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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I went to Iowa for a Comics Conference, not a convention.

I went to the University of Iowa in early October for the Comics, Creativity and Culture Conference and had a great time.

The conference was co-organized by Dr. Ana Merino, a friend of almost everyone in alternative comics, and a friend I hadn't seen in person in about 8 years. Here she is with one of her many fabulous dress coats.

Ana with the sweetest and smartest guy in comics, Jeet Heer. And here's the thing about this conference. I saw people I haven't seen in years, as well as people I may have seen more recently but haven't ever spent more than five haggard minutes with shouting across a table at a busy loud convention, Jeet included.

Case in point: Dr. Charles Hatfield. Charles adopts all of our books, writes about our comics, but I have never spoken to him outside of San Diego Comicon ever. Behind him is John P.

Besides seeing people, one of the reasons why I was excited to go to Iowa City was to visit the evergreen bookstore Prairie Lights.

It did not disappoint, here is the display for the visiting authors, right in the middle of the store.

A face-out, not spine-out, graphic novel section? What the heck?

Now, I have been in enough bookstores to know that a face-out well-organized thoughtful graphic novel section is the work of what we call "a comics mole." After introducing myself to the staff, I find out that the comics guy at Prairie Lights is Terry Cain, who kindly told me that Paying For It sells well there. Umm, glad to hear it!

But back to the conference, the first thing I did was head over so I could see the panel with “Comics Pedagogy: Teaching the Making of Comics” featuring Jessica Abel, James Sturm and John Porcellino. It was a well thought-out panel as each participant brought a different perspective to teaching comics.

James hams it up by drawing. Hey, shake what your momma gave ya is what I always say.

Can we talk about Sturm for a second? This man is amazing. He gave me a run-down of his what he's up to list, and it was more insane than that time in the San Diego Airport he told me that he wanted to start a comics school that was the equivalent of the Iowa Writers Workshop, full circle anyone? Also this photo is by Phoebe Gloeckner. Say whaaaat?

Yes, that's right, one of the most enigmatic and charming people in comics, Phoebe Gloeckner, was there. Sadly, though, she arrived and left before the weekend started. Luckily, it just barely timed out that she was able to meet Joe Sacco, whom she had never met before. Phoebe and I did have time to go shopping together though.

And the three of us were able to have lunch and it was love at first sight for Joe and Phoebe.

Well, it's always about the love with Joe. That's the little known thing about the acclaimed war journalist. I've known this guy since my first few months at DC Comics, and I will always adore him! He knows how to make a lady feel special! Comics fellows take note!

After lunch, we were just barely able to get a photo of Phoebe with Gilbert, Jaime and Gary, all of whom she hadn't seen in years. I guess Phoebe had something important to do like attend her brother's wedding so that she couldn't stay the weekend. Until Brooklyn, Phoebe, until Brooklyn.

OK, maybe I'm jaded but when they said it was time to go see the comics exhibit, I wasn't that enthused. Hey I'm married to Tom, I work with Tom, and our home (and life) is brimming with comics art, and I've seen a lot of comics exhibits.

I WAS WRONG! It was a complete overview of comics from the early 20th century through now.

None of the medium's major milestones were missed.

I know what you are thinking: this all seems pretty fancy, so why did they invite me? For the panel “Preservation and Presentation: The Art and Business of Comics Publishing” with me, Gary Groth and Craig Yoe. The thing about Gary is that I always enjoy being on a panel with him. And another thing about Gary, he likes his cartoonists living and dead, whereas Craig likes them dead, and I like them living. Oh you had to be there. Sidenote: I have decided to start a Gary Groth tumblr page in hopes that one day a bad photo of Gary may be posted to it. Not only does Gary not age, it's utterly impossible to get a bad photo of Gary.

Here's, another thing about Iowa. I was able to attend the programming. Not stuck slinging books behind ye olde booth. I have never seen Joe speak before. He was great, but of course! Spoke to a full house who hung on his every word.


After Joe's event, we stopped by the local comics shop Daydream Comics to meet the staff. Kidding.

We really stopped by Daydream so Jaime and Gilbert could check out the new 52. Not kidding.

I guess better Wonder Woman than that neverending kerfuffle we'll never stop hearing about. OMG! DC Comics hates women! Yawn. Tell me something I didn't know firsthand.

Daydream has a door that they let "pros" draw on.

James visited the day before and drew Green Arrow Or Green Hornet Or Green Lantern. I know, 4 years of being a superhero publicist and NOTHING retained!


Yeah, it was a pretty awesome trip for all involved.

If I were to say that Friday night ended in my hotel room and that Gary, Jaime and Joe all got kicked out by security would that sound scandalous? (See what I mean about Gary? Flawless!) Yes? It does sound scandalous? Well then it didn't happen. And there's no video, so don't ask.

OK, how do you follow up the standing room only Friday night headliner with Joe Sacco? Oh, just have Dr. Corey Creekmur (conference co-organizer and exhibit co-curator) do possibly the best job ever in moderating a conversation with the Hernandez Brothers. Seriously, I would pay to have Corey fly with my authors on tour to moderate every conversation. Meanwhile, the brothers were no slouches either, being warm, funny, honest and open.

Here's another co-organizer the charming friends-at-first-sight Professor Rachel Williams with Luis Humberto Crosthwaite.

Here's Ana with Los Bros.

After the event, we were able to unwind. Supposedly this is the moment that Jeet and Gary spoke about Clint Eastwood. Supposedly. (See what I mean about Gary? The Curious Case of Gary Groth...)

Oh to be a fly on that brick wall.

My last lucid memory of Saturday night was of Dr. Bart Beatty (another person I had never been able to talk longer than five minutes to). Dr. Craig Fischer, Dr. Charles Hatfield and Jeet politely listen to Bart expound on this theory of hmmm, what was it again? The mafia? The Comics Code? And Marilyn Monroe? And probably some Rockefeller US and Standard Oil thrown in. Just joking (not), whatever they were talking about was probably just too smart for me. God bless them. And damn you never can take a bad photo Gary Groth.

So just how great was this visit? Well, I think the fact that I got bumped up to first class was wholly indicative of what a first class event this was. Thank you to all of my hosts at the University of Iowa and fellow guests, I very much enjoyed your company and conversation. Until we meet again.

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