On The “Casual Surrealism” Of Conventions: Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman Talk The Long Con Volume 1

by Hannah Means Shannon

The first collection of The Long Con is hitting shops from Oni Press on February 12th, bringing together one of the most hectic, relatable, and celebratory comics focused on geek culture that you could hope to find. Written by Dylan Meconis (Family Man, Bite Me!) and Ben Coleman (The Portland Mercury), with art by EA Denich, colors by M. Victoria Robado, and letters by Aditya Bidikar, the premise of the series is simple enough: an already famously long-running convention becomes ground zero during an apocalyptic event, cutting off those inside the convention from those outside. And that remains true for five years as the quarantine zone continues.
Victor was attending his first comic convention as a journalist, while his comics PR friend Dez got trapped inside. Both think the other one is dead until the fateful day when Vic finds his way into the convention once more–and is met by the feral population there. A whole society has formed Mad Max-style among the convention’s ruins, and it’s up to Vic and Dez to navigate this warzone and set the now captive population free somehow.
That description doesn’t really convey the density of geek references per page, the focus on humor in the story, or the ways in which the team critique and explore convention culture. All those things make it an interesting read and getting the first five issues in one chunky collection is a great idea.
Writers Dylan Meconis and Ben Coleman join us today to talk about conventions and the apocalypse.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Hey again! I interviewed you way back when for the release of issue #1 of this series, and now it’s all grown up and getting a collection. That begs the question: Will there be more Long Concomics?
Dylan Meconis: Oh, yes! ​The Long Con ​was written as a ten-issue/two book limited series, so we’re only at the intermission. The five issues in Volume 2 will take our reluctant heroes into the heart of Skylarks territory and ever closer to the mysterious Special Guest.
Ben Coleman: Volume 1 is mostly about Victor and Dez narrowly avoiding death in the hinterlands of the con. In Volume 2, thanks to some new friends (or at the very least frenemies) they’ll take the fight to the bad guys. Both volumes feature a lot of punching, for the record.

HMS: How important was it/is it to you to talk about the wider world’s weird apocalypse alluded to by Victor in the series? The story is so self-contained that I imagine it’s not necessary to really get into the bigger world scenario, but do you want to?
DM: Ben and I went back and forth on this one a lot in early outlining. We originally spent a lot more time establishing what the remnants of civilization were up to. But we realized that the heart of the story is the convention. Readers already have five million post-apocalypse settings and stories in their mental databanks –– it was more effective to make glancing references and let them fill in the rest. After all, part of the joke here is that the outside world feels like it ceases to exist when you’re at a convention, so it made sense to keep it that way in the book, too.
BC: My vote was to only refer to the apocalypse as “that thing that happened”, but that eats into the word count pretty quick. It always bugs me in genre fiction when characters explain how the world works to other characters who are also aware of how the world works. I mean you wouldn’t say, “I drove to the store in a car, which is a 4-wheeled vehicle powered by internal combustion.” I feel like you’d have a lot of conversations about the apocalypse right after it happened, but you can get blasé about anything after 5 years.

HMS: That is so very true. This is an incredibly detailed comic, both in artwork and in writing. But out of all that, what were the main aspects of convention experience you wanted to convey in the “past” sequences and how do they still hold true, in your mind, in the “present” sequences of the comic?
DM: For me, it’s the casual surrealism. The most ridiculous stuff feels completely banal, and the most banal stuff feels like a transmission from another world. Yes, you just ate a $20 burrito on the floor next to a sexy zombie and Sonic the hedgehog while waiting for a panel about gay hockey romance manga. What of it? The needle is already so far over on the dial that the transition to “Thunderdome of survivalist nerd microsocieties” feels almost natural.
BC: I love the language of the enthusiasm, and projecting that into a world without much in the way of a social contract was a lot of fun. There’s just a way people talk about stuff they love, what they take for granted and what they get worked up about, that’s so much fun to write. I was at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo last year and overheard two guys get into it about LaserDisc vs. VHS to the point where they were debating the virtues of squares vs. rectangles. I feel like if the bomb fell tomorrow, those guys could still have the same argument dressed as Mad Max hooligans. Also: Team LaserDisc, all the way.

