The world of DC Comics continued to be well represented at New York Comic Con 2018, as a group of DC's best and brightest gathered on Friday for a panel billed as "DC's All Stars." That proved to be a most fitting title, and as Kite Man would say, hell yeah.
Moderated by Dan DiDio, the panel included current Batman writer (and heartbreaker) Tom King, Scott Snyder (Justice League), artist Amanda Conner (Harley Quinn), the singualrly named artist Jock, Jimmy Palmiotti (Harley Quinn), Sean Gordon Murphy (Batman: White Knight), and Brian Michael Bendis (Superman). Did things go crazier than Harley at a mallet convention? Did King address the giant KGBeast in the room? What do comic book all-stars know? Do they know things? We found out.
The panel turned out to be a very inspiring conversation between true kindred spirits, covering everything from how the artists got started, to how they keep themselves going. Everyone in the room most likely left inspired — we did, at least.
How did all of these all-stars begin? DiDio started with Jock, who has been in the business since the year 2000, with 2000 A.D. (as well as illustrations for Magic: The Gathering). As soon as he wrote that book, he knew that he wanted to make comics his life. That said, he never thought that he'd be sitting there at the con.
Snyder recalled his first DC work, American Vampire, which got rejected the first time around. It was DC's Mark Doyle who let him have one more try (and make it less of an "elevator pitch") and it was only then that it got picked up. Not only that, but Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) ended up writing an issue of it.
Connor started in retail, running a comic book store in New Jersey that still operates... this was after her six-year career as a lion tamer fell through. She could always draw, and though her mother hoped she'd be "the next Georgia O'Keefe," she wound up going into comics instead.
Palmiotti started in advertising, and all of the comic artists he knew were poor. After a while he decided to "give it a shot," inking Punisher and Ghost Rider with Marvel in the evenings, and he eventually ended up showing them some of his own work. He had to re-train his editors to realize that he was capable of doing things other than inking, but he managed it.
Palmiotti then mentioned Marvel Knights, and this proved to be a natural transition over to Bendis, who said that his current transition from Marvel to DC has been "fascinating," but also that the two houses definitely "make the sausages differently... they're both equally good, just different." He was clear that he's leaving one group of "talented, loving people" for another one of the same.
Murphy came blasting right into the community with a book called Punk Rock Jesus, which he agreed was not "the business move." They wanted to change the title, until some wise person in marketing told them that they would be utterly mad to do so. He talked about wanting to make Gotham a real city in Batman: White Knight, noting that if that wasn't enough for readers, he also added in "a s***-ton of Batmobiles."
Tom King started interning "like a madman" for both Marvel and DC. To get to the place where it became a career, he joked that it was "maybe last week." He did add (more seriously) that he really began in 2013, in the very room where the panel took place — where he met Karen Berger.
In terms of advice for people wanting to get into comics, Snyder alluded to the previous "elevator pitch" story. For him, what's most important is being "true to yourself, and the things you care about." Murphy echoed this (saying he never imagined he'd work on Batman while watching Batman: The Animated Series), and Jock also noted that he's surprised to be working on the character, and generally surprised to have found himself in so many of his big career moments. Jock, it should be noted, has a lovely British accent. Just so you know.
Moving over to the "veteran" side of things (DiDio's words), Palmiotti said that it's all a big learning curve, and that "it doesn't stop." He added that he doesn't think anyone ever really thinks they've nailed it, noting that's part of the drive that pushes artists forward. Connor was asked about being a woman in comics, and she recalled being told in school that comics was the worst thing to go into. Expecting it to be hard for everyone, she went in with the attitude of "well, it's just tough." She thought (and still thinks) of herself as a comic book artist — not a "female comic book artist."
Then it was back over to Bendis, for more about his move from Marvel to DC. "For me, you figure out there's creative success and commercial success... but the real success is creative success." What truth can he get on the page that someone will relate to? How can he do that every day? That's his goal, and he aims to "keep the goal pure." Whether readers get entertainment or healing, it's all worth it. The rest of it doesn't matter, he just wants to do what he's always done — make comics.
King then received a loaded question about navigating the social media world around him, especially in terms of people being very vocal about the work he's doing. He recalled advice that he'd gotten from Palmiotti — as long as he's doing what he loves to do, none of the rest matters. "You got into this because you love doing it, so just keep doing it," he said. We imagine that he used this mantra often while the huge Batman #50 reactions were going on.
What also gets these artists through the "tough times" seems to be the friendship/family community that has grown around DC — they all help each other, they all encourage each other, and they've all helped each other through their respective rough periods. Connor said that not reading her social media helps a great deal, deciding instead to just "plow ahead anyway." Good advice for all of us, really.
Do any of these people actually consider themselves "all-stars?" Murphy recalled once bothering DiDio to make him the next Frank Miller, to which DiDio told him that if there was a battle between Marvel and DC, Murphy would be the secret weapon. Bendis was quick to say that he'd heard the same thing from DiDio, and DiDio confessed that he uses the line on everyone. Jock, it should be noted, said that he'd never been fed that line.
Does King put pressure on himself for notoriety or success? DiDio mentioned that his professed goal is 100 issues of Batman, and King does admit that his self-pressure is too much. He also said that "the panel is sacred." He has to make each one is the best it can be, at whatever the cost. Bendis thinks of the "all-star" moniker as the "opportunity to do more," which he says is what DC has given him.
Has the convention experience changed for the group? Snyder remembered having one issue of American Vampire to sign and being moved by it, as well as watching people throw free copies away (which he would then retrieve, clean off, and give out again). Things have changed for sure, but the moments of connection (no matter how small) are still "a tremendous privilege."
Bendis chimed in saying that conventions consistently change lives, his included. Many years ago, he had a portfolio full of art, and managed to meet Walt Simonson at a convention. He dumped the art in front of him, and Simonson took him around the table, talked him through all of it, and "spent a good long time" telling him what he needed to do. "By the end of that conversation, I was a comic book artist." Nothing else would do. Bendis thinks of him "every single second" that he's on the convention floor.
Palmiotti, the "Godfather" to most of these artists, recalled how things have changed for conventions in New York. "They used to be smaller, and I used to go with a little sketchbook, and I watched what kind of pens they had...," adding that he thought if he could just get the same pen, he'd be as good as they were. "It's just gotten bigger, which means the audience is more involved," he said. "It's about meeting the fans in the moment... if we need a pat on the back we have Dan for that."
When it comes right down to it, the writers and artists of DC don't consider themselves all-stars at all, though they are to each other. They're a family of passionate people, for whom the comics always come first.
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