Things I learned Moderating My First Panel

ECCCThe phrase, “This seemed like a good idea at the time” echoed through my head as I stood in front of the crowd at Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon.  Next to me on the stage were some of the biggest names in comics.  This was everything I had hoped for.  So why was I quaking?

Rewind several months to a dark morning in Portland.  I was out for my morning jog, and my mind was desperately trying to find something to distract myself from the fact that my lungs felt like they were going to burst.  Comics seemed like the natural place to distract myself.  I started thinking about Kelly Sue Deconnick’s experience as “Smurfette” on a comic panel at New York Comic Con.  It got me thinking about what kind of panel I would put together if I were to organize one for a comic convention.  By the end of my five mile run I had it planned out.

A couple days later I saw the call for panel proposals from Emerald City Comicon.  My mind flashed back to my morning run and I thought, “What the heck?”  I shot off an email to the organizers and included all my ideas.  The panel would focus on self-publishing and would feature some of the biggest names in comics.  The panel would be a balance of male and female creators and would be about why they self-publish instead of how to self-publish.  And, as an afterthought, I tossed in the fact that I would be “happy” to moderate the panel if asked.

Months went by.  I was surprised when I received an email from ECCC informing me that my pane had been approved!  All that needed to happen was for me to contact all my proposed participants, secure their participation, and come up with questions for moderating the panel!  Piece of cake?

I had only ever had contact with one of the panelists (Jeff Smith) so most of my emails to these creators were going to be cold calls.  Luckily every one of them was more than happy to be a part of the panel!  I emailed the organizers again with the news that the panel was good to go.

Then I began to panic.

I get up in front of groups every day.  I ask questions and guide conversations.  It is what I do.  I’m a teacher.  I have even interviewed dozens of comic pros over the years. So why was I so nervous about moderating this panel?  Simply put, I was in over my head.  There is a big difference between planning out a panel and actually pulling one off.

The day of the panel arrived and, after a minor hiccup or two, we were ready to go.  I started to read from my prepared opening, and immediately flubbed the words.  Not a great start.  I really should have spent some time practicing in front of a mirror and printed the script out in a larger font so it would have been easier to read.  But I managed to recover and made it through the introductions without too many other missteps.

Then came the questions.   The best panels are the ones where the moderator asks a question and the panelists just go from there, building their conversation on the comments of the person who spoke before them.  That was not this panel.

I asked a question.  It got answered.  Then silence.  I asked another question.  It got answered.  Then silence.  Within the first ten minutes of the panel I had blown through almost all of my prepared questions.  It was then that I realized the second mistake I had made.  In my desire to create the ultimate panel, I had linked these creators together in my mind.  However, none of these creators knew each other personally nor had they had any interaction with each other.  This meant that there was no built-in chemistry on the panel and no natural links and connections.  The flow of conversation was going to be forced, not naturally flowing.

Luckily people in the audience had questions and were more than happy to ask them.

And that is when I realized the third major mistake I had made. I had failed to properly frame the context of the conversation.  I had assumed that everyone in attendance had read the panel description and were prepared to ask in-depth questions about the philosophies of the panelists.  I was wrong.

The first questions focused on manga and anime.  The next person asked for a “brief, four bullet point guide” to getting his daughter’s original graphic novel published and distributed.  This was not going according to plan.

Luckily the panelists were good sports and plowed through.  We made it to the end of the panel, there was applause, and everyone left to enjoy the rest of the con.

So now I sit and reflect.  I love the idea of organizing another panel.  But, before I do I need to make sure that I have learned from the mistakes I made on this panel and build on the successes.  I have already started thinking about the next panel I want to put together.  Rose City Comic Con is in the fall, giving me plenty of time to iron out the kinks.  Seems like a good idea to me!

Want to see the panel for yourself?  Click here.

 

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Emerald City Comicon Day 3

ECCCDay three was a half-day for us.  We rolled in around eleven-thirty after checking out of the hotel and gorging ourselves on crumpets (a Seattle tradition).  With the stress of moderating the panel behind me, I found the final day to be one of the most enjoyable.  The crowds were comparable to Friday, and most creators had a tired but satisfied look on their face.  It had been a good show for everyone.

I caught up with Devon Devereaux whose Jack Kirby tribute piece was featured in the LTD. Gallery Mint Condition show over the weekend.  As always, fans were attracted to

Had to take this one twice.  He blinked the first time!

