Panels: We are BOOM!, IDW Invades!
Signings: Kieron Gillen, Si Spurrier, Al Ewing, Lee Garbett
Geek wear: Judge Dredd cardigan (custom order)
Free stuff: Preview comic of Disenchanted, by Si Spurrier and German Erramouspe
I arrive at the Excel Centre feeling more tired than I should. This morning I woke up terribly early and couldn’t go back to sleep, mostly because I’m really nervous.
This is a lot of firsts all at once: my first UK convention, my first time attending anything as press, my first official bit of on-site comics-related reportage, and—most dauntingly—my first in-person interviews with industry professionals. I’m looking forward to all of it, of course, but am hoping that I won’t lose my nerve or my ability to speak when talking to the pros: “You…write good! How…you…know how…to write good?” Like Bizarro with a Dictaphone.
For a moment, I pause outside the entrance to take it all in. In front of me is the Thames; around me, cosplayers (and is that Yanick Paquette?) are making their way towards the doors; and even though it’s March in England, the sun is shining.
It’s a long walk past quiet coffee kiosks and a not-yet-open upscale food court to get to the con. I find the end of the entry line before I even see the convention hall. There are adults in elaborate cosplays, dads in hoodies and jeans, children dressed as Captain America or Batman or Spider-kid, teenage girls dressed as their favorite Young Avengers. And there are a lot of them. Thankfully, I find a convention staff member who guides me past all of them toward the press registration area.
The feeling of being escorted past a ridiculously long line of people with a special admission pass in hand is one of life’s great pleasures. It may be elitist, but too bad.
Even better, though, is the act of hanging that press pass around your neck: I’m official now!
Inside it’s a lot smaller than I thought it would be, but the layout is pretty organized. Interestingly, in addition to the expected booths—the publishers, the comics retailers, and the merchandisers that somehow never sell the T-shirts you want in small sizes—there are several booths selling comics and nerd media-themed necklaces, charm bracelets, earrings, and bangles. These are clearly aimed at women, which suggests that the organizers not only expect female attendees but are willing to give space to vendors geared specifically towards them.
Although I know there’s a big demand for it, the conflation of collecting comics with reading comics really bothers me, and I’m not 100% sure why. People collect rare books, after all, and that’s never struck me as problematic.
Possibly it’s the pressure from certain quarters of fandom to read everything, which entails owning everything. I don’t begrudge people the desire to drop however many dollars they want on a single issue from decades past—I am a person who ordered a handmade Judge Dredd-themed cardigan off the Internet, after all—but in my mind collecting comics and reading comics are two separate pursuits.
However, several of these ostensibly collecting-oriented booths also offer boxes of miscellaneous comics for 50 pence each. That’s a siren song I can’t resist.
My haul includes an issue of Heartthrobs, Vertigo’s take on old-school romance comics; Batman: Death Mask, a Batman manga published by DC, complete with the right-to-left reading format; a whole lot of Legends of the Dark Knight; and a bit of pure 90s in the form of an issue of JLX, the Amalgam Comics mashup of the Justice League and the X-Men.
I’ve been told that Kieron Gillen will be at the Avatar booth for signings from around 11 AM, so I show up a few minutes before hand with my copy of Phonogram: The Singles Club ready to go. Luckily there are only a handful of people ahead of me. As 11 AM comes and goes, however, the line stretches around the side of the booth right past fellow Avatar author Si Spurrier, who sadly has almost no signing line. Turns out that Gillen has been defeated by London transport and is stuck on a train.
While we wait, Si Spurrier gives out free preview issues of Disenchanted, his urban fantasy/dysfunctional family drama about beings from folklore living in underground slums, and chats to us about comics. Nice guy. I make a mental note to approach him about an interview regarding Disenchanted and to get him to sign something later. (And I do: after my first panel, I return with issue #1 of Six-Gun Gorilla from BOOM! Studios and a hardbound copy of Judge Dredd: Trifecta from the 2000AD booth, where I get some great compliments on my Dredd cardigan.)
Of course, even National Rail can’t keep the author of Phonogram down forever, and I not only get The Singles Club signed but manage to secure an interview with Gillen for tomorrow. Tomorrow!
With that out of the way, I take a stroll around the exhibitors’ tables and notice artist Tanya Roberts wearing a Dredd badge. I can’t pass that up. We chat for a bit about the awesomeness of Judge Dredd-themed accessories and I end up commissioning a sketch from her. In keeping with our shared penchant for Dreddcessories, it’s me as a Mega-City Judge. I work with children, so it’s how I like to see myself.
Soon it’s time to head over to my first panel of the day: We are BOOM!, an introduction to BOOM! Studios and a rundown of some of their upcoming projects.
