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Went down to Wonder-Con this last weekend. For those of you who don't know, Wonder-Con used to be the second biggest comic show on the west coast (pretty sure Seattle superceded it some ten plus years ago -- whenever they moved from the ball field over to the convention center there). It also used to be in San Francisco, not Orange County (which is not Los Angeles, where the con organizers have been trying to make a second show a year work for some time -- this in addition to the big mammajamma of a show in San Diego every year.)

For the record, I'm not the biggest fan of Wonder-Con. Don't get me wrong. It's a decent small/big show. But more on that later. I'm not a fan of the venue they're attached to, or the fact that they like to post it over Easter weekend. The Anaheim Convention Center is very old, maybe sixties for the original building, seventies? That's nobody's fault. It just is. The fact that there's nothing really do do around it, unless you like expensive franchise food or Downtown Disney, is not a point in its favor. Nor is the general traffic level, etc etc. I'm also old and grouchy, so take this with a grain of salt.

And as I said above, the show itself is fine, though there's not that much of interest for me. There's plenty of vendors. Not a lot who serve up the stuff that I'm digging around for. That being a mix of silver and bronze age comics and books, usually on the cheap side, so long as it's all holding together. I like looking at all the toys that I'll never buy, the collections of original art that I can't afford (and to be snickered at by the dudes in the booth if I dare make a slip -- word to the wise, don't fucking antagonize your potential clients, you'll sell more.)

What I didn't see a lot of there was new comics. IDW was the biggest regular comics publisher there. Prism was there as always, but I don't recall even seeing Fantagraphics. I'm sure I'm missing one or two, but they were not big ones. Plenty of very small indie presses with their own books, that I don't know if they even made the back of Previews or not (real estate I have some level of familiarity with, even if my plastique is old, as the metaphor goes.) And, oddly, a number of indie books with a $20 price range. For a single issue. Which is not a price any regular person is going to pay and maybe not even a regular indie comics person. Yes, I know comics are very expensive to produce. Please. I've been there and have done the calculations relatively recently. So, that's a thing. That's a very steep entry point.

There were a handful of artists I recognized in Artist's Alley, all of them doing what seemed to be a pretty good business, at least I hope they were. Not a lot I knew personally who were around when I was, but then my contact list gets older every day just like me.

There was a lot of indie craft sale work for sale there. Some of which was inspired. Some of which was two things put together only with kawaii for flavoring. I get it. You need name recognition to drag folks in. Yowza yowza yowza! Getcher red hots here! One thin dime gets you an eyeful of the wonders of the world. Someday I'll write about how we need barkers working these booths, salt some shills in the passers-by, return to tradition. There was some beautiful work to be seen, but nothing that really stuck for me. I don't need dice caddies or lanyard charms or little 3D printed geegaws. I don't need geek lifestyle accessories. I'm not that type of geek. I've got my books and that's what I'm after. I don't need anything to say yes, I like books so you can pick me out if I'm walking around and maybe you like books too. But I come from a different geologic age of this sort of thing. Talk about the last neanderthal being eaten by the first cro-magnon or however the metaphor goes. I'm positively saurian in a mammalian world. That's okay. My blood's cool. I run at my own pace.

I did make some nice scores at the show, saved from bargain boxes or pulled out of bins in one of the far corners with nary a slabbed comic to be seen. But, let's be honest, they're junk to anyone who isn't paying attention. That Star Raiders graphic novel by Maggin and Garcia-Lopez? That's gold. So is the Thomas/Russell/Gilbert Elric collection that I paid all of five bucks for. I did pay for some top-dollar items, namely a collection of Alex Nino's artwork published by his family with a nice sketch inside (for cheaper than a copy I'd seen at a secondhand store last month, by a substantial margin.) Grabbed some cheap comics that got the eyebrow raise from the guy running the booth like "What are these doing in the three buck bin?" but a deal's a deal, my friend. Due dilligence and all. Gotta turn over rocks to find stuff, and there's a lot of rocks there.

