I spent this past Friday geeking out at WonderCon here in San Francisco. I used to attend comic book and horror conventions all the time in New Jersey, but this was my first such event here in the city. I met and talked with a lot of interesting folks, attended a few panels, salivated over a group of girls dressed as some of Marvel’s finest lady heroes, got my fix of original art, and even learned a few things about writing in the process.
Comic books are truly an amazing art form, marrying words and pictures like nothing else. My love of reading began with comic books; and bless my mother’s heart, because she encouraged my hobby. Her attitude about my love of comics was always along the lines of, “Well, at least he’s reading something.” I began reading comics at a great time, in the mid-80’s, when Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Swamp Thing, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman were changing the face of the industry, creating books that challenged the reader. I grew up as comic books grew up. My love of comics has never really waned. These days, comic books are being taught alongside some of the greatest works of literature in college classes all over the country. Comics are accepted now like never before, especially when you consider that characters such as Batman and Iron Man have become blockbuster films that everyone goes to see. In a way, we’re all comic book geeks these days.
So, what did I learn? I learned that it’s easy for an artist to make a buck at a convention, but not so easy for a writer to do the same. Everyone wants artwork, only a select few want scripts. One industrious, lovely young writer was selling sketches for a buck. She said, “I’m not an artist, but the money I make usually is enough to buy my lunch.” Her specialty is robots. For a measly buck, she’d draw a small sketch of a robot punching anyone or anything. I thought long and hard, and decided that I wanted my robot to punch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s one way for a writer to make some money: draw. I was fascinated by the idea of buying a sketch from a writer.
I spent a few hours listening to Kevin Smith speak. He’s a fantastic speaker, filthy and self-deprecating and hilarious. He did slip in a few nuggets about writing. He said he felt his earlier work, such as Clerks and Chasing Amy, felt more authentic to him than some of his later work, like Zack and Miri Make a Porno, because that early work came from such an honest place. Those movies represented who he was at that time: just a kid pouring out his heart into those scripts. Those early films represented who he was and what he was dealing with in his life. His later work, he said, came from someone who’d had some success and was trying to remember what it was like being younger. When you’re a young writer, what you write about tends be what you’ve experienced. When you’re an older writer, a lot of what you write becomes, Well, what if THIS happens. We all evolve as writers, and often change as people so much that our subject matter changes completely. Keeping our work authentic is not easy.
Comic book conventions can be fantastically informative for a writer. There’s always a wide variety of panels, often with comic and television writers talking about ideas and giving tips and sharing their experiences. If you’ve never attended a comic book convention, you should give one a try, even if you’re not a fan of Spider-Man, because there’s so much to learn about the craft of writing. Sure, much of what goes on at comic book conventions is frivolous and fun, but there is much knowledge to be found inside those convention center walls.
Writers should experience all aspects of writing. If you’re the type of person who’d go to a comic book convention, but never consider sitting down and listening to a romance writer talk about their craft, you might be missing out on something, maybe just one nugget of information that could help better your work. No matter what you write, you should educate yourself in all forms of writing. Horror writers, romance writers, children’s book writers, comic book writers, travel writers, literary fiction writers–they all have something educational to offer, even if their genre doesn’t appeal to you.
Sure, I can geek out with the best of them, but I always try to leave any convention having learned a thing or two. So, the next time Spider-Man and his colorful cohorts come to town, stop by for a visit. You won’t be sorry.