have bought me several extra Jamba Juices. Learn from my mistakes, readers!

3:20 PM - The Hotel:

I decided to check into the room, since I needed to change my shirt and dump my Midtown stuff; I kept the bag for later use. The Con was already open to me for twenty minutes, yet I felt little need to hurry up. New York was far too pretty.

The Con was all the way over by 11th and 12th, so I decided to hit Times Square again and walk 42nd Street. God, now there's a tourist attraction! Vice capitol of the nation for decades, home of the highest concentration of porn and trash and exploitation cinema you could imagine. What a place - neon and danger! My father grew up in Queens in the early '60s, so he was close to the stuff; when I was in high school, going to Madison Square Garden with friends, he playfully warned us to stay out of the Red Light district. I think a lot of it was gone, even by then.

But simply being in the same physical space had an effect on me. Soon, my imaginings completely took over my body, and I was actually whisked away to the Deuce in 1980! This... this was the true New York, the source of my displaced nostalgia! I was like Seth, and this was the trophy I was building for myself! The bookshops and theaters were all around me - I could smell the Color Climax coming! A local police officer happened by and I shouted to him!

"Don't you love it here? This is the best place on Earth! This is the best time to be alive!"

He paused, and whipped a jackknife out of his pocket, jamming the tip into my forehead. With a cool lurch, he dragged the blade down the front of my nose, down over my lips, and down, down my chin and neck. I coughed, and blood spurted from my wound into his face, and I laughed, causing further eruption. This was the type of ecstasy I couldn't get on the internet!

At that moment, my phone brought me back to the present from my happy dream. Chris was wondering where the hell I was, since he needed to get to the Oni panel by 5:00 PM. I told him I'd meet him later, and stepped up my pace.

4:45 PM - The Javits Center:

The New York Comic Con was my first 'big' comics convention. I'd been to SPX twice, and MoCCA once, but never a loud, costume-filled 'mainstream' comics convention. Several myths would be dispelled.

I had no trouble getting in, at any time. No wait whatsoever. There was a very healthy mix of genders, and a solid diversity of race. There was no more odor than I'd expect from a ton of people stuffed into a single space. There were a lot of young people of obviously varied interests, although you'd also spot the occasional 50+ year old wearing a Yancy Street Gang sweatshirt.

There was not much in the way of sensory overload. I wouldn't call it cramped, but the show floor was a bit smaller than I'd expected. I've never been to San Diego, which is the gold standard for this type of show, but I kept hearing about how New York was the new 2nd place, so maybe my expectations were out of whack. The presence of non-comics media was obvious, but not overbearing; it was clearly a comics show, with some video game and movie/television stuff tossed in. I'd say manga alone wasn't a big presence, but 'overall J-culture' definitely was. Neko hats were fucking huge.

I spent a while getting a feel for the floor. You've got to grab hold of some logic underlying these things, and let it guide you. Video games are by video games. Retailers are by retailers. Small press by small press, British by British. The big cats lay in the center: Midtown's cage, DC's nerve center. Max Fiumara signing comics under a gigantic All Star Batman (and Robin, the Boy Wonder) banner. One of the appeals of a show like this is that comics is still just small enough that you can walk by a booth during the Final Crisis signing and observe how wizened Grant Morrison looks in person.

Eventually I broke down and picked up a floor map to guide me to my more coveted spots.

5:40 PM - The Vertical Inc. Booth (#1626):

Best show debut #1 (of 2) - Osamu Tezuka's Dororo Vol. 1 (of 3). It's the Tezuka series Vertical is doing before Black Jack, a 1967-68 saga of supernatural swordplay about a young man who's had 48 parts of his body stolen by evil since birth, and the boy thief who's recruited to help make him whole. It spawned a 1969 anime, a 2004 Playstation 2 game (Blood Will Tell), and a prospective trilogy of live-action films, the first of which saw release in 2007. All despite being another of Tezuka's various unfinished series, although that didn't dim Phoenix's acclaim either. I haven't read it yet, but Chris has, and he says "It's... awesome." No reason to doubt it.

5:55 PM - The Bureau International de l'edition française Booth (#1960):

The Con pulled a funny trick and listed every single publisher represented by this group as a separate entity with a single table number, thus fooling me into thinking that L'Association had an actual table all to themselves. Now I'll never realize my dream of kissing Jean-Christophe Menu.

Still, the booth had stacks and stacks of French-language comics piled up for everyone to flip through (or buy, I suppose), including Mathieu Mariolle's & Aurore's Pixie series, which will be among Tokyopop's 2009 effort to expand into full-color translations. Lots of deluxe brochures handed out for free, including L'Association's priceless 2007 English-language(!) catalog, an altogether wonderful compendium of information, history, propaganda and old-fashioned bitching. There's this running joke where they keep taking shots at Futuropolis... I wonder who wrote it? It brought to mind co-founder David B.'s TCJ interview (Issue #275, April 2006), in which he spoke of (fellow co-founder) Menu's Plates-Bandes, a text full of extreme remarks positioned as the opinion of L'Association, despite some founders' disagreement.

Which reminds me - I would kill for an English-language edition of L'Éprouvette, the publisher's three-volume, 1284-page collection of 'radicalized' comics criticism in prose and sequential form. It would also be the least profitable venture in the history of US capitalism, and who wouldn't want a piece of that pie?

