Monday, April 30, 2012

Funny Book Love Letters: Saga Reader Survey

Image comics newest title Saga can't possibly receive enough hype. The tale of star crossed lovers on the run from warring empires, robot royalty, and increasingly terrifying bounty hunters will not disappoint fans of science fiction / fantasy / space operas / romance / action-adventure / horror / mystery / well-written genre literature. With only two issues released, writer Brian K. Vaughn and artist Fiona Staples have managed to build a more richly realized world of magic and science fiction unlike anything seen in any one comic book, film, or work of literature. It borrows elements from a wide variety of preeminent source materials, from Shakespeare to Star Wars. Even while recognizing the many influences, Saga is easily distinguished as a unique work despite being in the very early stages of its hopefully long serial lifespan. It is tragically romantic, engaging, and often humorous. If you have yet to be sold on picking up the first issue by myself, your local comic shop, or your nagging curiosity, I don't know why you even read comic books. Your future self will be embarrassed by your past reluctance to pick up this series. If on the other hand, you have succumb to reason and overwhelmingly positive word of mouth, congratulations! You may yet benefit from this post. In the first and second issues of Saga, Image comics included a little survey for its readers. This is a clever way to begin the dialogue within the letters column and I thought I would undertake some of the leg work for fans of the series by posting the questionnaire here on the interewebs. Feel free to copy and paste the questions below, insert your answers, and shoot them over to Image comics at the address provided below; no e-mail was provided to which one may forward a response (someone in editorial must be nostalgic). I have seen some folks post their answers on tumblr sans the actual questions, so in advance, your welcome.

1) If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?

2) And where are you from?

3) What are you reading these days?

4) Do you buy your funny books from your friendly neighborhood retailer, or from an online site like Comixology?

5) Important: who would win in a fight, the Hulk or Rorshach?

6) If a member of the Saga creative team were on the run from authorities, might he or she be able to crash your couch for a bit?

7) What is the worst recreational drug?

8) Why won't more people accept the fact that Haywire is Steven Soderbergh's very best film?

9) What is your second greatest regret in life? Giving up on those piano lessons?

10) Seriously, what is wrong with my eye?

11) What is the only truly excellent Mexican restaurant in New York City?

12) Ian Fleming once wrote that James Bond liked sex best when it had "the sweet tang of rape." Does this change the way you feel about the character and/or life on this planet?

13) If you had to permanently give up either chocolate or cheese (in each of their infinite varieties), which would ou choose?

14) When was the last time you watched a stage play, and what was it?

15) What do you think Image publisher Eric Stephenson's darkest secret really is?

16) Which of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is most assuraedly an athiest?

17) Have we dated?

18) Would your rather be trapped on the island from Lost with your mom or dad, and why?

19) When was the last time you were naked in front of someone in a nonsexual context?

20) Are you Banksy, and if so, can we do anything to help?

21) Who had a greater impact on your upbringing, your favorite librarian or your favorite coach?

22) What are you working on these days, anything creative?

23) Wait, why did you abandon it?

24) Relax, I'm sure it's great. Listen, why not put down this comic and do a little work on your thing RIGHT NOW?

25) Cool, but before you do, if you were to be reincarnated as an inanimate object, what would it be?

Fill out survey and forward to:

Special Agent Baldpatch
4335 Van Nuys Blvd Suite 332
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Saturday, April 28, 2012

