Lessons Learned From C2E2, Part 2

Now that the con is over and I’m back to the real world, here are a couple more hints, tricks and lessons to maximize your con-going experience.  I had a lovely weekend and can’t wait for next year – C2E2 is one of the best cons I’ve been to for a lot of reasons, and from what I can tell, that’s not going to change any time soon.

(Read Part 1 here!)

5. Pay attention to social media

When I’m going to a con that I know Gail Simone will be at, my priorities for what I want to see are usually: 1. Any panel she’s speaking on; 2. everything else.  So it behooves me to check her twitter feed occasionally, because Simone uses it to announce what panels she’ll be on and to promote panels she’s attending.  This is important because the con schedule doesn’t always have a complete list of the guests that will be speaking: as far as I knew, Simone had one panel on Friday and that was it (the panel was on Dynamite Comics and their upcoming projects, and if you’re not excited about the Aliens/Vampirella crossover happening, I don’t think I want to know you). If I hadn’t checked twitter on Saturday morning, I wouldn’t have known that she would ALSO be sitting on a panel on the Trickle-Down Theory of Diversity (which I had had on my schedule but was ready to bump to see a Scott Snyder Q&A). I’m not saying you should spend the whole con on your phone, but there will be updates and changes that will impact your schedule, and social media provides a really convenient tool for keeping track of them.

6. Plan time to eat

Frequently what happens to me is that I’ll realize I’ve planned panels back-to-back-to-back, and haven’t left myself any gaps to get food or even just to rest my brain for a while. Cons are strenuous! You need time to recharge, relax, and eat in order to maximize your enjoyment of the experience. Prioritize your events, or, if you absolutely cannot miss something, plan ahead and pack your lunch. Note that this might involve looking up whether the convention allows outside food (some don’t; McCormick Place does).

7. Stick to your budget

I have trouble with this one, but I’m getting better. The thing about cons you want to go to is that they’re usually full of things you like, including art, books, merch and other swag. Unless you have unlimited resources (I do not), it’s good to decide your budget BEFORE getting to the exhibit hall, and making the effort to stick to it. How I manage it, is I withdraw in cash the amount I’ve decided is my budget for the weekend, and once that’s gone, that’s it! Remember that you’ll have to plan for things like food, parking, beverages, and other unexpected expenses. (Also remember that if you’re getting signatures and sketches in the artists’ alley, that it’s a good idea to tip if you’re not buying other merchandise.)

I was holding off on posting this to think up a couple more bullet points, but honestly, going to cons doesn’t have to be that complicated! Pick some stuff you like, try something new, be flexible. Remember to plan for downtime, keep your eye on the schedule for changes, and remember: anything you miss you can probably read about online.

Lessons Learned from C2E2, Part 1

Hello friends! I am resting my feet at the moment because I just got back from Day 1 of C2E2 (Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo).  I’ve been going to this con for a few years now, because it’s local for me and because lots of writers and artists and other people I respect and whose work I enjoy are always there.  For the next three days, I thought I’d share with you some keys to getting the maximum success out of your con experience, while also sharing some stories of my own.

(These hints will apply to any con, not just C2E2!)

1. Get a Pro Pass, if you’re able

Starting last year, since I was actually employed at a library, I was eligible to apply for a Pro Pass to the con, which I HIGHLY reccommend you do if you qualify (to qualify you must be one of the following, as per the C2E2 website: an artist, buyer, creator, editor, educator, librarian, licensor, producer, publisher, retailer, or writer. As you can see, it’s a pretty open category). In addition to making the weekend cheaper, it also gives you access to the exhibitor floor one hour before the general public on Friday (10 am as opposed to 11 am).  One hour may not seem like a lot of time, but it was AWESOME – I wasn’t able to enjoy that perk last year, but this year I was on that floor as close to 10 am as I could make it.  I got to walk around the hall with no crowd, see exhibitors setting up, and chat with some lovely people from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Quirk Books.  I was going to try to use it to get some comics signed before the creators I wanted to meet grew huge lines, but even though that wasn’t possible, the rest of Artists’ Alley was also wonderfully uncrowded. It takes a lot of the stress of the first part of your day.

