Friday, March 5, 2010

The Auckland Armageddon Expo '09 Review

Above: The Auckland Armageddon Expo '09 Poster.

After a decade at Auckland's Aotea Centre, in 2009 the comics and pop culture convention know as Armageddon Expo returned to the ASB Showgrounds in Greenlane. This announcement was met with some uncertainty and speculation in local comics circles: was the show being down graded? Had it being edged out of the Aotea centre by rising rental costs? In recent years the show had being showing signs of stagnation (same stalls, same stock), and whatever the reason for the change of venue, a face-lift was definitely necessary. However, the biggest question raised by changing venues had to be: would the city crowds follow the convention to the suburbs?

The answer was a resounding yes, with an attendance of 40,000 people making their way to the new location for the three event (with a two hour line for entry tickets on the first day). The change of venue turned out to be the show's saving grace, giving it and it's audience a chance to breathe, with more room to move and a generally less cluttered layout.

Above: The Gotham Comics stand.

According to store holders, sales were also on the rise, with an increase in comics awareness due to the mainstream coverage of comics related movies like 'Dark Knight', 'Ironman' and 'Watchmen'. Much like the overseas conventions, there was a sizable increase in female readers, drawing in fans of the teen vampire franchise 'Twilight', but also taking an avid interest in graphic novels. More than ever, the event positioned itself as a truly family orientated show: with plenty of giveaways, TV and animation guests aimed at a younger audience and an outside area of carnival rides (conveniently wheeled out from storage from the Easter show).

Above: The Head Comics stand.

Despite a late change to the schedule, there was a healthy line-up of comics guests including: Greg Rucka ('Queen & Country', 'Detective Comics'), Peter David ('The Incredible Hulk', 'Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man'), Matthew Clark ('Outsiders', 'Doom Petrol') and legendary artist Bill Sienkiewicz('Electra Assassin', 'Stray Toasters').

Above: Greg Rucka at (the mercy of) the Gotham Comics stand!

Greg Rucka and Peter David gave insightful talks on the ins-and-outs of writing comics for corporate companies, like the 'Big Two': Marvel and DC Comics. David spoke of the balance of writing for yourself and maintaining your individual voice while keeping editorial happy and following the company's direction. The discussion also touched upon the nature of serial storytelling in comics, and the difficulty of navigating the often convoluted continuity of corporate owned characters like 'Batman' or 'Superman'. David used the 'drive-by' analogy to describe a writer's quick run on a book, changing the status quo of a character and leaving another writer to pick-up the pieces. This lead to an amusing moment as David used the resent changes in 'Wonder Woman' as an example ("oh look, Wonder Woman kills now!), leading Rucka to point out that HE had actually written that book. It was now Rucka's turn to explain the flip side of that argument: when you are writing a turning point in a character's life and you are removed from the book before you can pay-off that event and write it's natural resolution. As a result there are plot points from Rucka's run on 'Wonder Woman' (2004-2006) which have not been resolved, but at this point he feels that to much time has passed, and it's best to let the character's story continue on it's current course.

Above: Greg Rucka signing at the Gotham Comics stand.

Both writers were asked for advice on breaking into comics as a writer. As Rucka observed, "writer's write. If you want to be a writer, you write every day; it's that simple. Now, what else can I tell you about writing?". Rucka then provided a visual example: he pulled out his laptop and started typing quickly. "This is NOT writing; this is typing. I can type extremely fast, but it's NOT writing. THIS is writing..". He pauses, thinking. He starts to type again, then stops and puts his head in his hands...a moment passes. "...and then you think some more. THAT'S writing".

Above: Peter David reading one of his scripts for 'Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man' (with his daughter).

On Sunday morning Peter David proved the point that good dialogue should be readable, by delivered a dramatic reading of one of his 'Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man' scripts. It focused on an emotional face-off between J. Jonah Jameson and Peter Parker, who had recently being unmasked as Spider-Man. It took half an hour for David to read, and really showcased his skill for delivering a dramatic story with both humour and heart.

Above: Bill Sienkiewicz working on a commission at the Gotham Comics stall.

Bill Sienkiewicz also gave an insightful talk on his creative process and his work on a variety of projects, including movie conceptual artwork (which is what he currently works on, between inking comics here and there). Recently he had produced a series of promotional illustrations based on 'The Dark Knight' film, which he was selling at the show as a sketchbook. He was also doing commissions (if you had a spare couple of grand!).

Above: The NZ Comics stand, manned by Claire Harris and the Sheehan Bros.

