I went to Rhode Island to see John and Chris. John is my best friend of 25 years. We have been through it all: four divorces (two each), five marriages (he can make it six), new careers, new houses, and the almost-death of his first son, Jonathan, back in 2000. John and I have been to a number of conventions together (see here, for example), and it was time to add the Rhode Island Comic-Con to our roll.
Chris is Chris Claremont. I love John like a brother, but let’s be clear: Chris is what drew me, a lifelong Southerner, to New England on the cusp of winter (November 5-8). I have been a fan of Chris since high school, when my friend Margot introduced me to a pretty cool comic called The Uncanny X-Men. The first issue I bought was #216. I read it, was hooked, and started buying it each month. My father noticed my zeal, and realizing he could teach investment skills while doing something fun with his soon-to-be-too-old-for-him son, he started advancing me allowances to buy back issues. I learned to grade comics and spot value, and within a year, I owned issues as far back as #12, the first appearance of Juggernaut.
I just realized: that was when Stan Lee was still writing the series.
Eventually, I let my collection stagnate, and then I sold it in 1999 for a couple thousand bucks so I could marry wife #2. (Now I don’t have her or the comics, and guess which I miss more?) But I never forgot my adoration of Chris Claremont. Then I saw he would be in Rhode Island, and I called John, with whom I hadn’t planned a trip all year. John said, “I’m in,” and I thought, You better be.
Rhode Island Comic-Con isn’t as large as San Diego or C2E2, and it isn’t as venerable as, say, DragonCon. But it is on the rise. I had this brought home to me when I talked to Susan Soares, the director of media. She told me she was expecting 60,000 attendees. In 2012, there were 16,000. This is an increase of 275%—in only three years! It is the “largest and most income-generating event in the state,” according to Susan, who expects the convention to keep growing because (1) Rhode Island is not a saturated market, (2) the staff is professional and easy-going, and (3) they advertise the heck out of it.
The growth hasn’t been easy to manage, however. In 2014, the convention made headlines for the wrong reasons, overselling and getting shut down for half a day by the Providence fire marshal (see this link for the full story). I asked Susan how that contretemps would be avoided this year, and she outlined a three-part strategy:
Expansion. Last year’s event was confined to the convention center in downtown Providence. This year, they planned to situate some elements (like the dealer room) in the adjacent Dunkin Donuts Center.
Day 3. Instead of being Saturday and Sunday only, this year’s convention would start on Friday.
Scanned badges. Using the New York Comic-Con model, convention employees would scan badges as people enter and exit. This would allow them to track how many people are in the convention center at any time, thereby not exceeding capacity and getting shut down.
Overall, the strategy was a success. They had sold out of Saturday one-day tickets by 11:00am on Saturday, but I heard no other accounts of people being turned away. There were, however, navigation problems. In a convention spread across two buildings, I was surprised by the dearth of directional signs. Plus there were no printed maps—the only map was on the mobile app—so all weekend, I heard people murmuring “Where is the dealer room?” or “I can’t find Vic Mignogna’s table!”
After two circumnavigations of artist alley, I found Chris Claremont, who had been gracious enough to agree to an interview.
Me: Chris, I want you to know: you are the reason I am at this convention. I wanted to see you. Princess Leia? Pssssh. Besides, she cancelled.
Chris: Oh, really? She cancelled?
Me: Yeah. [And she wasn’t the only one. Nearly a dozen celebrities were quietly flensed from the web site as of Friday morning. I’m used to one or two no-shows, but double digits?]
Chris: The funniest thing I’ve heard is the projected opening weekend gross for that film global is one billion. I saw the very first show of Star Wars at the Astor Plaza in New York, and it was empty. It gradually filled up, but there were empty seats, and we figured, nice movie when it started, but when it finished, it was like, holy shit. We walked out the door, and the line was four-deep around the block, and it didn’t go away for about three months.
Me: Speaking of movies, what do you think about Marvel’s movies, especially X-Men?
Chris: So far, Marvel has done very, very well. Kevin Feige is a brilliant film exec. Lauren Shuler-Donner is a brilliant film exec. Between the two of them, they have nailed the Marvel pantheon. The X-Men movies maybe aren’t as financially lucrative as The Avengers. On the other hand, the casting of them is breathtaking, from the first X-Men to Days of Future Past—and, from all accounts, Apocalypse. Kevin, by the same token, starting with Iron Man, it’s been an incredible ride. I mean, Ant-Man? Who would have thought Ant-Man?