2. Plan for a lot of options, but don’t try to see everything

I always note down a ton of panels to go see, which frequently end up overlapping; obviously this means I don’t get to see everything I might want to, but it gives me lots of options. This is important because something might happen which prevents you from getting into a panel; for example, I had Scott Snyder’s Q&A on my schedule, but I dropped that real fast when I saw the line and realized I’d spend the first ten minutes just waiting to get in. No thanks.

3. Don’t be afraid to make conversation with the people you’re there to see

There might be creators out there who are brusque and more interested in moving people through their line than actually meeting their fans. Luckily, I’ve never encountered one. Just today, I met Gail Simone (writer of DC’s Batgirl, Birds of Prey and Secret Six; Dynamite’s Red Sonja; Dark Horse’s Tomb Raider; and others); Greg Tocchini (artist of the incomparable Image series Low), Nick Dragotta (artist of Image’s East of West), Ant Lucia (he did all those amazing DC Bombshell covers) and Jonathan Hickman (writer of East of West and Image’s The Manhattan Projects), and they were all not only extremely nice people, but more than happy to answer my questions and chat a little while they signed my books. Dragotta answered a question I hadn’t been able to ask at the EoW panel I saw, Gail Simone and her husband were happy to chat about my work at the library and my friend’s experience playing Tomb Raider, and so on. Don’t be afraid to let creators know that you appreciate their work and are happy to see them.

4. Be conscientious about their time 

At the same time, be aware that they are professionals and their time is valuable. Tip well if the sketches and signatures are free. Buy some art! Don’t overstay your welcome! Simone is well known for signing as many things as people bring her; don’t be like the guy in front of me who brought 25 issues and had her sign each one (and didn’t tip for her Hero Initiative fund jar). They’re people, not machines!

Tomorrow I’ve got more panels on the schedule, and I’ll be in cosplay (Gogo Tomago from Big Hero 6!), so expect some words of wisdom about those topics tomorrow night. If you’re in the Chicago area, consider checking out the con!

Top Ten Female Comic Characters – 5 Through 1

Here we are – my (current) Top Five Female Comic Characters (that is a super clunky list title and I’m sorry about that).  You may have noticed that there are some traits and characteristics that will quickly endear a character to me – supporting other women, being pragmatic, being problem solvers, having flaws, but being smart about them.  These women largely encompass all of these things and more, and are written by people who are just as amazing and admirable as the characters themselves.

Without further ado:

5. Dee

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Rat Queens is everything I’ve ever wanted from fantasy comics, you guys.  It’s fun, dirty, clever, and features a cadre of bloodthirsty women.  The Dungeons & Dragons/Pathfinder allusions push it in front of Red Sonja for me (although I am also VERY MUCH enjoying that book right now), and the clever way those allusions are incorporated into the story make it tops (ever wonder what a glut of adventuring parties in the same town would do to that town? Wonder no more!).  Of the four main ladies, all of whom I love, Dee wins ever so slightly because of the dichotomies in her character. She’s a cleric! Who’s an atheist. Her parents are cult members! Who worship a squid. She’s an adventurer! Who kind of hates being around people. She’s also the sanest member of her crew, the mother hen to a bunch of crazies, and the way she takes care of Hannah, Betty and Violet is just so wonderful (women supporting women is going to be a theme of this list).

4. Snow White

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There are a couple of female-centric tropes that I am incredibly partial to: Bitches Get Shit Done, very classy ladies being secret badasses, and monster boyfriends, to name just a few that are embodied in Snow White of Fables fame.  She’s one of the main forces that keep Fabletown together, she’s instrumental in their defense and upkeep, she becomes a wife and mother without sacrificing one iota of her identity, and she tames the Big Bad Wolf.  She’s beautiful and a princess, but she can take care of herself – Bigby may come to her defense a few times, but she’s always the first to remind him that she can solve her own problems (one of my favorite scenes between the two of them has them arguing over who gets to kill the evil prince who kidnapped her).  She has seven kids and keeps on rolling, even though they end up being shape-shifting demi-gods.  If I can be half as capable as her when I finally become a grownup, I will consider myself lucky.

