The Watchtower: the heroes and villains of comic conventions

    Having just come out of the swirling merger of creativity, art and consumerism that is the first annual C2E2 (Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo), I can’t help but ponder comics culture a bit. Despite being an avid comics reader, I’d never actually been to a comic convention before, so C2E2 was an enlightening experience to say the least. In the weekend of massive sensory overload I spent there, I had a lot to take in. From what I managed to gather, though, I’d say that comic-cons embody the best and worst aspects of comics culture.

    The Worst

    Cosplayers: I know this is what you’re all thinking of when you read the words “comic-con.” And that’s fair, because it’s certainly a noteworthy association. While standing behind a guy who thinks he’s Johnny Depp screaming in a big, fake British accent at whatever poor sap’s listening didn’t exactly make my day, it’s really not as bad as people claim. By my estimation, only about two or three percent of the congoers (depending on the day) were actually cosplayers, and though it looks a little absurd even to me, I was relieved to find that, for the most part, they don’t do the whole “furry” thing where they actually pretend to be their character, making them not all that dissimilar from anyone at a Halloween party. Except fat Superman. He was really irritating.

    The Collector Mentality: A real mark of comics culture and, to some degree, a necessary one. When you’re gathering the pieces of a serial narrative, there’s something enticing about having the whole story — unless, of course, that’s not your goal. While I was poking around the booths for deals on various comics, hordes of people were scrounging for rare back issues (which is fine) and, worst of all, variant covers. Released solely to entice neurotic collectors, the rare variant-covered issues occasionally feature art that’s better than the original cover, resulting in mad fans spending exorbitant amounts of money on comics they will never read and keep bagged-and-boarded their entire lives. When readers cease to value art or story in this way, we have a definite problem.

    The Whiny Fans: I understand connecting with characters — in fact, I advocate it. Good characters should have you invested enough in them that you care when something happens to them. However, it’s important to understand that, when people want to tell stories, tragedy may be involved. As such, enduring a massive, whiny diatribe about the demise of Lian, Green Arrow’s granddaughter, was more than a little irritating. Though I wasn’t thrilled with her death either, myself and the four hundred other people in the panel room don’t need to hear about how this story reminded you, the bereaved, of your history of childhood sexual abuse, only to hear you turn around and apologize moments later. So thanks, Tubby Fan, for that wonderful story. I enjoyed it.

    The Best

    The Creators: There are some truly wonderful, talented people in the comics industry, and meeting so many of them in one place was an educational and enjoyable experience. Being a film major, I was pleasantly surprised by the down-to-earth, unpretentious air of most of the convention’s writers and artists. Having a chance to simply chat one-on-one with the people responsible for some of my favorite work was a real treat.

    Art: Though this overlaps a bit with the first point, a great part about conventions is the abundance of artists, many whom will take commissions. Though some will charge far more than a college student’s budget, others (Tom Kelly, for one, whom I got… seven commissions from) will charge under ten, even five or six dollars for some truly dazzling work; others will do quick sketches for free. Such an opportunity to acquire original artwork, and so cheaply, is a real rarity.

    Sales/Free Stuff: Never buy anything at a convention at full price. There’s always a cheaper booth, making price cuts a massive perk of comic-cons. Loads of retailers hawk merchandise for real bargain-barrel prices, and though I had to exercise restraint at times, I was able to score some great deals on comics while watching my finances a bit, too. If you’re into action figures and that sort of thing, I’m sure it’s great for that also. Just buy wisely.

    Most Important

    A Devoted, Growing Readership: Comics, as an often-serial medium, foster a real commitment in readers, both to the stories and the characters. Ideally distinguishable from “fans,” readers can demonstrate a real, healthy passion for the characters and the stories. In or out of conventions, that’s always nice to see.

    Though the distinctive culture of comics may seem intimidating to many, the culture of collecting for collecting’s sake is gradually withering away. In its place, a group of readers is emerging who simply love good stories, appreciating comics as an art form and consequently raising the bar for them. As a result, the “nerdy subculture” perception of comics seems to be fading a bit, making way for more of a “cool nerd” archetype, which is more acceptable to mainstream sensibilities. Hopefully perception of comics will follow suit.


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