Jason Helms @ Comic-Con, San Diego

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Comics and academics make strange bedfellows, leading more often than not to the entanglements of retainers and pocket-protectors in the heat of passion. The Comic Arts Conference seems to blend theory and practice more effortlessly than any other popular culture conference. At PCA/ACA academics meet behind closed doors, far from the creators they study. CAC, on the other hand, meets in the belly of the beast, comic-con international, A.K.A. the San Diego Comic-Con, A.K.A. Comic-Con. It’s worth ruminating over that last nickname. With dozens of comic-cons nation (and world) wide—we even have our very own in Greenville—for one to be known simply as comic-con, it must stand out. It’s a bit like referring to four C’s as “the conference.” With over a hundred thousand attendees, massive media coverage, and various upcoming comics, video games, and films being unveiled and plugged, it’s well deserved its prestige. Hell, they did an episode of Entourage about it. ENTOURAGE!

Not only does CAC have the unmitigated gall to meet during such a bacchanalia fatigacia (that’s Latin for geek orgy), but they have integrated themselves so well that their panels are actually listed on the main schedule. There are some major advantages and disadvantages to opening an academic conference to the public. I believe I saw someone dressed up as an anime character at Douglas Wolk’s presentation.

On the other hand, some of the lower audience turn-outs were 50 people, high for a panel at any academic conference. Academia is so well connected to their source in the world of comics scholarship, that the industry even gives awards for best books on comics. Douglas Wolk won an Eisner this year. That’s like Christian Metz getting an Oscar.

Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow. Zack Snyder, and Frank Miller.

Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, Zack Snyder, and Frank Miller

I was there wearing two hats. First off, I was an academic trying to network and find out whether or not my dissertation is really anything exciting for comics studies. This went very well. I generated a lot of excitement about making comics about comics and was able to meet a few colleagues who are interested in my work as well as two artists who are interested in partnering with academics to create such articles.

Pineapple Express and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.
Seth Rogan was there plugging two upcoming films: ~Pineapple Express~ and ~Zack and Miri Make a Porno~.

While the academic hat pays my bills, my other hat got me behind closed doors. In my spare time I write for RedFence, a magazine out of LA (The first issue printed a few hours ago! Go buy a copy!). Somehow they managed to get me a press pass and I used this new found ethos to get face to face interviews with two of my all time favorite creators, Steve Purcell (Sam and Max, most of the LucasArts games, Cars, etc.) and Rob Schrab (Scud the Disposable Assassin, The Sarah Silverman Show, that internet meme with the dungeons and dragons guys. You know the one, “I shoot lightning into the darkness” “Where’s the Mountain Dew?”). Not impressive enough for you? Fine, I’ll see my fan-boy wet dream and raise you an actual professional encounter as I was allowed into the press briefing for the Watchmen movie. I was able to ask Zack Snyder a question, joke with Dave Gibbons, and get creeped out by Jackie Earle Haley, the actorplaying Rorschach, sitting right next to me. Seriously, he’s going to be fantastic. Jackie’s greatest line was,“More so than my previous work, some scenes were disturbing and stuck with me. Sometimes Rorschach followed me home.”

Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Matt Fraction (Immortal Ironfist), and John Cassaday (Astonishing X-Men).

Robert Kirkman (Walking Dead), Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Matt Fraction (Immortal Ironfist), and John Cassaday (Astonishing X-Men).

All of this doesn’t even begin to touch upon the sensory overload that is comic-con. I had to constantly choose between being an academe, a journalist and a fan-boy. Do I go to a panel on Scott McCloud or a panel featuring Frank Miller (along with Kevin Smith, Judd Apatow, and Zack Snyder)? Hopefully some of the pictures will tell the story a bit better than my fame addled brain can muster right now. Soon to come: RedFence articles on Watchmen and the two interviews. For now, watch this clip of Mike Mignola’s discussion of translating a comic into a film and the effect that has had upon comics.

~ Jason Helms ~

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