Heroes Con 2010 was a strange one for me. As usual, the show was organized extremely well--all props to Sheldon Drum and Dustin Harbin, of the exemplary comics shop Heroes Aren't Hard to Find--but personally, I wasn't organized. I was a mess. Over the last two months, I've had crushing work demands (hence my recent dearth of TB posts), and those demands kept bearing down on me even on Friday, June 4, the opening day of Heroes. I live in Boone, North Carolina, about a two-hour drive from Charlotte and Heroes Con, and my plan was to drive out early on Friday (around 9am) and arrive as the con opened to the public. Sigh. Because of intrusive responsibilities, I didn't leave Boone until 2pm, and as a result missed a lot of early fun. As my buddy Ben Towle points out, Heroes tends to be low-key on the first day, which makes it an ideal time to visit with friends or have a quiet chat with a favorite cartoonist. Maybe next year I'll get to Heroes early. Maybe.
I arrived in Charlotte in a sour, harried mood, but the mellow vibe of Heroes soon calmed me down. I shopped for a little while and then, like many others at the con, headed over to the "Super!" exhibit of comic book original art at Charlotte's Twenty-Two Gallery. (Too many of the pieces were contemporary superhero splash pages--I couldn't tell how individual artists handled visual continuity and told a story--but seeing multi-paneled pages by Kirby and Ditko was A-OK with me.) After the gallery, I went to dinner with some old friends--Comics DC blogger Mike Rhode, Crogan adventurer Chris Schweizer, Cul de Sac cartoonist Richard Thompson--and a couple of new acquaintances, Shannon Gallant and Chris Sparks. Sparks bullied our waitress into taking a picture of all of us, and I'm swiping it from Mike's blog and posting it here. From left to right: Richard, Mike, Shannon, me, Schweizer and Sparks.
Despite my droopy puss in the photo, I had a great time at dinner. When Schweizer started riffing on how he was going to write Spider-Man and drag Skip the Molester into official Marvel continuity, I just about spat my mashed potatoes across the table. Heroes has great guests and dealers' tables, but I go for the belly laughs.
Saturday was likewise a blast, as my family drove up to Charlotte to spend the rest of the weekend with me. My 9-year-old daughter Mercer was absolutely thrilled to meet Veronica artist Dan Parent (and Mr. Parent was very gracious to her); my 13-year-old son Nate bought a pile of discounted manga (including several early volumes of Hikaru no go) and settled in for a long reading session in a secluded nook of the Charlotte Convention Center. Later, we wandered off-site for dinner at a terrific Ethiopian restaurant called Meskerem--which, since it's less than 2 miles from the Convention Center, is a convenient and delicious alternative to Fuel Pizza.
Despite our family quality time, I was still able to schmooze with friends and cartoonists. Ben Towle and I held our "Defective Comics: A Celebration of Superhero Oddness" panel, which was well-attended and lively. I introduced and showed clips from three movies--Mr. Freedom (William Klein, 1969), Pony Glass (Lewis Klahr, 1997), and Rat Pfink a Boo Boo (Ray Dennis Steckler, 1966)--and Ben did a bang-up presentation on the sadistic, overweight "Super-Man" in Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library. I was worried that Chris Schweizer might go on about Skip the Molester again, but instead he did a sober analysis of the successes and misfires in Marvel's recent Strange Tales anthology. (Like Chris, I want to read a Matt Kindt Black Widow mini-series.) And our superstar panel of superhero/alternative folks--Colleen Coover, Evan Dorkin, Jeff Parker and Chris Pitzer--was wild, with Evan especially riled. The panel was recorded, and I'll link to an mp3 or podcast or whatever as soon as one surfaces; their inspired kvetching about DC's recent Rise of Arsenal #3 needs to be heard, especially by DC editors.
Saturday night? Hanging with the alt-crowd outside of the Heroes art auction, where I chatted with Evan Dorkin, Roger Langridge, Chris Pitzer, M.K. Reed, Jim Rugg, Chris Schweizer, Zack Smith, Chris Sparks, Tom Spurgeon, and other folks I don't remember because I drank too many imported beers. Sunday? We all slept in and checked out of the hotel around 10:30 or so. I plunged back into Heroes for one final shopping spree, after which I attended the "In Conversation: Sammy Harkham and Jim Rugg" panel moderated by Tom Spurgeon. Harkham seemed too hard on himself and his career prospects (he assumes that his work will appeal to only a small minority of comics fans, even while acknowledging that Poor Sailor is instantly accessible to readers of all kinds) and Rugg was his usual quiet, articulate self: the result was an hour of serious talk about comics that gave me much to think about during the not-too-long drive back home.
What did I buy? Here's my obligatory "stuff I got at the con" list:
Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean (2010), a graphic novel by some goofball named Ben Towle;
Atom Bomb Bikini (2009), a small hardcover collection of girlie cartoons by Rob Ullman;
Irredeemable #9-14 and Irredeemable Special #1 (the issues not in trades yet);
Super-cheap individual issues from Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers miniseries (2005-6); and
Underground by Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber (Image, 2010: a nice collection of a fine miniseries).
Bonus: Below are my introductions for the film clips at the "Defective Comics" panel, without the distraction of my annoying voice. Enjoy!
Introduction to Mr. Freedom: William Klein is a noted photographer who became famous in the fifties and sixties with a shallow-focus, detached visual style that he applied to both commercial assignments (one of his first professional jobs was for Vogue) and to his so-called "serious photographs," pictures taken mostly for personal and artistic self-expression. His most prestigious works are book-length photo documentaries of major cities--New York (1955), Moscow (1956), Rome (1961) and Tokyo (1962)--that avoid cliches and patiently scrutinize neighborhoods and shops, faces and funerals, like an anthropologist examining the surface of another world.