HMS: I’m a pretty hardened convention attendee and reporter myself, so this comic is exactly aimed at me. I get it and I love it. But what were some of your strategies to make sure that if someone had never been to a comic convention they might still find this world accessible?
BC: I’ve talked to people with zero convention experience who liked the book, so I feel like folks are at the very least curious about that world. My personal rule is to write convention culture inside jokes in such a way that if you’ve been in the trenches you may chuckle knowingly, but if you haven’t, it won’t derail the plot at all. All the pop culture franchises in the Long Con are invented by us, so you don’t need to do any homework going in.
DM: The most essential part was making one of our protagonists (Victor Lai) an outsider to fandom convention culture, and, furthermore, a journalist whose job it is to figure out the basics as quickly as possible so he can transmit them to a general audience.
HMS: Did coming up with this story and having to “think” about conventions on this level make you realize anything you didn’t previously realize about the origin, growth, and role of conventions right now?
DM: It definitely sparked a lot of conversations between us. There’s obviously been a huge growth in convention attendance and frequency, and that’s been great in some ways (bringing in folks who would’ve found cons alienating in the past) and frustrating in others (it’s hard for individual creators to get traction at an event stuffed with big budget megacorporate media). The increasing push for inclusivity, codes of conduct, disability accommodation, etc. at shows has been heartening, but we’re still so far from any kind of cultural consensus on what conventions truly owe their attendees and exhibitors.
BC: Cosplayers, absolutely cosplayers. I was never one of those “ugh, they’re stealing attention from the REAL artists” guys (those guys kinda suck), but honestly the whole thing did seem a bit silly before we started writing this book. But talking to folks who do it, and just paying more attention at cons, it’s been a really eye-opening experience. For one thing, they just make the whole process so much more vibrant and visually interesting than watching a bunch of pasty nerds (myself included) shuffle down endless merch aisles. And there’s SO much work that goes into a costume, from the research, to the fabrication, to the body language. It’s a really amazing process that I have nothing but respect for those folks.

HMS: Do you have a favorite page/sequence/joke in the comic?
DM: The page in issue 5 where Victor has to win over Hack Wilson, a crusty old superhero comics writer, by appealing to him as a Fellow Wordsmith. It’s a nine-panel grid, and I stuffed ​so many​ goofy throwaway lines in there, and then E.A. drew the heck out of these two dudes mugging at each other, and Victoria colored it in this pure Cyan/Magenta/Yellow color scheme, which is such a deep cut print media gag. It’s just way too much and I love it. [*We found it!! See below!]
BC: It’s extremely dumb, but I love that there’s stall called “Rubble Depot”, pre-apocalypse, that is, naturally, a pile of rubble in the post-apocalypse. Also, I would 100% shop at a store called Rubble Depot.

HMS: What was it like having to come up with the history/characters/design of Skylarks and build into the comic? What made you realize that you needed a central motif like this one?
BC: Our main goal was to create a sense of this vast and ever-evolving franchise that’s passed through the hands of dozens of creative teams, which is the sort of thing that not a lot of mediums would have the space to explore. And working with EA has been an absolute delight. She’s single-handedly designed 5 decades worth of uniforms, aliens, and spaceships, from rank braids to carapace blades, to nacelle placement. I’ve been consistently amazed how much I’d watch the show she’s put together.
DM: Man, I feel like Ben and E.A. have been ​so​ much more adept at it. I think I’ve mostly been the one who neurotically tries to guard-rail it from becoming ​too​ close an analogue to Star Trek –– because the comic isn’t a commentary on Star Trek, but on the painful problems of fandom and creative community…of which Star Trek happens to be a really handy Patient Zero. We knew that we wanted a shadowy, reclusive sci-fi mogul to be at the center of this mysteriously thriving society, and for his primary manifestation to be the fact that this big, goofy, all-things-to-all-people media franchise turns into an authoritarian police state. Trying to control the way people enjoy the things you’ve created, or, as a fan, trying to control the direction that creators take your favorite media…it’s a slippery slope. I’ve been on both sides of it and making one fandom be a case study for that was the best way to get there.

HMS: Can you tease anything about “The Resistance” or is that too much of a spoiler?
DM: I’ll just say that the entire creative team agrees: Jet Shark is the breakout character who really needs his own spinoff.

BC: I’m not supposed to say this, but the entire comic has been a backdoor pilot for The Continuing Adventures of Jet Shark: The Shark That Has a Jetpack.

Thanks to Dylan Meconis and Ben Coleman for taking part in this interview! We’re looking forward to Volume 2!
The Long Con Volume 1 arrives in shops on February 12th, 2019!

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