6:10 PM - The Fanfare/Ponent Mon Booth (#2343):

Best show debut #2 (of 2) - Hideo Azuma's Disappearance Diary. Winner of the Grand Prize for Manga at the 2005 Japan Media Arts Festival, it's a really very jolly, old-school funny manga account of the dark periods in its author's life, touched by homelessness and alcoholism. Context adds a little zest - Azuma is also the man who popularized the concept of 'lolicon' in manga, from whence anime and Japanese culture at large was affected. I don't think it's actually due out until November or something, and even then... Fanfare/Ponent Mon books are only ever available to a certain extent. And yet, everyone wants them for a reason.

Apropos of nothing, overheard:

"Lot of comic books here. I can't read comic books."

"You read Japanese comic books."

"Yeah, that's different. That's a different style. Other comic books are little boxes with pictures in 'em."

6:30 PM - The IGN.com Theater:

All the panels and most of the special events were held downstairs from the Con floor; I went to the big movie room to catch the MoCCA Presents Ralph Bakshi: Unfiltered presentation. The prior show, a screening of Chris Brandt's Independents: A Guide for the Creative Spirit, was still running, and when Brandt stepped out at the end he revealed that the next program would be a preview of the upcoming The X-Files: I Want to Believe. I then stepped outside the theater, and saw that the Bakshi presentation was not on the list in front of the door. Deciding it must have been cancelled, I left. Apparently, it went on without me.

6:40 PM - India's Edge is India's Fantasy - Shakti Panel (Room 1E15):

I headed over to the second panel Chris was covering. I'm sure at some point Grant Morrison and Elizabeth director Shekhar Kapur were talking about their new MBX project, an online animated sci-fi adaptation of the Mahabharata in four-minute episodes, but by 40 minutes in the panel had transformed entirely into spiritual/philosophical chit-chat, with Morrison deep into another detailing of his theories of the universe as a living being. There were free posters and everything. Maybe if I'd been walking the floor I'd have heard news out of the other, finished panels, like how Bandai Entertainment totally snapped up Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann from ADV. Oh well.

Chris seemed eager to go and type up his panel report -- surely the shaking was enthusiasm! -- so I left him again to head back into the fray.

7:05 PM - The Hot Hot Bargains Section of the Con Floor:

There's nothing I like better than a good bargain bin dive, and the Con offered a lot of chances for that. I've been told that the discounts tend to go up by the last day of a con, in that dealers are eager to blow out the shit they don't want to have to carry back. Maybe I'm crazy (or a bad reporter) (or not a reporter), but it seemed that some prices set at 50% off climbed to only 40% off for the better-attended Saturday. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This was the only part of the Con that really got to my head - I just couldn't keep all the retailers straight, nor could I recall whose bins were filled with what. I could have spent the whole night going through everything. As it was, I found an excellent set of boxes filled with magazines and magazine-sized items; for $2 each, I pulled out Richard Corben's Tales from the Plague (a 1986 edition of Corben's first comic book), a 1979 issue of Marvel Preview (#20) featuring two of Howard Chaykin's Cody Starbuck stories, that 1983 issue of Heavy Metal (Vol. 7 No. 2) with the feature article on the Starstruck stage play, and a 1982 issue of Epic Illustrated (Vol. 1 No. 12) with two early Jon J. Muth stories and the novel sight of Rick Veitch adding painted color to a Basil Wolverton short. Now that's a fucking load of stuff for under $10!

Time passed. I'd barely scratched the surface. Grasping at Vol. 1 of Toshio Maeda's beloved 1988 manga porn classic Adventure Kid (only eight bucks for WWII battles between shirtless American soldiers and '80s Japanese bomber bike gangs in Cyberspace!!), I left to find Chris again.

8:30 PM - The Press Room:

I guess I should have been surprised that I could simply walk into the press room without any authorization, but I somehow wasn't. Maybe I carry that much authority.

Chris seemed ready to jump inside his computer and let his fists do the reporting, so I looked around the room with interest. A woman in tall, glittery pink boots was filing a report, perhaps for Mennonite Footwear Quarterly. A nearby table was the scene of a whole group of new media journalists clicking and clacking out updates while a bold leader of some sort circled around to make sure all the pieces were in place; it was like I was back on the debate team in college (with everyone working and me sitting around)!

I went outside and watched people filing in and out of the theater for Sci-Fi Friday Night - Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who - All New!, which requires no further explanation. Then Chris came out and we left for the shuttle bus. Did I mention the hotel had a shuttle bus? Living large indeed.

10:10 PM - A Mexican Food Chain Near the Hotel:

My burrito had steak and peppers in it. It was good, and I also got a brown bag of chips that actually had the words "CHIPS" and nothing else on it, which is a little like when a character in Love and Rockets is reading a comic titled "COMICS," you know?

10:50 PM - The Hotel Room:

I looked at the Gary Panter book for maybe three minutes, while Chris repeated the magic spells necessary to make his laptop work with the hotel's wireless network. So I put my head down and fell asleep while Chris worked on his reports, by which I mean I went to three dozen parties and met everyone.


(click here for part 2 of this powerful epic)