NYCC: A Problem with Panels

I have never been to a panel at Comic Con before. One hears, of course, about the thunderous applause that greets surprise guests (marked with “???: If we told you, we’d have to kill you” on the programming schedule), the screams that accompany the first glimpse of long-awaited footage. However, given the increasing publisher profile over the past few years (with over a dozen publisher booths and over thirty Literary Guests in residence this year), it seems as though Comic Con is taking note of the literary facets of fantasy and sci-fi, and is ready to give authors a forum to address an enormous and enthusiastic audience.

Not that you’d know it from going to the “Sci-Fi, Supernatural, and Fantasy Authors Round Table” on Saturday. The slug: “Veteran authors and the genres’ emerging voices gather to speak about their common influences, current projects, and the trends that are shaping the future.”

Great idea! In theory.

The Round Table aspect was an obvious bust the moment the panel was assembled. John Birmingham, S. C. Butler, Peter Brett , Kim Harrison, Alex Irvine, Jackie Kessler, Vicki Pettersson, Tamora Pierce, Jeff Somers, and Carrie Vaughn made up the panel. That’s ten participants, and the clock ticking down from sixty minutes.

By the time the moderator had read each introductory bio as the author in question raised his or her hand like he was taking attendance in homeroom, and each author had briefly answered the mod-posed “When did you know you wanted to be a writer?” there were only fifteen minutes left. Those fifteen minutes were devoted to a Question and Answer session about how to deal with writers’ block and advice for aspiring writers (frontrunners on the Motion to Outlaw These Questions petition filed in Panelist Supreme Courts across the world).

Topics discussed: Zero.

Much of the problem here is just an advertising issue; many of these writers have a book coming out this year (in some cases a debut novel), and marketing the panel as an introduction to established and rising speculative authors would have been a more honest avenue, and would have seemed less like a waste of these authors’ time. Many of them seemed to be engaging and intelligent and ready for a debate that never came.

As long as Joss Whedon is willing to emerge from his impenetrable fortress to answer fan questions, Comic Con will never have to worry about filling empty spaces in their programming with writers. At the same time, if they would like to promote writers and publishers, it might be worth considering having more and smaller panels, where more could come of the conversation than a recitation of names and book titles.

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