Maine creators at the New York Comic-Con

Dispatch from Comictopia
By ALEX IRVINE  |  February 11, 2009

UNDER ATTACK: "Mini-Darth" vanquishes Joel Zain Rivers at the New York Comic-Con.

If you've never attended a large comics convention, it's difficult to get a sense of the enormity and nonstop sensory onslaught. Begin with a convention floor the size of something like 10 football fields. Add a thousand or so booths and table displays ranging in size from a single card table to an elaborate construction the size of an urban house lot. Now factor in logos, graphics, and banners applied to or hanging from every available surface. To that, add merchandise: comics (of course), books, video games, DVDs, action figures, T-shirts, clothing, antiques, weapons, and something called a "Utilikilt."

Now add every man, woman, and child in Portland. (Actually, more; this year's attendance was 77,000.) And one out of five of them is wearing a costume. There were more Jokers than you could shake a squirting boutonniere at, as well as a ton of bikini-clad Princess Leias and manga characters. The highlight: a truly exceptional Chewbacca that must have been the envy of Peter Mayhew, who played the original and is a fixture at conventions. There was also a fine Master Chief and the usual assortment of storm troopers and Boba Fett variations.

The New York Comic-Con, like its larger sibling in San Diego, is an unusual and occasionally heartening mixture of egalitarian spirit and the crassest commercial exploitation imaginable. In Artists' Alley, where artists lay their wares on tables for passersby to admire and buy, an unknown amateur might be assigned a slot next to a Silver Age comics legend — while over at the Marvel booth, hundreds of people might be shut out of a signing by their favorite writer because of arbitrary time constraints.

I was there with two goals in mind: to promote both existing books (The Vertigo Encyclopedia, Supernatural: John Winchester's Journal) and upcoming stuff (Buyout, Daredevil Noir) — and to create possibilities for new work. Also I was curious to see what the experience was like for other Mainers looking to crack the mysterious business of comics.

This parallel curiosity bore strange fruit almost immediately, as the minute I walked onto the floor I saw a guy in a Gardiner Area High School windbreaker. Almost immediately thereafter I ran into Kirsten Cappy, who was there to work the booth for The Undersea Adventures of Cap'n Eli, a rollicking all-ages comic originally created by Portland artist Jay Piscopo for Cap'n Eli's family of carbonated beverages. Now there are action figures, trading cards, a spinoff series called Commander X... and a booth at NYCC. Kirsten was on the run, and didn't have much time to talk. A good sign. Nobody wants to have nothing to do at Comic-Con. Also I briefly crossed paths with Gibran Graham, the indefatigable organizer of comics and pop-culture events in the Bangor area, and Dan Ryder, the Farmington schoolteacher responsible for the Wicked Good Learning Web site and podcast.

Over in Artists' Alley, a couple of aisles apart, were Ben Bishop and Joel Zain Rivers, Portland creators behind (respectively) Nathan the Caveman and Along the Canadian. (See "Forming a Collective," by Alex Irvine, January 9.) After the con, they had interesting perspectives. "I sold some original art to a guy who had to borrow 140 bucks from his friends to get it," Bishop recounted after the show, "and they insisted he call them Big Daddy in return."

Rivers's take was a bit more philosophical. He might have emerged from the weekend with a sales rep and some good connections. "So, an investment? Sure," he said. "Worth it? We'll see, but I think so."

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