Con-fusion: What’s in a Name — or a Hyphen?

San Diego Comic-Con Challenges Salt Lake Comic Con’s Right to “Comic Con”

It’s a common occurrence: I tell a friend I’m going to San Diego Comic-Con and receive the reply, “Oh, yeah. I went to the one in Philly.” Or New York, or Chicago, or Cleveland or any of dozens of other cities. It’s awkward explaining that yes, you went to a comic con, but not what is generally considered the comic con: Comic-Con International: San Diego, otherwise known as San Diego Comic-Con or simply SDCC.

The organization that runs the annual convention in San Diego for fans of comic books, movies, TV, and all things pop culture has taken legal action to clarify the confusion, at least in regard to one fan convention. A lawyer representing Comic-Con International: San Diego has sent a cease-and-desist letter to organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con over their use of “Comic Con” in the name of the Utah convention, according to an Associated Press report. The issue may ultimately hinge on the difference — if any — between “comic-con” and “comic con.” (More on that pesky hyphen shortly.)

The Utah event, reported to be the third-largest comic con in the U.S. with an attendance of 72,000 people last year, is one of dozens of similar — and similarly named — activities around the globe run by different organizations. The ReedPop division of multinational publisher Reed Elsevier hosts New York Comic Con, an event that last year boasted attendance numbers on par with San Diego Comic-Con. Wizard World Inc. puts on two dozen Wizard World Comic Cons in cities around the U.S.  Smaller, regionally-focused comic cons are available in many other cities and towns.

Given the broad adoption of the term “comic con,” why would the organizers of San Diego Comic-Con go after Salt Lake Comic Con rather than the larger and longer-running New York Comic Con or the rapidly expanding Wizard World cons?

The immediate trigger of the legal move was a marketing ploy by the Salt Lake event at San Diego Comic-Con which included driving a car through downtown San Diego advertising the name and dates of the Utah fan fest.

Comic Con International may also believe it will be easier to prevail against Salt Lake Comic Con as a first step in tightening control of its brand image. According to the event’s website, Salt Lake Comic Con is a Dan Farr Production, produced in partnership with MediaOne of Utah — perhaps a less daunting opponent than Reed Elsevier or Wizard World.

In the AP report Bryan Brandenburg, a co-founder of the Salt Lake City event, asserts that San Diego Comic-Con “tried and failed to trademark ‘Comic Con’ in 1995.”

San Diego Comic Convention does, however, hold trademark Registration Number 3219568 for “COMIC-CON” (spelled with a hyphen) covering “Education and entertainment services, namely, organizing and conducting conventions in the fields of animation, comic books and popular art.” San Diego Comic Convention holds other trademarks related to the event, including SDCC and PREVIEW NIGHT, along with a number of trademarks for events that don’t currently exist under the names listed, including ANAHEIM COMIC-CON, SAN FRANCISCO COMIC-CON, and LOS ANGELES COMIC-CON. Even though Comic-Con International also runs WonderCon, an event nearly identical to their San Diego Comic-Con in all aspects other than its size, they don’t use the ‘Comic-Con’ name for that event.

Most of the non-San Diego fan conventions eschew using the hyphen in their names, opting — perhaps for legal reasons — to use “comic con” (with a space between the two words) or variant spellings such as comiccon or comicon. Ironically, among the trademarks held by San Diego Comic Convention are “COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL” and “SAN DIEGO COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL,” both without the hyphen.

Does a trademark on “COMIC-CON” cover “COMIC CON” — and perhaps COMICCON and COMICON as well? If the issue is eventually settled by the courts, it will be interesting to see how the law views the presence or absence of the hyphen in identically-sounding terms.

Update: 2014 Aug 8:

The dispute has now moved to the courts. Comic-Con International has filed a lawsuit against the organizers of Salt Lake Comic Con in the U.S. District Court in Southern California over the use of the name “Comic Con,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune.


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Wizard World Philadelphia: Bigger Than Ever

Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014

Recap and Photo Highlights from Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014

While the previous weekend was filled with two pop culture festivals focused squarely on comic books — New York Comic Fest and Special Edition: NYC — this past weekend Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con brought a broader spectrum of popular culture activities to the mid-Atlantic region. With an approach modeled after the large U.S. comic cons such as Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con and ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, the Wizard World event offered something for fans of everything from comic books to television shows, movies, video games, and more.

It also provided evidence that the current mania over all things pop culture shows no signs of slowing.

The general attendance line waiting to enter Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con

Fans lined up waiting for the show to open Friday morning.

The 14th annual Philadelphia Wizard World occupied twice the floor space of last year’s event, according to Wizard World Public Relations Manager Jerry Milani. Stepping into the main exhibit hall, the increase in scale was apparent, with vendor booths, artists’ tables, and autograph signing stations extending far across the Convention Center’s Halls A through D. In addition to the “VIP” lines for those who paid extra for early access to the show, the general audience line filled a large swath of the Convention Center’s cavernous Hall F.

