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May 21, 2014

Big Wow! ComicFest 2014


Doré Ripley attended the Big Wow! ComicFest in San Jose, California on May 17 and 18 and she files this report for GNR.

Big Wow! ComicFest has grown from one hall of the San Jose Convention Center to two entire convention halls and five panel rooms. This year's crowd was large and friendly and filled with those of a like mind --- comic book enthusiasts.

Cosplay, as usual, was big at Big Wow! 2014. After being challenged by Mini Boba Fett and his little Spidey brother, the Joker took Robin hostage while Junior (Indiana Jones) was scolded by his pops in a Scottish accent, eerily reminiscent of Sean Connery. Stationed in Cosplay Row were Representatives of the 501st Legion alongside Superman, the Bay Area Ghostbusters and, of course, the usual smattering of pin-up girls. Holy Cosplay, Batfans! The cast of the 1960s Batman TV series was dynamically represented by a Cesar Romero-esque Joker that plotted against Adam West’s Batman, or at least they looked and sounded just like TV’s campiest comic super show. Need an iconic superhero cameo in your next film? I’d start here. 

Many comic greats made their way to Big Wow! including Mike Mignola (Hellboy, Batman), whose long line of worshippers snaked around an entire aisle. Also present were Mick Gray (Batman), Dan Brereton (Captain America) and Greg Rucka (Batwoman, Stumptown, Lazarus). Speaking of Greg Rucka, he was the featured guest of a panel about (what else?) Greg Rucka. Justin Greenwood and Michael Lark, both collaborators with Rucka on Lazarus, rounded out the panel. 

Rucka views the “script as an epistolary form.” He writes letters to his collaborators saying, “Here are my suggestions, draw this.”  Most writers tend to script out pages and are unhappy with the pages they get back because "they are not what they see in their mind’s eye." Rucka believes you have to trust the people you collaborate with, and that "it’s important in an artistic collaboration to have a lack of ego.”

Artist Justin Greenwood says he reads Rucka’s scripts and has an idea of the characters’ feelings while he’s drawing, and Michael Lark says that Rucka’s characters never say what they mean. Rucka will write a direction to draw the character “kind of pissed off, but a little lonely” or an emotional direction that reads “very much Darth Vader”.

Rucka appreciates Lark and Greenwood’s storytelling capabilities. For example, in just two panels you can see how the placement of a woman’s scarf can tell a story. In the first panel it hangs limp, and in the next panel it’s parallel to the ground. That’s “a woman pissed off and moving quickly out of the panel." The sense of time passing and of mood shifting are storytelling techniques Rucka uses over and over again. He loves comic pages "without copy.”  

The three are currently working on their creator-owned title Lazarus, a near-future dystopian cautionary tale. Rucka wrote Lazarus as a social commentary about “where we’re headed in five to fifteen years from now. There will be the wealthy and the rest of us, but it’s not a polemic. Nobody wants to be lectured, readers want to be entertained.” Rucka’s goal is to “tell a story that connects to people --- not a genre. I think about the story I want to tell.”  

Scifi is new to Rucka, not yet as popular as his noir Atticus Kodiak series or Alpha. Wait? You’ve never heard of these books? Rucka also writes noir detective fiction a la Raymond Chandler or Lawrence Block. Some are on audio --- great listens while commuting, but I digress . . .

Speaking of noir, Steven Yu’s Neo Eras is a cyberpunk noir graphic novel that features a 13-year-old orphan trained as an assassin who discovers the galactic conspiracy of the Neo Eras aliens and their designs on Earth. The styling is reminiscent of Bladerunner and District 9, grainy, gritty, quasi-realistic --- beautiful as only cyberpunk can be. 

Back out on the convention floor, I ran across the up-and-coming artist/creator Jef Bambas, author of Model: A, a series reminiscent of slapstick silent films featuring robots. While this book is text free it is scarcely silent. Model A is bumped out of his drone state in Book One and continues his adventures of discovery in Book Two. “Below Your Means” contains cases of mistaken identity as Model A outsmarts the upgraded Model Bs, eventually booting the unsuspecting Model Bs who turn on each other in a Laurel and Hardy remake.

In “From the Inside,” Model A finds himself trapped in an ammo depository where exchanges of explosives lead to robot destruction while our hero finds himself scorched. Finally, the Model Bs oil out on the depository floor in a bit of robot gore. LOL is such a cliché, but I did find myself unexpectedly laughing along the way. The gags are reminiscent of the incompetent Keystone Cops popularized in early silent films.

