As well as the headlining Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, this years Glasgow Comic Con boasted a stellar line-up of guests, including John Wagner, Alan Grant, Jim Starlin, Rufus Dayglo, and Karrie Fransman, as well as Dave Alexander, Jim Devlin, and Dan McDaid.
The panel starring John Wagner and Alan Grant was a definite highlight, with Grant's solo panel perhaps receiving the most thunderous applause of the entire weekend. Talking Dredd and Bane, film adaptations and favourite characters, it was a brilliant reminder of just how great an impact Glasgow and Scotland have had on the comics industry as a whole.
Jim Starlin was the international guest of honour, tirelessly sketching and signing away for a massive queue of fans, and commenting on the appearance of Thanos in Avengers and Avengers 2. In a panel focusing on the Cosmic in comics, Rufus Dayglo entertainingly stole the show with some choice remarks about the treatment of Jack Kirby at the hands of Marvel and the "fucking boring" state of the Big Two's output.
The one complaint about the Con that was circling was the much reduced small press presence despite the expansion of the convention itself. Several key figures from the local comics scene who do not wish to be named were notable absent, citing high table costs and an unwelcoming atmosphere. As a dedicated supporter of the independent UK comics scene, I hope this is something that is cleared up next year.
Hit the jump for full panel coverage and quotes from Saturday!
Opening with a panel named after the famous Glasgow Boys of the post-impressionist movement, Frank Quitely, Jim Devlin, Dave Alexander and Jim Stewart discussed just why Glasgow was a breeding ground for comics talent, with Quitely pointing to the work of Alexander in Electric Soup, the first comic that Quitely contributed to. A new collected edition of one strip by Alexander, The MacBams, is now available. "A slice of history," nodded Quitely.
Asked about his influences, Quitely pondered, "I suppose it was The Broons and Oor Wullie for me, it was the biggest influence certainly when I was younger. Specifically Dudley Watkins and the way he drew, I just thought was amazing."
Quitely's dream job were he not an artist? "I'd quite like a driving job. I enjoy driving, I actually find it quite relaxing," he mused before joking, "Put the radio on and you get a comfy seat!"
Next up was the 2000 AD panel with John Wagner, David Bishop, and a later appearance from Alan Grant. The hot topic of choice seemed to be the theory that 2000 AD is struggling to attract a new readership, something that was focused on again on the following day as well - a tad odd I felt. Wagner however was quite agreeable. "Up to a point yes," came the reply, in a deep rumble I can't help but attribute to Dredd himself. "I think today most of the stories are really written for people who are 15 and above, whereas in the early days of 2000 AD there was a definite intention to bring in much younger readers. If it was still 7 pence I think we'd have a much bigger readership!"
Wagner's dry sense of humour and straight talking is always a delight to listen to, and of course people wanted to know what he thought of the upcoming Dredd film, of which he has seen the final cut. "It is such a big improvement on the Stallone version," Wagner enthused. "It is pure Dredd. There's nothing in that movie that you couldn't say isn't Judge Dredd. I'm very pleased with it. I saw the rough cut and I was worried about a lot of things in it but I've never seen a movie in production before, it's like seeing an artists pencils. The final version is such an improvement. I expect big things from it."
Asked whether he thought the film would result in an increase of comic book sales, Wagner said that he didn't think it would have much of an effect on the weekly comic, but that the trade collections would quite possibly see an increase of interest. "I hope as well," he added, "that if the film does well enough, there will be a second film. Which should feature Judge Death and visually that will be terrific. They did actually do an original script which featured Judge Death but the producers at Fox decided it wasn't nuts and bolts enough. So that was abandoned and a new story written, but should the first film work well enough then I think in the second one we're going to have the four dark Judges. And I look forward to that."
Wagner admitted that handing over the reigns of Judge Dredd to other writers had in the past annoyed him, which wasn't terribly fair to the writers but was, he said with a rare smile, fair to him! "In my time off I came back to the script to find out that Mega-City One had extended to Florida," he mused. It made no sense at all which is why Alan Grant and I decided that we would launch the Apocalypse War, and reduce the city to size again. And now you could probably, after the latest serial, fit the whole of Mega-City One's population into Ipswich."
To broaden back out to the whole of 2000 AD, Wagner was asked what his favourite stories in the prog were. "My favourite story," he answered, "probably one of my favourite stories of all time was Ro-Busters. I thought that was just terrific fun, really inventive, great characters, and I wish Pat [Mills]would bring it back."
How would Wagner improve 2000 AD if given the chance? "I do think we have abandoned the younger readers, so I would aim to produce more material for younger readers, not shallow, but accessible."
