Friday, June 26, 2015

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Many comic book conventions are now mega-events, getting bigger each year like a sun-eater spreading its tendrils across the galaxy. And as the gatherings grow in size and popularity, so too does the quality of the souvenir programs that get published in conjunction with them. These books often contain information about the convention, bios on the guests, explanations of the panels and booths, comic book previews, and more often than not, specially-commissioned pieces and original art from participating comic book artists. For Legion fans, coming across programs with Legion-related art in them can be quite a treasure find.

One of the earliest examples of Legion artwork appeared in the souvenir booklet for the 1978 Women in Comics expo, organized by the Delaware Valley Comicart Consortium, and which ran for three days in Philadelphia.  Inside the publication, adorned by a Marie Severin cover, are articles on many of the convention guests, including Joe Staton, the Legion artist at the time. To accompany the article, Joe provided a great sketch of the female Legionnaires.
   Interestingly, also featured were David and Paty Cockrum, with the bio piece mentioning their love of reptiles and plastic models, and Dave's stint at the Legion. The article was complemented by a Cockrum sketch of the Vision and Scarlet Witch.



The cover of the Women in Comics booklet, and the Joe Staton piece.

When it comes to souvenir books, the San Diego Comic-Con leads the way in terms of quality and content, and expectedly so, for an event which has been going since 1970 and in some ways has become the standard-bearer for such occasions. In 1985, it ran a competition which invited attendees to correctly identify as many artists as possible who contributed to a jam piece of DC Comics characters used for the program cover. The concept was inspired by the DC CHALLENGE mini-series that debuted at the time, for which various writers and pencillers contributed various chapters.
   I can usually spot an artist’s handiwork, but I have to admit  most of these stumped me. None of the characters was drawn by the artist usually associated with them, so as much as I think it was a rushed Cockrum sketch of Lightning Lad in the piece, it probably isn’t. The Batman looks very Ross Andru-ish, but I can’t verify this nor any of the others. The answers were provided in an issue of COMIC BUYER'S GUIDE, but I've never managed to find out which issue it was. If somebody knows the official answers, please let me know!

The 1985 SDCC souvenir book and the DC Comics competition details.

Perhaps the crème de la crème of Legion-related convention books was the 1998 SDCC edition, a thick quality-paper bound tome with a handsome Alex Ross cover of Superman. That year was a milestone for DC ..  it commemorated the 60th anniversary of the man of steel, as well as the 40th anniversary of the teenagers from the future. Packed with artistic and textual tributes to both Superman and the Legion, the souvenir publication can be considered a genuine Legion collectible. Peruse some of the pieces below:

The cover of the 1998 SDCC souvenir book.

Art by Stephen Blue on the left, featuring the original costumes of the members when they joined (Phantom Girl first appeared without the "P" symbol). On the right is Colleen Doran's tribute to her favorite Legionnaire, Element Lad.

Art by Andy Ice (left) and Michael Kennedy.

Art by Travis Moore (left) and Philip Moy (right).

Art by Steve Pearson (left) and Cutey Bunny creator Joshua Quagmire (right).

Art by artist/letterer Wes Abbott (left) and Neal Yamamoto (right).

   1998 was in fact a grand year for the SDCC Eisner Award Hall of Fame. New inductees that year included Curt Swan, Julius Schwartz, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Gil Kane, Walt Kelly, Alex Toth, Wally Wood, and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

SDCC also publishes a publication called Comic-Con Magazine, which generally provides convention updates as well as information on Eisner Award winners from the event. The pre-convention magazine from 2008 features an article celebrating the Legion’s 50th anniversary, its endurance and appeal. 

Comic-Con Magazine pays tribute to the Legion.
The 2008 SDCC souvenir program book.

The actual souvenir program for that year uses Alex Ross' classic Legion poster art for the cover (see above). It features a couple of articles and plenty of artistic tributes to the Legion. But unlike the 1998 book, most of the sketches are provided by amateur artists, and do not stand up well to the standards of professional work. One only has to glance at the glorious Ross cover to note the difference in quality. However, there were some notable pieces, example of which are reproduced below.

 
Tom Kelly provided this lovely graphic representation.


Pieces by Dave Reyes and 'Xdonado'.

Art by CAPS members including Sergio Aragones, Scott Shaw!, Anson Jew, Tim Burgard and Randy Reynaldo.

A tribute piece by Nolan P Smith.


There's no doubt the Legion has appeared in one form or another in various other comic convention programs not featured here, and certainly in UK convention booklets, in the form of original art or, interestingly, limericks and sight gags. Keep a lookout for the programs at your next con, and you may be pleasantly surprised with your Legion-spotting exercises. 

Conventions are also the source of many original Legion art pieces, of course, including commissioned sketches or original prints offered by the guest artists. But that's a topic so all-encompassing that it would need its own dedicated blog article ...  so watch out for that in the near future.

Bits Boy runs the comprehensive Legion completists’ site Bits of Legionnaire Business.

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