Another year, and it’s another Fan Expo Vancouver in the books. Click through for pictures and quotes from some of the event’s comics special guests.
Marvel Comics doesn’t have a booth or a section at Fan Expo Vancouver. Neither does DC Comics. Actually, when you take a look at the exhibitor list, outside of the small press and micro-press outfits or the artist collectives that double as self-publishing concerns that populate Artist Alley, there is no major official comics publisher presence at all at Fan Expo Vancouver.
This might make it sound like Fan Expo is a small operation—surely, a major convention would have the two biggest comics publishers in North America represented on the floor. Here’s the thing, though: In the three years since its inception, Fan Expo Vancouver has grown into one of the the three biggest comics-related conventions in the Pacific Northwest. Last weekend saw over 25,000 people pack the Vancouver Convention Centre, putting Fan Expo Vancouver behind only Seattle’s Emerald City Comic-Con (estimated 2014 attendance: 70,000) and going neck-and-neck with Portland’s Rose City Comic Con (estimated 2014 attendance: 25,000).
Fan Expo isn’t just about comics, of course, but the same could be said for ECCC and RCCC, where movie studios, video game publishers, cosplay-themed booths, and the TV/film celebrity contingent all share significant space on the floor alongside comics-related concerns.
Really, the lack of an official comics publisher presence at Fan Expo Vancouver is more about the show’s intent than its size. Fan Expo isn’t the place you go to if you want to hear the latest announcements from Marvel, DC, Image Comics, Dark Horse, IDW Publishing, BOOM!, or whoever. What it is, is the place to go to if you want to get up close and personal with the people who actually write and illustrate some of your favorite comics—it has the more intimate and close-knit feel of a smaller show, but it has the backing of a major corporate entity—its parent company, Informa PLC, has just purchased Orlando’s MegaCon, adding it to a stable that already includes Toronto’s Fan Expo Canada and Fan Expo Dallas (a.k.a. Dallas Comic Con)—and touts the kind of recognizable name comics talent one expects to see at a Wizard World, ReedPOP, or CCI affiliated event.
In practical terms, what that means is you’ll often find your favorite artists and writers speaking quite freely at the discussion panels or even at their tables, because they’re not worried that an editor or an exec might overhear something they don’t like. There’s a lot of candid talk that goes on at Fan Expo, and fans of comics who pay attention can piece together, however incomplete, a rough picture of how the sausage gets made behind-the-scenes.
For obvious reasons, I’m not posting anything here that will get anybody in trouble, but below is a selection of comments made at the various sketch duels and comics-themed panels I attended last weekend, to give you an idea of the event’s distinct atmosphere.
Shane Davis (artist on Superman: Earth-One and Mystery in Space) with tips for aspiring comics creators looking to improve:
It doesn’t matter what your art style is, but take some life drawing classes. It can definitely help your portfolio. Also, a lot of really great writers have interesting life experiences, so you’ll probably become a better writer the older you get, the more things you see, the more stories you’ve read. The best way you’re going to learn from anything you like, whether it’s artwork or a movie or a story or a play is to ask yourself “Why do I like that?” Or if you don’t like something, ask “Why don’t I like that?” It’s weird because you can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes.
Kaare Andrews (artist/writer on Iron Fist: The Living Weapon, director of Altitude and Cabin Fever: Patient Zero) on the TV show or movie that he thinks best captures the feel of a comic book:
I think the Ang Lee Hulk made some mistakes by making panels and freeze frames. That’s not comic book language. That’s comic book language for someone who doesn’t read comic books. [The 1966 Batman TV series], that’s comics language for someone who doesn’t read comic books. The “most comic book” movie that’s been successful is the first Matrix movie. The way it was shot and the way it was written and the way it was put together was very much like a comic book. The “bullet time” was like a splash page, the story was very much like a superhero story, the composition was very comic book-like. The storyboards were done by my buddy Steve Skroce, and it looked like a comic book because [he and the Wachowskis] had worked on a comic book together. So these were comic book artists, working with comic book writers, making a comic book-style film. That’s probably the ultimate comic book movie. [Click here to read our career retrospective and Fan Expo Vancouver interview with Kaare Andrews.]
