In Southern California, there are three comicbook conventions that we never miss: Long Beach Comic Con, Long Beach Comic Expo, and Stan Lee’s Comikaze. For the comicbook lovers out there, the Long Beach events cater to you. Their Artist Alleys are always packed with sensational veteran and up and coming comicbook artists, so you will undoubtedly leave the event with some new discoveries and some insight into how those works were developed, since you purchased them directly from a creator. In addition, the Long Beach events have one entire track of event programming known as Creator Lab, which offers advice and education for all aspects of comicbook creation. Long Beach Comic Con and Long Beach Comic Expo preserve and celebrate the spirit and importance of comicbooks in and of themselves.
Meanwhile, Stan Lee’s Comikaze is an event that is more reflective of what the general public think about a modern day comic con. It has some comicbook content with a general focus on the big two (DC and Marvel), but it mostly underscores pop culture pieces of the television and movie variety, and even though the convention definitely spotlights Marvel and DC’s television and film properties as well, Comikaze always has space for things of an odder variety, things a bit more on the fringe. Consequently, Comikaze is the place for the fan of really any media; regardless of what you like, there’s something for you on the exhibition floor or in the panel rooms.
This year, Stan Lee’s Comikaze became Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con (SLLACC), and the newly branded convention had a perfect mix of pop culture mainstays and oddities of the past and present. We have a considerable age gap between us (Generoso and Lily, your guides to Los Angeles Comic Con 2016), but given the diversity of the programming of the convention, our various interests and thirsts for media were overwhelmingly satisfied throughout the weekend.
One of the highlights to Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con was of course the chance to see Stan The Man himself. Always exuberant and more energetic than most of us who are are decades younger, Mr. Lee always opens up the convention with an enthusiastic introduction paired with a spectacle related to his current projects on the Hot Topic Stage, the main stage where the special guests of the con arrive to speak. Last year, the opening included a green crystal figure of a character from his upcoming anime series, The Reflection. This year, Stan packed in far more than we expected into his introduction.
First, he gave us a preview to the second season of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, his successful television series about a man who possesses the superpower of luck that currently can only be seen on TVs in the UK but will be arriving to America in the near future. The shining star of the Sky 1 network, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man has a premise that will likely lure in audiences based on curiosity, since, after all, when you were a little kid, was great luck a superpower you wanted? And, of course, the series benefits from its action cinema approach, creating explosions and settings that could be seen on the big screen but prefer not to be.
Immediately after the preview for Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, we received an update on the previous year’s announcement of The Reflection. Though we did not get any animation previews, we did get to see poster art and receive a glimpse into the music for the show via an awkward presentation that started with an earnest introduction of the producers and the artist of the anime series but morphed into a neon festival of J-pop (or more correctly, electropop). The Japanese idol group 9nine collaborated with Trevor Horn, the man responsible for “Video Killed the Radio Star” and Yes’s album Drama, for music on the show, and both were in attendance for the updates on The Reflection. After getting a glimpse into Horn’s hits via clips filled with big hair and synthesizer sounds, 9nine performed one of their hits in neon tutus, metallic sneakers, and cutoff school vests. As the dolled up girls danced on stage, Generoso stood behind Lily embarrassed because Lily is a small Asian woman, and in the face of the 9nine’s cloyingly adorable performance, something seemed too uncomfortable about Lily standing right in front of Generoso.
