I'm volunteering again at this year's Heroes Convention in lovely Charlotte, NC. They are calling us Sidekicks this year, complete with badges and yellow t-shirts. It's a good idea: makes the volunteers easy to spot on the floor, and helps when you're managing signing lines. Unfortunately Jason Marconnet couldn't make it this year. If he had we would have gone out to dinner and I'd still be downtown at the art auction! Hopefully we'll meet up again next year: he's planning to come.

Friday, June 14

Since this is traditionally the slowest day, I immediately went to get some books signed. Charles Vess signed my copy of Stardust, and the two Sandman volumes with his Shakespeare stories. Colleen Doran signed my new edition of the Sandman volume with her story in it. Colorist Matt Wilson signed my copies of Phonogram. I had the bright idea of commissioning him to color a panel or page in Volume One, which was originally in black and white--he colored it for the omnibus edition. Unfortunately it turned out to be impractical: there were no pages where his markers would not have bled through into the following page.

I spent the rest of the morning managing writer Matt Fraction's signing line, which was plenty long even though it was Friday and there was no big sign advertising his presence. After a lunch break I helped manage Skottie Young's signing line. He has fans roll dice to find out if they qualify to pay for a commission (seriously). Then I finally got to a couple of panels.

ADVICE FOR WRITERS

This panel was to be moderated by Mark Evanier, who was one of the victims of air travel this weekend. He finally arrived late Friday after the convention was over for the day. So Doug Merkle filled in, very well. Writers Matt Fraction and Cullen Bunn only needed a slight push to get going. Bunn said he always wanted to tell stories: originally he wrote and drew his own comics. Fraction went to art school, and realized he wasn't an artist, despite his technical skills; so he dabbled in film and animation. Both of them tend to simmer concepts for a while before realizing them, sometimes many years. 

Fraction said he treated corporate comics like he treated advertising clients during his years in that industry. It's simply a matter of understanding what the client wants. Bunn writes from detailed outlines, so he sends them to editors first to make sure they approve his approach to the material.

What about world building? Bunn said he does just enough to begin the story; the rest grows organically. In Sixth Gun the only initial element was the six magic guns and the attempt to gather them together. The various conspiracies and the characters involved only came later as the story developed. Fraction said it was important to leave things loose enough to allow for discovery in the process of story telling.

Both authors agreed that writers shouldn't be afraid to be influenced by things. Steal everything, but make it your own. Fraction said that the hardest thing about being a writer is the awareness of pacing in the stories of others (be it books, film, or TV). You can't be completely free of expectations when you know what has to happen, especially as the end approaches.

Both said comics work best when the writing is tailored to the artist's style. Fraction said he liked to use plot style (where the artist makes the detailed choices of numbers and kinds of panels) when the artist was open to it. If an artist wants a detailed script specifying number of panels and the story flow, that's what you do. Merkle ended the panel by reading Mark Evanier's text advice to would-be writers: don't attend writer's panels. Go home and write!

AUTEURS IN THE MAINSTREAM

Creators Matt Kindt, Colleen Doran, and Daniel Warren Johnson write and draw: sometimes both at the same time on their own projects, sometimes one or the other in collaboration with others. Unfortunately I missed the beginning of the panel (those writers ran over!), but heard some interesting talk, led by moderator Adam Daughhetee of Dollar Bin Productions. All three of them are most comfortable with traditional art tools, but use digital when necessary (digital is faster for some things, but can be slower than drawing or painting, especially if the artist is still learning how to use a digital tool). Doran detailed a creative melding of scanned traditional art with digital processing which she developed because she had not learned how to change colors in the digital program she was using.

Kindt said he loves scripting for other artists, but realized recently (while drawing a Black Hammer issue) that he hates drawing other writer's scripts. All of them said that lots of personal history finds its way into even work for hire. Kindt's most personal writing was in an issue of  Valiant's Ninjak (he declined to say which issue specifically).

When they're not working, they have a variety of activities. Doran loves audio books (especially ones by smart women with sharp dialog, like Dorothy Parker) , and she gardens. Kindt reads biographies, plays video games (as a reward for finishing work), and plays tennis. He challenged anyone to a game of tennis with original art as the stakes. Johnson mentioned beer, baseball and fantasy baseball, games like Magic, The Gathering, and playing guitar. He challenged everyone to a shredding contest.

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Saturday, June 15

Started the day seeking autographs again. Discovered that Kelley Jones had been forced to cancel: more airline trouble. I was really hoping to get his Sandman volumes signed--one would include all three living artists--but he has committed to coming next year, so there is hope. I found one book that Matt Kindt hasn't signed (he's been a regular at the con for a few years), and he drew a nice little pencil drawing in it as well. Told him my younger brother would be a good tennis match, but he lives in Atlanta. He and his wife Sharlene were interested in jazz on vinyl, so we talked about that a bit. You never know what other interests comic book people might have.

