Hope Nicholson and friends provide a love letter to comic cons that is light on the comic side, but full of heart.
Written and Illustrated by Various
Edited by Hope Nicholson
Following the bestselling “The Secret Loves of Geeks,” comes this brand-new anthology featuring comics and prose stories by cartoonists and professional geeks about the world of comic book conventions from the guests who’ve attended them across the world. Featuring stories that are funny, sad, sweet, embarrassing, and heartfelt of a geek-culture life that shapes us, encourages us, and exhausts us. Featuring work by Brian Michael Bendis (The Man of Steel), Jim Zub (Wayward), Kieron Gillen (The Wicked and the Divine), Sina Grace (Iceman), and many more.
We’re less than a month out to New York Comic-Con, and I won’t lie: I’m probably more excited this year than in years past. Of course, it’s been fun to attend as a fan, but there’s something extra special about attending when you’re a part of the community that makes those fans excited. And that’s the heart of Nicholson’s anthology: that celebration of community, community between fans and creators, community between creators and colleagues, community between creators and the stages of their careers.
There’s a dual pun at the heart of this title: not just pros and cons, but prose and comic cons, owing to the two types of work in this anthology. Each format fits its chosen story well, and the prose pieces provide a nice break between visuals. I would have preferred a little more of the comics than the prose pieces, but again, not every story is one that is best told in the sequential style.
And those that are told as comics certainly have fun with the genre. Writer Greg Pak gives us the perils of being “just the writer” in Artist Alley, and owing to that skill, could have opted for that prose instead of pictures. What we get instead is a fun sketchbook that illustrates (pun intended) what it’s like to be a writer in a visual world, his various cosplay ideas, why he’ll probably stop doing cons, and ultimately, why he will never stop. It looks just like a quick sketch he would do for fans, and that gives it such heart. There’s a literal love story from Randy Milholland, of how he met his wife at a webcomics convention, a sweet story with just a touch of sarcasm.
It isn’t all just feel-good stories. There’s stories of the blood, sweat, and tears that go into breaking into the industry, the pitfalls and less than perfect moments along the way. Tania del Rio’s “Ego Trip” is a lesson in thinking that you’ve arrived but realizing that maybe perhaps you really haven’t. Sina Grace’s “Room for More” is an intimate peek into his road to success and one moment when he realized he made it, but was so caught up in the moment when he did make it that he forgot about those still trying to make it. In typical Sina Grace fashion, his loose hand and handwritten lettering give a feel of looking into one of his personal journals, rather than a published work. Barbara Guttman’s “My Inevitable Doom” and Lucy Bellwood’s “Mistakes were Made” are tales of minor embarrassing con moments – – one involving a cat, the other involving lube – – that later become BarCon stories.
Some stories open the doors to fun anecdotes in the comics community that creators discover in their times at cons either as a creator, or as a fan. They’re stories of our favorite writers and artists as simply people. Want to know about that one time Kieron Gillen did karaoke and how the Thought Bubble dance floor came to be? You can, in “The Oral History of the Thought Bubble Dance Floor.” (And on that note, more dance parties at cons, please.) Trina Robbins’s “San Diego, 1977” is a retelling of an event that could only exist in its time, but an illustration of the early struggles for women creators that really was only a generation ago. Brian Michael Bendis remembers that one time The Real World: New Orleans‘s Julie, the “very cute and very horny Mormon girl” took down a drunk cosplayer.Continued below
The ones that you’ll remember the most, naturally, are the ones that get at your sentimental side. Whether it’s connection with fans, such as Dylan Edwards’s “On Reflection,” Scott A. Ford’s “Kindred Spirits,” and Adrienne Kress and Zak Kinsella’s “Brave New World,” “Kindred Spirits” does this particularly well. Ford strips down con attendees to organic, shapeless blobs – – literally those sheet ghosts you probably dressed up as for an early Halloween. By taking away that humanity, he actually shows how easy that humanity is to find. These are the stories you want to read and re-read when you have those blood sweat and tears moments: the reminders of just why you put yourself through lugging boxes to table, buy hand sanitizer in bulk to stave off the con crud, the couch surfing you do to save money.
Credit is also due to a wide variety of con representation throughout these stories: everything from the behemoths of SDCC and NYCC to international conventions such as Thought Bubble, to smaller cons focusing on webcomics, to even a mystery writers convention. The con may change, but the camaraderie it provides remain the same.
“Pros and (Comic) Cons” is one of those books you read while sitting on the floor of the Javits Center waiting for a panel, sleeping outside of Hall H at SDCC, eating overpriced hot dogs and pizza in between Flame Con interviews. It may not make the inevitable credit card bills or con crud any less painful, but it will remind you of the one thing that makes this con life just so great: the people.