Wizard Wold CEO John Macaluso

Wizard World CEO John Macaluso.

Of the 16 comic cons run by Wizard World, Philadelphia is now second only to the company’s Chicago show. This year’s Philly event was bigger than last year’s Wizard World Chicago, although Milani expects the upcoming 2014 Chicago event to leapfrog over Philadelphia.

Not only was the exhibition hall larger than last year, it was also more focused on matters of popular culture. There was little evidence of the type of vendors unrelated to fan culture that were scattered across the floor last year. (See: “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?“). Symantec made a return visit, again with a popular media tie-in (this year the X-Men in contrast to last year’s affiliation with Superman). And there were booths promoting conventional media, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, The City Paper, and the local Channel 6 ABC TV affiliate. In general, however, the vendor exhibits were largely aligned with the interests of pop culture fandom.

The show’s programming was also expanded from last year with 120 panels, presentations, film screenings, and fan events over the comic con’s four days. Saturday’s most popular panel sessions were held in the Convention Center’s Grand Ballroom, with a capacity of 3,000. The more popular panels, such as “Inside Firefly” with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk — drew a strong crowd, yet seats were still available throughout the day — no camping out required (as with San Diego Comic Con’s infamous Hall H). While many of the panels featured television celebrities, a series of talks moderated by Danny Fingeroth and others provided coverage of comic book topics as well.

Photo Galleries from Panels and Presentations

Panels at Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014 included the following. [Click the thumbnail images to view photo galleries]

'Inside Firefly' with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk

Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk.

Inside Firefly” with Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk answering fan questions and performing their usual high jinks, along with the intrusion of a strange visitor on the stage.

Eliza Dushku

Eliza Dushku.

A conversation with Eliza Dushku, who arrived on stage with her pet dog Max Factor.

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg.

A conversation with Whoopi Goldberg.

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan

Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan.

Marvel’s Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, and Karen Gillan.

Three of the stars of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, and Karen Gillan.

Cast members from 'The Walking Dead'

Scott Wilson, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Jon Bernthal.

Former cast members from The Walking Dead: Scott Wilson, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Jon Bernthal.

David Boreanaz

David Boreanaz.

A conversation with David Boreanaz.

Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi

Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi.

A reunion with Revenge of the Nerds actors Curtis Armstrong and Brian Tochi.

Troma Entertainment and AMC TV's Comic Book Men

Lloyd Kaufman, Men Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic.

Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman with AMC TV’s Comic Book Men Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic.

Eddie McClintock

Eddie McClintock.

A conversation with Eddie McClintock.

Peter Sanderson and  Danny Fingeroth

Peter Sanderson and Danny Fingeroth.

Comic book historians Peter Sanderson and Danny Fingeroth on the history of Marvel in “Marvel Comics at 75.”

The Science Channel's 'Oddities'

The Science Channel’s ‘Oddities’.

Science Channel’s Oddities.

Bryan Tillman

Bryan Tillman.

Bryan Tillman discussing “Creative Character Design.”


Elsewhere at the Con: Comics Creators and Cosplayers

Outside the panel rooms, the show floor offered more than vendors selling comics, posters, and pop culture trinkets.

Comic Book Creators

Comic book creators and industry professionals.

Despite the general emphasis on television and movie properties, Artist Alley hosted a number of comic book creators, including artist Greg Capullo, writer Marv Wolfman, and artist J. G. Jones.


Costumed fans.

And, throughout all four days of the con, costumed cosplayers roamed the halls and posed for photos.


At some point, the current pop culture craze will hit saturation and the growth of fan conventions will slow or begin to decline. The current trend, however, is still markedly upward. Wizard World alone increased their footprint in the U.S. by expanding from eight shows last year to 16 this year with more to be announced, according to Wizard World’s Milani. At least in the short run, it seems the sky is the limit for pop culture fandom.

For a gallery of over 350 photos from three days of the comic con, see the Flickr photo album: Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014.

Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014 Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014 Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014 Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014 Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con 2014
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Special Edition NYC Focuses on Comics

Special Edition: NYC in Javits North

ReedPop Provides a Summer Prologue to Fall’s New York Comic Con

Competing for the attention of comic book fans in the New York area this past weekend were three pop culture events. In addition to New York Comic Fest in White Plains and Eternal Con in Garden City, ReedPop, a unit of Reed Elsevier’s Reed Exhibitions, expanded their portfolio of popular culture shows with the inaugural Special Edition: NYC.

In contrast to the New York Comic Con ReedPop hosts each fall — which includes the full range of pop culture topics including movies and television programs — Special Edition: NYC is focused on comic books. ”New York Comic Con has grown to include so much more than comic books,” Lance Fensterman, ReedPOP’s Global Senior Vice President stated in a press release. “Special Edition: NYC will give comic book fans an intimate destination to meet with publishers and special guests.”

