(Some NSFW language and topics follow)
It’s impossible to keep track of Marvel’s X-Men universe and the endless series of X-titles that have wrestled for shelf pace over the years. I tried to keep track of the characters and titles at one point in my life, but realized I’d feel a lot better if I gave up.
This week, I stumbled upon a new X-Men “#1″: Amazing X-Men. The cover stood out because it featured an all-time favorite character (Nightcrawler), and the artwork took me straight back to the early days of the (Cockrum, then Byrne) “All-New X-Men.”
It wasn’t just the artwork; the story itself was a flashback to those days. Just as I had myself convinced that comic book publishers had forgotten that comics can be fun, I was thrilled to discover that Amazing X-Men was cover-to-cover fun. Take, for instance, this panel with the super-brainy Beast, chasing down some of the villainous, elfin “Bamfs.” They’re accused of stealing equipment and drinking Wolverine’s whiskey:
With panels and direction like that, creators Jason Aaron and Ed McGuinness crafted a comic that could have worked for all audiences. All the elements are there: great story, great characters, and a sense of fun. However, because the book’s rating is “T+,” there are a few things that prevent children under…let’s say 15… from reading it.
That’s right–Wolverine and Storm talk about foreplay. Storm is a woman of needs, dammit, and Wolverine is sure as shit going to take care of them before they “do it.” Was this exchange necessary? NOT IN THE LEAST. In fact, the “T+” rating could have been taken down to a “12+” by simply, um, massaging the dialog a bit to not be as overtly sexual. The conversation was completely out of place with the tone set for the rest of the book.
And just so we’re clear: everyone’s banging at the ole Mutant Mansion:
Yep, Iceman’s added another cube to his freezer, and there’s another one lined up behind her. You da man, Ice-dawg!
I don’t get the need to sexualize comic book super-heroes. Further, I don’t get why children are being frozen out (Iceman-style) of the target audience. Would the comic have suffered without the sexual references? Of course not. Did it suffer because of them? Well, younger kids can’t read T+ comics, so you tell me. Should kids be allowed to read X-Men comics? What about when the new X-Men movie hits in 2014, and they’re dying to investigate the source material?
I had the same issues with a lot of the garbage flushed out by DC Comics’ “New 52″ line of books. It’s just not right to tell a young boy, “Sorry, son, you can’t read Batman until you’re much older.”
For one hot minute on Friday, I had planned to go to the Wizard World comic convention in Rosemont on Saturday.
I made the decision as I was roasting at a White Sox game, when the thought of walking an air conditioned floor alongside Batgirl cosplayers and fellow back issue-seekers was especially appealing.
When I got home from the game (a trouncing that involved a Minnesota Twins grand slam), I went online to see how much Wizard World tickets were: one-day passes for Saturday were just shy of $60 per person. Since I had planned to take my son, that would mean a significant investment, not including parking, just to walk in the door.
I hadn’t totally ruled it out at that point. Instead, I kept reading through the Wizard World site to learn more about the event. Loads of genre celebrities were in town: Stan Lee! Wil Wheaton! Zachary Quinto! Brandon Routh (the George Lazenby of movie Supermen)! Each of them had predetermined autograph and photo-op prices that caused my debit card to release an audible yelp. Though the Chicago autograph pricing is no longer available, check out this analogous example of “VIP” experiences currently being offered on the Wizard World circuit. Once I added up the jawdropping cost of “once in a lifetime” opportunities with beloved sci-fi and fantasy celebrities to the already suffocating admission price, I decided to make other plans for my Saturday. For the record, those plans involved enchiladas at Uncle Julio’s and an afternoon screening of Red 2 (Total cost for two: $75, significantly less than a day at Wizard World)
I love the idea of creators, artists, and actors meeting and interacting with their fans and admirers in a friendly place like a comic con. As a pop culture fan, I totally get the desire to further personalize a piece of art (movie, picture, comic, etc.) with a creator’s signature. Perhaps I’m a cranky old man for saying this, but there used to be a time when those interactions didn’t carry a price tag–or at least not such a high-rolling price tag.
When Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics by Les Daniels was published in 1991, Stan Lee did an in-store signing at the Kroch’s and Brentano’s on Wabash in the Loop. I bought a copy, and he signed it (“Excelsior! Stan Lee”). It was a simple, easy-to-understand, transaction. In 2013, for the price of $299, one can get in on the Stan Lee VIP Experience. As Wizard World’s page explains, the VIP treatment includes an exclusive badge, lithograph, autographable 8×10, a photo op, early access to the show, guaranteed access to the Stan Lee panel, and “speedpass” access for Stan Lee’s autograph session. So, for the general price of a monthly car payment, you can line jump at the comic con for a one-minute interaction (autograph + picture) with Stan “The Man.” And you get an exclusive badge.
The speedpass concept has irked me since I first came to consider its existence at Great America. It was maybe ten years ago; I had just shuffled into line for the Demon, and had accepted my fate of having to wait in line for 45 minutes to finally get my chance. As I leaned back against the metal bar line partitions, I noticed kids running past me in a totally separate line. They had paid extra for the “Flash Pass,” a way to circumvent lines for a bunch of extra money. The Flash Pass seemed like extortion (if you really want to have a good time, you’re going to have to pay up); a fact that felt especially icky at a general admission park that entertains kids of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Expanding the “Flash Pass” mechanics to shaking hands with celebrities is just plain twisted.
Stan Lee’s autograph isn’t something that should be “Flash Passed.” Furthermore, as the creator of Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Hulk, it comes across as more than a little greedy to ask that much money of his fans.
Along those lines, shame on anyone who pays $175 for speedpass VIP access to WWE superstar Sheamus. You’ve been had, fella.
I understand that charging top rates for autographs and photo ops is a new and lucrative economic model for celebrities, Stan included; this is how they make their money at conventions. Since this model works, I’m not foolish enough to expect it to go away. I would like to recommend some changes, however …
From here on in, celebrities should charge half of what they currently charge for autographs. Instead of counting on a small handful to pay a big premium to cover their nut, they should allow for more people to get in on the autographs at a lower cost. I’m not going to pay $30 for Ernie Hudson, the black Ghostbuster, to sign something for me, but if he was asking $15 I’d consider it. And as much as I enjoyed the Adam West Batman show growing up, there’s no way I’ll spend $60 to get Adam West to sign his name for me. On the other hand, for the price of $30, I’d happily whip out my Bat-Sharpie and let him go to work.