At this point, we may have neglected to mention that Stan Lee’s Comic Con has been scheduled on Halloween weekend these last two iterations, which did heavily influence our decision-making process when selecting panels throughout the event. So, what better way to celebrate evil than by revisiting the cartoon pair who spent the latter half of the 1990s trying to take over the world, Pinky and the Brain? Taking the Hot Topic Stage were the voice actors who gave life to our fiendish lab mice, Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulsen, who were there purely for nostalgia and not to promote a new property as they were there to share story after story of productions past. There was one segment of their open conversation that involved the art of voice acting that hit home, which was their claim that more often than not, Hollywood has recently opted for contemporary star power to voice a legendary cartoon over the original voice actors. LaMarche then cited the exception to the recent trend when he, and many of his generation, felt overjoyed when the heard Peter Cullen’s voice as Optimus Prime in Michael Bay’s 2007 live-action Transformers film instead of some new actor. Hopefully, if Pinky and the Brain sees a rebirth anytime soon, we will hear LaMarche and Paulsen reprise their roles, as just a few moments of them voicing those characters brought Generoso back to the era of ska-core shows in friends’ basements and the last season of Seinfeld and Lily back to the era of eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cookie Crisp during Saturday morning and after-school cartoons.
As we needed a bit more in the scare department after Pinky and the Brain, we gleefully gravitated towards horror master Clive Barker and the aptly titled: “Clive Barker: Looking Ahead” panel, which highlighted all of the upcoming efforts of the prolific artist/ painter/ director’s offerings. Though, by written description, this panel would simply seem like an one hour salvo of pitches laid out by a collection of speakers who are working on various Barker projects (there were indeed a staggering amount), the panelists assembled and regaled the audience with personal stories of first experiencing Barker’s work and, in some cases, of meeting and working with Barker that ranged from touching to comical, with most of these experiences happening for our panelists around the age of twelve, which considering the viscera normally associated with Barker, drew more than a fair share of giggles and concern from the attendees.
So, what is there to expect from all things Clive Barker? A reissue of the 1992 novel, The Thief of Always is due out soon with thirty pages of new artwork. Chapters four and five of the eight volume series, Imaginer are due out in 2017, with each volume containing at least one hundred photos from Barker’s oil painting archives, which at this point contain thousands of works. Back in 2001, Todd McFarlane and Clive Barker teamed up for the Tortured Souls figures that each included a story (with six in total); then, in 2004, the two teamed up for the Infernal Parade figures and stories, and now, the tales from that collaboration have finally been collected on the soon to be released Infernal Parade novella published by Subterranean Press. In Clive Barker film news, Tommy Hudson, who directed the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary, Never Sleep Again, is directing a documentary on Clive Barker, which is tentatively titled, Clive Barker: Where the Monster Lives. Unlike previous horror docs, Hudson is hoping that his piece on Barker is more about the whole creative person as opposed to the usual horror documentary that is just a collection of film clips. At this point, Hudson is hoping to get the film out around the 30th anniversary of the release of Hellraiser in 2017, which would be a perfect way to celebrate the continued impacting terror of Pinhead, the character that introduced much of the world to the mysterious, horrifying, and fascinating mind of Clive Barker.
As mentioned in the introduction, modern day comic cons definitely have a great emphasis on television and film, and while we do enjoy these aspects, no comic con would be the same without some appearance of the giants of comicbook world. Given that Wonder Woman turns 75 this year, various creators who have worked with the character invented by William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston joined together to talk about the modernity of Wonder Woman and their experience in working with the character for the panel “Wonder Woman 75: A Retrospect of an Icon.” Moderated by Londyn Jackson of the podcast, History of the Batman with Londyn, the panel featured the voice of Wonder Woman on Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends, Shannon Farnon, the artist of Wonder Woman ‘77, Cat Staggs, the writer of Wonder Woman ‘77, Marc Andreyko, the voice of Wonder Woman on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, Susan Eisenberg, the granddaughter of William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Christie Marston, and the managing editor of Comic Book Resources, Albert Ching. All of the panelists described the role of Wonder Woman in their life, and one name consistently emerged throughout the discussion: Lynda Carter. Farnon and Eisenberg both voiced Wonder Woman; Staggs draws Wonder Woman; Andreyko writes Wonder Woman; and all agreed that Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Wonder Woman in the 1970s television series marked the pinnacle of who Wonder Woman can be for future generations. The group also touched on their excitement for Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot’s take on the iconic lady, but overall, the panel was an open celebration of Wonder Woman as a diplomatic, optimistic, and virtuous superhero.
