Through a set of circumstances that I have yet to fully comprehend, this past Saturday I found myself spending the day at Emerald City ComicCon at the Convention Center in Downtown Seattle. Exactly why it is that I felt it necessary to go is beyond me, as I don’t think I’ve actually sat down and read through an entire comic book since roughly the Clinton Administration, but I figured that there might be a few things there I’d be interested in. And there were, although somewhat surprisingly, less than I expected there to be.
The headliner for this show was none other than William Shatner (who, as I found out at his panel discussion, is quite funny, but is also the type of guy who you’d be afraid to say hello into an elevator because he’d talk your ear off with some rambling story that would ultimately take an hour to get to the “hello” in response.) Also present among a number of assorted stars from various sci-fi TV shows I don’t watch were Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner, known primarily for their roles as Riker and Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I particularly enjoyed this discussion (these two can be outright hilarious,) but I do have to say that it’s probably a sign that I’m getting old to see the TV stars of my childhood up on a stage in front of a thousand people (with a significant portion of them in various costumes) discussing their recent colonoscopies. Exactly what any of this has to do with comic books is beyond me, but apparently these shows have been moving a lot more in the direction of general entertainment over the past decade or so, and the really big one in San Diego is just as much Hollywood stuff as it is comic book stuff anymore. Surprisingly, video games seem to have made little to no impact on the show here in spite of the obvious crossover between the two mediums these days, but then again, there’s PAX for that (the East Coast PAX is this coming weekend, but PAX Prime is still about six months out. As usual, I’ll be planning to go to that one.)
Unfortunately, beyond the various celebrity appearances and the panels, I do have to admit that most of the show was lost on me. Perhaps this is because I’ve never cared much for comic books, but even though there were a few things scattered among the crowd that looked interesting, most of it was more than a little bit out of my league. On one hand, I get the nagging feeling that I should really know more about this stuff than I do. I’ve long been a fan of animated cartoons and other graphic arts, but when it comes to things like comic book characters, my knowledge is pretty much limited to what can be gained from a few bored sessions of skimming through various Wikipedia pages on specific characters. Some of which have been lovingly crafted with the kind of ridiculously minute detail that simultaneously impresses the heck out of you and makes you wonder where the whole Humanity thing went so terribly wrong all at once.
Although traditional comic books took center stage as you would expect, much of the show floor was taken up by tables populated by individual artists seeking to promote and/or sell their various works to the convention-going public. Although the names in the Artist’s Alley included a handful of webcomics that I may have stumbled into a time or two, I mostly found myself lost among the crowd in this section, but overall the level of the work being shown was quite high. Granted, by the time you’re at a comic book show and paying the presumably high prices of securing a table on the show floor to promote your work there’s a pretty good chance that you’re not some random doodler who wandered in off the street, but it seemed like just about everyone had their glossy compilations, their professional-looking books and graphic novels and all the trimmings you’d expect to see from any respectable publisher. I suspect that for most of this we have digital technology to thank.
If there’s one thing that can be singled out ad the big important fundamental change that modern technology (and the Internet in particular) has made to our society, it’s the fact that it’s made it possible for anyone with enough motivation and a modest outlay of funds to be able to produce the type of work that only a couple of decades ago would have required a monolithic publishing company and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to match (and that’ assuming that the publishers will even let you in the front door.) Thanks to the technological advances that have been made in communication and digital publishing over the past 10-15 years, those gatekeepers are now easily bypassed, with a number of self-publishing options for content creators ranging from on-demand printing to just forgoing print entirely and publishing in digital form. All this does, of course, still require an audience that will actually read (and hopefully pay for) your stuff, but the tools are definitely out there, and you can see that there are definitely people putting them to good use. The big publishers are still out there and don’t seem ready to shrivel up and die just yet, but when you look at the big picture, you get to realize that the products coming out of the Marvels and the DCs of the world is, although still entertaining under the proper circumstances, just as much a commodity anymore as it is a creative work.
So that’s the main takeaway that I got from the show, but if there’s anything else I picked up out of the whole experience, it’s that I really need to get back into drawing again at some point. I’ve messed around with cartooning at various points in my life thus far (mostly little one-panel comics ranging from homages to Gary Larson and The Far Side to out-and-out shameless ripoffs of Gary Larson and The Far Side) but none of the stuff I’ve ever done really made it much past the doodle stage. In fact, I’d be inclined to say that most of the time I spent on the stuff back in the day would have been better spent on other things, such as the Math classes I was busy not paying any attention to at the time. Even so, if I spent enough time on something like this I could probably even manage to come up with something vaguely presentable. Mostly it’s a matter of patience, something I’ve always been just a tad short on. Maybe if I ever come up with something reasonable I’ll post it up here, if only to see how many people tell me I shouldn’t quit my day job.
As with many other areas in life, some things are just better left to the professionals. Or at least the really talented amateurs.