Spencer: Someday I will go to a ComicCon that isn’t Wizard World Philly (which I’ve attended, and covered, for three years now), but in the meantime, it’s close, I love Philadelphia, and I have a great time there, so I’ll keep coming back. For all my familiarity with this con, though, there’s always something new going on that takes me by surprise. That’s a necessity, I suppose — stagnation no doubt equals death at these things — but it does mean that, even as an experienced con-goer, I need to be prepared in order to get everything done that I’d like to. Really, that’s a great lesson for any ComicCon, any event, and just life in general: always check out the website first, always make up a battle plan, and always go in prepared. It’s certainly what I did, and I had a great weekend because of it.
Because of their fixed time (and because I wasn’t doing any celebrity photo-ops this year), the panels ended up being the events I planned my entire itinerary around. In one of my two great regrets of this weekend, I missed the panel I was most excited about — the Civil War panel with Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie, and Sebastian Stan — because of a late start and a 20 minute wait in the parking garage, but I still managed to squeeze in three panels that were all entertaining and informative in their own ways.
The first panel I attended was “Protecting Star City” with Stephen Amell.
Anyone who read my coverage of last year’s con knows how fond I am of Stephen Amell, and that holds true this year as well; Amell was enthusiastic, thoughtful, and passionate about pleasing his fans. While the panel was ostensibly about Arrow, Amell spent a lot of time pimping his role as Casey Jones in last week’s TMNT: Out of the Shadows, a role he particularly enjoyed because of Casey’s enthusiasm, which is in stark contrast to Arrow‘s grim interpretation of Oliver Queen.
And since we’re on the topic of TMNT, yes, someone did ask the most important question in the world: Amell’s favorite Turtle is Mikey. That said, Amell says he’s most like Leo, but that his daughter sometime makes him freak out like Raph, and that he’d want Donatello to be his best friend.
It’s impossible to fully sum up an entire 45 minute panel, but here’s a few more highlights:
- When asked about the upcoming fifth season of Arrow, Amell revealed that he’s been on the road promoting TMNT since the beginning of May and has no idea what’s coming down the pipeline. That said, considering Oliver’s actions against Damian Darhk, he’s hoping to see a less black-and-white, more morally ambiguous Ollie. Amell’s also hoping that Oliver’s new position as Mayor of Star City will allow him to return to the character’s original interpretation as a man of the people. Amell hopes to explore Oliver’s political ideologies, and hopes to “offend some people” in the process.
- When asked about the death of Laurel Lance/Black Canary, Amell deftly navigated the controversial topic, stating that he didn’t like the decision and misses Katie Cassidy, who was the first Arrow co-star he met, but also reminded the audience that decisions like this are just part of working on a TV show.
- Amell likewise avoided controversy when asked about the relationship between Oliver and Felicity (another hot-button topic amongst Arrow‘s increasingly toxic fandom), stating that he’s not sure where it’s heading, but that he felt like it was important to put the relationship on the back-burner near the end of the season, because there were far more pressing matters to explore.
- If stranded on Lian Yu, Amell claims that he’d be dead within a week.
- Amell would be up for a musical crossover episode of all the CW superhero shows only if Oliver died in the first act (and thus never sang), but would legitimately consider a one-off live performance.
- He believes that a four way crossover between Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl is imminent, and just wants to see Diggle’s reaction to Supergirl flying.
- One young fan asked Amell what it was like to “know karate,” and Amell replied that he’s not a great martial artist, but that he’s become very skilled at the art of fighting on camera, which is another beast entirely — you need to know which angle the camera’s shooting from and how to throw a punch without hurting your partner, for starters.
- Another excited fan could barely get her question out, and as she walked down the aisle past me, kept exclaiming “I’m gonna throw up!”
Eventually the topic of fan reaction was broached, and Amell closed the panel with a surprisingly impassioned speech on the topic, saying that he’s happy if you love the show or if you hate it — it’s only indifference that bothers him — and that he welcomes criticism, but if “you attack the actors for things the characters do, you’re not a real fan.”
