Saturday, September 26. 12:30 pm—Michael Golden.
I had been browsing the convention showroom for about 45 minutes when I arrive at Michael Golden’s table. Golden isn’t here, but I look around anyway. It’s probably the largest display of anyone in Artists’ Alley, full of prints just awaiting autographs. I smile when I see his cover to Star Wars #38.
I remember reading that issue as a kid and hating it—just hating it with the kind of certainty that only comes from ignorance. What’s funny is that it was the art I most detested. The idea that it was by one of Marvel’s premier artists at the time was completely lost on me. All I knew was that it looked different, and different meant bad. I would tell Golden about it, but he isn’t here now, so I just take a moment to stare smugly at that print, reveling in just how dumb I was back then and how smart I am n—
That’s when it registers. Michael Golden isn’t here. Why isn’t he here? Obviously he’s already left for his panel—the panel I had been looking forward to attending. Which means I’m late. So much for being smart.
I’ve got four minutes to get from one end of the sprawling Music City Center to the other, which is roughly the same as trying to make a connecting flight at the Atlanta International airport in less than 30 minutes. But just as I begin my mad dash to the showroom exit, the whole thing turns into one of those cliché chase scenes where the bad guy keeps knocking fruit carts and hot dog stands into the hero’s path. In my case, no matter which way I turn I find myself face to face with every cosplayer in the building. Watch out, Deadpool! Ooof! Excuse me, Harley Quinn! Oww! Sorry about that Doctor.
Nine minutes later I stumble into the program room just in time to hear Michael Golden say the words, “People are stupid.” I hope he’s not talking about me.
The panel is called “Storytelling,” and it’s a nice contrast to the one on “How to Write Comics” I attended yesterday. That session had great panelists, but I had found the audience a little annoying. Despite the title of the panel and despite Danny Fingeroth’s efforts at showing everyone examples of different types of scripts, once it turned to Q & A, all anyone wanted to talk about was professional development. How should I use social media? Where do I get an artist? Should I attend conventions? How else can I network?
Those questions are important, but not when the topic is craft. And I have a hard time believing that the audience for that panel had already mastered all the elements of craft. While I don’t fancy myself a comic book writer, I would much rather learn how to write good stories than how to market bad ones.
Fortunately, Michael Golden seems much more interested in the nuts and bolts of telling a story. His approach may be a little too simplistic for some—focusing on beginnings, middles, and ends—but his whole point seems to be to demystify the nature of telling stories. He constantly reminds everyone that readers often don’t pay too much attention and need to be reminded of all the necessary information. The audience is eating it up, and the questions, thankfully, stay on the subject of craft.
Where in the story do you drop hints about a sequel? How often do you need to supply readers with basic information? What can you assume the audience already knows if you’re dealing with established characters?
Funny, no one asked him how to network. Maybe all people aren’t stupid.
Saturday, September 26. 1:30—Sugar Gliders?
Yesterday, Danny Fingeroth had been talking about some hot chicken that he ate here last year. Walking back to the showroom, I see the vendor, but I opt for a slice of pizza instead. The pizza line is shorter and I’ve got a killer sinus headache. As the guy at Al Taglia’s hands me my plate, I ask him if there’s anywhere nearby to get some ibuprofen. Without speaking a word, he walks around the side of the counter, opens a secret panel, and hands me two pills.
Not all heroes wear costumes.
When I enter the showroom again, my headache threatens to return. As I wrote last year, I get very mixed feelings about conventions. I love the panels and love seeing the costumes (at least when I’m not rushing to make a panel), but the emphasis on materialism and commerce in the land of 10,000 retailers can sour my mood pretty quickly. This year, several of the vendors seem particularly sketchy. It’s strange to see the tables of lonely artists on one side of the showroom, juxtaposed against the crowded vendors selling knock-offs and unlicensed reproductions of some of those same artists’ work on the other side.
But nothing could ever be as strange as the booth I’m passing now. It’s manned by two guys with potentially fake accents wearing crocodile hunter gear trying to sell small boxes of Australian Sugar Gliders. Who buys a wild animal at a comic book convention? I guess if you can’t find that special back issue of Uncanny X-Men, these folks figure a flying possum in a box is the next best thing. Hard to believe it’s legal, but then again, in a world where conspicuous consumers can drop $50,000 in Africa for a couple of guides to drag a lion in front of him so he can blow its head off … well, I’m guessing pretty much everything is legal.