Back on September 17th of this year, we were stunned to hear of the sudden passing of C. Martin Croker, who most of us knew as the voice of Zorak, the mantis archnemesis, co-host, and bandleader on the epically influential Adult Swim animation/live-action talk show, Space Ghost Coast to Coast. In 2012, fellow Adult Swim star Eric Andre, cited the show’s technique of heavily editing celebrity interviews to whatever line of questioning that could be added in post-production as a huge inspiration. We ourselves have long adored the Space Ghost, and soon after seeing the programming lineup for Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con, we immediately circled the panel honoring C. Martin Croker (Clay as he was known to his friends and colleagues) on our event calendar. On the panel was voice actor Andy Merrill, the voice of Brak, Space Ghost’s childlike bean-loving enemy, and Jon Schnepp and Jay Wade Edwards, who both served as longtime editors on the show. The first half of the panel got deep into the editing process of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which eventually led into a conversation about their time with Clay and his sizeable contributions to the show beyond his considerable voice acting skills and the mastery of the Zorak voice. Being that this panel was happening just a month or so after Clay’s passing, it gave a chance for many members of the audience during the question and answer portion to express their feelings about the late voice actor’s talents. One moment that stood out for us was a story that Schnepp shared about one of Clay’s barbeques when a child came up to Clay to ask him to do the voice of Zorak to which he (Clay) replied “I am sorry but Zorak isn’t here.” Soon after the child turned around, Clay started doing Zorak’s voice to make the child think that Zorak was lurking in the yard. Clay’s voice, imagination, and sense of humor were essential to the success of many of the early Adult Swim shows, and Schnepp, Merrill, and Edwards emphasized this through their many stories about working on Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Aqua Teen Hunger Force with Clay.
One of the highlights of the 2015 edition of Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con was the appearance of Tommy Blacha and his band of deviants from Titmouse, who relished the opportunity to jokingly torment audience members through the use of a sketchpad during the panel-long question and answer session. This year, Blacha (clad in vampire cape of course) returned to the convention along with Jon Schnepp to discuss the Adult Swim program they helped to create with Brendon Small, Metalocalypse. Blacha and Schnepp got deep into the multitude of inventive deaths that took place during the show’s four season run with the demise of the “Make a Wish” girl being a high point; even that one got us too on its original airing. During the panel, Blacha’s ability to embody William Murderface, Toki Wartooth, and Dr. Rockso at will was as funny as it was impressive. And, during the latter portion of the panel, when an auction of sorts of Metalocalypse memorabilia began to happen, it was Blacha’s impression of Toki that had the room laughing out loud when Schepp’s claim that they would be selling “rare” copies of the Dethklok hardcover book brought forth the following comment from Blacha/Toki…”Rare, you haves like three copies right theres!”
On the second and final day of Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con, we spent the entire morning with the awkwardly lovely, fantastically entertaining, and always hilarious folks of Troma Entertainment. First, the Tromaville inhabitants unearthed Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo for a screening. Made in 2006 by Les Claypool of Primus, Electric Apricot follows the mockumentary structure of This is Spinal Tap but (appropriately) centers its jests at the jam band world. Featuring interviews with major jam band figures such as Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo makes audience members uncomfortably wonder, “If this music is supposed to be so free form and groovy, then why are they so neurotic?” Les Claypool’s characterization of the jam band drummer named Lapdog spends two days in the studio miking his drum set before the band’s first recording and blaming the bass player during every take that fails. The jam guitarist, Gordo not only idolizes Jerry Garcia’s sound but also emulates the lead singer’s playing style, haircut, and girth. And, the Electric Apricot’s keyboardist, Herschel, the overly delicate musician who performs mantras while serving coffee at a local cafe, speaks to the camera in yoga poses. Also, we cannot forget Aiwass, the bassist who still lives in the treehouse in his family’s backyard. This mockumentary has its own share of laughs, and although the recording sequences go far past their joke being funny, the final scenes at Festeroo provide the audience with more than enough laughs to compensate for a thin middle.
