We started the night with geeky wonder at the two-pronged badge holders we received at registration. Swanky -- they even have a pocket for business cards. The program has a wonderful Moebius illustration on the front and selection of images on color plates inside. We ran into a few people we knew right off. The first panel of the night featured artists Donato Giancola, Shaun Tan and Bob Eggleton (although Bob was running late -- he and Marianne arrived straight from dinner). They drew. It was wonderful. It’s fascinating to see a picture take shape with three completely different styles. Donato was drawing from a photo of a woman, but turning it into a fantasy image with her in an elaborate dress with white birds flying by. Shaun started with some lines from the photo, but turned them into a large-eyed creature clutching its large eyed child. It was equal parts creepy and cute. Bob drew an elaborate dragon, red and scaly. They also answered questions about technique, habits, training and working with editors on book covers. Interesting that both Bob and Donato talked about comics as their first influence, including artists like Steve Bissette.
After that came the one and only comics panel. Fortunately the panelists dispensed with the lame topic (can comics be as “serious” as novels?) efficiently (or in the words of Doselle Young, “Fuck yeah!”) and got onto interesting questions about collaboration and the particular strengths of the word/image combinations. Featured were Mike Dringenberg (who seriously needs a mute button, or at least a reminder that there were other people on the panel who might also have something to say), the fabulous Charles Vess (who didn’t talk nearly enough), chair Andrew Wheeler, editor/writer Alisa Kwitney Sheckley, Doselle and Matthew Smith. Yes, they should have had Gene on the panel—he would have clarified a lot of the issues quickly. The panel was great fun. Alisa and Doselle had the audience in stitches a good bit of the time. With luck Gene will blog about the panel in greater depth.
It was a long day, so we headed to the domus Crispinu and shared a bottle of wine and some chat with the magister himself. We tried to refrain from abusing his hospitality too much, but it can be a struggle (easy target and one who reads this blog, so he should expect to get teased mercilessly). This morning as I write this first entry, his long-suffering uxor, Krista, is laboring over breakfast; to be fair, Dan did boil water for my tea, so that’s something (for the whitest man in the world). He’s now trying to figure out the password for their wireless network so I can log on. Otherwise, I’ll just save this post for later [which is what happened, as you can see].
Another busy day: after our delicious breakfast of home fries, bacon and eggs (thanks, Krista!) we headed in and I caught most of the Terrible Women panel while Gene checked out the Art room and the Dealer’s room. I hadn’t known about Persephone (persephonewriters.org) so I was glad to hear about the group even if I was already familiar with the writers they were trying to bring back to attention, terrific writers like E. Nesbit, Vernon Lee, Carson McCullers, Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Octavia Butler and Shirley Jackson.
GOH Kim (no waistcoat?!) Newman talked about his early publishing career, including sessions brainstorming with Neil Gaiman and Stefan Jaworzyn about ideas for low-budget films after a young reporter named Phil Nutman alerted them to a producer planning to make B-movies. While the films never materialized, one of the film ideas became Newman’s “B-novel” Orgy of the Blood Parasites. We learned about all kinds of obscure works in the prolific Newman’s past. There was also a porn film script he had written: “How sad a person are you if you fast forward through the sex scenes to get to the characterization?” We also heard about the musical, written as a parody of Rock, Rock, Rock and called Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock, (+ 27 or so repetitions of the word) which sounded like a hoot. He’s recently sold a radio play to the BBC and working with Christopher Wicker(?) on film scripts, so there are exciting things ahead. It’s a pity the interviewer a) didn’t speak audibly b) wasn’t very lively, and c) paid no attention to the time, so the panel not only ran over the time allotted, but did not give the audience any opportunity for questions.
M.R. James panel: Within minutes of panelists recalling their first time reading James, Ramsey Campbell mentions the Four Yorkshiremen, adding, “I was only six years old when I first read…” Christopher Roden countered with “Well, I wasn’t even born when I first read James.” The James gang -- a great way to refer to the folks inspired by James. He became a sort of guiding spirit for the con, mentioned in one way or another at most of the panels I attended. Makes me wonder if anyone has looked into the effect of medieval texts on James’ stories… hmmm. Not that I need another project.
