Dutch Comic Con

Hawkeye and one of the numerous Deadpools squaring off

Coming back from Imagicon last week I was sat with some cosplayers discussing rumours about the Dutch Comic Con, being held this weekend. Apparantly the organiser had run into money troubles, various guests had cancelled or were supposed to threaten to cancel and it was all a shambles. Worrying news, as I’d just bought tickets for it, but on the other hand most of the guests were of little to no interest for me, various actors and such, some coasting on their appearances in a fondly remembered decades old SF classic, some being supporting actors in a current telvision fantasy hit. All great for those who like that sort of thing, but it’s not my fandom. For me therefore I didn’t matter too much as long as the con went ahead: worst case scenario it would just be another comics con, where the main attraction is the opportunity to buy loads of shit at reduced prices. Best case scenario it would be something special, more in line with English or American comic cons.

Red off Team Fortress 2 represents, but where was Blue?

The end result turned out to be somewhere in the middle. The con seems to have consciously modelled itself on the San Diego Comic Con and similar, with the main attraction being the media stars and the comics reduced to a supporting role. The disadvantage there being that if you’re not quite as interested in that sort of stuff, there was indeed little else to do but walk around and look at the various merchandise and retailing stands. Unlike Imagicon, there was no real programme other than the various Q&A sessions with the guests and the movie programme running in the cinema, no real room to sit down for a while otherwise. After a few hours of this, I really felt it.

Mortal Kombat cosplay courtesy of InuNeko Cosplay

What made this more than just another “stripbeurs” was the audience, which like at Imagicon was young and very much into cosplay, as the pictures here show. Jazzgul Some indeed, like Hawkeye in the first pic there, were at both cons. What I liked about the cosplayers was their enthusiasm, skill and generousity. People were more than happy to pose and some groups and people were very popular. There was some real creativity there as well: not just your Deadpools, Storm Troopers, Black Widows, Lokis and Thors (this time both in male and female versions), but I also saw a captain Haddock, a trio of Giffen era-JLA cosplayers doing Guy Gardner, Fire & Ice and an absolutely adorable father/baby combination dressed up as Where’s Wally. As always the cosplaying seemed to be roughly equally divided between immediately recognisable movie/tv superheroes, obscure to me but apparantly massively popular figures from anime/manga/videogames and the occassional sui generis character, like the frog man from Fables I saw.

Guy Gardner, Ice & Fire from the Giffen era JLA

Now I could’ve taken many more pictures of cosplayers, were it not for the pressures of the crowds. I’ve heard reports that at its peak the con had some 16,000 visitors and I can well believe it. At times getting through the crowd was … difficult… Doctor StrangeThe layout of the con didn’t help. There was a huge, largely empty hall for the Q&A/music sessions, there was the main hall where you came through which was badly lit and confusingly laid out with the main sponsors and retailers, as well as the space for the autograph sessions, which took up a huge chunk on the side of the hall with crowd barriers and such but where you could only see which person was signing once you skipped the barriers and walked to their table. The secondary hall, where all the smaller retailers and standholders were located, also had a lot of wasted space at the edges and at least one lane that was too narrow, leading to huge traffic jams. It didn’t help one of the ways to reach it was through one of the con center’s food outlets. What happened to the artist alley was even worse, a few picnic tables put together in a corner inbetween the main and secondary halls, easily overlooked. Not helping matters was the lack of sign posting everywhere.

artist alley, in a forgotten corner of the con

These are all typical first con growning pains and if the con is repeated next year, I hope they’ll go for a different layout. For my part, I had a blast visiting and talking to the people manning some of the smaller stalls, like the people at the new comics artist collective Taus Art, your archetypical indie comics makers. I also spent half an hour talking to Eelco Koper, whose Superhelden magazine is busy addicting a new generation of readers to the best of all ages superhero comics, including Paul Grist’s Mudman and Dave Sim’s Cerebus (!). And because the audience wasn’t quite in the Eppo range, I could also spent some time chatting to Eric Heuvel and Marissa Delbressine while they were sketching, which I’ll scan in and post separately.

Supergirl, Two Face and annattaZ yalpsoc in the middle

Considering it seems the con has been a success and assuming it will be repeated last year, what would I like to see done differently?

  • A better layout, with less wasted space, room for people to just sit and hang out that’s not part of a food court, better lighting in places, more room for cosplay and photographing of same outside the main traffic
  • Much better signposting as well as more announcements of what’s going on
  • A proper artist alley, preferably combined with all the fan organisations and others now lost in the crowds amongst the stand retailing overpriced statues
  • Multi track programming with more to do than just listen to Q&A sessions with actors or getting your picture taken with the Batmobile and a larger emphasis on the comics part of the con.
  • Less perhaps of the traditional Dutch comics con stuff, more of a focus on US and Japanese comics/fan culture.

That should do it.

Friday Funnies: Lighten Up

panel from Ronald Wimberlys Lighten Up

“Lighten Up” is a comic Ronald Wimberly created about his feelings when an editor asked him to lighten the skin tone of a character in a Wolverine comic. As told, it’s one of those incidents you could call micro aggressions, one of those moments where the (unconsciously) racist assumptions underpinning (American) society come to the fore. If you’re not subject to them they can be easily overlooked or dismissed, but as seen here, they do resonate.

