COMIC-CON 2014: From Amanda Conner to Scrooge McDuck

In April, I was notified that I had been officially invited to speak at the Comics Arts Conference at this year’s Comic-Con. What the heck is the Comics Arts Conference (CAC), you ask?

Well, put simply, it’s a slew of academic presentations on comics from both professors and undergrads. If you like bringing higher academic discussion into comics like I do, this Conference–which runs as part of Comic-Con programming every day of the con–is your jam.

What was I presenting on? Well, two people: Will Eisner and Carl Barks. Now, most of you have probably heard of Eisner; he created The Spirit and what is widely considered to be the first graphic novel, is known as “the godfather of comics” and the industry’s biggest awards are named after him.

But most of you probably haven’t heard of Barks and that’s kinda funny, considering you know his creations. You see, Barks created Scrooge McDuck.

My presentation was a poster board version of a 20-page paper I had written my freshman year of college and spent the next couple years revising. If you want to see a simplified version of it, you can find it here.

Anyway, I left for San Diego on Wednesday, touched down in the afternoon and got my badge (which was paid for by the conference). Since there really wasn’t much going on at Preview Night–and my badge didn’t cover that anyway, I just explored the nearby Gaslamp District (full of restaurants and renovated Victorian-era buildings and what not).

Day 1

The next morning, I woke up and made my way to the con. While the Hall H line wasn’t that big that early in the morning, it got enormous as the week wore on. After attending the opening CAC panel at 10:00, I went to lunch and then hustled back for the third CAC panel the other day about British comics. After learning about such varied subjects as the famous “girl’s” horror comic Misty and the improbable Bananaman, I headed downstairs to a spotlight/Q&A panel on Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, who are longtime comic creators currently enjoying success as the writers of Harley Quinn.

I was pretty psyched to go to this to begin with–Palmiotti, a legendary inker, is the co-writer behind Jonah Hex and All-Star Western, my combined all-time favorite comic book run–but this panel proved pretty special. First, I wound up unexpectedly meeting journalist/all-around-awesome guy Hannibal Tabu in line. Second, at this panel, Pamiotti and Conner were both awarded the Inkpot Award. Given by Comic-Con International itself, the Inkpot Awards are awarded to various creators for outstanding achievement in their respective fields.


Palmiotti and Conner receiving their Inkpot Awards

However, unlike the Eisners, which are awarded in a gigantic ceremony, the recipients are given them at the start of any panel they might be on, without knowing they’re getting them. Palmiotti and Conner were very surprised, and that led to a nice heartwarming moment, as well as a really open rapport with the audience. My dad–who had come with to see my presentation–even asked a question and he had no clue who the two were before the panel.

After that and getting some books autographed by legendary cartoonist Gene Luen Yang and meeting the crew from Welcome To Night Vale, I went to dinner and then experienced my one outright moment of disappointment.

As it’s been for the last few years, Adventure Time had a pretty huge presence at Comic-Con. As part of that, there was a “Royal Ball” panel which was meant to be a fan celebration which included screening of new footage. Now, I got there in plenty of time. The problem, though, was that the con has a policy of not clearing out rooms in between panels.

That, plus there being an enormous line, meant the portion that I was in got cut off and banned from entering. That was a bummer, but I just went back to my hotel room–which was about half an hour from the con–and called it a night.

Day 2

The next day, we wound up leaving a little later than we had anticipated and missed the first panel we were hoping to go to. Regardless, we got there and attended another fascinating CAC presentation. Then, across the hall, there was a spotlight panel on Brian K. Vaughan.

Vaughan, perhaps best known for his now-concluded Vertigo comic Y: The Last Man, his stint as a writer on Lost and co-creating the Runaways for Marvel, is currently on top of the comics world for his creator-owned sci-fi book Saga (which won a combined three Eisners this year for him and co-creator/artist Fiona Staples). After receiving an Inkpot Award to a standing ovation in a room packed to the hilt, Vaughan announced that he had nothing to show or anything to talk about. So the whole session wound up being one big Q&A.