Had to take this one twice. He blinked the first time!

his take on classic monsters and horror.  I also managed to chat briefly with Joe Keatinge who was having a busy convention and catch up with Pete and Rebecca Woods.  I was going to stop by Greg Rucka’s booth, but it was always busy, and I am going to see him this weekend when I pick up my Kickstarter book.

One of the last things we did was catch the Adam Warren and Brandon Graham panel.  As much a meeting of the Mutual Admiration Society as it was a glimpse into their creative processes, the real takeaway was their shared love of Masamune Shirow and Appleseed.  Listening to them breakdown pages which were shown on the projector was a fascinating look at how artists look to other other artists for inspiration and improvement.

Pretty, pretty princess (who will knock you out with his guns!)

Pretty, pretty princess (who will knock you out with his guns!)

We cruised out of the con in the early afternoon.  We hit the LTD. Gallery to check out the Mint Condition show before pointing the bus south and heading for home.  We left the show recharged, excited about comics, and already making plans for a return trip in 2015!

Final thoughts:
ECCC is definitely a destination show. It should be on everyone’s radar and their to-do list. Start planning now, as the date has already been set for next year (March 27 – 29). With a bit of forethought and planning, there is no reason why ECCC cannot be the best show of your year.

The coordinators of Emerald City worked hard to

Martian menace!

Martian menace!

address many of the concerns raised by con-goers last year.  The traffic flow was greatly improved (there was one major pinch point near the Image Booth, but that was pretty much it) making movement between the rooms a much more pleasant experience.  There was also clearer signage for panels making finding the rooms much easier.

As always, the “minions’ were the real stars of the show.  While many conventions position their volunteers around the perimeter of the con to keep people without tickets out and guide people to  various entrances, ECCC floods the con floor with helpful volunteers.  From line management to general

The family that cosplays together...

The family that cosplays together…

information, at every turn there was a smiling green-shirted “minion” there to help.  For as large as ECCC has become, the volunteers keep it running smoothly!

The cosplay at the con was fantastic this year.  Maybe it was the lack of any single dominant group of cosplayers (very few zombies, homestucks, or Stormtroopers).

We know who wears the pants in this relationship

We know who wears the pants in this relationship

Maybe it was a desire to do something truly unique.  Either way, this year’s crop of cosplayers was the most unique and diverse I have seen!  I have not enjoyed people watching this much in quite some time!

Emerald City kicks off the con season and sets the bar for all other conventions.  I can’t wait to come back next year!

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Emerald City Comicon Day 2

ECCCIt is safe to say that, as amazing as Friday was, Saturday at Emerald City Comic Comicon was even more spectacular. The aisles were crowded and booths were doing brisk business. By the end of the day, many of the booths were reporting sellouts of much of their inventory. It is safe to say that the con was at capacity from the moment the doors opened until late in the evening.

Cosplayers were in full effect, with many I had not seen before at a show including a female Silver Surfer, Daredevil, Jubliee (complete with fireworks coming from her palms), all iterations of the female Captain Marvel, and a Spider-Man from his time in the Future Foundation. With an Andrew Hussie signing at 2pm, there were many more Homestuck cosplayers than on Friday, but still not as many as the year before. After speaking with a few cosplayers, it seems that the extended hiatus of the strip, coupled with the emergence of new fandoms has eroded the cosplay base. The emergence of Attack on Titan as a cosplay group was definitely on display.

It was not all about cosplay, however. On Saturday we took in the Why Eisner Matters panel. Peter David, Matt Fraction, Michael Avon Oeming, and Jeff Smith riffed on the concepts Eisner brought forth in his work and the legacy of his writing and art style. It was a fun panel which ran the gamut from talking about Gene Luen Yang and John Byrne to the legacy of Ebony White, the Spirit’s sidekick. If anyone took anything from the panel, it is that much of the great storytelling of the past 50 years is built on the shoulders of Will Eisner. Young creators would do well to read the Spirit as well as Comics and Sequential Art.

