Article: Michael Cho
Photos: Joe Reyes
As I sit here, after two days at Wizard World Chicago, I wrestle with how to describe the enormity of the event. Its big. Really big. Fucking huge. Really big fucking huge. Yeah, that’s not really doing it justice. Wizard World is easily the largest spectacle of geekiness I have ever seen in my whole life, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Spanning over 3 days and 3 nights, it provides at least the fans in the Midwest United States, and for people far beyond, the opportunity to attend a nexus of all things comic book oriented. Not only are the major publishers, DC, Marvel, Top Cow represented, but other imprints large and small. In attendance were also luminaries of the comic book world, Warren Ellis, Brian Michael Bendis, Alex Ross, Tony Daniel, David Finch, Rob Liefled, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silverstri and Whilce Portacio, to name a few. Complementing the major comic labels were also toymakers, video game developers and other associated industries. All of this adds up to one singular colossal multi-media event of geekiness.
That is what struck me at first, the sheer size of it all. The event took up the entire floor space of the Stephens Convention Center, 840,000 sq. ft. and had over 125,000 attendees. People came from all over the country and even from overseas, which surprised me. I think the thing I was most surprised about and shouldn’t have been, was how smoothly and well organized it was. All the events and panels I attended were held on time and kept to schedule, barring any other incidents. The individual artists were easy to find and the event organizers were very helpful. But, I suppose these guys have been doing this for a while and know a thing or two about throwing a comic book convention.
The tone of the convention was not what I personally expected. I had expected something like the anime convention I had attended earlier in the year, but it was vastly different. The biggest difference lies in who puts on the respective conferences. ACEN is put on by the Midwest Anime Promotion Society, which is essentially a fangroup. The experience there is fan-oriented, in that it is there by the fans for the fans. Wizard World is presented by Wizard Entertainment, which operates the publications Wizard, ToyFare, InQuest Game and Anime Insider. It is a decidedly more corporate event, and it is reflected in the slickness of presentation and the level of talent that is available at Wizard World. It is not to say that it isn’t fan oriented, it is, however Wizard World serves a purpose which is bringing the corporations to the fans. It allows fans to interact with their favorite publishers, writers and illustrators. They are able to voice in panels and one on one interactions what they like, and what they don’t like. It gives the publishers, large and small, opportunity to gauge what their readership currently enjoys and what they would like to see in the future. In addition to the difference between in how the two events are presented, there is also the attendee makeup. Wizard World seemed to attract more families, and a more mature fanbase. I’m not sure if this is an inherent difference between the mediums of comics vs. anime, but there is a noticeable difference. As an example I am less apt to see a bunch of screaming teenage girls dressed as Sailor Moon at Wizard World, but much more like to see an overweight guy wearing a old Flash t-shirt. Personally speaking, I’d rather see a fat guy whom I know hasn’t a ghost of chance in running fast than, a bunch of teenage girls shrieking about Sailor powers activating.
But since I went to the convention on behalf of IIStix, I chose to focus on the Asian-American personalities there, comic book illustrators, writers and other media personalities. My questions revolved around their backgrounds, how they got into the business, and how they felt about the roles of Asian-Americans in their respective industries. The interviews were conducted in no specific order, they were just conducted as I saw the people.
Gail Kim is a Korean-American professional wrestler, originally from Toronto, Ontario. After obtaining a degree in nutrition from Ryerson University, she began her career in professional wrestling, making her debut in WWE in 2002. She currently wrestles in the TNA organization and is the only woman to have been both the WWE and TNA Women’s Champion.
II stix: How did you get involved in professional wrestling? Definitely not one of the typical occupations that that a Korean women would be engaged in.
Gail Kim: (Laughs) Yeah, its not something that you’d see the typical Korean person doing. Now though, you’ll see, more frequently, more Asians in the industry, but not any Koreans. Jimmy Yang is half-Korean. I just got into wrestling because I loved it and because I was a fan. I definitely love the fact that there aren’t any other Asians because it makes me stand out.. So it makes me special in this industry.
II stix: How did Mr. and Mrs. Kim react to this career choice?
Gail Kim: They thought I was a weirdo! They thought it was strange, but any parent would think it was an odd choice. The typical Korean parents, they wanted you to go down the structured path, become a doctor or marry a doctor, go to school and have that structured life. But that was just not my personality growing up.
II stix: I know you went back to Korea about 2 years ago, how was that experience?
Gail Kim: I loved going back. I’ve been back twice in the last couple years, but it was the first I had been back in about 16 years. It definitely made me appreciate my culture being a little bit older going back. It was great. Getting to know the language again was great, I loved eating the food and experience where my family came from.