C2E2 2012: An Overview With Pictures

It's been two weeks since Chicago's third C2E2 convention ended, which has given me enough time to decompress, edit photos, and reflect on the show as a whole. Though results may vary, it is safe to say the show was a success. With the official number of 41,000 being thrown around, attendance was up from last year, great news for vendors and organizer Reed Pop. I missed the first year of the show where it was held in a far-too-large space at McCormick, and each year since it has been in a different hall. This  year it had the goldilocks room (not too big, not too small) which allowed the layout a little more breathing room. Aisles were much wider, and though there were still bottlenecks of traffic, it was normal convention congestion and not "they underestimated the crowd" congestion. The organizers provided generous space for celebrity signing lines, and though this made sense for a day like Saturday, it made small lines look extra sad during the rest of the show. It cannot be easy gauging the appeal of television and movie stars, but this system is definitely better than the booths with no physical queues that lead to chaos (see William Shatner at Wizard World, or don't because it's a mess). The big appeal for me as a consumer was hands down the artist alley. Knowing just how costly these booths are for creators, I made sure to put most of my money into this area of the convention. Also, when one has an employee discount for merchandise, it's a lot less tempting to buy t-shirts and books on the con floor. The other big draw as evident in my daily coverage was the large selection of panels. Since I could only be in so many places at once, there were several big announcements from the show that I did not cover first hand, but here are a few books readers may be interested in hearing about:

Dark Horse announced several new series at the show, including Ex Sanguine, a book that can be described as the "anti-Twilight". It is in the same romance vampire genre, but since it follows a relationship between a serial killer and a vampire, there will be a lot more gore and less abstinence alegory. Tim Seeley will be drawing and co-writing the book alongside Josh Emmons and you can look for the new title in October. One title that you shouldn't wait around for is the Juliet Landau penned Drusilla mini series which has been cancelled for various vague reasons. What you can look forward to are two other Buffy tie in books. A Spike mini series written by Victor Gischler and drawn by Paul Lee will be released in August followed in November by a Willow mini written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Brian Ching.

IDW announced that their all-ages Popeye title will be expanded to an ongoing series for the foreseeable future. It is adorable, and you should read it. Other titles IDW spoke of during the Retailer's summit weren't news per se but other things to get excited about are Darwyn Cooke's Parker: The Score coming this June, more artist edition hardcovers like David Mazzuchelli and Frank Miller's Daredevil: Reborn, and the final arc of Locke and Key, Omega, by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

In the future, I would really like to see the smaller publishers show a bigger presence at this convention. Local publishers like Archaia, First Comics, and Valiant were the biggest independent companies with booths, but I would really like to go to a big show in the midwest where Dark Horse, Image, and IDW have as large a presence as Marvel and DC. Though these publishers held panels and spoke during the retailer's summit, it is no substitute for being on the floor all weekend, talking to readers and touting their books and hosting creator signings. Another thing I'd like to see change about this show is all the complaining about McCormick. Yes, it is inconvenient for some, but it is still a million times better than Rosemont. Take the free shuttle from the loop and stop your complaining! Locals seem to be the only people expressing this sentiment, and it's not very constructive criticism.

If you'd like to hear more thoughts and rants alike about this year's C2E2, head over to the Double Page Spread podcast for post-con coverage from host Wendi Freeman, creator Lauren Burke (PI Jane, Womanthology), and yours truly in my first ever podcast (I had no idea I sounded like a prepubescent male on tape). Finally, I must give thanks to the folks at Reed Pop for throwing a wonderful convention and allowing me to attend on a press pass. I would have paid to come anyway, but it was great to receive recognition for the work I've done on my little blog.

Enjoy these photos and since there are so many, more after the jump!

Animated Closet NYC, a pop culture inspired clothing designer was a great addition to the show's diverse offerings. At top left, a vendor selling dice earrings, and at bottom left,  Graham Crackers (now sold out) Ladies Night mugs
Transformers cosplay at left, a t-shirt tower at top right, Ben's Bubble Show at center, and a skilled Fruit Ninja player at bottom right
Captain Marvel at left, Captain America at right, and Avenging Marvel volunteers at top
Almost everyone I spoke with agreed, Dotcom was the hardest working and nicest celebrity at C2E2

