Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Meeting your idols at Comic-Con

I had an awesome weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, though that was probably evident from the fact that I couldn't get my act together and have a new post up yesterday.  SDCC can be an incredibly fun event, but also incredibly exhausting.  And yes, a lot of that is due to how crowded the show has gotten in recent years.  This was my tenth year attending the con, so I've seen a lot of changes just in that time.  To give you an idea of what kind of changes those are - during my first visit in 2004, one of my friends was able to buy his admission badge on site.  For Saturday.

This year, ALL passes for all days sold out in a matter of hours.  Panel audiences have gotten insanely crowded in the last couple of years, to the point where it is almost necessary to pick one panel you really want to see and line up for it at the start of the day, if not overnight.  (During my first year, I saw multiple panels in one day, including walking right into Ballroom 20 and Hall H without waiting in any lines.)

It's easy to complain about how the overcrowding and long lines dampen what used to be a great celebration of fandom.  It's hard to deny the effect that the Hollywood-ization has had on the con, to its detriment in a lot of ways.  But every now and then, you have an experience or four at the show that reminds you why you love this place to begin with.  After all, this is a place where I have run into Joss Whedon by chance - twice!

I've been pretty open in the past about my former hobby of collecting Superman comics.  It's a hobby that started in 1986 and only recently walked away from it a year ago, as detailed in this two part post.  If you read those, you might remember I spoke with great admiration for an era of Superman comics from the late 80s to the mid-90s, the Stern/Ordway/Jurgens era, as some call it.  That era was my "Golden Age of comics" and this past weekend, I got to meet four creators responsible for large parts of that era.

The first of these was a signing featuring writer Louise Simonson and artist Jon Bogdanove.  In the 90s, they were the creative team on SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL and created the character of Steel, who was far more interesting than his feature film made him out to be. There are a couple nice things about these sorts of signings.  First, since there are fewer people in line, there's less of a wait and you're less likely to be rushed along.  This also means that you can have a more meaningful chat while your books are being signed.

I always try to think of something interesting to say to these people.  This is partially because I used to be tongue-tied in situations like this, and partially because I've witnessed WAY too many awkward con encounters.  (Don't be shocked, but a fraction of comic book fans have issues with social awkwardness.)  Oh, who am I kidding? I was a tongue-tied fool during my first meeting with Joss Whedon during my inaugural visit to SDCC and I wasn't much better during my second chance meeting four years later.  Fortunately, making conversation with people whom you are a fan of is one skill I've honed from a lot of industry wrap parties and holiday gatherings.

I had a brief chat with Louise about some of her writing in the acclaimed "Funeral for a Friend" storyline and then it was my turn with the man affectionately known as "Bog."  I decided to ask him about how much effort it took to do the art for MAN OF STEEL 37, an issue that saw a time anomaly bring Superman into contact with Batmans of multiple timelines.  To underscore the effect, each alternate Batman was drawn as an homage to a specific era of Batman comics, with Bogdanove doing spot-on imitations of other artists' styles.

Bog's face lit up as I mentioned the issue, and he went on to tell me he immersed himself in research.  He studied all of his predecessors' and really got inside their process.  If I understood him correctly, he'd sometimes get only one of those Batmans drawn on the cover in a day, taking his time to get it right.  The most interesting thing was he said he learned a lot by trying to get inside the technique and style of those other artists and that it taught him a lot about his own craft.  He said it improved his technique to gain that insight and that it might have been one of the most important things he did for his craft.  It struck me that his experience could also be analogous to writing.

Speaking of writing, one of my favorite encounters of the weekend came at another signing, when I met legendary writer/artist Jerry Ordway.  Jerry's first issue of Superman (Adventures of Superman 424) was also one of my first comics, and eventually Jerry graduated from pencilling to writing and drawing as well. He was a part of the Superman family from 1987 to 1993, so he played a significant role in shaping that incarnation.

Jerry also happens to follow me on Twitter, so I introduced myself via my handle. Though I'm not sure he saw my review of MAN OF STEEL, he definitely remembered a tweet I made about how comic writer Mark Waid has a right to his negative opinion of MAN OF STEEL, just as I have a right to dislike Waid's own Superman origin series BIRTHRIGHT.  This led us to discuss how we both enjoyed the Zack Snyder/Henry Cavill film, and how we were perplexed at how little credit some people were giving it.