Me: Ant-Man was good.
Chris: That’s the point. It was good. And, more importantly, the actors playing the roles seem to enjoy the experience. They want to come back for more.
Me: Did you have any involvement in the X-Men movies?
Chris: Well, I helped crystallize the deal that got it all started back in the beginning, when I was briefly an executive at Marvel. I provided north of 80 percent of the source material for the characters. I mean, they’re all my guys and gals. And two-thirds of them are pretty much straight adaptations of my work. I suppose you could honestly say it was all my fault.
Me: And we’re very grateful.
Chris: Actually, the funny part is, every so often I sneak into the Marvel movies. Scarlett Johannson’s secret identity in Iron Man 2, when she walks into Tony’s house and is introduced as Natalie Rushman . . . well, Natalie Rushman is a secret identity that I invented for the Black Widow when she did a four-part team-up where she had lost her memory as the Black Widow and thought she was a schoolteacher from Boston named Natalie Rushman [this takes place in Marvel Team-Up #82-85, and the alias is actually Nancy Rushman].
Me: Cool. Switching gears a little, you’ve written comic books, and you’ve written prose novels. What’s the difference in writing the two?
Chris: When you’re writing comics, the writer’s job is to tell the story to the visual artist. All the work that goes into writing a novel goes into describing the scene. [He opens a copy of Marada the She-Wolf. A Red Sonja-like character, Marada was created by Chris and the English artist John Bolton.] So it’s describing this scene so that John Bolton could bring it to life brilliantly. Which he does. It’s giving him the sequence of events and allowing him to do what he does best, which is draw a picture that makes you go, wow! When I first drafted this scene, there was going to be lots of dialogue about how she lost her father, lost her mother, yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. But when I got to the scene, when you see the images, when you get to this image, you don’t need any words. I mean, if you can’t figure out what’s going on, if you can’t figure out the emotional relationships just from looking at it, then neither of us is doing our job. John did his job brilliantly, unlike me talking now. The key to being a writer in comics is to know when to shut the hell up and let the artist do the work.
Me: So would your instructions for that panel be “Have someone lying on the bed,” or would you describe exactly how it should look?
Chris: Well, depends on the scene. Marvel did a 9/11 remembrance book [Heroes, released December 2001] where a writer and an artist would team up to do a poster commemorating what happened and how they felt about it, and when my page came around, I spent about 2,000 words describing the scene, and Salvador [Larocca] just drew this brilliant, brilliant picture, and as far as I was concerned, it didn’t need anything more from me. I had done my work, he had done his work, and the end result was brilliant.
Me: Very good. So you were inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame earlier this year. What was that like?
Chris: A lot of fun. One of the more unexpected things in my life. It’s way too cool for the likes of me.
Me: It doesn’t surprise me at all.
Chris: Well, you can think that. I’m not supposed to because I’m supposed to be shy and modest. But it’s way cool.
Me: When did you start doing conventions?
Chris: When they started asking me. How else can you meet the fans? In the old days, it was more fun because people would write letters, and the nice thing about them is it tells you what they were thinking of and how they were reacting to specific issues. Now it’s all posted online, and you seriously have to go looking for it. There aren’t that many hours in a day. But conventions are a really nice way of putting a face on the readership.
Me: What are a couple of your more memorable convention experiences?
Chris: Just meeting people. It’s a weird sensation when you run into creators, actors, people you’ve respected, and they tell you how cool you are, and you go, “No no no, that’s my line.”
Me: Do fans ever just go to pieces meeting you? Do they cry? Hyperventilate?
Chris: Oh yeah. But the cool thing is that now I’m starting to see a lot more young kids coming, which leads one to believe there’s hope.
Me: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Chris: Get a day job [laughs]. Being a writer is like being an artist: if you’ve got the bug, you do it. You don’t argue. You can’t argue. Then it’s just a matter of kicking at the wall until something sells. And then, once you make the first sell, you go for the second, then the third, then the fourth, and so on. There’s no real secret to being a writer. There’s just having an idea and then having the madcap determination to see it through to fruition.