Saturday was also the Self-Publish or Perish panel hosted by your’s truly. I will give a write-up later of all the things I learned from my first time moderating a panel (and there was plenty to learn!!!) but I will say for now that the panel was a success in covering the important role that self-publishing has for creators and the industry as a whole.  Each creator spoke about their experiences with self-publishing and the role it has played in shaping their careers.  Since the panel covered over 35 years of self-publishing, it was fascinating to hear how much not only the publishing industry has changed, but how the prospects have improved in some ways and decreased in others for self-publishers.  People interested in seeing the panel for themselves can do so right here.

Keri and I booked a couple of commissions, and it was a good thing we did.  Many of the creators’ commission lists were filled by noon Saturday (some were even filled by Friday).  It pays more than ever to hit a con with a plan.  Five years ago you could go to ECCC and wander the hall for a day and then find someone to do a commission.  Now, with the con spanning multiple floors and rooms within the floors, priorities need to be made, a plan mapped out, and backup plans created before ever hitting the floor.  While it may cause a bit of stress at the start of the con as you rush from place to place, it will save many headaches and disappointments over the long run.  I was able to get the commission I wanted and the books signed early on friday and then spend the entire remainder of the convention perusing and people watching.

With sketchbooks dropped off, Saturday was mostly spent wandering the aisles and looking at art and perusing books.  While superheroes and fan art still ruled the con, there were plenty of small press and self-published books to be found.  Because ECCC has become such a destination con, many creators were sure to have new work ready for the masses.  I spoke with several creators who had books and prints that just came back from the printers as late as the day before.  As much of a pain as that may seem, it was clear that there was a high demand for new product and nobody wanted to be left without!

Saturday was a fantastic day at the con.  We left physically exhausted but creatively invigorated.  There was such an abundance of talent on display, we could not wait to come back for day three!

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ECCC ’14 Self-Publish or Perish Panel

This is the Self- Publish or Perish panel which our very own Brian Gardes moderated at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con.  The panel represented over 35 years of self-publishing history and featured Richard and Wendy Pini (ElfQuest), Chris Roberson (Monkeybrain), Becky Cloonan (The Mire) and Jeff Smith (Bone).  Give it a look!

Camera work by Keri Grassl.

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Emerald City Comic Con Day 1

ECCCExcitement was in the air as tens of thousands of people lined up to enter into the fourth floor of the Seattle Convention Center for the 12th annual Emerald City Comic Con.  This is the fifth year that STR has attended the show, and it continues to impress!  With more publishers, more creators, and more attendees, ECCC continues to reconfigure itself to meet the growing demand.

The Friday launch this year was brisk, with people queuing up early to get their crack at the handful of wristbands available for the single Jim Lee signing.  Like the Robert Kirkman signing two years ago, the appearance of a superstar creator was enough to get people through the doors as soon as they opened.  The halls quickly filled, with all tables reporting better business than the year before.

It was not just Lee that fans were here to see.  First year attendees include Bob Layton, Peter David, Amanda Connor, Jimmy Palmiotti, J. Scott Campbell, and Becky Cloonan (to name a few).  What continues to impress me the most about Emerald City is the deliberate placement of marquee names right next to up and coming talent.  There is no sense of being “relegated” to the back of the hall away from everyone else.  Even the artists and writers who were on the third floor of the con (a first for this year’s convention) were found by their fans.  We stood in line for a solid fifteen minutes to meet Amanda Connor, and she was about as “out of the way” as one could get at ECCC.

As always, Emerald City is a great opportunity to catch up with people I have not seen in a while.  I caught up with Reid Psaltis whose first book in the Kingdom/Order trilogy is out.  It is moody, gorgeous, and will be the subject of a forthcoming review!  I also caught up with Josh Shalek whose third issue of Falling Rock National Park also just hit the stands.  Full of wit, humor, and an alien abduction, Falling Rock is always worth checking out!  (And, yes, look for a full review of that as well!)  I chatted with Lucy Bellwood who recounted her adventures rafting down the Colorado River and told me about an exciting opportunity she has which could result in future issues of Baggy Wrinkles!  We even saw Egypt Urnash, our neighbor from Geek Girl Con!

There were many more people who I would have loved to have chatted with, but more often than not their tables were packed with fans!  It is great to see so many creators getting the recognition they deserve.

It was not all social, I also did a bit of shopping.  I picked up Lady Excelsior Presents the Best of Tragedy Series volumes 1 and 2 from Benjamin Dewey, Concrete Martians by Mitch Cook and Keith Grachow, and The God Within by Walter and John Garre.  The three represent just a small fraction of the self-published books available at this year’s show.