I didn't do much in terms of programming, other than appearing on a panel about The Beat's twentieth anniversary. I'm not sure I had much to offer (other than the fact that nobody but nobody is getting rich out of this except the capital groups that buy then bleed then bust out once-good if not great pop culture websites -- but there's so many of those it's easy to lose count and courage.) It is very very weird to consider what my time in comics fandom looks like. Even just 2004 looks like an utterly different landscape than 2024. I won't go into detail here (though I did leave a record of those years in The Collected Full Bleed and Highway 62 Revisited, which are available as ebooks -- I have yet to reformat them from the Createspace editions that I offered some almost fifteen years ago.) It's odd to feel like an elder statesman instead of a dork who just hung around the hobby for too long. Anyways, thanks to Heidi for offering me a slot on the panel. We've known each other for a pretty long time now (an eon in internet terms).

What else at the show? How about the publishers who aren't actually publishers but want to appear like ones so that someone can acquire their IP if not the operation lock, stock and barrel so that they don't have to play musical chairs any more. The books look slick (sometimes) but you get close and you see they're anti-life. There's no there there. It's like The Thing (Carpenter's version) deciding to disguise itself as a comic book so it can lure someone closer so as to eat them wetly and noisily. This is a theme we'll come back to if you stick around the rest of this undoubtedly-too-long essay. Anyways, I don't like those guys. There's no reason to read it if it only exists to be bought by the Financial Class, not by customers. (Pretty sure the customers could tell the difference too.)

There was a pretty large island of indie authors and I can tell you that people don't come to a comics show to check out indie books. At least on Friday it was relatively un-trafficked and most of the folks behind the tables had a look I recognized because I wore that look an awful lot the years I was out there flogging Strangeways. It's rough out there if you're someone nobody knows. And even if people do know you. Even if you were writing a run of acclaimed comics and you offer some of your creator-owned titles and nobody even blinks at them. Yeah, rough.

Anyways, the show itself was fine. About what I expected. People were spending money. Funko wasn't the biggest single booth like they were last year. But as an alternate marketplace for comics? Kinda hard times. I'm sure I'll go back next year (though I won't need a 3-day badge like I bought this year.)

Retired up to a friend's place in Gardena, had some really next-level tonkatsu ramen with enough garlic to make even me sit up and take notice. Drove up to my hotel in Burbank in the on/off rain, which of course makes LA traffic just that much weirder. Either people become super extra cautious or they just throw caution to the wind and drive extra angry. Finally got to the place, which was not actually in Burnbank, but the weird Burbank/Glendale interzone of non-places, places that simply cease to exist after 5pm, office parks and extended stay motels. I didn't care. I was very tired, having been up since 2:30am (earlier than I needed to make the plane -- stupid brain.)

In bed at ten or so.

Then the fire alarm went off at 12:22.

I was so out of it, I needed a minute to figure out where I even was and how best to respond. It took a moment to tease out, between the brain fog and the earsplitting klaxon. Got dressed, hobbled around on my gimpy knee (did something to it at the show) and got outside in the insistently drizzling rain, barely under the awning. Took about half an hour to figure out that it was indeed a false alarm and it was okay to go back in. Blacked out for several hours, not long enough.

Breakfast back in Gardena, at Gardena Bowl (which also offers billiards and videogames), at the Hawaiian restaurant there. Lots of amazing options, both downhome American and pan-Asian Hawaiian. Opted for the kimchi and bacon fried rice with a couple eggs on top. (Oh right, this was after a doughnut I snuck in before the drive down, over at Donut Prince in Burbank, which is a regular stop for me.) Back to a longtime friend's home (probably the longest I've known anyone who I'm still seeing even irregularly) and just hanging out for several hours before returning to Burbank.

Picked up another pair of friends to carpool over to the night's entertainment. That being Nightmare Alley (the original) on a silver nitrate print over at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. I'd originally hoped to turn it into a photo expedition too, but the weather was making that a less appealing idea by the second. The rain wasn't so bad, just grinding. The cold, however, was unseasonable for LA at all, much less this time of year. Yes, LA gets cold, even bitter. I know my friends from the Midwest and Great Lakes region are gonna laugh at me. I'll die on this hill. I'll die cold.