Incidentally, the panel rooms aren’t really rooms at all, but paneled-off areas in the same hall. Although this makes it much easier to travel between panel rooms, it also creates some unfortunate difficulties—on which more later.
We are BOOM! opens with a video of employees at BOOM!, their recent acquisition of Archaia, and their all-ages imprint KaBOOM! Each employee introduces her/himself by name and job title and chooses a word that they feel describes them. Almost everyone in the KaBOOM! video is female, which is one in the face for all those people who pretend that the “most qualified” comics creators just happen to be male.
Moderator and marketing director Matt Gagnon then mentions the company’s emphasis on “classic voices” such as Charles Schultz and George Perez. KaBOOM! will be reprinting Peanuts comics for a new generation of kids, while George Perez will be bringing a new series, She-Devils, to BOOM! We then watch a video of George Perez talking about his work with BOOM! in which he says that working with them takes him back to the days when reading comics was fun (take note, DC).
BOOM! also publishes comics based on licensed properties, and their big licensed project for this year is an ongoing Big Trouble in Little China series from Eric Powell and Brian Churillo, with involvement from John Carpenter himself. The story will pick up immediately after the end of the movie.
The accompanying creator video features Eric Powell doing his best Jack Burton impression. Does he talk about the series, his work, or the company? No, he does not. But he is eating a sandwich, which if I could still eat wheat would look pretty good.
We move on to original comics, starting with The Woods by James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas (who is also on the panel in person, and who describes The Woods as “Breakfast Club in space”). Due out in May, this series centers on a small school in the Midwest which suddenly disappears—building, kids, faculty, and all—and reappears on an alien planet, and the small group of students who venture out into the woods to figure out what’s happened and find a way home.
June will bring us The Empty Man by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey. In his video, Bunn explains that the series will focus on an “idea…of contagious insanity that would be viewed by certain people with an almost religious reverence,” and characterizes it as “a police procedural with lots of J-horror elements.”
Now on to the upcoming offerings from KaBOOM!, which, according to Gagnon, are all aimed at “building the next generation of readers”: kids who can get into comics now so that they’ll be interested in reading more comics later. To that end, KaBOOM! has signed a book deal with Cartoon Network and is also putting out a Bee and Puppycat comic by Natasha Allegri, based on the Frederator show of the same name.
The next announcement concerns the highly anticipated Lumberjanes, due out in April from BOOM! Box, the studio’s imprint for “out there” work. By Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke Allen, this series follows the adventures of “five best friends at scout camp who are total badasses.” In their creator video, Stevenson and co-creator Shannon Watters promise “monsters and feelings and awesome fights.” Gagnon acknowledges the huge online support base that has developed for the book and adds, “Lumberjanes is, frankly, a book that I think the industry really needs.” Perhaps this is because the protagonists, authors, artist, and creators are all female…
The last big news item is that former DC executive Paul Levitz—“one of the great executives in comics,” according to Gagnon—will be joining BOOM!’s board of directors.
In response to a question from the floor, Gagnon confirms that BOOM! has obtained the rights to several Fox properties besides Big Trouble in Little China, and that, in the wake of the film adaptation of 2 Guns and Day Men, other BOOM! properties are currently in development for the screen.
Once Gagnon thanks the audience and we emerge from the panel room, I have some time to kill before my next panel. I pick up my sketch from Tanya Roberts—if I do say so myself, I make a pretty adorable Judge—and head outside for some sunshine and fresh air.
Fellow WWACer Christine Atchison is also at LSCC; we meet up on the stone steps outside the Excel Centre to compare our con experiences thus far, watch cosplayers, and of course talk about comics.
Soon, though, 4 PM rolls around and it’s time for the IDW Invades! panel, moderated by IDW’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall and VP of Marketing Dirk Wood, and with an in-person appearance from Dave Gibbons.
The first piece of news concerns an ongoing Star Trek series by John Byrne launching in May. Based on a previous Trek annual by Byrne, this series uses old photos of the original cast to create a sort of retro-style photo novel. IDW will also be adapting Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay (without Roddenberry’s rewrites) for the classic Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” with interior art by J. K. Woodward. This was seven years in the making; IDW tried to get the rights as soon as they got the Trek license, and no wonder. “The City on the Edge of Forever” is widely agreed to be the best episode of Star Trek and ranks among TV Guide’s top 100 episodes of all time.
The panel moves on to 2000AD-based properties with the announcement that IDW’s 18th issue of Judge Dredd will be shipping soon, which will tie them with DC for the title of longest-running US publisher of Dredd, and that they’ll be introducing nine new Dark Judges including Sleep, Skinner, Choke, and (my personal favorite) Fistula.
A new series of Rogue Trooper by Brian Ruckley and Alberto Ponticelli has also recently been launched, along with reprintings of classic Rogue Trooper.
