Category Archive: Stupid Wolkin

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Comic Cons

Not sure if I’m going to NYCC this year due to some work travel conflicts, though I’m sincerely hoping to see any pals who are in town for it. Nobody should care about this declaration, but the Internet is a place where we make declarations that we think people will care to hear. I still hope to have a beer with the aforementioned pals, though.

I’ve been going to NYCC since it started back in 2006. It’s been pretty fun for the most part. Last year, I met up with my friends and I’m pretty sure we collectively lasted an hour before heading for the door. One huge highlight was getting a signed print from Geof Darrow. Meeting him was legitimately the only time I’ve ever geeked out at meeting a comics artist, and he was a such a sweet and humble guy.

Other than that, I barely went to the con, and I didn’t have a very good time in 2010 either, especially after I nearly went insane back at SDCC that same year. Thinking back on SDCC, I barely remember feeling anything other than stressed on the con floor with a few exceptions. What I do remember is sitting at dinner the night the con ended with some new friends and each of us talked about the comics that changed our lives. That conversation was powerful and unforgettable; it felt like the kind of interaction that turned people into friends.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days thinking about what it is about cons that doesn’t work for me anymore, and considering what could look different about these gatherings. And what you should probably understand about me is that my career is based on creating engaging, large-scale gatherings for people with shared interests. And when I’m not doing that, I’m focused on facilitating meaningful conversations between people on various topics.

So I decided to apply my work brain to this question and I started thinking about the primary vehicles by which comics readers/fans are bought together to share and connect around their mutual interest: The Con (an apt double meaning, if unintentional). Comic Cons are primarily promotional and sales events. They’re less about bringing people together around shared love of comics (though it does happen, and PR probably pays lip service to it somewhere) than they are a platform for people to make money, be they comic retailers, sellers of creepy misogynistic calendars, various figurines, stickers or what have you. For 5+ years, I’ve had to spend a lot of time wading through all of that with the hopes of tracking down a friend so we can actually talk in person about liking comics.

Comic Cons are also a great way for major publishers to manipulate and promote the interests of their respective fanbases. It’s about selling, nothing more, nothing less. It seems like many or most of the panels (with obvious exceptions) are there for the goal of major publishers to justify future purchases of comics that have yet to be released. And let’s be honest: most of those comics tend not to be so good anymore.

I also want to give respect to joints like Trickster and The Projects (thanks to Sloane Leong for the note on this one) that are attempting new paradigms for showcasing art and and artists, and what appears to be creating a certain kind of space for networking (at least in the case of Trickster). At the same time, I cannot claim to be an expert on either one of these. But they do appear to have the intention of putting people and the medium before the almighty dollar, so I can support that. I dig that Trickster is creating an alternative within the mainstream gathering, and a lot of what they’re about overlaps with my thinking. What they’re doing represents a lot of what I’d hope to see in the future. (Fake Editor’s note: this paragraph was added. I’m too lazy to edit subsequent paragraphs around it).

But what if gatherings for lovers of comics were inherently different? What if they were grassroots, and driven by the fans themselves? I say this because I run a conference that is based on those principles, and it proves to be an incredibly powerful experience every time. I joke with a lot of people when I’m trying to explain my work that “Limmud is like Comic Con, but for Jewish things”. But then I started wondering…what if it went the other way around?

Here’s one simple example: check out Open Space Technology (there’s also a pretty good description on Wikipedia - mind you, there’s no actual technology involved). Anyone who has ever participated in an effectively-facilitated Open Space experience knows how positive it can be. There are entire conferences that come together without pre-set agendas and allow people to connect for days at a time using this technology. Now imagine if you gathered x number people with whom you’d like to discuss comics: friends, bloggers, creators who were not bound to a party line by their employers, cool retailers, etc…And what if you just had an afternoon (or a weekend, for that matter) of Open Space comics talk. There wouldn’t be agendas or selling (though everyone loves a good dollar bin to be sure), just an effectively facilitated means of people who love comics talking about exactly that instead of sitting on a panel while Dan Didio explains that Green Arrow is such an effective lover that he doesn’t need a vibrating arrow in his quiver in the New 52.

It’s pretty easy to imagine:

  • One person wants to host a conversation about representations of race and gender in comics
  • Someone else wants to talk about the best Jimmy Olsen stories
  • I want to talk about Guy Gardner: Warrior because I always want to talk about that
  • Someone else wants to talk best practices in inking and which tools to use
  • Chris Sims wants to hold a discussion about that time that Batman threw a car battery at a guy
And so on from there. The possibilities would be unlimited. If folks are drawn to a discussion, then it continues. If nobody is feeling another conversation, then it doesn’t take place. There’s no committee deciding which discussions are held and which aren’t; it’s completely organic, because that’s the nature of Open Space.

That particular technique is just one aspect of what I’m referring to, but I keep imagining the possibilities of what it would really mean to inspire comics lovers to consider their appreciation for the medium and engage on that instead of continuously getting embroiled in the pointless conflicts that are engendered by the internet. Look, I love twitter. I’ve unexpectedly made real friends through it, and I enjoy the ongoing dialogue and conversation that takes place around shared interests there. But it only goes so far. And as someone who works on building and growing communities, I always raise an eyebrow when I hear the term “comics community,” because I suppose I’m still not sure what it means.

