I always mean to post about the various conventions I attend, but I pretty much never get around to it. So, here’s a quick look back at Comicon-way, held a couple of weekends back in Conway, Ark. This was the show’s second year, and it’s a quickly growing event that manages to have enough people to feel vibrant but not be so big as to be overwhelming. The setting—in the Faulkner County Library—helps, as does the friendly attitude and excitement of organizers and attendees alike.
The highlight of the show for me was getting to meet and hang out with Joe Staton. Joe is a comics legend, but he’s also co-creator of some of the most seminal characters and stories in Green Lantern history. Guy Gardner? Kilowog? Salaak? Driq? All created by Staton and writer Steve Englehart. We did a Green Lantern panel together, which should have been subtitled: “Van Jensen Hyperventilates Because He’s Geeking Out So Much.”
Joe is smart, funny and wickedly talented. Truly, it’s an honor to play in the sandbox that he helped build.
This year’s show was interesting in that I did a lot of sketches. A LOT. Normally, I do approximately zero sketches. Because, you know, I’m not an artist (I dabble, but… yeah). For whatever reason, people started asking me to sketch. Then more people asked. I actually had to turn down some requests, because I am absurdly slow.
There I am, concentrating so hard!
While inking this commission of John Stewart, all I kept thinking was, “Don’t screw up! You’re about to screw up! Be careful!”
Unfortunately, I took this photo BEFORE Dusty showed me how I’d messed up the inking. After his pointer, it looked a little less crappy.
Here’s a crazy elaborate Captain America cover I did. The guy specifically requested, “Golden Age Cap and Bucky fighting the Red Skull and a couple of Nazis. And airplanes.” Once I’d finished, Jeremy Haun (a kick ass artist, in case you didn’t already know that), glanced over and said, “Move over, Jeff Lemire!” Here’s hoping that Jeff doesn’t find out about that. Canadians aren’t nearly as nice as they let on.
Here’s a Sinestro sketch that I tried to do in a blockier style. I wished I had a yellow Sharpie to finish it out, but oh well.
And then someone had me do the first-ever sketch in his Hour Man-themed sketchbook.
I read a lot of comics and graphic novels. And while many of them are good, and some are quite good, and a few are even great, it is rare that anything strikes me as new.
I don’t mean new in that a book has newly been released. I mean new in that a book brings something new, something that I haven’t seen before. But during a quick stop at New York Comic Con last weekend, I picked up something unquestionably new.
'36 Lessons in Self-destruction' is a challenging, frightening, difficult and frustrating book. It is a singular creation from the mind of someone—Philadelphia-based artist Rob Woods—who is not well. The introduction (which, as an aside, is particularly touching and thoughtful) describes Woods as an alcoholic who struggles with mental illness. The book fixates on suicide and substance abuse. If Woods is using these pages as a glimpse inside his thoughts, we know without question that Woods’ mind is a very dark place.
But the book—a collection of mini comics that Woods created and sold on the Philadelphia streets—is honest. The stories are a mix of absurdity and gallows humor, the characters often anthropomorphized, the situations exaggerated into a dreamy, ethereal plane. The reality in these pages is born of emotional honesty, the willingness to lay bare just how ugly the world is as seen through Woods’ eyes.
I’m reminded of Joshua Cotter, one of my favorite cartoonists who also used the medium as a means to exorcise personal struggles. Woods is similarly talented as an artist, although many of the pages are stitched together with rudimentary tools—swaths of black ink show the rough wash of a Sharpie’s tip.
There is, ultimately, a thread of hopefulness and beauty in this book, as dark as it is. I hope that the book gains some traction, that others see the beauty in Woods’ work, and that he sees that beauty himself.