And, compared to the New York Comic Con, it was intimate, indeed.

A study in contrasts: The corridors of the Javits Center during Special Edition: NYC (left) and New York Comic Con (right).

While New York Comic Con takes over the entire Javits Convention Center and attracts a reported 130,000 attendees, Special Edition: NYC was chiefly housed in Javits North, the space that holds Artist Alley in the larger fall event. Special Edition: NYC also offered two tracks of panels which, for some reason, were held at the farthest southern section of the convention center. Some panels were forced to begin late to allow presenters time to make the long trek from the show floor to the panel room.

Heading out of the bustling Javits North to pass through the vacant corridors of the Javits Center toward the panel rooms was an eerie experience, particularly in contrast to crammed chaos of New York Comic Con.

Because I went to New York Comic Fest on Saturday, I was only able to attend the second of the two days of Special Edition: NYC. That day’s panel sessions included:

The Valiant Comics panel.

The Valiant Comics panel with Dinesh Shamdasani, Warren Simons, Josh Johns, Joe Harris, Robert Gill, and Alejandro Arbona, moderated by Hunter Gorinson.


The “DC Comics: Batman 75th Anniversary” panel.

“DC Comics: Batman 75th Anniversary” with Gail Simone, James Tynion IV, Greg Pak, and Francis Manapul, and moderated by John Cunningham.


The stars of the show: comic book writers and artists.

A moderate amount of cosplay was in evidence, although nothing approaching the costumed mania of the larger shows or the well-established regional comic cons. The centerpiece of the event was the array of comic book writers and artists on the show floor, including Howard Chaykin, Francesco Francavilla, Chris Claremont, Gail SimoneKurt Busiek, Greg Pak, Sara Pichelli, and many others.

By all accounts, Sunday was the slower of the two days of the event. Vendors I spoke with gave varying accounts of how they fared at the show. Sales were “fair to middling” as reported by one merchant and “good” according to another. One vendor characterized the crowd as “slow but steady” throughout the two days. Another described the show as “a one-day event stretched into two days.”

While one could view some of these comments as signs we are reaching the saturation point of pop culture mania, these events show no signs of slowing down. Indeed, ReedPop recently announced plans to expand this fall’s New York Comic Con into a weeklong pop culture celebration dubbed New York Super Week. In collaboration with bars, restaurants and retailers throughout the city, the celebration will include concerts, comedy shows, gaming events, lectures, and food tastings during the week of October 3-12, 2014 — and, presumably, around 130,000 people flooding into the Javits Center for the four days of New York Comic Con.

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New York Comic Fest 2014: Recap and Photo Highlights

New York Comic Fest 2014

The Team Behind Asbury Park Comic Con Expands Northward

It was an overabundance of options for pop culture aficionados in the greater New York City region this past weekend, with three shows competing for attention: New York Comics Fest in White Plains, Special Edition: NYC in New York City, and Eternal Con in Garden City.

Two of the three — New York Comics Fest and Special Edition: NYC — were geared specifically toward comic books, eschewing the wider fringes of pop culture fandom. It was also the inaugural year for both of these events. New York Comic Fest was mounted by Cliff Galbraith and Robert Bruce, the team that produces Asbury Park Comic Con (or, as typically published, “Comicon”).


Comic book artists, writers, editors.

Despite the competition, New York Comic Fest assembled an impressive line-up of comic book creators. Featured guests included Scott Snyder, Jim Steranko, Mark WaidPaul Levitz, Denny O’Neil and Bill Sienkiewicz.


Panel Sessions

New York Comic Fest offered two simultaneous sets of panels throughout the single day of con. Sessions included:

The “Gender in Comics” panel.

The “Gender in Comics” panel with Ann Nocenti, Forrest Helvie, and Shawn Martinbrough, moderated by Christy Blanch.


The “Archie Comics: Riverdale Lives” panel.

The “Archie Comics: Riverdale Lives” panel.


The “Batman at 75: Then and Now” panel.

The “Batman at 75: Then and Now” panel with Paul Levitz, Scott Snyder, and Dennis O’Neil, moderated by Dan Greenfield.


The “Marvel Days” panel.

The “Marvel Days” panel with Ann Nocenti, Peter B. Gillis, Rick Parker, and Jim Salicrup.


The “Writing Comics” panel.

The “Writing Comics” panel with Dan Goldman, Dean Haspiel, Justin Gray, and Fred Van Lente, moderated by Hannah Means-Shannon.


The “Animation All-Stars” panel.

The “Animation All-Stars” panel with J. J. Sedelmaier and Bob Camp, moderated by Craig Yoe.


Jim Steranko and Paul Levitz on the work of Wally Wood.

The “Tribute to Wally Wood” panel with Jim Steranko and Paul Levitz, moderated by J. David Spurlock.


Although seats were readily available for the panels in the morning or those focused on niche topics, other sessions, such as “Batman at 75,” played to a full house.

