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FOG! Heads To Long Beach Comic Expo: Panels! Interviews! The Dwayne McDuffie Award! & More!

Written by Lily and Generoso Fierro

When we moved to the Los Angeles area, Long Beach Comic Expo was one of the events that we placed on our calendar nearly a year in advance. And with the success of 2015’s well programmed and impeccably organized Long Beach Comic Con, we had excitement and high expectations for LBCE.

Though smaller in scale, the organizers of LBCE tailor the weekend celebration to the origin of it all: comics. As a result of this focus, LBCE has a more intimate setting with focused programming. Sure, you will find elements of television and film here, but unlike LBCC and Comikaze, comics, particularly those of the independent variety, shine here.

If you like comics and want to attend an event where you can not only grab trades and vintage comics but also pick up work from some of the strongest new creators, then LBCE is for you.

The Panels

During any comics event, the panels tend to fall on three points on the success to failure spectrum: at both ends and right in the middle.

For LBCE, on the overwhelmingly successful side was the “Down to Nerd: Invader Zim and Gargoyles: Conqueror Vs Protector” panel with Gargoyles creator Greg Weisman and Invader Zim writer Eric Trueheart and comic series artist Dave Crosland.

Hosted by the vibrant Ruth Ann Thompson for the first live podcast episode of GeekChic PromotionsDown To Nerd series, the panel, featuring the teams of both comics series which had origins in 90s television, dug into the origins, influences, and adaptation process for Gargoyles and Invader Zim. With pointed questions that had the exact level of detail to engage fans and newcomers and fast one-liners flying between the teams, the conversation covered Shakespearean three act structure, building a story from a situational concept, and the headaches of creating a comic for a previously licensed entity along with a couple of fun questions about fan favorite characters.

Down To Nerd aims to deliver an inviting, inclusive show for everyone, and in this first episode, it highly succeeded with an entertaining discussion that managed to bridge two unlikely series, extend to longtime fans, and teach anyone unfamiliar with either Gargoyles or Invader Zim, the comics or the television show.

GeekChic’s Ruth Ann Thompson moderates the “Down to Nerd: Invader Zim and Gargoyles: Conqueror Vs Protector Panel”

Right at the middle of the success spectrum sat the “#MakeComics: Pro’s & Their Penciling Styles” panel. Featuring Scott Koblish (Deadpool), Amanda Conner (Harley Quinn), Jeremy Haun (The Beauty, Bad Karma), and Alé Garza (Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi), the group regaled plenty of interesting stories about getting their feet into the business and day-in-the-life tales of working as a commercial comicbook artist, but alas, the topic of penciling remained untouched beyond the initial question of the scene and tone foundations of penciling, to which we only heard the clever quips and thoughts of Scott Koblish because there was a bit of a disconnection, and the other panel members did not arrive until about a quarter into the hour.

While a bit unmoderated, which leads to a few more tangents than desired, each member provided encouraging words for any developing artist along with keen observations on the mercurial nature of success in the comics world, which at least allowed the audience to hear some informative anecdotes.

Amanda Conner (Harley Quinn) speaks during the “#MakeComics: Pro’s & Their Penciling Styles” panel

Now, our last panel of the weekend, “Eat.Geek.Play: A Converstion with Fabian Nicieza,” stood staunchly on the side of failure. (Not) moderated by Kevin Knight of Eat.Geek.Play, the conversation really was only a conversation that could have happened in a coffee shop.

With non-stop discussion of the internal turmoil at Marvel and how Fabian Nicieza (New Warriors, New Mutants) navigated the landscape, the event disregarded the audience, jumping from one insider tangent to another, ultimately leading to no time for questions from the audience, and reminding us that this is not the way to run a panel from either the moderator or speaker perspective.