Marcus To (artist on New Warriors, Hacktivist, and Cyborg 009) on what’s changed for him since he started working in comics:
When I first started drawing [comics], it was just to draw. Now that I’ve been working in the industry for a good ten years, the goal and inspiration has changed. Now the goal is to draw my own properties and to work with other artists whose work I admire.
Rámon K. Pérez (two-time Eisner Award-winner for his work on Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand, current artist on All-New Hawkeye) on the difference between how comics and magazines compensate artists for redraws:
I’ve worked a lot outside of comics, in magazines. If [you’re asked to redraw a cover] in that industry, they pay you again. If I do a cover for a magazine and [the editor] says, “We’ve decided to go in a different direction,” and asks you to redraw the cover, they pay you the full rate again. That doesn’t happen in comics. In comics, they just go, “Just redraw it.” It’s a weird, bizarre little industry. You have to really love comics to be in it.Cary Nord (Eisner Award-winning artist on Conan, current artist on X-O Manowar) on the weirdest commission he’s ever had to draw at a convention:
Dark Horse released an “R-rated” cover for the Conan book when I was doing it, it had a naked lady on it. One guy asked me up to the green room at this convention and he wanted me to draw a bra [on the naked woman on the cover]. He pays me fifty bucks to do this, and while I’m drawing it with a Sharpie, I realize that I’m sort of playing into this sexual thing of his [laughs].
Chad Hardin (artist on Harley Quinn and the licensed Dragon Age comics), on the active artists whose work he currently follows:
Stan Sakai, Masamune Shirow, Rafael Albuquerque, anything Jim Lee or Marc Silvestri, Cary Nord who was here [at Fan Expo Vancouver] and I didn’t even get to meet him. I’ll probably try and kidnap him. In the next 20 years, if Cary isn’t the next Frank Frazetta, I don’t know what happened—some of the stuff he is producing is just phenomenal. Ryan Ottley is a favorite of mine. Fiona Staples. Oh, and Todd McFarlane was my first love.
Sara Richard (artist on Kitty & Dino, cover artist on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic), on her favorite commission requests at conventions:
I love super obscure character requests. One of my favorite X-Men characters is Gossamyr, she’s this really super-obscure character from the ’80s. She looks a little like David Bowie from The Labyrinth. She’s this cute little alien girl. I also like Venus Dee Milo [from X-Force/X-Statix]. Oh, and Jem. If you ask me for an obscure Jem and the Holograms character, I will do a backflip behind the table then come back around and draw it for you.
Dan Parent (long-time Archie and Betty and Veronica artist and writer, 2013 GLAAD Media Award recipient), on how the experience of working for Archie Comics has changed over the years:
For many years, there were a lot of things we couldn’t do—like everything. For the last five or six years, we had a new CEO take over and his attitude has been totally different. His attitude is like, “I want ideas! I want ideas!” Which is why you see stuff like Afterlife with Archie, the new Sabrina book, and you see all these new concepts because he wanted this stuff to happen at Archie. Kevin Keller’s introduction, which was about five years ago now—we would never have had a gay character at Archie under the old guard. I would say the last five or six years have been the most creative years I have had, which is unusual, because usually, after twentysomething years [working with the company], you’re just ready for retirement. And for me it’s the opposite, because they’re letting me do all sorts of creative things.
Steve McNiven (artist on Wolverine: Old Man Logan, Civil War) on loose vs. tight pencils:
I learned early on that the looser you are with your pencils, the more you’re giving up control of the look [of the comic] to the inker. So if you’ve got something sketchy, and you’ve got two or three different lines for the inker to choose from, he might not pick the right one.
That being said, I don’t really do line weight. I draw the line very specifically, and very deliberately, but I don’t go thick or thin. The inker knows more about thick or thin—the ink will naturally flow and the inker will have a better feel of how that’s going to go with his brush or his nib. Whereas with a pencil, you literally have to draw that, and for me that’s just a waste of time since the inker is going to do a better job. So I just make sure that the line is very precise, and leave all the line weight to the inker.