I’m also not just talking about Open Space. I know that there are models out there for the creation of truly engaging gatherings, and I’d love to see them applied to comics. It wouldn’t be about worshipping creators (who are as human as the rest of us), or being manipulated by publishers who couldn’t care less about us. It’s about this art form, this medium, that we love, once loved, want to love, and sometimes struggle to continue doing so, while surrounded by people who feel the same way, even if they don’t share the same preferences.

This is all very quick and dirty, and the Open Space is just one example of a whole range of techniques that I collect through my work to get people engaged with each other. But it’s the beginnings of what I feel could be a worthwhile vision for a gathering of comics lovers that empowers and energizes its participants rather than exhausting them, emptying their wallets and making them more cynical.

And hey: If you love cons, if you leave them feeling great and excited, then more power to you. And I also care about Artist’s Alley in that it provides revenue stream for those creators. But in terms of programming and design, I think there’s a lot more potential out there for us than waiting in lines for panels. And I suppose I’m not writing this for you, am I? I’m writing this for the people who would legitimately appreciate an alternative to what currently exists.

All of this said, if anyone would be interested in considering the possibilities for an Open Space Comic Con, I’d love to have a real conversation about it someday.

An Apology

Dear Reader,

Last week I published a summary of my recent experience at New York Comic Con by recounting a story about a large stuffed goat that was taken from me as a child. Through the lens of this so-called “goat story,” I sought to convey a sense of my inner being throughout the convention in a humorous fashion.

Some of you may have read it. Some of you may have laughed. Some of you may have cried (Mom). One of you send me a link to the wikipedia page on transitional objects. This last one was deeply unexpected.

This is an image that comes up when you search for the phrase “fun blister” on Google:

Wolkin’s House of Chicken and Waffles and Comics is an institution that prides itself on its relationship with you as its sole reader, and as such, I pride myself on having an open relationship with you.

It is with this in mind that I regret to confess that I lied to you last week.

I told you that I don’t know what happened to that goat, but that’s not the truth. The full story is that when I was about 12, I found the goat hidden in the woods. I quickly ran home and told my friends Chris, Teddy and Vern about the goat, and we hiked along the railroad tracks until we found it again, experiencing a series of character-forming adventures along the way.

…No. NO. That’s a lie too.

The truth is that when I was 16, I found the goat in storage at my synagogue, and my friends and I spent the next two years taking inappropriate pictures with it, kicking it all over the place, and generally treating it with complete disregard. I’ve always wondered if I resented the goat for abandoning me. Maybe I was just being a silly teenager. I like to tell myself that at least it wasn’t a real goat, because if it was, then our behavior would have predicted that we would be serial killers today.

But the bottom line is that I didn’t tell you the complete truth and for that, I am truly sorry.

Back on Stage…

So after two weeks on the road and I don’t know, other things, it looks like I’ll be doing some performing again next week. I don’t often do anything twice in a week, but I will be doing this. Here’s the deal:

On Tuesday, August 3rd at 7PM, I’ll be participating in this really fun show called Hobby, talking about comic books. What else would I talk about? If you come to this, I promise 13 of the most absurd PowerPoint slides you’ve seen in some time. Well, at least like 3-4 of them are absurd. You can have that. Click the word ‘hobby’ in that first sentence for more info.

Aaaaaand on Wednesday, August 4th, at…actually, I have no idea what time it is, just show up at like 7 and I’m sure you’ll be fine. But the Inner Monologues are back!!! The theme is “Just Say No” and I will be telling a story aligned with that theme. No comment on what that story may be, but it’s a good one, I promise. Where’s it happening? Here. Click the word here! Click it now!

Comic Mashups: Easy Ghost Rider

The more I thought about it, the most I realized how completely perfect this is.

Johnny Blaze and burned-out veteran Steve Rogers have decided to take a cross-county road trip in the name of spiritual discovery, moving drugs, doing drugs and getting “down” with some fellow hippies along the way. What’s intended as a chance for two laid-back dudes to find themselves turns ugly as Blaze and Rogers make their way to the Bible Belt. Turns out folks down there don’t take too kindly to them hippie types, and their travels turn tragic when Steve is gunned down by a gang of hillbillies.

Now, remember how the actual movie “Easy Rider” ended with a shot of a bike in flames? Here’s what really happened: Johnny Blaze agrees to sell his soul to Mephisto to bring his boy Steve back to life. Mephisto bonds him with a demon named Dennis Hopper and turns him into the Easy Ghost Rider, transforming his chopper into a flaming bastard of a bike. Blaze also gains the ability to shoot Hellnofire, which causes the victim to have a bad trip, and of course, the “Think About What You’re Doing, Man” Stare, which causes bad dudes to, um…think about what they’re doing, man.

The rest of the movie is just Blaze and Rogers riding around murdering evil rednecks for about an hour or so. Honestly, I’d watch 3 hours of that if someone made it.

Avengers #2 Vs. Chick Tracts

I don’t know how to justify my doing this other than lack of sleep.

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