Point to any comic on the wall of his little shop in Lynnwood, and Jim Demonakos knows the score. This cover with Hulk fighting The Thing...
Point to any comic on the wall of his little shop in Lynnwood, and Jim Demonakos knows the score.
This cover with Hulk fighting The Thing is good, but the art inside sucks. “Gambit” might seem like a lame hero to you, but you’d be more interested if you knew his background. And there’s George Romero’s zombie comic, but if you want a really good zombie comic, over here’s “The Walking Dead” …
Clearly a megalomaniac. And if Demonakos — who claims to have resisted what must be a huge temptation to go by “Demon” — isn’t thwarted in his master plan, Seattle could wind up with another identity. It’s already a coffee town — no further explanation needed on that march to world domination. It’s a movie town, with our annual film festival, Scarecrow Video, the Cinerama and Something Weird Video. And don’t forget all the serial killers.
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But as of Saturday, it’ll also be more of a comic-book town.
A growing presence
Meet the creators
Where and when
Seattle’s annual comic convention, Emerald City ComiCon, is this weekend at Qwest Field Event Center (south side), 1000 Occidental Ave. S. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $10 per day or $15 for both days, children 7 and younger admitted free; Ticketmaster or at the door.
In its third year, the Emerald City ComiCon that Demonakos organizes is expanding from one day to two, moving to a larger venue in the Qwest Field Event Center, and pulling in some big talent — much of it right from the Pacific Northwest. (For a full roster of guests and events, go to www.emeraldcitycomicon.com.)
Alternative publisher Fantagraphics is a well known and respected Seattle outfit — whose stars, “Hate” creator Peter Bagge and “Frank” guru Jim Woodring, are on the comic convention’s guest roster. But expand your scope to the Northwest and you’ve got what’s becoming one of the biggest areas for comics talent outside of New York.
Portland is home to Dark Horse Comics, whose “Hellboy,” “Conan” and “Star Wars” titles have started cutting into the dominance of the Big Two — Marvel and DC. About a dozen smaller publishers dot the landscape between Portland and Vancouver, B.C., including Oni Press, Last Kiss Entertainment, Committed Comics and Castle Rain Entertainment.
But it’s not all funky, fringe stuff. A growing number of artists and writers who do mainstream work for the Big Two are also thriving in the Northwest.
“We told Marvel they would save a lot of FedEx money if they just moved to Portland,” says writer Brian Michael Bendis. His work includes “Ultimate Spider-Man,” a strong run on “Daredevil” in which the blind hero became Hell’s Kitchen’s new Kingpin of Crime, and a revamped “Avengers” that’s become the nation’s top-selling title. (He killed off some old members and replaced the disbanded team with hotter current characters — to the annoyance of some traditionalists.)
Why the Northwest and not so much the chummy New York City populated by the early comic creators of Michael Chabon’s fact-based novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”?
“I don’t know why. I think it has something to do with the rain. You just have nothing to do but sit around and make comics,” Bendis says. “I think what’s shocking to people is that most of them are outstanding comic-book artists, supremely talented people, all gathered together.”
With 2,800 attendees last year, the Emerald City ComiCon was like Ant-Man compared to Galactus — that is, San Diego’s Comic-Con International, the industry’s biggie, which drew 87,000 people over four days in mid-July. But Bendis, echoing a complaint of Demonakos and others, says the San Diego convention’s been overrun by movie studios. The Emerald City one is “much more interested in the comic aspect than whatever the studio is selling.”
So look for writers and artists signing their work at tables and talking in panel discussions, and lots of dealers selling all manner of comic-related stuff; but not the kind of scenario Bagge recently witnessed at a convention, when grown men wept with joy at the official announcement of the next “Star Wars” flick’s mere title.
Seattle and the Northwest had already been a hub for music and art by the ’90s, says Seattle writer Ed Brubaker. But the Internet is what made it possible for comics people to live wherever they want. There’s no part of the job that can’t be transmitted online now, from script to art. If Stan Lee had put together his legendary “bullpen” of creative talent today, they might never see each other in the flesh. But Brubaker says, “I see art from the guys working on my books almost daily.”