3. Kitty Pryde

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My favorite female X-Man, by a lot (I think the one who comes close is Emma Frost).  I like Kitty because I relate to her; in the comics she’s been the shy newcomer to the boys’ club, earning their respect through her abilities and leadership until she’d worked her way up to headmaster of the Xavier school.  She’s sweet and thoughtful, but pragmatic, and her relationship with Colossus might be my true forever OTP.  I love that she’s friends with a dragon, that she’s pretty much the most powerful X-Man alive but hasn’t let that go to her head or overpower her common sense (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, CYCLOPS).  She’s a leader and a problem solver, but she’s also very human; she can let her personal feelings overwhelm her common sense, she gets afraid, she makes mistakes.  And then she fixes them because she’s a boss.

2. Kamala Khan

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Kamala. Kamala. Smart, fearless, overly brave; can I tell you how much I adored it when Lockjaw, this giant mutant dog that makes no sense, barrels into her life and her first reaction is to fling herself around his neck?  Kamala FEARS NOTHING, except normal teenage things like upsetting her dad.  She loves her family and doesn’t want to disappoint them, but knows she has this thing now that can help other people.  She meets Wolverine and fangirls over him.  She does the right thing because it’s the only thing she can imagine doing.

1. Barbara Gordon

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Look, guys, she’s a librarian (or she has been in some iterations).  As Oracle, Babs knew everything and what she didn’t know she knew how to find out.  Gail Simone’s Batgirl arc for the New 52 is what got me hardcore into comics.  She’s joyful, she’s funny, she’s smart, and reading her book made everything else feel more accessible.  Getting to know her as Batgirl made me seek out stories of her as Oracle, and there are few things as satisfying as watching her crush people with knowledge (except watching her kick people in the face, but I love that we can see both). I’m not as in love with the Batgirl of Burnside, but I love that DC is using her to welcome a younger, more diverse audience.  She’s cute, she’s earnest, I love everything Barbara is and chooses to be.

Developing Book Clubs – For Teen Boys

I’m in the process of transitioning my job duties at the library, changing over from younger/more generalized services to teen services.  It’s very exciting to be focusing my responsibilities (although I won’t be doing baby storytime anymore, which does make me sad – I’ve worked hard to grow my audience and I hope they continue to come after another librarian takes it over!), and one of the things I’ll be doing immediately is taking over some of the full-time teen librarian’s programs (especially on days when she’s double-booked, which really only happens on days that end in ‘y’).  This includes taking over the two teen book clubs.

So I’m now tasked with restarting and revitalizing the boys’ and girls’ book clubs that used to meet once a month, but petered out due to lack of participation.  Step one: re-branding them into something fresh, with an intriguing hook that will get teens in the door.  Step two: structure them in such a way that gives them control over the direction the clubs take.  Step three: get a repeat audience.

It’s a little daunting, honestly.  But I think I’m on the right track.

First off, I kind of hate that we have a “boys” and a “girls” book club, but I get why – our teens (as most do, I think) tend to segregate themselves into boy- and girl-groups, with some crossover but not a whole lot.  And the teens we have that would be prone to attending book clubs tend to hang out in small, tightly knit groups; marketing programs becomes about marketing to these groups, rather than to individuals (which doesn’t preclude any crossover audience, by the way – but we want teens to come to our programs, and if they can bring their friends we have a higher chance of getting all of them).  But I don’t want any potential participants to be scared off by an explicitly branded “boys” and “girls” club.  So when I started thinking about a way to re-brand the book clubs I tried to think of names/themes that would appeal to the two groups without alienating potential participants.