Many of the comic book creators were available throughout the day to sign their works. The line to get Scott Snyder’s signature extended far across the hall. Jim Sternanko also had a long line of fans seeking an autograph from the innovative artist. And Denny O’Neil had a crowd waiting for an autograph from the famed Silver Age writer and editor.

Cosplay contest.

The event’s closing activity was a costumed cosplay contest. In contrast to the crowded event at the recent Asbury Park Comic Con, the White Plains version was relatively subdued, perhaps due to the newness of the event in the area or the competition from the other pop culture cons in the area.


Show producers Gilbreath and Bruce plan to expand their comic book related events for the coming year. They announced plans to expand Asbury Park Comic into East Coast Comic Con (or Comicon), to be held at New Jersey’s Meadowlands Expo Center in April, 2015. The move was driven by the desire to expand past 10,000 attendees, according to Bruce. Rather than subsuming the other comic cons produced by the team, Galbraith and Bruce stated they plan to return for a second New York Comic Fest and offer new Asbury Park cons in the future.

For a tour of New York Comic Fest 2014 in 170 photos, see the Flickr photo album: New York Comic Fest 2014.

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Comic-Con Incognito

Comic-Con Crowds

That Costumed Character Next to You May Be Your Favorite Celebrity

In addition to panel sessions, pop culture tchotchkes, and attendees parading around in costumes, Comic Cons also provide the opportunity to see celebrities. Movie and television studios bring major stars to events like Comic-Con International San Diego for appearances at stage presentations and panel sessions.


Gillian Anderson and Chris Carter head to the IDW booth for a fan signing at San Diego Comic-Con 2013.

Given the free-wheeling nature of San Diego Comic-Con, celebrities also often mingle less formally with fans. There’s a good chance you’ll run into a movie or TV star in the corridors of the convention center, on the show floor, or in a hotel lobby.

You might get a wave from comic book impresario Stan Lee as he heads to his next appointment; or run into comedian, actor, and über-nerd Chris Hardwick on the show floor; or catch a glimpse of actor Gillian Anderson and X-Files creator Chris Carter as they head to their next autograph signing.

When celebrities want to surprise fans or peruse the show floor unimpeded, however, they sometimes follow the lead of many of the show’s attendees and don costumes.

When Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki in Marvel’s Thor and Avengers films, wanted to make a surprise appearance at Comic-Con International San Diego 2013, he knew word would quickly spread if he were spotted traveling to San Diego. “The hardest thing in our world now is to keep something so secret that it’s actually a surprise,” Hiddleston told the Los Angeles Times.

His solution: travel in costume. “I flew in to San Diego from London as Jango Fett from the ‘Star Wars’ films because I knew that if I was seen in San Diego there would be a picture on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, ‘I’ve just seen Thomas in the San Diego airport, I’ve just seen him in the hotel. He’s obviously here for “Thor 2.”‘”

Other celebrities use disguises to roam around the convention like regular attendees.

At the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con actor Jack Black was spotted walking around sporting a lucha libre wrestling mask.

Underneath a large Bart Simpson mask was Dr .Who star Matt Smith.

Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston strolled around San Diego Comic-Con that year disguised as… himself. Cranston wore a realistic mask of Walter White, the character he plays on Breaking Bad and revealed his true identify on the panel stage.

Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage turns his costumed adventures into a scavenger hunt for fans. Once disguised, he tweets hints about his costume and his whereabouts using the #AdamIncognito hashtag, awarding a prize to the first fan to discover his identity. His costumes in recent years have included a Ringwraith from The Lord of the Rings, the Rocketeer, No-Face from Spirited Away, and Star Wars characters Admiral Ackbar and Chewbacca.

In 2013 he also joined dozens of other fans who were disguised as Adam Savage himself.

So, as you’re jostling through the crowd on the show floor at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, be gracious to the next costumed character you run into. It just might be your favorite celebrity. Better yet — treat everyone as if they were a celebrity. At Comic-Con, they’re the real stars of the show.


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The Maltese Falcon: The Scene of the Crime


Bush St. and Stockton St.

Bush St. and Stockton St.

Archer rolls down the dirt hill.

Archer rolls down the dirt hill.

The Maltese Falcon begins with the murder of Sam Spade’s partner Miles Archer, a crime that takes place in a fog-shrouded San Francisco alley. As portrayed in John Houston’s 1941 film, however, the location of the murder seems rather puzzling.

After an establishing shot of a street sign — the intersection of Bush St. and Stockton St. — we see Archer’s feet walking along a dirt path. He turns to face the person he is meeting. A pistol enters the frame and fires at close range. Archer falls backward, breaks the wooden fence behind him and falls to the bottom of an earthen embankment.

Were it not for the street sign, the dirt path and bare hillside would suggest a lonely country road. When Archer’s partner Sam Spade arrives, however, we see the location from the reverse angle, with people peering out of apartment windows opposite the railing through which Archer fell. On the far side of the ditch is an urban cityscape. Where is this place?

