Last weekend, GeekDad was privileged to attend the Denver Pop Culture Con (DPCC), held at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver from Friday, May 31 – Sunday, June 2. On Friday, I took my daughter and her friend to the Con (you can read about our day here), but on Saturday, I had the day all to myself! I kept notes about my goings-on; here are a few highlights from my day.
9:05 Arrival: The Con didn’t open until 10 a.m., but one of the major benefits of having a press pass is being able to get in early before the crowds hit. The exhibition floor was fairly calm when I arrived; merchants and exhibitors were milling around, preparing their booths for the day’s action. I took the better part of the early hour to plan my day: I checked out booth signage to find out when comic artists would be signing and reviewed the scheduled events to determine which panels I wanted to attend. I even found a few minutes to browse through some of the long boxes at a couple of the comic book merchants to find a few of back issues I had been seeking! The crowd had been steadily building at the entrance, and as the clock wound to 10 and the stewards opened the line to let people in, I heard a loud roar of applause!
10:00 Wandering the Con Floor: The first panel I wanted to attend wasn’t until 11, so I decided to simply wander around and check out the action. I made my way over to the Celebrity Summit area, where lines were already forming with eager fans looking for autographs and photo ops with television and movie stars like Zachary Levi, George Takei, Ming-Na Wen, Christopher Lloyd, Cary Elwes, and Lana Parrilla, among many others. I’ve never had the desire to pay for celebrities to take a picture with me, though, so I didn’t linger long. Nearby, a booth featuring a working replica of the DeLorean from Back to the Future was filling up with photo-seekers as well; I got a good look at the DeLorean and then moved on.
After meandering around some more merchant booths, and marveling at the crowd that had gathered at one specific booth where you could build a custom lightsaber, I decided I would pop back over to the comic artist row to see if I could get a book signed by Mark Brooks, who’s been kicking out a lot of excellent covers lately for Marvel and DC books. When I got there, Brooks was already signing some comics for a couple of folks, and the line waiting was only 4 or 5 people long—no worries, I thought, there would be plenty of time to get my comic signed and then head down to the panel. But that thought quickly did turn to worry as the next two people in line both presented Brooks with three comics each with blank white covers for him to sketch upon. To his credit, Brooks was a swift sketcher, knocking each cover sketch out in about 5 minutes… but having to wait, and not wanting to leave because the line had grown significantly by that point, I was going to be cutting it close to make it to the panel. Once the sketch-seekers were done, the next few people got their signings done fairly expeditiously, and I finally made it up to the table to have Brooks scribble his signature on my comic. From there, it was a hustle across the Con floor and downstairs to the panel rooms.
11:00 First Panel: The first panel that I attended was listed in the “Education” category, and was entitled “Picture This: Innovative Ideas for Using Graphic Novels in Classrooms and Libraries.” Presented by a quartet of college educators and librarians, the panel focused on selections of non-fiction graphic novels that could be presented to kids to develop literacy skills while teaching them about important topics in history, science, and social studies. I’ve been thinking about sponsoring a comic book and graphic novel club at my daughter’s school, so I was excited to hear from some instructors who have used graphic novels in a classroom setting.
A large portion of the panel focused on considerations for choosing graphic novels to present to kids. As the panelists explained, graphic novels provide rich, multimodal opportunities to engage with diverse groups of readers; teachability, appropriateness of content, characters, intended audience, and opportunities for extended learning should all be considered when choosing graphic novels for students. Additionally, a common language might need to be established for students who aren’t familiar with graphic novels—some students might not know the difference between a thought bubble and a word balloon, for instance, so some education on how to consume graphic novels may be beneficial. The panelists all had recommendations of graphic novels and non-fiction graphic memoirs that they considered good candidates to make part of kids’ educations. I left the panel excited at the prospect of researching more about non-fiction graphic novels, since to this point a lot of my graphic novel consumption has centered around standard superhero, fantasy, and mystery fare.
12:00 In Between: The next panel I wanted to visit was scheduled in an hour, so I headed back up to the exhibition floor to wander some more. By this point, the crowds had really built, so squeezing through the throngs of regularly-dressed visitors and cosplayers proved to be slow-going at times. I stopped at a couple more merchant booths to look around for a moment (including a booth with so many t-shirts, at only $25 a pop!), but then decided to head back over to the comic artists’ row, since Andy Kubert was scheduled for a signing. I grew up on a steady diet of ’90s X-Men comics drawn by Andy Kubert, and I was happy to get a couple of books signed by him. There was a little bit of a wait (he was one of the more high-profile comic guests this year), but it all timed well so that I could make it back downstairs a little early for a seat at my next panel.
1:00 The Marvel Panel: The next panel I listed to was “Marvel Comics Creators Assemble,” which featured artists Georges Janty, Laura Martin, Mark Morales, Afua Richardson, Ed McGuinness, and Mark Brooks. Touted as a panel that would reveal “what to expect from the House of Ideas in 2019,” the session turned into more of a Q&A session with the panelists talking about work they had done rather than giving up secrets or spoilers about upcoming Marvel events. Mark Brooks did hint that the new huge X-Men even coming out in July, House of X and Powers of X, which are both being written by Jonathan Hickman, will be exciting and will “set the future of the X-Men.” He also hinted that two mystery characters will be introduced during the event and are poised to become breakouts.