You might assume this is an excerpt from the interview. It is not. This short conversation lasted over 20 minutes because we were sitting at Chris’s table in artist alley, and he was signing books all the while. My recording of the interview is peppered with crowd noise, his sidebars with other fans, and announcements blasted over the PA system. Chris had trouble getting into the convention—apparently, his vendor badge could not be located—and the interview started late, when he already had more people waiting for him than a Soviet bread line. Yet it was one of my best interviews ever. Chris is articulate and witty, and he cares a lot for his fans. Though I didn’t hyperventilate, meeting Chris Claremont is one of the highlights of my life. And it happened at Rhode Island Comic-Con.
The rest of the convention was as you might expect. Dunkin Donuts Center is a basketball arena, which makes it an odd venue for a convention. The dealer room was on the court, which was roomy, but some of the celebrities were tucked away in what looked like janitor closets. Know who had the longest signing lines that I saw? Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke—you know, SpongeBob and Patrick, which confirms my theory that the next growth market for collectors is 1990s memorabilia.
There were few fan-led panels, which disappointed John. Such panels were the seed of conventions back in the 1970s, but they are in danger of disappearing in this bigger-is-better era. John likes the panels. He considers himself a fan but not a super-fan. The super-fan award goes to the girl I saw at Jim Beaver’s table. Tears streaked her teenaged face, and after she and her mother walked away, they stopped and hugged as though a dog had died.
Friends, that is fandom. That is love. Wil Wheaton says that the defining characteristic of being a nerd is that “we love things. Some of us love Firefly and some of us love Game of Thrones, or Star Trek, or Star Wars, or anime, or games, or fantasy, or science fiction. Some of us love completely different things. But we all love those things SO much that we travel for thousands of miles … we come from all over the world, so that we can be around people who love the things the way that we love them.”
Rhode Island was a great place to go for love. The convention is young, so I have no doubt they will work out the problems of limited space and no maps and unreliable celebs. Every staff member I saw, every volunteer I talked to, was a delight, which confirms what Susan Soares told me in the beginning.
So if you have the chance, go to Rhode Island Comic-Con next November. Buy your badge early. Study the schedule. Stay hydrated. It will be one of your best shows all year.
John and I weren’t the only attendees.
This guy was also there. Wait, he’s at every convention!
Due to the no-weapons policy, this guy wasn’t allowed to be armed.
Chris Claremont signs my comic.
The Fonz tells me to leave the convention.
Whoops! This isn’t the way to the men’s room.
An angel just below my shoulder.
Various winners from Saturday night’s costume contest, which had 70-80 total entries.
“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
Jim Beaver asked me where I am from. “North Carolina,” I said. He nodded and said, “That explains it.” I wanted to say, “Right. Like Bobby Singer doesn’t have a rural accent!”
John and Groot, not seeing eye-to-eye.
“Uh, Doctor? I think you regenerated a little too far back.”
This gal is a great little Kidder.
Not something you see at most conventions, but a good idea.
This guy also shows up at every convention. It’s like he has a time machine or something.
The next Comic Art Con is just two months away and will be held on Sunday, April 3, 2016 at the Clarion Empire Meadowlands Hotel in Secaucus, NJ. Admission is only $10 and bring your children for no additional charge!
Now in its eighth year, Comic Art Con will once again take place in the hotel’s massive 5,000 square foot main ballroom. The room will have 45 tables jammed packed with original comic book art… and only art. No comic books here! Whether you are a big time collector or just getting your feet wet, Comic Art Con is THE can’t miss event for original art.
Show hours are 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM so be sure to arrive early and plan on spending the day. Over the upcoming weeks we will be announcing our vendor roster as well as our guest artists so stay tuned! For more information please go to www.comicartshowcase.com or email us directly at email@example.com
Writer/director Kevin Smith appears at the Stress Factory Comedy Club on Sunday, May 1, 2016 at 7:00 PM!
A writer, comedian, podcaster, and film director, KEVIN SMITH has written and directed numerous films, including Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, Red State, Tusk, and Yoga Hosers; Creator of AMC’s Comic Book Men; authored Silent Bob Speaks, Shootin’ the Sh*t with Kevin Smith, My Boring-Ass Life and Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. He can be heard daily at Smodcast.com, a vast network of podcasts.
An Evening with Kevin Smith is a chance to get up close and personal with the man who brought the world these films.