Monday, April 16, 2012

C2E2 2012: Day Three

The last day of C2E2 was packed, especially with lots of families. Unlike last year, children aged 12 and under received free entry only on Sunday as opposed to the entire weekend. Lines for sketches from Art Baltazar, Franco, and Katie Cook were wrapped around the corner and filled with young fans for most of the day. Like the rest of the con weekend, I could not do one thing without missing something else of equal appeal. Attending the Chicks Dig Comics panel meant missing the children's costume contest. Considering this panel was probably the highest concentration of talented female creators in one location all weekend (or all con season), it was worth missing the cutest costume contest (but do pass on a link if you find one - I can't find any coverage of this important event from the weekend). 
The Chicks Dig Comics panel
For those that have yet heard of the recently released anthology, Chicks Dig Comics is a collection of essays from comic book creators and journalists. In Carla Speed McNeil's essay, she shares how she entered the industry, while Jill Pantozzi talks about the parallels between her life and Green Lantern lore. The list of talent is impressive and I highly recommend that you encourage your local comic shop to order and stock this book. Several of the contributors were on hand for the panel to discuss their essays, including Jill Thompson, Gail Simone, Amanda Connor, Tara O'Shea and Jennifer Van Meter. Lynn Thomas and Sigrid Ellis, editors of the book, led discussions and fielded questions. The panel opened with each participant sharing something about comics that didn't make it into the book. Amanda Connor confessed to writing herself into Star Wars comics with her best friend in junior high; Jill Thompson professed her love for Jughead (though that's not a surprise for fellow foodie Thompson); Tara O'Shea is tired of seeing erect nipples and camel toe on female superheroes in cover art. Several creators spoke of keeping their passion for comics a secret while growing up, either to avoid the often inevitable challenge from male fans to "prove" one's knowledge of the medium, or because of the perceived unintellectual nature of comic books. The collection of essays focus on the positive influence comic books have had on these creators, so most of the negative experiences were left out. Amanda Connor spoke of one of her early trips to a comic shop where employees gave her a cold reception. In an act of rebellion, she later applied for a job at a new store down the street, and according to Connor they "kicked their (competitor's) ass". Jennifer Van Meter and several other creators agreed, convincing large publishers that girls and women are a large and enthusiastic audience is an uphill battle. Despite current evidence to the contrary, these companies base their content creation and marketing on what has proved successful in their long histories. She has been told flat out that girls don't read comics (cue laughter from panel and room). Independent publishers being smaller and newer can more easily accept common sense and adapt to the demand of audiences. Jill Thompson was quick to encourage everyone to vote with their dollars and choose to support what they want to see in comics, as the market will only respond to what sells. One other topic that brought a lot of shared frustration was the difficulty in finding merchandise for female fans. What is available is often 'girlified' in that it takes on pink hues and hearts, leaves out many character choices, or focuses on the boyfriend angle (One of the worst t-shirt for sale at C2E2? A Batman tee that said "I like guys with cars and money". It has so many levels of insult!). I was glad to hear an audience member point out that a young female fan can more easily find a t-shirt with Supergirl and Batgirl than an age appropriate comic to read. Jill Thompson vowed to offer all of her Scary Godmother tees in children's sizes in the future. She also pointed out that the conversations within the panel focused heavily on the superhero genre and reminded panelists and audience members alike that cape comics are just one of many types of comics. 

The panel ended a little early since several of the creators needed to leave for signings, and I headed straight to the final Marvel panel of the weekend, Marvel: Next Big Thing. Much like the Cup of Joe panel on Saturday, several announcements were made followed by a Q&A. I was happy to see a large portion of the panel spent on talking about Kelly Sue DeConnick's upcoming Captain Marvel series. Since this book was previously announced, we didn't get to see much of anything new in the way of preview artwork from Dexter Soy, but DeConnick's enthusiasm for the character and her dedication to making this book a success were evident. Issue two of the book will feature a female equivalent of the Howling Commandos called Banshee Squad. DeConnick will also be writing the Captain Marvel crossover with Avenging Spider-Man that will begin in issue nine of that series. Speaking of crossovers, Thor's titles will finally come together in a 9-issue storyline called Everything Burns, beginning in August. Another new title on the horizon includes an ongoing Gambit series written by James Asmus and drawn by Clay Mann. My first reaction to this announcement was that Marvel must be responding to DC's attempt to revive all things 90's. But like the Jim Lee redesigns of the Nu52, there will be plenty of fans clamoring for the creole criminal to have his own book.

