NYCC 2016, Day 3

My apologies to those readers who expect that a manga-oriented blog would confine itself to manga events, but that’s never been how my NYCC coverage rolls. As a result, I missed the Shonen Jump panel this year, which is sad. I do hear they licensed the RWBY manga which is being put out in Ultra Jump, drawn by the creator of Dogs: Bullets and Carnage. Several of my friends are big RWBY fans, so I’m sure this news will please them.

As for me, I began my day at BookCon, the offshoot of NYCC devoted to prose publishing. It’s about a block away from the Javits, in a building on 36th and 10th. I was there for a panel on Nostalgia and Reboots in Literature, which had as panelists many writers who specialized in that type of work. John Jackson Miller moderated, and noted his tie-in work, including a Star Wars book that suddenly became the start of the New Book Canon.

There was also horror author Paul Tremblay; Max Brailler, who has done Pick Your Own Path books (which are absolutely not the Choose Your Own Adventure books, he reminds us over and over again); Jonathan Maberry, another horror writer who’s also worked in the X-Files universe; Gareth Hinds, who does graphic novel adaptations of classic works of literature; Christina Henry, a fantasy writer who has done works based around Wonderland’s ethos, and has a new book giving Captain Hook a backstory; and Elizabeth Eulberg, whose works include Prom and Prejudice and The Revenge of the Girl with a Great Personality. She has a new Holmes pastiche coming out starring a 9-year-old girl Holmes who’s addicted to sugar.

Adaptations of movies based on prominent works began the discussion, and how they’re not really watched by fans the same way you’d watch a normal movie. It was described as going to church, where you see how the holy word is interpreted and argue about doctrines. In fact, this sort of thing began with Conan Doyle, who was wretched at remembering his own canon, so Holmes fans began to try to create a canon for him. Eulberg got the idea for her own Holmes book watching the BBC Sherlock, and seeing he had the immaturity of a typical 10-year-old girl, so why not makes Holmes one? Also, the sugar addiction (rather than cocaine) is a good example of making a retelling your own story and not the source.

Christina Henry’s Alice-related books are scary, more like Alice in Nightmareland. Even kids who’ve never read it know Alice, of course – it’s embedded in the culture. You can use retools like this as springboards for your own work. She also discussed her Captain Hook book, where she tries to be closer to actual canon – unlike the Alices, the Hook book is an actual prequel, so she can’t stray as far.

Gareth Hinds then discussed his graphic novels, and I was pleased to see they mentioned the old Classic Illustrated books, though they noted the art was not good and they were too staid. He has to cut the books to fit, of course, particularly Shakespeare who is so dense. With Shakespeare he tries to avoid using words or lines not in the original, but with something like The Odyssey he has a bit more leeway. Schoolteachers are big fans, though they always regret the one scene he has to leave out.

Maberry’s works are a bit different, as the creations are not in the public domain. There had already been a series of successful X-Files comics, and he had asked if there was a way he could do a fiction anthology. The publisher apparently scoffed, and didn’t think anyone would want to do it. He began e-mailing, and 45 minutes later he had filled three anthologies. And since there were stories with both young Dana Scully and young Fox Mulder, those became the Origins series, which can lead up to canon. Chris Carter still has to approve, of course, and in general the writers recommend “treating the franchise like a natural park”. (As an old Doctor Who New Adventures fan, this amused me greatly – Who was more Jurassic Park.)

As I said before, Brailler has apparently felt the roar of lawyers at his back, and made a running gag out of saying “choose your own adventure” and then correcting himself. He had written a bunch of great beginnings, most of which them petered out, a common writing flaw. And he then talked to the creator of the original CYOA books, who said they came from old War Games scenarios. His first book, based on a zombie apocalypse, had very disparate endings, but Highway to Hell, a newer book, has to all come together in the end, so he needed a giant chart to keep track.

Tremblay tried to update The Exorcist, as he saw vampires and werewolves getting modern updates, but no possession stories beyond bad Hollywood ones. The horror genre makes it easy to riff on common themes. That said, the themes don’t always have to be common. He noted he tries to keep his books very contemporary, and doesn’t worry about how they’re going to read in thirty years. It strengthens connections with the current readers. At a Q&A after the panel, I asked how far back they felt this repurposing of common stories went, citing King Arthur and The Bible. Maberry said that he imagines two guys sitting around a fire talking about elk – that’s how far back it goes. It’s always happened.

After this I went over to the Javits and got right in line for the next panel I had to see. I’ve been a Bloom County fan almost since it began in 1981, and have many fond childhood and teenage memories of it. As such, seeing that Berkeley Breathed was making a rare East Coast appearance to discuss his bringing the series back last year, I absolutely could not miss it. It was opposite Jump, but Jump will return, while Breathed may never do so. And it was a wonderful panel, with no moderator needed – Breathed hosted it himself.

He began with a film presentation, featuring panels from the 2015 Bloom County. In between those were two “pilot” attempts at an Opus cartoon, which had never gotten off the ground. In one, Opus is being directed by the voice of John Cleese, and has to deal with a scene where he’s ravaged by sharks. In the other, he has the voice of David Hyde Pierce, and has to struggle against the temptation to de-pants two people with low-riding jeans in front of him. Both were quite amusing, also showed why they had not become series.

