Losing Bookstores, Female Artists, and More: Other Things I Saw at San Diego Comic Con

I think I saw more panels this year at San Diego Comic Con than I have in any years past—it tells you something that I actually didn’t get to spent any significant time in the exhibition hall until Saturday.

(I skipped out on the Warner Brothers presentation for that. Yes, that’s right, I actually walked away from The Hobbit. But by then I felt like if I didn’t spend at least some time walking around and occasionally going outside, I was going to waste away.)

So since the panel writeups that I’ve done so far actually represent only about half of what I saw, I thought I’d offer some brief roundups of the other things I went to.


Art by Olivia de BerardinisCensorship and the Female Artist

This roundtable discussion featured Anina Bennett, Camilla d’Errico, and legendary pinup artist Olivia de Berardinis, and dealt primarily with representations of women’s bodies in the visual arts. It was a big room and the volume on the mics wasn’t entirely up to scratch, and I know I missed some quips and commentary as a result.

It was an interesting discussion all the same, not so much about government or community censorship as with each artists’ experiences of portrayals of women and the reactions to it. Bennett had an interesting anecdote about her and her husband’s conscious decision to switch a female character’s costume from a bra top to a t-shirt to avoid being lumped in with the “bad girl” comics. (It wasn’t mentioned, but I suspect she had things like Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose in mind.) In a discussion about the differences between the male and female gaze in art d’Errico talked about the importance to her of investing her female characters with emotion, rather than the blank, vacant stare you often see in comics art. The artists generally agreed that there is a fundamentally different approach to women’s bodies in male and female artists: “I own the subject matter; they rent it,” Olivia remarked.


Catwoman #13 cover by Andy ClarkeBatman: Beyond the “Night of Owls

This was a huge panel featuring a variety of creators behind DC’s Bat-titles, discussing the future of the line following the “Night of Owls” crossover event. Scott Snyder is leading the charge with a Joker story that promises to be very, very dark—to the point where, Snyder says, Greg Capullo called him up and said, “You really hate Bruce, don’t you?” “It’s our Killing Joke,” he said later—which is pretty big talk, considering. As with the “Night of Owls,” the Joker story will be crossing over into other Bat-titles—Kyle Higgins calls his Joker stories for Nightwing “some of the darkest, creepiest things I’ve ever written.”

The audience Q&A was carefully non-controversial; the sole question about any overt sexualization of Catwoman was met with a response that largely amounted to, “Catwoman is our sexy femme fatale, and we have no further comment.” It’s worth noting, though, that starting with #13, Catwoman will be written by Ann Nocenti—and on the cover for this issue, our favorite burglar appears to be wearing surprisingly normal clothes.


Graphic Novels: The Bookstore Crowd

I arrived at this one a little late, unfortunately. Tom Spurgeon led the discussion with Kate Beaton, Alison Bechdel, Brecht Evens, Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Nate Powell, and Jason Shiga, all of whom have had success in mainstream bookstores. The closing of Borders was much lamented by everyone—it constitutes a significant loss of habitat for graphic novel sales.

“The gold standard is, you want to be assigned as a book report someday,” said Jennifer Holm. Bechdel commented that she was very excited to know that Fun Home was being taught in schools, but “I also had this feeling of dread, like, oh my god, people are being forced to read my memoir.”

Almost all agreed that they wouldn’t mind seeing their books shelved somewhere other than “comics and graphic novels.” Bechdel has found her book filed under Memoir; the Holms would like theirs under Young Readers, and Beaton selected Humor for hers. “At the library near my house, all the comics are in the teen section,” she said. “I opened one up and there was the most graphic sex scene. And I thought, teens are gonna love that.”


H.P. Lovecraft

This panel featured Brian Callahan of Arkham Bazaar and Sigh Co. Graphics, author Cody Goodfellow, filmmaker and musician Mars Homeworld, and Boom! comics writer Michael Alan Nelson, in a broad discussion of the influence of H.P. Lovecraft across all entertainment media. It’s an influence that can be superficial—artists hung up on the dread elder gods and the Necronomicon—but can also be more deeply rooted in what Caitlin R. Kiernan calls “Left Bank horror,” where the horror comes from human insignificance in the face of gods and natural forces that are destructive but not inherently evil.

Longtime students of Lovecraft probably didn’t hear too much of which they weren’t already aware (although I learned about some bands that I think I need to check out, including The Unquiet Void), but it was a solid overview, particularly for the relative newcomer to Lovecraft.


Get Jiro!