Considering the expense-to-profit ratio, I tried to figure out what a celebrity’s cost to attend Wizard World might be, and what the potential profit could be.
If a celebrity stayed in a standard room at the Hotel Intercontinental near the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center for three weekend nights (Thursday-Saturday), he or she would pay somewhere around $199 per night, for a total of $600, pre-taxes/fees. Depending on airline flown and how far in advance tickets are purchased, a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Chicago would likely run between $750-$1250. Add a few meals and some ground transportation into the mix, and the total cost for the weekend trip would probably come in between $2500-$4000.
Using Adam West as an example, at $60 per autograph, maybe he’ll get 300 takers over the course of a weekend. That’s 18K in his pocket for signing his name, less whatever percentage needs to be kicked back to the promoter. By any standards, it amounts to an insanely healthy profit, even once expenses are backed out.
Let’s now say that Adam West were to charge $30 per autograph. Suddenly, he might see more parents walking their kids over to meet him. People who might have been on the fence about spending money to meet the potbellied Batman would more enthusiastically whip out their wallets. Maybe the total amount of takers would inch closer to 500 for the weekend: the result would amount to a total of 15K, only 3K less than the profit potential seen with higher priced autographs. Only in this case, he would have turned off a lot less fans. And really, that 3K can’t make that much of a difference.
The practice of charging for autographs is here to stay. I accept that. But I challenge celebrities to be more fan-friendly in the way they place value on their signatures.
I can’t explain it, but I always have to know in advance what surprises await at the end of every comic book movie I see. Plot setups, Easter eggs, jokes–I’ve sought them all out well in advance of my movie-going experiences.
Case in point:
(Spoilers ahead for movies that have been out for longer than two months.)
Daredevil? Spoiled. Bullseye lives.
The Incredible Hulk? Spoiled. Tony Stark in a bar.
Iron Man 1-3? Spoiled. Nick Fury. Thor’s hammer. Bruce Banner.
X-Men 3? Spoiled. Xavier lives.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Spoiled. Deadpool? Logan drinking.
Green Lantern? Spoiled. Yellow Sinestro.
Thor? Spoiled. Cosmic cube. Loki.
Captain America? Spoiled. Avengers preview.
The Amazing Spider-Man? Spoiled. I don’t know what that was.
Avengers? Spoiled. Thanos and shawarma.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the details of The Wolverine leading up to the film’s release. My expectations were fairly low after the last solo Wolverine movie, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the comic book miniseries the movie was based on. I knew I would eventually see it, of course; comic movies sucker me in every time (although I’ve yet to see Man of Steel, and am in no hurry).
Only one day after The Wolverine arrived in theaters, there I was in my local theater, eating nachos, drinking Coke Zero, and taking in a 3 p.m. screening. It was much better than I had expected–Hugh Jackman continues to own and grow the role. It’s remarkable to consider that The Wolverine is Jackman’s sixth movie appearance as the clawed Canadian mutant (including his profane cameo in X-Men First Class, which I spoiled for myself well in advance).
Once the credits started, I got up and headed for the exit. I never thought for a moment about the possibility of a post-credits sequence. As I walked down the stairs and past the screen, I realized that no one else was getting up from their seats. No one. They obviously knew something I didn’t.
Hedging a bet, I parked myself in a seat by the exit to see if there was something extra waiting for me. I didn’t have to wait too long–shortly after the initial round of credits rolled came what had to have been the most exciting post-credits moment since Samuel L. Jackson first popped in on Robert Downey, Jr.
No joke, I got chills as the post-credits sequence unfolded and beautifully set up the next movie in the X-Men franchise: Days of Future Past. And that’s as spoiler-y as I’ll get.
Iron Man 3 isn’t a very good movie.
When you go to see it (because I know the draw to see it is impossible to resist), you’ll disagree with me for the first 30 minutes. “This is awesome,” you’ll say. “You hate fun,” you’ll add. And then, the movie will break bad on you just as it did on me. Here are seven reasons Iron Man 3 failed to deliver on the momentum created by the first wave of Marvel Studios movies:
1. You can fly an Avengers Quinjet through the plot holes. I realize we’re talking about a comic book movie here, but nothing seemed logical from the moment Tony Stark crash landed in Tennessee.
2. Tony Stark befriends a boy genius (Hey! He’s just like a young Tony!). Great effort is put into Tony Stark maintaining his acerbic edges around the youth, but the contrived relationship never feels right.
3. Iron Man 3 exists to sell toys and merchandise. There was no real story-advancing reason to transform War Machine into Iron Patriot, but the armor sure would look cool on the shelves at Target. And that armor bonanza that flies in to save the day at the end of the movie? Action figure money in the bank.
4. The Mandarin. Missed opportunity in every possible way. Anything said beyond that would be a violation of Spoiler Law.
5. Extremis. The main plot point (a bio-electronic virus), based on one of the more memorable Iron Man comic book story lines of the past 20 years, was never well explained in the movie. Furthermore, it wasn’t enough to carry a two hour movie.
6. Iron Man. There’s just not enough actual Iron Man in the movie. Most of the scenes involving Iron Man armor found Tony Stark manipulating it remotely, or struggling to make it work.
7. War Machine. His repeat inclusion in this sequel was an unneeded distraction from the crowd-pleasing feature attraction of Robert Downey, Jr. in the dual role of Tony Stark and Iron Man. By shoehorning the one-dimensional War Machine into Iron Man 3, director Shane Black moved further away from storytelling that actually advanced the characters and story.
And yes, there’s a post-credits scene that ties into the greater movie universe. It’s more along the lines of the “shawarma” scene at the end of the Avengers than the “Thor’s hammer” scene at the end of Iron Man 2.
This year, the convention adds another pen mark to the growth chart on the wall. McCormick Place carved out more space for the 2013 show, a canny decision forced by the size of last year’s crowds. The result was more forgiving aisle and walkway space, alleviating some of the can’t breathe, shoulder-to-shoulder bottlenecking that defined the con’s peak hours last year.
