Scott Pilgrim Fans Take Over Mirvish Village

On Monday night, I had the pleasure of attending the midnight release party of the sixth volume of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. A tad sad to learn that I would be going alone earlier in the day (there was no way I wasn’t going to miss the book release party for the final volume at the place where it all started back in 2004, with the release of the first volume, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life), I was happy to discover that Jill would be attending the event as well.

Sadly, neither Jill nor I could make it for anytime earlier than 10pm (she had a class that evening and I was diligently towards completing the first draft of my literature review (the first draft of my MRP is due next Monday, people!), so we decided to meet up at Honest Ed’s (Bathurst and Yonge).

Now, the start of the evening was a mixture of sensory memories for me. I got to our meeting spot a little early and there was just something about the spot I was in reminded me of some warm but muggy summer nights in my past. They weren’t bad memories, mind you, but I felt myself getting a little nostalgic for the past (which, looking back on it, has been predictably over-romanticized).

The launch party was a blast. I guess the closest thing I could come up to as a comparison is that it was a giant street party for hipster geeks (or, Scott Pilgrim-heads as some folks have been calling them).  Markham Street had been turned into a pedestrian-only zone (much to the chagrin of a couple of cars who had decided to attempt to drive down the street) and the Annex was a great big love-in for everything Scott Pilgrim.

The costumes were very well done, however, the presentation sucked as I couldn’t see a thing! Winners were bestowed with a most awesome prize: pre-release copies of Mighty Fine’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World t-shirts! Despite cursing my shortitude and the crowd obstructing my view, I did catch most of the cosplaying fans just hanging out, waiting for midnight to roll around. My personal favourite cosplayer was a guy decked out as the ultra-fabulous Wallace Wells – complete with his own little caption introduction and martini glass!

Photo from CTV.ca's coverage of the event

The Beguiling was open late and, to kill time, Jill and I browsed. Across the street, Rocco’s Plum Tomato (585 Bloor Street West) was hosting a listening party. But not just any listening party…the world-exclusive premiere of the soundtrack to the Scott Pilgrim vs the World. I’ve used the word “awesome” quite a bit in this article and I don’t want it to lose its ability to communicate the sheer awesomeness that was the evening, but…oh, my goodness, it was so awesome! (I know. I really, really need to buy a thesaurus; or start writing my articles when I have internet connectivity so I can use one online.)

At ten seconds until midnight, we started the counting down the seconds and it felt like New Year’s Eve in July.

I have to hand it to The Beguiling staff who handled the release of the book exceptionally well. Since all the books had sold using  pre-pay ticket system, all the staff had to do is take a ticket and hand out a book. It made things speedy and go so smoothly! If I’m ever involved in the planning of one of these, I’ll definitely be stealing that idea.

Photo from CTV.ca's coverage of the event

At some point that night, I texted myself the note “It was like we were the bastard (but uber-cool) offspring of a horribly ill-advised mating of the Harry Potter and Twilight fandoms. (“The horror…the horror!)” I mean, it’s not often that you get a midnight release of a comic book/graphic novel and it was…nice. I suppose the closest comic book/graphic novel release I can think of that would even compare to the excitement on Monday night would be when new volumes of The Walking Dead come out and everyone and their zombie grandmother is out on a Wednesday (AKA New Comic Book Day) for a copy.

I suppose I got a bit of that jumpy excited feeling on Monday night. And that was really nice. It was something I had never experienced before.
Granted, the only other midnight release I’ve been to is for the seventh Harry Potter book and that was a fluke. I was driving to my Mom’s (I had to work at the comic book store the next day and I was going to pick it up my copy on the way to work the next morning) from an evening out and I drove by Indigo, which was still open. I figured it was probably easier to pick it up then and popped into the store and bought it. The experience didn’t feel all that different than it would have if I had stopped the next morning (though shopping for books at 1am is kind of exciting) as the festivities were geared to kids and tweens.

To be fair, I was never that invested in the Harry Potter fandom. And I refuse to read or watch any of the train wreck that is the Twilight-saga. (I read the recaps online and had a front row seat to the (Fandom) wank that erupted after the fourth book was released.) And it’s not that I’m the biggest Scott Pilgrim fan, either. Don’t get me wrong, I love the books (even if I did wait until the sixth book was almost out before reading them). I guess what I’m trying to say about the whole experience is that it was really nice for us comic book/graphic novel geeks to get an event like this for a change.

