Monday, May 17, 2010

The Wellington Armageddon Expo 2010 Report

Above: A crowded scene from the Wellington Armageddon Expo 2010.

This Easter weekend once again saw a multitude of comics fan, cos players and various other pop culture aficionados descend upon the Wellington TSB Bank Arena for another Armageddon Expo Weekend! Now I don't have the attendance numbers, but judging from the above photo I took on Saturday morning, 'in the thousands' is a pretty good estimate.
Above: A group of NZ Comics creators setting up just before the doors open at lunchtime on Good Friday.
From left: Lee-Yan Marquez, Dylan Horrocks, Matthew Kelly, Claire Harris (in the background) and myself.
Photo by Gijs Priegel.

There was a healthy amount of NZ comics creators on hand for the weekend, with interest greatly boosted by the attendance of Dylan Horrocks, signing copies of the recently released NZ edition of 'Hicksville'.

Above: Scenes from the NZ Comics Area. From the top down: Dylan Horrocks, Lee-Yan Marquez and Darren Sheehan. Photos by Gijs Priegel.

Appearing at the NZ Comics Area was Lee-Yan Marquez, selling copies of the first issue of her new seires 'The Imposter' (which you can read online for free HERE), alongside Darren Sheehan, artist of 'The Inhabitants' collection.

Above: From the top, Drake at the 'Ninjet' table and Richard Fairgray at the 'Blastosaurus' booth.

Drake, the creator of the 'Ninjet' comics series had a stall just around the corner from the NZ Comics Area. Richard Fairgray was also back at Armageddon this year, with a new 'Blastosaurus April Fool's Special'. No word yet on the American edition of the 'Blastosaurus' series, but look for an announcement at the Auckland Armageddon in October which will involve 'Transmetropolitan' artist Darick Robertson...

Above: The NZCC table on Friday, featuring from the left: Matthew Kelly, Draw, Renee Lyons, Brent Wills and Claire Harris.
Above: The NZCC table on Sunday morning, featuring Matthew Kelly and Isaac Freeman (reanimated by a morning coffee!).

A wide variety of local comics were also available from the NZ Comics Creators table, which distributes and sells comics from creators across the country who can't always make it to the events. Manning the stall over the weekend was a rotating cast of local comics creators, headed by the always reliable Claire Harris and Isaac Freeman. Brent Wills (of the infamous 'Man Hole'), Draw ('Drawing Silence'), Matthew Kelly (of 'Kiwiman') and myself were also on hand to make sales and provide endless topics of conversation to pass the enduring hours of convention madness.

Above: Drawing a panel in one of the many Jam comics created over the weekend. Photo by Gijs Priegel.

Another way to pass the time at comics conventions is the grand tradition of the Jam Comic!

Basically, a cartoonist divides a sheet of paper up into panels (as many or as few as you want, but it works best if they are all evenly sized for continuity), and draws the first panel: introducing a character and setting (it's also a good idea to include a plot point to get things moving, as a springboard for the next artist). Next you pass the drawing on to someone else to continue. You can include as many contributors as you like, but try to keep it localized in one location so it doesn't get lost in transit, and it keeps contributors actively engaged. It can be multiple pages if you pass around a pad, but one page seems to works best and keeps it simple.

Above: A completed Jam Comics page. Photo by Gijs Priegel.

Once you've finished a page, you can start a sequel (as new characters tend to pop up and take over jam strips) or start again with a new strip. Jam comics don't always hold up well upon later review (as they are usually littered with inside jokes and references from the day), but they are always a great way to pass the time and connect with other cartoonist.

Above: The Allreds and myself.

The international comic guests line-up was headed this year by independent comics great Mike Allred, creator of 'Madman' and 'Red Rocket 7'. Accompanied by his wife and colourist, Laura Allred, it's easy to see why they are described as 'the nicest couple in comics'. They couldn't have be more friendly and accommodating to their fans, signing everything that was offered to them and engaging fans in conversation, showing great interest and enthusiasm in the people they met and the places they visited during their stay in New Zealand.

Above: 'The Flash' by Francis Manapul. Copyright DC Comics 2010.