I picked up my pass at 9:30 this morning, at which point the line to get in (doors opened at 10 a.m.) was easily a few hundred deep. I hate waiting in line for anything, from roller coaster rides to restaurant dinners, but at least there was visual entertainment. As I cooled my heels, I saw four Harley Quinns, a Ghostbuster, the Martian Manhunter, Captain America, the Falcon, and Black Canary.
Cosplay was everywhere this year, much more so than I can remember in the past two years. Every comic character seemed to be represented at C2E2, from the obscure to the well-known, A-Z from Ant Man to Zatanna. The amount of care and effort put into some of the outfits falls somewhere between Broadway show to Hollywood production. Here’s Spider-Man and gal pal Mary Jane (with Poison Ivy and someone Catwoman-ish to their left):
Running around with the cosplaying Hawkmen, Jokers, and Deadpools were some of the most scantily-clad characters in comics, including Starfire, Emma Frost, and the aforementioned Zatanna. It was like walking through the dorkiest gentleman’s club in the Midwest (cue: “Welcome to the Jungle”… “All right guys, now approaching the stage, please welcome … POWER GIRL”). I had had to make a point to distract and whisk my 11 year-old past those particular cosplayers (“Hey, son, did I just see Stan Lee? No? Oh, my bad.”)
The naughty cosplayers all came dangerously close to violating this rule, spelled out in the C2E2 program guide:
I’ll reserve judgement on the guys lining up to take pictures of and with those girls. Maybe they just happen to be huge fans of the characters, and were thrilled to see those super-heroines brought to three-dimensional life.
Speaking of cosplay, I don’t know what this was, but it was awesome:
… and I’m not sure what this was, either. A Star Wars character?
The first publisher I noticed when I walked into the hall was Dark Horse, whose bright, well-organized space was positioned in what was arguably the event’s prime location. Curiously, DC Comics was nowhere to be found at C2E2 (outside of its writers and artists making panel appearances). Seems like a huge missed opportunity to me, but it’s a move consistent with several years of awful editorial decisions. Call me bitter; I hate super villains who rape, and I miss Superman’s red underpants.
We made a few panels, including one featuring “Toy Hunter” Jordan Hembrough. The worst part of panels tends to be the Q&A portion, which gets tiresome fast. Usually the first 3-4 questions are fine, but then a handful of attendees force themselves out of their seats to ask a question for the sake of “having a moment” with the panel guest. Whenever I hear a fan say, “I have a two-part question,” I start clock-watching, if not heading towards the door. Understanding that iPhones take lousy long-range pictures, I ask that you please forgive this shot of the Toy Hunter panel:
Just like going to Vegas, I always set a budget before walking into a convention. My budget for purchases this year was a combined $100 for my son and me. What I foolishly failed to include in the budget was the cost of parking, food, and admission. For the past three years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have media access to the event. Furthermore, for the past two years I’d gone to C2E2 on Sundays so my son could also go for free (children are admitted for free on Sundays). Since I’m committed to a Sox game tomorrow, “free day” wasn’t an option for this year. What I never bothered to check was how much a paid admission actually cost. The answer: $40 for the privilege of walking in the door to spend more money.
My son was on an action figure mission, and shortly after we walked in, he found a wall of DC Universe figures. “It’s Black Manta! I never see him anywhere!” he said. “There’s no price tag on it,” I said, knowing that meant I’d have to go “Turkish Grand Bazaar” on the dealer and haggle, which I enjoy as much as waiting in lines. “How much for Black Manta?” I asked the dealer. “Ummm … forty-five dollars,” he said. I explained to my son that we’d see Black Manta again, and probably for less money. Sure enough, within ten minutes we found the Aquaman nemesis for ten dollars less. The scourge of the seas is now the scourge of my son’s bedroom:
Black Manta sez: “I will kill your baby, Aquaman.”
In addition to Black Manta, I got that Hawkman t-shirt I never needed, a black and white collection of Marvel Horror comics from the 1970s, and an autographed Dick Tracy poster from comics great Joe Staton:
I also picked up an Iron Man trade paperback from my pals at Challengers Comics. They’ve got the con thing figured out: they stocked only the most in-demand trade paperbacks and sold them at a discounted price. Beyond that, they staffed their area with cute girls. Elementary? Perhaps, but I was impressed.
The Artists Alley is always a favorite haunt for me, as it’s really the best opportunity to meet and interact with creators from across the industry. I also enjoy the comfort of seeing familiar faces there, as I did today in Ryan Browne (God Hates Astronauts), John Siuntres (Word Balloon), and Sal Abbinanti (Atomika).
Random thing I thought was amazing: The freaking Mach 5. Go, Speed Racer. Go.
So, how did I do with my Vegas budget? Total bust. I went $20 over on product, and way over with everything else. This trip hurt.
|Admission (self)||Free (Press)|
|Iron Man “Extremis” TPB (thanks, Challengers)||$12|
|Lunch for two (burgers, fries, bottled water, cookies)||$36|
|Black Manta action figure||$32.78|
|Two t-shirts from Graphitti Designs||$41.41|
|McCormick Place parking||$21|
|Essential Marvel Horror, Star Trek Gold Key, War Machine TPBs||$17|
|Autographed Joe Staton Dick Tracy poster||$20|
Hurts so good, I suppose. I thought that C2E2 was beautifully run and much more navigable and manageable this year.
Previous years’ coverage:
Last week at this time, I was fearing impossible scenarios that could arise from Chicago’s hosting of the NATO summit. That’s not surprising for me: the apocalypse seems to be a common theme in the entertainment I consume.
I started to think about all the different end-of-the-world things I enjoy and put together a starter list for your armageddon-themed entertainment. This list is in no way meant to be exhaustive–if you have additions, let me know!
Time Zone “World Destruction”
Afrika Bambaataa and John Lydon teamed up to list the reasons why we’re all pretty much fucked.
“Mother Nature is gonna work against you / Nothing in your power that you can do.”
Morrissey “Everyday is Like Sunday”
“Armageddon – come armageddon! Come, armageddon! Come!”
To paraphrase: “Bring it, bitch!”
Iron Maiden “2 Minutes to Midnight”
Legendary metallers synchronize their watches with the Doomsday Clock:
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Forget the Will Smith movie–this desperate, lonely, nailbiter about a vampire apocalypse is a quick and unforgettable read. George Romero even acknowledged its influence on Night of the Living Dead (I’m getting to that one in a few).
