Comicpalooza Day 3: What Is Real Horror?
Being the Houston Press's resident goth, it's probably not a surprise that I view morning the same way Ron Paul views income tax. It's real, and I hate it with a blinding passion. That being said, for once in my life I wanted to be early for something, so I got to the last day of Comicpalooza almost before anyone else.
I walked with the VIP ticket holders into a convention that was nowhere near set up for the day. Dealers were still uncovering and arranging, the stages were empty and most of the artists seemed to have been off acquiring coffee and bagels. It was, all told, a really boring time, but it did give me a chance to delve into the opinions of the people making the convention happen as they set up.
Though none would go on record, I got the impression that this year's Comicpalooza is both a huge success and somewhat disappointing. The guest list has certainly improved a great deal over last year, with lines stretching 50 deep in order to get George Takei's autograph. At least three comic vendors told me that their sales had simply been staggering. One reported a 30 percent increase from last year, another a mind-boggling 108 percent.
And yet, there were problems. As mentioned in my report on Friday, there were cancelation and technical difficulties galore. The talks by Michael Biehn and Sean Patrick Flanery were hastily moved because the band setup on the main stage blew out equipment when it was tested. Communications seemed to be a consistent complaint, with the organizers being slow to answer questions via e-mail, or not at all.
Noise was also a notable pet peeve. Unlike last year, Comicpalooza wasn't able to secure a solid block of rooms for panels and discussions, which meant that the alternative was curtained-off areas with competing sound systems...none of which could be heard if Arc Attack was playing.
Overall, the convention seems to be having growing pains, having gotten bigger in attendance and scope, but not necessarily in execution. Still, the crowds are big, the dealers seem happy enough with their sales and I think we can look forward to this continuing to build.
One of the booths that caught my eye belonged to Onrie Kompan and his comic Yi Soon Shin. The indie book illustrated by Giovanni P. Timpano follows a Korean admiral who takes on vastly superior forces in the 16th century, eventually repelling them through a combination of brilliant strategy and pure guts. The character is based on a real-life figure of Korean history.
Kompan was moved by the warrior's story after catching a television show based on his life, Immortal Admiral Lee Sun-shin.
"I wanted to create something like 300," said Kompan, "something that took a page out of history that was amazing, and make it even more amazing. I wanted to make a legend."
The book is a brilliant bloody thing that you might call pulp except for the undeniable beauty of the art and writing. It's an epic in the little-used sense of the word. It spans a period of history where the fate of all of Asia was decided by the massive balls of one man, and Kompan does such badassery perfect justice.
Despite its independent status, the book is doing quite well, and it's definitely worth picking up the handsome trade paperback.
Half Price Books has entered the arena as a comic convention dealer, something I couldn't be happier about. When comic shopping in Houston, it's easy to overlook the secondhand book dealer, but fully half of the trades in my bookshelf come from them. I even found a copy of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier in perfect condition with the 3-D glasses still sealed in plastic.
The booth was being managed by the team from the Northwest store on FM 1960. Though the selection at the Montrose location is just lightly better due to the weirder sellers that frequent it, the Northwest store is the best laid out and the most accessible of all the HPBs in Houston.
Getting the chain into the comic-convention circuit was a hard sell. David Jay told me that it took a lot of wheedling to get district management to agree to the booth, but that once they were all set up, the sales were amazing. Seeing as they get all their wares secondhand, they have a distinct pricing advantage over the competition. Even so, they were still willing to haggle, and I picked up an Eccleston-era Doctor Who novel for $3. Someone's got to cheer for the Ninth Doctor.
On my way over to the discussion room I passed True Blood's Kristin Bauer, but was frankly too twitterpated to talk to her or ask for a photo. She's...she's really, really pretty in person. Instead, I stopped at Action Figure Laboratories. The company uses photo scans of your face fed into a 3-D printer to make you your own action figure out of plastic or plaster.
The figures are more rightly statues, and the results are somewhat mixed. You don't get a terribly wide range of poses or costumes to choose from, and the lower-end selections definitely show their price. However, if you have $120 to drop on the big deluxe models, I would definitely go for it.
My last stop this year was to hear 30 Days of Night artists Ben Templesmith, Elliot Serrano of the Army of Darkness comics, and Hugo award-winning fantasy artist Bob Eggleton talk about horror in the new millennium in a panel hosted by Alamo Drafthouse's Robert Saucedo. Apparently people just pick panel names and throw guests into them, but the trio of groundbreaking artists were well guided by Saucedo, who knows horror very well.
Eggleton in particular spoke eloquently on the 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent by Fredric Wertham. One of the great completely misunderstood books, it cautioned parents to discuss things they might see in comics like unrealistically proportioned females and violence, and instead ended up inciting a sprint to censorship that saw comics neutered of all sex and violence under the not at all supervillainous-sounding Comics Code Authority.
I'm not saying that Wertham wasn't a nutjob who vastly overestimated the effects of comics on readers. I'm just saying that he wasn't the one who wanted to make comics ridiculously boring for 30 years.
"It got to the point where someone would point to the shading on a drawing of a bicep and question whether or not it resembled female genitalia too much," said Templesmith.
The prevalent question was, "Where is the line in the modern age?" None of the artists were fans of the torture porn genre that commanded much of the horror landscape over the last decade.
"To me, horror is a roller coaster," said Serrano. "It's supposed to be fun. Someone is supposed to win eventually."
Talk turned to what a real horror film is, with Templesmith suggesting Schindler's List as an example of a true horror film and Serrano offering movies made about the invasion of China by Japan in World War II that featured things like children being boiled alive.
This prompted me to pose a question...We report on a lot of horrible things here. I especially remember an incident where a man hurled a toddler headfirst across a parking lot into a Dumpster.
"Do you think that they'd make a horror comic about that?" I asked. "Is this the line we won't cross? Everyday real atrocity that trumps any monster?"
"Only if the baby came back to life as a vengeful zombie to give his killers their comeuppance," said Serrano. "That is what horror is supposed to be. That's what we really want. We want a narrative, and we want to come away excited, not truly horrified."
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