Model: A contains great black-and-white artwork that suits its diegetic perfectly.  The paneling is varied and expressive while the fine line artwork alongside the hashed textures and shading remind me a bit of Peter Kuper’s black-and-white Spy vs Spy.  

Jef Bambas isn’t new to comics; he’s also Editor-In-Chief of SLG Publishing where he edits “all the other books.” I'm definitely looking forward to Model: A Book Three. This work is suitable for all ages --- humorous enough for adults, silly enough for kids.

After wandering the aisles, it was time for another panel. Since I often teach Social Justice clusters at CSU, I couldn’t resist “Cultural Diversity in Comics.” The two panelists, David Williams (cover artist, Wolverine, Fantastic Four) and Damion Poitier (actor, Stark Trek, Avengers) --- let’s stop right there, Damion Poitier, while working at his acting career, has got to be one of the biggest comic geeks at this show, and that is saying a lot.  

Poitier believes that while demographically black men may be well represented in the media, they are usually represented in a negative way. “Superheroes are like the pantheon of gods and the iconography has to fit that pantheon. “Displacing the existing gods is hard to do.” Look at Miles Morales (Black Spider-Man), a character of African American-Hispanic descent.  Marvel is not interested in developing Miles as a character. He’s just “Spider-Man light.”

Poitier spoke about the many “race-bending” characters created over the years including Marcus Johnson (Fear Itself), the secret African American son of Nick Fury, and the new incarnation of the character Wally West, who was depicted as a tagger and a thug as a black man. Really?

How about this for offensive? Remember Bucky, Lemar Hoskins, from the late 1980s, an African American character that was really dumb, buff, and named “Bucky.” Remember The Falcon, a former gang member and pimp turned social worker who lived in Harlem. Poitier reminds creators that they all have to have one African American friend, so before writing across race, they can pick up the phone and give them a call to ask “Is this offensive?” 

Artist David Williams pointed out the “black people like [comic book] characters the way they are. Comic houses don’t have to alter existing characters; instead, give us our own characters.” On the other hand, some characters, like Perry White, don’t have a definitive color or role, so it doesn't seem “forced” when casting Laurence Fishburne as the Daily Planet’s editor-in-chief.

The next time Marvel or DC (Warner Bros. or Disney) cast another superhero movie they should look to Damion Poitier, if not as an actor, as a consultant for all things comic geek. Poitier is a walking Overstreet wiki.

Have you ever seen Dave Gibbons’ motion comic for Watchmen (Warner Premier)? Probably not, but this reporter thought it was one of the best creations ever (sure Alan Moore hated it, but he hates everything). Now Madefire offers a new interactive interface for comics that is so much more than a motion comic.  Unlike Comixology where you are just reading a book and swiping from panel-to-panel, Madefire lets you use “space, time, motion, and sound to control” how you want to read a story.  

What's even better is that Dave Gibbons wrote Treatment HQ for the app. “In 2023 . . . the depressed masses crave ever more sensational entertainment,” reality TV in the near future. Treatment HQ guides you through the fictional television series and leaves you with choices to make about the episode you’d like to watch. Current episodes include Treatment: Tokyo, Treatment: Mexico City or Treatment: Detroit. Madefire’s library of motion books includes Dracula’s Guest, Hellboy in Hell, Batman: Arkham Origins, Star Trek and My Little Pony.

Taking Eden made a good show with their brand new trade paperback at Big Wow!  There’s something in this book for everybody, well, everybody over 18.  Mystery, magic, and intrigue guide the story line where, Eden, a drug distilled from the innocence of young girls, is distributed through a network of nightclubs. Sky, Eden’s creator, uses sorcery and science, to hook his victims while the mysterious Patchwork Man promises “One day, I’m going to cause the sky to fall.” How will it all turn out? Pick up the book and find out.

Whew! I know I’m leaving out something, someone, or some great book or artist. There was just so much to take in this year at Big Wow! The costume contest featured dozens of fabulously comic-clad contestants --- even a pint-sized version. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s 49th Annual NEBULA awards were featured at Big Wow! The 75th Anniversary of Batman was honored in a special display, including an iconic Batmobile. The Jack Kirby web museum had a display. The list goes on and on, and thankfully there are other cons.  

See you at Big Wow! 2015.

Image #1: Boba Fett and Spidey
Image #2: 1960s-era Batman show cosplayers
Image #3: Larke, Rucka and Greenwood
Image #4: Steven Yu
Image #5: Jef Bambas
Image #6: Damion Poitier
Image #7: Outside BigWow!