If books aren’t your thing, the movie looks like this:
World War Z by Max Brooks
Brilliant idea–take a zombie apocalypse and have the story told, oral history-style, by its survivors. Brooks took the concept from Studs Terkel’s The Good War.
The Stand by Stephen King
The Stand isn’t perfect, and it’s not even King’s best book (I prefer It and Carrie). However, the post-superflu world King created–and the good vs. evil story he tells–are as good as post-apocalyptic fiction gets.
In all seriousness, this is my favorite movie ever. Terry Gilliam directed this sci-fi masterpiece that brings together a world-ending virus, time travel, Bruce Willis, an early Brad Pitt performance, and monkeys.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Not far behind 12 Monkeys is my love for this 1978 remake of the 1956 horror film (which itself was based on a book). I’ve been told that this movie’s one big allegory, and I couldn’t give less of a shit about that. The bottom line is that this is a tense, creepy, flick with knockout performances from Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy.
Spoiler warning: this is the end of the movie. It’s awesome.
28 Weeks Later
I prefer this to its predecessor, 28 Days Later. The best of the modern-day zombie movies, in my opinion:
Night of the Living Dead
There is nothing–nothing–I can say about this b&w classic that hasn’t already been said.
Fail Safe (1964)
The television play remake in ’00 was pretty great, too, but this version resonates more. It’s the U.S. vs. Russia, during one of the Cold War’s most tense peaks:
I remember watching this one with my parents when it came out–generally the same time when the world was buzzing about The Day After. Testament takes a sobering, more personal, look at the devastating aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. No embeds allowed; click here to see one of the film’s early distressing moments.
Jack Kirby’s Kamandi tells the story of “The Last Boy on Earth,” living in a post-apocalyptic (the Great Disaster) world. Every page during Kirby’s run screams of invention and insanity, as the titular boy finds his way in a world run by highly-evolved animals. The first 20 issues are collected here.
Also recommended: The Walking Dead, Y: the Last Man, Wasteland, Deathlok.
At some point down the road, I’ll cover Dystopia’s Greatest Hits (another favorite of mine).
Since the last time I went to C2E2, it’s become a really big deal.
Everything about the event felt bigger this year: bigger hall, bigger stars, bigger attendance.
You’ll probably read and see lots of reviews from mainstream sources over the next day or two about how C2E2 legitimizes nerd culture, or some such thing. In a world where Hunger Games, the Amazing Spider-Man, and the Avengers are anticipated to be among the highest-grossing movies of the year, the notion of “nerd culture” is unfairly reductive … if not altogether ignorant. C2E2 reflects pop culture and has the admission sales to prove it.
I got there at 10 a.m. today, right when doors opened. I had a feeling that the crowds would thicken up in short order–since I get easily claustrophobic, I decided the earlier, the better.
I have an irresistible temptation to start buying every cool thing in sight when I walk into C2E2. Sure enough, the first booth I saw was Graphitti Designs, the company that makes the coolest (and frequently, the most obscure) comic-themed t-shirts. Within seconds, I was ready to part with $21 for a Swamp Thing logo shirt. They didn’t have my size, so the money burning a hole in my pocket got a reprieve. In hindsight, I feel vindicated–Graphitti marked their shirts up $2 from what they cost on the Graphitti website.
The beauty of events like C2E2 is running face-first into a happy surprise. After failing to get my Swamp Thing t-shirt, I turned the corner and ran into a DC Comics autograph table where Len Wein, co-creator of Swamp Thing, was signing autographs next to legitimate comic book legend Joe Kubert. The line to meet them was only “two deep;” that’s it. Two people. I didn’t question it, and got right behind those fans. It was a thrill to meet the near-90 year-old Kubert and the ever-personable Wein. Wein, it should also be noted, co-created a few other familiar characters you may have heard of: Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and the Human Target.
It didn’t occur to me until I walked away that I should get a picture of Kubert. Here he is, peeking out from behind the bearded gentleman in black:
Within seconds of leaving Kubert and Wein, I ran right into Kevin Brown, a.k.a. “Dotcom” on 30 Rock. He was there promoting a “Dotcom for President” campaign. I’m not sure I understand what he’s running for, but he was easily the nicest celebrity I met today.
Dotcom: You were a switch hitter?
Jack: Switch hitter, pitcher, catcher. Whatever the boys needed.
Props and costumes used in Captain America were on display near the entrance. They were featured in an auction geared towards those with lots of disposable income (as well as large open spaces in their homes):
There were smaller props on display, too, like Thor’s hammer and the dreaded Cosmic Cube:
And then there’s Cap’s-shield-on-ice, first seen as a completely-missed Easter egg in The Incredible Hulk.
Moving C2E2 to a larger hall at McCormick Place this year was a good call; there was a lot more humanity trickling through the aisles and displays this year. From what people told me today, the crowd situation yesterday was insane, a can’t-breathe-totally-packed-oh-my-God scenario.
One of the benefits of the new hall was easier access to food. Last year, con-goers had to walk up to a second floor food court to get their $5.75 hot dog/soda combos. Not a hardship by any means, but it was nice to only have to take a few side steps for my encased meat needs.
The real fun of C2E2 is Artist Alley, where creators, wannabes, and big-name pros mix it up with the masses. Artist Alley is a great place to meet people on their way up (like Ryan Browne, whose work I adore), and those who’ve already “made it,” like cheesecake artist Adam Hughes. I made a point of going to Hughes’ table–he wasn’t all that personable when I met him, but I still bought his sketchbook (his signature, seen in the corner, is “AH!”):
And when I say Adam Hughes draws “cheesecake,” I mean, well …
Drawing a crowd in Artist Alley was recent Shark Tank success story Steve Gadlin and his “I Want to Draw a Cat For You” work:
I interviewed Steve about his business a year and a half ago. If you’ve never heard the interview, check out my summary and the audio link here.
Some celebrities charged a shit-ton for the privilege of getting something signed by them. Anthony “C3PO” Daniels wanted $40 for the pleasure. I settled for a long-range photo instead. That’s him, blurry with white hair, in the back:
Meanwhile, back at the DC booth, I was reminded how much I love Mad Magazine.