Once the Q&A began, several fans lined up quickly, including one Gambit fan that wanted to know if Rogue would show up in the title (James Asmus replied that the complicated ex-girlfriend showing up would only happen at the worst possible moment). Another "when will we see more Runaways" question came up, to which CB Cebulski said they get pitches all the time, but still no announcements on a new book. An X-23 fan sad to see the series end wanted to know where the character will be seen, and Avengers Academy is the place to go for fans of the character. I asked Kelly Sue DeConnick to share how the Captain Marvel series came to be, especially considering the recent lack of female led titles at Marvel. Was it an editorial decision to give Carol Danvers another shot at a solo title? Was she in competition for the book? Turns out she pitched the idea back in 2010 and found support in editor Stephen Wacker. He has been a champion of the book ever since, and he was in fact the one to tell DeConnick that no, she would not be writing a Ms. Marvel book, but rather Captain Marvel. Several other curious fans had questions about the upcoming title as well. One asked if the rivalry between Mystique would be explored. DeConnick said she is a big fan of the character, and will include her in future stories if the book is a success beyond the first arc. Another fan asked about the "son" of Carol Danvers, a villain named Marcus, and (thankfully) there are no immediate plans for including him in future stories.

After making one or three more laps of the convention floor, my day and weekend were complete. Five original art pieces, five panels, hundreds of photos, and several five hour energy drinks later and C2E2 2012 came to an end. I will have plenty more to share with readers in my final wrap up post, including many more photos.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

C2E2 2012: Day Two

Saturdays are always the biggest day for conventions, and yet it never fails to surprise me just how crazy this day gets. The ability to shop / walk / and talk at your own pace was replaced by the frantic non-stop atmosphere that is Saturday. Attendance wasn't the only thing that was bigger; late comers to artist alley filled several empty tables, more celebrities made appearances, and with the longest hours, there were more panels than any other day. Like Friday, I could not make it to every panel I wanted, and the sacrifice on Saturday was the Womanthology panel early on. I did make it to  the announcement heavy Marvel: Cup of Joe panel. After making a few (overly long) plugs and announcements, the majority of the time was spent on Q&A, and the people giving answers included Editor in Chief Axel Alonso, writers Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, and Jeph Loeb. To quickly go over the big announcements:

Matt Fraction and David Aja will be the creative team behind a new Hawkeye ongoing series. Considering this is the hit team that brought audiences the very well received Immortal Iron Fist, this is a title to keep an eye on. Young Avengers fans will also want to check out this book as Hawkeye's "sidekick" if you will, is going to be Kate Bishop. This seems a timely choice considering how young female archers are dominating pop culture at the moment. You can pick up this new title in August. The other announcements centered around creative team changes, from Khoi Pham joining Chris Yost on Scarlet Spider, Ryan Stegman joining Hickman's Fantastic Four, and Jeph Loeb will return to unfinished Wolverine tale 'Evolution' with Simone Bianchi on artwork.

During the Q&A, a lot of the usual questions were asked; how does one break into comics the Marvel way, when will so-and-so (creators and characters) come back, will those digital-only comics be collected (yes, eventually). Most answers were carefully directed into promoting current events; will Quinten Quire play a role in Avengers vs. X-Men? No, but read those AvX crossovers in Wolverine and the X-Men. Want to see Brubaker take on more characters besides Cap? He won't be doing a new series, but his Cyclops vs. Cap in issue three of AvX will be worth checking out. Some of the more interesting questions included a fan that was worried that purchasing a digital copy of a comic would take away from the success of the book since it is not counted in print sales. Marvel assured this fan that they are indeed counting digital downloads as part of the overall sale of the title. However, without releasing these numbers to the public, paper sales are still the only way to measure the perceived success of a book (many retailers rely heavily on the numbers provided by Diamond to determine what to order). Until someone else besides Marvel is counting the digital sale numbers, I don't think you can say it is giving books equivalent support to buy them digitally. My question about whether Marvel values keeping a timely schedule over keeping consistent quality on titles was partially answered. Quesada spoke of the need to keep highly detailed product on the shelves, as well as getting them out on time to keep the ongoing universe stories moving. But since many artists can't keep a monthly schedule (or twice monthly as many Marvel titles are now), it is necessary to have fill in artists. They are trying to choose artists that complement one another and sited some very good examples such as Wolverine and the X-men and Amazing Spider-Man, books that have successfully utilized this approach. I did not get the chance to  mention the specific books that have lost my interest due to fill in artists (Ultimate Spider-Man, Punisher, even Daredevil), but I plan to write more about my question and Marvel's response at a later time. One fan requested that Marvel give new characters more chances to star in books and stories, to which Quesada responded that it is not an editorial decision, and rather a result of the current market atmosphere. When sales go up, so will Marvel's ability to provide opportunities to unproven properties.

