[This is the last installment of my field report on my expedition through darkest Comic-Con with gun and camera. Special thanks to those who have managed to remain awake.]
It seems that every year, Comic-Con gets larger and louder.
As Nell Minow observed, Comic-Con has evolved into "the Iowa caucuses of popular culture," the trial balloon for movies, television series, books, computer games and music in addition to comics. Film studios now erect statues of cyborgs, rocket ships and cartoon characters that tower over the exhibition hall. Rival fusillades of Dolby sound thunder back and forth across the convention center, each heralding the birth of the next great superhero legend.
It's not surprising that so much of Comic-Con centers around themes of extraordinary power. Power has been the focus of myth and legend since ancient times (Simone Weil famously noted that, "The true hero, the true subject matter, the center of the Iliad is force.")
I was among those who went to Comic-Con to enjoy its power, but not in the sense of high decibel levels or great speed. I am not one of those who is easily awed by armies of trolls or muscle bound super heroes.
If you want to see my concept of strength, take a look at these tiny pencil drawings by Noel Sickles which I discovered in the back of the Comic-Con booth of our old friends at Illustration House.
These are modest spot illustrations from a long-forgotten 1960s article about Russian spies. To me, they are smart, powerful and utterly persuasive.
I saw a lot of meticulous art at Comic-Con depicting shoe laces, fingernails and strands of hair in sharp detail. But ultimately I agree with Balzac: “Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true.” For me, these drawings strike true.
Note how the only part of this hotel bar scene in sharp focus is the hand holding the drink.
The remainder of the drawing, including the drinker's other hand, merges into abstraction. Sickles had clear priorities in his drawings and made no secret of them.
And while we're on the subject of hands, note in this next detail how Sickles conveys these hands tearing up documents:
Sickles has already proven that he knows how to draw hands accurately, but here he has employed stark orthogonal lines to show the tension of opposable thumbs at work.
Or in this next detail, note how even at this miniature size, Sickles' sparse line conveys an understanding of the folds in that jacket sleeve.
Amidst all of the booming sound effects and flashing lights of Comic-Con, there is also a lot of power in the more meaningful sense of "striking true." That's why I go back.