No story here. I just like having an excuse to drop Alfred E. into my blog.
Hey look, it’s that guy from One Tree Hill and Freaky Friday! The line was insanely long to meet Chad Michael Murray.
Chad was there to sign his Archaia comic Everlast. I think it would be awesome if former House of Pain star Everlast wrote a comic book called Chad Michael Murray.
The Ted DiBiase-less Virgil was manning an Artist Alley table. Here he is, organizing something or another:
On the way out, I walked right past Neal Adams, one of the most influential comic artists of the past 40 years. Seriously–Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, X-Men, Superman, Deadman–the impact of this guy’s work can’t be overstated. I decided to wait in line to buy a sketchbook from him, but there were too many fans abusing their window of opportunity: they wouldn’t fucking leave the table. That seemed to be a common trend at the con today: fans not knowing when to make their exit. I got impatient and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t meet Neal. This is all I got for a souvenir:
And for reference … Neal Adams is a comic book god:
Surprisingly, I didn’t spend as much money on comics and memorabilia as I did last year. For perspective on my spending, I was pretty psyched to pick up these two Essential Marvel collections for four bucks each:
I could’ve spent longer on the floor–maybe even taken in a panel or two–but by 2 p.m., it was hot, sweaty, and maybe even a little smelly in the hall. Showbiz 101: quit while you’re ahead.
C2E2 is an awful lot of fun. The close proximity and access to writers, artists, creators, and stars that it provides makes it a truly memorable experience. See you there next year.
Thursdays were the most important days of the week back when I was in grade school.
In the late 70s/early 80s, new comics were released on Thursday, and that’s when I’d make my weekly visit to the spinner racks of my local newsstand to pick up the latest issues of the “satellite” Justice League, George Perez-drawn Avengers, and Claremont/Byrne X-Men. The beauty of comics back then was that I could pick any Marvel or DC title off the rack and my parents wouldn’t have to worry about the language or content within. Granted, the Punisher and Ghost Rider weren’t exactly Disney characters (yes, the present-day irony is noted), but their stories weren’t as … mature … as they are today.
Over the past decade, I’ve watched comic book content become darker, more sexual, and disturbingly more violent. The much-cited example of this sort of material is the Identity Crisis mini-series published by DC in 2004. I don’t remember many of the fine-print details of the story, simply because the call to action made them immaterial: Super-villain Dr. Light raped Sue Dibny, wife of the Elongated Man. Worse, she later was murdered by her friend Jean Loring who went on to burn the body in a panic.
Once the bad guys started raping the good guys, it was clear that comics had sexually assaulted their way into “mature content” territory, never once looking back.
(Sue Dibny, below, before she was raped by a super-villain and then murdered and incinerated by a good friend)
I’ve read interviews from both of the “big two” companies citing various stats that their audience is older than it was “back in the day,” and that audience demands more mature storytelling. Comic companies should use the medium to tell mature stories. That said, they should not continue to freeze children out of the medium entirely. Superhero titles are about people with extraordinary abilities who wear spandex and fight crime because they feel it’s their calling. This is
classic youth escapism, and it’s rude of us adults to take it away from the kids.
Oh sure, DC and Marvel have taken credit over the past few years for launching a handful of throwaway “kids-only” titles, but that’s like a cigarette company saying “we know we’re addictive and damaging to your health, but we post announcements about that fact on our advertisements, packs, and cartons, so it’s all good.” The only kids-only title worth reading is Tiny Titans, and that’s because it has a legitimate all-ages appeal.
When DC relaunched their entire line last month (the “New 52″), I had hoped that the new direction would be more open to all-ages readers, and that my son could actually read a fucking Batman comic before I send him to college in ten years.
As far as I can tell from what I’ve read so far, he can read Aquaman. That’s it. Here’s a sample of what I found in the three comics I most recently downloaded:
Justice League International #2
The JLI features Batman and a handful of second-stringers like Guy Gardner and Booster Gold in a government-sanctioned parallel to the Justice League of America. When the concept first launched in 1987, it was hilarious, well-scripted, and beautifully drawn. The only drawback for kids back then was that it might’ve been a bit over their heads.
Page 5-Booster Gold says, “other than a 500 ft. tall ass-kicking giant?” “Ass-kicking” is admittedly low on the profan-o-meter, but it’s little things like that which make Dan Jurgens’ writing a 12+, rather than all ages, affair.
Page 8-Female hero Godiva is portrayed as a sex-starved nymph. As Booster Gold pulls her in to protect her in a force bubble, she purrs, “Mmm, didn’t know you were so cuddly.” Two panels later, she adds, “the interesting thing about these tights is that they’re … you know — TIGHT.” Which is to say, Booster got a FUCKING HARD-ON through his super-hero costume. Seriously? This is the best Jurgens can do? Regardless of the medium, sex jokes and references most frequently play as cheap, uncreative, and uninspired.
Page 15-As members pledge their allegiance to team leader Booster Gold, Godiva chimes in as the third follower, saying, “Mmm. Menage a trois.” That’s the second sexpot move from Godiva in seven pages, both of which start with “Mmm.”
Green Arrow #2
Green Arrow is one of my son’s top five comic characters, so I bought the new issue and crossed my fingers thinking that perhaps he could read it.
Page 3-Green Arrow, vaulting through the sky, says to his opponent, “Why can’t you just get drunk and expose yourself like all the other attention whores?” Her reply? “Bet you’d like to see that, you big perv. And who says I’m NOT drunk?”
He can read it when he’s older. In summary, DC has created a monthly Green Arrow comic with a rating of “T,” for “Teen.” For Green Arrow. The guy who fights bad guys with a bow and arrow, and whose girlfriend fights bad guys with her loud voice.
The Fury of Firestorm #1
The original Firestorm series followed the Spider-Man model of taking a bookworm teen and endowing him with great powers and responsibilities. Like Peter Parker, Firestorm alias (one of two, but I don’t want to make this too complicated) Ronnie Raymond was an everyman who kids could easily relate to.
Page 1-A covert ops team threatens to kill a Turkish boy’s father, while holding a gun to his forehead and showing a knife at his dad’s throat.
Page 2-The father is shown in bloody shadow after having his throat slit. His assailant stands next to him holding the bloody knife.