I would like to acknowledge and applaud Emerald City for their cosplay policy this year, specifically their policy on cosplayer harassment.  Throughout the convention center there is signage which specifically states that “Cosplay is not consent.”  It explains the policies of the convention as well as who to speak to if there is harassment of cosplayers.  This same language and graphic is prominently displayed in the convention guide given to all attendees.  Hopefully this kind of direct statement of policy will curb the problem.

A few other cosplay observations: The makeup of this year’s cosplay crowd is a bit different than in year’s past.  The number of Homestuck cosplayers has decreased by over two-thirds, even with Andrew Hussie in attendance.  There are a lot of Waldo cosplayers.  I counted six. While that may not seem like that many, there were more Waldo’s than Homestucks.  There have not been any zombies this year.  Nor has there been a Pyramid Head, Doctor’s companions, Weeping Angels, or blackface Geordi La Forge (thankfully).  There was, however, an impressive Patriot cosplay, and the obligatory male LeeLoo.

Tomorrow is a new day and we will be back for more fun and adventure.  And, in case you have missed our announcement about it (how could you?) I am moderating the Self-Publish or Perish panel tomorrow at 5:40 pm in Hall D (Rooms 602-603) with Becky Cloonan, Richard and Wendy Pini, Jeff Smith, and Chris Roberson.

See you at the Con!

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Emerald City Here We Come!

ECCCWe are headed back to Emerald City Comic Con for another year of fun, adventure, and excitement!  This year we are proud to be moderating the Self-Publish or Perish: All-Star Edition panel with guests Becky Cloonan, Wendy and Richard Pini, Jeff Smith, and Chris Roberson.  Come check it out in HALL D (602-603) on Saturday from 5:40PM – 6:30PM!

Keep your eyes peeled on this site for photos, updates, and maybe even an interview or two throughout the weekend!

Hope to see you there!

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Spring Break Binge: 6 Comic Series to Devour in One Sitting

We are in the middle of Spring Break season.  For some it is just getting started.  For others it is just a short week or two away.  No matter when or where Spring Break falls, one thing is for sure: there will be bingeing.

No, I’m not talking about alcohol (although I am certain there will be plenty of that).  I am talking about sitting down for extended periods of time and working through an entire run of something.  It seems to be THE thing to do, with Netflix releasing entire series of tv shows all at once for us to watch, and people organizing binge viewings of their favorite move series, tv show, or NCAA playoff round.

But what about comics?  Shouldn’t we be taking the same opportunity to devour an entire run of comics?

For this article I set up a couple of parameters for a good binge comic.  First, the comic had to be finite.  Nothing is more frustrating to me than binge watching an entire run of a show, only to find out that there are more episodes, but they are not yet on Netflix.  So, no cliffhangers in this set (which leaves out fantastic books such as Mind the Gap by Jim McCann and Rodin Esquejo and the spectacular Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition by Stan Sakai).  Second, the binge title had to be a reasonable size, not too long to read in a couple of sittings (Walking Dead is on volume 20 and counting!), and not so short that it could be read in a regular couple of readings (ReMind by Jason Brubaker is two amazing volumes.)  Finally, the series had to be creator owned (sorry Guardians of the Galaxy).

With those caveats in mind, adjust that chaise lounge, refresh that umbrella drink, and let’s get bingeing!

Echo1) Echo by Terry Moore (6 volumes/one omnibus). Julie’s life is crumbling.  She is in the middle of a divorce, her professional life is going nowhere, and her sister has suffered a complete nervous breakdown.  To make matters worse, Julie is is in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses an explosion which rains down metallic debris which clings to her body.  Julie is forced on the run from the government as well as a deranged lunatic who believes himself to be the Biblical Cain, both of whom want her dead.

Echo is from the same mind as Strangers in Paradise, so it has some of the same strengths and weaknesses.  The characters are engaging, funny, and the reader forms a genuine bond to them almost immediately.  Fans of Terry Moore’s art will not be disappointed with Echo as it continues the tradition of strong, feminine characters who manage to feel read and believable, despite the mayhem of the world around them.   The book stumbles a bit at the climax, but it manages to right itself and come home for a satisfying resolution.