I wasn’t surprised when I heard that there were about 2,000 of us who came out to celebrate the launch, either. Though the street was packed with throngs of people, a lot of the were lined up, patiently camped out since early evening (you could tell, they had prepared for a long wait). Nintendo DSes were plentiful as a way to kill the time and most of them were in large-ish groups to keep each other company).

Scott Pilgrim creator, Bryan Lee O’Malley, hosted two signing-slash-meet-n’-greets, the first from 8pm until 9:30, and the second began at 12:01am (just after the book had been released).

Photo from CTV.ca's coverage of the event

I couldn’t stay to get anything signed (I had to catch my bus back up north). Jill, however, ended up hanging around with a couple of her friends who had taken a spot in the giant line – that had already overflowed off of Markham Street, snaked on to Lennox Street and, at one point, was almost all the way to almost back to Bathurst! Jill reported that they didn’t get to the front of the line until 2:15 or so, and that there were still people lined up around the corner.

Kudos to Bryan Lee O’Malley (who was wearing a Konami Code t-shirt!) for staying out and signing – by candlelight, no less – until 3:45am! You are one classy gentleman. (I firmly believe that you can tell a lot about a comics creator by the way he (or she) treats his (or her) fans.)

I walked back to the subway about 12:30am and watched as people started to read the book. They were so excited to get it that they were resolved to have it finished by the time they got home. I love that feeling. When you’ve finally got the book that you’ve been waiting for in your hot little hands. When you’re so excited that you have to read it immediately (before you explode).

This image followed me to the Union Station Go Bus Terminal (and then on the bus ride up north) where about 90% of the crowd had a copy of Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (which had an initial print run of 100,000)!

Shelley Smarz is a business woman by day and a comic book scholar by night. She’s attending a recruiting event for one of the companies she wants to work for (when she has to leave the hallowed halls of academia at the end of summer) next week, so wish her luck, eh? She really needs it. She tends to lack the social graces most people have and tends to make an arse out of herself (and, unfortunately, it’s not in an endearing way either, it’s just kind of sad and pathetic).

The Greg Rucka Interview

About a month ago, at the Hobbystar Comicon Fan Appreciation event, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview Greg Rucka:

Shelley Smarz: So, first I want to say, as a comic book scholar, as a fan, and as a feminist, I just want to say thank you for writing strong women so well.

Greg Rucka: Oh, thank you.

Shelley Smarz: Any secrets to people—

Greg Rucka: What, to writing strong women well?

Shelley Smarz: Yes.  And not making them a caricature.

Greg Rucka: Yeah, They’re not strong women, they’re people…and they happen to be women. I mean…. [Laughs]

Shelley Smarz: They happen to have boobs.

Greg Rucka: Yeah. Well, no. No, that makes it seem like…the problem is that a lot of people write strong women as guys with tits and that’s not, that’s clearly not the secret.  The secret, if there is a secret, is each character is their own person and gender is an element of character as is, you know, religious background, an education.  It goes on and on and on. So, I don’t know. It’s something that I’d like to think is across the board.  I try to do well by whatever character I’m writing or whoever it is. [Pause] I enjoy writing female characters.  There are characters that I love to write. A lot of those characters are female characters, so I just try to do well by whoever it is.

Shelley Smarz: Okay, yeah.  I just have to say it’s refreshing, one, not to have what you said, “oh she’s just a guy with tits,” and it’s also refreshing that you don’t, for a lack of a better word, pussy-foot around the notion that you can’t have anything bad happen to a female character.

Greg Rucka: Though I’ve been accused of being a misogynist because of that as well.

Shelley Smarz: Yes.

Greg Rucka: Look, especially in stories about heroism and adventure stories, the adversary has to be worthy of the hero and that means you have to kick the snot out of the hero, and they have to take a punch. They have to be willing to take the punch, and again, it’s part and parcel. My experience, frankly, is that most of the women I’ve met are tougher than most of the men, anyway.

Shelley Smarz: [Laughs] that’s been my experience as well.  Just to go off on a different tangent, I’ve noticed that comic books have moved from the long form type of storytelling to more event-driven, immediate gratification type storylines. Part of that can be accounted for by looking at how the big push in the industry is for trades.