He seemed slightly bemused at an audience question asking him whether he had a problem with 2000 AD's same day digital release (once explained!). "Well what's wrong with that?" Wagner asked. "I think it gets some people their progs earlier, it opens it up more to people who live in Australia, New Zealand, America, places like that... I think a digital edition helps, but not that much."
Focusing on the lack of big budget futuristic scenes in the upcoming Dredd film, Wagner was supportive of what has been achieved. "I think they did as well as they could considering the budget," he said. "I was surprised at how well it worked. I was a bit put off by the use of modern day vehicles in the first scene, however considering the restrictions, how could they have recreated that without vast expenditure, in which case you wouldn't have had a movie. So I’m glad it happened earlier in the film because after that.. I mean, the chase scenes are excellent. I’m glad it happened earlier because after that there's nothing that stands out like that, nothing that would make you say, 'oh, c'mon.'"
Asked about his thoughts on the long awaited Button Man film, Wagner seemed re-energised on the subject. "[Nicolas Winding] Refn I think is the right man to do it, and it's genuine progress."
Comics legend Jim Starlin was on stage next, alongside Tank Girl artist Rufus Dayglo and Eddie Deighton of ComX publishers, for a Cosmic Creations panel that involved a lot of banter between the guests.
"The thing I love most about being involved in comics," began Dayglo, "is the fact that people who are so committed to comics, like this gentleman sitting up front here who has managed to brave walking through Glasgow dressed as Spider-Man. I don't have the balls to do that. With a kilt? Fucking fair play to you!"
Starlin, creator of Thanos, writer of the classic Batman: A Death in the Family arc, and revamper of Captain Marvel and Warlock amongst others, was asked about the differences in the comics industry now compared to his early days.
"Back in the 70s when I first started," Starlin began, "Roy Thomas was the editor of all the books. The reason I got hired was because they started expanding from like 8 books a month to about twenty. And so they were quite literally hiring anybody who came across the state line that could hold a pencil right. My lack of drawing skills at that point were not a consideration! They just needed the books filled.
"When I finally started doing full books, Roy really didn't want to be bothered with too much information at the plotting stage. He wanted a one page synopsis, I didn't have anything to type on that point so I would come into the office and say, 'we're gonna do the Super Skrull this time,' and he'd go, 'fine,' and I could go back and do whatever I wanted to do... I would never get away with that now. They want everything mapped out. When I was doing Warlock I did an issue where I made fun of the entire editorial staff. I can't imagine even thinking about doing that these days, they'd have a fit."
"As for approaching Marvel now," Starlin stated, "I no longer work with Marvel, I have no working relationship with them."
Starlin of course hasn't just worked at Marvel, enjoying a lengthy stint at DC where he wrote Batman, Death of the New Gods, and The Weird amongst other books. "With DC, they want a heavy plot," he explained. "I'm working on a proposal on something for them right now. I’m hoping that I get an editor who loses his copy because I usually divert off the one that I put down on paper and hope that they don't know. The last one didn’t so we had a lot of fights but maybe this time I’ll get lucky."
Dayglo was enthusiastic about using smaller comics publishers and brilliantly acerbic about the state of the current superhero industry. I know some commentators have frowned at his swearing but his genuine passion was really refreshing, and damn if he didn't make some good points that need saying more often!
"I think it's up to us now as writers and artists to be more responsible for our own work," he began. "We've got to start taking control of what we do instead of just handing it to a company and expecting them to put it out and then complaining if they tell us to change it. We need to actually start saying no to Marvel and DC type companies and taking back the industry because I think a lot of the stuff put out by the big companies is fucking boring - I’m just not interested. I walk into a comic shop and I look at rows and rows of comics, I don't pick up any of them... I don't even want to steal them any more. If you can't be arsed to steal a comic then really, what are you doing in there?"
"You've fucking seen Spider-Man eight thousand times," Dayglo laughed, "you don't need to see it again. Save your money. Give it to a crackhead. Do anything. Don't give it to Marvel Comics. They shat on Jack Kirby and his estate so fuck them."
Dayglo got a lot of laughs and a few raised eyebrows, but really, he's bang on. The exciting things happening in the industry right now are at a grass roots level, with new initiatives sprouting up all over the place, and small publishers keen to get indie books out there (as well as book publishers in the UK) - not a million miles away from the kind of environment that delivered Morrison, Quitely, Wagner and Grant. It's perhaps doubly sad then that so many small press creators were missing from the weekend given Glasgow's reputation as a hotbed of new talent.