I managed to get in line for the center-room mic rather quickly and wound up with that unique Q&A experience: having your question stolen by someone before you and having to come up with another one on the fly. I was planning to ask Vaughan what it was like working on the TV series Under the Dome (he was head writer and show runner) and why he quit back in March. But somebody else already asked that, so I wound up asking him what the day-to-day work on the show was like. (For his answer, go here.)

For my trouble, I, and all the other questioners, got a signed copy of the latest issue of Saga (which has an omnibus hardcover coming out soon, for the curious). That was pretty great and a nice way to make up for not getting into that Adventure Time panel.

After wandering around for a while, taking photos and coming across innumerable girls in TARDIS dresses, my dad suggested we get in line for a 7:00 panel on an upcoming documentary about my personal favorite writer, Neil Gaiman. Seeing as how anything involving Gaiman draws crowds, I agreed and we ate our dinner (due to a time crunch, it wound up having to be gross convention food) across from the room.

When we walked over, the con volunteer said we might as well go in for the 6:00 panel. As luck would have it, the panel was a spotlight about and hosted by Dave McKean, one of Gaiman’s best friends and the visionary artist behind those legendary Sandman covers. I’ve always liked McKean’s work, particularly his film Mirrormask (one of my favorite films of all time, written by Gaiman), so I was pretty pumped.

The panel was really informal, with McKean basically hooking his laptop up to the A/V display and cycling through a slideshow full of images from his upcoming books and a gallery of pictures from the “Comics Unmasked” exhibit he designed recently for the British Library. He also showed a trailer–obviously not a final one, as it was nearly 5 minutes long–for his upcoming film Luna, which was recently selected for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and looks like a haunting, unique drama.

The cool surprise? About halfway through, Stephanie Leonidas–who starred in Mirrormask, appears in Luna and is a cast member on the Syfy series Defiance–showed up and joined the fun. I got to ask them both what it was like to work with the Jim Henson Company on Mirrormask, and their response could not have been more charming and gracious.

After McKean, the Neil Gaiman panel began. It consisted of Cat Mihos, Gaiman’s personal assistant, filmmakers Jordan Rennert and Patrick Meaney, Charles Brownstein, the executive director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and the special guest, Neil Gaiman….’s lawyer, Leslie S. Klinger, a respected anthologist and author of The Annotated Sandman series of books.

Rennert and Meaney–who previously made a wonderful Grant Morrison documentary, Talking With Gods, which can be viewed on Hulu–showed clips from the new film, which follows Gaiman on his big US/UK 2013 signing tour in support of The Ocean at the End of the Lane (his last big signing tour) and features tour footage, an interview with Gaiman and talking heads from celebrities. The film–which doesn’t have a title at the moment (the filmmakers suggested you tweet then suggestions; I gave them Neil Gaiman: Walking Through Dreams)–looks very promising indeed and I can’t wait to see it when it finally comes out.

After making some connections afterwards, as well as winning a free T-Shirt for asking a question to the panel, we went back to our hotel, got my presentation all ready for tomorrow, went in the hotel hot tub, then went to Denny’s to get some actual food.

Day 3

This was my big day and I wound up going to the con early by myself. This was half because it would be cumbersome to carry around a giant poster board all morning and half because I went to an off-site meetup for the NPR podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour (the podcast had a panel on Thursday which was recorded, but it conflicted with something else I wanted to go to). The podcasters–Linda Holmes, editor of NPR’s pop culture blog Monkey See, NPR Music writer/editor Steven Thompson, Thompson’s mother Maggie (who basically co-founded organized comic fandom in the 1970s) and NPR comics reviewer/all-around cultural gadfly Glen Weldon–were as gracious and wonderful in person as they are on air and it was an absolute delight to meet them.