The reverse shot shows the urban setting of the location.

The reverse shot shows the urban setting of the location.

Behind Spade and Polhaus, the ditch and the city skyline.

Behind Spade and Polhaus, the ditch and the city skyline.

The Dashiell Hammett novel on which the film is based is quite specific about the location. And, although the film was shot on a soundstage, the movie seeks to accurately recreate the locale.

Where Bush roofs Stockton.

Where Bush roofs Stockton.

“Where Bush Street roofed Stockton before slipping downhill to Chinatown, Spade paid his fare and left the taxicab,” Hammett wrote in the 1930 novel.

Spade exits his cab on Bush Street above the Stockton tunnel.

The iron-railed stairs that lead down to Stockton St.

The iron-railed stairs that lead down to Stockton St.

“Spade crossed the sidewalk between iron-railed hatchways that opened above ugly stairs…”

The ugly stairs leading from Bush Street down to Stockton still remain.

The McAlpin apartments on the west side of Stockton St.

The McAlpin apartments on the west side of Stockton St.

“Spade … went to the parapet, and, resting his hands on the damp coping…”

A car exits the Stockton tunnel.

A car exits the Stockton tunnel.

“… looked down into Stockton Street. An automobile popped out of the tunnel beneath him with a roaring swish, as if it had been blown out, and ran away.”

Burritt Street.

Burritt Street.

“Spade turned from the parapet and walked up Bush Street to the alley where men were grouped. A uniformed policeman chewing gum under an enameled sign that said Burritt St. … put out an arm and asked:

‘What do you want here?’

‘I’m Sam Spade. Tom Polhaus phoned me.’

‘Sure you are.’ The policeman’s arm went down. ‘I didn’t know you at first. Well, they’re back there.’ He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. ‘Bad business.’

‘Bad enough,’ Spade agreed, and went up the alley.”

Looking south down Burritt St.

Looking south down Burritt St.

“Half-way up it, not far from the entrance a dark ambulance stood.”

This is the alley where Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, was shot down. The expanding urban environment has altered the location since 1928 when The Maltese Falcon takes place. The McAlpin apartments on the west side of Stockton Street and the east side of the alley didn’t then extend as far north as they do today. In their place was an embankment that led down from Burritt Street to billboards that lined the entrance to the Stockton tunnel.

This was the dirt hillside where Archer’s body fell that fateful night. Although the northern extension of the McAlpin apartments has replaced the rustic hillside, little else has changed in over eight decades. You can still follow in the footsteps of Samuel Spade to the scene of the crime that enmeshed him in the search for the killer and began the quest for the jewel-encrusted statue of a falcon.

The 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon plays at the County Theater in Doylestown, PA, on June 11; the Ambler Theater in Ambler, PA on June 12; and the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown, PA, on June 19:

Images from The Maltese Falcon are from a copyrighted film, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the film’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

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Seeing the World Differently

'Optical Investigations' by Madeline Rile Smith

Art Exhibitions by Madeline Rile Smith and Morgan Gilbreath

If one of the aims of art is to allow us to see our world differently, two recent exhibitions at Impact Hub Philadelphia — Madeline Rile Smith’s Chromesthesia and Morgan Gilbreath’s Consecration – achieve that goal. Both artists are completing their Bachelor of Fine Arts at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and their exhibitions, in different ways, let us view our environment from new perspectives.


In Impact Hub’s first floor gallery, glass artist Madeline Rile Smith displayed her works “Optical Investigations” and “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra.”

Optical Investigations” consists of a series of bulbous, fruit-like glass shapes that function as lenses to refract and distort the viewer’s perspective. In her exhibition statement, Rile Smith describes her fascination with “the optical potential of hollow glass” and her desire “to test the optical limits of borosilicate glass by creating ‘altered’ lenses made by shaping the surface of the glass.”

'Romanze for Viola and Orchestra' by Madeline Rile Smith

Detail from “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” by Madeline Rile Smith.

While “Optical Investigations” alters the visible world, “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” makes manifest an unseen world. A person with sound-color synesthesia, or chromesthesia, sees music as swirls of color. Rile Smith’s “Romanze for Viola and Orchestra” freezes in glass her aural experience of hearing Max Bruch’s concert piece of the same name. The series of spindly glass shapes hanging from the ceiling captures the physical form of her auditory experience. “‘Romanze for Viola and Orchestra’ is my attempt to illustrate the experience of remembering a piece of music,” Rile Smith writes. “The first few notes of the viola solo are depicted here in glass forms, floating through space.”

To complement the glass construction, the exhibit included a banner with the musical score of the work, enhanced by splashes of color. To complete the scene, musician Caeli Smith performed on the violin, playing unaccompanied Bach along with a brief rendition of the solo from the Bruch Romanze transcribed for the violin. As her notes filled the air on one side of gallery, across the room Rile Smith’s sculpture solidified the melody in glass.