Next up was “Brotherly Love, Asgard Style” with Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston.
True to the panel’s name, the two did indeed seem like brothers, with Hiddleston mentioning that he’d even been made an “honorary Hemsworth.” Both actors were huge comic fans when they were first cast, and bonded immediately over their shared newness and love of the medium. They knew their Marvel movies would be a “great adventure.”
Fans generally seemed more interested in asking Hiddleston questions than Hemsworth, but both got in their fair share of zingers. Here’s the highlights of the panel:
- The crowd roared in approval at the prospect of Hiddleston playing James Bond, but while Hiddleston said he couldn’t address the rumors, he essentially shot them down. That didn’t stop fans from asking about what his approach to 007 would be, though, and the suggestion of bringing in Hemsworth to play his villain was met with massive applause as well.
- Both actors promised that Thor: Ragnarok would deliver a huge shift in tone, plenty of heart, and tons of new worlds. Hiddleston also promised we’d see a follow-up to the famous “Hulk vs. Loki” scene from The Avengers.
- When asked about filming that scene, Hiddleston joked that it mostly just hurt his pride. Mark Ruffalo actually wasn’t involved in shooting the scene at all — ruts were already made in the set, and Hiddleston essentially had to throw himself into each rut as if he was being tossed by the Hulk. Nobody on set could keep a straight face.
- What would Thor think of the events of Captain America: Civil War? Hemsworth simply responded, “Sort it out already, sillies.” Hiddleston thinks that Loki would be disappointed by their split after all the work he went through to bring the Avengers together.
- One fan asked Hemsworth how he could top that scene from Civil War where Chris Evans essentially curled a helicopter, and Hemsworth figured he’d have to use his biceps to kill the Hulk. Hiddleston proceeded to squeeze Hemsworth’s arm for an uncomfortably long period of time.
There was an impressive variety of fans assembled for this panel. One laid out a thoughtful theory about Thor being able to see though Loki’s illusions, which left both actors speechless. Another tried to coerce them in to playing a round of “‘befriend’, marry, kill,” which was intensely awkward. A fan cosplaying “Darth Trump” completely stumped Hiddleston, who told him to “go build a wall.” Finally, a young boy was so excited and overwhelmed by the opportunity to ask Hemsworth and Hiddleston a question that his mother had to ask for him as he wept into her arm; he received a nearly deafening round of applause.
My final panel was “Great Scott! Revisiting Back to the Future” with Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson. It ended up being the most informative panel of the day, though perhaps not in the way they intended.
What this panel really drove home for me is the importance of a great moderator. The moderators of the first two panels were essentially non-entities, introducing the guests then quickly getting out of their way. The moderator of this panel, though, seemed to think he was the star (he literally wrote a book on Back to the Future, and was even in the movie in a cameo role), throwing around a metric tons of BttF references and directing the panelists through the history of the films with very specific, somewhat leading questions throughout 2/3ds of the panel, even as fans stood waiting for their turn to ask questions. It was exhausting.
Things picked up once the fans were finally afforded their turn. While the moderator’s portion of the panel was mired in nostalgia and fairly well-known BttF trivia, the fans seemed interested the rest of the actors’ careers as well (one fan asked Fox why the Keatons drank so much orange juice on Family Ties, to which he replied that it was a technique he used to help with his comedic timing, another asked about Fox’s charity work, and another asked Thompson about Howard the Duck of all things), and even their BttF questions were more interesting (one fan asked which time period each actor liked the best — Fox and Thompson chose the 50’s, Lloyd the old west — and another asked Thompson how she switched between playing young Lorraine and old Lorraine; Thompson truly felt like she understood both characters, and she based the older Lorraine off her mom and an aunt, I believe).
Thankfully, throughout it all the actors themselves were class acts. Thompson was bubbly and enthusiastic, Lloyd’s grumpy persona got a lot of laughs, and although Fox visibly struggled to get his words out at times, his self-depreciating wit easily won the crowd over (not that they needed much winning — in one of the day’s more touching moments, Fox received a standing ovation when he took the stage).