Stress Factory Comedy Club
90 Church St, New Brunswick, NJ 8901
Brian Chippendale (Puke Force) and Nick Drnaso (Beverly) sign at Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 7:00 PM. Cartoonist and Lightning Bolt drummer Chippendale’s debut with Drawn & Quarterly is a dark and dense social satire that comments on social media narcissism, the malice of the right, and the hypocrisies of the left. Drnaso’s Beverly delves into the barely repressed anxieties and obsessions of suburban teens. Join Brian Chippendale and Nick Drnaso for an evening of great comics and book signings!
Brian Chippendale is a musician and artist based in Providence, Rhode Island. He was one of the founding members of the Fort Thunder collective. Chippendale is the author of Maggots, If n Oof, and Ninja, and the drummer/singer half of the noise rock band Lightning Bolt. His most recent publication Puke Force comes out this Fall.
Nick Drnaso was born in 1989 in Palos Hills, Illinois. He has contributed to several comics anthologies, self-published a handful of comics, been nominated for three Ignatz Awards, and co-edited the second and third issue of Linework, Columbia College’s annual comic anthology. Drnaso lives in Chicago, where he works as a cartoonist and illustrator. His debut publication Beverly comes out this Fall.
1854 West North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622
The Society of Illustrators is proud to share this year’s stellar list of Guests of Honor for the MoCCA Arts Festival in New York City. They are:
* Cece Bell, author of the phenomenal middle grade graphic memoir El Deafo (winner of the Newberry Honor and an Eisner Award)
* R.O. Blechman, Emmy Award-winning illustrator, animator, cartoonist and author.
* Phoebe Gloeckner, whose subversive classic The Diary of a Teenage Girl was recently adapted into a critically acclaimed film of the same name.
* Sonny Liew, whose graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was censured by the National Arts Council of Singapore and is forthcoming from Pantheon Books.
* Rebecca Sugar, creator of the quietly radical animated cartoon series Steven Universe.
This diverse group of artists exemplifies the limitless aesthetic and social power of comics and cartooning. The MoCCA Arts Festival will take place on April 2 – 3rd from 11:00AM – 6:00PM at our brand new location at Metropolitan West (636 W. 46th St.) with programming mere steps away at Ink48 (653 11th Ave.).
Price of admission is $5 per day and will grant attendees access to the Fest including the Exhibitors Hall, on-site Gallery space, and programming. Tickets will be available for purchase at the door. Children under twelve are free. Further scheduling information regarding our Guests of Honor will be available in future announcements.
ABOUT THE GUESTS OF HONOR
Children’s book author and illustrator Cece Bell attended the College of William and Mary where she studied Art History, and later attended Kent State University, earning a graduate degree in illustration and design. Her colorful, fun and quirky drawings can be found in her best-selling books Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover, Crankee Doodle, Bug Patrol, Itty Bitty, Bee-Wigged, and the Sock Monkey series. In 2015, Bell received the Newbery Medal Honor for her graphic novel El Deafo, a story based on her own experiences growing up deaf.
R.O. Blechman is a multiple award-winning and influential animator, illustrator, children’s book author, graphic novelist and editorial cartoonist. His many books include the groundbreaking 1953 graphic novel The Juggler of Our Lady and the forthcoming Amadeo & Maladeo: A Musical Duet. His work in animation includes The Soldier’s Tale and unforgettable advertisements for products like Alka Seltzer. He has received multiple recognitions including a Lifetime Achievement Award from The National Cartoonists Society in 2011, was inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame in 2012. His work has been shown at The Norman Rockwell Museum, The School of Visual Arts, and MoMA.
Phoebe Gloeckner began cartooning after moving to San Francisco in the 1970s, and was greatly influenced by the underground comix movement led by artists including Robert Crumb, Aline Kominksy, Bill Griffith, Diane Noomin, and Terry Zwigoff. Her early work appeared in anthologies including Wimmen’s Comix, Weirdo, and Twisted Sisters. Both her 1998 collection A Child’s Life and Other Stories and the 2002 novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures received notable recognition as well as controversy for its honest portrayal of teenage sexuality with themes of drug use and childhood traumas. The book has been adapted into a theatrical production and a critically acclaimed feature film of the same name. She is the recipient of the 2000 Inkpot Award, received the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2008, and is currently the Faculty Fellow at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities.
Sonny Liew is a comics artist, painter, and illustrator whose work includes the New York Times bestseller The Shadow Hero (with Gene Yang), Doctor Fate (with Paul Levitz), Malinky Robot and titles for Marvel Comics, DC Vertigo, and Image Comics. He has been nominated for multiple Eisner Awards for his collaborations on The Shadow Hero, Wonderland, and Liquid City, a multivolume comics anthology featuring creators from Southeast Asia. He lives and works in Singapore.
