This past weekend I attended the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo as a writer for Imaginos Workshop. We had a table there in Artist Alley where we were promoting our upcoming comic book sampler with posters, stickers and business cards. We also were selling Issues 1 and 2 of Detroit Tradecraft’s The Door. It was a jam-packed and exhausting weekend, and a valuable experience for our upstart company. We had the benefit of sitting between some great artists. On one hand we talked to Jeff Delgado of Dream Gear Studios, who does prints, t-shirts, tattoo design and commissions. On the other side of our table was Carlos Gabriel Ruiz, with a group of artists and illustrators from the St. Louis region.
The most striking and immediate impression of a comic convention is the people attending it. People-watching is at a premium at a con, which attracts a vast number of people that come in many shapes and sizes. The easiest response (especially for a “normal,” or someone not used to the culture of the con) is mockery: the con environment is ripe for satire, or at least good-natured ribbing. You will see people dressed in costumes, capes and tights. It’s no secret that a con is a circus of nerds, geeks and freaks. Even such terms are necessarily alienating, applied to a type of person that has been classified as fringe. But the real reason one is at first drawn to mock conventioneers is not the get-ups or the bad fashion: it is the bald-faced sincerity. There is a certain high school mentality in ridiculing earnestness, and there is nothing more earnest than a bald 42 year-old proudly sporting an R2D2 shirt. But once the initial shock wears off from seeing an auditorium full of unabashedly nerdy adults reveling in comic book culture, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself.
There was a slew of celebrities and sub-celebrities there with ties to geek culture and probably something to promote as well. I got an autograph and an awesome picture with Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine. Later he did a Q&A session in which he talked about his comic book epic Orchid and how collaborating on a comic is different from playing in a band. He talked about his career in the Los Angeles music scene as well as the future of the music industry. In response to a question regarding downloading music, he said that it was hard to support giant record labels that sue kids for downloading music when the companies produce CD’s for ¢4 and sell them for $18.99. Morello: the music industry as we know it may be on its way out, “and that may not be a bad thing.” Later in the session he encouraged people to listen to a certain Nightwatchmen song but insisted: “This isn’t a plug. Go download it illegally or something.” He also answered a variety of geek-influenced questions such as what his least favorite comic book-to-movie adaptation is (Watchmen. His favorite? Iron Man). Incidentally, Morello is credited on IMDb as playing a guard in Iron Man. And when asked about the state of Rage Against the Machine Morello answered somewhat exasperatedly that there is no state of the band: “Go tell your friends so they can stop asking me. If we do anything we will tell you. We’re not hiding from you.”
Shia Labeouf made an impromptu visit to the convention promoting his book of self-styled art and observations. It exists somewhere between a memoir and a comic book, and people seemed to be buying them at a quick pace for $10 apiece. I didn’t buy his book but I did get a picture and ask him a question. It went like this:
JR: You were a voice in Nausicaä [of the Valley of the Wind].
JR: Did you meet [Hayao] Miyazaki?
Labeouf: I met Miyazaki for a total of 15 minutes. I basically did the movie for him. I view him like you do [as a fan].
JR: Did you go fanboy on him?
Labeouf: I totally did. I’ve only ever really freaked out when meeting someone a couple times. Miyazaki…and Kramer, strangely enough. Them and Dustin Hoffman.
For those who don’t know, Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese director with a slew of critically claimed animated movies (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, etc.). He is an unparalleled auteur and demigod in the cinematic world.
It was a short exchange but Shia was visibly excited to talk about a cinematic idol and I appreciated his enthusiasm. He struck me as surprisingly grounded for someone that’s really gotten a heavy dose of celebrity in the past several years. When my friend Alexa introduced herself to him she shook his hand and said, “Hi, I’m alexa.” He responded, “Hi, I’m Shia.”
There’s something refreshing about a mass of people sincerely reveling in a common bond. It has the feel of a community of sorts, a hodgepodge of personalities that probably wouldn’t look twice at each other on the street. Like a concert or a sporting event, a convention is a state of mind, where you are united with complete strangers with a common and undying bond. It is also the only place where you can rub shoulders with Catwoman, Dr. Doom, Pikachu and Captain America in a matter of minutes. C2E2 was an exhausting parade of artists, onlookers and superheroes that more than once put me into a peculiar and satisfied daze. It was only the second comic convention I’ve ever attended but I hope there will be many more in the future.