So, going to see a film during an American Cinematheque festival is pretty much like going to church. Maybe not as quietly solemn, but certainly on the serious side. After introductions and testimonials, there was the warning of the dangers of hellfire. Or at least the very real possibility that the inherent instability of the nitrate stock would yield surprising and fiery results, so there were admonitions to recognize the authority of the fire alarm should it sound like Gabriel's very trumpet. Amen.

Thing about actual physical film cannisters is that over time, they all develop their own scratches and scars. Frames get dropped out because they're simply too degraded to risk. Time itself becomes manifest on the stock, fingerprints flickering by making those luminous scenes not diminished but increased. You're having an experience. You're in a moment. And this thing has been passed down for nearly eighty years, improbably surviving its own instability, both cultural and chemical. And you're there with a couple hundred people, some of whom are friends, but all of whom are there for the same thing. For an actual god damned experience, marked in time made real, or at least the illusion of it.

I'm not going to offer much in terms of a review, other than it was really good, dovetailing along several avenues of my interest, crime and faith and culture and humans simply being imperfect and not problems to solve. If you have the opportunity to see it, you should avail yourself of it. For nothing else if not to see this representation of a world that's been gone for a long, long time. Of course we're all past that, being conned by faith and visions from beyond the veil. We've all grown past that, right?

Sure we have.

Afterwards, took said pair of friends over to Tommy's (they'd never been) on Hollywood Bl. I'd have preferred the one at Beverly and Rampart, but expedience and cold weather made this the wiser choice. It was good, not great. Like any place, it all depends on the crew and a variety of other factors. Still, great to sit down out of the rain and partake in the not at all dubious pleasures of a chili cheeseburger and chili fries, even if the root beer wasn't mixed right and would have made a good base for napalm, gasoline to taste.

Drove back on those slick as oracular-offered entrails with colored gemstones on the windshield coruscating and changing as we passed by streetlights and billboards lit so bright you could read by them. On the moon.

Another long day. Another promised early appointment tomorrow. Back to the eerie interzone and this time no middle of the night fire alarms.

Sunday took me back to my old stomping grounds of Orange County. Yes, I spent the formative years (and then some) of my life there. Yes, it's weird to be from one of the most hated (whether casual or serious) places in the state if not the country. But there's a part of me for which that will always be home. It's your problem if you don't get it.

Dumping rain overnight and into the morning made for some memento mori moments on the drive down. There's so much concrete in the Southland and sometimes there's just no place for that water to go. So it ponds on the fast and slow lanes, but with overcast skies, it's very hard to see, so maybe you drive only as fast as you feel comfortable hitting two inches of water that is doing its damnedest to break contact between the tires and the road. Bad enough that CHP had northbound traffic shut down around Carson (where the giant gas works is -- you've seen it in movies, trust me). I made it down okay. Hung with still more friends and caught up over black coffee and frittata. At least that's what I think it was. Hard to go wrong with eggs and cheese other ingredients. We talked while the rain ebbed and flowed, coming down hard enough at one point that it was tough to talk over it. Decided I wasn't going back to the show again even though I thought I might. Guess I just don't love comics that much.

Drove up around sunset as the storm was finally breaking up. 605 to the 5 to the 101 and watching the city sparkle in the clarity of after the rain, City Hall lit up like a big blue tombstone and the city jail (as depicted on the front of City of Quartz) looking so tough that not even entropy itself could ever break in or out. My destination that night (foolishly, according to some) was Universal Citywalk.

What's Universal Citywalk, you ask? Well, it's like Downtown Disney but for Universal Studios. It's a place designed for the frictionless dispersal of brands. It's a place that is not really a place, entirely ersatz and made because someone had something to sell you. I know, you say that's everywhere, but this is really that. It's like that shapeshifting eponymous Thing, only this time it digested a mall and said "Here's a way to really pack them in. I'm gonna eat like a king forever." It's all brands.

