Smash Pages Q&A: Dylan Meconis, Ben Coleman and EA Denich’s ‘The Long Con’

The creators of the “comic convention gone horribly wrong” series from Oni Press discuss the series, their own convention experiences and more.

The new Oni Comics series The Long Con is set “Five Years and One Apocalypse” in the future. At the center of the quarantine zone, the Los Spinoza Event Center, where a comic con was in full swing when disaster struck. Victor Lai was a third-rate journalist before the disaster and one of the last people to leave the convention hall before the disaster. Now he’s been convinced to return and finds that everyone inside the convention hall survived – and the convention never stopped.

Meconis is well known to readers for her comics Bite Me!, Outfoxed, and the ongoing webcomic Family Man. She’s currently finishing Queen of the Sea, a middle grade graphic novel coming out next year. Coleman is a journalist and a critic at the Portland Mercury, who has also written for the great radio show Live Wire. Artist EA Denich is know by comics readers for having drawn Yes, Roya, the acclaimed and beloved erotic graphic novel written by Spike Trotman, which was published last year. She’s contributed to various anthologies and comics including Oh Joy, Sex Toy, Rick and Morty, and has a story in the upcoming Smut Peddler Presents Sex Machine anthology, whose Kickstarter recently ended. I spoke to them about the series and Oni provided a look at issue #2, which is out Sept. 5.

Where did the idea for The Long Con come from?

Dylan Meconis: I’ve been attending and exhibiting at comic and pop culture conventions since I was a teenager. As an attendee, you have a lot of freedom to follow your interests, but as a comics creator, you’re usually stuck behind a sales table. The days are very long, and you may only get away for bathroom breaks or to wolf down a room temperature sandwich under the table. This was my experience one year at the San Diego Comic-Con. The convention hall has no natural light, and that show lasts from Wednesday through Sunday, so after a few days I began to lose both my sense of time and my grip on reality. I started to wonder what would happen if the convention really did last forever, and nobody was allowed to leave. Would primitive tribes form along fandom lines? Who would be eaten first? Would the celebrities barricade themselves into the green room? It was a frighteningly easy premise to explore.

Ben Coleman: From Dylan, pretty much. She came up with the initial premise of a con that never ends (I believe during a convention that seemed like it would never end) and asked if I’d be interested in helping her develop it. Obviously, I very much was and here we are. Some of the things we had to hash out in the early stages was what sort of convention we wanted to drop an apocalypse on, what sort of apocalypse we were dropping on it, and how much time was going to have passed before our heroes rediscovered it. Those are the sort of questions that seem straightforward in retrospect, but when you’re writing any sort of speculative fiction there isn’t much of a road map to start out with.

How did you end up working together?

Meconis: I knew that this was a project that would benefit from collaboration – it’s a playful (if morbid) set-up and I wanted people I could toss the ball to. Ben and I crossed paths backstage at a theatre-in-the-park adaptation of a classic Star Trek episode, so I knew he had the right, uh, cultural education. I spotted some samples of EA’s work when a comics writer posted some preview pages from a book they were working on together, and immediately thought that, along with technical drafting skills, she was great at depicting comic timing and physical humor, which is a rare combination.

Coleman: Me and Dylan had collaborated on a few smaller projects previously to starting The Long Con, so we knew that our sense of humor was compatible and that we could work well together in a writer’s room setting. We put together a pitch and once Oni was on board we started looking for an artist who could draw huge convention scenes AND the hand stitching on a cosplay costume, which is the sort of thing that EA absolutely excels at.

EA Denich: I was approached by Ari Yarwood of Oni Press with a really great pitch by Dylan and Ben. The great premise and interesting characters had me on board right away!

Dylan, you’ve been making comics for years, but webcomics are a different beast than a monthly series like this with a different rhythm and approach to storytelling. What have been the biggest challenges and differences here?

Meconis: In many ways, it’s still episodic storytelling published at regular intervals – you focus on hitting your deadlines and writing installments that are enjoyable in and of themselves.  One of the biggest differences is getting to work with an editorial team. This story literally has a cast of thousands in a contemporary genre setting that the many readers will be able to immediately peg as inaccurate or unrepresentative. I was really excited to work with Ari Yarwood and Robin Herrera, who have spent more than their share of time on the convention floor and are invested in making stories that will connect with an increasingly diverse audience.

Ben, what has it been like for you coming at this as a journalist – besides clearly enjoying writing Victor’s editor? Have you written much fiction before?

Coleman: I’ve done a bit of everything for The Mercury (Portland’s alt weekly of record), from writing about kombucha hamburgers (they were… fine) to doing a phone interview with Bobcat Goldthwait (he was lovely). But my main job has always been reviewing movies, and while I’ll be the first to tell you that movies and comics are VERY different mediums, there are some principles of visual storytelling that do overlap. Do action scenes have clear stakes and established geography? Are characters well-motivated to be behaving the way they’re behaving? Are plot points being established in a way that feels natural? So having a what I hope is a firm grasp of those principals has been extremely helpful when it comes to sitting down and co-writing a script with Dylan.

