Action Comics Today and Loads of SDCC Stuff!

We flew back from San Diego Comic Con yesterday, so: still a bit boggle-eyed and wandery; still deeply tired. A tremendous time was had. I loved meeting the audience on the Superman, Batman, Boom Studios, Masked (more about which in a later blog) and SFX panels. It was good to catch up with so many old friends (especially sharing a room with Lou Anders and John Picacio). It was great to put faces to so many names I've been working with (and aren't you all lovely?) And it was a sheer pleasure to be on panels with, and have breakfast with, the great Stan Lee, who's everything my inner nine year old wanted him to be. (He had emergency dental surgery one morning, having lost a tooth, but still made it to the Boom panel, apologised for being twenty minutes late, and arrived in the Hyatt bar to a standing ovation past midnight that evening.) I had a meeting or social gathering at, literally, every meal. We spent some quality time in the bar (though sheer tiredness meant it was all very restrained). And I've come back with a feeling of warm camaraderie and a number of interesting new projects and opportunities. Caroline went to loads of anime and manga panels, but I'm afraid I didn't go to any I wasn't on. No time! One of the surprises about SDCC for me was how well it deals with the tens of thousands of people it attracts. There was less chaos than I expected. It's also fascinating how it warps everything about the relatively small town its in. When the hotels opposite have enormous Scott Pilgrim posters covering their whole facades, the passing trucks have True Blood adverts on their sides, and planes fly overhead trailing No Ordinary Family banners, you end up in a Pixarian world of everything being suddenly about the geek. It is, literally, everywhere you look.

In short: cool.

And it's left me with loads to share with you, so without further ado... today in the US, Thursday in the UK, Action Comics #891, the second issue of my Lex Luthor run (with guest villain Mr. Mind) is out. You can read the first five pages here. And here's that lovely David Finch cover:

Comic Book Resources and Techland have interviews with me about Action, Knight and Squire and Soldier Zero. There'll be a few more like this coming in the next few days. And...

I love the fact that it's my friend the author Diana Rowland whose programme I'm signing in the opening shot!

I'll obviously be keeping you lot in touch with all the excitement about my Boom Studios project with Stan Lee, Soldier Zero, but in the meantime an embryonic forum for the new Boom superhero universe has appeared. I'll be posting in the Soldier Zero area, so do pop along, particularly if you're a wheelchair-using comic fan.

The second part of my interview covering all aspects of writing is up at the great Aussie blog Literary Clutter.

And this Sunday I'll be appearing, as will our Soldier Zero advisor, Al Davison, at Oxford's own Caption comics festival. Details on the right.

I'll be blogging specifically about the Masked anthology shortly. And there might well be a post of SDCC photos. Until then, Cheerio!

Stan Lee and Soldier Zero

Phew. Now I can talk about it! Yesterday at the San Diego Comic Convention I was honoured to be at a press conference with BOOM! Studios, announcing their new range of comics created with... Stan Lee! There are three launch titles, the one I'm writing being Soldier Zero, the story of Stewart Travers, a wheelchair user who, to save both their lives, bonds with an alien symbiote that's crash landed on Earth. The symbiote gives Stewart super powers for short periods of time. (We're all aware of the potential pitfalls, but doing this story right, and bringing in wheelchair users to tell us where we're going wrong, for instance the great comics creator Al Davsion, who's our official advisor, was one of the things that attracted me to the project.)

Meeting Stan yesterday was a great joy. He ran the press conference himself, always sharp, always funny, and behind the scenes was exactly who my inner eight year wanted him to be. He's been giving me notes on the first issue, and they're excellent, always to the point. It's also been great to work with BOOM's Mark Waid, and for my other fellow writer on the line to be my old friend Chris Roberson. As I say in various interviews, I think this is like Rick Rubin's work with Johnny Cash: there's nothing retro or pastiche about these projects. They're bang up to date uses of Stan's classic, timeless skills, which I think the bravery of the concept I've been given demonstrates.

Wired magazine has a report of the press conference, and the original artwork. Newsarama have an interview with me about the project.

This is my only exception from the exclusive deal I've done with DC Comics. If you're a wheelchair user and a comics fan, I'd be interested in hearing from you in the run up, and when the issue's out. The more people we've got telling us where we're going wrong, the better. This is a comic for everyone, in the classic Stan Lee fashion, but it has to start from being a title for you. I still can't quite believe I'm working with Stan! Until my next blog from SDCC then... Excelsior!