'Amass' by Morgan Gilbreath

“Amass” by Morgan Gilbreath.

In the second floor gallery, Morgan Gilbreath’s Consecration provided a perspective on a different aspect of our environment — the life of the street. Gilbreath’s pieces are constructed from the detritus of the urban environment: old sales receipts, fragments of shattered glass, and paper dust from a Bible factory. Her works reshape these discarded items into objects with devotional overtones.

Amass” is a tower of stacked cash register receipts standing roughly seven feet tall. The height of the work communicates the volume of discarded paper from these found and collected receipts. The work’s shape — with the receipts arrayed in order from longest at the base to shortest at the top — graphs the distribution of the length of modern register receipts (which seem to be getting ridiculously long lately). “I didn’t want to plan or control the form of the sculpture too much,” Gilbreath explained in an email,  ”so I decided to let the receipts I received dictate the form that was created.” Assembled together, the discarded pieces form an impressive totemic tower. The work’s title, “Amass,” cleverly echoes both the scale of the work and its spiritual thrust.

Auras (No. 1-15)” are comprised of cleaned and fused collections of glass shards found on the street. Each of the fifteen pieces documents their location on the Philadelphia streets — Tenth and Norris, Tenth and Diamond, etc. Here, the works made from these fragments of refuse appear as jeweled amulets or crystalline geodes.

Corner by Morgan Gilbreath

“Corner” by Morgan Gilbreath.

Corner” consists of a pile of paper dust collected from the ventilation system of a Bible factory. It’s industrial trash, the side effect of manufacturing sacred texts. Yet, the pile of pure white paper fibers asks us to consider whether the spirituality of the Bible lies in its words or in its physical presence.

Prayer Crate” similarly presents the sacred in the form of the mundane. The work casts liturgical candles into the utilitarian shape of a milk crate, an object frequently seen discarded in trash piles around Philadelphia — or repurposed as book shelves by students and others.

'Auras' by Morgan Gilbreath

Detail from “Auras (No. 1-15)” by Morgan Gilbreath.

Gilbreath’s works do more than merely convert trash into aesthetic objects. She finds something spiritual in these assemblages of discarded materials. “There are great similarities between the moment that an everyday object becomes sacred or holy and the moment something becomes art,” she writes. “A priest’s actions turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. An artist’s gestures and intentions can transfigure anything into a work of art.”

In The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, philosopher and historian of religions Mircea Eliade describes “the abyss that divides the two modalities of experience — the sacred and the profane.” Through her art, Gilbreath seeks to construct a bridge across that abyss.

For photo albums of both exhibitions, see:


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Toynbee Tiles: Recent Developments and Mysteries Anew

Steve Weinik and Colin Smith discuss the Toynbee Tiles

Yesterday evening some of the mysteries surrounding the Toynbee tiles, the cryptic messages embedded in roadways of cities around the U.S. and elsewhere, were illuminated at the Whitman Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Toynbee tile investigators Colin Smith and Steve Weinik, along with surprise guest Justin Duerr, provided an overview of the history of the mysterious tiles and an update on recent developments.

The tiles in question are linoleum rectangles that began appearing in the early 1980s  inlaid in the asphalt surface of the roadways in more than a dozen U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., and three cities in South America. Most of the tiles contain some variation of the message:

Toynbee Tile.

A distorted Toynbee tile with additional “side text” below.


Although many of the tiles are roughly the size of an automobile license plate, they have also been found in other formats, from narrow strips about an inch tall to large configurations of multiple tiles. The main message is sometimes accompanied by additional side text containing tirades against various organizations (particularly the media and the “feds”) or mandates to create more tiles.

The tiles’ creator and their ultimate meaning are largely unknown, although Smith, Weinik, and Duerr believe they have identified the person behind the majority of the tiles. The trio’s search for the tiler and their quest to decipher his message is documented in the 2011 film, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, directed by Jon Foy. (For my 2011 review of the film, see On Technology and Media,Uncovering What Lies Beneath.” For my interview with director Foy, see Knowledge@Wharton, “Building a Mystery: The Toynbee Tiles and Jon Foy’s Filmmaking Quest.”)

The crowd at the library consisted largely of tile enthusiasts. When asked who had seen the film, a large portion of the audience raised their hand.

Steve Weinik and Colin Smith. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse

Steve Weinik displays the tar paper cover removed from a freshly laid Toynbee tile.

Smith and Weinik explored a number of topics introduced in the documentary and provided updates and insights that have occurred subsequently.

Much of their talk covered the history of the tiles, highlighting the stylistic changes that have occurred in the tiles over the decades.

To help illustrate how the tiles are made, Weinik displayed the tar paper covering he removed from a freshly-laid tile.

Also on display were the two copies of Arnold Toynbee’s book, Experiences, in the collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia. The original tiler is believed to have read about Toynbee’s idea — that a living creature, after death, can come back to life through scientific means — in a Philadelphia Library book. He likely encountered the concept in one of the two books on display that evening.