Starlin revealed that he hadn't been sent a ticket to see the Avengers despite his character, Thanos, appearing in the end credits (oops, spoiler... it's been long enough now surely!), but he's keen to see how the character is portrayed in the next instalment. "Well yesterday Marvel officially came out and announced that the big movie for 2014 is gonna be the Guardians of the Galaxy and not only will Thanos be in it but I believe from what I heard that Gamora and Drax the Destroyer will be in it also. I'm working off second hand information but apparently I'll have three characters in the next movie. Along with Rocket Raccoon!"
Asked by an audience member about his thoughts on the recently released reprints of two of his Thanos stories, Starlin laughed. "I found it really kind of amusing," he explained, "because when they did the solicitation they left out the fact it was reprints. So a day after the solicitation came out I had everybody e-mailing me and coming to facebook and going, 'I thought you were never going to work for Marvel again!' and I had to explain very carefully that I wasn't, that these were reprint books. It's their company, it's their publications, they do what they want. I’m just amused by it."
Starlin was a fantastically interesting guest, and his own panel was the headlining event of the following day. This panel though wrapped up with the guests paying tribute to the master of all things cosmic, Jack Kirby, with a plea from Deighton for fans to donate to the Jack Kirby Museum.
Daylgo rounded the panel off with a tribute to Kirby. "Without Jack, so much of the comics and the comic mythology that we have just wouldn't exist," Dayglo insisted. "He's completely underrated. Unfortunately Stan Lee is kept on at Marvel as a shill... and to effectively disown Jack Kirby's rightful place in that pantheon. And it's to Marvel's shame that they really haven't, not really admitted that but sort of rewarded his family as well. And I hope they all burn in hell for that. You were saying what next Marvel film would I like to see? I'd like to see Stan Lee wrapped in cling film launched towards the sun."
Whenever I spotted Starlin and Dayglo throughout the weekend, the pair of them were both tirelessly turning out sketches for excited fans and chatting away about their characters and experiences. Starlin effortlessly sketching out some of the most iconic characters in comics history, while simultaneously chomping a rather Scottish ham roll was quite the sight!
The final panel of the day before the Dynamic Duo of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (full coverage here), was a solo chat with Alan Grant, famed for writing Judge Dredd and a hugely successful Batman run, as well as creating the DC supervillain Anarky. Not to mention countless other titles including Lobo, Tank Girl, Anderson: Psi Division, and many more.
With Grant as one of the main writers of the Batman: Knightfall saga, it wasn't long before talk turned to the upcoming Dark Knight Rises film. "I will go and see it but only after talking to someone this morning," Grant smiled. "I saw the first three or four Batman movies, the Tim Burton one, the one with Mr Freeze in it, the one with Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones, and I thought that they were all terrible. So I let somebody talk me into going to see, I think it was Christian Bale who played the part of Batman – Batman Begins? And although everybody around me thought it was brilliant, it was the Batman movie they'd been waiting for, I was immensely disappointed in it.
"Because my vision of Batman is that he's a self made character, and suddenly it's being revealed in this movie that there's a whole network of Ra's al Ghul and various other villains who actually train him and set him all these tasks because they want him to turn villain as well. So he wasn't really a self-made character, and that really disappointed me. So I didn't go to see the next Batman movie. But I'm told that The Dark Knight was really good, really great. I still haven't seen it, I'll get it from my local post office on DVD. But yeah, I'll go and see the next one. I give everything a chance."
Chatting about his experiences working with Wagner, and his wish to create a truly extreme left wing character in Anarky to counteract the undeniably right wing premise of most superheroes, the audience questions soon turned back to Bane. "I wasn't actually a fan of the whole," Grant hesitated. "I mean although I wrote quite a lot of it – I wasn't a fan of the Knightfall saga, I never liked Bane as a villain. Bane as he was originally created was meant to be this super intelligent villain but when you saw him in the comic he looked like a WWF wrestler, he didn't look like he had a brain in his head, he was just a pumped up guy on steroids. I was pretty unhappy with that."
Grant is still active within the comics industry today, and recently gave a guest lecture and one on one advice on script writing to students undertaking the Comic Studies MLitt at Dundee University. He does have some health problems however which somewhat restrict his appearances, and the applause at the end of his panel was absolutely thunderous.
Saturday ended with an enormous three hour long queue for Grant Morrison's signing, with the fan-friendly star writer spending time with each and every person. All the guests, with the exception of Morrison who would quite possibly have been mobbed, spent the entire day mingling with the fans and happily answering questions, reviewing portfolios, and signing comics. In that sense the Glasgow Comic Con has a real festival atmosphere, but is in great need of a larger and more easily accessible venue - complete with a wider range of the local small press and indie comic creators. Here's to next year!