FanExpo, my day in images

As I mentioned in my last blog I was headed to this past weekend’s FanExpo in Toronto. This, despite my dislike of large crowds and waiting in seemingly endless line-ups. Although the day proved to be exhausting, I managed to enjoy a wide range of activities: shopping, spotting celebrities (Larry Hagman butted past me on his way to the washroom as I stood in an ATM line) attending a few panels, and chatting with folks about comics. Here are a few photos which capture a little of my experience at FanExpo.

FanExpo 2011 ticket lineup

The lineup for tickets. I told you... didn't I tell you? I haven't even gotten inside FanExpo and already I'm waiting in line. Actually there are 2 lines here, the one on the left which I'm standing in is for cash payments. The one on the right is for debit and credit card payments, and moved considerably slower than the cash line.


FanExpo 2011 Star Wars Family

Star Wars was well represented at FanExpo. Here, a whole family from Tatooine visit the show and pose for photos.


FanExpo 2011 R2D2 models

Some people have too much time on their hands. Not ony did these guys have time to build life-size models of R2D2, but they also organized themselves into a club as well.


FanExpo 2011 C3P0 and R2D2 costumes

These might not be as realistic as the models above, but these girls (yes there's a girl inside the R2) certainly deserve full marks for inventiveness.


FanExpo 2011 Futurama Zoidberg costume

What's fun is when you find people in costume taking photos of other people in costume.


FanExpo 2011 Cosplay Girls

There were plenty of cosplay girls (and guys) dressed up as their favourite anime characters.


FanExpo 2011 Mario Costumes

People even dressed up as their favourite video games, like Super Mario.


FanExpo 2011 Monty Python Knights

These Knights from Monty Python and the Holy Grail were on their way to the Saturday evening Masquerade. Such great costumes, the servant even has coconut shells to do the galloping horse sound effects. I hope these guys won a prize!


FanExpo 2011 Main Floor

The main floor of FanExpo as seen from one of the panel conference rooms above.


FanExpo 2011 vintage Archie, Human Torch and Detective comics

Of course, there were comics at FanExpo! These vintage Archie, Human Torch and Detective comics were some of the rarer finds, kept in a display case. The Detective comic is issue #33 from 1939. The grade for it was 3.0 (10.0 being perfect) and it was valued at $950.00.


FanExpo 2011 Reid Fleming Dennis the Menace books

Some of the haul I brought home. I found these books at the Silver Snail booth for 50% off the U.S. cover price. Couldn't resist the Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman collection as I have 2 of the issues tucked away in a longbox.


FanExpo 2011 Joker action figure

I found a great deal on this Joker action figure.


FanExpo 2011 Joker and Batman action figures

As you can see, my new Joker figure will complement this Batman statue I got at a comic show last year.


FanExpo 2011 All New Comics swag

Of course, I stopped by the All New Comics booth to pick up my regular comic shipment and have a chat with Peter. He and Brian (sorry I missed him) are great! They had generous gifts for their customers who stopped by their booth at FanExpo. My gift pack included all the books pictured as well as an All New Comics t-shirt and lanyard. Easily $100 worth of gear. Thanks guys!


Five things to do at FanExpo

2011 FanExpo Floorplan

FanExpo is a very BIG show. Plenty of room for line-ups and a crowd here.

I’m not really good in crowds. Oh, I’m not phobic about it or anything, I can still function. Let’s just say that I prefer smaller groups to larger ones. My chief complaint is that I have little patience for waiting in lines. It’s unlikely you’ll ever find me camping out for the next Apple store opening or even the final acts in George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy of trilogies.

So why would I go to one of the ultimate geekfest calendar events like this weekend’s FanExpo in Toronto? Opening today, this four day pop-cult extravaganza is a comic book, sci fi, horror, anime and gaming expo all rolled into one enormous, awkward mass of humanity. The event has grown into the third largest of its kind in North America and boasts of hosting Canada’s largest masquerade.

