(Yes, a day late, but there was a lot to cover. I'll also have a more conceptual take on it in the upcoming Las Vegas Weekly.)
Unlike some, I don't really have the fortitude (or the money) to spend four days at Comic-Con, so for the past two years I've only gone for Saturday, which is what I did this year as well. I've been refining my approach so that I have a pretty reliable system now for things like parking, carrying stuff (the benefits of bringing my own cardboard poster tube - grabbed from the office - are immeasurable), eating and so on. I've also switched gears a little as to what I buy at the con. This year I tried to take some of Rich Johnston's advice and not just get stuff that could easily be obtained elsewhere. I did, however, still print out my Amazon wishlist to take with me, and pick up four trade collections that I will get around to reading at some point (who knows when - I've still got stuff on the shelf that I bought last year): Brian Talbot's The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Rich Koslowski's The King, Adrian Tomine's Sleepwalk and the first volume of the Peter David Hulk Visionaries. Note only one superhero book in there, which I think is an admirable effort to broaden my horizons.
I also only bought two old back issues that I need to complete collections of certain books: Savage Dragon #27 (which finally fills in all the holes in my SD run) and New Warriors #63, which puts me only nine issues away from completing NW, after which I'll probably read the whole run over. It's a series that I read in bits and pieces when it first came out, but only later got interested in the idea (I have a soft spot for C-list early '90s Marvel heroes), and I picked up the bulk of the run at a ten-cent sale at my local store a few years back. I've been filling it in piecemeal since then because none of it's collected and I want to read it. I toyed briefly with trying to submit a New Warriors proposal for Marvel's ill-fated Epic initiative a while ago (as did, well, pretty much every Marvel fan my age), but now I just want to be able to read it all and enjoy, which has proven to be quite the chore. I found a copy of issue 46 (another one I need) for $15, which is ridiculous considering how not in demand later issues of the series are, and the guy told me it was all based on the condition. I'm a reader, not a collector, and since I'd probably end up devaluing the thing by reading it, I didn't bother. I can't imagine paying $15 for an individual issue of anything.
So other than that stuff, I tried to be a little adventurous. I don't carry a sketchbook and I've never understood the appeal of autographs (plus I hate talking to people), so I didn't go around meeting creators. I also can't really afford to buy art prints, but what I really do like, that I started doing last year, is getting T-shirts with art. Not advertising specific comics, just with pieces of art. I got one from the brilliant Tara McPherson, who did covers for Vertigo's lame series The Witching (her covers were the only non-lame element) and told me that she has some interior sequential stuff in the works, which would be very welcome. I think I probably made a total fool of myself while talking to her. I also met artist Ragnar (just the one name, thanks) and his wife, who are both Las Vegas natives and current Orange County residents. I did my best to sell them on the burgeoning Vegas arts scene, and bought a shirt with one of Ragnar's retro-modern drawings on it. And the last one I picked up was by artist Andrew Bawidamann, who does retro pin-up art with thick lines and thick curves, both of which I approve of.
I did get suckered in by one cool T-shirt that I sort of regret. The comic strip Unshelved had a Fight Club parody shirt called "Book Club" that I thought was amusing, and offered the shirt plus a collection of their strip for 20 bucks. I wavered and ultimately bought it, and while I still find the shirt amusing, the strip, about people working in a library, is about on par for a mediocre web comic. Oh well. Live and learn.