Moebius: At the end of the panel, someone behind us said, “Wow, he talks just like he draws.” So true! It was terrific to see a lot of his art projected large. I got to ask him what it was like to work with Jodorowsky. He said, “Do you know Castaneda? He was my Don Juan.” Even though they are both so busy that they only talk via phone of late, he said the influence was and is huge. A teacher, a gentle man, a friend—and “dangerous,” he said with a smile. He used Jodorowsky’s analogy of the artist as alchemist, too, finding a great deal of resonance in that image. He even said that shamanism is the original religion of everybody (naturally, I agree).
Art Room: argh. It is to weep, as they say. We ran into Marianne who had a bunch of her Daub du Jour paintings up as well as a greenman that I immediately lusted for (if only my pocketbook matched my tastes). So many wonderful images I could not afford: Vess’s of course -- even sketches are out of my price range, and let’s not even begin to discuss the Moebius works. If I thought they looked wonderful projected large, they were amazing up close where the painstaking details were vivid. Then there was the work of Catherine Crowe, Imago Corvi. I could feel the money trying to leap out of my wallet as I gazed on her enamel work, much of it inspired by medieval designs. Not surprisingly, the raven and the crow drew my eye right away, but I was completely captivated by the owl pendant which, apart from being an amazing piece of work, also connects to one of my current projects perfectly. She had a number of larger framed images as well including an image from the Sutton Hoo burial.
We joined the Crispinus clan—including Kaitlin this time—for dinner at the Stadium Café which was far better than the banks of televisions filling it seemed to predict. I had a Black Forest sandwich and a Stoli Vanil martini that really hit the spot. Afterward we wandered down to Borders, where I read the first few pages of the new Hunter S. Thompson book put together by Rolling Stone, with an introduction from “Colonel Depp.” Add it to the list of must-gets.
Signing session: you really get a picture of the hugeness of World Fantasy when you see writers who are swamped with fans at smaller cons (e.g., a bunch of the Necon folks were sitting together) actually waiting for people to come by with books to sign. Gene was first in line for Moebius and I snapped a picture of the two of them together. He drew a nice sketch in one of the books, too. I had a chance to stop by and introduce myself to S. T. Joshi, for whom I have written a couple of essays but had never had a chance to actually speak with face to face. Little did I know that ealier in the con the International Horror Guild had given the Non-Fiction award to Joshi for Icons of Horror and the Supernatural, the most recent collection for which I wrote (the essay on “The Sorcerer”). Then I geeked all over Charles Vess, who had just barely sat down, gushing about his illustrations for Peter Pan as he signed it and lamenting as he signed (and drew a cat!) A Circle of Cats that the other Charles and his wife Maryann weren’t there to sing. I wish I’d known Ramsey Campbell was going to be here, too; I would have brought a couple of books for him to sign, but oh well. I will see him read tomorrow. We finished the night with more wine and more torturing of Crispinus (naturally).
Another great breakfast to kick the day off: mmmm, pancakes and sausage! We had a leisurely start and still got there in time for the Charles L. Grant tribute panel filled with memories of his generosity, his skillful and astute (and merciless) editing and of course the heartfelt grief at his absence. A fixture at both World Fantasy and Necon, his presence continues to be much missed.
Afterward we ended up chatting with pal John Douglas for a good bit (hadn’t seen him since Necon) then I headed off to the Ramsey Campbell reading. Always fun -- he read two stories, the first a sort of very modern ghost story called “Respects” which uses the impromptu roadside memorial sites as a starting point, and “Digging Deep” which likewise updates the premature burial theme with the added complication of a cell phone. Creepy and hilarious by turns -- I loved how the first story had a family whose kids were clearly named after celebrities (Keanu, Brad and Angelina) just like Cletus’s brood on The Simpsons.