Past guests have included: Stan Lee, John Romita Jr. and Sr., Alex Ross, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Carrie Fisher, Malcolm McDowell, Edward James Olmos, Alice Cooper, Clive Barker, George Romero, Wes Craven, Bruce Campbell, Margot Kidder, Elvira and many more. And, guess what? People… Line… Up… That’s right, when they’re not jostling one another around the 700 retail booths, thousands of people will stand patiently (mostly) in line to meet their idols, speak with them for a moment or two, maybe have a photo taken and get their gear autographed.

To be honest, I haven’t really had much experience with comic cons, having only gone to some of the smaller shows. FanExpo will be the biggest show I’ve gone to. So what should I look forward to doing? Here’s five things:

Shopping? Of course!

The vendor booths are one of the largest components of any con. There’s always deals to be had and you never know what gems from yesteryear you might find if you take the time to dig through a few longboxes. All New Comics, the online comic mailing service I use will be there so in addition to being able to chat face to face with Peter and Brian, I’ll also be able to pick up my most recent orders along with a special gift. Thanks guys!

Attend a panel

Historically, this is one of the most important parts of the con experience, the opportunity to see your favourite writers, pencillers, inkers and industry execs discussing what’s hot, new and important in the industry. DC Comics will be there to roll out more teasers about their New 52 relaunch. Marvel Comics will be there to make certain DC doesn’t score too many points as the topic de jour amongst comic fandom.

Check out all the Exhibitors (similar to vendors, only not)

The major companies will be there, so will all the indy companies. They’ll all be introducing their new books, characters, storylines and merchandise. This is a great opportunity to find out what’s coming up in the world of comics through sneak previews, giveaways and deals, deals, deals.

Stroll down Artist’s Alley

I may not line up for much, due to that crowd/standing in line thing, but still, it’s worth a look and a lot of big names in the industry will be there including: Joe Kubert, Andy Kubert, Adam Kubert, Jeff Smith, Chris Claremont, Tony Moore, Matt Fraction, Steve McNiven, Brian Azzarello, Jill Thompson, Ethan Van Sciver, Francis Manapul, Dale Eaglesham, Fred Van Lente, to name only a few.

Try to stare without staring

One of the most enduring clichés surrounding comic cons is that of the over-the-top fan. You know what I’m talking about. The nutters who take their hobby to the next level of extremes and attend events dressed as their favourite characters. The anime and manga crowd are really big on this, to the point of having coined a word to describe this activity: cosplay. This sort of activity is not only encouraged, but also rewarded at such events as the Saturday evening masquerade. If masquerade isn’t enough there’s also the Teletoon Retro Costume Contest.

There’s lots of other things I could do. Take in a sketching duel, go to a portfolio review or have my picture taken with all my favourite costumed characters. But hey! There’s only so many hours in a day and if I have the time I wouldn’t mind catching some of the activity at the sci fi, horror and anime expo portions of the show.

In spite of the crowds, it should be a good day.

Critics. What would Conan the Barbarian do?

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan

Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first acting role as Conan the Barbarian

What is best in life? To crush your enemies. To see them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women…

Okay, so maybe those wouldn’t be your first thoughts in response to such a question, but those lines helped propel a much younger Arnold Schwarzenegger to fame in 1982′s Conan the Barbarian. Despite the governator’s halting delivery of his lines, limited acting skills, the film’s cheesy humour and Harryhausen-style special effects Conan succeeded well enough to rate a sequel, Conan the Destroyer.

Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian

Barry Windsor-Smith's cover for Marvel Comic's first Conan the Barbarian

Nearly thirty years later Robert E. Howard’s most famous pulp fiction creation returns to the big screen this Friday. I don’t know whether to be excited or anxious for this movie. There have been several trailers released and each of them demonstrates to me a movie which has done an admirable job of capturing the sights, sounds and feel of Howard’s Hyborian age. John Milius did an adequate enough job of it with his version, and certainly in comic books several artists (Barry Windsor-Smith, John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Alfredo Alcala, Richard Corben, Cary Nord) have drawn remarkable versions of the famous barbarian’s adventures for popular runs published by both Marvel and Dark Horse Comics. Of course, the most famous Conan artist was Frank Frazetta whose painted covers for the Lancer paperback collections set the standard for fantasy art.

