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February 19, 2014

The Birth of a Con: East Bay Comic Con Is a Huge Success


There’s nothing more exciting than a maternity ward waiting room on Father’s Day…unless, of course, it’s a brand-spanking-new comic convention. On Sunday, February 16, in Concord, California, when people should be out having breakfast at the local coffee shop, they instead lined up to make their way into the Concord Hilton. Just past the Bay Area Ghostbusters ambulance and into the glass-lined hallway that looked out onto an atrium filled with cosplayers, comic book fans, and memorabilia collectors, convention goers waited to get their hands stamped. Inside the convention floor was a familiar mix of experienced artists, new creators, crates of comic books for sale, and, most especially, aficionados waiting to get a glimpse of the latest titles or their favorite stars, artists, and cosplayers.

East Bay Comic Con started out as a one-day show that soon expanded into a two-day event with the addition of a free showing of The Crow at the local multiplex, where creator James O’Barr led a spirited discussion of the film. The convention expanded from a one-room floor into multiple rooms and comic panels on subjects ranging from comic arts to filmmaking, costume design, and a tribute to Jack “King” Kirby.

Sean Fahey, Tall Tales from the BadlandsOut on the main floor, I discovered a new addition to the comic canon, Tall Tales from the Badlands. This series, written, in part, by brothers Seamus and Sean Fahey (that's Sean on the left) and drawn by a variety of indie artists, is a straight-up sharp-shooting western series that offers some wicked good storytelling. The rugged cowboy hero is well-represented fighting outlaws and taking on corrupt judges and righting all wrongs --- well, most of the wrongs. These books are a bit more than your standard Wild Bunch/Sam Peckinpah bloodbath; they are books that leave readers thinking. What would you do if you were stranded in the wilderness and hadn’t eaten for weeks? Would you take the easy way out, using your last four bullets on the family? Now there’s something to think about, but you’ll find no spoilers here; you need to read “Apologies” (in issue #3) to learn the answer. The western genre, with its cowboys, hanging judges, Native Americans, and outlaws, are powerful icons of the American mythos, and in Badlands, these archetypes are well-fleshed-out. Each book contains a number of standalone stories, and there’s even one with a nice sci-fi twist. The artwork varies story to story, from strong noir-western to a lighter brushstroke and screen.

Katie Shaw, DRAGON CHILDAnother newbie to the comic convention scene, Dragon Child was written and drawn by Kate Shaw (right) and is a modern-day fantasy where mythical creatures are real --- and wondering who’s encroaching on their space (those darn humans!). Shaw's decidedly manga-esque style translates well into the fine-line drawings of medieval dragons that inhabit this universe.

Erwin Ledford, comic artist and writer by night, print designer by trade, offered The Plainest Plane,Vol. 2,billed as “the mildly anticipated follow-up to the forgettable debut comic, only at a higher price,” and L’il Erwin,embarrassing tales from childhood. His sketchbook style works well on his gag strips, and his clean lines and full color saturation make his quality artwork stand out.

There was also Chem 19, by Kevin Trugilo, a near-future dystopian tale where the government keeps everyone in line with drugs (specifically, Chemical 19). Chem 19 is highly addictive and, once a user starts, it alters his or her DNA, making it impossible to quit. This work holds a mirror up to society while examining issues like addiction, segregation, violence, corruption, family, love, independence and hope…quite a project. The black-and-white artwork’s chiaroscuro is appropriate for the dark subjects covered in this work. 

The Hero Initiative (and their cupcakes)One of the more “unusual,” dare I say, booths was that of the California Hero Initiative, whose motto is “Be Your Own Hero.” They offer public security, community outreach, and creative activism through neighborhood watches, self-defense classes, and neighborhood clean-up. There are chapters all over the country, and the group has been featured in the movie Superheroes (2011), an Emmy-nominated film that documented the world of real-life caped crusaders. The Hero Initiative is working on a new movie scheduled to come out this year, entitled Nation of Heroes. The local San Francisco chapter sounds like a great group --- I mean, they had cupcakes, as you can clearly see in the picture. What’s not to love? I wonder if they can teach me how to use a kata as well as the teenage mutant superheroes?

Hey, all you teachers out there, the inaugural EBCC’s panels included one on “Using Content Analysis to Understand Comics,” which was led by Dr. Lou Schubert, a professor of political science from City College of San Francisco. Dr. Schubert, who was bitten by the comic bug at an early age, explained how social sciences use coding protocol when gathering data to analyze. All participants were given The Uncanny X-Men, Vol. 1, #182 to analyze --- 1984 was a pretty funky year --- and then asked to systematically review the comic according to whatever variable we chose. Of course, I chose women, except Rogue, and soon discovered that the only other women in Uncanny x-men #182 were villains. Ouch! What does that say about the 1980s? It was a fun panel and another assignment to add to my superpower utility belt.

Cobra 1st Legion, with an elf and somebody who just doesn't seem all that into itNear the end of the show, I ran into Steven Wyatt, the coordinator of East Bay Comic Con. He was talking to the Hilton Hotel people, who were just slightly freaked out about the number of people attending the show. What a great problem to have, right? I think the bouffant-coifed, Chanel-suit-wearing manager may have been slightly more freaked out by the cosplayers (they were awesome). From Umbrella Corp agents to Mandalorian Mercs (Teren Clan) and representatives from Cobra 1st Legion and the Bay Area Ghostbusters, all the warriors, princesses, soldiers, and elves seemed to be getting along just fine. Mandalorian Mercs, Teren Clan

I know this little baby con, if given a chance, is going to grow up into some awesomely extraordinary annual event. At least I hope so, because the San Francisco East Bay Area needs a convention to call its own. This year, baby steps. Next year, a rebellious teen? What ever happens, this was one great show!