Greg Rucka: Yeah, I suppose you could argue that there is a writing-for-the-trades element, but events sell.  That’s why publishers do events.
Shelley Smarz: But then there is also event fatigue, which I think a lot of people have.

Greg Rucka: People may have event fatigue but they’re still buying the things.

Shelley Smarz: True

Greg Rucka: I’ve talked to many a fan who has event fatigue and yet they still buy everything. So, you can say you have event fatigue all you like, but not until you stop buying it are the publishers going to stop doing them.

Shelley Smarz: I have to say, I really appreciate the subtle storytelling…that you have a lot more to say, and going along with that, the end of Batwoman.  It went out with not a bang but a whimper.  Would you ever think of returning to that?

Greg Rucka: I loved writing that character. I’m very fond of Kate.  I don’t know what JH [Williams] and Hayden [Blackman] have planned. I have no idea. I’m not working for DC now. Nobody at DC talks to me. I’m working on my own things at this point. So, you know, I’m too old to ever say never. [Laughs] A funny enough phrase, but I tried very hard not to burn any bridges. It was just time for me to step away and focus on some other things.

Shelley Smarz: Okay. Speaking of those other things, I’m going to ask this first because I’m really curious. Do you have any idea when the next Queen and Country is coming out?

Greg Rucka: Well, the new novel comes out at the end of October and it’s called The Last Run, and it’s a Queen and Country novel.

Shelley Smarz: Okay.

Greg Rucka: I am about 95% certain that I’m going to start series two of Queen and Country shortly thereafter. Right now, the goal is to make sure that Stumptown is up and running and healthy before devoting too much time or energy to Queen and Country. But yeah, there are plans for a second series.  How that second series is going to roll out, as maybe OGNs as opposed to floppies, we’re still talking about the options. [In a silly voice] I’m in a place where I’m willing to get back to work on that.

Shelley Smarz: Excellent

Greg Rucka: I have no idea why I did a silly voice there and I apologize.

Shelley Smarz: That’s okay [Laughs].

Greg Rucka: [Laughs] Long day in the convention hall.

Shelley Smarz: [Laughs] I was going to offer if you wanted to move this to a bar.

Greg Rucka: [Laughs] It’s okay. You’re going to have to get back in there, so…

Shelley Smarz: Stumptown is obviously heavily influenced by the detective genre—

Greg Rucka: It is detective genre [Laughs]

Shelley Smarz: I guess what I’m trying to say is, were there key works, key authors, key titles, that you were so influenced by that you can name them off the top of your head?

Greg Rucka: I started as a writer because I wanted to write private eye fiction.  That’s what the Kodiak novels initially were. They were PI novels. I would run home from school to catch the opening of the Rockford Files.  I’ve said this in countless interviews.

Shelley Smarz: I love Rockford Files.

Greg Rucka: I mean Stumptown is my love letter to the Rockford Files. That’s what it is. It’s the comic book series, inevitably that’s going to be written by a kid who watched Rockford and Magnum P. I. growing up  and thought they were the greatest things in the world!

Shelley Smarz: They still are the greatest things in the world.

Greg Rucka: I read very wide and very deep in the genre.  There was a while where I thought I was going to be doing doctorial work on analysis of the American private investigator as a means of social commentary.

Shelley Smarz: That would have been really interesting.

Greg Rucka: You get me talking on that and I can go for hours about the nature of the genre and how it works and what keeps returning in the form, and so on. Stumptown was misidentified by a lot of people as crime-noir at the start and it’s not. It never was. It is a private eye story, and it is a private eye story done very much in the mould of the Rockford Files.  It is meant to be a character oriented work. Like much of Rockford, and even frankly, much of Magnum and other shows of that ilk, the mysteries were almost secondary to the people involved. So, that’s what I’m very actively pursuing there.

Shelley Smarz: I’m not sure if you want to answer this because it’s kind of a ‘burn your bridges’ type of question.  One of the most frustrating things for me, because I really love Wonder Woman, is there have been a lot of great writers who have taken up the mantel and written her, and it almost seems as though…DC has different ideas?

Greg Rucka: I don’t think this is a ‘burn your bridges’ thing.  I think anyone who pays any attention knows they don’t know what to do with the character. They keep trying different things and for one reason or another, either because situation or the team, or whatnot, it doesn’t click.  She’s very…she’s not an easy character, that’s number one.  And number two, I think there’s this desire on the part of DC.  They want to see here, and I’d love it, they want to see her with the numbers you get on a Batman or a Superman [comic] regularly.  The problem is that there is a lot of prejudice that the character just automatically engenders…and that’s a tough uphill battle.  How much time do you give something to see if it works before you decide it’s not working and you’re going to try again?