Everyone’s a critic!

While it’s encouraging to see that one reviewer compares the new film’s look to Frazetta’s Conan art, unfortunately it seems there are more reviews (several, in fact) panning the film.

“Fight, talk, fight, talk, fight, talk, then an enormous throwdown followed by a denouement that dangles the possibility of a sequel (dear God, no) — that’s the basic structure here.”
- Christy Lemire AP Movie Critic

Really? What problem could there be with this basic structure? Too much talking? Dammit, this is Conan the Barbarian! Not Conan the Interior Decorator or Conan the Florist. If you wanted less fighting, less bloody violence and less nudity then maybe you’re at the wrong film. Yes, I know, critics don’t have any choice in what they review, but give it some context. Read the stories or the comics at least and write with an understanding of the genre.

“…you can spend all you want on 3D, locations and topless extras, but Conan isn’t Conan without the lyrical words that capture the barbarian and his barbaric age.”
- Movies with Roger Moore

Okay, so maybe some of the critics are going to the source material and attempting to demonstrate a working knowledge of what makes Conan so popular.

“First Impression: Conan the Barbarian – If original had epic pretensions, this is the shameless grindhouse version.”
- @LarsenOnFilm

So what’s wrong with grindhouse? It’s a legitimate style of film-making, just like film noir, cinema vérité or dogme. Still, it’s just an opinion, right?

Of course there is other baggage attached to this film apart from the critics’ opinions. Director Marcus Nispel is also responsibile for directing remakes of The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre and Friday the 13th. That’s good from the point of view of being able to pour on tension and violence, but did those films really need to be remade? Does Conan?

Re-done or Re-worked?

Jason Momoa as Conan

Game of Thrones' Jason Momoa as Conan the Barbarian

Well, technically this film isn’t a remake, it’s a reboot, much in the same way as was done with Christopher Nolan’s Batman. The elements of Conan’s origin and his motivation in seeking vengance are similar, but otherwise, Jason Momoa’s Conan gets there via a different path from Schwarzengger’s Conan. Also, if you ask any of the countless fans who still follow the character nearly 70 years after he was first created their response is one of anticipation to see their hero in action again. I know I do.

As I said, I’ve been looking forward to this newest version of Conan based on the trailers I’ve seen. Then I began reading the reviews. However, when I first saw Conan the Barbarian at a Drive-In theatre in ’82, I seem to recall that it wasn’t getting a lot of love from critics back then. It was no work of cinematic mastery. Despite that, I enjoyed the movie and have both it and its sequel in my DVD collection.

Who knows? Maybe this time the critics could be right and I might not like this Conan the Barbarian. There’s only one way to find out. I know what Conan himself would do. What is best in life? To crush your critics. To see them driven before you. To hear the lamentations of…

…well, you get the picture.

How many of you have ever been swayed by the thumbs up or down of a film critic? What films have you gone to or stayed away from based on a review? Were you glad about your choice?

Will the DC reboot kickstart their comic line?

Justice League New 52

The New 52 Justice League. There are some slight variations to costumes, but nothing so outrageous as to drastically excite or infuriate fans.

It was the announcement that launched a thousand blog posts, podcasts, forum threads, Facebook musings, tweets, drive-by Google plus-ings and comic shop conversations. DC comics were going to renumber their mainstream comic lines starting everything back at issue #1. A re-boot, re-launch, comics event, call it what you will, but at the end of the day DC would have a “New 52″ comic line-up.

A simple renumbering of existing books is not the only change in the works. Many of the affected characters will receive costume changes, although these appear to be mostly minor, based on images released thus far. Storylines will also be tweaked and re-set, and this is where fans sat up and began to howl.