My SDCC Schedule and Several Links

The following is where and when I'm going to be in terms of public appearances at the San Diego Comic Con, with one exception. There'll be a big announcement over the convention (which I'll blog about as soon as I can) leading to some extra items not shown here. (I'd apologise for the secrecy, but you know I really love it.) So here's my list otherwise:

Thursday 22nd July:

15.00: Signing (DC Booth #1915).
17.00: SFX Magazine Best of British Panel (Room 5AB). With Dan Abnett, Kieron Gillen, China Mieville, Pat Mills and Toby Whithouse.

Friday 23rd:

11.00: Signing (DC Booth #1915).
15.00: Superman Panel (Room 6DE). A whole bunch of us who are on the Superman titles right now will be in attendance.

Saturday 24th:

15.00: Signing (DC Booth #1915).

And the rest of my time is taken up with breakfasts, brunches, lunches, dinners, meetings, parties, interviews and podcasts, in a schedule which can now scarcely be represented in two dimensions. Some of which is down to the said secret thing, which you should become aware of pretty early on during the SDCC news coverage.

A few incidentals:

The wonderful Aussie prose blog Literary Clutter has rashly decided to interview me in two parts, the first dealing with my Doctor Who work.

My former writing partner Mike Maddox has made a short film of note, Spin Cycle.

That panel I did at alt.fiction on Writing For Comics has been turned into a WordPunk Radio podcast.

You can see me dancing in a ridiculous fashion to my favourite young band, Quadrophobe at the Faringdon Arts Festival, plus sign up to their mailing list, at their mailing list at their website.

Oh all right, here you go:

I look the look of this venture, Wizard's Tower, Cheryl Morgan's new small press for out of print SF.

I have a new interview in the latest issue of the Doctor Who fanzine The Terrible Zodin.

And The Omega Podcast interviewed me at CONvergence, and are holding a contest for signed stuff.

Okay, if I see you at SDCC, do say hello. Until then, Cheerio!

Knight and Squire

I'm very pleased to say that my second book for DC Comics is a very British one. Knight and Squire appeared most recently in Grant Morrison's Batman run, and they come from a deliberately over the top, tremendously fun DC Britain that had previously been only slightly explored. If Captain Britain was a more realistic take on British superheroics, Knight and Squire delights in Mary Poppins absurdity, in what I think is a quite 2000AD way. The artist on this six issue miniseries is the great Jimmy Broxton, who I've found shares my joy in all things Round the Horne and Carry On. Check out the story at DC's blog here. And here's Yanick Paquette's lovely cover to our first issue:

In other DC news, following the selling out of my first issue of Action Comics, here's the lovely David Finch variant cover for our second edition, featuring Lex in his regular power suit:

I'm loving these gigs. I'm sure you can tell. Until next time, Cheerio!

Ten Things About CONvergence

CONvergence, which I went along to a couple of weekends back, was, I think, the single best convention I've ever attended. It's a Minneapolis-based multi-media event, but with a large dollop of literary SF interest. At 4500 attendees or so, it's as big as the smallest Worldcons. And, as with FenCon, with which it shares a certain ethos, it's been run by the same (very large) gang of mates for over a decade. You can tell there's institutional memory here. They've learnt from their mistakes. When, in the middle of a bar conversation, an organiser can run up, cry 'mid-convention meeting!' and half the table depart enthusiastically, you know you're in the hands of some committed people, used to working together.

The best thing about CONvergence is the average age of the audience. One of next year's Guests of Honour, Chicks Dig Time Lords editor Lynne Thomas, said to me: 'Normally at a convention I feel like the youngest person in the room. Here I feel like one of the oldest.' And on my own behalf I could only agree. I felt like this lot's elderly British uncle, pampered and indulged and assumed to be funny because of his accent. There were loads of twentysomethings, loads of teenagers, loads of children. The convention is based in a single hotel, with, at night, two floors of parties (more like highly specialised bars) in cabanas set around a central atrium. This space comes to resemble an evening at Glastonbury Festival: dance music drifting past and youthful craft and costume everywhere. There's a dedicated movie theatre, Cinema Rex, which shows modern and classic movies all weekend, to an auditorium of comfy sofas. There are themed graphics everywhere, largely of CONvergence's gynoid, Connie.

The dealers' room boasts both serious SF novel stands and costumiers selling corsets. A lot of the panels were thematic, rather than media-specific: 'The Differences Between US and UK SF' for example, where TV, movies, books and comics were discussed. The male/female ratio is close to 50/50, and the audience is more diverse than many SF audiences too.

