The internet comes to the rescue.
If you've been reading this blog even semi-regularly, you've probably noticed a shift in the past several months to more online comics coverage. Well, here's the next step: online comic conventions. Instead of going to the Mid-Ohio-Con this weekend, as I'd like, I attended the first Met@Morph comic convention in Second Life. I was impressed when I logged into Second Life for the first time about a year and half ago, but this was probably the first time that I really got a sense of just how well it can connect large groups of people.
The Met@Morph convention was laid out in a way not all that dissimilar to a real life con. There were presentations by academics and creators, there were round-table discussions, there was even a little salesmanship going on. I didn't get a head-count since people were coming and going throughout the day, but it seemed to hover around 30 people. Not huge by real-world standards, but a quite reasonable turn-out for SL. (Especially for comicdom. My biggest surprise in SL has been how few comic book fans I've found.)
I missed the first couple hours, but I was able to sit in on a round-table discussion about what should be taught in a class about comic books. Should books like Watchmen be presented with or without discussing the actual form and format? Should one try to build the class in some sort of cross-functional manner to include the English or Art departments? How much history should be taught? As with most discussions like that, there wasn't a final, definitive consensus of course, but there were several interesting points brought up.
After a short break, we all moved to the floating auditorium for a series of lectures that, while more academic in nature, were geared towards a lay audience. Derik Badman presented about half of his Freedom within Boundaries: The Theory and Practice of Constraint in Comics paper before running into some serious technical problems that prevented him from finishing. But what I heard was well-thought-out and an aspect of comics that is often overlooked, I think, by folks who don't work in stereotypically more creative fields.
(By the way... exploding heads? Always funny.)
Next was Robert O'Nale presenting his paper How Comics Mean: A Look at How We Understand the Medium. What I found interesting here was that he had a different approach than Scott McCloud, who's generally considered THE "understanding comics" guy. I understand he truncated his presentation a bit for the con, but he was gracious enough to send me a full copy, which I hope to study in more detail. Both he and Derik also provided many useful sources, which I'd also like to investigate further.
The final presentation of this set was from Andrew Edwards, who took a look at Alan Moore's career as a cartoonist before he became the Alan Moore we're more familiar with. An excellent overview, with some interesting analysis about how his earlier work began to foreshadow his later, more famous, stories.
Those three presentations ultimately ran longer than originally scheduled by almost an hour, but the other presenter who was to follow, Kate Hagerty, graciously stepped aside to let these three showcase their studies. They were all quite well done and fascinating, so no one else seemed to mind them running over. What was useful in these presentations, too, was that all three used microphones to speak directly over the internet. It felt very much like attending a real conference, listening to the speaker as he went through a series of slides. Were it not for the aforementioned technical problems, it would barely have been noticeable that I was actually sitting in my office at home rather than in an auditorium.
It should be said, too, that no one was really fazed by said technical problems. Con organizer Beth Davies-Stofka handled the hiccups well, and the fairly small crowd allowed for some casual joking and banter while Robert got set up. As Beth said at the time, "technology happens" and everyone took the hiccups in stride.
We moved over to a nearby art gallery for several presentations from working web comic creators: Botgirl Questi (whose work I noted here last month), Anthony Fontana, and Tim Volpe. The discussions here were more casual in nature, but it was more intriguing to just see their vastly different approaches to web comic development. I think the three of them provided a good range of thoughts and opinions for future/potential web comics creators, and I think it would behove a lot of folks to read through the transcripts, once they're posted online.
Kudos to Beth and her crew for pulling everything together and putting on a great virtual con. In some ways, I got more out of it than some real life conventions I've been to. Also a tip of the hat to Peter Coogan, who lent his support and provided the closing remarks.
This was called the first annual Met@Morph online convention, and I hope that really is the case. It's definitely an event I'd like to attend again (preferably multiple times a year, if it's at all possible) and was certainly worth going to this year. It was well organized and well put-together, especially for the first year, especially for several of the attendees never really having used Second Life before. But it was an excellent venue, and I can't wait to see more of this type of thing in the future.