There were also a lot of Teen Wolf jokes.
Once those panels were over, I had the rest of Saturday — and almost the entirety of Sunday — to explore the floor. Half of the floor is devoted to what I call the “merch” section, and while there’s some interesting attractions here — some photo ops with famous pop culture props, an entire row of tattoo artists who will give you a tattoo right then and there, in front of the entire Con and the eyes of God — most of the merch available can be found cheaper online (or, at least, that’s what all my friends grumbled about).
That’s fine with me, though. I’m always far more interested in the other half of the floor, “Artists Alley,” where professional comic artists from the major companies intermingle with independent distributers, amateur artists, and anybody else who was willing to throw down the money for a booth. Artists Alley is always an adventure, and 2016 didn’t let me down: in one of the most disturbing moments of the weekend, I stumbled across a print of Donald Trump in Captain America’s shield, telling writer Nick Spencer “You’re fired!,” clearly a response to the recent “Cap secretly works for Hydra” brouhaha.
It’s one of the most loaded images I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what to make of it, and I certainly don’t want to post it here (I got yelled at by the merchant for taking a picture of it, to boot).
The rest of Artists Alley was far more uplifting. There was a rack of hand-made pop-culture greeting cards, specialized “fake” records based off different TV shows and movies (I almost bought a Mouserat “album”), plenty of gorgeous art, and, most adorably, some homemade “Neko Atsume” dolls.
The highlights of my Artists Alley experience, though, were the two more in-depth encounters I had. The first was with cartoonist Dan Dougherty, who was featuring collections of his syndicated comic strip Beardo. We chatted about newspaper comics and how overlooked Artists Alley could be, and I ended up picking up the first volume of Beardo, which has been a pleasant read so far. I can relate a lot to the strip’s depiction of working retail, and it’s interesting watching the strip discard some of syndicated comics’ more traditional trappings throughout its first year; not only does Beardo start to embrace continuity fairly quickly, but Dougherty isn’t afraid to switch up premises to keep things fresh (even dropping the strip’s most frustrating character relatively quickly, much to my relief). It’s always great to see new, young voices getting a stab at newspaper comics, even if it is a dying art-form.
After that I sat down with the boys from Black Slither Games, as we played a Round of “Bear vs. Gorilla vs. CEO vs. Hippie,” a card game for four players where you take turns attacking your friends and defending their attacks. It’s a tremendously fun game that takes a bit of skill, but can also be picked up fast (I got the gist after two or three turns). I came in second!
The rest of my Artists Alley swag includes a couple small prints from Jordan Gibson:
And this adorable set of Pokemon prints from Jen Taylor:
I haven’t had this many Pokemon on my wall since Middle School, and I couldn’t be happier.
There were a few big names in Artists Alley I wanted to hit up this year, too. First was Bob Camp, co-creator/director of Ren and Stimpy. I actually wasn’t allowed to watch the show growing up, but my best friend Dave adores it, so I picked him up a signed print (the grossest one they had, because that’s how he rolls):
Camp himself was a bit gruff and grumpy; his wife handled my transaction, as Camp mostly grumbled about all the drawing he still had to do before the Con ended and then all the drawing he had to do once he got back to the Hotel. To be honest, though, I would’ve been disappointed if one of the biggest influences behind Ren and Stimpy WASN’T grumpy. That was probably my biggest requirement for him, actually, so he aced that with flying colors.
After that I swung by Ethan Van Sciver’s booth and talked about how much I loved his take on young Wally West in DC Universe Rebirth. Pere Perez signed a few of my Stephanie Brown Batgirl trades, and excitedly filled me in on his next job, main pencils on the upcoming Faith ongoing from Valiant, which I can’t wait for. J.G. Jones was deep in thought (and he’d already signed my copies of Final Crisis a few years ago), but I did get to watch him work on what I believe was a Captain Marvel/Shazam commission for a while.