I made a lot of friends very fast, my usual reserve blindsided by how much I admired this young, energetic and talented bunch. I shared in several drunken rampages in the company of uber party girl Eryn Hildebrand, always in a screwball comedy (whose ability to cajole and pry open led us to last orders at every party from zombies to Klingons, and me into singing karaoke) and comedian Joe Scrimshaw, who somehow marries wiseguy lines with a sad level of Doctor Who trivia. They were at the heart, at times, of an army of costumed young ladies, many of whom had taken advantage of mighty corsetry. I hardly knew where to look. Well, I knew where, but tried not to. My handler, Mark Tempel, dilligently tried to stop me getting into trouble, but didn't get very far, because Eryn seems to regard him as a big brother/doggie toy. His charming fellow guest liason was Shelley Gilbert, who took me out to see the culture of the city via breakfast. And of course there was Michael, Windy, Lex, Kelvin who played Simon Bar Sinister from Underdog at the Iron Artist contest... I quickly started to see how they fitted together, how this gang, a bit like the Eavis family at Glastonbury, have made a festival of their life together. So many of them, so many! All so young and excellent!

I thought the best way to cover what, to me, was a blur of love and joy (I don't often do convention reports, because they tend to be tales of a great party that most of you haven't been to) was to pare it down into a Ten Things blog, especially since there are various talented people I want to mention. So...

1: Professional Performances. One hopes for a certain level of professionalism, even from fan run events. What one doesn't usually get is professionalism in terms of not only organisation, but also graphics, writing, media and even performance skills. I first realised that the talents involved were considerable at the Supervillain Smackdown event, where I competed against what turned out to be comedy professionals (damnit!) to represent the case for one villain over another. To give you a taste of what I mean, here are the videos shown at the opening and closing ceremonies, which formed part of multi-media fan art performances. These depict, in tune with the villainy theme of this year's convention, the usurpation and revenge of the heroic Connie, and are written and directed by Christopher Jones:

But, as revealed onstage, Connie Mark II is finally led into a trap, designed by a 'resistance movement' that was run as a live action role playing game amongst the convention attendees that weekend.

The end ceremonies also saw an excellent spoof of Avatar, as a restored silent movie, through the media of captions and onstage drama. Performance and presentation skills were at the heart of many of the events which I'm sure attract this young audience, such as the Iron Artist contest, based on the Iron Chef TV show. I was honoured to be a judge, and to provide the surprise ingredient which a panel of different artists, included the filk band The Dregs and some stop motion animators (!) then had to work into pieces which they only had an hour (!) to complete, in front of an audience who were kept entertained in the meantime by the characters of the host and his assistant, and some specially-filmed video inserts. Here's what the artists came up with (and where I remind them of the Doctor Who themed ingredient):

And if you're wondering how anyone can come up with any stop motion animation at all in just one hour:

I'm still in awe, frankly.

2: Cosplay. The influence of anime fandom on all other fandoms now is undeniable. It seems frankly ridiculous that Doctor Who fans used to boast that at our conventions 'nobody went in costume'. CONvergence boasted a whole bunch of excellent cosplayers:

That last one is Tara Reich, who's also a fashion designer. Check out her pictures of models in Doctor Who-influenced designs standing next to police boxes. You never know, given how Britain feels about the show, this could be the next big thing.

3: Alumni. CONvergence takes care of former Guests of Honour, listing their panels seperately in the programme. I was proud to be on a panel with, for instance, the great SF author Lois McMaster Bujold, who showed the audience the Star Trek fanzine she edited in 1968. But one of CONvergence's alumni is rather alarmingly young. Emily Hagins was a CONvergence Guest of Honour at the age of 14, having directed her first full-length feature film, the zombie movie Pathogen two years previously. At 17, she's now working on a new movie, My Sucky Teen Romance, a vampire romance parody. In person she's incredibly together and level-headed, obviously someone the CONvergence family view with paternal pride, and very much a symbol of their ethos. She'll go far. And doubtless make me feel ever older.

4: Outreach. The Geek Partnership Society is an organisation allied to CONvergence and sharing a lot of the same personel, which takes geek-friendly activities out into the community and uses them for charitable ends in schools and youth groups. They've just got themselves a permanent headquarters, shared by CONvergence and its sister convention, Anime Detour, making geekery a productive and sharing experience in Minneapolis. That's not just knocking down the walls of our ghetto, it's building something good out of the pieces. 'You lot make me proud,' as I said at the closing ceremonies, 'to be a geek'.