Page 10-The same covert group is seen standing over someone who they’re clearly torturing. He’s shown strapped to a table, sporting a black eye and bloody face, wearing only his boxer shorts.
I gave up there.
I like violence, profanity, and innuendo. It’s just fucking ridiculous in superhero comic books. I can’t believe the words coming out of my mouth when I tell my son, “I’m sorry, but you really can’t read DC Comics until you’re a little bit older.”
1. There’s a slow build up to Steve Rogers’ transformation into a super soldier, and then into the costumed Captain America we all know. This focused commitment to storytelling (over action for its own sake) lasts for half the movie.
2. …and then, the second half haphazardly rushes to catch itself up.
3. The movie’s ending isn’t explained very well, and you’d have to be familiar with Cap’s comic book adventures to understand exactly how he ended up where he did.
4. Easter eggs are there if you look hard enough, including one that works both as a nod to WWII-era Timely Comics and Chris Evans’ comic book movie past.
5. The cross-referencing of other Marvel movies is done with finesse. Captain America successfully ties in elements of Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man.
6. Chris Evans is just okay in his portrayal of Steve Rogers and Captain America. Both characters are meant to serve as inspiration to all those around them, but Evans lacks the charisma needed for us to truly feel it.
7. Tommy Lee Jones, in his role as Colonel Phillips, is a real highlight. With humor and machismo, he steals every scene he’s in.
8. Hugo Weaving is a solid Red Skull, though I think reviewers have been overly kind to his performance merely because it was much better than Evans’.
9. Yes, you need to stay past the credits. The ending’s been online since last week, but try not to spoil it for yourself.1
10. Where does Captain America fall in line with other recent comic book flicks? Ranked “best” to “least best”:
- X-Men: First Class
- Captain America
- Green Lantern
On a somewhat-related note, the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man rolled before Captain America. As much as I want this to not be true, I think it looks like a disappointment. I’m not interested in another telling of his origin, and I’m definitely not interested in a grittier, darker, take. I blame you, The Dark Knight.
Four years ago, I put Green Lantern at the top of a wish list of comic book properties I wanted to see turned into movies (right above Thor, in fact).
Similar to the way I wrote about Thor, here are six things you should know about Green Lantern. I’d originally intended to come up with a list of 10, but the movie isn’t interesting enough (even in a negative way) to go past six.
1. Because of Marvel’s recent movies which tie into the upcoming Avengers movie (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and next month’s Captain America), there’s a temptation to look for easter eggs and continuity threads in DC’s big summer flick.
Look all you want–there are none. DC has chosen to ignore the (successful and geek-friendly) Marvel movie model of weaving its characters into a larger cinematic tapestry. For now, Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, et al., exist in siloed universes.
If they wanted to, DC could build its movies into the same continuity, using Angela Bassett’s Amanda Waller character as a common thread in future films (a la Nick Fury in the Marvel movies).
2. The effects are cheesy. I thought they looked bad in early trailers and clips, but assumed they’d be more refined once the movie was released. Nope. Green Lantern’s costume makes it look like Ryan Reynolds’ head is floating on top of a Green Lantern cartoon body. It’s even worse in the scenes where GL is flying.
3. The acting sucks. Blake Lively, cast as Hal Jordan’s love interest Carol Ferris, is as dull as a dying power battery throughout the movie. There’s nothing about her to love. Seriously, nothing.
As for Hal Jordan, internet pundits had a a field day when news of Ryan Reynolds’ casting was first announced. The common feeling was that Reynolds didn’t have the gravitas to pull it off. Counter-arguments pointed to Michael Keaton’s successful casting as Batman and song-and-dance-man Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine. Ryan Reynolds is no Keaton or Jackman; he’s awful as Green Lantern.
4. Okay, not all of the acting sucks. Peter Sarsgaard, as creepy scientist turned mentalist Hector Hammond, is a scene-stealer. Sarsgaard unnerves everyone around him with his lived-in-his-parents’-basement-too-long social skills, and later goes to town with his “evil yellow energy”-inspired malevolence.
Mark Strong, the baddie from Sherlock Holmes, also makes an impression as Sinestro, an A-list Green Lantern awaiting his Anakin-to-Vader moment. There’s just not enough of him in Green Lantern.
Based on the movie’s (not a surprise, thanks to the internet) ending, it looks like Sinestro’s story cycle will leap right over character development and make him the main foe of the inevitable sequel.
5. Parallax. The primary villain of Green Lantern is a ridiculous evil cloud with tendrils and a frowny face. Think Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
6. The science fiction aspects are much more interesting and fun than anything happening on Earth. The mythology of Green Lantern (the Guardians of the Universe, the planet OA, Abin Sur, Kilowog and Tomar-Re) are great foundations for a space opera that never comes together.
On a related note, seeing the Green Lantern Corps as a collective, a space zoo of creatures with power rings, was great fun.
I understand the temptation to see Green Lantern. I was right there with you. Believe me when I tell you that you’ll enjoy it more on Netflix, six months from now.
(photo courtesy of Marvel.com)
To answer your most pressing question: yes, it’s good. Really good. As anticipated, it played out like a superhero version of Lord of the Rings.
10 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE NEW THOR MOVIE
SPOILER-FREE, because I care.
1. Don’t see it in 3D. The technology was bolted on to a 2D experience, which means that there are no additional thrills or visual insights to be had by seeing Thor in 3D.
2. I believe in god casting. The Norse gods (Thor, Loki, Odin, The Warriors Three, Heimdall, Sif) were perfectly cast.
3. This is no ordinary comic book film. Though Thor tells an origin story, it never feels like a superhero origin story. In Thor, the titular Norse god is cast off to Midgard (Earth). Once in the realm of mortals, Thor must work to reclaim his honor and hammer, and then find his way back home (Asgard) to save his father and kingdom. If not for Thor’s cape and a Stan Lee cameo, it wouldn’t so obviously be a Marvel movie.
4. Thor respects the comic book source material. Thor pioneers like (co-creator) Stan Lee and Walt Simonson have done so much to enhance the mythology of Thor that there was no reason for it to be put through the Hollywood grinder. I’m assuming that J. Michael Straczynski, one of the film’s writers, deserves some credit for staying true to Thor and his supporting cast. In addition to his film and television work, Straczynski has spent a lot of time as an author of major comic book titles, including Thor.