G.I. Joe is on hold until the fall, but to tide readers over, on Free Comic Book Day IDW will be issuing a new Transformers vs. G.I. Joe comic by Tom Scioli in the vein of Kirby and Steranko—“late 60s cosmic stuff” with “almost an indie sensibility.” The comic will serve as a preview of an ongoing series that launches in July.
Speaking of adaptations of 80s TV shows, a new Transformers comic is in the pipeline. Transformers: Windblade is written and drawn by Mairghread Scott and artist Sarah Stone respectively, who come to the project with a significantly “different storytelling and artistic approach from what we’ve done before.”
It’s not all licensed properties for IDW, however. The coming months promise a range of new original series, such as the “Alice in Wonderland-esque” The Adventures of Augusta Wind and Half Past Danger by Stephen Mooney, which Ryall and Wood describe as “like Indiana Jones with dinosaurs” (and, of course, Nazis).
Other new series include this summer’s V Wars, written by various authors and focusing on a vampire plague that has spread across the world. The twist: it affects different ethnicities and cultures in different ways, playing up their supposedly archetypal characteristics and ways of life within a horror context.
June will bring us Winter World, by Chuck Dixon and Butch Guice; this series is based on Dixon and Jorge Zafino’s series of the same name. Wood and Ryall assure the audience that current artist Guice is “from the Zafino school” and has great respect for the original art style. Proof comes in the form of a slideshow of gorgeous preview pages.
In July is Ragnarök, an ongoing series wherein veteran creator Walt Simonson provides his own “fully unfettered” take on Norse myths. Following that, a “colorful” and “imaginative” Little Nemo comic for all-ages audiences by Eric Shanower, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Nelson Daniel debuts in August. (I know Little Nemo is a pre-existing character, but I think he’s in the public domain, so while this might not be a 100% original comic it’s not a licensed property, either.)
The panel moves on to talk about IDW’s Artist Editions, which spotlight legendary past creators by reprinting original art of complete stories. This month will see the publication of an Artist Edition of Jack Kirby’s New Gods. An Artist Edition of Jim Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. comes out in May, and in July a Marvel Covers book featuring Miller’s Daredevil, Giant-Size X-Men, and John Byrne art will hit the shelves. Future Artist Editions will include Walter Simonson’s Manhunter and—the moment we’ve all been waiting for—Watchmen.
Technically, though, Watchmen will be an Artifact Edition consisting of various single pieces of art rather than a complete, unified narrative. Dave Gibbons adds that he used to own all the original art but sold it back in the 80s, so collecting it for the book has entailed tracking down a lot of individual pages.
And now: Dave Gibbons speaks! He talks about breaking into comics as a letterer, and notes that the suggestion for making an Artifact Edition of Watchmen came from him. He then discusses the status of his current projects such as the Mark Millar-authored Secret Service, which in true Millar fashion is already being adapted for the big screen. More exciting is the news that Gibbons is drawing a short comics narrative written by Gillian Flynn for the Guardian, to tie in to the British Library’s “Comics Unmasked” exhibition. He also mentions his online-only series Treatment, which he writes and draws for the motion comic app Madefire.
One major disadvantage of having the two panels in the same hall: the noise of the cosplay competition is drowning out the speakers in the IDW panel. This would be irritating under any circumstances, but when one of the speakers being drowned out is Dave Gibbons, then it’s extremely irritating. The man helped bring to life one of the defining works of the medium. He deserves to be heard.
I briefly chat to Gibbons as he’s heading out of the panel. He agrees to an email interview (or rather, email on my part; he’ll provide his answers in audio form for me to transcribe). This means that in the not-too-distant future, I will be interviewing THE GUY WHO DREW (AND LETTERED) WATCHMEN.
Still on a success high, my last action point is to a) get Loki: Agent of Asgard issue #1 signed by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett and b) to set up interviews with both of them. Thankfully, I manage to get all of these done at the same time.
I emailed Ewing and Garbett previously about interviews, but details were to be confirmed in person at the con. After some back-and-forthing on times, we settle on 4 PM tomorrow. It’s really happening, I think. I’m really going to do a real interview with real comics professionals. Really.
The fatigue kicks in on the way back to my hotel. I can actually feel my eyes start to close as I walk, but manage to stay awake thanks to paranoia: the Excel Centre is located in Newham, which apparently has the third highest homicide rate of all London boroughs. Plus I’m walking along a mostly darkened road near a deserted park, and nobody seems to be around. If I don’t stay 100% conscious, I tell myself, I might die. I have never walked so purposefully in high-heeled boots before.
After what seems like forever, I make it back to the hotel alive but very, very tired. Flat shoes tomorrow. Sleep tonight.