New Zealand comics were well presented at the convention, both at the NZ Comics stand and by solo exhibitors. Organised by Claire Harris, the NZ Comics stand was selling comics from all ends of the country, with books on hand from Wellington, Christchurch and local Auckland creators. The Sheehan Bros were present for the weekend, selling their recently completed epic 'The Inhabitants' as a complete graphic novel package. Kelly Sheehan had this to say about their Armageddon experience at the new venue, "we were very happy with Armaggeddon. The NZ comics stall was well organised and well run by Claire. The foot-traffic was a little slow at times, but over all steady. At the end of the day we walked away with a reasonable amount of comics sold. The new venue is great, I hope Bill decides to keep it there in the future. I should add a thanks to Bill. Over the years he has made his events accessible to the NZ comics creators and doesn't ask much in return. In a lot of ways he is the reason Darren and I continue. We are provided with a public and feedback once a year, and a we get to hang with other creators. So, cheers Bill - your efforts are much appreciated".

Above: Richard Fairgray at the 'Blastosaurus' stand.

There was also a decent representation of solo NZ Comics exhibitors. Richard Fairgray made a welcome return with the 'Blastosaurus' stand, debuting the 'Blastosaurus Halloween Special' and a cheque book sized collections of the 'I Fight Crime' web-comic.

Above: Drake at the 'Ninjet' stand.

Right next door to him was Drake, selling comics, T-shirts and art from 'Ninjet': the high adventures of a ninja cat! You can sample this fun series online HERE.

Above: Ed Butler at the 'Wulfpak' stand.

Across the way, Ed Butler was back at Auckland Armageddon this year in force, with a new kids friendly manga-sized series 'Wulfpak'. Produced with Munro Te Whata, this book went down a treat with the family target audience of the convention, so expect to see more from these guys in the future!

Above: Copies of 'New Ground' #12 on sale at the DMC Comics stand.

The latest issue of 'New Ground' from DMC Comics made it's debut at the convention, with an eye-catching cover from Jared Lane.

Above: Marc Streeter at the 'ActionMan Adam' stall in the Artist's Ally.

This year there was an added bonus: an artist's alley, championed by Jeremy Bishop of Gotham Comics. It featured a collection of stalls selling everything from comics to jewellery, toys, posters, badges, finger-puppets and more. It was a lively addition to the show, adding a friendly market vibe to contrast the usual promotions heavy businesses crowding the other areas of the hall. Amongst these punters was cartoonist Marc Streeter, selling his comic 'ActionMan Adam' (which is now a full-colour web-comic that you can follow HERE), along with T-shirts and badges.

Above: Fox's 'Avatar' stand.

That was the comics side of Armageddon, so how did the rest of the convention hold up? As per usual, promotions and marketing were assaulting you from every side, but it's hard to complain when it's this marketing that's largely picking up the tab for the show. Fox's 'Avatar' stand wowed crowds with it's plasma screen trailer, while over in the 18+ XBox 360 zone, a 3D version of the tie-in videogame popped eyes (and left me with a slight headache).

Above: The Activision stand.

There was a huge Activision Sing Star/Rock Band stage, which well and truly dwarfed it's performers. A SkyCity Cinemas stand took up an unnecessary amount of floor space at the back of the main hall, which could have been put to better use. In future, perhaps the celebrity photos/signing area would be a better candidate for this space. Unfortunately this year they were housed in the second hall AKA the dilapidated rusty warehouse!

I'm not sure if they were going for an 'old school depression era hollywood studio' approach here, if so, kudos on the attention to detail. Overall it wasn't a good look. They may be TV stars, but selling their pictures in a rundown warehouse surrounded by stalls selling day-glow sticks and other products that wouldn't be out of place in an underground flea-market will probably have them thinking twice about taking part in the australasian convention circuit. That whole second hall definitely needs a re-think.

Above: Storm Troopers and friends with a Fett.

Now it wouldn't be an Armageddon without massive amounts of Cosplay!
After a decade of attending Armageddon (god, did I just type that?) you think you've seen it all...and then some dude walks in dressed as 'Doria the Explorer', in a costume three sized too small that leaves nothing to the imagination! Unfortunately there are some things you just can't un-see. Aside from that, there was a great deal of Star Wars stormtroopers, a neat R2D2, jedi Knights, several jokers, Batman, Spider Jerusalem, Dr Zoidberg, a massive amounts of anime characters (with over-sized weapons not for the weak of wrist) and that staple of sci-fi conventions: slave-girl Leias (a note of caution: it's not a costume that should be attempted if you can't pull it off).

I understand there were Anime screenings on the main stage during the weekend, including the NZ premier of 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' the DC animation adaptation of the Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness comic series (which I hear isn't quite as good as the previous releases, but I'll reserve my judgement till I see it).

Above: At the show there's always something for everyone: I got a little carried away by 'Watchmen' mania! (but I'm cool with it, as long as my money goes straight to Dave Gibbons' pockets!).

Overall, it was a vast improvement on previous years; Bill Geradts and the team put on a great show and I expect the next Auckland Armageddon will take the convention to new heights of success.



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