Francis Manapul made a return visit to NZ after last appearing at the Auckland Expo back in 2005.
Back then he was fairly new on the comics scene, recently making the jump from working on 'Witchblade' for Top Cow to regular work at DC Comics. Catching up with him now, he's the regular artist on the new 'Flash' series featuring Barry Allen, with writer Geoff Johns.

Above: Saturday's Comics Panel, from left: Agnes Garbowska, Francis Manapul and Mike Allred.

At Saturday's comic panel, when asked about the difference between illustrating the Barry Allen 'Flash' as opposed to Wally West, he commented, "I'm trying to draw him a bit older as I tend to make people look younger, but the only real difference between drawing them is probably just the belt". He then added that they are also trying to differentiate the two Flashes by showing the unique ways in which Barry uses his powers. "what we're trying to do, and I'm not sure how we're going to do this yet, is to try and show you different ways in which Barry can use his speed powers in every issue".

As well as his drawing duties for DC Comics, Manapul is also a host on the reality TV series 'Beast Legends'. The series follows a group of experts (he acts as the group's illustrator) who travel around the world to investigate clues and evidence behind some of the world's most famous mythological creatures and recreate them using CGI models. Manapul explained that his artistic vision and ability to draw has been a great advantage in developing ideas for television, but the restrictive nature of production budgets VS imagination means comics will always be his preferred medium of expression.

Above: A page from 'Girl Comics' by Agnes Garbowska. Copyright Marvel Comics 2010.

Joining Manapul on this trip was his partner in crime, Canadian artist Agnes Garbowska. A relative new-comer to comics, she has self-published 'You, Me and Zombie', before recently working on the 'Girl Comics' anthology from Marvel Comics. She also has artwork in the upcoming 'Spider Ham 25th Anniversary Special' (Yay, more Spider-Ham! Yes, it's my secret shame...-AK).

Above: 'Madman' by Mike Allred. Copyright Mike Allred 2010.

Mike Allred was also present at the Saturday comics panel, and offered some interesting insights into his career and artistic motivations. When asked how he got his start as an artist he credited his father, who had also been interested in art and kept a variety of art material and book around the family home and encouraged him and his brothers to draw. Interestingly, Allred's father was a Psychiatrist who worked at the same hospital as orderly Ken Kesey, who went on to write 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'.

Since comic-book continue to dominate the box-office, it wasn't a surprise that one of the first questions of the panel was for an update on the long-in-development 'Madman' movie.

Allred explained that it's now the tenth anniversary since Robert Rodregiez ('Sin City') first optioned it as a movie, and he's still attached as director. The film has largely been held up due to financing issues, as Rodregiez was originally going to make the film for the Weinstein Brother's Dimension Films company, which was sold off when the brothers left Disney to setup their new independent studio 'The Weinstein Company'. Their new studio has had little financial success so far, leaving them short changed to develop their other optioned properties like 'Madman'. But thanks to the recent finacial success of tarantino's 'Inglorious Basterds', the Weinstein Company has bounced back, and there's hope that 'Madman' may soon be back on track. Just before the recent writer's strike, Allred and George Huang ('Swimming with Sharks') handed in the latest draft of the script, so they are currently waiting to see how it's received.
Allred then went on to discuss some of his other film work: including 'Astroesque', a film he wrote and directed, which was a spin-off of his 'Red Rocket 7' series; and 'G-Men From Hell' a film directed by Christopher Coppola, based on characters from his earlier comic series 'Grafik Musik', which he's very proud of.

Above: The first issue of 'The Golden Plates' by Mike Allred. Copyright Mike Allred 2010.

For his next question, Allred was asked to talk a bit about his ongoing project, 'The Golden Plates', a comics adaptation of the Book of Mormon, which offered an interesting insight into Allred's beliefs and how they motivate his comics creation.

Allred began by asking some of the eternal questions that inspire his artistic explorations:

"Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we here? I'm an existentialist and I ask these questions all the time (through) my main character 'Madman', that's how I communicate these questions.