The other thing I tried to do this year was attend more panels, but unfortunately I seem cursed to always miss out on the panels I'd most like to see. Honestly none of Saturday's panels really grabbed me, and of the three I ended up attending, I walked out of all of them. The first was a sort of "tips on writing" talk by Mark Verheiden, writer of Superman and a producer on Battlestar Galactica. I've never read (or seen) any of his work, but a discussion of the mechanics and nuances of writing seemed like a good prospect. Unfortunately it was just a bunch of inanities like "be passionate about your work" (or at least it was for the 10 minutes I was there). I went to a panel theoretically about tips on breaking into comics that was more just a random (but occasionally amusing) conversation among the oddly chosen panelists. The one panel that sort of excited me was for Joss Whedon's upcoming Serenity movie, based on his Firefly TV show. I love Joss Whedon, and although I wasn't always crazy about Firefly, I am eagerly awaiting Serenity. I even braved waiting in line for half an hour with obsessed Whedon fans and sitting in the 6500-seat Hall H, which was bigger than most places I go to see concerts in Vegas. The description promised clips, but instead it was just a Q&A session with Whedon and the cast (so basically just Whedon). Once again, I learned the same lesson I learned at CineVegas: Q&As with self-absorbed geeks of any kind are seriously painful. I spent probably twice as much time in line as I did enduring the torture of the panel.
Slightly better was the nighttime screening of the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore, by Dez Vylenz. It was cool to hear Moore, who's pretty stingy about giving interviews, talk extensively about his work, but the film pretty quickly veered away from Moore's work into his somewhat questionable religious and philosophical beliefs, all about ancient magick and tarot and the Kabbalah and such. It was a great illustration of the problems with later issues of Promethea. Still, it was way better than the Whedon panel.
Lastly, I grabbed a few issues of newer comics that I had been meaning to pick up or that just caught my eye:
Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril #6 (Joshua Dysart/Sal Velluto, Penny Farthing Press)
The final issue of the series was on sale early and at a discount, so I snatched it up. While I still like the retro feel and as always love Velluto's art, my complaints from the recent issues remain: The story was dragged out too much, and became way too serious. I like that Dysart tries to tackle racial issues in a sort of subtle way, but this book seems to be confused as to whether it's a serious allegory, a fun adventure story, a tribute to old superhero comics or a parody of them. I liked it well enough, but I'm not sure that I'd pick up another series. (I realize the image is of issue five, but I can't for the life of me find one of issue six. All the covers pretty much look the same anyway.)
Living in Infamy #1 (Benjamin Raab & Deric A. Hughes/Greg Kirkpatrick, Ludovico Technique)
Raab's presence as co-writer, a cover by John Cassaday and an intriguing premise (super-villains in witness protection) drove me to give this a chance. It's not bad, but it's not great; the tone is a little off, and Kirkpatrick's interior art is not nearly up to the standards set by Cassaday's cover. It tries to be both quirky (as set up by the great cover image) and serious, and the balance doesn't generally work. Still, Ludovico, a company that previously has done extra features for DVDs, clearly has some money to throw around, and this has professional production values and full color. It's a decent start. Apparently it's only available now in one shop in L.A., but should be distributed soon. Read more about it here.
The Middle Man #1 (Javier Grillo-Marxuach/Les McLaine, Viper)
I was surprised that my local store didn't have copies of this last week, since Grillo-Marxuach is a writer for Lost and Viper had a hit indie book with Dead@17. I'll have to add it to my pull list to get the rest of the mini-series, since this is an excellent debut. The plot is nothing special, but the dialogue is sharp and funny, the main character is interesting, and McLaine's art, which strikes me almost as an indie version of J. Scott Campbell, is lots of fun. Overall a very entertaining read and well worth looking out for.
Tabloia #575-576 (Chris Wisnia, Salt Peter Press)
Wisnia sent me the first three issues of his anthology series (despite the odd numbering, these are actually issues four and five) for review, and I liked his main feature, a sort of slow-burn horror story called The Lump. This wraps up The Lump, as well as features more of the back-ups starring Dick Hammer: Conservative Republican Private Investigator, Dr. DeBunko and Doris Danger. The Lump concludes in a satisfying if oblique fashion, and I think it'll probably read well in one sitting. Wisnia told me that orders were too slim to warrant publishing more issues, but he's looking into putting out a collection of The Lump, which I think would do really well somewhere like Oni (who published Wisnia's collaboration with Sam Keith, Ojo) and a collection of the monster stories, which I wasn't that crazy about but fans of old Kirby monster comics seem to like. More info available here.