What Comics Are Truly About: Cooking, Theatre, and Cardboard | Tor.com

What Comics Are Truly About: Cooking, Theatre, and Cardboard

Everyone complains that today’s Hollywood-heavy comic conventions aren’t for comics fans anymore. But for me it’s just a question of how far they are from comics – and how far into other worlds comics can stretch.

Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen (with Grady Hendrix and Ryan Dunlavey) is a graphic novel/cookbook that tells the story and shares the secret recipes of the (ahem) groundbreaking New York gourmet veg-centric restaurant

Clearly diagrammed food-prep scenes accompany the recipes while hilariously illustrated anecdotes introduce each chapter. In these the comic timing of Dunlavey’s slapstick imagery with Cohen’s straightfaced text is flawless – it’s not like his drawings are illustrating the narration so much as reacting to it; exaggerating or defying some celestial voiceover with a life of their own.

I won’t say that everything I need to know I learned in comics – but the gap is closing.


This past Saturday at New York Comic Con I got in on time (by sleep-deprived freelance standards) to see the Kill Shakespeare live comic reading, a spoken-word PowerPoint version of IDW’s popular literary actioner staged with different theatre companies at each con stop. This time Gideon Productions, one of the leading art-house/pulp-fiction troupes infiltrating New York, had the stage.

The clever mashup of everything Shakespeare wrote and everything else his characters might have said shares Gideon’s own understanding of modern thriller and indie theatre’s common ancestry in Shakespeare’s psychological drama and choreographed combat, and a seasoned yet volatile cast sank its teeth into the insights and absurdities while leaving not a bite-mark on the scenery.

For a presentation that breaks the four walls of the panel-box, I’d have liked to see the stage space used to more advantage; the most effective live comics either place the projections behind or above the players like an interactive backdrop or monumental Starship Enterprise viewscreen (like Trav S.D.’s Caveman Robot “radio play” or Bill Kartalopoulos’ Pictures and Performance: A Melodrama), or position the cast in darkness to the side of the slides, like a real-time animation overdub (see R. Sikoryak’s Carousel). 

Causing the audience to pan and scan between a charismatic ensemble at a fully-lit dais-table and a screen far to the side showed the best profile of neither, and the troupe was fighting some overpowering acoustics in the Javits Center’s concrete cavern (though snapshots of other settings on the comic’s site [above] suggest the show doesn’t always have to take arms against its own venue).

But the exuberance of the players filled the space and compelled the attention, particularly with otherworldly shtick, inspired dialect-channeling and crazed emotional conviction—as sundry ghosts, innkeepers and revolutionaries—from Kelley Rae O’Donnell, Mac Rogers, Becky Byers and Abe Goldfarb. They kept must-watch theatre alive, even if the event design didn’t exactly kill.


It had been at least 20 years since I’d seen my art-school crony David Gross (in which time he’s become a widely-followed Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids designer), but the autograph line I stood on encompassed even more time than that, comprising fans who were Garbage Pail-age when we first knew each other and people who could’ve been the parents who worried how we’d support ourselves.

Gross’ almost sculptural art, hi-def with detail to make the product simulations and mutant babies more believable and enduring than the consumer crap they satirize (and the models their jokes often outlive), is, like the costumes filing past every few seconds, the quintessence of Comic Con even if it has nothing directly to do with comics: the superlatively vivid in service of the entirely unreal.

But trading cards, even more ephemeral than comicbooks, are the collectible, elusive quantities which mark the endless innocence that’s the real message of a ritual like this – a lesson not about the new objects you can go on adding, but the classic feelings you get to keep.


Adam McGovern’s dad taught comics to college classes and served as a project manager in the U.S. government’s UFO-investigating operation in the 1950s; the rest is made up. There is material proof, however, that Adam has written comicbooks for Image (The Next issue Project), Trip City.com, the acclaimed indie broadsheet POOD, and GG Studios, and blogs regularly at HiLoBrow.com and ComicCritique. He lectures on pop culture in forums like The NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium and interviewed time-traveling author Glen Gold at the back of his novel Sunnyside (and at this link). Adam proofreads graphic novels for First Second, has official dabblings in produced plays, recorded songs and published poetry, and is available for commitment ceremonies and intergalactic resistance movements.  His future self will be back to correct egregious typos and word substitutions in this bio any minute now. And then he’ll kill Hitler, he promises.


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