BALTIMORE COMIC-CON 2016: Comic Creators Consuming Coffee Panel
By Jeff Ayers
For the second year in a row, writer Amy Chu gathered some like-minded creators together for the Comic Creators Consuming Coffee panel and Baltimore Comic-Con, caffeinated by Death Wish Coffee. The difference being this year, she allowed me to moderate it, which I take as quite the honor. I am a big fan of both comics and coffee, and it was hard to contain my excitement as I was sitting next to all the talent assembled on this panel. First up was Louise Simonson, writer, editor and creator of some amazing stories and characters including X-Factor, Power Pack, New Mutants and Apocalypse, just to name a few. Next was Christina Blanch, a relative new writer in the industry, but a huge supporter of comics none the less, with her incredible comic store Aw Yeah Comics in Muncie, Indiana. Laura Martin was there, the famed colorist that effortlessly brings characters to life in her vibrant style, and is currently coloring the new Black Panther series with Brian Stelfreeze. Independent comic creator and endearing crazy person Sean Von Gorman was boisterous as ever, being the most booming voice in the room. Also on the panel was Ron Marz, writer of many different titles throughout the years, including the creation of the Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, along with artist Darryl Banks, and is currently part of the team revitalizing the Bart Sears imprint Ominous Press. All of this wonderful talent was put on the same panel by Amy Chu, whose hard work in the comic industry is starting to finally get the recognition her writing deserves. She just wrapped up her Poison Ivy miniseries for DC Comics, and is writing the new KISS comics as well as Red Sonja.
Introductions completed, I started to delve into what really makes comic creators gravitate towards coffee so diligently. My first question was about how coffee might have gotten the creators through their process to finish their work. We all know many creators keep late night schedules, and more than likely are drinking coffee during those times. Laura Martin said “I am a notorious procrastinator. So I save Death Wish Coffee for those times I really need it, that is my deadline drink.” I also asked about if there was ever a time where literal coffee ended up in comics, like a spill on the page or an absent minded dip of the brush into a cup of joe. Amy Chu explained “This is literally putting coffee in comics, because I spend so much time writing in coffee shops. Sean and I worked on a story together, and it was actually set in a coffee shop!”
So, as expected, The Force was strong between comics and coffee. Amy talked about working in coffee shops, so I asked the rest of the panel if the same was true for them. Sean Von Gorman added, “I used to work in coffee shops, until you start to get a lot of “looky loos”, people coming up and saying, ‘you should draw my comic’….no I’m good, I’m working on this comic, which needs to get done.” Christina Blanch also talked about how hard it is to work in public. “Coffee shops are really hard, because I come from a small town. I have a comic shop there, so everybody knows me, and everybody comes up and wants to talk.”
Amy regaled the audience with a fun anecdote about coffee and comics. She originally joined twitter to help her write more succinctly, stating “140 characters. If I can’t [do that] how am I going to write in comics? You aren’t there to read in paragraphs.” So she started talking about coffee, and seeing as she drank so much of it, she decided to go cold turkey for a week. So she tweeted about it and “I get a tweet from the editor in chief of Marvel, Axel Alonso, saying ‘Don’t do it! It’s really hard!’ and he gave me all this advice on twitter, he was really concerned! It was really funny, this is how you break into comics, go cold turkey, and the editor in chief will start talking to you.” Everyone in the audience had a good laugh, and the vibe of the whole panel was laid back and jovial. (Actually everyone laughed even harder when Ron Marz told quite the risque story about a rookie Steve McNiven getting him coffee, which won’t be reprinted here to protect all parties involved).
I spun Amy’s anecdote into my next question, which was how all these incredible comic creators actually broke into the business. Sean Von Gorman told the animated tale of how he met Neil Gaiman, and created a comic stemming from that partnership, which led to him being handcuffed to a light pole outside of a comic shop in New York City. Seriously, ask him yourself, it is quite the tale.
Louise Simonson had this response: “I lived in New York City, because you pretty much had to live there [at that time] if you wanted to work in comics. I was working at a magazine publisher in the promotion department, and one of my friends that worked at a small black and white comic publisher said, ‘There is an opening at Warren [Publishing] and it pays better than your job, and I bet you could do it.’ So I went and applied and got the job. I was later told I looked like the ex-wife of the editor, of all things!” She went on to add, “So you kinda got yo use what you got, and sometimes what you got is who you know, and who you have made friends with. So I think maybe the idea is to be as nice and friendly with everyone you can, because you never know who is going to say, ‘Hey there is a job over here’! It turned out I was actually kinda lousy at production, but I was really good at other stuff. They needed people to write advertising copy, and do letters pages, and they’d say, ‘Can anybody do this?’ and I’d say “Sure! I can do that”. Not like I’d ever done that before. So they just created an assistant editor job for me. Then I got bored with editing and I started writing, and well, that’s my story”. The crowd ate up every word, and it was all book-ended by Christina Blanch saying almost under her breath, “She’s amazing.”
The question went down the line, with each creator telling the story of how they broke into this fantastic business, until it was Ron Marz’s turn, and the fire alarm sounded. We were all taken aback by this weird and unusual surprise, and Amy and I even discussed just staying put and finishing the panel, cheating death along the way. Christina Blanch had the mic drop moment by proclaiming, “We all have a Death Wish”. Seriously, you can’t script moments like that. But unfortunately the fire department was called and the room, and building was evacuated. I had a few more questions to round out the panel, and wanted to end the whole thing on a high note, and felt a little betrayed by fate and crappy luck.
But we were all ushered out of the panel room to the nearest door, which emptied onto a small rooftop veranda overlooking Baltimore, on a beautiful sunny afternoon, and the panel turned effortlessly into an impromptu cocktail party, with coffee replacing alcohol as the refreshment. I had cosplayed for the first time ever as a Ghostbuster, along with Kane from Death Wish who dispensed coffee from his backpack/proton pack. Comic and coffee sure go hand in hand, as do creators and fans, all mingling together to brew up something quite memorable.
*If you want to hear a bit of the end of the panel, including Christina Blanch’s mic drop moment, leading into a recap from myself and the guys from Fanboysinc, listen to our Comic Con Chronicles Podcast from Baltimore Comic Con 2016, coming soon to a podcast feed near you!