Cup of Joe may have been the only panel I attended, but it wasn't my only opportunity on Saturday to speak one on one with creators. Jennifer Van Meter, writer of Oni Press' Hopeless Savages, was signing at Challengers Comics+Conversation booth for part of the afternoon and I had a chance to ask her how she broke into the industry as a writer. She first established relationships within the comic book community as an academic, and this helped get her known within the industry as a knowledgable and friendly person. While researching a paper on Joss Whedon for her Masters program, an editor from Dark Horse asked Van Meter if she would be interested in writing a Buffy story for the Dark Horse Presents annual. She accepted the opportunity, and this led to a chance to write a Blair Witch Project tie-in book for Oni. They would later release her first creator owned work, Hopeless Savages, the Eisner nominated series. Jen received some sage advice from Mike Mignola early in her career: creators could either be very good, very fast, or very nice. You have to be at least two of these things to be successful. After meeting her, I believe Jen may qualify for all three categories!

In my wonderings through artist alley on Saturday, I spoke with a lot of creators of self-published works, including several funded by Kickstarter like local creator Dave Punk's Robot Envy. Amy Chu, a first time writer, was selling a brand new book of five short comic stories called Girls Night Out. I was very impressed by the high quality of the book, from the artwork to the printing. Amy hopes that this work will help lead to more writing opportunities (check back after C2E2 coverage for more on this title). Justin Peterson's Very Near Mint, a graphic novel series about comic shop employees, has found an audience through direct online sales. Peterson said he doesn't even attempt to offer his books through Diamond because he would actually lose money since the distributor takes a greater cut than what it costs to print the book (you can still purchase it in some comic shops, including local store Challengers Comics+Conversation). The diversity of work within artist alley is a good indication of things to come for the comic book industry. There are more web series artists, self-published, and crowd-funded works than ever. With more people taking different approaches, hopefully the market will become equally diversified as larger publishers take notice of these upstarts.

Kelly Sue DeConnick at left with "member of the press"
Last but not least, perhaps the biggest highlight of my day was meeting Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer of the upcoming Captain Marvel comic. I was even lucky enough to receive a Captain Marvel pin! I'll have more to share about that upcoming title and how it came to be in my C2E2 Sunday coverage post. Check back for that tomorrow, as well as a final wrap up post with tons of photos.

This is the start of a tradition to end each con post with the best WW cosplayer of the day.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

C2E2 2012: Day One

You're in the right place
Though my legs are tired and my wallet is lighter, I've managed to survive a long first day at C2E2. For anyone that is still on the fence about attending this show, let me assure you, it is more than worth the admission price. This would be true even if you only had access to the artist alley. Add to that a wide variety of vendors, panels, and special guests, and you'll be hard pressed to walk away empty handed. Today I spent most of my time wondering the vast artist alley, commissioning sketches, chatting with local creators, and meeting ones from far away. Tomorrow I will be spending just as much time there, but I'll be committing to more purchases. The retail vendors are also just as tempting, and I have several t-shirt, mugs, bags, dresses, and jewelry in mind, not to mention the trades and comic books (I think I'll play the odds and hold out for Sunday discounts on the books). From the looks of it, retailers were not hurting for business and at least one organization I spoke with, Hero Initiative, said business was up from last year. This is a good sign for everyone, especially considering there are still two more days left for fans to buy, with the biggest day yet to come. 
Hopefully he is the G version of the Merc with a Mouth