That we exist at all is this amazing thing. Why is there existence, why isn't there just nothing, you know? And the Book of Mormon actually starts answering these questions; that we are decedents of heavenly parents from another planet, and that the process throughout eternity is for us to inhabit these different worlds created for us: to exist, to live, to breath, to share time with each another, to grow and to progress. And we then move on to different levels throughout forever. I mean, forever is a long time, so you have to ask yourself: is this it? Is this life all there is? Are we biological accidents? Do we just happen to be at this moment in time right now, and that moment just passes? So If we are just biological accidents and we're just here, and then we have our if we're lucky, 70-100 years of life, what was it all about? When we die, does everything that's in our brains, our experiences, does that mean anything or does it disappear with us when we die? These questions are endlessly fascinating, and I want to know.

I'm always curious about what people's belief systems are: whether they are Agnostic or Atheist, Hindu or Muslim, why do you believe what you believe? Is it because your parents raised you that way? Did you come to your own philosophy? And so as I've studied all of these various religions, it's the book of Mormon that I found most interesting, because it was either written by a farm kid from upper-state New York, who barely had a forth-grade education and he made this all up, or it real is an ancient record that was translated through the power of God. And if that's true, IF, that's the big question: I-F, then there is a purpose to our lives, our lives do have meaning and we have greater power and potential than we could possibly imagine. So if you're a big fan of 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Starwars', (it's that) 'force', this power inside ourselves.

For me personally, this started to unlock those questions for me, and it's in many ways unlocking the secrets of the universe. So the best way for me to tap into that was to really do a full study of it, and that included an effort to illustrate it. And it's this thousand year adventure story that involves: who we are, why are we here, where are we going and who and what is God. So that's why we're doing 'The Golden Plates'. We're about a forth of the way through it. It's very labour intensive so it doesn't really pay for itself, and could take decades."

I'd like to add that this was based on my audio recording of the panel, so if parts of this statement are unclear or I've miss-quoted it's my down to my transcribing. If you would like to know more about this project, he talks about it at length in 'Modern Masters Vol. 16: Mike Allred' from TwoMorrows Publishing, which if you're a fan of his work it's well worth getting! You can also find out more about Mike's work at his official website HERE.

Without a doubt it the most mind expanding comics panel since Grant Morrison talked about his alien abduction in '98.

The rest of the convention was as lively as ever, with plenty of comics, video-games and other pop culture nic-nacs to keep punters happy, with background noise provided by that guy-who-sounds-like-things from the Police Academy movies (which you think would be getting old by now...).

Above: Armageddon's 'Extreme Frisbee' team! Featuring James Kyson Lee (second from the left) and NZ cartoonist, Drake (far right).

One celebrity guest who wasn't resting on his laurels was James Kyson Lee, who plays 'Ando' on the recently cancelled TV series 'Heroes'. He got an active start to the day on Saturday morning, recruiting NZ cartoonist Drake and some of the Expo's security guards for a game of Extreme Frisbee. I hear his heroics aren't limited to the small screen, as he gamely climbed trees and ran into oncoming traffic to land that all-important catch!
Luckily, Armageddon's 'no celebrity guests injured' record remained intact (apart from that time Chubacca took a punch, but that's another story...).

Above: A 'Kick Ass' tribute band takes the stage.

The weekend came to an close with a scene you could only expect to see at a comic convention: a 'Kick-Ass' tribute band playing to a audience of moshing stormtroopers. A ridiculous spectacle, but undeniably fun at the same time; which is a fairly appropriate way to describe the average weekend at an Armageddon Expo.

Now for five months rest before we do it all over again in Auckland for Queen's Birthday Weekend (which should be enough time for someone to form an 'Ironman' metal band).



  1. That was an awesome read, Adrian!

  2. Cheers, it took an entire day to transcribe and write (and I still have some left over material for another post!). Must go lie down now...

  3. A wonderful read. And wonderful that you're putting all this stuff up. It provides a real snapshot.

  4. Oh, and I should add, as always a BIG thank you to bill geradts, Armageddon's organiser, for his support of NZ comics for making this all possible each year. Much appreciated.