Shelley Smarz: Yeah. You could see that in the 70s when they rebooted her and took away all her powers and she became a…kung-fu master?

Greg Rucka: Yeah, that’s the second time this weekend someone has brought that up and the thing that’s important to remember in that is, yeah, that’s what they were trying to do.  They were trying to reinvent in a way that would make it stick. Dennis [O’Neil] did not go in there, “Ah ha! How can I write the most antifeminist Wonder Woman possible?” He’s on record as saying if he thought about what he was doing, he never would have done it. What they were trying to do with her there was go “Well, you know what? This version doesn’t seem to work.  Let’s try a more Diana Rigg, Steed and Peel-ish approach.”  I do think the character is a very very difficult character and the biggest problem I think there is there is that…people misidentify the problem over and over again. They misidentify it as “oh, nobody can relate to her because she’s perfect,” which is think is bullshit. They say, “Oh, nobody can relate to her because she’s not really human,” which I think is bullshit. The inherent flaw, if there is a flaw, on the character is that she is created in an historical moment that shifts. Feminism is a shifting concept and she is inherently a political character. If you are a corporate entity like DC/Warner Brothers, that is immediately problematic.  The options seem to be, either write her as Superman but female, or try to embrace what makes her Wonder Woman, and I think that for the most part the attempts to embrace that get met on a corporate level with a certain resistance.  They don’t get it. And I do think, and this is across the board, there is a dangerous tendency to say, well, if that’s not the character as I…if these aren’t the stories I want to read on a corporate level, then therefore they are not stories of merit, and I think that’s erroneous.  If you’re publishing 70/80 books a month there’s got to be some room in the line to but out some stuff that it may not personally scratch your back, but it’s clearly scratching somebody else’s.

Shelley Smarz: I’m going to go off on a more human interest type thing [Both laugh]. What is on your bookshelf right now, or on your bedside table?

Greg Rucka: I’ve been reading Richard Morgan right now.  I just finished Altered Carbon and I’m reading Fallen [Broken] Angels. I believe that’s the title.  I’ve been reading a lot of the Patrick O’Brian, Aubrey Maturin novel, so…

Shelley Smarz: Any comics on the bedside table?

Greg Rucka: Not right now.  I needed to step away [Laughs]. Very badly, I needed to step away.  It’s really only been two months of rehab so… [Laughs]. I’m starting to rediscover a love of the genre.  It burns you out after awhile.  For me, I was starting to get really burnt out.

Shelley Smarz: So if you were looking back, was there a character that you really really wanted to write, and what would you do with them?

Greg Rucka: I’ve been remarkably lucky. I mean really, I’ve been unreasonably fortunate.  I’ve gotten to write just about every single big character that’s come along.  There are characters that I would have like to have done more with, but I think if there was any one character that I wish I had a chance to work on it would probably be Captain America. I’d like to do something with Captain America and I would really like to actually, if we’re talking across the board, I got to flirt a bit with the Black Widow stuff, but I didn’t really get to do anything substantial there, and that would have been fun. At DC, the beautiful thing about the opportunities I was given there is that I was really allowed to chase things down. I’m trying to think. There aren’t many characters that I haven’t gotten a crack at that I really wanted a crack at. I recognize, really, that’s an incredibly fortunate place to be. I’m trying to think.  I’m not sure there are.  There are characters I’d happily write again. I’d love to write Batwoman again. I’d love to write Batman again.  I’d happily write Wonder Woman again, things like that. I would happily write Electra again. I quite liked writing Electra.  I suppose, given the opportunity, the right place, the right time; it could be interesting to try something like Daredevil or Moon Knight. I’m very content, with regards to that.  Like I said, just crazily fortunate in the opportunities I’ve been given.

Shelley Smarz: In my own research, as well as doing a Masters in comic books I’m completing my MBA, so I can have some real world skills to offer people [both laugh]. One of my projects was researching consumption of comics by women.

Greg Rucka: And what did you discover?

Shelley Smarz: Even in my own personal experience, even ten years ago, I was pretty much the only chick here who was here for the comics and not here with their boyfriend.  This con has been awesome because there have been a lot of women fans.