Akira2) Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo (6 volumes).  You have seen the movie.  It blew your mind.  Did you realize that the movie barely scratches the awesomeness that is Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira?  To give you an idea, most of the action in the movie takes place in just the first two volumes of the series!  The middle three volumes are almost completely ignored by the movie (only being hinted at in places) while the final volume deepens and enriches what was seen on the screen.  While some people found the movie (and the ending) to be confusing, the manga clears up some things considerably.  Others, however, are left open to the reader’s interpretation.  So don’t expect to walk away from reading this and “get” it all.

At over 2,000 pages, this manga will take up most of your Spring Break!  For people who are concerned about the cost factor (all six volumes could put you back $150 or more), Akira is part of the collection of most well-stocked libraries.  Check out all six volumes and smile as you save money for tequila shots!

Cross Game3) Cross Game by Mitsuri Adachi (8 double-sized volumes).  Ko’s family owns a sporting goods store just down the street from the Tsukishima family batting center, run by a father and four daughters.  Ko and one of the daughters, Wakaba, are the same age and always together.  They have a sweet love for each other, as only young children can.  Aoba, the younger sister is a stellar pitcher, and is frustrated by Ko’s carefree attitude towards sports, as well as life.  But, when a tragedy strikes, both families are forever changed, and Ko is forced to re-evaluate what is important in life.

This one caught me by surprise.  I first heard about it at last year’s San Diego Comic Con and picked up the first volume just to see what it was about.  I was hooked by the end of the first book.  To say that this is a baseball manga is to sell it short.  Yes, it is about baseball, but it is more about honoring the commitments one makes to friends, family, and teammates.  This is a book that works on many different levels.  Kids can read the book and get one thing out of it, while adults will read it and get another.  Either way, both will find it difficult to put it down until the final pitch is thrown.

locke and key4) Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabrielle Rodriguez (6 volumes).   After a brutal murder, the Locke family relocates to the ancestral family home in Maine.  The creepy old house offers some comfort to the family, as do the townsfolk and students at the local high school.  However, things begin to get strange as ancient mysteries are revealed, weird happenings occur, and the keys and doors in the house are not all as they appear.  Will the family discover all the mysteries of Keyhouse before the spirits who have awakened come to claim what is theirs?

Joe Hill and Gabrielle Rodriguez set up a compelling, multi-generational mystery with this series.  The characters are frightening, and the setting adds to the overall creepiness of the book.  There are some fantasy elements at play here, so it is not a straight-forward horror book.  But the mystery of what lies at the bottom of the cave will leave even the most hardened of horror fans shivering.

scott pilgrim5) Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley  (6 volumes).  Like Akira, you’ve seen the movie, now see what it was really all about!  The movie was a pretty faithful adaptation of the six-volume series by Bryan Lee O’Malley.  However, many of the sight gags played out much better in the comic than in the movie.  Additionally, there were dozens of scenes, lines and gags which never made it into the final film.  So, if you loved the movie, now is the time to sit down and enjoy the books.

Planetary6) Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday(4 volumes / one omnibus).   Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, and The Drummer are Planetary.  They are archaeologists of the strange, tasked with tracking down evidence of super-human activity, paranormal secrets, and lost histories.

When Warren Ellis is on, he is arguably the best writer in comics.  Planetary puts all of Ellis’ vast skills on display in one powerful punch!  Each volume tackles a genre of characters and stories, from pulp heroes, to science fiction, to futurism, and turns them on their ear to make the old new again, and the worn out completely unexpected.  While the penultimate issue gave me the climax I was expecting, the final issue completely surprised me and gave me the finale I never even knew I needed.  It is a rare gift to be able to deliver a package as perfect as Planetary, but Ellis and Cassaday manage make every page of Planetary vibrant and electrifying.

So there you go, my recommendations for 6 comic series to binge read this Spring Break.  What are your thoughts and recommendations?  Sound off in the comments!

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Keri Grassl is a Web professional who collaborates on a graphic novel and creates a variety of art in her free time. Her work has been shown at Gallery Sesso, Seattle Erotic Art Festival, and private clubs in the area. One of her comic illustrations has been showcased in the 2013 San Diego Comic Con souvenir program. Keri has also donated work to a number of charity auctions including the Women of Wonder fund raising campaign, Twitter Art Exhibit, and the Portland Timbers Community Fund. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Keri currently resides in Portland, Oregon.

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