Jerry's said on Twitter that he enjoyed the film, so I don't feel like I'm betraying any confidence by repeating that here.  He went on to mention talking with another comics creator who really disliked the film, and that led us to a 5-minute chat about everything we liked about the movie and what we loved about Superman in general.  It was just like any chat you might have at the comic store, except at one point it hit me that "Holy shit, I'm geeking out about Superman with a guy who had a lot to do with SHAPING my concept of Superman!"  It was surreal, but very cool.

Jerry was also very gracious in signing several of my books, by the way.  When I asked for a picture with him, he also insisted on getting one on HIS camera, saying he likes to get pictures with the fans.  This was a stark contrast to several years ago when I lined up for a certain Star Trek actor's signature and the good captain couldn't be bothered to look anyone in the eye.  His eyes were downcast at what he was signing the entire time.

I had an equally great encounter with Dan Jurgens, a Superman writer/artist best known as the man who drew the landmark Superman 75, which was the issue where Superman died.  Jurgens first issue was actually Superman 29 in 1989, one issue after I convinced my parents to get me each new issue rather than purchasing it sporadically.  He was a regular artist on the books until 1995 and a writer until 1999.  He briefly returned to the book as the regular artist for six issues soon after the reboot of the series in late 2011.  Jurgens was pretty much the definitive Superman artist of the 90s. When I picture Superman, most of the time it's Jurgens art that I see.

I was one of several people who arrived early to line up for Dan's signing after attending a spotlight panel focusing on his work..  When he arrived at the table, he looked a bit perplexed, perhaps thinking that surely all of these people couldn't just be there waiting for him.  But we were and when my time came to get my books signed, I mentioned how long I'd been following him.  I couldn't help but mention that my comic collection actually ended with his last issue, to which he said, "I'm sorry to hear that."

I told him that I felt that the incarnation that was being published now was no longer "my" Superman.  Back when Dan and Jerry were doing great things with the character in the 90s, fans attached to the Silver Age era regularly complained that Superman had been ruined and that they missed the old version.  As someone who loved the then-current Superman, it always annoyed me that those fans couldn't let go of the past.  I told Dan, "I don't want to be the guys angrily raining on the fans' parade. If someone loves the current version, that's great, but I don't need to keep buying it just to make a point about how angry it makes me."

Dan reflected on that too, saying that though they got a lot of grief from the older fans, if those fans had their way, then it never would have led to great stories like the Death and Return of Superman.  That's a good point to to appreciate as writers - you can't be so scared of radical change that you close yourself off from exploring new ideas.  We chatted a few more minutes and I left with a feeling not unlike the one I had following the Ordway signing.

These guys were - in an odd way - an integral part of my childhood.  I waited every week for the release of the latest issues.  I knew Jurgens' artwork so well that I could detect the different nuances brought out by individual inkers.  Ordway artwork was equally unmistakable. I re-read those issues so often that I practically have each panel memorized, even more than two decades later.  So to meet them decades later and have substantive, if brief, conversations with them about that passion was oddly affecting.  (When I relayed the stories to my wife, she said, "That's like if Julie Andrews came over and had a conversation with me about Mary Poppins!"  What can I say? She gets it.)

I also had the opportunity to meet TV writer Jane Espenson and Brad "Cheeks" Bell, her co-creator on the webseries Husbands.  In a humbling moment, they both recognized my Twitter moniker and Cheeks said he was pretty sure he followed me and that he liked my stuff.  The highlight for me was that I got to thank Jane for a letter she wrote to me ten years ago.  I had written her a fan letter asking advice about breaking into TV writing and she graciously responded even as she was cleaning out her office on Buffy.

So yeah, it was a good con.

Bitch about the long lines, the terrible food, the incredibly rude volunteers and the convention-goers who never bathe all you want.  For two days this weekend, I got to reconnect with a major part of my childhood AND get it touch with some experiences that reminded me why I wanted to be a writer in the first place.  Some sore feet, over-priced parking and a little claustrophobia are a small price to pay for that, wouldn't you say?  Experiences like these will always keep me coming back to SDCC as long as I can.


  1. Jane Espenson is a lovely human being. She goes out of her way to give time & attention to everyone. I'm a fan. Glad you had such a good time at ComicCon--next year'll be the year for me.

  2. Loved reading this. Whenever I meet someone I have admired or is famous I try to remind myself, they're people just like me. Yet in reality, if I was standing in front of Anthony Hopkins or Morgan Freeman, I would struggle to speak coherently. It's nice when you can meet someone who talks to you openly and with interest. Like your good captain, sadly many forget who truly put them where they are; you and me and that kid in Des Moines Iowa.