As far as creative writing goes, I got my start writing sketch comedy for a syndicated public radio show produced in Portland called Live Wire. And let me tell you, writing sketch comedy for the radio is a real education in narrative efficiency. You’ve only got about 3 minutes to work with, the characters have to very casually describe what they’re looking at or the audience won’t know, and the producers were very fond of tacking on silly accents in the last stage of revisions. So working in a visual medium, where characters can frown and gesticulate and wear costumes has been a real pleasure.

Tell us about our two main characters, Victor and Dez. Who are they five years ago and where are they in the present?

Meconis: Pre-disaster, Dez has put her incredibly in-demand journalism degree to work as the publicity director for Total Bullshit Press, an indie comics publisher that is absolutely and in no way a spoof of Oni Press. Post-disaster, she’s a seasoned scavenger on the badlands of the convention floor, harvesting rare merch from abandoned booths and trading it in at the black market that’s taken over the cafeteria. 

Pre-disaster, Victor Lai is a third-string freelance journalist at the Grampus Intelligencer, a small alt-weekly newspaper in Southern California. He’s the guy you send to cover stuff nobody else wants to – the reptile expo or the fire at the landfill or the comic convention. But he soldiers on in the hopes that he will someday get to Do A Journalism. Post-disaster, Victor is…pretty much doing the exact same thing, only he’s covering mutant rat invasions and five hundred ways to prepare canned corn.

Coleman: Dez and Victor aren’t exactly representative of me or Dylan, despite some similarities in our professional backgrounds. They are however, absolutely people we would want to hang out with. They’re capable and compassionate and occasionally oblivious to impending peril (which makes them very fun to write).

One of my first thoughts on hearing the concept was, which guests would get eaten first? Maybe that’s just me. But who do you think would get eaten first?

Meconis: The comics guests would obviously get eaten first. The actors exercise a lot more.

Coleman: Haha nice try, but we specifically built in some narrative fail-safes to insulate us from a libel suit.

Denich: Definitely me, if I didn’t barricade myself into the nearest ninja weapon booth asap.

EA, for you what was the appeal of drawing the book? How do you feel that your art style is a good fit for the the subject and tone of the book

Denich: I really love drawing facial expressions and details, and a story like this really lets me go crazy with all of it. Dylan and Ben have written an entire world for me to play around with, and whether its crazy costume designs or a made-up anime franchise, it’s always fun.

What’s the longest convention you all have ever been to? Where do you think you’d be after spending five years at a convention?

Meconis: San Diego Comic-Con, hands down. Five days is a long, long haul. Many conventions have had such demand for tickets that they’re expanding further and further into the preceding work-week, or they’re opening the doors at 10am and not closing them until 8pm. After five years at a convention I’d either be a highly valued peace-maker or somebody would be using my skull as a goblet.

Denich: So far, just San Diego Comic-Con for four days solid! Hopefully I’d still be around bartering cold hot dogs for trading cards, or something like that.

Coleman: Psychologically speaking it was probably the one where I was helping out at a booth located directly across from a My Little Pony internet radio station… thing. No disrespect to the MLP fandom, but these guys would play this aggressively silly house music in between segments and after the 30th or 40th warbly beat drop we were all ready for the sweet release of death (or 5pm, whichever came first).

Dylan, I have to ask about your webcomic Family Man (which I love)—when will it be back, will are we going to see a print edition of volume II—and what else you’re working on?

Meconis: Family Man will absolutely be back! I miss it terribly—the print edition of volume II is virtually ready to send to press. It’s only been on pause because I’ve been drawing Queen of the Sea, a middle-grade historical fantasy graphic novel coming out from Candlewick/Walker Books next year. It’s 400 pages and it’s all in watercolor, and my drawing arm is made of cobwebs and Venetian glass, so I have to really ration out the time I spend at the drafting table. Once I turn in the art for that, though, I’ll revive the internet’s favorite 18th century academic thriller/werewolf cult relationship drama.

So how “long” is The Long Con, and anything you want to tease that readers can look forward to?

Denich: There is so much fun stuff coming up, I can’t pinpoint just one thing. But I really hope the readers will like the direction the story goes in, and I can’t wait to see their reactions to what we do with it!

Meconis: We cover the entire floor of the convention, so there’s a lot coming. I think we’re all excited for the first appearance of the Battle Foxes, a dissident faction of warrior-cosplayers. Every time EA turns in a drawing of them I just bite my knuckles.

Coleman: Pre-apocalypse, The Long Con has been operating for 50 years, following a fictional multi-generational sci fi franchise called Interstellar Skylarks. So if there’s a goofy pop culture sci fi trope from the last 50 years I’m pretty sure we hit it. From Barbarella-esqe spaceship carpeting in the ‘70s to an ‘80s cyberpunk singles bar to that thing in the early aughts where everyone dressed like The Matrix, we’ve got you covered. It’s a love letter to all the goofy stuff we grew up with, from Babylon 5 to Space: Above and Beyond. And while you don’t need to have seen anything in particular to get the jokes we’re making, if you HAVE seen Space: Above and Beyond, just know we’ve got your back.

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