The San Diego Comic Con invites film, TV, comics and myriad other media into its halls once a year, and the results are often hilarious. Last year, Paste Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson and I spoke to one woman who stood with her kids for four days to watch a trailer that would be released on the internet a few weeks later. Those epic lines are symptomatic of an event that’s slowly slid from its titular devotion to sequential art to promoting massive summer blockbusters and fall tv lineups.
That said, the big studios have recently shown some trepidation at SDCC. Disney/Marvel declined panels in the massive 6,500-seat Hall H last year and 20th Century Fox pulled out of any promotions this year, voicing privacy concerns.
Does this mean that the con will return to its more intimate, comic-centric roots? Probably not. New conventions like Jeff Smith and Tom Surgeon’s CXC and SPX are already addressing the need for pure sequential art celebrations, and SDCC allows some nice cross-pollination for general audiences to wander to comic-heavy areas like Artists’ Alley.
One way or the other, this year doesn’t shirk on engaging comics panels. Broken down, comics still rule the programming by count, if not necessarily by seats. Here are some of the coolest comic panels worth the time of any SDCC visitor, whether they’re familiar with the medium or are indulging for the first time.
When: 2:00 – 3:00 P.M.
Where: Room 6DE
Why Attend: Paul Dini is a treasure trove of experience and stories. His animation resume includes runs writing, editing and/or producing such gems as Batman: The Animated Series, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs and other projects that brought DC’s pantheon of heroes onto the small screen. And after scripting the videogames Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, Dini’s most recent batcentric project takes a much less traditional approach.Dark Night: A True Batman Story is an autobiography that recounts an episode of Dini’s life where he was mugged severely, breaking both body and spirit. The book shows how the fictional characters Dini helped developed inspired him to overcome self-doubt. No matter what questions emerge here, Dini is incapable of providing a dull response.
When: 2:00 – 3:00 PM
The creators of two of Paste’s favorite comics of 2016 (so far) are going to be in the same room riffing on making big, bold comics, and that reason alone necessitates our interest. Kieron Gillen’s brash take on pop culture has made The Wicked + The Divine and Phonogram biting, astute and riveting commentary. Marjorie Liu’s Monstress is the unholy lovechild between Studio Ghibli, H.P. Lovecraft and the Nuremberg Trials, framing one heroine’s descent into wartime hell in an intoxicatingly fantasy world. The two will join Chynna Clugston Flores, who’s re-releasing her quirky, seminal graphic novel, Blue Monday, next week. Also: Matt Fraction is probably a surprise guest. Just a feeling.
When: 3:15 – 4:15 PM
Where: Room 6DE
DC received a lot of the guff in the wake of its Rebirth announcement, with accusations that it was denying innovative, new material to appeal solely to 30-something dudes reliving their second childhoods. Fortunately, those reports were mightily exaggerated. While the second-largest American comic publisher is reinvesting in the continuity of its classic characters, it’s also keeping younger readers in mind with some of the most attractive comics emerging this summer. This panel hosts a load of amazing creators working on those titles. Of note, the new Batgirl team of Hope Larson and Rafael Albuquerque and incoming Supergirl scribe Steve Orlando are worth the trip alone.
When: 8:30 – 9:30 PM
Where: Room 8
The publisher behind We Can Never Go Home, 4 Kids Walk Into a Bank, Kim & Kim and upcoming The Forevers has been boldly revving its engines in the industry, and 2016 may well be the year it takes off. Sporting a punk sneer and dedication to hiring diverse creators, Black Mask has only hinted at its potential with a fairly sparse publishing schedule and frequent delays. But this primer panel—featuring founder Matt Pizzolo, Magdalene Visaggio, Matthew Rosenberg and Tyler Boss among others—should offer a concrete foundation of where the company’s going and what cards it has up its sleeve.
When: 10:00 – 11:00 AM
Where: Room 4
It should go without saying that comic readers come in all shapes, sizes and orientations and that queer youth should be able to enjoy comics as much as anyone. Key word should: the political and sociological cards stacked against creators making gay-friendly media for kids can loom unreasonably high. Raina Telgemeier’s brilliant and benign Drama is frequently challenged as “sexually explicit” because it has gay characters, not to count Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home landing on many a banned list. A panel of great creators including Lumberjanes co-creator Shannon Watters and frequent Batman scribe James Tynion IV will chat about navigating this tightrope and the necessity of having LGBT themes in comics. This is the perfect counterbalance to a lil’ gathering happening in Cleveland right now.
When: 10:00 – 11:00 AM
Where: Room 4
So Paste hasathing for Mike Mignola. The cartoonist behind Hellboy and the sprawling universe Big Red spawned decided to take a break from his atmospheric, horror-tinged creation recently, opting to spend a year painting…more atmospheric, horror-tinged watercolors. So we were as surprised as anyone to see that Mignola was jumping back into the comic quagmire with this panel, which also features current Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. co-writer Chris Roberson. But the fact of the matter is that, despite making quiet, somber comics, Mignola is funny, sassy and incorrigible. He gives zero fudges about delivering honest answers on his history and the comic industry. Go, laugh and look at dark, intoxicating art in one of the most tonally divergent events at a comic convention.
