Nerd-vana: New York Comic Con
Amid the piles upon piles of DC and Marvel fare -- and between the dozens of unoriginal clowns dressed as Heath Ledger's Joker, licking their imaginary lip-scars as you walked by -- one could find a bit of interesting, off-the-beaten-path literary programming at the New York Comic Con, which invaded the Javits Center over the weekend. Take, for example, a superhero whose mission is to cure what ails you after a long night of drinking.
"I wished he would have come and helped me on a number of days," said Patrick Reilly, creator of " Electrolyte and The Justice Purveyors," a comic that follows the adventures of Electrolyte, a superhero who, in the words of Reilly, "has the power to cure hangovers and sober up drunks."
Other characters include The Capitalist, a Bruce Wayne-style millionaire who, rather than spend his money on gadgets to fight criminals, simply pays them not to commit crimes in the first place.
"He did the numbers, and it made sense," said Reilly, who added that Electrolyte was born from personal experience after an evening of excessive alcohol intake. "This was a superhero I could believe in," said Reilly.
For a more family-friendly theme, one could turn to "The Undersea Adventures of Capt'n Eli," which follows the exploits of a child inventor who, along with his dog and parrot, through a variety of high-tech capers. Series creator Jay Piscopo said that, while the series does contain many modern elements, he made a conscious effort to model his book after the heroes of the past, such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
"The old adventure comics, they featured very complicated stories told in a simple way," said Piscopo. "And we're trying to emulate that. We're trying to bring back that sense of fun that the Silver Age of comics, and the old newspaper comic strips brought." Eli has no powers, beyond his intelligence and ability to invent. "If he needs to fly, he'll invent something to fly with," said Piscopo.
Not too far from Piscopo's booth sat Alex Block, hawking the unlikely comic book products of the Jewish Publication Society, an imprint that typically deals in scholarly works and Bible reproductions. In addition to a graphic novel detailing the Book of Esther and an illustrated history of Jews in America, Block's table featured a stack of "From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books."
While the title is certainly popular with Jews, Block was quick to note it has quite a bit of crossover appeal.
"I think the truth is that, if you look at the history of the industry, Jews helped build the whole industry," said Block. "It's more than just Jews and comics, it's comics."
Though the focus of the show was certainly words and images, there was considerably space in the Javits center for video games and toys. Music, however, was much harder to come by, though not totally absent. Kyle Stevens is one half of Kirby Krackle, a Seattle-based duo that writes and records songs about geek culture, video games and comics. With songs like "Naked Wii" and "Zombie Apocalypse," one has to wonder if it might be difficult for any but the most dyed in the wool nerd to be interested.
"That was something that we wanted to be really careful about," said Stevens, who said his group will begin to play live shows shortly. "When we wrote it, we wanted to write songs that we feel are good songs, that people that aren't into comics or video games could still get enjoyment out of."
While Stevens was using geek culture to expand his musical base, For Beginners Press was using it to expand the knowledge of the everyday reader. The company relaunched in 2007 with 20 of its most popular books, such as "Existentialism for Beginners," which use graphics and text to break down complex subjects into an accessible read.
"If you wanted to learn about a subject that was intimidating, these are presented in graphic form to make them more accessible," said Merrilee Warholak, managing editor at For Beginners Books. Right now, the company's highest selling title tells the story of President Barack Obama. In the coming weeks, texts on Ayn Rand and Howard Zinn will hit stores.
Like other publishing forms (ahem, newspapers), the comic industry is also struggling with making money on the Internet. Betsy Bernard of Atlantis Studios publishes "Sophia Awakening." Originally conceived as a screenplay by her husband Terrence, the futuristic tale of artificial intelligence is now published on the web. While low-resolution pages are available for free, readers can also show their support for the independent comic by purchasing high-res PDF pages.
Bernard readily admits that most people opt for the free version, which could be dangerous for the bottom line. After all, why publish anything if you can't make a living doing it? While it would be nice to sell more high-res copies of the book, Bernard said there are still advantages to the free model.
"I think that we look at it in terms of publicity," she said "There's no overhead. There's no cost to it. So we can get our story out there and network with other web comics, and maybe build a powerful force in the business."
Brad Guigar, creator of "Evil Incorporated," has also taken to the web to market his own book, and is thrilled with the success of his web publishing model. His series follows a group of super-villains who abandon crime for the world of business "because you can do more evil if you do it legal," a thesis that has quite a few real world applications.
"Perhaps Bernie Madoff is hands down the best super villain of all," said Guigar. "Unlike Lex Luthor, they don't even bother taking him to jail."
Guigar said his own web success has to do with creating a community through his website, one where fans can not only get together and discuss the issues raised in his comic, but life in general. He has a direct conversation with his readers and values their input, something creators at larger companies like Marvel and DC may never have.
"I try my best to make my site a place where they can feel a part of a community, where they can show up and feel like they're a part of something when they come to my site," said Guigar, who sells anthologies of his free web series. "My readers take very good care of me, so I try to take care of them."