I went to the pre-Christian ghost panel after that, which was less interesting than I’d hoped, but I did run into Michael Kabongo whom I had met at Pi-Con, so that was good. The Survey of the Field panel followed with some very strong opinions, such as Stephen Jones’ comments that there were far too many “best of” anthologies, that there were too many Anita Blake-style female investigators, that the rebranding of Weird Tales was the worst thing ever to happen to the magazine and that the Shocklines discussion board was the Al-Qaeda of horror. Paula Guran of Juno books disagreed that their sister publication Weird Tales was anything but wonderful and commented that it was good to see the fantasy and horror lines expanding, bringing in new readers with things like paranormal romance. Ellen Datlow mentioned that a lot of the year’s best horror was once again coming from magazines which had not been the case in recent years. Among the recommendations: Liz Hand’s Generation Loss and Will Elliott’s The Pilo Family Circus.
We headed back for Kaitlin’s special chili and a relaxed dinner, then returned to the hotel for evening programming. We tried to get into the dramatic presentation of M.R James’ stories, but were told the artiste was not allowing anyone to enter after the start. Well, sucks to him. Instead we headed over to see Native American storyteller Joseph Bruchac and it was the right choice. Bruchac had the audience in the palm of his hand and kept them there the whole night (despite making a lot of them jump!). In fact, when he ended, many immediately followed him out into the hallway to buy books and learn more about his work (nice flute playing, too). We were going to stick around for the New Weird panel but a) Ginjer Buchanan wasn’t there and b) there was the Art Show Reception calling (mmmm, white chocolate cookies). We ran into Catie Murphy whom I’d also met at Pi-Con and who seemed to be having a great time although suffering from a sore throat. In the art show awards had been given out and we were not at all surprised to see Bob Eggleton’s painting of Teddy Roosevelt with a Martian had won a purple ribbon. I finally got to meet the woman whose enamels I had so admired and had finally made up my mind to splurge on one, when I turned back to see someone else pointing to it and taking it out of the case to try on. Argh! Well, I left my card for the next time she casts a similar piece. Exhausted, we headed back to chez Crispinus for a relatively early night.
What better way to start the day than potato scones? Mmm! Off to the convention center again, I caught the Taboos in Fantasy panel with John Grant, Tom Doherty, Lucienne Diver, Steven Erikson and the always entertaining Sharyn November of Firebird Books. The long and short of it: taboos change and taboos get broken, but new ones always seem to form. Among the stories Sharyn told was coming across a line of Christian YA novels with pretty good covers, so she was tempted to buy the first one and read it, although, she commented, “I’m still Jewish.”
Right after that was the ghost story panel with Ramsey Campbell, Jane Yolen, Toni Kellner, James Maxey and Julianne Lee. It was a fun discussion and I can’t really reconstruct the free-floating conversation which led to Ramsey saying to Jane, “You can jump me any time,” and Jane retorting that it was the best offer she had had in a long time. Okay, so they had been talking about the differences between telling a story and reading one, and the unlikelihood of hiring someone to jump out at a reader (although the possibilities of GPS technology were discussed), but it’s funnier without that explanation. One misheard title gave me an idea for a story, so we’ll see if that develops.
I headed over to hear Esther Friesner’s short story “The Really Big Sleep,” an hilarious pastiche of Lovecraft, film noir and Vassar-bashing full of her trademark humor which had the audience chuckling right up to the final pun (d’oh!). I stopped by the dealer room to buy a copy of Scream for Jeeves, the Lovecraft/Wodehouse mash-up, but the seller ran away just as I walked up (I don’t think I looked that scary) so no go on that. One more trip to domus Crispinus, a leftover chili lunch (mmmm!), and a quick game of Boggle ("yearnette?!"), then we were on our way home once more – where I discovered that I had left the papers I needed to grade on campus. I’m sure it wasn’t a subconscious desire to avoid work, surely not. Looks like an early morning tomorrow – and a long day: there’s a meeting of the Hudson Valley Writers Guild tomorrow night.