While technically not a panel, high on our list of events to attend was the announcement of the winner of the second annual Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics. After the call for submissions opened at LBCC 2015, this year’s candidate pool tripled in size and after review, narrowed down to the following finalists:

  • Brandon Easton and Dennis Medri’s Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven

In the touching ceremony, last year’s winner, Nilah Magruder, spoke about her experience as the first winner, and Charlotte Fullerton, McDuffie’s wife, honored her husband and reaffirmed his mission of the award, which was being presented on Dwayne’s birthday and the day before the fifth anniversary of his passing. After her sincere speech that thanked this year’s committee and encouraged multiple perspectives to continue creating, Charlotte appropriately had the honor of announcing the winner.

Last year’s Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity winner, Nilah Magruder delivered a moving speech.

The 2016 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity went to Ms. Marvel, and G. Willow Wilson accepted it via video, creating, as she termed it, “a time paradox,” for she could not be there in person and had recorded a thank you speech without knowing who the final winner would be. The Dwayne McDuffie Award epitomizes the forward progress of comics, and like Martha Donato, the founder of LBCC and LBCE who expressed her gratitude to Charlotte for choosing this event hold the ceremony, we were also thankful that the McDuffie Award presentation has its home at the close and comics-centric settings of Long Beach.

The 2016 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity

The Artists

As with any comicbook convention/expo that we attend, much of our time is spent weaving through the aisles of Artist Alley. We had the opportunity to speak with some of our favorite creators about their current and previous work, leading to a weekend filled with conversations that covered everything from fine art to television to the 1970s.

Brian Buccellato 
(The Flash, Detective Comics, Sons of the Devil)

FOG! contributor, Lily Fierro speaks to Foster and Sons of the Devil artist and author, Brian Buccellato

One of the first creators we searched for was Brian Buccellato. Lily has a great fondness for Foster, his series about fatherhood for an alienated veteran in a post-apocalyptic world, so when we heard Buccellato would be at LBCE, we made it a priority to find him. Buccellato’s most current series Sons of the Devil features similar cinematic and 1970s influences of Foster, and both works underscore his gift with exploring our psychological state and motivations in non-ideal conditions, which we discussed at length.

Lily Fierro: It’s nice to meet you. I know most of our readership knows you more from your work with the bigger comics publishing houses, but I’m really here to talk to you about your work with Foster. For me and the people who have read it, we have one question on our minds, and that is what are you going to do with it next? The Kickstarter campaign wrapped up some time ago, and then you released the first trade with the first 6 issues.

Brian Buccellato: Well, I have other stories to tell with Foster, and I recently adapted it as a feature screenplay, so I hope to be in the position someday to make it into a movie, and that’s kind of what I want to do with Foster. I currently don’t have any designs to do another comic book with it yet because I have other things on my plate like Sons Of the Devil with Image, which is my creator owned book, and I’m also going to be announcing another creator owned book later this year, so I am keeping myself busy with other projects. But, Foster is something that is close to my heart, and I don’t want to let it go, so I’d rather wait and do it the way that I want to do it when I have the opportunity to do it the right way.

It’s a great story, and I’m glad to hear that you want to put it into a screenplay because I felt that Foster had a lot of film influences in it. As I read it, all I could think of was Walter Hill’s film, Southern Comfort and many of the 1970s post Vietnam veteran films like Rolling Thunder.

100% correct. I was born in 1970, so the seventies are a kind of magical period for me. All of my favorite movies are from the late sixties through the seventies. Obviously Taxi Driver, French Connection, and all of the New York based stories inspired me, and Scorsese was also a huge influence on me. That is my personal taste; I like dark material, crime material. And, I also have a son, so when I wrote Foster, I was also writing about fatherhood and the very male primal need to protect your son from the physical harms of the world, so that’s what that story is really about, and that’s why it is so personal to me.

Could you talk a bit about Sons Of The Devil and your influences there?

Sons Of The Devil is basically a book about cults. The conceit is, what if you were an orphan and you didn’t know who your family was, and one day you found out that you were the son of a horrible Jim Jones/Charles Manson type cult figure? What would that do to you? And what if you found out that you had a bunch of siblings out there whom you didn’t know existed? What would you do then?

