“Are you nervous, Alex?”
That’s how Phoenix Comicon Fan Fest started for me. I had roamed the underbelly of University of Phoenix Stadium until I found the Fiesta Bowl Digital Media Room where the fans-create-a-comic sessions were going on, starting with the “A Hero is Born” panel. Brian Augustyn headlined the panel with a walking cane as his sidearm. Accompanying him on the panel were newly-published local novelist Amy K. Nichols and creator Sean “Cheeks” Galloway of Spectacular Spider Man and Teen Titans fame. I arrived about ten minutes late but thankfully nothing had started yet. After another ten minutes of nothing the moderator & panelists decided to go ahead and get started.
The delay was understandable. I was the only attendee.
If you’re wondering if that’s as awkward as it sounds, it absolutely was. And it’s a damn shame, too – here’s a rare opportunity for consumers to collaborate with creators and make something representative of themselves and the Valley of the Sun, and its going to waste!
Instead of a crowd, it’s only me. No pressure, Alex. You’re just representing the thoughts of an entire state.
“Why don’t you come on in a little closer?” asks Brian, so I saunter on up to the front row. Everyone on the panel introduced themselves, each providing a brief verbal resume before moving on to the next, after which Moderator Shawn Demumbrum discusses fan responses to a preliminary survey about the character we’d be creating. Said character is…
- Has powers somehow rooted in the myth of the legendary phoenix bird
- Adorned in Sand-Tan and Sedona Red
Okay, that’s a start. Then the conversation turns to me. “So what’s your name? Tell us about yourself.”
I give the panelists my pseudonym (no, not Alex Hamilton) and my brief bio. Engineer by trade. Marine. Possibly the least creative person they’ve ever sat in front of. They immediately respond with, “Oooh, that’s a very heroic-sounding name.”
Are you kidding me? I’m just a dude that works in an IT shop and runs a nerdy webcast! “But you’re a Marine!” Okay, fair point.
Then, the question. “Are you nervous, Alex?”
The PG-13 version of what was going through my head right at that moment is some version of, “Hells yes, I’m nervous!” So nervous that I don’t remember exactly how I responded to the question, in fact, other than that I lied a little bit (UPDATE: I talked with Sean a little while after the panel. Apparently my mental state was obvious as the full measure of my nervousness shone through on my face.). I did let them know I felt a bit out of place as my intention was to simply observe the professionals and fans engaging in the creative process. Instead, here I am – possibly the least knowledgeable comic book fan in the entire convention – as the sole fan participant in this portion of the collaborative effort.
If it were all on me the results would have been disastrous. Fortunately there were actual content and character creators on the panel who have done this a time or three, and their experience and professionalism soon took over – so much so that my fears were quickly quelled and I was able to intelligently contribute to the brainstorming. We eventually fleshed out a doctor in the burn unit of a valley hospital who can absorb the pain of her patients via direct touch, but that pain energy must be diffused in the form of fire.
It wasn’t too long after we’d settled on these details that fellow convention-goer Serge Luke walks in sporting a steampunk pilot’s outfit and speaking in a genuine Yugoslav accent. *Phew* I’m not the only one here any more! If the character development goes south I can blame it on him. But it didn’t go south, and Serge had some fantastic ideas of his own to offer
A few moments later we were discussing limits to our characters power. Someone blurted out, “If she absorbs too much pain she just erupts in a blaze.”
Brian’s eyes lit up. “Blaze. I think you just named our character!” Everyone agreed, and thus our heroine was dubbed.
As we were going through this process, brains storming and ideas flying, I remember thinking to myself that the hero we were creating and the back story we were giving her was FAR more than could be represented in a four-page comic, but it was actually of such quality that someone could – and should – springboard off of it and create a full book. I didn’t say anything, though, because comics aren’t my realm of expertise. Apparently my Spidey-sense is somewhat attuned to this kind of thing, however, because Brian ended up suggesting to Shawn that these details be put up on Comixology for other creators to launch off of, figuring that it was a solid starting point. And that’s when I new this motley crew of creatives, fans, and staffers had something going…something real. Not only that, but for the first time in my life, I was truly excited for something comic-related and engaged with the comic community. What a rush!
The problem with all this is that there were many more panels necessary to finish creating this comic throughout the day – character art, story line, cover art, and the like – but there was also an entire convention to participate in and enjoy. As such, the rest of the day was spent dashing between the dealer hall and digital media room, alternating between creating comics and buying merch.
The first of the panels I dashed in and out of was the art panel, which was comprised of Heather L Martin, Kelley Lester, Jason Pedersen, and John Chihak – all artists local to our state! Much of the work was done pre-convention, but you can see some of the reference images they created for our main character above.
Kelley said something very interesting about her work, indicating that she was trying to keep in mind how a cosplayer would translate the costume into real life. This runs counter to the sentiments of some comic creators towards cosplayers that I’ve been hearing lately, so it was great to see that not all creators feel the same towards this growing part of convention life.
From the art we transitioned to the scenario panel. Brian Augustyn returned to the panelist’s table for the session, this time joined by Scott Kolins (from DC and Marvel, including The Flash, and has a new book coming out soon – Past Aways) and Michael Martin (Nightshade Comics). I won’t give too much away about the scenario here – if you want to know how Blaze’s story goes, you’ll need to wait for the printed product! – but I will say that we will get to see her in her full, fiery glory before the end of the mini-book. What was revealing here was just how much thought went into every panel, how many panels were in every page, and how many pages were in the book. There are FAR more details created about this character than can be represented in what precious little comic real estate this project has been afforded, so the creators are really focusing on getting the most bang for the buck. In our case this is probably for the best – there is no time for excess flourish or circumstance since the book is scheduled to be concepted, scenarioed, drawn, inked, colored, and printed in less than 60 total hours.
After this panel was something about thumbnails. I had convention business to attend to so unfortunately I had to miss that one, but rejoined the fray with artist Franchesco in the cover art panel. There were less fans here than during the scenario panel, but enough to make it engaging. Franchesco started work on his initial cover sketch (which, we’ve been warned, is unlikely to closely resemble the eventual final product due to how his creative process works) while talking directly to every single fan in attendance, showing both his knowledge of the industry, his passion for his work, and his artistic talent. This guy’s a gem, and ends up being so enthused by the idea of a comic being created on-site that he asks for a picture of himself with the attendees so he can remember those who contributed to it!
You can see the sketch in progress below. He’s quite adept and drawing and talking without losing a beat in the art or conversation. Science has shown that the voluntary portions of our brain are single-threaded and that multi-tasking isn’t technically possible, but Franchesco’s brain either switches focus from task to task three hundred times per second, or he’s developed his ability to a point where his brain treats it almost as an involuntary task just as it would with breathing or beating his heart. I’m guessing it’s the later.
That literally brings us to the end of the convention day – security staff came into the room and booted us out because we had overstayed our welcome (sorry!). It’s just as well, though. My wallet was far lighter & bag far heavier than when I entered, and I’ve got two more busy days ahead. Unfortunately I won’t be able to capture as many details of the creative process tomorrow due to conflicting activities, but you can bet I’ll be on hand for the unveiling!
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