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So I’m more or less back.

Actually, it’s a toss-up: on the one hand, there was the jubilant chaos of the impromptu party on the little mezzanine balcony overlooking the lobby of the Embassy Suites: Jenn on the floor happily sketching away with Patrick Farley; various Pants Pressers littering couches and chairs hastily assembled into ad hoc conversational nooks: Jen Wang’s sprawled in Derek Kirk Kim’s lap for a photo, Erika Moen’s actually off in search of food, Vera Brosgol just stole my seersucker, I’ve got no idea where Clio Chiang went, and Bill Mudron and Dylan Meconis and Phil and I are trying to figure out this wacky Hamlet game Phil bought the last time he was in Oberlin. I’d drawn the ending where all the kids had to end up out of Denmark and safe, and my first step is getting Ophelia into a nunnery (go!); Phil decides Claudius is going to try to execute Gertrude in the first act (it didn’t work); Bill just wants Hamlet and Lærtes to fight, dammit (how do you solve a problem like Lærtes?); and I never did figure out what Dylan was up to. Craig Thompson stops by, but he can’t stay, and Justine Shaw’s been there all along, and I think that was Cat Garza, and was Indigo Kelleigh there for a bit, or am I confusing this whole merry mess with that first night at Dick’s? I’ve lost track. I’m trying to get Hamlet to France. —When Vera and Erika and Lori Matsumoto and a couple of other people return with hors d’oeuvres and pitchers of beer and Coke it turns out one of the writers of Pirates of the Caribbean is picking up the tab. Over there, smiling quietly, there’s Scott McCloud and Ivy McCloud and Larry Marder, and you know what? This is all their fault, really. In far more ways than one.

But the next day: the next day, Phil grabs me out of the booth Jenn’s sharing with Chris and he drags me halfway across the con floor until we find what passes for a quiet place—one side of a round table under Frank Quitely’s enormous poster of the Endless, in the concession block behind New Line’s schizoid, bloodsoaked forest—half massive shrine to The Lord of the Rings, half creepy recreation of that summer camp where Jason slaughtered so many promiscuous teens. (Apparently, Jason’s fighting Freddy in a movie later this year, which explains as much as anything can why that portly wizard and his vinyl-wrapped slave girl are both sporting bloody make-up furrows on the left sides of their faces.) —Across the table from me some kids are sorting their Yu Gi Oh! decks; up on the balcony three or four sunglassed Agent Smiths are surveilling the con floor, their hands on their earpieces. Phil drops a portable CD player and some headphones in my lap and says, “Play tracks 6, 12, and 18. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” And so I do, and it’s a voice from way back when, Steve Espinola singing about googols in a way that some might denigrate as “mere” wit, as “only” clever wordplay, as if somehow they’ve missed the deep melancholy, as if they’ve forgotten language is the only game in town. So I close my eyes and shut out the smell of spilled mustard and listen to Steve sing about desperately needing to indulge in jubilant, merry chaos through the streets of Manhattan to wipe the tombstones out of the corners of his eyes, and I take my first deep breath in days.

The rest was mostly sex and death with the occasional comic book. Sex and death? Badges of, representations of, icons and eidolons: thrills not sought but sketched, gestured at, pointed to. Consumed. Colliding most often in the prevalent image, inked, airbrushed, modelled in Photoshop, of a sword-wielding, gun-toting woman, her thighs bared, her face either set in a grim rictus or a feral grin—but splintered and scattered throughout: post-pubescent boys in black Punisher T-shirts, fake 9 mils in their hands, browse blood-drenched Champions of Hell comic books while the booth proprietor snatches up his digital camera to zoom in for a close-up of the angel’s ass as she totters by on her six-inch Lucite heels; under her fluffy white wings (held up by an uncomfortable-looking armature of PVC piping), you’ll note she’s wearing her lacy G-string outside her hip-hugging translucent white tights. —Sex and death, and we can tut over the booth bimbettes in their slutty schoolgirl costumes and the swords and the guns and the white boy leers, we can ponder the wisdom of the woman wearing a decent-enough recreation of conquistador plate in the muggy San Diego heat, we can goggle at the tall thin guy in nothing but white socks, Keds, and his boyhood Spider-man Underoos, but we’re missing the point: it’s thrills. Not sex, but the thrill of desiring, and being desired. Not death, but the thrill of danger nimbly avoided in the nick of the last minute, and death cheekily mocked. Or as close as we can safely get, mind. Images, signs, and symbols; icons and eidolons; imagos and half-remembered fevre dreams. Other thrills are easier to realize more directly: the thrill of recognition (“I’ve been reading Bruno since 1996!”), the thrill of brushing fame (being growled at by Lou Ferrigno, and did Angelina Jolie ever fly in by helicopter?), the thrill of hanging out with your peers in your chosen art and the thrill of dropping names (though I never did meet Neil, sigh), the thrills of giddily sudden, Proustian nostalgia and cognitive dissonance, the thrill of finally tracking down the CD with that song that comes at the very end of Cowboy Bebop, the thrill when you realize this new comic really is as good as everyone’s saying it is (Blankets, that is—much like the same thrill when you first read Stuck Rubber Baby), the thrill of finding a brand-new comic or TV show or movie or game or idea—a brand new world—to fall into. To lose yourself in. We may be (however briefly) discussing the state of the comics blogosphere with Dirk Deppey, picking up Tria marker techniques, or dishing the current state of a micropayment beta test (quite healthy, apparently)—but we’re also hunting for the NeiA_7 soundtrack and peering in wonder at giant Japanese robots and when we giggle at the stormtroopers and Starfleet officers facing off for a minute in the middle of a crowded aisle, it’s as much in delight as it is—what? Scorn? Superciliousness? There but for the grace of God? —To pretend that our reasons for being here have nothing in common with whatever it was that brought that woman here in her G-string and angel’s wings would be—dishonest. For all that our respective cups of tea aren’t to each other’s liking.

