Artists Matter: Beyond Batman Booty Shorts, SDCC 2015

Cheers, kittens! Miss Hannah Hart here. Rested and refreshed after one pip of a week at San Diego Comic-Con 2015 (SDCC) with my cohort Dr. Lucy and her trusty, steampunk-driven Canon EOS. Now, a little bluebird at SyFy told me Comic-Con “was a lot less packed and crazy this year”. From my end, as a Con floor-worm, I say, “Nay! It was a lot more packed and crazy this year!” Fret not though, dear reader! Dr. Lucy and I endured it all, just for you, and this year, sharpened our focus on what matters most: the artist.

Geek girls Dr. Lucy and Miss Hannah Hart, as Peppermint Patty and Lucy Van Pelt, respectively. SDCC 2015 Photo: JSDevore
Reporting for duty! Dr. Lucy and Miss Hannah Hart (Peppermint Patty and Lucy Van Pelt, respectively) SDCC 2015 Photo: JSDevore

Regardless of what some insiders claim, we mere floor-worms find, year over year, SDCC gets bigger and bigger, creeping incrementally beyond the Convention Center and Gaslamp parameters: what San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer calls the Comic-Con Campus. Like a pair of small Lululemons on a big girl, it keeps expanding until the seams are ready to split and pretty soon all you can see are wide swaths of fleshy bits and strained thread.

As the popularity of SDCC (S.D. Convention Center July 9 – 12, 2015) grows, it remains, especially amongst the uninitiated, a circus, a freakshow, a curiosity to be ogled and disdained, without getting too close: like a strip club in the Bible Belt.

Miss Hannah Hart, a.k.a. Jennifer Susannah Devore, reporting for SDCC 2015 duty! Photo: Twisted Pair

“Why do you go?”

“How do you stand the crowds?”

“Do you feel silly, dressed like that?”

“How do you even think of a costume?”

Where do you get clothes like that?”

“Do you have a Peter Pan complex?”

You must have a lot of free time.”

“I don’t understand 90% of what I’m seeing here.”

Questions and statements from non-Con-goers  -similar, BTW, to those from adults confounded by Disneyland without kids-  range from kind wonderment to unsolicited judgment. In the end, the answer is quite simple. In it’s most natural state, it’s about the art.

Even inside the Convention Center, amongst the truest believers of geek and art, it can seem Richard Alf’s and Sheldon Dorf’s (Comic-Con’s co-founders) vision and the Comic-Con Int’l (CCI) Mission Statement is fuzzy and fading, like Marty McFly’s photographic image in Back to the Future.

Comic-Con International: San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.

Through four days of a kidney-crushing, toe-stamping, body-odoured (Not me!), oft sans-pants crowd, the purity of artistic vision can get lost amidst towers of Walking Dead onesies, Star Wars accessories and Doctor Who thigh-highs. Still, if you go beyond the novelties you will see aisles of shoulder-to-shoulder artists patiently selling their wares, branding themselves and exposing their art, bare naked to the world. Though they look like they are “just sitting there”, trust me, kids, it’s far more taxing than you might realize. If you look closely, maybe you can see the Endor forest for the tees.

No room! No room! Clean cup clean cup, move down move down ... Photo: Twisted Pair SDCC 2015
No room! No room! Clean cup clean cup, move down move down … Photo: Twisted Pair SDCC 2015

It is a tedious, exhausting, heart-baring exercise to hawk one’s art to the public. At worst, one is ignored. At best, someone becomes an instant fan, buys one of everything and follows on every possible social media outlet. These are gems: hard-found, hard-won, hard-kept and rare.

In between, lessons lie waiting, like UXB (unexploded bombs) to strengthen character, build showmanship and test patience and kindness, including being snickered at by herds of hip teens, or, worse yet, dorky teens. Teens can be so very cruel.

Why so certain of the artist’s journey, Miss Hannah?, the dear reader ponders.

Excellent ponder, reader. I know of where I speak in this milieu. Many of you know I scribe, as Jennifer Susannah Devore, a series of historical-fiction titled Savannah of Williamsburg: six books (three published, four written, two more planned, one illustrated version in-process) of pre-Revolutionary, American history with a Beatrix Potter twist, centered on 18thC. Colonial Williamsburg. From the first publication date I hit the mid-Atlantic hard on a six-year branding and promotional tear. Countless book-signing flyers, posters, sales sheets, newspaper clippings, library announcements, photos, letters from readers and book reports from students attest to the artist-mettle tested. Barnes & Noble, Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, Borders and Waldenbooks (remember them, kids?), museums, libraries and schools all welcomed, or succumbed to, my persistent Savannah Squirrel and her partners in history.