What’s All The Noise About?

Comic book companies have a habit of re-writing their canon whenever it suits them. Like the old Soviet practice of “disappearing” someone by cutting them out of photographs, comic companies will on occasion reboot their storylines at the expense of prior history. Some characters get killed off, others get brought back from the dead. Sometimes fans like this, sometimes not. For DC comics the opportunity to enrage and engage fans is fast approaching as the August 31st launch date for the “epic” renumbering of their comic book line gets closer.

Why do comic companies risk such wrath from their base of longtime fans? What could possibly motivate a publisher to tinker with beloved characters by making such wholesale changes? DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio explained it this way to US Today:

This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today’s audience.

“Today’s audience”? I don’t know who Dan DiDio thinks his comics have been aimed at these past few years, but if you pick up a comic you’ll see they’re not the “biff”, “bam”, “pow” Lichtenstein-style, ben-day dot-covered joyful free-for-all from a bygone age. By “today’s audience” I guess we’re to understand they mean a younger demographic. There was a time when comics were thought of as a medium aimed for kids, but this hasn’t been the case in the last twenty or so years even though the myth of that perception persists. Today’s audience is largely male, and skews to an older demographic of guys in their 20′s, and even 30′s and 40′s. That’s right, guys like me. (No surprise that I’m writing a blog) Kids? Not so much.

If the intention was to go after kids and get them hooked into reading comics at a younger age, then you would think the solution would be to create more comics aimed at their reading level with content that is a little lighter in tone and subject matter. But as Phil Hampton discusses in his recent blog post “How Marvel, DC and You Can Save the Comic Industry” this isn’t the case. None of the New 52 books by DC are going to be all-ages books. In fact, DC are only publishing 6 comic books which will be all-ages (these are non-New 52 titles). So, while perhaps the reboot will attract the interest of non-comic book fans, there’s little to indicate that they will be from among the under 12 set.

But who can blame DC for trying? They have do something and so far, there’s a lot competing for the attention of “today’s audience”: video games in the form of Xbox, Playstation and Wii, online games, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. There are too many things to distract kids from the simple pleasures of reading a comic. With that in mind, DC’s reboot announcement also detailed plans to offer same-day digital versions of the comics.

Jump On, Jump Off?

DC are selling the entire package as a jumping-on point for new fans to follow the DC line of Super-Heroes. Cynics are seeing it as a desperate attempt to prop up the number two publisher in a struggling industry.

Struggling? Yes. Despite the massive success in recent years of comic-based movie adaptations, the glory days in which comic books could sell in the millions on a monthly basis are long over. Not since the forties, in fact. Will these new moves benefit DC and comics in general? Maybe.

I’ll admit to being skeptical when I first heard DC’s announcement, and I even wondered if their jumping-on point might not also be a good jumping-off point. I’ve felt burned too often by “event” comics such as Bloodlines, Zero Hour, Batman RIP, the list goes on and on and on, but that’s all for another post. I wondered, like many, if the New 52 with all of its precious #1 issues wasn’t simply another way of reaching into my wallet.

Okay, So Here’s My Wallet

Last week I finally started looking at DC’s New 52 and began making some choices through All New Comics, my online comic ordering service. The creative teams on some of the books have piqued my interest and despite my skepticism I’ll give a few a try.

I’ll keep up my Batman and Detective comics even though I’ll miss the current storyline which has Dick Grayson in the role of Batman mentoring Bruce Wayne’s bastard love-child Damian as Robin. I’ll continue on with Batgirl, although I was enjoying Stephanie Brown in that role and will find it odd to see  Barbara Gordon freed from the wheelchair she has been confined to since being shot by the Joker in 1988′s Killing Joke. And I’ve been waiting ever so patiently for Batwoman because the first mini-series by J.H. Williams was beyond awesome and I want to see more.

