Comic-Con and Comics Arts Conference 2009

Now that I’ve been back from Comic-Con for the week, I think I’m recovered enough to blog about it.  As always, it’s about overwhelming, even though I’ve been going since 1991. In fact, I qualified for an old-timers party on Thursday put on by Eisner Awards administrator Jackie Estrada  (though I got the date wrong and missed it).

My con started with the ICv2 Comics and Media Conference on Wednesday from 1-5, organized by Milton Greipp.

I liked the ICv2 conference and found it interesting.  The talks gave me some insight into how Hollywood works, both well (the Surrogate movie) and poorly (Jeff Smith’s long history of attempted Bone adaptations).  Chris Starros of Top Shelf noted that Disney wanted the line “Based on the Graphic Novel” in their trailer for Surrogate, and I used his line “In Hollywood, ‘Based on the graphic novel’ is hotter than ‘based on the novel'” a few times over the weekend, so that was a useful touchstone for talking about the place of comics in Hollywood.

I remain uncertain about the goals of the conference.  It was set up as a conference for building connections, but who was supposed to connect with whom?  I’m not sure what the takeaway was supposed to be. There wasn’t much opportunity for the audience members to mingle with each other or the presenters, though I left before it ended so maybe something happened, and I did run into Jeff Katz later and talk to him briefly about an idea I’ve been kicking around, so I made that connection based on the ICv2 conference.  I was also very unclear on what librarians and teachers were supposed to get out of it, though I get that the librarian on the Comics and Transmedia Storytelling panel represented that point of view and probably that was the panel directed most at educators, and it was probably sufficient.

But I admit to not being any of the target audiences, so I may have missed connections that others would have made.

I have two basic points to make about the panels:

First Jeff Loeb’s talk You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly — The Blending of Comics, Movies, Television and Beyond.  His theme of “you’ll believe a man can fly” was effective and the story of his rise within comics and the rise of comics within the media landscape worked well.  His discussion of superheroes as modern mythology employed a tired trope that ignores the cultural definition of mythology (which Richard Slotkin defines as “stories, drawn from history, that have acquired through usage over many generations a symbolizing function that is central to the cultural functioning of the society that produces them” (Fatal Environment p. 16).  But we had three people at my conference do the same thing, so I can’t really complain). But this is the sort of thing where a scholar could be useful. Superhero stories are deeply mythical, as are all genre narratives, but in the cultural sense, not in the stories of gods sense (the sense developed in a different way by Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism).

Second in the Comics and Transmedia Storytelling panel, the concept of canon came up repeatedly, with discussions about what makes something canonical and the interrelationship of the fans with the producers in negotiating canong.  The definition of canon used in this discussion was fairly loose and could have benefited from someone with a background in fan studies and/or a background in popular canon formation (informed by an understanding of the formation of the literary canon in the late 19th century).

I don’t have notes on the last panel because I had to plug my computer in, so my last bit of advice would be to have more plugs available 🙂

The second (and closing for this blog post) thing I want to talk about isn’t directly Comic-Con either. On Saturday I attended Digital Drinks, a mixer put on by Digital LA at the Ivy Hotel.  I made a few interesting contacts, primarily Russ Edra of Bread Box Media, and Smallville writer.  The main thing that was interesting is that there were almost no comics people at the event (as far as I could tell).  In terms of the connections that ICv2 wanted to make, this was the sort of event where comics people could reach into the circles of the other media, but they weren’t present.  As the Wall Street Journal noted, Comic-Con has beecome a mecca for media types seeking new source material, but I think the comics community still gets the short end of the stick (no disrespect meant to Digital LA–anyone interested could have signed up, but I wonder about the PR on the event and how much was done to reach comics people).

Maybe I just didn’t make it to the right parties. I did, however, pass Scarlett Johansson going into the Ivy Hotel as I was coming out.  But I actually got to be on a panel with Adam West (as you’ll learn in my next blog entry, same comics time, same comics URL).

Update: I listened to the Milton Greipp interview on the Major Spoilers Podcast (#114), and it really clarified the goals of the conference, and I wish I would have listened to it before I went to the conference.  Mmmm MSP goood.

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