If you’ve been playing along at home, you already know that I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and loved Get Jiro! The discussion with Karen Berger, Bourdain, Joel Rose, Langdon Foss, and Jose Villarubia covered the genesis of the book and the work that went into it, with much praise for Foss’s exceptional attention to detail and his willingness to dive into subjects like the distinction between different types of eel and the “extremely complicated rathole” of Japanese cutlery.

Bourdain admitted to having been a little worried about being seen as some kind of celebrity interloper in the comics world, though he’s been a big fan of comics all his life. (You only need to see the Cleveland episode of No Reservations to realize that.) He’s been very gratified by the positive response to Jiro, and when an adorable young girl dressed as Merida asked him if he had any more ideas for comics, he replied, “Ever since we hit the bestseller list we’re coming up with a bunch of them!”

And, having dropped an f-bomb earlier, he added, “And I’m sorry about my language before, but you’ve gotta learn about it sometime.”


Top Shelf Comics

Top Shelf has energetically taken on the move towards digital publishing; they now have a dozen digital partners with well over a hundred books available online, with more to come. They also provided an overview of some of the new and forthcoming books by Ed Piskor, Eddie Campbell, Nate Powell, Jeff Lemire, and James Kochalka.

Of particular note were Campbell’s From Hell Companion, featuring new essays and new and unreleased art; Powell’s collaboration with Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin on Lewis’s autobiography; and Kochalka’s animated version of his crude and rude superhero spoof Superfuckers. (We got an extended clip of the latter; if you like your humor thoroughly in the toilet, you’ll love this.)


Building Props for Sci-Fi in the 21st Century

Being a props person for television nowadays is hard work—everyone is having to do more with a tighter budget and also make sure it looks good on HD. Andy Gore, Jack Kenney, Andy Siegel, John Eblan, Nick Robatto, and Ken Palcow discussed the process of prop creation, starting from art direction all the way down to the actual fabrication.

3D printers are very popular these days; even though it can take days for one to complete a model, it’s still faster than human modelers could manage, and errors are easily fixed. Still, no matter how good the tech—whether it be a printer or CGI—there’s nothing like a handmade, hand-held prop with genuine weight, especially for the “hero” props that will be seen in close-up. Sometimes this goes to an extreme, as with the prop sword that Palcow built that gave a film director a nasty cut on the hand. (Pro tip: don’t grab a sword by the blade.)


Django Unchained

Almost every panel at SDCC had someone at some point read the “watch your language, there are children present” warning on the back of their name tents; no panel ignored this warning as thoroughly as the Django Unchained panel, which featured Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Foxx, Walton Goggins, Don Johnson, Christoph Waltz, and Kerry Washington. Principal photography actually isn’t even finished yet—there’s still another week to go—but that didn’t stop Tarantino from showing off an electric eight-minute sizzle reel specifically designed to get people as excited as possible about the film.

There is no doubt that it’s going to be controversial; it’s a Western in which slavery in the antebellum South is a key role. Tarantino spoke repeatedly of the nightmarishness of the institution of slavery, as if to underline the fact that he doesn’t intend to treat the subject lightly, spaghetti western trappings notwithstanding. The film was also described as a kind of dark fairy tale, with Washington’s Broomhilda being a kind of princess in a tower, who has done everything she can to survive and whose only hope now is to be rescued by her husband.

Tarantino also hinted that there’s a character who’s an ancestor of someone else in the Taratino-verse—but we’ll have to wait for the film to come out to see.


Fringe and Supernatural

The panels for Fringe and Supernatural were booked directly before Doctor Who. Full disclosure: I haven’t watched either of those shows, but I think I’m going to have to watch Fringe; I do love the parallel-timeline, alternate universe sort of thing. Plus, I’ve now got a souvenir fedora (one of the better pieces of free studio schwag that I saw this year). The last season of Fringe is on the horizon, and the cast got very emotional talking about their favorite moments from the series. (With the possible exception of John Noble: “I too am sensitive. I loved it when Peter chopped that guy’s fingers off.”)

Supernatural, meanwhile is gearing up for season 8. As far as what’s going to happen—well, Misha Collins observed that, “This is a difficult format. You ask questions about things we can’t talk about and then we don’t talk about them for forty-five minutes and then everyone goes home unsatisfied.” Everyone was very cagey about what the upcoming season has in store, but even a non-fan could enjoy the hour-long comedy act that the longtime co-stars provided.

Karin Kross lives and writes in Austin, TX when she’s not running around conventions like a crazy person. She can be found on Tumblr and Twitter.


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