My final stop in Artists Alley was Howard the Duck artist Joe Quinones, who was also busily working on a Winter Soldier commission the entire time I was at his table. He didn’t have much time to chat, but gladly signed just about his entire Howard run for me, and filled me in on Zdarsky’s scripts (full of asides, jokes, and inside gags, even filling up the margins, as I hoped). That was about all the time I had to talk to Quinones, but I did get to see more of him the next day on perhaps Wizard World’s coolest new feature, the Artists Alley Stage.
Artists Alley Stage
As you can probably imagine from the name, the Artists Alley Stage is, well, a stage in Artists Alley where the various pro artists in attendance can create art in front of a crowd, showing them their techniques and the true amount of work that really goes into a piece of art. Without a doubt, the runaway star of this stage was painter Rob Prior, who painted this extraordinary Captain America in less than half an hour.
Prior paints with both hands at the same time, which he explained sprang from his childhood fear of losing his dominant hand. Not only can Prior paint with both hands, but he can simultaneously paint two separate paintings with each hand, or even paint with one hand and type with the other! With 15 minutes left in his allotted time, Prior decided to “see what he could do” in that time, and painted a quick Joker as well.
Here’s the finished product:
Besides the whole “two-handed” thing, Prior also impressed by painting to music, turning his demonstration into an actual performance, one that drew quite a crowd. That sense of performance didn’t really translate to the other artists I saw on this stage, who were quiet and absorbed by their work for long stretches of time. That’s an accurate depiction of a typical artist’s experience, but it wasn’t always the most engrossing — viewers tended to wander in and out of sessions, with only the most devoted fans sticking around for an artists’ entire panel. I’ll admit, it tested even my patience at times, but watching a drawing spring to life from nothing right before your eyes is pretty astounding.
Joe Quinones was up next, and, inspired by X-Men: Apocalypse, he decided to sketch us a Jubilee.
Quinones started by sketching in the framework, and then the basic shape of the character, on a separate layer he could later remove from the finished product (ah, the advantages of working digitally). I managed to record a portion of the process:
Once finished, Quinones moved onto inking, fleshing out his pencils in far greater detail, and eventually even deleting some of that detail in the finished sketch.
The entire process moved surprisingly quickly — it was the coloring that took up the lion’s share of the demonstration. Quinones changed the background from white to a shade of red, because the contrast helped certain colors stand out better, but also because he could use that foundation to mix and blend his various colors (something he’d do on a palette if painting with actual paint). He especially spent a long time coming up with just the right blend of colors for Jubilee’s skin — once that was finished, things picked up.
One of the more interesting factoids Quinones dropped was that he never colors eyes “white.” White is not a color that occurs naturally, not even in our eyes — he prefers light shades of purple, and judges colorists who use white in their eyes.
Ta-da! We have a finished Jubilee!
I found Artists Alley Stage to be a terrific new addition to Wizard World Philadelphia. It’s different from just about any other activity offered at the con, and gives more attention to the unappreciated creators, shining a spotlight on the effort that goes into their craft in the meantime. I’m all about this stage.
That said, anybody who really knows me (or has read my previous Con coverage) knows that my favorite part of any ComicCon is the Cosplay. I’m infamous amongst my friends for running off mid-sentence to chase down a cosplayer for a photo, and in fact, my second and final great regret of the weekend was being unable to photograph two young kids in spot-on Pre-Flashpoint Captain Cold and Heat Wave costumes I saw when I was stuck in the entrance line.
If you want to see all the fantastic cosplay I encountered this weekend, scroll back a few days on the Retcon Punch Twitter or my personal account; in the meantime, I’ve assembled my favorites here for your pleasure:
Anyway, that was my weekend. I had a blast, and I appreciate all of y’all allowing me to share my con experience with you. These things are all about connecting with our fellow fans, after all, and to be able to do that even with fans who couldn’t make it over the internet is truly an honor.