Thrill-seeking we will always have with us. Comics—like gaming, like cartoons, like (to a lesser extent) movies—make up a potent toolkit for limning the signs and symbols of things too dangerous to confront directly, but nontheless desired deeply (and in many cases dangerous because so deeply desired). Comics allow us to harvest these thrills by brushing up against their illusions. There’s other things comics do well, quite well indeed—the unparalleled intimacy of what is essentially a handwritten note from the artist directly to you makes them ideal for memoir and autobiography, clefed or otherwise: Maus, Stuck Rubber Baby, One! Hundred! Demons!, Blankets, Eddie Campbell’s Alec MacGarry stuff, Derek Kirk Kim, etc. and so forth. And that’s just one of the other things. But it’s the thrills that pull at us (all of us) the most strongly, whether it’s a wittily sophisticated recontextualization or a crude depth charge. Giggle in shock, and tut and frown and look on with concern—there’s a lot to worry about in those nubile half-naked angels of mayhem, those armored robot zombie berserkers. But think back to 1986, or 1990, even 1995 or 1998, and look at what else is going on now, how radically comics are opening up old-fashioned assumptions of what thrills are sought out, and who’s allowed to seek them. It’s not without its problems; hell no. Nothing’s ever perfect. We’re dealing with desire, after all, and desire’s inherently destabilizing. But it’s opening up to let more people in, and that’s as close to a definition of progress as I can come at the moment.

I think I’ve been listening to that last Cowboy Bebop song too much already: “Everything is clearer now, life is just a dream, you know, that’s never ending… I’m ascending…” Whatever. —Look at it this way: the population of a middlin’-sized town came together in the massive barn of the San Diego Convention Center to create a space safe enough for those who want to dress up in Spider-man Underoos or a faux fox tail or a full-on Imperial Stormtrooper’s kit to do so. To flirt with, put on, play with all those eidolons of sex and death, trouble and desire. It’s appallingly geeky, embarrassing, hysterical, hypocritical, stupid, gorgeous, impressive, deadening, exhausting, enervating, infuriating, magical, dull, quotidian, cool, dorky, depressing, distressing, lame, and inherently subversive.

It’s just it doesn’t stop with the stuff you or I might want subverted. Caveat emptor.

If it’s comics you’re after, though, you might enjoy APE or SPX or MOCCANY more. Apples and oranges and kettles of fish of a different color.

(The runner-up? And a close one, too. Wasn’t even a night in San Diego. The night before we got there, in LA, we’re in the theater at the top of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Jenn and I, and Lori and Patrick and David Wilson, watching “Our Lady of the Sphere.” But before that—before that, Patrick had brought a tape of the old Isis show—remember Isis? And we watched a couple of episodes of that, howling with glee and disbelief at the acting and the costumes and the trite morals and the Filmation danger music that was beaten into the coils of my lizard brain so very long ago. Saturday morning madeleines. —It’s a deliriously enchanting place to visit, but would I want to live there?

(Do I have any choice?)

  1. Clio    Jul 21, 07:57 PM    #
    I was trying to get into Kazu Kibuishi's pants.

    Man oh man, SUCH an honour to meet you and Jenn! I loved every moment of it. Thank you for your optimism and making my first con rock.

    (oh, and for the chihuahua too)

  2. --k.    Jul 22, 11:33 AM    #
    Honor, schmonor. We're just trying to get in on the ground floor of the future of comics, ourselves. So there.

    (PS: Quite liked your piece on Shirin Kouladjie. And congrats on the AmeriManga deal.)

  3. Jennworks    Jul 23, 09:54 AM    #
    Doing time in Southern California
    So, yeah, Comic Con 2003. It was big. Crowded. Had to sift through to find the comics. But before all

  4. Indigo    Jul 24, 09:36 PM    #
    Dang! No, I wasn't at that party, but I really wish I had been. I hung out with Lori and her friend (Dan I think) after dinner that night, but after that I just went back to my room and showered & slept. I could have gone for a good game of Hamlet....

    maybe next year...

  5. steve e.    Aug 1, 07:14 PM    #
    Who you be and why are you saying such kind things about me? Is that Phil as in Phil What-you-ask-next-after-the-five-W's? Foun d'you during a desperate late-night "ego search". thank you, kip, you made my day.

    shoobie do wah,

    steve e.

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