I’m looking forward to the DCU Presents‘ anthology series which will start out with the recently revived Deadman. And despite the fact that I’m not a big fan of Moritat’s art from his run on The Spirit, I’ll give him a chance on All Star Western (another anthology series) because I like what Gray and Palmiotti have done so far with Jonah Hex over 50 or so issues and I see that Jordi Bernet will return as artist in the second issue.

I’ll keep up with The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps and Legion of Super-Heroes. And I’ll check out Justice League, Justice League Dark, Swamp Thing and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E (because, as bizarre as the title sounds, Jeff Lemire is writing it).

I’m sure there are other titles that I might give a try for an issue or two. All of the books are on probation as far I’m concerned. In the end, I guess that’s all that DC wants, is to get the chance at more of my dollars. For all the insane chatter their reboot has generated, there’s got to be some potential upside for them. The question is, will they continue to earn fans’ dollars after the #1′s? And more importantly, will the consequences from these changes remain in place, or will DC begin switching things back if the tinkering proves to be an unpopular failure?

It remains to be seen. All the New 52 books roll out starting on August 31 and for the next five Wednesdays.

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Comics. You never forget your first time!

When I was younger, long before I could read, I discovered a magical kind of picture book. It was thin, flimsy, brightly-coloured and printed on coarse newsprint. It was not at all like the glossy nursery rhyme books I had or the school primers my older brother brought home from his grade one classes.


It was battered, worn and missing it's cover but had Spidey, and 3 of his villains: Sandman, Doc Ock and the Vulture. (4 villains if you count an out-of-costume Mysterio)

I was visiting a neighbour’s house and was given a tattered, old picture book to keep me occupied. Flipping through it, I encountered a world of men in funny costumes. One man wore a green outfit and had wings. Another man wore dark glasses and had steel arms snaking out from his body. A third man wore a striped shirt and could turn his hands into blocks as he dissolved into the floor. The main character, dressed in a blue and red costume, could walk on walls and ceilings.

Although I didn’t know it then, I was being introduced to the world of comic books courtesy of Steve Ditko, Stan Lee and Marvel Comics. I’ve since learned that the comic I first cut my teeth on was Amazing Spider-Man #24.

Looking at this comic now, I’m surprised at how much text there is in it. You might think Stan Lee was a “talky” kind of writer, filling the book with lots of dialogue, but any study of comics from that era reveals the same tendency towards wordiness.


Too "talky"? So much dialogue you'd think Stan Lee was being paid by the word.

Despite my rudimentary reading level I was able to move past all the verbiage and into the story. Ditko’s artwork gave enough in action and gesture to tell his tale and get me hooked. Titled “Spider-Man Goes Mad!” the story follows Spider-Man through a series of troubling hallucinations that are pushing him towards a break-down. Along the way, Spider-Man must also deal with the usual teenage angst which he faces as Peter Parker. The image I connected with most strongly was that of Spider-Man entering a room which had been flipped upside down. My pre-school self could “read” Spider-Man’s reaction and see that he was freaked out by what was going on and so was I, but in a good way. Spider-Man’s world was utterly fantastic and I wanted more.

As a kid, I had to contend with my mom’s back and forth acceptance over comics in the house. Sometimes she saw no harm in comics and other times she regarded them as junk that would rot our minds. As a result, my collecting wasn’t as concentrated or organized as it might have been. Over the years I’ve picked up the odd comic or two, drifting in and out of my hobby, but never straying too far from it. In recent years I’ve developed a more academic interest in comics, almost preferring to read about them as much as I enjoy actually reading them.

In future posts I’ll share my other reminiscences and experiences with comics touching on such things as: independent comics; underground comix; black and white horror magazines with EC-like stories; comic adaptations of licensed properties such as tv shows and movies; cross-overs and major event comics; plus cartoons and the like. Of course, I’ll also be talking about what’s coming up in comics, since I’m still buying the odd comic or two, even now.

In the mean time, feel free to share below about your own “first time” with comics. Go ahead, it won’t hurt!

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