II stix: How do you feel about the roles of Asian-Americans, or Asian-Canadians in professional wrestling, do you think that it is limited or do you think there is a lot of room for growth?
Gail Kim: I think there’s a lot of room for growth. I mean, normally in the wrestling business you’ve seen a lot of stereotypical roles for the Asians. But I think I’ve been different and I hope that will open a lot of doors for Asian who want to get into professional wrestling, Jimmy Yang for example, also has gone, kind of, the redneck way to be different. But I have never been the stereotypical Asian girl in the wrestling business, so I think that its great that other little girls or little boys can see that. Hopefully they’ll have more positive thoughts about doing something different down the road.
II stix: Thank you very much for your time.
Gail Kim’s website is www.thegailkim.com
Khoi Pham is currently an illustrator with Marvel Comics. His work includes Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Collide, Incredible Hercules, Mighty Avengers, 1602: Fantastick Four and X-Factor. Not too shabby for a former criminal defense attorney with a juris doctor from an Ivy League school and an MBA. What have you done lately? Myself, I went to a comic book convention.
II stix: Were you always an illustrator with comic books in mind, or was there another field you were involved in?
Khoi Pham: I’ve only been doing comics full time since October of 2007, before that, I was a comic book writer and an attorney at the same time.
II stix: Wow.
Khoi Pham: (Laughs) Yeah, that’s my path to working in comics. Get an MBA, got to law school, work for a few years, than start drawing comic books. Makes perfect sense.
II stix: What did your parents think about your transition to comic books from the legal field?
Khoi Pham: Well… they didn’t really have a problem with it. Because, I did both at the same time, and when I transitioned over, I made sure it was worth my time to switch over. But my parents did tell me, “Make sure you keep paying your (state bar association) dues!” Actually, my dues are due next week.
II stix: Do you think the role of Asian-Americans in comic books is different that our roles in other media?
Khoi Pham: I can’t speak to other media. To be honest, I thought there would be more Asians. With Jim Lee, Jae Lee and all those guys. Unfortunately, its still pretty small surprisingly. As far as the subject matter, I think what happens is there is a comfort level, and I’m guilty of it too, and I need to do something about it. Asians generally aren’t portrayed in comics, and when they are not any differently than any other media. Its also the kung fu, the villain, actually Greg Pak, started an Asian comics-type site and he asked me to draw a character for the logo. I’m Vietnamese, so I thought, “Let me draw a Vietnamese character.” The only one I could come up with was Karma, so just from a Vietnamese point of view, there’s none. There are some ancillary characters, but nothing major. Karma’s not even major.
II stix: Nothing can be worse than that Japanese guy from The Superfriends who wore that orange Speedo.
Khoi Pham: You’re right. But thanks for reminding me. What I am going to try to do is to work for ethnic people into the crowd. But frankly, with a deadline, you just draw. Its not outright racism, not even racism at all. Its just what you are used to drawing, and I’m used to drawing white faces. It just never occurs to me to draw Asians. In terms of subject matter, I don’t think there is an agenda, its just not something anyone has ever thought of doing. I’m sure if there was a cool Asian hero created, people would embrace it, its just no one has thought of it yet.
II stix: Cool, thank you very much for your time.
Phil Chan is a writer/creator for a digital comic strip Matriculated, which can be seen on www.digitalpimponline.com
II stix: Phil, can you tell me how you got started in comics?
Phil Chan: I got started simply because I wanted to work in comics. There isn’t a point where I could say here is where I started working in comics. I’ve always wanted to be in comics since I was little. I enjoyed them a lot when I was a kid and I still enjoy them.
II stix: Did you go straight into doing comics, or was there something else along the way?
Phil Chan: I have a day job, that pays the bills. Comics is on the side, but I don’t know if I can say that since it takes up all my free time. I have a degree in computer science. When I was in college, I did do a strip for the college newspaper. But definitely the day job keeps my parents off my back.
II stix: How do you feel about the role of Asian-Americans in comics as both the subject matter and on the creative side of things?
Phil Chan: Its interesting with comics, because you don’t necessarily know who the creators are. You see the work, you see the artwork, you read the writing, whereas like in film, if you are speaking of an actor, they are in front of the camera. In comics there is more of a disconnect between who the creator is and their work.
II stix: Phil, thank you very much.
Phil Chan’s comic Metriculated, about five college friends, can be seen at www.digitalpimponline.com, with new clips premiering every Wednesday.