Hazing Chris Burnham At MorrisonCon

Kickstarter king Shawn Demumbrum skipped out of Las Vegas Comic Con to see what all the fuss was over at the Hard Rock last weekend…

I arrived early for MorrisonCon to pick up my press pass and was joined by a small group of excited fans. The energy was palpable. The first thing that you see as you walk into the Muse and Artist Hall at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is a 7 foot tall banner with Grant Morrison's face and the MorrisonCon logo. Waiting attendees took turns having their picture taken in front of the banner. While waiting for my press pass, the check-in volunteer told me that there were approximately 300 attendees with approximately one third of attendees being female. Although I'd like to report that the female attendees were My Chemical Romance groupies trying to get a piece of Gerard Way, but I can't. It seems that there are hardcore women comic book fans.

The crowd outside the panel hall had started to grow, so they let everyone in a little early. Although I was one of the last one's into the hall, I was able to secure a seat front and center. James Simes, one of the founders of MorrisonCon, was eagerly greeting attendees. James owns the Isotope in San Francisco. The Isotope hosts legendary events that incorporate comic creators, music and copious amounts of alcohol, so MorrisonCon is a logical extension. James talked about the previous evenings event, a spoken word event with Grant Morrison and Gerrad Way followed by DJ Akira the Don. By all accounts, the event offered unprecedented access to the hand picked guests of Grant in a club party atmosphere. One fan had his phone to Gerrad so that his friend (presumably a MCR fan) could hear what they missed first hand. One fan recounted that he saw Dan Didio and Jonathan Hickman talking together at the party stating "That's not supposed to happen."

James worked the room trying to keep the energy high until the festivities began. He revealed that he would be back in Las Vegas in a month to help JH Williams III and his wife renew their vows on their 20th Anniversary. James will have the honor of walking the bride down the isle. For those of you not invited to the wedding, JH Williams III will have a signing at Alternate Realty on October 21st with James Robinson, Pere Perez and Chris Wisnia.

At 9:30am, James took the stage and introduced the other MorrisonCon founders, Kirsten Baldock (co-owner of the Isotope and writer of Smoke and Guns) and Ron Richards (iFanBoy and Graphicly). James combines the coif of Cosmo Kramer, 'stache of Lemmy from Motorhead, the sensibilities of Mad Men and the evangelism of Stan Lee. He is a rolling dynamo so it's no surprise that when he and Ron Richards talked came up with the idea for MorrisonCon two years ago that it would happen. While most high tech start-ups start out with two guys in a garage, MorrisonCon was started out with two guys in a bar. They worked on it for a full year before they pitched it to Grant. The event organization was "no science, just magic". Their goal was to "destroy the world of comic book conventions and build it from the group up". Everything from the guests that were invited to movies that play in the MorrisonCon Theater received direct input from Grant. It's been a handcrafted convention that James intends to be a unique experience. The first night's event was still fresh in his mind while contemplating hosting another convention. "Fuck! How do you follow this?" he said. Although, he quickly countered, "We will probably try another in a few years with a different curator."

At this point, James began to thank the crowd for taking a chance on the convention and for being the early adopters of his vision of a comic convention. "This is a crazy idea and you guys are…CRAZY". There was a little bit of a lull in the conversation. Ron Richards jumped in to talk about what was going outside the panel room in a comparative toned down manner. "Ohhh no. Here come the rules," said Simes. "It's punk rock. There are no rules," retorted Richards. He went on to talk about the other areas of the convention hall and items inside the swag bag.

At 10:00am, the main guest of honor came out to start the first panel "Grant Morrison and the Future of the Third Dimension." Chris Burnham and Frank Quietly joined him. Everyone called Frank by his real name Vin Deighan, which was a little confusing at first. The panelists sat on a long couch with a video screen above it to help everyone's view of the panel and allowed them to display art pages as they talked. The ironic thing is when they had the panelists displayed on the screen; they were exactly the same size on the screen as in real life. The panel began talking to Chris Burnham about Batman Inc. with pages from issue #4 and #5 displayed on the big screen. They talked about the story, which involves returning to the future world of Damain as Batman.

Darrick Robertson arrived late, but just in time to talk about the MorrisonCon exclusive Happy #1 cover. The cover has a killer dressed in a prawn suit holding a hammer with a lit joint in between the claws of the hammer. Grant talked about the evolution of the cover and how Darrick had come up the idea to put the joint in the hammer's claws rather than hold it separately. At one point, the artists in the panel were talking about what they didn't like to draw with most indicating they preferred dynamic scenes rather than static scenes like a meeting room. "I never know where to put their elbows," said Burnham. Robertson to Quietly, "What is your least favorite thing to draw?" "Fast", replied Quietly.

Next, came images of the pages from Pax Americana. Grant talked about how Watchmen was a modern reinterpretation of the Charlton characters and how Pax Americana, which includes the Charlton characters, would be heavily influenced by the Watchmen. The cover of the Pax Americana would be the first panel in the comic, much like the Watchmen. Grant talked about how Multiversity dealt with Spiral Dynamics in which different colors of the light spectrum represented difference life conditions and brain coping capacities. Red represents the criminal element of human personality. The first book starts out with the assassination of the President. He showed a page of Peacemaker making the kill shot from weather balloon with a sniper rifle from the lower stratosphere. Grant described Peacemaker as a man who wants peace so badly that he's willing to kill for it. Grant said that the reason it has taken so long to get Multiversity out was that he wanted to take his time with it and craft it more like a screenplay that goes through multiple drafts. Monthly comics are much less crafted because of the deadlines and you don't have a chance to make changes.

Although MorrisonCon was all about Grant Morrison, it became very apparent that MorrisonCon was also Chris Burnham's initiation into the fraternity of comics. The elder statesmen hazed him every chance they got and he took it in stride. The ribbing came early from Grant. Chris was excited about the huge bath in his room at the Hard Rock. "I took a bath in an Olympic sized bathtub last night and filled in with boiling hot water," he said. "Then, he had to clean out all the dead swimmers," quipped Grant. Later in the artist panel, Darrick Robertson talked about his first submission at age 14. He got his originals back with a reject letter. The rejection letter had Spider-man in the black costume. "They were banking their future on that." Darrick asked Chris, "Did you get your first reject letter in email?" While talking about their influences, most of the panelist cited Neal Adams. They talked about the Read Along Batman vs. Manbat book and record that had Adams art in it. Chris shared that he also had the book as a child, but it had a cassette tape instead of a record. Darrick said, "I'm surprised you didn't have that on MP3."

After taking a break from MorrisonCon to check out the Las Vegas Comic Expo, I returned for the end of the cocktail hour and the beginning of the after hours bash at Body English. The club was in the lower level of the Casino and had two levels with the dance floor on the lower level. I spent the first 30 minutes listening to a fan vent about MorrisonCon. Between travel, tickets, lodging and food he had spent $1200 to attend and felt that the convention was no different than any other convention, but with a steeper price tag. There were still lines to ask questions. The panels weren't as interactive as he thought it would be. There were lines to talk to creators. The food at the Hard Rock was much more expensive than he would normally spend and some confusion over the difference between pizza and a meatpie. I welcomed his feedback because my perspective was completed different since my ticket was free; I wasn't there to get signatures or sketches, and no one I had talked to had anything bad to say about the convention. I personally would pay for a ticket (knowing what I know now) if they had LeeCon in two years, which would have smaller furniture according to Jim Lee. Once a person determines that the value wasn't there for them, then the frustration they feel devolves into a money issue. I called it an early evening, but everyone was starting to fill the dance floor dancing to the musical stylings of Akira the Don.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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