Smash Pages Q&A | Paul Cornell on ‘Con & On’

The writer of Ahoy’s newest title talks about comic conventions, working with Marika Cresta and more.

Most people reading this are probably familiar with the San Diego Comic-Con, the annual gathering of Hollywood, the comics community, media of all shapes and sizes, and fans from around the world. But are you familiar with the Vista Al Mar Comics Festival, which also has taken place on the California coast for the past five decades?

If not, don’t worry — the Vista Al Mar Comics Festival is fictional, a construct of writer Paul Cornell and artist Marika Cresta for their new miniseries from Ahoy Comics, Con & On. The first issue arrives in stores this week.

The comic is set in five different years in the life of the Festival—one year per issue, spanning three decades—from the points of view of “a diverse bunch of desperate people whose lives revolve around this greatest show on Earth.” The comic will track the lives of two young comics talents trying to break into the business; three “brilliant, boozy and bombastic” British creators; as well as crusty editors, forgotten TV stars and fans who “make the convention experience something to revisit year after year.” 

Cornell was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his work on the title, as well as share some convention memories. My thanks for his time.

I think a natural place to start here would be to ask you about conventions — do you have a favorite convention memory that you could share?

I think it’s when I worked for Stan Lee on his line for BOOM! Studios. He was late to the launch panel because, it turned out, he’d just had emergency dental surgery! But then this 80-plus-year-old man marches in at the back of the hall, immediately commands the audience, gives all of our books an amazing off the cuff blurb. Then, backstage, he’s all business, all focus, you’ve got to do this, this and this. He was everything I’d heard about, and he remains my hero.

Conversely, do you have any con horror stories you might have tapped into while writing Con & On?

Absolutely! But let’s not attach name tags to those. I think there’s a point in the afternoons of the big cons where everyone has low blood sugar, and religious protestors are shouting outside and there’s the smell of humans coming out of the con center aircons where this can all feel like hell on earth. But it’s heaven again by dusk.

You’ve had success in several areas, including comics, television and prose writing. What made this particular project a natural for comics? Does it feel “meta” at all writing a comic about a comic convention? (And then very likely signing and selling the comic at a convention?)

It feels wonderfully meta! And that’s absolutely why it should be a comic. A movie would need an immense budget to convey the hugeness for what’s actually a number of deeply personal stories told across decades. (Maybe Robert Altman could have made it work.)

I would think part of the fun in creating a comic like this, which takes place across several decades, is revisiting whatever fashion, trends or fandoms were popular at the time. What kind of research did you do to prepare for that, and are there any fun bits you can share that made it into the story?

I researched what happened at real world conventions in all the years we cover. You really could just walk in, with about half an hour wait on the door, to the biggest conventions in the early 90s. And there’s a very early sighting of what a 1970s San Diego con was like in an old issue of Iron Man: a short line at a wooden table for Ray Bradbury and Jack Kirby!

Marika Cresta has been doing a lot of impressive work lately, from Forgotten Home to Captain Carter and Doctor Aphra. How did the two of you come to work together on this, and what’s the collaboration experience been like?

AHOY asked me what I thought of her, and I’d loved a lot of those titles, so I was an immediate yes. She did immediately perfect character designs, her acting’s great and she can really convey what it’s like to be in an hours-long line for a big TV panel.

What else have you been working on lately?

I’ve got a couple of stories in a forthcoming AHOY anthology called Project: Cryptid, funny strips about weird beasts. I picked the Mongolian Death Worm, of course!

Con & On #1 will be available in comic shops this week.

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