Steve Weinik announced the launch of a new website,, containing an interactive map that displays the locations of known tiles around the U.S. and South America.

Colin Smith. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse.

Colin Smith points out a detail on a Toynbee tile.

Weinik and Smith also discussed what Smith described as “a crazy new development.” Tiles, which Weinik and Smith believe are the work of the original tiler, have recently appeared in southern New Jersey and contain messages very different from the classic “Toynbee idea” text. A recent tile in Margate, New Jersey, for example, contains a tirade about a representative from the region’s “Meals on Wheels” program. Although the tone echoes the type of sentiments on some of the side texts of earlier tiles, unlike the grand notion about the resurrection of dead molecules in outer space, this message is, as Weinik characterized it, “hyper local.”

Midway through their presentation, Weinik and Smith were joined by longtime Toynbee tile aficionado Justin Duerr, whose search for the identity of the tiler is the central theme of Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Duerr provided new information about one of the most active groups paying homage to the original Toynbee tiler by placing similar tiles in many U.S. cities. Known as the House of Hades, the person or group behind these so-called “copycat” tiles had long remained anonymous. Duerr, however, told the audience he recently encountered the House of Hades tiler.

Duerr was performing with his band at a small venue in what he terms “a desolate area” of Buffalo, New York. There were “about nine people at this show” he said.

Justin Duerr. Photo by Kendall Whitehouse

Justin Duerr describes his recent encounter with the House of Hades tiler.

Knowing that many of the early House of Hades tiles appeared in Buffalo, “just as a lark” near the end of the band’s set Duerr asked the audience, “Hey, anyone here from House of Hades?” A person wearing a white ski mask raised his hand. Duerr later spoke with the man, who continued to wear the ski mask throughout their conversation, for a couple of hours about his adventures laying the tiles in various cities. “He had all kinds of stories. Some of them I’m not at liberty to tell,” Duerr reported. “It was pretty cool.” Duerr doesn’t like the common characterization of the House of Hades tiles as “copycat” tiles. “Those things are totally real. They’re their own thing, just using the [same] technique” as the earlier tiles.

As for the work of the original tiler, after a two-year period with no known activity, new tiles believed to be his work have recently appeared. “It’s pretty exciting” Weinik said. In addition to the new tiles in New Jersey, “For the first time in over ten years there are new tiles in Baltimore; Wilmington, Delaware; and New York City” as well as along the I-95 interstate highway.

After more than three decades, the mystery of the tiles continues.

For the full photo album from the event at the Whitman Branch of the Free Library, see: Toynbee Tiles History Discussion. For more photos of the tiles, see: Toynbee Tiles.


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Asbury Park Comic Con 2014: Something Old, Something New, Something for Everyone

Asbury Park Comic Con 2014

New Jersey Pop Culture Event Expands to Two Days

This past weekend, Asbury Park Comic Con (or, as it is often published, “Comicon”), returned to the New Jersey shore in a new venue with expanded offerings.

The event, hosted by comic book creator Cliff Galbraith and comics collector, dealer, and appraiser Robert Bruce, was first held in 2012 in a former bowling alley with 32 vendor tables. The second show expanded to 48 tables. Last year’s event, held in Asbury Park’s Convention Hall, featured 170 exhibitors and eight panel sessions. This year, the event expanded to two days, featured 11 panel sessions, and moved across the street to occupy two floors of the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel.

The ticket sales and badge pickup booth was briefly swamped on the show’s first day, Saturday, April 12. An hour after the show opened, the line wrapped around the corner and extended far down the block. As the line grew, event co-founder Galbraith jumped in to pick up the pace of ticket sales.

Once inside the Berkeley Oceanfront, fans could browse vendor tables, hear speakers at panel sessions, and view — or participate in — a cosplay contest.

Bob Camp and Craig Yoe.

Bob Camp (right) with Craig Yoe (left).

A number of this year’s panelists were returning speakers from last year’s event. Animation artist Bob Camp again spoke about this work on Ren and Stimpy with author and artist Craig Yoe. Also returning were members of the “Red Bank Mafia” including actor/producer Brian O’Halloran, who portrayed Dante Hicks in Kevin Smith’s Clerks films, and the stars of AMC TV’s Comic Book Men: Brian O’Halloran, Bryan Johnson, Mike Zapcic, and Ming Chen.

Chris Claremont

“Uncanny X-Men” author Chris Claremont.

The most crowded panel session was the talk by comic book writer Chris Claremont, best known for his work on Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men. Claremont spoke to a standing-room crowd and saw a continuous line of fans looking to have works signed at his booth.

AMC TV's Comic Book Men

The “Red Bank Mafia.”