5. Chris Hemsworth. Thor could have been played as a one-note character, but Hemsworth infused charm, rage, humility, compassion, and fury into the Thunder God.
6. Special effects. The Frost Giants of Jotunheim. The Destroyer. Heimdall’s observatory. Thor flying and twirling his hammer. One breathtaking effect follows another in Thor.
7. Continuity. Yes, there are threads to previous Marvel movies (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and the Incredible Hulk), as well as nods to what can be expected in both Captain America and The Avengers. Along those lines, stay through the credits. You know the drill.
8. Without giving away any detail, the scene where Thor regains his hammer gave me goosebumps.
9. There’s humor, too. Whenever a Viking god is inserted into a small New Mexico town, hilarity ensues.
10. The PG-13 rating is a “soft” PG-13. Other than the creepy frost giants and ongoing “fantasy action,” it’s hard for me to understand a ratings system where Thor is judged as being equal to the profoundly-disturbing-for-kids The Dark Knight.
C2E2 2011 is now officially history.
I spent the majority of my day there today, and here’s what I experienced and saw…
From the second the gates opened at 10 a.m., the con was busy, packed shoulder to shoulder in some of the more bottlenecked areas. That said, it didn’t feel as claustrophobic as I remember Wizard World to be in Rosemont. The worst of the congestion was easy to avoid, especially once I stuck to cruising the perimeter exhibits and Artist Alley.
Here’s a view of the floor, about an hour after doors opened:
One of the first things I saw when I walked in was pro wrestling legend Jerry “The King” Lawler tucked into a back corner, sitting all by himself. I grew up on wrestling, so I was totally psyched to have an audience with the King.
The 60+ year-old Lawler has aged remarkably well. I’m not sure whether he’s had some work done or is simply blessed with killer DNA, but the WWE Hall of Famer looked great. I asked the gregarious grappler for an autograph, and his signature set me back ten dollars (Lawler’s got to make his convention expenses back somehow).
Here’s what I got for my ten bucks from the former AWA champ and Andy Kaufman sparring partner:
Retail is the driving force behind the convention floor’s activity. Many gloved and webbed hands were seen exchanging money for services and collectibles. Located in the center of the floor today was Chicago’s
own Challengers Comics & Conversation.
Note (below) the giant sign in the background: “We Accept Credit Cards.” That simple fact set Challengers apart from most of their retail peers, who were strictly cash-only. How a retailer can drop anchor at a major con for 72 hours and not take credit cards is beyond me, especially with all the credit card processing apps now available on iPad/iPhone. To further punctuate the need for retailers to accept credit cards, the ATM machine on the floor fleeced visitors for $3.50 per transaction.
Pictured: Challengers proprietor/all around swell guy Patrick Brower.
I also picked up this shrinkwrapped HC collection of Marvel Westerns for $6 (cover price: $20.99). Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been wanting to buy it for a while:
Artist Alley is something that I love to wind my way around, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to engage with creators in a unique, one-on-one,way.Pab Sungenis, the self-proclaimed “World’s Crappiest Sketch Artist.” Just like the guy who draws awful cat pictures for money, Sungenis draws insultingly simple stick figures of super heroes. Seeing as I’m the type of guy P.T. Barnum could always count on, I bought a sketch of the Invisible Kid, and made Sungenis pose with it:
Sal Abbinanti (pictured below) is one of my favorite people in comics, and certainly one of the hardest-working. It was a pleasure reconnecting with him at his Artist Alley table and getting caught up on his long-running labor of love, Atomika.
Skottie Young was one of the first brave and talented souls to commit to doing an interview for my long-defunct comics podcast, “STUN!” Since then, his industry stock has soared. He was swamped almost every time I saw him. That’s him in the orange shirt, surrounded by fans:
Much of Chicago’s comic creator elite was on site today. Though I didn’t see or interact with them, I was aware that Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother, Sandman), Art Baltazar (Tiny Titans), and Chris Mitten (Wasteland) were in the house.
Speaking of Chicago’s industry elite, I managed to shake hands and say “hey” to both Tim Seeley (Hack/Slash) and Mike Norton (lots of stuff for DC). Both offered cheery, friendly, greetings, and were located in deservedly prime spots (Seeley at the Dark Horse display, Norton at the closest-to-con-floor position of Artist Alley).
One of the artists I was truly excited to meet at C2E2 was Kevin Maguire, to whom I credit my return to reading comics in 1987. I’d given up comics a few years before then, back when I was in junior high school. I can’t properly explain why I walked away from comic books at that age, other than I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.Late one night during my senior year of high school, I was at my local 7-11. Out of habit, I was perusing the “spinner rack” for new comics. I wasn’t looking to buy anything, I just wanted to peek at what I’d been missing. As I rifled through DC, Marvel, and Archie Comics’ offerings, one title stood far and above its rackmates, demanding that I buy it right then and there: Justice League #1.Justice League #1 was the title’s relaunch, featuring a never-before-grouped-together lineup of Batman, Captain Marvel, Doctor Fate, Mister Miracle, and Blue Beetle. The artwork I saw had character, style, and implied humor. I just had to buy it.
I followed up that purchase with the next few issues of Justice League, and within a few months of that, I was avidly collecting again and had become a huge Maguire fan. I never got to meet Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, or Neal Adams; their high points were hit during a previous generation. Kevin Maguire was more representative of my coming-of-age. Today was an exciting opportunity to finally meet him.
For 45 minutes, I just…lurked…near his table, waiting for him to show. Every other artist in Artist Alley had arrived and was either pressing fan flesh or sketching to pass the time. I wondered if Maguire would show up at all. I decided to check back after lunch.
I returned to Maguire’s table around noon, taking my place behind two fans who were staring at him, waiting for him to make some acknowledgment of their presence. A DC Comics representative was making industry small talk with Maguire behind the table. Neither the DC rep nor Maguire ever concerned himself with the fact that fans were being
After what was I SWEAR TO GOD TEN MINUTES, Maguire finally grabbed a stack of Justice League comics from one fan, then another stack from the other, and signed them with not so much as a smile.
Rather than engage me with a “hello” or a smile, I was put in a position where I had to speak up. “Hi, Kevin, my name’s James. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said.
“So, do you have any prints that you’re signing today?” I asked.