But enough about you, Hannah. What about the artists at Comic-Con?, the kind reader presses.

Excellent press, reader. To wit, little is more draining than self-promotion. Looking your best, having plenty of product – always returning home with too much – perfecting your presentation and sitting with an immovable smile for hours can be invigorating for the spirit, but brutal on the ego. Watching the author next to you sell yet another, full set of his books can be demoralizing after hours of selling zip. (Plus, he’s not even smiley like you are; he’s an old grump.) Reciting the same spiel ad nauseam can wear on even the most resilient of showmen. Most folks listen politely, but the eyes tell it all. We know when you’re ready to move along and that’s when we cut the spiel short, mostly. Whilst it is fun to meet new people, the nice ones anyway, and talk about ourselves and our art, we try to be cognizant of your attention threshold, keep boredom levels low and, eventually, will magnanimously release you.

Why did you write this?”

“Do your parents wish you were something else?”

I hope you do something serious one day with your talent.”

“I don’t want to carry a bag all day. Can I buy your work online?”

“I just got here and don’t want to spend all my money at once.”

Dear artists, hold that smile, say Thank you! with sincerity and keep your posture erect. Confidence starts with a straight back and a high chin.

The thing of it is, kids, every artist you see at Comic-Con, or WonderCon or Barnes & Noble or a street fair, is hoping to find that rare gem whom truly appreciates the art, to share the excitement. The money is nice, really nice; but the appreciation is priceless. To find that gem though, you have to put it all out there for the world to love it, laugh at it or, worst of all, pass it by with nary a glance.

SDCC’s 2015 Artist’s Alley showcased over 200 talents, and the Con floor boasted countless more artists whom purchased booth space to showcase themselves. There were fantasy watercolours of unicorns and dragons, portraiture of Captains Kirk, Spock, Picard and Solo (all as cats), Star Wars novels, Disney comic books, erotica superduper-graphic novels and anything else the creative mind could conjure. As I navigated through DC Comics lingerie and Marvel shotglasses, I rediscovered the backbone of Comic-Con: the individual artist. As I wish I could highlight every artist here, I shall have to allow two to suffice.

Artist Arlyn Pillay, Ogreshop keeper. SDCC 2015 Photo: Twisted Pair

Artist Arlyn Pillay is a friendly, soft-spoken, überpolite South African-born, Orange County, CA-bred illustrator, seascape painter, portraitist, printmaker, sculptor, ceramicist, musician, writer, art instructor and entrepreneur.

Ogreshop.com is where he keeps his creatures, like Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Cupcake monsters, insecure snowmen, pretty hippies and old pirates I can clearly envision residing in my glove compartment, or my closet, organizing and keeping tidy all the components therein. Tiny, odd, helpful friends.

“He comes from a very personal place,” Pillay said of his Candycane Snowman, my personal fave. “When I drew him, I remember feeling how I didn’t fit it, how I never have felt like I really fit in. Many of us feel we don’t fit in anywhere. He has a candycane for a nose but wants the carrot the rabbit is holding. The rabbit is wondering, Will he take it, and be like everyone else? It’s all from a very personal place.”

“Humans were always quite boring to draw and also restricting in their structure,” Pillay waxes. “A human has two arms and two legs but a creature from another world could have four arms, six legs, or even twenty eyes, you decide, now how cool is that?” For some of us, Arlyn, extremely cool.

Live in, or near, The O.C.? (Psst, don’t call it that.) Arlyn Pillay Art Gallery is hosting “The Regular Art Show: Anything But Regular” 7/31-9/1 2015 in Tustin. Entrants are encouraged to submit art that is NOT regular: 2D, 3D, abstract, realistic, any medium. For more info contact the man himself.

Meanwhile, over at Meanwhile Studios, animator, illustrator, author, 2x Eisner nominee and Xeric recipient, Troy Little has been busy bringing us cotton candy-coloured joy via Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Gumball, Angora Napkin and a bevy of other animated sweets. His latest endeavour? A comic adaptation of the unequaled Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. Not so cotton candy, this one.

“Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?!” LtoR: Troy Little, Jennifer S. Devore, Denton J. Tipton SDCC 2015 Photo: Twisted Pair

Under the bearded, quiet, Obi-wan guidance of editor Denton J. Tipton at IDW Publishing, Mr. Little has taken on the mind-bending task of putting HST’s demons to ink.

“The words are all Hunter Thompson’s,” Little said at the IDW booth, at SDCC. “We did not change any of the text. It’s all him.” So, Hunter diehards and devotees, rest easy.

The equally unequaled Johnny Depp captured HST in such iconic fashion in Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), that it is impossible to read the Little/IDW version without hearing Depp’s frantic, paranoid baritone. Can you hear me?! Depp told Charlie Rose in a film-junket interview at the time, he had sequestered himself in Thompson’s Colorado-ranch basement for five months, to feel what it was like to be Hunter Thompson, making friends with only “a small, brown spider” during that period. I wonder, what did Troy Little do to be Hunter; and, did he make any spider friends along the way?

Admittedly, many of us love getting goodies at a con. A large portion of my fun, after writing and costume planning, is shopping. Even so, I try to remember behind every sexy, stilletoed Stormtrooper, every Peanuts phone cover, every Wonder Woman tutu, every pair of Batman booty shorts there is the remnant of an artist’s soul. Without the likes of George Lucas, Charles M. Schulz, Stan Lee, Bob Kane, Tim Burton, Bill Watterson, Walt Disney and all the Arlyn Pillars and Troy Littles, there would be none of the disposable merchandise we so crave.

Why do we crave so much cheap crap? Because at its essence we love the original artist’s concept and want to tell the world just how much, even if it’s just some guy behind our car reading our “My Other Car is the Millenium Falcon” bumper sticker. It makes us weirdly proud.

If you're all wearing the same thing, how do you know whose father makes the most money? SDCC 2015 Photo: JSDevore
If you’re all wearing the same thing, how do you know whose father makes the most money? Stormtrooper sex sells, SDCC 2015 Photo: JSDevore

Did Batman creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger ever fathom Batman booty shorts? Who knows? Did Walt Disney ever fathom an empire of character-driven merchandise? Oh, yes. Did Jim Davis ever fathom Garfield everything, everywhere? I don’t know, but I bet he’s okay with it, and he should be. Capitalism and art can live side-by-side very nicely. One might argue it’s all about the Benjamins; after all, short of the odd promotion, few artists give away their creations. Still, before the cabbage flourishes and well after the mass-produced merch putzes out, pop culture, even in its crudest forms, will continue to be about the grey matter, and the artists, matter.

Abyssinia, kids!

Want more SDCC 2015 pix? Dr. Lucy’s Famous Slideshow from Twisted Pair Photography!

See you at WnderCon 2016, kittens! (In L.A. Blech!) Photo: JSDevore
See you at WonderCon 2016, kittens! (In L.A. Blech!) Photo: JSDevore

Aside: Because in addition to my dedication to the artist, I also strongly believe in La joie de vie avec stuff!, I present the ever-popular, always-anticipated “Miss Hannah’s Pick o’ the Con”! SDCC 2015? Ewok Hooded Tank and Ewok Purse (see below) from designer Ashley Eckstein’s Her Universe: purveyor of all things fangirl!

Miss Hannah's Pick o' the Con, SDCC 2015: #HerUniverse Ewok gear Photo: Twisted Pair
Miss Hannah’s Pick o’ the Con, SDCC 2015: #HerUniverse Ewok gear. (Skirt by BCBGMaxAzria, boots by Uggs, sunglasses by Gucci, bracelets are vintage.) Santa Fe Depot Starbucks, San Diego. Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

Previous picks include Hoodsbee, BeKyoot, WeLoveFine and Kaz Palladino’s Awkward Affections. Are you my next pick of the Con? WonderCon 2016!

Detail of Miss Hannah's SDCC 2015 Pick: #HerUniverse Ewok purse Photo: Twisted Pair
Detail of Miss Hannah’s SDCC 2015 Pick: #HerUniverse Ewok purse Photo: Twisted Pair

 Hannah’s other fave places to haunt online?

@JennyPopNet JennyPop.net  jenniferdevore.blogspot.com amazon.com/author/jenniferdevore

Psst! One more thing! Author Jennifer Susannah Devore made it into the official Comic-Con Souvenir Book again with her article “Reform, Relapse and What She Wore: 75 years of Catwoman Chic”! Read it here! Have your own book? Flip to page 105!

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