As I predicted, tearing myself away from the bustle of the main floor was difficult, but I managed to make it to two out of the three panels I hoped to attend. The first, Archaia Presents, focused on the upcoming titles for the next year. The quality of their books continues to blow me away, and it's only a matter of time before they are giving Dark Horse and Image a run for their money as far as the independent market is concerned. I believe what sets them apart is their dedication to creating content that appeals to all kinds of readers, from hardcore sci-fi fans to young readers. Young or old, everyone can appreciate the well thought out design of their books, and creators are gravitating towards this publisher as a guarantee that their work will be presented as a unique and memorable final product. Among the many exciting books they discussed (really all of them sounded fantastic) included a graphic novelization of upcoming free-to-play PC game Hawken. Khang Le (Flight anthology), Stefano Gaudiano (Daredevil, Gotham Central), and Moritat (Elephantmen) will provide the art and Jeremy Barlow (Mass Effect) will provide writing. We'll have to wait a while to see this project complete as the game launches on 12-12-12 and the book will not be released until March of 2013. One book that fans won't have to wait too long for will be the highly anticipated Mouse Guard: Black Axe hardcover. This will include some new material, including a pinup by Mike Mignola. Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard Vol. 2 will also be coming soon, with Bill Willingham doing double duty on story and art, as well as a story created by Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo), among many others.

"Raise your hand if you want another AvX tie in!"

Though I missed the Dark Horse Spring Fever panel, I was able to attend DC: All Access. There were no big announcements, but I suspect tomorrow's Before Watchmen panel will be the focus for DC this weekend. Some exciting upcoming stories were hinted at, including a crossover between Animal Man and Swamp Thing beginning in issue 11 of those titles. Scott Snyder also spoke highly of an upcoming crossover story within the majority of the Bat books. Though I did not manage to ask any questions during the Q&A, I was sure to approach the editors and show my enthusiasm for Super Best Friends Forever, Lauren Faust's adorable (and hilarious) animated shorts about the adventures of Supergirl, Batgirl, and Donna Troy. There are no immediate plans to expand upon the concept, but DC says it has definitely "stood out amongst the bunch" of the DC Nation Cartoon Block. Apparently I was not the first fan to ask about it this weekend, and I'm sure I won't be the last. 

An enthusiastic fan meets writer Gail Simone
The biggest news of the day came late, with Mark Waid revealing the upcoming launch of his Thrillbent website. It will launch on May 1st and will serve as a space for Waid and other collaborators to showcase work in an exclusive digital format. This announcement is "kind of a big deal", especially considering that it is separate from his digital-only work for Marvel. Could this be our modern day version of the launch of Image? The prospect of expanding the comic market is always exciting, and I hope he is successful in his endeavor to fully utilize the digital medium.

Stop back by the blog later this weekend as I'll continue to post coverage, including photos of my finished commissioned sketches. I already have a Picard by Gary Brown (Irredeemable cover artist), a Batman by Christopher Jones (Young Justice), and tomorrow I will pick up a Wonder Woman by Jenny Frison (Angel cover artist), and a yet-to-be-determined piece by Tony Akins (Wonder Woman). I've gotten a taste for this original artwork thing, so that list may grow by the end of this show.

She may very well embody the overall spirit of this years show.

Friday, April 13, 2012

C2E2 2012: A Pre-Show Guide

You've got your ticket purchased, your flight and hotel booked, and your costume (nearly) made. Comic con season is officially upon us. Whether you're coming from the greater Midwest or the North side of Chicago, there is more to planning a trip to C2E2 than travel logistics. What will you buy? Who will you see? What panels will you attend? Where will you eat? This will be my second year attending C2E2, and my first with an official press pass. Even with three whole days to experience all that this relatively new convention has to offer, it is important to prioritize  in order to get the most out of your weekend. This guide is unique to my own interests and limitations (budget and energy wise), so please take a thorough look at the C2E2 website to make sure you aren't missing out on that special guest or panel made just for you.