His partner/colorist (a British girl whose name I don’t know), said “yes, we do.”
“Great, I’d love one!” I said.
“They’re fifteen dollars,” she said.
“Fine,” I replied.
I suppose that’s how all alien girls dress and sit. It’s not like there are finishing schools in space, after all.
As Maguire signed the alien porn poster, I told him my Justice League #1 story, excitedly telling him that I have him to thank for reintroducing me to comics.
“Sorry to hear that,” he said in a deadpan way that I’m pretty sure was meant to be funny. He continued, “Yeah, I’ve heard other people say the same thing about that comic.” Maybe he meant to say, “Hey, thanks, that really is nice to hear. Thank you for the kind words.” Hard to know for sure.
Celebrities need to understand the way they communicate in public has an impact. For many people walking the floor, these artists and writers are the biggest celebrities they’ll ever encounter. When those artists and writers come off as indifferent, or as if being at the con is anything but pleasurable, those attitudes make fans feel like schmucks for caring in the first place. Maguire’s behavior certainly had an impact on me today.
After leaving Maguire’s table with my alien porn poster rolled up under my armpit to hide my shame, I ran into fellow Chicagoan/podcasting superstar John Siuntres. John’s riding high on the recent USA Today acknowledgment of his Word Balloon podcast as being the best comic podcast in the country.
I stepped away from the con floor for a minute or two and was rewarded with the single greatest sight in the history of comics, conventions, and rock music: Moon Knight singing “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden on Rockband.
Only at a comic book convention can something this truly wonderful and ludicrous occur. Moon Knight wailing a Maiden song from the “Number of the Beast” album? Crossed off my bucket list today.
The “big two,” DC and Marvel, had expectedly giant presences at the con.For Kids Day today, DC had tons of premiums for kids, including free copies of “Batman: Brave and the Bold,” “Superboy,” and “Mad Magazine.”
If I hadn’t known for sure before today, I’m pretty clear on what DC’s big focus is going to be for the rest of the year:
The Marvel area was cramped and tough to navigate around, and I didn’t get to explore it as much as I’d wanted to. I did manage to catch a quick pic of the rock star-like Brian Michael Bendis doing an early afternoon signing:
S.H.I.E.L.D. had its own display (really?), represented by an Acura spymobile. I have to assume this car will show up in both the Thor and Avengers movies.
If Acura put a rocket launcher/gun on the roof of all their models, I’d buy one right now.
Here’s the autograph signing area. Tahmoh Penikett (Helo from Battlestar Galactica) for $30? $40 for Eliza Dushku? Couldn’t pull the trigger. One Dushku could so much easier be four Jerry Lawlers.
C2E2 isn’t the San Diego Comic Con, and it shouldn’t try to be. The Hollywood aspects and events of the weekend are more distracting than additive. Perhaps I’d feel differently if the stars were more A-list (or at least better than D-list), but for this weekend’s con, the actors seemed unnecessary.
Cosplay was everywhere at C2E2. I’ll never understand the need to dress like comic book super heroes, but it amuses me to no end to see people dressed like them. Straight outta Thanagar, it’s the winged wonder, Hawkman:
Avengers Assemble! The Black Knight, Vision, and Scarlet Witch turned a few heads today.
I stayed away from the Scarlet Witch; I know the trouble she can cause.
My only complaint?–McCormick Place can be unruly to negotiate in and around. I grew up going to the McCormick Place that sits on the east side of LSD. The new (and infinitely superior) west side facility offers no clear direction for visitors. Pulling off Lake Shore Drive, there were no obvious signs directing traffic to the main lot. Once I found my way to the garage, I almost accidentally merged on to the Stevenson in the process (the lanes are that close). Signage or traffic cops would go a long way for conventioneers.
I had fun today without worrying about building an itinerary around the day’s events and panels. I set my own pressure-free pace, letting the experience and moment push me along.
I’ll happily do it again next year.
I’m going to C2E2 tomorrow, the comic convention heir to a massive and devoted group of attendees who, for years, suffered the indiginities of trudging out to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont for Wizard World.
I didn’t attend C2E2 last year because of what I then called “responsible fiscal judgment;” comic conventions tend to set me back a lot of money. A fool (me) and his money (represented in this story by credit) are quickly parted when faced with hard-to-find back issues, original artwork, and assorted memorabilia.
Truth is, I love going to comic cons. It’s a thrill to troll the artist alleys, meeting writers and artists whose work I admire. I also enjoy the “treasure hunt” aspect of searching for missing pieces to my favorite runs, which just adds to the day’s adventure. Forget eBay; the retail experience at a con is unique and physical.
By waiting until the third and final day to go, I’ve missed some obvious highlights. Patton Oswalt, who’s quickly become my favorite human in the history of ever, was there on Friday night. Chris Hemsworth, the ripped actor who be worthy to possess the power of Movie Thor, was there signing autographs today. Highlights are where you make them, though, and sometimes marquee events become so flooded with humanity that the appeal is quickly and greatly diminished. I expect that was probably the case with both Oswalt and Hemsworth this weekend.
Tomorrow’s Kids Day at C2E2, which I enthusiastically support. Contrary to what the general public likely assumes, comics these days aren’t made for kids. A standard title’s content is strictly PG-13 or higher, and it’s been that way for the past ten years or so. When I was a kid, I could grab any comic off the spinner rack (I’m dating myself, I know), and read it without my parents needing to worry about its main characters getting raped, dismembered, or swearing. The only comics that are truly okay for kids today are those created for specific comic lines aimed at children. I should note that some of the children’s titles are transcendent. “Tiny Titans,” in particular, is a joyous read, truly suitable for all ages from zero-death.
For the comics industry to survive, young fans shouldn’t be ghettoed into a corner. I sometimes feel as though I’m the only one who thinks it’s insane that my nine year-old can’t read a “regular” Batman title. Should you have any doubt of that decision, read the first six issues of Morrison’s “Batman and Robin.” Not happening.
By designating tomorrow Kids Day, C2E2 strives to be inclusive even as its focus industry is not. Their schedule for tomorrow includes a meet and greet with WordGirl and the Tiny Titans guys (Art Baltazar and Franco) hosting a drawing competition. It’s a start.
Looking forward to my visit. I’ll report back here with details and maybe a few pics from the day.