Could You Survive An Unending Comic Convention? Talking With The Long Con Team

by Hannah Means Shannon

This week on Wednesday, July 25th, Oni Press are releasing the first issue of a very timely series, The Long Con. For those who have managed to attend San Diego Comic Con 2018, they’ll be limping to their local comic shops and trying to catch up on sleep to pick up this action-adventure reflection on convention culture, and for those who didn’t manage to get into the coveted halls, they will have seen news item after news item (as on sharing the glamor and the craziness of the convention with fans at a distance.
The Long Con is a story that’s laced with fiction but based on real-life observations of convention life, written by Dylan Meconis and Ben Coleman, with art by EA Denich and M. Victoria Robado, the series is based on the premise that an apocalypse takes place during one of the nation’s longest and longest-running comic conventions, and the people in attendance, for the most part are written off as lost within a kind of wasteland by the government. Those on the outside move on, including a reporter who escaped the convention as the apocalupse was landing, and lost his best friend to it. Then, five years later, he’s assigned to investigate the area, finds himself in the midst of the survivalist factions who endured the fallout, and enters the strange world of a convention that never ended. Welcome to The Long Con.
Dylan Meconis, Ben Coleman, And EA Denich (aka Emilee) all join us today to discuss their funny, poignant, and recognizable con-cultured series arriving this week from Oni Press:

Hannah Means-Shannon: What impact do you think it would have if convention life stayed with us all year? What might be some of the good and bad results?
Dylan:​ In a way it already does – the internet is truly the fan convention that never ends. The upside is how much easier it is to find and connect with kindred spirits, without the hurdles of expense and travel and crowds. The downside is pretty obvious – spontaneous communities of fans can evolve into tactical mobs. Something that started out joyful and unifying can become mean-spirited and divisive.
Ben:​ No one would ever be able to decide which restaurant to go to, which I feel would impact the service industry negatively. Q&As would gradually spread to every social interaction, to the point where the basic family unit would include a moderator (that might be a pro, depending on your point of view). The first year of con crud will either kill us or make us stronger, hard to say which but I see no middle ground there. In the pros column: you’ll be able to walk around with a cool Highlander sword and no one will judge you. In the cons column: everyone else will also have cool Highlander swords (I call this “The SkyMall Factor”)
Emilee: ​A Funko in every pot and a Delorean in every garage!

HMS: There are a lot of excellent and truth-based observational gags about comic conventions, for instance mentioning that a line for next year’s show is already forming. How did you decide how much humor to bring in, and how to balance that with an action-based plot?
Dylan: ​The plot has changed quite a bit over time – especially after the election – but the core premise has remained the same, and the humor is really baked into that. 22 pages per issue keeps you focused on moving the story forward and forces you not to be too precious. But we have a system where if one of us writes or draws a joke that makes the other collaborators laugh out loud, we tag it with “LOL notice” and then we do everything we can to make sure that joke survives to the final draft.
Ben: ​A lot of comedy is timing and intonation based, which can make it tricky to do in comics. I think that’s why you see a lot of reference humor and meta humor these days, which is essentially calling on something the reader already has lodged in their brain and presenting it in a slightly different way. Something that’s really important with those kind of jokes is that you can’t use them to communicate important plot information, because part of your audience just isn’t going to be familiar with Doctor Who or whatever. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to write nerdy in-jokes, but they’re the seasoning, not the steak. Character based humor, on the other hand, is really nice for an action comedy because everyone’s on the same page (so to speak) and so characters can speak and behave in a way that’s amusing while also advancing the plot (or getting into nunchuck fights or whatever)
Emilee: ​Dylan, Ben and I have a very simpatico relationship when it comes to the marriage of writing and art- we like to bounce ideas back and forth and all three of our different relationships to fandom and nerd culture make for a good soup of ridiculous ideas. As for myself, I like drawing goofy expressions and memorable character interactions as much as I like the crazy action sequences, so I make sure to put a lot of love into both!

