Comics Anonymous

MORRISONCON 2012 by Craig

What do comics, the desert and a rock’n’roll hotel have in common? Normally nothing at all, but for one special weekend at the end of September, the three merged together to form a very special comic convention – one we’ve never seen the likes of before and possibly may never again – and they called it Morrisoncon.

The initial reaction to the announcement of Morrisoncon was mixed. On one hand you had people like myself (and the other 599 guests in attendance) who jumped at the chance to be part of a once in a lifetime event to share a weekend with some of the best comic creators in the business, but there were also the naysayers – those who balked at the price of tickets, the lack of vendors and the minimal guest line-up. It’s true, this wasn’t your conventional convention, instead Morrisoncon was trying something different, something more personal, taking the rules of cons that have come before and telling them to fuck right off. Queues? Where we’re going, we don’t need queues!

The first of the trends to be bucked was the location. Tired of enormous convention centres and exhibition halls, Morrisoncon set it sights on the coolest of cities and funkiest of hotels – the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas. To be honest the hotel could have been in any city of any climate, since the weekend was so packed that daylight wasn’t witnessed on either day. But the Vegas vibe crept in nicely throughout the program with its ‘anything could happen’ elements of surprise awaiting in every panel. The advertised schedule, with every panel happening in the same room one after the other, did give some concern that a weekend of sitting down was on the cards, but the excellent layout of the event meant attendees could come and go as they pleased between the main stage, the lounge and signing areas, the art gallery and a cinema room set up with a collection of films hand picked by Morrison himself.

The vibe and atmosphere all weekend were fantastic – as it was my first time in the States, it’s difficult to separate what is possibly the norm for American cons and what differed with this one – but everyone you stood next to or sat down beside was more than happy to strike up a conversation. Everybody was on the same page, all here for a love of comics without the distractions of queueing and cosplay (not that I have anything against cosplay – it just didn’t seem the right time or place for it). No queue-bitches cutting in front of you or people scurrying to get the best seat in the house as soon as the doors opened – however party hangovers from the night before might have more to do with this than anything else!

Many of the weekends highlights came from the panels – with only a short list of guests to play around with, it was key to ensure that every panel was fresh and didn’t just retread topics spoken about 10 minutes ago. Starting the Saturday with the obligatory Writers and then Artists panel helped clear the air and got all the party lines out of the way – all of the stuff we’ve heard dozens of times before in similar types of panels – leaving the rest of the weekend wide open to start delving further and further into the minds of the guests on topics like music, film, science, religion and zombies! The addition of some not entirely comic related guests like Akira the Don and Max Landis meant that discussions were nicely mixed up, usually straying far from the intended topic. Things like the first concert each guest attended: props to Gerard Way’s being Johnny Cash – or Bruce Springsteen as he doesn’t count Cash because his mum took him to that! (Best. Mom. Ever.) The most entertaining panel by far though came from Robert Kirkman and friend Max Landis, entitled “We Love the Dead”. Zombies were rarely the topic of conversation, however – which ranged from why you ‘should’ do Bathsalts to how Landis had brought 50 cheap and different coloured ties from eBay.

Away from the main stage, you could mingle with the guests as they relaxed in the lounge – or if you were Darrick Robertson, jam on your guitar – but there was also a chance to get up close and personal with each guest at a pre-booked one-to-one session. Since they don’t make it to many US cons, Morrison and Quitely were the most popular, with Grant doing his usual – staying to the very end to make sure everyone got a signature. For me, it was an excellent opportunity to sit down with the likes of Jim Lee, Robert Kirkman, Chris Burnham and Gerard Way – guests that we’d rarely see in the UK, let alone get any personal time with. The set up was excellent – each guest sat at a table with empty chairs, waiting to sign and chat with you for 10-15 minutes. What better time to ask Way if he’s working on more Umbrella Academy (Yes – but he’s waiting for a gap in Gabriel Ba’s schedule) or if Chris Burnham expected Batcow to be so popular (Nope!).

Of course central to all of the weekend was the ring leader himself – Grant Morrison – who featured on many of the panels either by himself or with some of his closest collaborators. I feel like I came away knowing about 80% of what goes on in Morrison’s head since he essentially answered every question possible – from what we are likely to expect in Multiversity (along with some shit hot previews of Quitely’s Pax Americana) through what kind of razor he shaves his head with to what Happy is really about (which included some intense ranting about Simon Cowell!). Like most of the other guests, he was happy for people to ask him anything they wanted, usually leading to bizarre answers about the 5th dimension or tories of some incredible trippy drug fuelled adventures.

As this was essentially a premium-con, it can’t be expected that features like one-to-ones could be replicated at all other events, however there were some excellent one-of-a-kind moments. The inclusion of the overhead projector displaying live sketches by panellists on stage led to some incredible moments, like Jim Lee’s incredibly fast Joker sketch and Chris Burnham’s ill-conceived decision to draw Wonder Woman with splashes of ‘blood’ on her face (from which he narrowly escaped embarrassment when an audience member rushed to his rescue with a red marker). Another simple addition I’d love to see more of at UK cons is the introduction of a stationary microphone for Q&As – the orderly queue of attendees put the frantic running around of UK con helpers to shame, however the American con-goer’s need to frame each question with a 5 minute lead-in about their own thoughts on a subject is something we can do without.

Was this the best con I’d ever been to? Yes. Would I go back to it again? Definitely. Can it be done again? Maybe. This was certainly a one of kind event that will be hard to replicate or improve upon. It would be interesting to see something similar done but centred around a different creator – but who could pull this off? During the weekend suggestions of a Moorecon or Millercon were raised but immediately shot down with laughter.  So then the old cliche might be true – will what happened in Vegas stay in Vegas, or will other con organisers learn necessary lessons?

Craig – @hastiecraig

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