Make A List
Without a doubt, any plans you have before going to a convention will be forgotten upon entering the floor. Sensory overload will be the enemy of efficiency throughout the day. Having an actual list, whether it's for shopping, scheduling, or "people I'd like to meet", will help you keep you on track. That isn't to say you shouldn't enjoy the spontaneity of the weekend events. By all means, pay attention to the 10 foot Optimus Prime cosplayer, then take out your list to lead you to your next destination.

Here's a short version of my "To Do" List:
-Commission 10 mini paintings
-Find t-shirts offered in girl sizes
-Track down current favorite writers (just to name a few attending, Gail Simone, Mark Waid, Rick Remender)
-Attend several panels

Pack Lightly
There is a thin line between "well-prepared" and "over-packed" when it comes to bringing supplies to the convention floor. Bring a bag, but not one that will be cumbersome, hurt your back / shoulder, or stick out too far from your side or back and annoy fellow shoppers. Forego the energy drinks. These will weigh you down, require frequent bathroom trips, and you can bring snacks that energize instead (think Cliff bars). Plus, there is a good chance at least one energy drink company will have a booth with samples, as was the case last year. If you're really jonesing for a caffeine jolt, this is one luxury worth paying extra for at the concession stand. Your back will be grateful. One of the many brilliant tips that Torsten Adair of The Comics Beat suggests is bringing a small tube to hold sketches and posters you'd like to keep in good condition.

Plan For Panels
The more conventions I attend, the more I appreciate panel discussions. All of those big announcements that you read about after Comic Con San Diego? They were made at panels. Did you hear about a fan dressed as Batgirl posing tough questions to DC editors? That happened at a panel. I think the reason I was slow to appreciate this aspect of conventions early on is because it can be very overwhelming to navigate the packed schedule. It can also be hard to tear yourself away from the excitement of the convention floor for a one hour panel, but your feet will be glad for the break. Keep in mind as well, those Pocky samples and creators in artist alley won't be going anywhere, but panels have a schedule to stick to and they won't happen again. The panels I will be sure to check out include Archaia Presents: Coming Soon, Dark Horse Spring Fever, DC All Access; and that's just on Friday!

Booths To Check Out
You'll no doubt make the rounds several times, but there are a few booths worth seeking out early on. If you plan to commission sketches, especially from big name creators, go to artist alley and purchase those first thing. If an artist can only do 20 or 30 finished pieces the whole weekend, that's a short list to get your name on. If you plan to buy t-shirts, check these out early to ensure you get the size you want. Chicago's very own Threadless has wonderful limited edition tees for sale, and they will also host creator Jeffrey Brown for a signing on Saturday from 1-2. Going to the publishers' booths directly is also recommended, especially if you want swag. Archaia's booth last year featured a wonderful play area for children, and adults had plenty to peruse with a large selection of their graphic novel catalog. They also offered great deals on multiple purchases. Above all, if there is one thing you are hoping to get this weekend, whether it is a newly released trade paperback or a signature from your favorite television star, make that the first thing you do.

Where To Eat
A convention quandary if their ever was one, finding decent food is and always will be a challenge here in Chicago. We're a town known for our food, but McCormick Center is nowhere near the cultural centers of Chicago, so your choices will be limited. There are a few things you can do to  avoid overpaying for lackluster pizza. The convention floor has a cafeteria, and this is great if you don't want to go far and don't mind paying a little extra for food that isn't too memorable. However, the hall is attached to a Hyatt Regency. They may not have cheaper options, but you'll have a better chance of getting freshly made food. You're also more likely to rub elbows with creators away from the convention floor cafeteria. I'm pretty sure Val Kilmer won't be eating food from a tray.

I'll be tweeting coverage of the event all weekend, so follow me @ComicBookCandy to get real time updates. See you on the con floor!