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LITSCENE: BOSTON COMIC CON AND THE MASSACHUSETTS POETRY FESTIVAL

My friend and I lost our Comic Con virginity this weekend, and then I met Steve Almond and Frank Bidart at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. This year keeps getting better and better.

Let me preface this by saying that, because fiction is my priority, I’m more of a casual comic book fan. I read Sandman, I’m starting to read Preacher, and I want to read The Unwritten and a gazillion other comics. My friend is more of a superhero-oriented comics fan, which is great (because I don’t know anything about superheroes aside from the movies). We wandered around the convention hall, and saw Artist’s Alley, and my friend was confused when I didn’t know who the superheroes’ sidekicks were. We saw Jill Thompson accidentally spill water on her art. We saw Tim Finn, selling copies of Gore Squares, Four Squares, More Squares, and other comics. I met Becky Cloonan and got a copy of Wolves (her mini-comic) signed. My friend looked at Hunger Games merch.

We also went to a panel that Becky Cloonan and Ben Templesmith were on, about creator-owned and indie comics. If you, like me, don’t know anything about creator-owned comics and why they’re awesome…

What I learned about creator-owned comics:

Creator-owned comics are just what their name implies: comics and characters that are owned by their creators, and not comics and characters that are owned by Marvel, DC, Vertigo, Dark Horse, or any of the smaller presses that are unfortunately getting eaten up by the larger ones.

There is an us vs. them mentality (creator-owned vs non creator-owned). The creator-owned artists and writers have a passion that the company-owned comics might not necessarily have, because their artists have deadlines and rules that they must stick to. With indie comics, there are not as many rules.

There is no longer any need for publishers because of social media, and using the Internet to sell comics is beneficial. As Ben Templesmith said, “who better to evangelize about your book than you?”

Cutting out the middleman is good. If you can sell your comics through your website, it’s great. Kickstarter campaigns are also fantastic. And speaking of the Internet, artists are putting their work up to be viewed online, which is good. There are also apps, some of which are called Graphicly and Comixology, that put comics onto people’s iPads and iPhones, but larger companies own them. If comic artists and writers have their own apps, they can also cut out the middleman and put their work online.

There can be more of an audience, as it is easier to build an audience for creator-owned comics. If a new reader starts with comics that are owned by an independent comics artist, it might also be easier than if they had started reading a superhero comic with thirty or forty years of continuity to follow.

With creator-owned comics, you are your own boss. There is no one to answer to. When writing a page, one of the panelists told us that they have to judge how long they should spend on a panel, and it comes down to how much the reader is going to read vs how much a person should take to draw the panels. Becky told us that she likes the grind of her own deadline pushing her forward.

As great as they are, companies like Marvel and DC aren’t going to change anything.

Becky said that “if you have a book about cooking, send it to people.” If artists and writers want to get their work out there, it is as easy as starting to tell people about it.

Massachusetts Poetry Festival:

I saw two authors I wanted to see at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, this past weekend: Steve Almond and Frank Bidart.

Steve Almond was back another year of his Bad Poetry reading. Three of the four finalists he chose were at the festival. The other one was at home, “washing his cat.”  Almond alternated between reading poetry from his book, Bad Poetry and having the finalists come up to the mic and read. If they didn’t want to read, Almond read their poems. The audience was in hysterics, and good times were had. (See the photo for livetweets from the reading.)

 

Frank Bidart

After hearing Frank Bidart read, getting his autograph and shaking his hand, I had to do everything I could so that I didn’t send a status update to Facebook in capslock saying something like “OHMYGAAAWD, I JUST MET FRANK BIDART.” I have a copy of Bidart’s poetry collection In the Western Night, but forgot to bring it, so I brought something else for him to sign.

 

I saw Bidart give a reading at Boston University in 2010, and two years later, he just gets older. And older. He is still giving readings that knock me off my feet. As one of the headliners at the festival, he read a long poem called “Ellen West”, about a girl who struggles with anorexia and succumbs to her illness. He then read a poem called “Writing Ellen West”, and I was surprised at how well it described my writing process, and the process of grief. One line was “one must not remain in the mind, alone”, and the last, which speaks to the writing process (the poem hasn’t been published, so apologies if I’ve butchered lines):

“One more poem, one more book where you try to make sense of something, but don’t.”

 

If I’m left with something as astounding as that, I could not hope for anything better.

 

An excerpt from Bidart’s “Ellen West”, which can be read in its entirety here:

“I love sweets,—

heaven

would be dying on a bed of vanilla ice cream …

 

But my true self

is thin, all profile

 

and effortless gestures, the sort of blond

elegant girl whose

body is the image of her soul.

 

—My doctors tell me I must give up

this ideal;

but I

WILL NOT … cannot.

 

Only to my husband I’m not simply a “case.”

 

But he is a fool. He married

meat, and thought it was a wife.

 

.            .            .

 

Why am I a girl?

 

I ask my doctors, and they tell me they

don’t know, that it is just “given.”

 

But it has such

implications—;

and sometimes,

I even feel like a girl.

 

.            .            .

 

Now, at the beginning of Ellen’s thirty-second year, her physical condition has deteriorated still further. Her use of laxatives increases beyond measure. Every evening she takes sixty to seventy tablets of a laxative, with the result that she suffers tortured vomiting at night and violent diarrhea by day, often accompanied by a weakness of the heart. She has thinned down to a skeleton, and weighs only 92 pounds. “

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