Spent the rest of the morning managing artist Tula Lotay's line, eventually handling line capping so she could go to lunch and a panel. She's a real sweetheart, taking great care on sketches, so the line was slow (I'm hoping to find time tomorrow to get a sketch). Lunch break, then panels for the rest of the day.

THE ART OF COVER COMPOSITION

Mark Evanier made it to the con, but Shawn Daughhetee of Dollar Bin Productions moderated this panel in his stead to give him some breathing space. Artists Colleen Doran, Jenny Frison, Tula Lotay and Vanesa Del Ray talked about creating covers (as well as a bit about interior art). Lotay said she prefers traditional art techniques, but time can dictate digital methods: usually she employs a mix. Del Ray and Frison said they usually use traditional rendering, then colors digitally. Doran mentioned that she is especially careful about the permanence of the materials she uses. Original art can be costly, and she does not want her pieces to fade out.

Covers are needed for advance solicitations, so the cover artist must work from a wide variety of source material--something that I have heard many times in the past. At best there is uncolored interior art; or a script, or often only the solicitation copy. This explains why covers sometimes appear to be generic. There is a balance between the artist's personal style (which is part of why they were hired for the job) and the look of the book. 

Photo references have become a topic of interest. At one time they were looked down upon, while other artists seem to rely upon them heavily. Frison and Lutay said they use photo references heavily; Del Ray never uses photos; and Doran uses a mix.

How many drafts are usual? Most of the artists said two or three were common. Doran said she often sent as many as a dozen, in thumbnail form. This was jaw-dropping to the other artists.

RETURN TO RIVERDALE: EIGHT DECADES WITH ARCHIE'S PALS & GALS

The Mega-panel returned this year. Unfortunately I was only able to catch the first part of it. Craig Fischer presented one of the first parodies of the series, by creators associated with MAD Magazine. Artist Ben Towle talked about a character that had been obscure--Katy Keene by Bill Woggon. Since there is now a forthcoming CW television series, the character will presumably rise from obscurity. Style points for the Riverdale letter man sweaters worn by both presenters.

THE MARK, SERGIO, AND STAN SHOW

The long-running Groo panel, with Mark Evanier, Sergio Arragones and Stan Sakai. Even if you are not a Groo fan (I'm not) the stories and repartee are first-class. Evanier and Arragones both had flight problems (as I mentioned earlier), so they opened with that story. Noting that there was a cosplayer in the front row portraying Death, Arragones asked if he could wait until the panel was over. Evanier detailed the various publishers where Groo had found a home. From there it was free-form, including lots of audience questions. They included ones about Groo's love of cheese sauce--a goofy inspiration that resulted in lots of cheese sauce being sent to Marvel Comics--and his interest in mulch, which resulted in mailings of mulch. For awhile Marvel's mail room smelled like a farm. 

COLOR COMMENTARY, PART THE SECOND

A round table discussion with colorists. Moderator Greg Matiasevich (Multiversity Comics) was joined by colorists Marissa Louise, Nolan Woodard, Matt Wilson and Tamra Bonvillain. The discussion began with the panelist's backgrounds. All of them had some kind of formal art school training. Louise was trying to be an illustrator, then learned about coloring. Wilson went to art school, then joined a colorist's studio as an assistant, eventually becoming a flatter (this is a preparatory coloring process, where objects on the page are filled in with solid colors, which the colorist can elaborate). Bonvillain went to the Kubert school. Woodard started out as a penciller and inker after art school. He quit comics and worked as a retoucher in advertising.

Wilson said that style changes are usually gradual, although there have been times when he and the artist both decided to change things up. Everyone had a number of complaints about the work process. Scripts don't always specify night or day, and notes about this and other things are always welcome. Pages are usually hard to color out of sequence. Digital files can be overly layered, and it's often easier to fix themselves rather than request changes from the line artist. Inconsistent light sources are a frequent problem. And most don't like jumping from book to book in the same day, although sometimes it's necessary.

Sunday, June 16

A very interesting day. I spent much of it sitting with Golden and Silver Age artists Vic Carrabotta (who worked for Atlas Comics and Marvel Comics) and Hy Fleishman (whose pre-Comics Code work included horror comics). Lots of great stories, especially from Vic, and I spoke with Hy's wife Louise quite a bit. It was heartwarming to see the appreciation fans had for Hy's work, and his delight in being remembered so fondly.

At one point I took a shopping break, which included a lovely sketch from Tula Lotay:

I also found the Hellblazer statue I have always coveted, but $300 is way too steep.

After returning to the table, Hy Fleishman decided he needed a rest, and called it a day. I rolled his wheelchair out of the convention center to the Westin hotel next door, and he presented me with one of the posters he had been selling at his table:

An unexpected and very special experience for me, as well as a reminder of why I volunteer at the convention.

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