Brubaker has courted controversy with gay heroes in “The Authority,” recently killed off longtime arch nemesis The Red Skull in “Captain America” (“For me, it was just like, ‘Let’s shake things up.’ “), and thrown an “NYPD Blue” vibe into Batman’s world with “Gotham Central.”
“I view this ridiculous, over-the-top super-villain kind of crime through the eyes of a cop who would walk into the scene and say, ‘OK, first The Joker threw this gas bomb over here and this guy turned purple … ‘ ”
Dressing the part
Brubaker has also written “Catwoman” and helped design her current costume — the costume in the book, not Halle Berry’s reviled movie (“I haven’t seen it and had nothing to do with it.”). But that segues to another aspect of comic conventions: the fans. Like Trekkies and “Star Wars” nuts, a portion of ‘em play dress-up. And a few are even girls. (Traditionally, males have accounted for more than 90 percent of comic readership, but that number’s slowly lowering.)
Brubaker recalls, “At one convention last year, two different girls showed up in the new Catwoman costume and kept hanging around the booth. They’re asking me deep, insightful questions, and they’re wearing these solid plexi-leather body suits that I designed. It’s just kind of mind-blowing to see that happen.” He puts it another way: “Almost all comic events reinforce one stereotype or another.”
Nobody draws the nerd stereotype more hilariously than Seattle cartoonist Bagge, whose character Buddy Bradley has even run a comic shop and set up a booth at a convention in the series. (His latest collection is “Buddy Does Seattle: The Complete Buddy Bradley Stories from ‘Hate’ Comics, Vol. 1.” Fantagraphics, $14.95.)
Recalling another comic convention, he says, “Last year the big movie was ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and lo and behold, there were 500 people dressed up like Johnny Depp. Could you possibly be more witless?”
So he’s never put on a costume?
“I dress as a bitter cartoonist,” Bagge says.
One of Bagge’s other current projects is an “Apocalypse Nerd” miniseries for Dark Horse. The plot: “It’s about a computer nerd who survives a nuclear attack. North Korea blows up Seattle while he’s on vacation in the mountains.”
At comic conventions, Bagge says he avoids “guys with boxes and Mylar bags trying to con each other into spending 50 bucks for some ‘Metal Men’ comic.” Along with the dealers’ long, white boxes of plastic-enshrined back issues, you can also find affordable original art at conventions — and buy it right from the artist. Bagge says his best recent score was Archie drawings from the late artist Dan DeCarlo’s widow for a good price.
The line forms …
As for interacting with fans at an autograph table or a panel discussion, Bagge says dryly, “First, I hope that I’ll have a fan or two.”
Talk about your trade-offs. Comparing Emerald City to San Diego, Bagge says, “I actually prefer the smaller ones since I am in the comic-book business. Sadly, the smaller they are, the less likely they’ll pay any attention to alternative comics. They’re very superhero-oriented.”
Just ask John Layman, another Seattle writer. (Disclosure: Layman is married to a Seattle Times reporter — but not this one, so relax.) A vet who’s done “Gen-13,” and “Thundercats,” he recalls it being so quiet he could have heard crickets chirp at a signing table to promote “Puffed,” “about a guy in a dragon suit who poops on himself,” while coveting the long line in front of Vancouver, Wash.’s “Conan” and “Astro City” writer, Kurt Busiek. (He’ll also be at the Seattle convention.)
Now Layman’s writing one of Marvel’s X-Men spinoff titles, “Gambit,” about the Cajun hero-by-day/thief-by-night. “He’s kind of a Han Solo ladies man, a charming kind of rapscallion guy. He’s got a huge fan base, particularly among women, which is weird. He’s had a long romance with Rogue, but she can’t be touched.”
Layman says, “The Emerald City ComiCon will be first time I have a real significant book with a degree of heat on it. I’ll get a line this time.”
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org