For me, writing about cults was like writing about two things: it is writing about master manipulators who could influence people to kill and commit suicide because I have always been intrigued by those types of personalities. Specifically, what does that person have that he is able to feed off of people who are looking for answers? There’s definitely some religious aspects; that is, these people need something to believe in, and as a result, these [cult leaders] manipulate them. And Sons Of The Devil is also about what type of person who could fall into that [cult community]. Travis, the main character doesn’t know where he came from, and to this point, he’s had it really rough. He wants a family, and so it’s a personal story for him, and he has to learn the lesson that the family that you choose is more important than the biology. It doesn’t matter where you came from and who your dad was; good or bad, you get to choose who you spend your life with, and that is kind of what that story is about.

That kind of story makes sense for you given your appreciation of 70s films because cults were everywhere then. Did you read criminology texts as research?

Not really, no. Most of my homework is in the books and films that I read. We all consciously or unconsciously borrow from the things that we love. I think there was a comic that I wrote a few years ago that only years later I realized that I had a character say something that was in some random obscure movie that I had watched some 25 years earlier.

And of course, Travis in Sons of the Devil is a direct reference to Taxi Driver, right?

Yes, absolutely, that was a conscious choice. 

Jason Shawn Alexander 
(Empty Zone, Val Helsing: From Beneath the Rue Morgue)

Artist and writer, Jason Shawn Alexander speaks about his
unique visual style and his latest book, Empty Zone

Painter and comics artist Jason Shawn Alexander has one of the most stunning visual styles in modern comics. At LBCE, Alexander featured Empty Zone, his series for Image. The cover of the trade features an outstanding portrait of Corinne, the protagonist, and serves as a preview of the dense, haunting, and elegant artwork on every page. With stylistic influences from Blade Runner and Derek Jarman’s Jubilee, Empty Zone has a similar tone of desperation in its plot, which is heightened by its impeccable visuals, artwork that we had the pleasure of discussing with Alexander at his table in LBCE’s Artist Alley.

Lily Fierro: Jason, could you speak about your work, and more specifically speak to the influences of paint as your art is very striking?

Jason Shawn Alexander: Thank you so much. My influences kind of range all over the place from fine art to comic books. I think because I exhibit in galleries, and then switch from gallery work to comic book work, it just keeps everything fresh, and it keeps a different kind of vibe for the comic book work that I do.

Could you talk a little bit about Empty Zone and your artwork and story there?

Empty Zone is my creator owned book for Image Comics; it is a cyberpunk ghost story. I’ve done work for hire for comics like Batman and Hellboy, and this is me just getting to write and draw everything that I love: all the creepy stuff, all of the dramatic stuff.

You know one of my early influences that led me to work in comics was The Crow, and I think I still love putting that level of drama in comic books. I want people to genuinely feel something when they read comics. It is close to a still perfect visual medium: It’s budgetless! You can be in space with one panel and in the desert with another panel, and no one has to worry about sets or actors.The pacing is unique in that it it’s like a blending of fine art and literature. It’s an incredible medium!

I see the influence of Egon Schiele in your work, especially in the way you draw people.

Germans and Austrians really have made a lot of my favorite work: Schiele and Gustav Klimt, and then a little bit later with illustrators like Käthe Kollwitz. There is so much emotion in that work and such strong line from Egon Schiele to Käthe Kollwitz. The Germans and Austrians have such beautiful depth in those drawings.

And I think that it is very important for comics as well. As you know it is a medium where there is a lot of visual experimentation that is going on, but it’s not always the most human-understanding kind of medium. I always think more of film in that kind of way.

I think back in the eighties and nineties artists were bringing it with some really experimental and beautiful work, but the stories weren’t really there. But now, with what Image is doing with Saga and Southern Bastards, these guys are bringing it. The stories are bringing in adult material, but I don’t think that the art is there now. I think that there is so much art out there now that is so surface and just there to get it done. If both of the things are on, then you have something like Arkham Asylum and The Crow, and thus you have stuff that has impact.

Like Scott McCloud would say, “If all you have is images then you just have a portfolio, and if it is just words then it’s a book.”