Though Klein was born in New York in 1928, he settled in Paris in
1948 after a stint in the US Army, and has lived there as an expatriate
ever since. Along with photography, he has worked as a painter and
sculptor, and during the sixties and seventies also directed films. His
first, Who Are You,
Polly Magoo? (1966), is a satire of the fashion industry based
on his stint at Vogue, but his second goes in a very different,
and very radical, direction. Influenced by late-'60s Parisian
radicalism, French New Wave aesthetics, and his own opposition to the
Vietnam War, Klein directed and wrote Mr. Freedom (1969), a film
Rosenbaum described as "conceivably the most anti-American movie
ever made." Mr. Freedom, the Captain America of a flabbergastingly
totalitarian United States, is sent to France to battle Moujik Man
(famed French actor Philippe
Noiret in a brown fat suit), Red China Man (a blow-up dragon around
30 feet ling that attacks Mr. Freedom in a subway station), and any
other Commie trying to infiltrate Western European democracies. The
movie begins with Mr. Freedom on patrol in a city much like Detroit
circa 1967, as he responds to race riots with a
"shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later" fervor. [Clip.]
Introduction to Pony Glass: Animator Lewis Klahr was born in 1956, and went to college at the State University of New York at Buffalo in the late 1970s. SUNY Buffalo was, at that time, a center of experimental filmmaking, and in Buffalo Klahr saw the work of Bruce Conner, Joseph Cornell, and other "found-footage filmmakers," artists who chop up old educational films, news broadcast outtakes, and obscure Hollywood movies in order to edit the footage into something new. (In Scorpio Rising , for instance, Kenneth Anger ironically juxtaposes documentary footage he shot of a Devil-worshipping bikers' party with scenes from The Living Bible: Last Journey to Jerusalem , a short film about Palm Sunday and the other events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion.) The idea that it was possible to make new movies out of old ones deeply impressed Klahr, although he took a different approach: he decided to make movies using old ads, photo albums, home movies and--most importantly for our purposes--comic books. In the Two Minutes to Zero trilogy (2003-4), Klahr animates drawings from issues of the 77 Sunset Strip comic book to tell the same crime story three times: in a 23-minute version, in a nine-minute version, and in a frenetic one-minute version.
Klahr says that the idea for his film Pony Glass (1997) came from looking at Jimmy Olsen #95 (September 1966), an issue featuring the story "Miss Jimmy Olsen," where the intrepid cub reporter dresses up like a girl to secretly investigate a crime syndicate and inadvertently becomes the girlfriend of the head gangster. Jimmy in drag was by this time a common sight in Jimmy Olsen comics; see "Leslie Lowe, Girl Reporter!" in issue #67 (March 1963) and "Jimmy Olsen's Female Fan!" in issue #84 (April 1965). Also of note is Fred Hembeck's send-up of the whole phenomenon, "Superman's Favorite Transvestite, Jimmy Olsen," in Bah, Hembeck! (1980), and Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's resurrection of the meme in the opening pages of All-Star Superman #4 (2005).
Reading "Miss Jimmy Olsen," Klahr wondered, "What if this was serious--and it wasn't just that he put on women's clothes to go undercover to entrap gangsters? What if he really was gay?" And that's what Pony Glass is about. With an eclectic soundtrack that includes Frank Sinatra and Paul Robeson, Pony Glass explores Jimmy's failed relationship with Lucy Lane, his unrequited crush on Superman, his torrid affair with Perry White, and his final joy with an anonymous purple-masked man drawn by Gil Kane. Here's an excerpt, replete with art by Kurt Schaffenberger and others. [Clip.]
Introduction to Rat Pfink a Boo Boo: Ray Dennis Steckler began his career as a propman and cinematographer in cult films, but turned to directing films in 1963, with The Incredibly Strange Creatures who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, a movie that gained some degree of "mainstream" notoriety when it was aired and mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1997. Until his death in 2009, Steckler survived on the fringes of the film business by churning out Z-grade fare, by selling video copies of his movies through his website, and by occasionally working as a teacher of film production at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
In 1996, Steckler wrote, directed and shot an "accidental" superhero
movie, Rat Pfink a Boo Boo. The first half of the film is a
competently made, gritty juvenile delinquent story (originally titled The
Depraved), about a nice neighborhood girl named CeeBee (played by
Steckler's then-wife, Carolyn Brandt)
who is harassed and kidnapped by a band of tough guys nicknamed "The
Chain Gang." As legend has it, about halfway through production,
Steckler, bored with "competence," suddenly asked two of his performers
to don homemade superhero costumes to become Rat Pfink and Boo Boo,
stupid caricatures of Batman and Robin. (Another legend: the title is Rat
Pfink a Boo Boo, and not Rat Pfink AND Boo Boo, because the
development lab made a mistake with the credits that they offered to fix
for 50 dollars; Steckler didn't bother to shell out the dough.) The
original JD aesthetic of The Depraved is replaced by all-out
farce, as Rat Pfink and Boo Boo rescue CeeBee, clobber The Chain Gang
and--through a series of circumstances that defy logic and viewer
comprehension--battle a crazed gorilla named Kogar, an escapee from a
local "jungle compound." I can think of no better way to end this panel
than by watching Rat Pfink and Boo Boo emerge from a closet (a
closet different from Jimmy Olsen's, I think) and declare that they only
have "one weakness" as they fight crime: bullets! [Clip.]
See y'all next year!