When: 11:30 – 12:30 PM
Where: 24 ABC
Our favorite publisher-hopping anthology entered its ninth volume this year, and as Hillary Brown described in her review, it remains an entrancing Bible of cartoonists flexing their art without regard to marketing or sales. Panelists for this event include maestro Sammy Harkham, Johnny Ryan, John Pham, Matt Groening and Steven Weissman. When Johnny Ryan isn’t making hilarious kids cartoons, he’s making hilarious NSFW cartoons and this will be a rare opportunity to see Groening discuss his own brand of raunchy panels that dominated his time before launching The Simpsons. Like the books it celebrates, this panel will let attendees dive into the deep end of the sequential art pool.
When: 12:30-1:30 P.M.
Where: Room 8
Whereas the Kramer’s Ergot panel will allow attendees to venture into alternative comics, this celebration of Walt Kelly and his Pogo strip is an unabashed look into comics’ golden roots. Kelly’s tales of various swamp critters went on to inspire creators ranging from Jim Henson to Alan Moore and Jeff Smith, and with good reason. Pogo Possum, Albert Alligator, Porky Pine and the rest of the swampland ensemble were rendered with a grace and passion singular in comics. Veteran media connoisseurs and journos Maggie Thompson, Leonard Maltin (your parents have at least one of his books on film or Disney), Michael Barrier, Scott Shaw, Mark Evanier and Fantagrapics Associate Publer Eric Reynolds pay their respects to this seminal creator and his legacy.
When: 2:00-3:00 P.M.
The mixed media god behind The Sandman’s stunning covers, Cages, Celluloid and the 2005 film Mirrormask returns this year with the new graphic novel, Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash. The book focuses on the titular painter, who transformed his experience in World War I into a series of ornate landscape pieces. McKean’s working process is always fascinating—a frictionless incorporation of sculpture, paint, ink and pixels into striking visuals embedded with texture and drama. Little more is listed about this panel, but at the very least it’ll offer fans a window into the mind of a visual master.
When: 10:00-11:00 A.M.
Last year at SDCC, Congressman John Lewis hosted a “cosplay” parade recreating his 1965 march in Selma, Alabama. Lewis, clad in the same outfit he wore half a century previous, led children from the panel room to the main convention hall and it was equally delightful and stirring. After recently expressing his political views via sit-in, Lewis will join co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell for another march following his 10:00 AM panel. The trio will be celebrating the final chapter in the biographic comic trilogy March, an emotive, swift portrait of Lewis’ involvement in the ‘60s civil rights movement. The simple fact that March exists is a triumph for the comic medium—the fact that it’s also one of the finest books produced in the past decade warrants rising bright and early to see these icons in person.
When: 3:00-4:00 P.M.
In 1998, Joe Quesada arguably shifted Marvel Comics from a mere comic publisher to something far more diverse and post-modern, recruiting the likes of Kevin Smith, Garth Ennis and Brian Michael Bendis into the House of Ideas. Some might say he salvaged the company creatively during its most fragile period. Since then, Quesada has offered a State of the Union on the largest American comics publisher through his Cup O’Joe interviews, hosted first at Newsarama, now at Comic Book Resources. For mainstream superhero lovers, this is ground zero for all things Avengers, Inhumans and beyond. Star Wars and Doctor Strange writer Jason Aaron, outgoing Darth Vader scribe Kieron Gillen and editor extraordinaire Sana Amanat will also be on hand to answer the questions of many irate fans asking why no new X-Men comics have been solicited.
When: 8:00-9:00 P.M.
Darwyn Cooke’s passing was a sucker punch to the soul of comics. The man’s work glowed with passion and optimism, and saying comics is a lesser medium without his imagery is a vast understatement. This panel will celebrate Cooke’s work throughout Marvel (X-Statix, Wolverine/Doop), DC (Catwoman, New Frontier) and beyond (Parker) with other comic luminaries including Jimmy Palmiotti, Mike Allred, Cully Hamner and Bruce Timm, who hired Cooke to work on such cartoons as Batman: The Animated Series and Men in Black. Just remember to bring tissues.
When: 1:00-2:00 P.M.
Raina Telgemeier (the matriarch of tween comics Smile, Drama), Brenden Fletcher (Gotham Academy, the upcoming Motor Crush), Hope Larson (Goldie Vance) and Cecil Castellucci (Shade, The Changing Girl) unite to chat about the frontier of young adult comics. Paste boosts Gotham Academy above 90% of other DC Material and Raina Telgemeier continues to expand the borders (and sales) of what comics can achieve for young girls. More importantly, this is a fun group—the chemistry should be ripe for one-liners and banter galore. Though Sunday tends to be a wind-down session to buy last minute merchandise and restore fluids, this panel should end the convention on a high note.