Dave Crosland 
(Invader Zim, Scarface)

Dave Crosland talks to FOG about his love of Invader Zim and his own book, Ego Rehab

Given the success of the Down to Nerd panel with the Invader Zim team, we could not pass up visiting Dave Crosland at his table. Crosland’s fascination with more sinister looking art diffuses into Invader Zim, creating a style that is paradoxically both fun and eerie. As the antithesis to his commercial work with Zim, Crosland also featured Ego Rehab, the manifestation of his imaginary battle to complete his own comics, which he extended on in our conversation about balancing professional and personal work.

Lily Fierro: I would like to discuss with you today two things: one, your work on Zim, as we just came from your panel on the series, and two, your work on Ego Rehab, which is really beautiful.

Dave Crossland: Thank you. Ego Rehab was born out of me being frustrated with myself for not drawing my own ideas. I have been doing a lot of work for hire, and I have been doing animation for a lot of years, but I finally reached the point where I have to be writing and drawing my own comics again. Instead of just pitching it, (that whole process is a pain in trying to get another publisher to pick it up), I decided to just make it on my own.

So, when I was at the peak of my frustration, I forced myself to sit on my balcony for about two hours, and I actually wrote about this in the back of my book. I just sat down with a stack of paper and a cup of coffee and a pen, and I was like,“write and lay out a comic.” So, after about two hours, I had a Ego Rehab. Between jobs and office work, it took me about a year and a half to get it done.

Congratulations! I know that it is really tough thing because when you are writing on your own, you have the whole “kill your babies” conflict. Was it harder for you to work on your own as opposed to the work for hire scenario where you were doing similar work but on a hard crunch time schedule?

I guess both of them are challenging. This wasn’t more difficult; it was just difficult in different ways. Work for hire is actually golden as long as you enjoy the property, just like I really love working with Zim. I love the team that I’m working with, from the editorial staff all the way down to production. So, I really dig everyone that I’m working with, and I really love the project itself, so it’s easy. All I have to do is show up and do my job. Just show up every day and draw, and that is really simple, but then you have notes and deadlines that shift, or you’ll get behind, and you’ll be like, “Oh no, I need more time!” and I have to stay up all night, so there were definitely challenges working for hire.

When you are creating your own thing, the challenge is that you just have to get it done. You have to sit down and say to yourself, “Okay I have deadlines; I have a publishing date, so I have to get this out.” Also, you have to not be a perfectionist about what you doing. Like with work for hire, as much as I enjoy it, I’m able to distance myself from it personally because it’s not like my baby, which is just a fun thing as I get to draw every day.

Whereas Ego Rehab could have very well became my baby. So, eventually, you have to take that out of the equation and you just have to create because ultimately I’m not making this for myself; I’m making it for other people to read. I want to share this with people, so it doesn’t matter if it’s perfect or not, I just need get it done so that people can see it.

I love the animated show Invader Zim, but how aware were you of the original property when you began drawing for it? How did you come into this when you started working on the comic?

I was a latecomer to Invader Zim. My friends in the Midwest, where I went to school, got into it the week that I moved. So, while I was moving, I saw that they were watching it on DVD, and I thought that was cool, but all I had time for was packing up. So, I ended up in California never really seeing Zim, and then the comic book started to come out, and I started watching the cartoon, and I was like, “ I get it, this is some weird creepy s***.”

That and Rocco’s Modern Life and how they made fun of all the crappy stuff about being adults. I am a latecomer fan. So, for me, Invader Zim was this well known property and it was weird, and even when I did my Hot Topic variant, I just wanted to approach it differently. I had seen fan art and I’d seen people doing their take on Zim and it looked just like the cartoon Zim, and so I came in, and I wanted to do MY Zim. I want to make it weird. ugly, and creepy.

That it is, indeed.

Jeremy Haun 
(The Beauty, Bad Karma, Wolf Moon)

Jeremy Haun discusses the Beauty series and his
contribution to one of Lily’s favs of 2015, Bad Karma

Immediately after the “#MakeComics: Pro’s & Their Penciling Styles” panel, we spoke with Jeremy Haun. As big fans of Bad Karma, we looked forward to discussing the collaborative process on that anthology. In addition, given the premise of Haun’s newest series, The Beauty, we also wanted to hear more about the role of morality in his stories.