For the boys, I’m combining the ideas between two existing groups (the current boys’ book club, called Recently Returned Items, which encourages discussion on books/movies/games that teens have read in the previous month, and Talk Tights & Capes, my comic book discussion group which has a debate structure where teens can argue and defend their favorite heroes/villains/titles) and forming Recently Returned Items: Enter Thunderdome.  The idea here is that teens come ready to pitch me whatever book/movie/game they experienced in the prior month, and after a period of debate, I pick a winner and commit to reading, watching, or playing that item for the next meeting.  Anyone else who also commits to doing that gets a small incentive award at the next meeting if they actually do, and the winner of that day’s meeting also gets a small incentive prize.  The next month will start more like a formal book club, and the second half will be the next round of pitches.

The goal is to not only get my kids talking about books they’re passionate about, but to start picking reading material with a critical eye – “How can I sell this? Is this something worth debating?” I think there’s a lot of critical analysis skills that this is going to help develop, as well as getting them to think about why they enjoy the stuff they do in an analytical way.

I haven’t launched this yet – if all goes well I’ll be able to start it up on April 27, but I’m pretty confident about this structure.  It both encourages discussion, reading new things, and isn’t close-ended with a specific  book the guys would have to read (which would be a turn-off for this audience).  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Stay tuned for a break-down of what I’m planning for our girls!

Top Ten Female Comic Characters – 10 Through 6

I’m working on a post about running teen book clubs, but until I finish dotting those i’s I thought I’d talk about my tumblr project again, Favorite Ladies of Comics.  On Saturday, I hit #25, and I thought I’d celebrate that lovely number with the demi-goddess herself, Diana of Themyscira.

At that point, I found it important to reiterate that my list was not meant to be taken as any sort of ranking – these are female characters in comics from all over that I enjoy reading for one reason or another.  They are not listed in order of my favorites, nor are they listed according to any criteria other than “I want to make sure this list includes women from all kinds of comics, not just Marvel and DC.”  Because of that, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about who my very favorites actually are – if I was going to distill this down into my top ten favorite female comic characters, who would those be?

Behold.

10. Lucifer

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Is it weird that I kind of love that there are currently multiple, fabulous females in the comic world named Lucifer? Regardless, I’m referring specifically to the Wicked + The Divine incarnation, who’s part Bowie, part Tilda Swinton, and all badass.  But more than I love her devil-may-care attitude (pun intended, I assure you), I love the moments where we get to see her uncertainty.  I love the moments when things don’t go as she’s planning, and she kind of hesitates, and you know that under all the bravada and posturing part of her is still the teenage girl that was chosen to be the god.

9. Emma Frost

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My favorite Ice Queen.  I love women who get to be bad, and while I do think some of Emma’s redemption arc has detracted from the gloriousness of her unapologetic bitchiness (ew, Emma, Scott? Really?), I do love that she’s retained her iciness and absolute competency. This is a woman who you never doubt is in charge. She never apologizes for who or what she is. She’s powerful, in control, and even when she’s coming around to the good side she does so without losing the core of who she is. It’s not very often that you get to see women be bad, and Emma makes it look oh so stylish.

8. Selina Kyle

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I have a great fondness for all three major Gotham villainesses, but I think Catwoman comes out on top for similar reasons to why I like Emma Frost so much. Unlike Harley and Poison Ivy, Selina isn’t mentally damaged in any way. She’s a thief because she likes the thrill and she likes pretty things. She’s smart enough to thwart Batman, and recently her skills and capabilities have brought her up to mob boss status.  Selina is a classy lady who knows how to shape circumstances to her advantage.

7. Zatanna Zatara

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It’s kind of hard to vocalize my love for Zatanna, since I haven’t actually read much of her literature.  I think what draws me to her so strongly, though, is the fact that her character is such an odd one – she’s a mystic, but she’s not a witch or any kind of fantasy sorceress, she’s a stage magician.  She’s a performer; I love the idea of this incredibly powerful, true magician being the beautiful woman, when normally she’d be the assistant.  I love that even though the world she lives in is magical, she’s always very grounded; in Justice League Dark she’s frequently the problem-solver, helping the group out of the messes that can happen when Constantine gets them in over their heads. I love that she’s sassy, and that she’s friends with Black Canary (ladies supporting ladies! More of that!).  I also love her character design, which is sexy and cheesecakey but also totally appropriate (she’s a performer, remember).