After trekking back to the con in the intense heat (intense because I was wearing long clothing for my presentation), I went to a spotlight panel on Don Rosa, the most famous Disney cartoonist after Carl Barks. Rosa, along with good friend and Fantagraphics Books publisher Gary Groth (who’ll be releasing Rosa’s work chronologically in oversized volumes starting in October), was a delight as he talked about his life as a fan and his work. He remained upbeat throughout, even when discussing the shady tactics of Disney and various publishers that caused him to quit cartooning (a move further necessitated by his failing eyesight).

Rosa also received an Inkpot Award and I could tell, sitting ten feet away, that he was truly shocked, humbled and awed. While I didn’t get him to sign anything, I did manage to talk to him a couple of times (including just after my presentation) and I’m very glad I got the chance to meet this living legend.

Rosa with his Inkpot Award

Rosa with his Inkpot Award

After my presentation–which went quite well, incidentally–I didn’t really have any other plans. So while my dad went back to the hotel with the board (accidentally taking my phone with him), I went to a panel showcasing Fantagraphics’ upcoming releases and toured the exhibit hall, where I wound up buying a 1964 issue of Mickey Mouse for $4 and talking to folks from Sequart, a fine organization dedicated to promoting comics as art (and who, full disclosure, I’ve started to contribute writing to).

After getting stuffed pizza at a nice little hole in the wall, I wound up going to the CAC after-party at a bar way down in the Gaslamp District. I didn’t drink anything, but I had several hours of awesome, stimulating, inspiring conversation with other presenters and Kevin Murphy, a writer of Pathfinder tie-in fiction and a contributor to George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series.

That was a nice capper to a long day. By the time we got back to the hotel at 11:30, I was so tired and had talked for so long that my throat hurt. I had to lie down and watch TV before I could even muster up the strength to print our boarding passes!

Day 4

There weren’t really any Sunday panels I wanted to go to; the one I was kinda interested in–a Dynamite Comics panel featuring Quentin Tarantino promoting the upcoming Django/Zorro crossover–wound up being too close to our having to depart for the airport. So instead, I wound up meeting, buying and getting several things signed by many webcomics creators/comics artists I admire.

Who did I meet? Well, you’ll see the photos soon, but in no particular order, I met several people, including the following:

  • David Willis of Shortpacked!/Dumbing of Age
  • Dave Kellett of Sheldon and Drive
  • Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade
  • Spike Trotman of Poorcraft, Templar, AZ and the anthologies The Sleep of Reason, Smut Peddler 2012 and the upcoming Smut Peddler 2014
  • Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots

Overall, I spent virtually every last bit of money I had and I was okay with that. In addition to my webcomics haul, I got a ’70s Superman comic, a ’90s Barks Donald Duck reprint and–for $1.50–a copy of the 1991 Sandman Special. I also met up with Palmiotti again and he signed my copy of Harley Quinn #1 and my copy of Jonah Hex #5o (which he even drew on!).

Feeling pretty proud of myself and still slightly unbelieving that this had all happened to me, I crammed everything into my suitcase and backpack, took a trolley and bus to the airport and headed back to Chicago. It’s been exactly 2 weeks since I left, and believe me when I say that I’m still unpacking the whole experience.

Despite the talk of crazy lines, the ridiculous hype and the endless co-opting of space once devoted to comics by movie and TV studios, Comic-Con is still like no other con on the planet. If you can scrape together enough money to go at least once, I highly recommend it. This was also my first trip to California and I couldn’t think of a better primer.

Truly, it was a time and a place like no one else. Even if I didn’t stand in line hours on end for the Marvel Studios panel, I still had a great, great time.

About the author: Tom Speelman may not have ever met Neil Gaiman, but meeting his lawyer and assistant was just as cool. Follow him on Twitter @tomtificate and read his blog at tomtificate (

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Categories: Editorials and Ramblings

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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  1. Interview: THE BIG CON JOB and HARLEY QUINN Writer Jimmy Palmiotti | Another Castle - 04/10/2015

    […] — Palmiotti and Conner both received Inkpot Awards for their expansive bodies of work at Comic-Con last July. He’s also published several original crowdfunded graphic novels through his company […]

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