Of course, he’s here to promote the new book, and new strips. He says he returned for three reasons. First was the disaster that was the attempt to film his book Mars Needs Moms, which Robert Zemeckis and Disney took and made entirely too serious and sentimental. The original book was an allegory, based on a real life incident where his son had said something horrible to his mother and stormed off. Breathed did to, to his workplace, and this book was the result. But the movie… wasn’t the book.

The second was Donald Trump, who dominated the early 2015 strips, but whom Breathed has now vowed not to use anymore in the strip. He feels that Trump is a “reverse canary” – his rise once more showed that something new was in the air and it was time to come back. The third reason was the most interesting, though – it was the release of Go Set a Watchman, the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird that Harper Lee had written (before she wrote Mockingbird) and buried. He feels the publishers did this without her real informed consent, and that the result tarnishes the legacy of the original book, which was a huge influence on Breathed as a child.

In fact, Bloom County was based heavily off of the rural small towns as seen in TKAM. As child, he was told to draw anything he wanted. He drew a spaceman whose head had just exploded gorily due to helmet decompression, and received an F. His father looked at the picture and suggested adding “Gesundheit!”, and he realized that’s what he wanted to do – art and words combined to make humor. A year after beginning Bloom County, the first collection, Loose Tails, came out. He suggested 10,000 copies was a little low and was told to shut up and be grateful. It’s currently sold over a million.

He then showed off another letter he got in 1989, when he announced the end of Bloom County, begging him not to abandon these beloved characters. It was from Harper Lee. And coming back to that while helping compile the IDW reprints of the Bloom County Library made him realize he did have more he wanted to do with these guys. It was interesting re-reading the old work to see what he still found funny – he was writing them so fast back in the day he never really took in what he actually did. (In fact, at the signing afterwards, I mentioned one of my favorite BC memories, the Bill the Cat dies of acne strips, and he didn’t even recall them.)

Now that he’s releasing the strips via social media, he doesn’t have to worry about editors, and can mess with the format as much as he likes. He does say, unlike the old strips, he’s avoiding celebrity humor now, mostly due to meeting Barry Manilow years after mocking him shamelessly in the old strips. When Breathed broke his back in an accident, he got a huge bouquet from Manilow, and it wasn’t even sarcasm but genuine get well wishes. It reminded him that celebrities are also people with their own lives. (Politics, on the other hand, still seems to be OK – minus Trump).

The other book coming out is The Bill the Cat Story, which is a very unlikely children’s book given that its star is Bill the Cat. It shows Bill as Binkley’s cat back in the day, before getting taken away and going on a series of increasingly ridiculous adventures, and Opus eventually finding him and taking him home. It looks amazing. The panel ended with a series of drawings by Bill Watterson, who was penpals with Bill back in the day. He doesn’t actually have permission to publish these, and so I won’t go into great detail, except they were utterly hysterical, and the last drawing (Breathed’s addition to Watterson’s) had to be flashed by at lightspeed as there were kids present!

I went to the signing, which I don’t normally do, and managed to get in line early enough to not only get the new Bloom County book signed, but also The Academia Waltz, IDW’s hardcover collection of his college strips. I was pretty much done for the day after that, but wanted to take in one more panel so as not to disappoint you, the reader. As a result, I went back to Bookcon and walked in and sat, then checked to see what the panel actually was.

It turned out to be husband and wife team W. Bruce Cameron and Cathryn Michon, there to discuss his bestselling book A Dog’s Purpose, and the movie of same that is out in January, with the dog’s thoughts voiced by Josh Gad. The book came out in 2010 and was a huge hit, and Cameron has become something of a dog spokesperson. It’s about a dog who learns the true meaning of what he can do for humans by getting reincarnated as various dogs. The trailer looked excellent.

He came up with the story after Michon’s dog died, and he told it out loud to her as they drove on a long trip. Interestingly, the story barely changed from that telling to the page – there was almost no change needed. She hadn’t wanted another dog after the first one passed on, but now they have Tucker, who they also got through a rescue group, which they are huge fans of. Cameron says he was asked about reincarnation and spirituality a lot, and it was mentioned that this was reminiscent of Defending Your Life, as the dog has to learn what really matters.

The adaptation was also discussed – they removed part of the start of the book as it was a very harsh beginning. It was important it be a live action film with a real dog, and that, thoughts or not, the dog had to act and think like a dog, with all the limitations that comes with – a different vocabulary, a heightened sense of smell vs. vision, etc. They compared the narrative voice to the Forrest Gump movie, that sort of simplicity. The dog actors in the movie were also fantastic, not being trained with treats but with affection, so they weren’t always looking to the side for a payoff. As for Josh Gad, they were delighted to get him, as he has “joy in his voice”. (I was also amused that they had to change the end dog, as black Labs are too hard to film!)

He had not intended it to be a series, but when the popularity exploded, his agent convinced him. It takes him about a year to write a book, and he mocked his own abilities to write, with Michon coming in and correcting him, saying he’s really very disciplined. He paces his writing, whereas Michon says her best work is done when she’s in a panic. The panel ended with Q&A, as we discussed the fact that it was written for adults but he loves that it appeals to families, as will the film. He wishes we could all be happier, the way dogs are, as we move through life.

And thus ends my eventful Saturday. Tomorrow I have two panels I want to see, but they’re both in the small rooms, so we shall see.

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  1. I’m sad without the Jump panel this year.
    Thank you for the hard work!

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