Greg Rucka: A lot more women here.

Shelley Smarz: Based off of the sales and demographic data that I could find over 90% of the readership of superhero comics is men. How do you think we could rectify that? How do we get more women to read comic book and graphic novels?  There was a big surge in manga and graphic novel consumption that’s kind of petered off.

Greg Rucka: Really, has it? I’m not up on market data.

Shelley Smarz: Based off the latest manga sales, it’s dropped significantly from I think 2005 and then this year and market analysts are saying that it’s because of Twilight and things like that. That pre-teen market that was consuming manga is now turning to other things, and they’re not able to sustain the readership into adulthood, unlike they can in Japan. It’s a very interesting quandary.

Greg Rucka: I think a lot of comics, you walk into a comic book store and I think if you’re a woman, there are a lot of books simply on the basis of their cover say you’re not welcome. I think we need to redefine what sexy is, number one, and stop going for the lowest common denominator in that.  I think that the first thing that impacts when you pick up a comic is the visual and I think that the second thing that happens is the story. Our visuals need to be less exclusive and our stories need to be more inclusive.  If I knew the answer, a simple magical wand fix, I’d have done it. Simply because, and it has nothing to do with a political agenda at all, it’s got to do with survivability of the industry.  I want comics to survive. I’d be interested, on the same token, you were talking about the percentage of the readership that was male verses female, I’m curious how much of the percentage of the readership is under 16 verses over 30 at this point.  We were talking about events before. These are not events that bring in new people. These are events that service and existing audience.  How do we get a new audience in?

Shelley Smarz: That’s one thing that I really appreciated about your DC work, like Checkmate and Batwoman. It was accessible to me without having to constantly go to Wikipedia and say, ‘what are they referencing?’

Greg Rucka: [Laughs] Who are these people? One of the things that JH [Williams] and I and the editor on the book, Michael Siglain, worked very very hard on for the Batwoman issues of Detective [Comics], was to make sure that it would be accessible and enduring.  We went to great length to avoid at any point saying Dick Grayson is Batman as opposed to Bruce Wayne. We didn’t want it to tie to that because we didn’t want it to be something that in ten years would pick up and be like, “what the hell?” That was relevant for the story and while there is a delight to be found in continuity that fits together like an elegant jigsaw-puzzle, there’s also a place for books that can stand alone. I do think that one of the things we’ve seen less and less, really since 2003/2004, is books that can do that. And, there’s been a reason for that, and I really think it started with Infinite Crisis.  It started with building an event that tied very well throughout the line, and then sort unified into this thing that was this big event, and there were big numbers on it, and people went ‘Woo! Wow! Look!’ Guess what? If it works, let’s do it again, and again, and again, and we’re going to keep doing it until we find the next thing that works. And it goes back to event fatigue. People keep buying it.

Shelley Smarz: I think back to when I was working in a local comic book shop, Wednesday Comics, or the weekly before that, we saw the numbers.  We compared the numbers to 52, and then Countdown, and then Trinity, and then Wednesday Comics, and they dropped significantly, until about 3 people were getting Wednesday Comics compared to 65 getting—

Greg Rucka: And Wednesday Comics were gorgeous. They were beautifully done.

Shelley Smarz: They were, and that over-sized hardcover? I’m looking at it and going I want this but I have nowhere to put it. My bookshelves are too small.

Greg Rucka: Yeah, find me a bookshelf that’ll fit that thing.

Unfortunately, at that point, the blasted recorder died (it’s a tad persnickety on the best of days, on the worst, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination). Luckily, I had my camera on-hand and was able to tape Greg’s response to the final question, which asked him his opinion on the iPad and how it was going to affect the industry – if at all.

So, Greg, thanks again for being a pretty awesome guy to talk with. Of all the interviews that I’ve done in the last little while, this was definitely one of the most enjoyable I’ve done (my little fangirl heart is still a flutterin’!). Also, thanks for the picture!

Shelley Smarz is currently a (struggling to be paid) intern struggling to finish her MRP. She can already tell that it’s going to be a Red Bull, coffee, coffee, Red Bull, coffee, Red Bull, coffee…VODKA! kind of day. In that case, if you’ll please leave a detailed message, she’ll get back to you… Well, come to think about it, December’s looking pretty good….