The panelists were asked about some of their past work and their inspirations, and Afua Richardson answered with a charming story about her grandmother who, during the Civil Rights movement, took a test to determine her eligibility to vote. She was then put in jail because the proctors assumed she had cheated. Richardson tied the story to the question by stating that she was excited to be able to tell stories of such people who have persisted in the face of diversity. All the panelists chimed in on various questions about how the comics business works at Marvel—such as whether Marvel over-exerts control (per McGuinness, Marvel is “good about believing in the artists”) or how Marvel pairs up writer/artist/inker/colorist teams on a comic series (sometimes it’s a random collaboration, other times the creators will connect and suggest a project, and still other times, editors will approach creators about working together). There was also some discussion about the transition of comics from a paper to digital medium, and I was honestly surprised that so many of the creators said they appreciated digital, since many of them work in that medium and it adds a “glow” or luminosity that paper can’t create—though Brooks did note that it’s a trade-off; paper comics look more raw and real.
Lastly, an audience member asked the panelists for advice for people interested in working in comics. Richardson suggested simply drawing, every day, and drawing what you like; the more practice one gets, the better of an artist one becomes. Mark Brooks’ answer was perhaps the most incisive: he indicated that everyone working in the comics industry has “a fire,” a passion for what they’re doing. Simple talent alone won’t cut it, he said, in such a competitive business; aptitude plus desire is what makes for a successful comic artist.
At that, the panel concluded and the audience applauded. I thought it was an entertaining panel, and that it was interesting to hear the perspectives of creators involved with the House of Ideas. But I also remembered that I hadn’t eaten in a while, and I realized that I was hungry.
2:00 Lazy Lunch Hour: I made my way back up to the main floor, and found some space outside the exhibition hall where people were taking a break from the bustle of the Con. I happened to plant myself in front of a wall of windows that looked out on a veranda where people could walk outside and smoke. As I munched on some lunch, I found it very amusing to watch characters like Deadpool, the Super Mario Brothers, and Batman (among many others) puff on a cigarette. And Captain America, what? Surely Captain America is health-conscious enough to stay away from cigarettes, but apparently not!
Anyway, after lunch, I spent a few minutes wandering around before heading down to the main event hall to get in line a few minutes early for my third and final panel event of the day, the Back to the Future panel.
3:00 Think, McFly, Think!: Back to the Future was one of the first movies I remember seeing as a kid. I was of the age where Back to the Future Part II was particularly formative, as I dreamed of a day where flying cars and hoverboards were routine. So I was particularly excited to listen to two of the stars of the Back to the Future (BttF) trilogy, Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown) and Tom Wilson (Biff) talk about their experiences.
When the two came on stage, Tom Wilson stole the show immediately: he had carried a ukelele with him, and picked a young audience member to join him on stage and hold the microphone beside him (his “mic stand,” as he cheekily referred to her) while he captured the audience with a charming rendition of “Mr. Sandman,” a song which featured prominently in the first movie. The moderator then proceeded to ask the two about their first impressions of BttF when they were cast. Lloyd indicated that he threw the script away when he first read it, mistakenly thinking that nothing would come of it. And Wilson described how he was worried that he had failed at his audition because he was overly physical with co-star Crispin Glover and ended up forgetting some of his lines. (The directors loved it anyway, and he obviously got the part!) They detailed some particularly memorable experiences during filming of the series, with Lloyd reflecting on his excitement at being in a western in Part III and Wilson describing how he learned to quick-draw a gun from a Hollywood stuntman. They both laughed over their recollection of getting to watch the Part II premiere in London with Princess Diana, and mentioned that she apparently laughed out loud at the iconic scene where Biff crashed into the manure truck.
Lastly, several members of the audience were able to ask questions of the actors. Before the first audience question, however, Wilson then stood up with his ukelele and performed a well-rehearsed song where he quickly answered the most common questions about BttF (“What’s Michael J. Fox like?” “He’s nice.” “What’s Crispin Glover like?” “He’s weird.” “Was it real manure?” “No.”) and requested the audience to not ask those of him again. The most memorable audience question was a clever one: Lloyd and Wilson were asked if there were any quotes from the movies that were personally special to them. Both Lloyd and Wilson obliged, rattling off their characters’ most memorable lines: “Great Scott!” and “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” and “Hey McFly! I thought I told you never to come in here!” and “Make like a tree, and get outta here!” And with that, the panel was done, and much of the audience left with smiles on faces.
4:00 People-Watching and Wrapping Up: After the BttF event, it was back up to the main floor. There was a large open area on the floor where many of the merchants’ rows, artists’ rows, and kids’ section all converged for what basically became one of the main thoroughfares on the Con floor. I parked myself in an out-of-the-way spot, and literally spent the better part of a half hour just people-watching and taking in all the fun cosplays that were wandering around. My favorite cosplay came from a man who had a pretty good resemblance to a certain Australian actor, and he was dressed up as an amalgam of two of his most popular characters, the Greatest Showman and Logan.
I had brought one more graphic novel for artist Greg Capullo to sign, so I headed back to the comic artists’ row, where the line for Capullo’s signing had thankfully thinned. He signed my book, I said thanks, and then I was off to do a little shopping for a small piece of Con memorabilia. I pondered purchasing a clever t-shirt or even some kitschy trinkets, but I finally settled on a lovely print of a watercolor featuring Spider-Man swinging through the skyscrapers of Manhattan. By 5:30, my feet were beginning to tire and I was becoming weary. So I said goodbye to the 2019 Con, and headed back north to home.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the 2019 Denver Pop Culture Con, and I hope to be there again next year!