I sat on the bus, bag of newly purchased, unread Wednesday comics on my lap, suitcase underneath my feet on the luggage deck below. It was my yearly pilgrimage to the mecca that was New York Comic Con.
But this year was a little different; a little more filled with anxiety–not borne of my upcoming interviews with Greg Pak or the guys behind the Venture Bros or Leila del Duca and Joe Keating–instead, it was because my mother could be accompanying me to Comic Con.
I was in love with comics from childhood: Calvin and Hobbes and Liberty Meadows inspired me to learn how to read, I loved to illustrate my own stories, and the day I found out my older brother had a collection of X-Men and Spider-man comics under his bunk bed was the day I aspired to steal them and start my own collection.
My mom never really got it. My older sister never had a comic book phase (as far as I knew), and my brother grew out of his at the age of 13. So when I started reading comics and manga actively at 13, and kept reading them staunchly and stubbornly through high school and beyond, I think my mom started to get confused. On some level, I think she worried my reading comics was a form of arrested development; a desire to remain childish and detached from adulthood. In a word: immature.
What she didn’t know was that my love of comics made me grow and improve. I began searching for literary allusions in comic strips for extra credit in English classes. I relished in finding graphic novel adaptations of historical stories and “great literature.” I applied art history to pop culture, and examined the difference between high and low culture (and if there even was a difference to begin with). I started writing, and my writing improved because I was absorbing so many different writers’ styles, tones, and genres. All of this happened because of comic books.
But I never really told my mom about the intellectual side of my hobby. All she knew was I spent too much money on anime, manga, and comics, and she didn’t really understand why an adult would be interested in that kind of stuff.
The bus ride to New York City was uneventful. I read my weekly pull, checked Twitter for updates on who had already arrived at the convention, and fidgeted impatiently for my impending arrival at Penn Station. When the bus finally pulled in, I was quick to escape and make my way to the hotel, where my mom had already arrived.
My mother is a watercolor artist who is nationally, and internationally, known and ranked. She studied fine art for most of her life, and comics represented, for her, a baffling antithesis to John Singer Sargent and van Gogh.
The small pieces of anime and manga she witnessed me watch and read looked the same. The characters were interchangeable, and if you swapped their hairstyles, they looked like one another (which is a fair critique). She felt I was limiting my artistic ability by only drawing cartoons, and not participating in life drawing and classic art classes.
I met my mom at the hotel, and we spent the evening in the city, eating at a deli, seeing the sights, looking at off Broadway plays and comedy shows we could go to. When we finally returned to the hotel, we both readied our costumes for the next day, my first (and her only) day at the con.
Cosplay, another hobby of mine, was much less baffling to mom. In addition to being an artist, she was also a theater major in college, and did costume designing as a job. Mom helped me make my very first cosplay when I was 16, and didn’t question my enthusiasm or interest in learning how to sew. When I told her that part of my convention experience was dressing up in costume and taking pictures, she jumped at the idea. She loved it, and wanted to dress up along with me.
I began to share historical insight I had on different characters and costumes; I sent her emails with pictures of Catwoman’s different costumes, stories about the Black Canary mother-daughter legacy, offering up thoughts and ideas on different comic heroines and cartoon stars she could dress as.
She changed her mind (first Catwoman, then Supergirl, then the 80’s show Space Cats) until she finally settled on a her own design: a 50’s housewife-style Supergirl.
Dressed in our finest, we made the short trek to the Javits Center, and both sorely regretted our choice of high heels as our footwear, and that’s when she saw it: the three block long line of people, in costumes and nerdy shirts, who already had their tickets for the con.
“Is the line always like this?” She asked.
“Yeah, New York’s numbers rival that of San Diego Comic Con.”
She nodded, amazed. “What’s it like inside the convention?”
I paused for a moment before I answered, “huge.”
In the weeks before the convention, she emailed me, concerned; “are people okay with their pictures being taken?”
I had to laugh to myself. “Absolutely! People love it, but do make sure to ask them, first.”
When we got past the line, and into the blacktop area of the convention, people began to stop mom, asking her for pictures. Every ten or so feet, another person asked her for a photo, and she glowed, pleased that her effort and hard work was being acknowledged. She gawked at a massive Hulkbuster Iron Man costume, and complimented a small child on her Supergirl costume.
She pointed to a group of men in the same masked costumes, “look at all those Spider-men!”
I snorted, “that’s actually a bunch of Deadpools, mom, but that was a good guess.”
The day was a blur. She was amazed at the size of the convention, even on its most docile day (Thursday), it was bustling with energy. The moment we entered the Artist Alley, something suddenly clicked for her.
As we passed the rows and rows of artists and writers, and I pointed out some of the people I had interviewed, or was planning to interview, she nodded, studying each artist’s banner and prints.
As we left the hall, she turned to me. “I finally get it now.”
“I get why you like comics. It seemed like you always used to read things that all looked the same….same art, same color, same style. But looking at all those artists in there, the huge variety, I get it. I see how beautiful some of the art is, how many different styles and kinds of stories they are telling. I understand why you love comics.”
As an adult, I like to think I have a pretty good relationship with my mother. We talk openly and frankly, and I feel lucky to be able to be so honest with her.
Taking mom to NYCC was completely intimidating and totally exciting. I wanted her to understand that I am truly passionate about comics as a medium and an art, but also as a piece of history and as a reflection of popular culture and society. I couldn’t think of a more perfect convention to take her to, with New York Comic Con’s strict anti-harassment policy, family friendly vibe, and variety of programming ranging from critiques on representation to artist profiles.
I think the experience helped her really understand the industry of nerds, and I got a chance to share a big part of my world with her.
A week after the convention, I got a phone call.
“So, do you think your dad would want to go with us next year?”
My dad? A smart, hugely nerdy man who wasn’t the biggest fan of crowds?
“Gosh, mom, I don’t know, maybe? I definitely think it would be fun to have him come.”
She laughed. “What do you think we could get him to dress as?”
Maybe that’s a blog post for next year.