Animator, composer and director Rebecca Sugar’s groundbreaking career started as a writer and storyboard artist on the animated television series Adventure Time. She later went on to create the Cartoon Network series Steven Universe, and became the first woman to independently create a series for that network. She has received numerous Emmy and Annie Award nominations for her work on both series.
About the Society of Illustrators and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA)
Founded in 1901, the Society of Illustrators is the oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to the art of illustration in America. Notable Society members have been N.C. Wyeth, Rube Goldberg, and Norman Rockwell, among many others. Our Museum of Illustration was established in 1981. We offer year-round themed exhibits, art education programs and annual juried competitions. Our Permanent Collection houses 2,500 pieces that are cataloged for scholarly use and displayed periodically. In 2012, we created the MoCCA Gallery with a focus on curated exhibits of comic and cartoon art.
The MoCCA Arts Festival is a 2-day multimedia event, Manhattan’s largest independent comics, cartoon and animation festival, drawing over 7,000 attendees each year. With 400 exhibiting artists displaying their work, award-winning honorees speaking about their careers and artistic processes and other featured artists conducting workshops, lectures and film screenings, our Festival mission accelerates the advancement of the Society’s broader mission to serve as Manhattan’s singular cultural institution promoting all genres of illustration through exhibitions, programs and art education.
Cartoonist and Writer LINCOLN PEIRCE speaks and signs Big Nate Blasts Off at Anderson’s Bookshop on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 7:00 PM.
This in-store event is free and open to the public. To join the signing line, please purchase the author’s latest book, Big Nate Blasts Off from Anderson’s. To purchase your book, please call the Anderson’s Naperville location at (630) 355-2665 or order online at andersonsbookshop.com
123 W Jefferson Ave, Naperville, IL 60540
Meet writer Sam Humphries at Portland TFAW on Friday, February 19, 2016 from 6:00 to 8:00pm.
Sam will be visiting Portland and signing the first issue of his newest series, Jonesy from BOOM! Studios. Jonesy is the story of a teenager with the power to make anyone fall in love. Anyone. With anything. She’s a cupid in plaid. With a Tumblr. There’s only one catch–it doesn’t work on herself.
Humphries is best known his recent work on Marvel’s Star-Lord and Ultimates comic book series, but rose to fame with his self-published work with Our Love is Real and Sacrifice. The premiere issue of Humphries’ new series will be available for purchase at the event, as well as a selection of his other work. The first 30 people to purchase Jonesy #1 at the event will receive a free lithograph.
Things From Another World
2916 NE Broadway, Portland, OR 97232
Daniel Clowes’ beloved comics and graphic novels have reached millions of fans right where they live, and beyond: from the stultifying suburban sprawl of Ghost World to the bleak-yet-uplifting Mister Wonderful, he’s delved into the lives of strivers and cynics, turning up their darkest thoughts and their most generous impulses, often in the same panel. He returns to the page with Patience, a gorgeous trip into sci-fi psychedelia, unlike anything he’s done before, yet simultaneously and unmistakably “Clowesian.”
Join Daniel Clowes in conversation with Nicole Rudick, managing editor of the Paris Review, for a celebration of the release of Patience on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 7:00 PM!
Buy a copy of Patience or a $15 gift card in order to attend this event. Please note that payment is required for all online event orders at the time of checkout. The event will be located in the Strand’s 3rd floor Rare Book Room at our store at 828 Broadway at 12th Street.
Strand Book Store
828 Broadway, New York, NY, 10003-4805
Writer Justin Jordan (Legacy of Luther Strode, Spread) appears at Keith’s Comics for a signing on Friday, February 19, 2016 from 7:30 till 9:00 PM!
5400 East Mockingbird Lane #120 Dallas, TX 75206
Writer Chris Sebela, whose works include the two-time Eisner nominee HIGH CRIMES, DEAD LETTERS and WE(L)COME BACK — and books like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, GHOST and FIRE & STONE: ALIEN VS PREDATOR, appears at Gabi’s Olympic Cards & Comics on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 for a signing from noon to 2:00 PM!
Gabi’s Olympic Cards & Comics
4230 Pacific Ave SE, Lacey, WA 98503