When Comics Came to Vegas

Our intrepid writer delves into a weekend of competing comic cons—costumes not included

The crowd is packed into Body English at the Hard Rock on the opening night of MorrisonCon, whipped up through a combination of booze, British jams from the ’80s and ’90s and almost an hour and a half of waiting for comic-book writer Grant Morrison to appear alongside My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way.

When Morrison finally hits the makeshift stage in the center of the club, he looks for all the world like a Scottish Billy Corgan. Armed only with a few pages of printout, ambient musical accompaniment and the thick burr in his voice, Morrison rips through “The Con,” a free-associative spoken-word short story. It’s meta-fictional apocalyptic noir by way of Lovecraftian eschatology pitting Howard Hughes against Liberace as they battle for the soul of Las Vegas.

“Walter Lee has exactly 20 minutes to kill the winner of the battle of good vs. evil. Welcome to fabulous Las Fucking Vegas, Nevada,” he roars. The crowd roars back.

Morrison, 52, is one of the four or five most in-demand writers in the comic-book game right now. Given comics’ current function as the engine that drives vast swaths of pop culture, that means Morrison is something of the great and powerful Oz to everyone who doesn’t regularly engage with the likes of Action Comics and Batman, Incorporated, where Morrison scripts DC’s two most iconic characters.

But to the people in the know, the 500 or so who traveled from Australia, Brazil, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, Morrison stands at the center of a rare cult of personality for a world where creators’ interactions with fans are typically reserved for cantankerous Internet message boards.

“Fortunately I used to play in bands so I can get over it a little bit. But it’s a freakout seeing your face giant. It’s just like, ‘Oh shit man, it’s only me,’” Morrison says during an interview at the convention. “You’ve got to deal with it. People come to see you, so you’ve got to at least live up to it a little bit.” The convention, two years in the making, was the brainchild of a few San Francisco comic-shop owners. Inspired by TED Talks and All Tomorrow’s Parties, it was less standard comic-con than a comic-book symposium heavily invested in exploring the creative process. For example, one panel let a room full of people workshop a prospective Little Nemo story for a group of pros that included a Marvel talent coordinator. (The lasting advice for aspiring comic creators came from artist Chris Burnham who said, “Fuck your lifelong dream. Tell them how you can make [Vertigo editor] Karen Berger pay her rent.”)

If the subject was collegiate, so was the atmosphere. On the final afternoon, artist Darick Robertson (whose credits include the critically acclaimed Transmetropolitan and The Boys, as well as Wolverine) was hanging out in the convention’s lounge, playing songs on an acoustic guitar for a circle of fans.

If this was comics’ refined ego, just up the road at the Riviera, its id ran rampant at the Las Vegas Comic Expo.

Drawing its own roster of creators from longtime Iron Man artist Bob Layton and Watchmen editor Len Wein to current DC scribe Scott Lobdell, the Expo was more a kind of San Diego Comic-Con writ small—the kind of place where you can see an exhausted Batman slumped over a slice of lunch-counter pizza or an emo Superboy shilling merch.

Organizers estimate the Expo drew about 7,000 over two days—in part due to the more democratic price ($40 as opposed to MorrisonCon’s $500-$750), but also testament to the idea that giving people permission to dress up as the Scarlet Witch is probably going to be more accessible than a convention where the closest anyone got to a costume were several gentlemen in unusual suits complemented by Converse.

Of course, the fanboy in the wild can’t subsist alone on discussions of chaos theory, spiral dynamics and the harmonic metaphor that shapes DC’s new multiverse paradigm. There was still plenty of time, even in MorrisonCon, for pointed questions about big reveals regarding whom Batman may or may not be punching in the near future.

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