I miss Grant Morrison’s Animal Man.
Saturday, September 28. 3:30 pm—Howard Chaykin.
The best thing about this year’s convention is that the celebrities aren’t terribly interesting to me. Last year, there were panels with William Shatner as well as every member of Star Trek: The Next Generation who doesn’t have a knighthood. As a result, I spent most of my time thinking about movies and television. But given this year’s focus on the cast reunions of The Dukes of Hazzard and CHiPs … well, I’m having no trouble keeping my focus on comics.
In Michael Golden’s panel, he described the climax of a story as the moment that your story is all about. In my case, the climax of this story is the last panel I attended, and it features my second go around with Howard Chaykin.
I had a blast at the Chaykin panel yesterday, but it was more of a generic discussion of his career. Today’s panel is quite different. Awkwardly titled, “Graphic Design in the Service of Narrative Comic Books,” it’s a 45-minute master class from Chaykin on the visual construction of a comic book page. If I had wanted more craft earlier, I was about to get more than I could handle.
Danny Fingeroth, who seems to moderate every panel I attend, brings in an oversized drawing pad, and Chaykin directs one of the convention workers to set up an easel in between the two aisles of chairs in the audience. He then encourages everyone to move in close so they can see.
He quickly draws the layout for a hypothetical page featuring two characters. This isn’t one of those Bob Ross shows on PBS where the artist creates a picture in half an hour and everyone oohs and ahhhs. Chaykin’s two characters are stick figures because he’s not showing anyone how to draw. He’s focusing on the architecture of a page.
He talks about the theory of layouts in the past, compares it to the layouts of his generation back in the ‘70s, and then shows us his current template—using insets to help expand the depth of focus. I’m not much of a note taker, but I start scribbling furiously, promising to steal liberally from Chaykin’s demonstration the next time I analyze comic book art.
As he reflects on his own approach to layouts, he notes with some dismay the number of artists who claim to be influenced by him. In many of those instances, he says these are artists who operate under the “mistaken impression that flash and Sturm und Drang equal narrative propulsion.” And with lines like that, you know I can’t take notes fast enough.
It isn’t all craft and theory, of course. Chaykin maintains his caustic persona, humorously insulting audience members and warning people with small children that they should probably leave. I had survived yesterday’s Chaykin panel without drawing much fire, but today I finally come in his crosshairs. While making a point about the panel borders, he suddenly asked how many audience members attend live theater. I raise my hand along with about four other people.
“So do any of you know what a ‘proscenium arch’ is?” I nod, which is probably a mistake. His eyes lock on mine and he points: “You! What’s a proscenium arch?” Now Chaykin tends to fire off sentences like he’s he’s driving a Maserati. Me? I talk more like a Model T—you know, the old cars that you have to get out and crank first just to start the engine. So as I’m trying to make words come out, Chaykin grows impatient. Still pointing towards me, he sneers, “Yeah, you don’t know.”
Everyone laughs—including me. I thought about telling him later that I wrote my dissertation on American drama so I do, indeed, know a thing or two about the proscenium arch, but why spoil it? I just got insulted by Howard Chaykin. That’s like the comic book world’s equivalent of getting roasted by Don Rickles.
Saturday, September 26. 5:00.
I’m supposed to have left already, but I’ve decided to talk to Howard Chaykin before I leave. I learned more about comics in that 45-minute panel than at any time since I first read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. So I feel like I owe him at least a “thank you.” When I get to his table, I’m a little shocked. It’s bare. He had a few pen and ink drawings in a portfolio for people to peruse, but he had no prints, no books.
“I see you haven’t exactly mastered this whole ‘retail’ thing have you?” I ask, faking some swagger.
“Hey, I’m not a vendor, you know? All this self promotion just makes me sick.”
“Well, I just wanted to thank you … for … you know, the uh panel … and the stuff you … um …”
What can I say? I told you the swagger was fake.