HMS: “It’s the whole world” is a quote in the first issue about the convention. While conventions often feel like this in good and bad ways, what have you noticed about fandom at conventions that impressed or intrigued you?
Dylan: ​I really love seeing unvarnished enthusiasm between strangers: “oh my gosh your costume is ​amazing​!!” and “that book changed my life!” and “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT SHIRT” etc. In the normal world we see things that make us want to reach out, but our desire to not bother people or come off as creepy usually prevents us. Or we don’t cross paths at all, or our points of possible connection are hidden. At a show, we all know we have one thing in common – we’re the kind of people who would go to a comic-con. Now it’s just a matter of finding out how much ​more ​you share. People literally wear their passions on their sleeves, and that means a lot more connections across the demographic lines that usually silo us.
Ben:​ For a lot of con kids that “whole world” bit isn’t an exaggeration, at least for a few days. You’re eating your meals sitting cross-legged on convention carpet, you’re sleeping 3 to a Marriott bathtub, you’re seeing people in person that you’ll be talking with online for the rest of the year. It’s a really intense experience, and it tends to produce intense emotions as a result. That can be a good thing and a bad thing, obviously. You don’t have people waiting 10 hours in line to see a 30 second clip of a new opera (I don’t think). But the flip side is that level of dedication and intensity (and over-stimulation and sleep desperation) can muddy the waters as to what kind of behavior is socially acceptable. That’s just a good playground to tell stories in, and that’s even before you throw everyone into a “Lord of the Flies” style power vacuum
Emilee: ​Con World is definitely its own pocket universe. Where else could you become best friends with Batman while standing in a line for 6 hours, and then buy a $500 statue of him in the same day? My favorite part of it, however, is that everyone is there for the same reasons, so the day to day awkward barrier we have with strangers is gone, and everyone can bond together over the things we love.

HMS: What do you think that presenting the story through two timelines—the present and flashbacks to the past—does for the reader in terms of helping them understand conventions, especially if they are unfamiliar?
Dylan: ​Initially we told the story in chronological order…but that meant it took a couple of issues of our non-nerd reporter character, Victor, being introduced to the convention by his professional geek pal Dez. Helpful for people who don’t go to conventions, but a poky start for folks who already know the ropes, no matter how many good in-jokes and sight gags we put in.
Writing the first arc of the story as a before/after split means we can quickly set up the premise for the noobs, and then immediately knock it over for the pros.
Ben: ​What Dylan said, basically. Another factor was our decision not to use any real life IPs. If we were writing a story about a post-apocalyptic Star Trek convention (Paramount: call us) we’d expect the audience to be at least somewhat familiar with what Star Trek stuff looked like before the apocalypse hit. But with that would come a lot of other constraints (and a LOT of specific references) so we decided to chart our own course and make up our own fictional franchises (which may or may not affectionately riff on real world properties). And with that comes the responsibility to show our readers what this world was like before we come along and wrecked it like capricious toddlers might do to a beautifully crenelated sandcastle. Plus the before/after cuts are just fun. Everyone likes a before/after cut.
Emilee: ​I love the Pre-Event scenes not only for the setting and and the jokes, but also to establish a contrast between the past and present of the con- what remains important to people after the apocalypse? To the people still trapped there, the answer of “food and water” is obvious, but the development of fandom culture into an semi-Fascist society is a hilarious satire of the policing that nerd and convention culture experiences within itself.

HMS: Can you tell us a little bit about the creation/character development of Dez and Victor or about their design?
Dylan:​ We originally “cast” actual actors who fit our general sense of the characters’ personalities and appearances, and to emphasize that this wasn’t a comic starring a pile of stereotypical white fanboy types! That was really fun (and incidentally led to me becoming a huge fan of Issa Rae, before she started getting big development deals). But since we didn’t have an artist attached yet, we decided it would be helpful to show what ​kind​ of style we wanted. So I drew up some headshots based on our heroes, and all the artists we considered with the editors were folks who could pull off something adjacent to what I’d done. When we lucked into Emilee, I told her that she was more than welcome to totally ignore my designs in favor of her own interpretation, but she ended up crossbreeding my concept art with her style, which still feels like the biggest compliment in the world.
Ben: ​We also wanted one person who wasn’t familiar con culture,and a con veteran who would be good translator/tour guide/bodyguard. So we made Victor an alt weekly reporter (which I can say from experience often pitches you into unfamiliar environments) and we made Dez an indie comics PR flack, which put her nicely in the trenches but also gave her a bit of emotional distance from the really intense fans. The problem with exposition isn’t that you have characters explaining things to each other, it’s that they often *needlessly* explain things to each other (“as we both know, mobile phones are how we communicate with each other over long distances”). So having two old college buddies meeting up in a semi-professional context with a really obvious knowledge gap between them gave us a lot of opportunities to naturally explain what was going on in areas where it wasn’t abundantly obvious.
Thanks so much to the creative team of The Long Con for joining us today and sharing their perceptions and experiences so frankly with us! Via con culture and the humor and pathos it generates for us in real-life and in storytelling!
Look out for The Long Con #1 in shops on Wednesday, July 26th!

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