Lily Fierro: I am very excited to speak with you today because Bad Karma was my second favorite release of 2015. I would love to hear your thoughts about drawing across so many different time periods and genres for the Solomon Gunn story.

Jeremy Haun: When you work in comics, one of the nice things is that you can do a story that takes place in Japan, then you could do another one that takes place in World War II Poland, and I love that, so we really wanted to do something where you could jump from one place to another. I just pick out the most fun things that we could do and just tell that in one story, so that was kind of the goal there.

Too much research gets to be a pain, but I love research, and I love time periods, and I also love playing with all the various accoutrement, whether it is swords, longboats, or armor.

In terms of the Karma, you also wrote Chaos Agent. I am Buddhist, so when Bad Karma came into our inbox from our editor Stefan Blitz, I was actually really thrilled seeing something that is almost always looked at in a hippie Eastern way interpreted into a comic into a Western adapted way.

We really wanted to deal with a theme within the book, and karma is a fascinating concept. It is something that we get to see through a Western lens, but still, that was something we wanted to look into each of the stories and show that what you do comes around and how you do it really plays into things. Chaos Agent was a story I wanted to tell for a long time and it kind of fit perfectly into themes that fit into the book.

And what are you folks thinking about doing in terms of another volume for the collective?

The project came together very serendipitously. Getting that many people involved in a project at the same time, to be able to turn everything in and have it within our schedules, was an amazing thing.

We plan on doing the second volume and are working on it kind of steadily. The biggest problem that we run into is that we are all just so busy with other things right now, and I found that personally if I’m writing and drawing something, I can absolutely control that pace. I can say that I’m not going to sleep more than four hours tonight so that I can get this thing done.

Now that I am doing the writing, and I have other artists drawing it, I have to understand that they can get really busy too, and I have to respect that and realise that sometimes that’s just the way things happen. We do plan on doing another one. We are all planning on meeting in Manhattan, Kansas this next weekend, and Alex, Seth, and I are going to talk about Bad Karma Two to see what we can do to make this happen.

So could you now speak about The Beauty, your most current series?

The Beauty is a new book that I’m doing for Image, well, actually, it is six issues in and tried and true at this point, so The Beauty is about an STD that makes you beautiful. I was there in LA when I came up with the concept, and I was just thinking about the things that we do in the name of vanity. We look at ourselves in the mirror, and all we see are flaws, so I wanted to take a look at the fantasy version of it in the way that we could change all that by just getting this disease, and well, would we?

It becomes a morality play. People choosing to be something completely different just to look good, just to have people pay attention to them. Then, if we got to the point where there was a side effect, something that was bad, would people still try to catch that disease? If the lifespan after getting the disease was two years, but you could be super hot, would you? Some people probably still would.

The theme of morality is kind of similar in both books. Is this something that you’re more interested in generally writing about when you are working on your own works?

I think that fiction is almost always some sort of morality play, even with superheroes, where you have the light and the dark, good and evil kind of thing. In my work, I really like examining the gray area between light and dark. I find that most of us try to be O.K. people. We try to do good things, but it shifts along the way, and we try to have different views of society. We look at things in different ways; the thing that might be important to you, may not be as important to somebody else, and I like examining that with my characters.

The Beauty is a perfect example of the gray area because you’ll have one character who will have no problems with killing people or whatever it is, but another character may not be able to look at the world in any kind of violent way.

The two days of LBCE 2016 flew by! We were thrilled to speak with artists and to learn more about the vast world of comics from panels and from hunting through comics bins (we picked up vintage issues of Black Kiss and Heavy Metal along with a volume of Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her Pals).

The LBCE cosplayers were showing off some truly impressive DIY made gems this year

Always well organized with a crew of exceptional volunteers, Long Beach Comic Expo and Long Beach Comic Con will always remain on our calendars as long as we are in Southern California.

Lily escapes near death at the hands of a bulked up Iron Man at LBCE

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