6. The Lumberjanes Crew

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Am I cheating by having all five girls in one slot?  Yes.  Do I care?  Not even a little.  One of the best things about Molly, Mal, Jo, April and Ripley is their friendship; when they’re not all together you can feel something missing.  They love each other, they support each other, they recognize and encourage the individual skills they all have.  They’re a family, but the more intimate bonds that exist within that group (Mal and Molly, Jo and April’s friendship) are just as important and contribute just as much to the group as a whole.  Plus, they’re not afraid to get silly; they can get too intense sometimes (April!) but know when to pull each other back; together, they’re fearless.

Social Media, Comic Fans, and Access

The inspiration from this post comes from something Gail Simone said on tumblr today. (If you’re not familiar with Ms. Simone, she is a comic writer who has worked on titles such as Batgirl, Red Sonja, Secret Six, Tomb Raider, and others. She is also incredibly outspoken about the need for increased diversity both in comics and in comic creators, and is basically the best at social media. I love her and think you should read everything she has ever written.)  The other day, she posted:

“I had a discussion at ECCC with someone in comics, I’m not going to mention who, about how busy the convention was, and they said that some of the attendees were probably just “Tumblr fans.”

I asked what she meant, and she said that she felt there was a growing group of fans who love the characters and love MOMENTS of stories, but don’t read the actual comics ever. She said that they will buy a CHARACTER X t-shirt in a heartbeat, but don’t own any graphic novels.They will reblog a scene they like from a comic, but never go to an actual comics shop to get that same book.

Now, at first this seemed reactionary and diminishing, but I am curious about this notion. IS there such a thing as “Tumblr fandom,” in this sense?”

Simone goes on to specify that she herself doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with this – people have the right to enjoy what they want, how they want.  It did make me reflect on some things, though, because I do think there’s such a thing as a tumblr fan – and I strongly, STRONGLY don’t think there’s anything inferior about that.

Without social media, twitter and tumblr specifically, there are comics I wouldn’t read and characters I wouldn’t know about. I haven’t read a lot of Black Canary books, but I love her – how can you not? She’s a boss and she knows how to take care of herself. Yes, I would like to read books she appears in, but my time and my resources are short and I’m not always able to read what I want. Does that make me a less valid fan of Black Canary than someone else? (Ditto Zatanna, who I love fiercely but have only really encountered in the New 52 Justice League Dark. I cosplayed her for Halloween last fall and I looked AWESOME.)

“But Martha,” I hear you ask. “What does this have to do with youth services in libraries?” LET ME TELL YOU.

Every day I make guesses about what a kid will like in order to get a book in their hands. At my library, many of our kids either don’t have library cards or have fines too high to use them, so they’re not checking a lot of books out. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE NOT READING THEM – and more importantly, THIS DOESN’T MEAN THEY DON’T WANT TO BE. Especially the graphic novels: we have kids who will come in and spend hours reading comics and then putting them away.  So what that DOES mean is I have to pay even more attention to what kids and teens pick up when they’re here, and what they talk about, and what they say they WISH we had.

Frankly, one of the most important things I do is provide access to things my teens can’t get otherwise.  The city my library is in has a lot of low income families, and my teens generally don’t have a lot of money – they’re not buying monthly comics, because they can’t afford to. So they see a panel, or a page, or see a quote, pop up on tumblr or twitter, and they’ll look up the character and talk about the comic and maybe watch the cartoon (if there is one) on YouTube but if the comic itself isn’t in the library, they have no way of reading it. And remember, many of these kids either don’t have a card or can’t use their cards, so requesting materials from other libraries isn’t an option for them. It all comes down to what I can provide for them.

I do my best, but I can’t get everything. And I’m not going to be the one to tell the fans of Static Shock, or Renee Montoya, or Spider-Man Noir, or any of the other myriad books I can’t get because they’re out of print or don’t fit into my budget or don’t make sense to buy for the collection, that they’re “not real fans” because I can’t put the book in their hands.