What got me thinking is when Wimberly aks whether a black editor would’ve asked him to change that skin colour only to note that he’s never had a black editor in twelve years working in comics. Because Marvel has had black editors in the past; Christopher Priest and Dwayne McDuffie frex. But they’re still rare to non-existent enough at the big comics companies for somebody to be able to work for over a decade without ever encountering one. And that’s a worry, because without people of colour, black people in positions of power within comics, the concerns of their readers and creators of colour will always come second.

Apart from its message, I just like the comic itself. It can be hard not to make a non-fiction comic into a succession of talking heads and static shots with most information carried through the text but Wimberly succeeded admirably. If you just had the text to read you’d miss so much; the continuous juxtaposition with html colour codes frex, or his use of Manet’s Olympia, or that “pin the tail on the racist” panel, a great example of text and drawing contradicting each other.

Recoloured characters or restored colouration?

An interesting find by Sean Kleefeld: Marvel may have recoloured background characters in their Masterworks series to make their early comics slightly more diverse:

On the one hand, I can appreciate that they were trying to be more inclusive in 1987 when the Masterworks book first came out. As minimal an effort as this was. But what that also does is change the historical record so that it misrepresents where Marvel was at socially in 1962. It makes the company look more progressive than it was. The truth is, as of FF #8, Marvel was not thinking about equal rights or showing people that didn’t look like anyone in their offices.

original and recoloured panels from Fantastic Four 8

However, I’m somewhat skeptical about it that Marvel really was thinking about diversity in 1987, not a period in which it had many titles starring women or characters of colour. Nor can I see the point in just recolouring some random background characters. To me, it looks more as if that character was always supposed to be black, but miscoloured in the original printing. The story was recoloured for the Masterworks edition by Glynis Oliver. Has anybody talked to her to see what she remembers about why this character was recoloured?

Friday Funnies: Wicked + Divine

panel from Wicked + Divine #1

The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act is the most nineties comic I’ve read in a long time. Even Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s previous project, the britpop inspired Phonogram, wasn’t as nineties as this. Largely because while that revolved around nineties music, this revolves around nineties comics. Not that this is some tedious remake or pastiche, but you can’t help but recognise the influence of a certain kind of nineties comic in this.

Luci from Wicked + Divine #1

Luci being the most obvious example. Dresses all in white, smokes all the time, makes sarky remarks, has remarkable powers but prefers to work through intimidation? Gee, who does that remind me of?

it was acceptable in the nineties

The attitude, the colouring, the deliberate flattened artwork; it’s all there from Phonogram. Both Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine are at heart about an essential adolescent posturing, it just works better when you’re talking about supposed reincarnations of gods returning to Earth in teenage bodies to become superstars rather than indie pop devotees. This is everything Youngblood pretended it wanted to be back in 1991, or Morrison’s recent The Multiversity- The Just with its third & fourth generation heroes as reality tv stars attempted.

The critic

The plot is driven by a murder mystery, but this is largely an excuse to provide a bit of a tour through the world of the gods, as undertaken by the fan and the critic. The critic being the woman in black above, Cassandra; and isn’t that a blatant allusion. To say she isn’t quite what she seems at first would be wrong, but her role is put in a new light by new information about her provided near the end of the book, which made me reread to see if I could’ve picked up on it before. It might even explain her motivations, her hostility against the idea of these teenagers being gods, though that may also be because she seems slightly older than both the gods and the fan/protagonist.

She also wears the same glasses as David Kohl.

Brett Ewins

Brett Ewins does Judge Anderson

British comics Twitter this afternoon was rocked by the news that legendary 2000AD, Deadline, Johnny Nemo and Skreemer artist Brett Ewins had died. He had been one of those artists that never quite gotten the recognition they deserved but who was quietly influential to whole generations of artists, his influence noticable in people like Jamie Hewlett or Kieron Gillen. He was also one of the people responsible for what you might call the housestyle of 2000AD, a somewhat exagerrated, loose and kinetic style of cartooning that was like nothing seen in either American or British comics before. I personally first encountered his work on the “Universal Soldier” story from prog 750, during that glorious year or two I bought 2000AD weekly back in 1990-1992.

Brett Ewins, Jamie Hewlett, Steve Dillon at DeadlineBrett Ewins, Jamie Hewlett, Steve Dillon (L-R) at the Deadline offices.

As Joe Gordon puts it in the Forbidden Planet blog, Ewins was an essential figure in the UK comics scene of the eighties and nineties:

An utterly seminal figure for readers, especially of my generation growing up with 2000 AD and then, perfectly timed for us as we got that bit older, Deadline and other works, experimenting, pushing, improving, changing, pushing the nature of comics artwork and design (and in the case of Deadline, quite simply making comics cool – how well I remember my copies being borrowed by friends at college who hadn’t read a comic since they were kids, a perfect Cool Britannia mix of innovative comics, fresh, hip, hungry talent – being so nurtured by a generous Brett as many of them will tell you – and music and style, it was intoxicating, it was exciting).