The inspiration for the symposium was longtime X-Men mastermind Chris Claremont's donation of his archives to the library's Rare Book and Manuscript collection. I think this is a very significant development, and Claremont's probably the most mainstream of comics writers, and that his career only stretches back into the '70s, and not the periods we generally think of as historically important. I'd never seen Claremont speak before; generally, when I attend a comic book convention I tend to prefer
However, before we get into the main event, the undercard featured several other panels of note. Because the symposium was structured around New York City and its' impact on comics (as I said to Rob, only New Yorkers could spend a weekend talking only about New York City), we had a unique opportunity to see artists together on a panel that normally we'd never dream of linking. I doubt very much you'll ever find another common thread in the works of John Romita and Ariel Schrag then "we're both in New York". Both (along with Romita's son John Jr and Molly Crabapple, plus historian Kent Worchester) took part in the first panel of the day, which focused on New York City as a setting. Sadly, though the panel was interesting, few outside of Crabapple really had much illuminating to say on the topic. Somewhat inevitably, I suppose, the panel basically became a Romita-fest, with even moderator/ John Hamm-lookalike Chris Irving descending to fanboy worship. But, you know, it's the Romitas. JR JR did make an interesting point when he discussed how hard it was for him to draw Pittsburgh when he had to for a book and writer that he chose not to name (though it was Star Brand, for Jim Shooter) because he couldn't draw a city without making it look like New York. And Schrag stole the show when she described the fight she'd gotten into at Gay Prom. So there's that.
The day's second panel (after an extended lunch break) continued our theme of celebrity lookalike moderators, as David Hajdu (author of the fantasic Ten Cent Plague) is a dead ringer for Last Picture Show director Peter Bogdanovich. This panel focused on politics and cartooning, with longtime publisher and agent Denis Kitchen providing some fabulous insights into the minds and works of Will Eisner and Al Capp, among others. Kitchen was joined on the panel by cartoonists John Carey, Sabrina Jones, and Peter Kuper; each cartoonist presented a brief presentation of both their work and their inspirations. While interesting, I can't say that this format was as engaging as a straight free-form discussion with the same participants would have been
|We'll never know what might have been...|
And then came the main event. I have to say, I didn't really know what to expect; as I mentioned, I've never been a big fan of the X-Men, which is somewhat akin to liking Sesame Street, but not the stuff with the Muppets. To be fair, I didn't read the X-Men until relatively late in Claremont's run (around the 220s or so); when I went back and read the earlier stuff, the stuff with which he made his rep and turned what had been an also-ran comic into the backbone of the Marvel Universe, well, then I got it. That stuff's legitimately good. Moreover, I quite like a lot of Claremont's non-X-Men work, on books like Marvel Team-Up, Spider-Woman, Iron Fist, and Ms. Marvel. And, as I mentioned, the man's a delight. I could have listened to him and Louise Simonson (who's also a delight) talk for hours. Well, more then the two hours that they did speak.
Columbia recorded all the panels, and promises to put them online; when they do, I'll link to them. If you watch the Claremont one, you'll see me ask him a question about Ms. Marvel, which requires some explanation, but as I am literally typing this with a broken arm, that will have to wait. My only regret is that Robert and I had to hustle back downtown to catch our bus back home to Philly, so we missed whatever post-symposium fun there was to have (not to mention the second day). But it was certainly worth the trip, even without the free lunches the criminology symposium going on at the same time received.