Immediately after the screening of Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo, the Troma Entertainment team emerged for a panel discussing the history and upcoming films of the underground, DIY organization that gave us The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., and many other fun, wild, wacky, and outrageous films that we’ve come to expect from anything branded with the Troma name. Of course, the leader of Tromaville, Lloyd Kaufman was in attendance, and he brought many people with him, including Pat Swinney Kaufman, his wife and longtime Troma member, Jason McHugh, the man who plays the band manager of Electric Apricot and the producer of the mockumentary screened before, and Kansas Bowling, the precocious director of B.C. Butcher who we got a chance to speak with separately here in a short, but fun interview that you can read here. Throughout the panel, we heard plenty of funny and insane tales about Troma productions, including examples of how Sgt. Kabukiman struggles to handle his fame and tidbits of Lloyd’s film experience and extensive knowledge, but we heard one thing more than anything else: Troma Entertainment is a family, and Lloyd treats everyone in Tromaville like family. And, this was certainly true because everyone on the panel spoke of Lloyd like a father or a really cool uncle as he sat a few seats by. At the end of the panel, one could only hope to have a family like the Troma one; life would certainly be more entertaining and amazingly sweeter too.
Another highlight from last year’s SLLACC was the “Heroes & (Crisis of) Faith” panel that was expertly moderated by Jordan B. Gorfinkel, the creator of the comic strip, Everything’s Relative. The panel (now in its fourth year at SLLACC) addresses issues of faith, religion, and atheism within entertainment, and this year’s edition had the theme: “Faith and Fallen Heroes: The interplay of faith and our work in the entertainment business.” The well-balanced group of speakers (Ali Mawji, Jim Covell, Jeffrey Alan Schechter and David Sacks), which was comprised of members of varying faiths, was asked a multitude of stimulating, introspective questions, including the need for perfection to be inherent within the individual heroes of each of the speaker’s religious texts. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of faith, the conversations that occur during every version of this panel always open up a massive load of questions that you will discuss long after the convention, which is why it is a panel we will never miss.
So far, we’ve focused this journey to Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con on panels and events, but of course, no trip to a con would be acceptable without some comicbook coverage. After walking up and down the aisles of Artist Alley, passing by everything from artwork to handmade buttons and hairpins, we met Dave Baker and Nicole Goux, the creators of Suicide Forest, F*ck Off Squad, and Action Hospital. In their work, Baker and Goux experiment with different drawing techniques, and their willingness to commit to a technique and see it to full fruition can be seen in Suicide Forest, a graphic novel set entirely in one room with one genuine scare and surprise that emerges from their design for character movements from page to page. In a world where comicbooks are becoming an incubator space for film and television, it was refreshing to see Baker’s and Goux’s work and to hear them speak about the meticulousness of their craft and their dedication to pushing comicbooks further as a medium in and of itself. You can read Lily’s entire review of Suicide Forest here.
For both of us, Heavy Metal magazine has been a part of our comicbook education for many years. Since 1977, Heavy Metal has featured exceptional contributions from artists around the world, and this year, at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con, the magazine made issue #583, the Fear Issue, available just in time for Halloween. At last year’s con, The Invisibles creator Grant Morrison spoke about his approach to the magazine for 2016, the year of his inauguration as editor-in-chief, and this year, at the convention, we were able to see all of the fruit of his labor at the Heavy Metal booth that was covered with the beautiful covers of the magazine. With Morrison at the helm, Heavy Metal looks and is better than ever.
This year, Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con offered a vast buffet of offerings from television, film, and comicbooks; and if you are a fan of any or all of these media forms, the con was a place for you because you could learn more about the works you love from the people who made them while also getting to discover some new talent, all at a convention that balances humor, joy, reflection, optimism, and seriousness exceptionally well.
So, until next year…
Written by Lily and Generoso Fierro