5: Action. I loved how swiftly the convention responded to my desire to add new things to the programme, for instance, two rounds of Just A Minute (where DC comics artist Chris Jones devastated Joe, Eryn, and Guest of Honour (and absolute sweetheart) urban fantasy author L.A.Banks). The game seemed to catch on, being played afterwards in the bar. The organisers were equally open to the idea of getting audience members to perform my first issue of Action Comics as a reading. I got the cast together by announcing at the opening ceremonies that the first eleven people that approached me were in. We ran through it once in the wings, and then went straight on. I think they did brilliantly, as you can see in these two videos (spoilers for the comic, obviously!):

The woman with only one line is a professional actor, dragged in by a mate. I think she wondered what she'd gotten herself into. I especially like our Lex and Lois. And hey, Superman!

6: Guests. Amongst the Guests of Honour was actor Jeremy Bulloch, who I got a chance to chat about cricket with. His next gig was the weekend after, in my hometown of Faringdon, where he appeared in a reading of a play about the town's eccentric Lord Berners, performed, as the surrealist Lord would have appreciated, in our local Budgens supermarket. From Minneapolis to Budgens in seven days! L.A. Banks, as I've said, was also a delight, traumatised by the mechanics of Just A Minute in a way which made the audience both laugh and sympathise. Another excellent Guest of Honour was Bridget Landry, who both delivered a lecture about her work on the Cassini space probe and, as a fervant cosplayer, judged the masquerade, running through seven costumes over the weekend. That's CONvergence in a nutshell: the guys in costume are also the rocket scientists! Hey, you like Thunderbirds, right? Who doesn't like Thunderbirds? (No, don't put it to a vote.) Well, I was on a panel with Joan Marie Verba, who both publishes and writes original, award-winning, officially-licensed Thunderbirds novels. Which is a different approach to self-publishing and spinoffery, and shows how complicated publishing is getting these days. I think, given the love of the British for the series, her work should be better known over here.

7: Signage. I often go around a convention taking pictures of the signs fans put up, because I think this is one of the great sources of Fan Art. At this event, the winner, out of a very competitive field, was House of Toast, who provide con goers with things on toast all weekend, and who produced over a dozen different signs. For instance:

8: Graphics. Thanks to CONvergence's resident graphic designer being the professional comic artist Christopher Jones, as well as the animations and the standing sets which frame, for instance, the dealer's room and the cinema, each Guest of Honour got a personalised badge. Here's mine:

And here's Chris' cover for the convention booklet. How many villains can you name?

Chris' website, where he displays art from his various ongoing comics projects, can be found here.

9: Dance. Connie's Space Lounge is a venue for various hip geek activities over the CONvergence weekend, and it was one of the many places in the evenings where everyone seemed to be dancing. You know I love convention discos for the ecstatic release of bad dancing (which I join in with, and as now practised by Matt Smith's Doctor), well, this is a slightly hipper take on that: where the possibility of disco-related judgement has now vanished to the point of not being an issue any more. (That's an index to the whole event, if I had the time to pry it out and consider it.) But where you might well decide to play full size Connect Four instead. Take a look inside Connie's:

Connie's Space Lounge from E Sophia on Vimeo.

10: Oh Snap and Magic Ponies. CONvergence went so far as to have its own language, in that young American slang is everywhere. 'Oh snap!' seems to be 'why sir, you really had me there, I have been grandly pwned'. And there was all sorts of other stuff that went by me too fast to note. I feel that I've barely scratched the surface of describing this amazing event to you. In short, dears, OMG, you have to go! For this is a young convention. Which has squared the circle of putting media and prose interests together. (Another of next year's Guests of Honour is Catherynne M. Valente.) And we desperately need those. Especially in SF fandom. I say they should make a Worldcon bid. For one thing their bid parties would be amazing. I'm not sure how the matter of Magic Ponies came up (that's between me and my agent), but no sooner had I mentioned the issue in passing than someone was sent running to the shops, and...

I'll be going along to next year's Anime Detour to see how that lot are doing. And I'll be back later today with my schedule for the San Diego Comic Con. Until then, Cheerio!

Lex and Death

Now it can be revealed! The special guest star in Action Comics #894, out in October, is none other than -

Death, created by Neil Gaiman! (On our lovely cover by David Finch.)

For all the details, check out the DC Blog.

And here's an interview with me about it, at Newsarama. And another at Comic Book Resources.

Rest assured, Neil himself approved what we're doing, we'll be keeping him in the loop, and it'll be in the spirit of her previous appearances. More news, reactions, interviews and such will pop up here as I get them. In the meantime, Cheerio!