That said, it has some lovely old neon pieces that I really wish were in a museum. I'd rather have seen them there. As it was, I paid to park so I didn't have to park on Cahuenga and walk the mile or so just to get there. Though I kinda wish I had, because I wanted to get some good shots of that new Godzilla billboard down there. But it was not to be. And I was lazy.

At least I did get the pictures that I was after. And then some. But I didn't eat there. I didn't even eat at Pink's (though I never have -- but that'd have been true if I had bought a hot dog there. It's not real. It's not an actual place.) I drifted and detourned, snapping pictures that jumped out at me. I finally got to see the Earl Carroll Theater girl neon sign. I took a lot of pictures of tree branches with out-of-focus neon behind them. I took a lot of pictures with long shutter speeds because those are like easy art.

After I'd had my fill of that, I drove over to the restored Vista Theater on Sunset. The outside looks just great, though some of the neon is already fritzing out, but that's the nature of that particular beast. It was great to see the place back in ship-shape, as it had fallen on some hard times and was even on the beaten-up side of things in the 90s when I'd last been. Wandered down to try and shoot the El Rey theater marquee on Miracle Mile, but they don't run the lights except when shows are actively going on. My luck was run out. Done for the night and with a nearly-drained camera battery, I went back to exile at the extended stay motel.

Up early to meet another friend at the NoHo Diner, which is just a couple blocks from where I used to work, right there on Lankershim and Magnolia. The diner was there then, maybe it always was. Saw the Thai place we used to get lunch at maybe once a week and the pizza place that we hit just as often. The building I used to work in got demolished and turned into WeWork suites or something. I wonder how long that bubble is gonna stay un-popped or maybe it's already gone. Had too many biscuits and gravy servings, but the worst was yet to come.

Saw another friend over in town, talked about a lot of things. One subject that came up with nearly everyone I talked to was how everything's just waiting right now. The money is not being spent. That strike you heard about last summer, sure it got resolved, but there's another two in the wings and the big boys don't want to put anything on the table in the meantime. Yet everyone who's out there doing the actual work is still operating like the strike is in place, only they're not picketing. The dudes at the top think they can survive while the trunk and roots of the system wither. I wonder how long they think they can do that. How long they can just sequester the cash that they've made from their deals and just wreck the business that they looted in the first place. I'm afraid nobody likes the answers to that one. Maybe they'll get smart and realize the money only has value if it moves around. Or we're gonna lose a decade of that business entirely. I don't want to ponder that possibility, even though it doesn't touch me directly.

I already opted out of the business. Yeah, I sell books. On a vastly smaller scale because it's not my main income. Is that a selfish place to stand? I dunno. In my case, it's recognition that nobody in the entertainment world is gonna want what I have until they want it. Which might not be ever. But if I go around chasing trends, well, ain't nobody gonna want that. So it's persevere in the acid fog of the meteor hitting and live off of stolen dinosaur eggs until conditions change. I know I can do that, but not everybody can.

I know I should talk more about the kickstarter and how that all worked out. Not here. Maybe somewhere else.

Anyways, I hope the money realizes that it has to work or its going to shut everything down. Taking all those yields and just parking them in corporate silos may sound like a great idea, but it's going to make all those studios they bought into dead assets. I know that entertainment will survive, but it doesn't have to be this way, doesn't have to be this grim and lean. But what do I know. I'm not a genius with an MBA.

Grabbed a friend for lunch at Chili John's, which opened in 1900 and nearly got wiped out by the pandemic. Great food, unique atmosphere, almost a time machine, an actual place run by actual people. Chili that could cut through battleship steel. Got a chili dog (bacon-wrapped) with onions, fritos, sweet pickle and mustard. Sounds terrifying on paper and you'd be right. But it tasted divine.

Wandered a bit of the Valley, marveled at how even San Fernando Bl. has changed in the five years since I've been there. Time making marks everywhere.

Returned home, marveled at the radiance of the setting sun on the people movers near the airport, hitting everything just right so that you might understand what the vikings were getting at with the idea of a rainbow bridge taking you to a better place.

Hope my next visit isn't so long a time away.


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