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Stateside With Rosalea: Cartoon Network

What's another name for a dot-commer? A semicolon.

OK, so comedy writing is probably not in my stars, but how about cartooning? That vision of Radiator was pretty damned good, I thought, if only I could have drawn it. Especially when a certain party took advantage of Radiator's stance bestride the world in his short tunic to grab him by the eavesdropper.

Holy Batballs, Wonder Boy! Doesn't that VQ1 squadron have a lightning bolt and a bat on its insignia along with the words "World Watchers"? And doesn't it surveill not only China but the West Coast of America and the Arabian Gulf? Has the Batmobile fallen into the Riddler's hands?

I've just spent all day at WonderCon - the comic book convention being held this weekend at the convention center in Oakland. (The 'r' has to go at the end, dear ed, because some sparrows are nesting behind it on the wall outside the hotel that sits atop the meeting rooms and exhibition hall and I don't want to disturb them.)

The dot-commer in question was expounding a lot of drab theories about the link between art violence and real-life violence when question time came at the panel session called "Upping the Ante". One of the panelists gave a very poetic description of why there are more school shootings now than ever before. There are more people; there are more guns; and the guns are smaller, lighter and have more power with less kick. Nowadays, guns that fire 20-30 rounds a minute feel like 'a slightly fluttering butterfly' in your hand as they release their deadly load.

Speaking of guns, I was once in a lift with a famous science fiction writer who was part of the visionary team planning America's space-based defences in the '80s. Just as I was about to ask him about it, the lift doors opened and a giant lobster walked in. This was at a scifi convention in the St George Hotel in Wellington. People dress up at those. Some people dressed up at this convention. One usually scantily clad female comic book character was there. Dressed. Yes! The actual model for.... ummm. Sorry, everyone. I couldn't get anywhere near the table where she was signing autographs.

But I did get to talk to Radar. THE Radar! The nervous "M*A*S*H" radio operator is a gentle chappie in a white straw panama who does oil paintings and watercolors of wildlife and sells autographs for $20 at conventions. Hick from the sticks that I am, I just gawped at him. Someone strode up and shook his hand and said: Can I take your photograph? To which Radar replied: Yes, so long as I'm not in it. He meant to say: So long as *you're* not in it.

He was at a signing table along with assorted other 'media guests'. One of them was Julie Caitlin Brown who plays Na'Toth in "Babylon 5". She also writes country rock music and treated us to several of the songs off her new CD "Struck by Lightning" in one of the ballrooms. They weren't half bad, but I was somewhat distracted because, on the back of the seat in front of me, someone had stuck a whole lot of Smiley Face stickers with three eyes and the word "evolution".

Some of the convention's organisers didn't seem to have evolved past some movies by a Mr G. Lucas, and insisted on putting on drab documentaries and spoof movies about his oeuvre. They'd have got a bigger audience at the St George. But to be fair, WonderCon 2001 was dedicated to the memory of John Barrett who died earlier this year from colon cancer at the age of 50. He and a couple of friends opened their first comic book shop back in 1969 and he was one of the organisers of the very first convention, 15 years ago. He was also into Star Wars and Star Trek.

But comic books is what this convention was about and that's big business. The penciller who showed us how to draw in a quick workshop wasn't going to let anything out of his hands, that's for sure. Next thing you know, it'd be for sale at one of the trading tables, wrapped in cellophane so it keeps its value. This wasn't pocket money territory. The 27-year-old math teacher in the Kiss t-shirt who was waiting for the train afterwards wised me up. Video games killed the comic book, he said, and the average age of comic book readers is the mid-20's.

Certainly some of the panelists had complained that their publishers ask them to write/draw for 10-year-olds when the comic book buyers are twice that age. One of them said his company has done away altogether with the various age classifications and now simply say "Not for children" on the front cover. Come to think of it, there weren't many kids at the convention and they all had 3-dimensional things like action figures in their hands, not comic books.

But I did go one place where there was a lot of teenagers. It was the viewing room for a Japanese tv cartoon series set in a high school. The main protagonists were girls and they fought a lot. The more they chased and hit and kicked each other - in a very exaggerated cartoon style - the more the audience laughed. It was like Roadrunner only with people. In the interests of understanding this phenomenon, perhaps I'd better go back to the convention tomorrow for the panels like "Can girls' comics save the comics industry?" and "What's new with Yu?", which will preview an exciting new manga from the long-awaited Yu Watase series.

And then there's "Japanese Superheroes Now! 2001", the blurb for which says: "2001 will mark a milestone in Japanese fantasy - the 100th birthday of the late special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, the man who brought Godzilla and Ultraman to life." Clearly, in the comic book world being dead is no object to having a birthday. And why not? Beethoven and Shakespeare have been getting away with it for centuries.

Lea Barker
Saturday, 21 April 2001

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