The “Comic Book Men and the Red Bank Mafia” panel also filled the room, despite the unenviable session time of 10:30 Sunday morning. The 90-minute panel was filled with the type of jokes and banter that have made AMC TV’s Comic Book Men a fan favorite.

Jim Steranko

Jim Steranko.

Artist Jim Steranko also drew a large crowd for his conversation with J. David Spurlock. Steranko recounted his days as an artist at Marvel Comics, including how he was first hired by the company and why he eventually quit. Some members of the preceding “Marvel in 80s” panel stayed to hear Steranko’s stories of his time with the publisher.


Additional panels included:


J.H. Williams III with Hannah Means-Shannon.

Artist J.H. Williams III, currently working on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Overture, discussing his work and career with Bleeding Cool editor-in-chief Hannah Means-Shannon.


Todd Klein (left) and John Workman (right).

“The Art of Lettering” with typographers Todd Klein and John Workman.

APCC-2014-Denis Kitchen and Jon B. Cooke-photo-by-Kendall-Whitehouse-480x160

Denis Kitchen (left) and Jon B. Cooke (right).

Denis Kitchen, underground comix creator and founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, in conversation with Jon B. Cooke.


Graphic Novels and the Indie Perspective with (left to right) Hannah Means-Shannon (moderator), Andrew Aydin, Miss Lasko-Gross, Box Brown, and Charles Forsman.

Graphic Novels and the Indie Perspective” with Andrew Aydin, Miss Lasko-Gross, Box Brown, and Charles Forsman speaking with Bleeding Cool editor-in-chief Hannah Means-Shannon.


Peter Bagge (left) and Jon B. Cooke (right).

Comics creator Peter Bagge interviewed by Jon B. Cooke.


Robert Sikoryak introduces the Carousel Cartoon Slide Show.

A “Carousel Slide Show” hosted by R. Sikoryak with comics creators narrating visual presentations of their works.


Ann Nocenti, John Workman, Peter Sanderson, and Jim Salicrup.

Marvel in the 80s” with Ann Nocenti, John Workman, Peter Sanderson, and Jim Salicrup.


In addition to two and a half days of panel sessions, the con included vendors selling comic books, toys, and other memorabilia.

Most of the vendors I spoke with were pleased with the event, reporting brisk sales and enthusiastic attendees. One vendor stated he did better at last year’s Asbury Park Comic Con, speculating that the dip in sales this year may be due to the layout of the venue and the location of his booth. And, indeed, while the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel was a more polished setting than the aging Asbury Park Convention Hall that hosted the event last year, the layout of the vendor tables in seven rooms spread over two floors was more convoluted.


Andrew Carl from Locust Moon Comics points out characters to a pair of young fans.

The event offered activities for the full range of pop culture fandom. A number of vendors mentioned they were pleased to see many children and young people at the convention, bringing new fans into the pop culture fold. And a number of grown-up attendees noted that the hotel included a bar, which provided space for conversation and relaxation for the adult participants.


Wonder Woman takes a spin on stage during the cosplay contest.

The activity that attracted the largest audience was the cosplay contest that closed the event on Sunday. The hotel’s Steinbach ballroom was jammed to capacity as costumed characters of all ages paraded across the stage in front of the crowd and the panel of three judges: Brian O’Halloran and two of AMC TV’s Comic Book Men, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen. Costumes from the serious to the weird were on display.

The producers of the Asbury Park con hold their next event, the New York Comic Fest, in White Plains, New York, in June. And, based on the turnout for this year’s Asbury Park event, they will likely return to the Jersey Shore again next spring.

For a photographic overview of both days of the 2014 Asbury Park Comic Con, see the Flickr photo album: Asbury Park Comic Con 2014.

Asbury Park Comic Con 2014 Asbury Park Comic Con 2014 Asbury Park Comic Con 2014 Asbury Park Comic Con 2014 Asbury Park Comic Con 2014
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Should Comic-Con “Go Long”?

San Diego Comic-Con 2013

In his article on how money is changing the nature Comic Cons big and small, Jim McLauchlin quotes Fables creator Bill Willingham as stating:

“I love the fact that this thing has gotten huge and all that, but San Diego — and you can fill in any of the other big mega-conventions — isn’t really one convention. It’s like 12 smaller conventions that just happen to be taking place at the same time in the same place.”

And, indeed, the major pop culture conventions, such as Comic-Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con and ReedPop’s New York Comic Con, are large in both scale and scope. These events feature presentations, panel sessions, vendors, and activities on a wide variety of topics covering comic books and graphic novels, manga, movies, television programs, anime, costumed “cosplay” and more.

With the planned expansion of the San Diego Convention Center still a distant hope, perhaps one option for the future of San Diego and other large Cons is to “go long” — that is, spread the event over more days.

SXSWThere’s precedent for this in another prominent convention: the South by Southwest festival (or SXSW as it is generally known). The annual media and popular culture event in Austin, Texas is arrayed as three back-to-back conferences : SXSW Music, SXSW Film, and SXSW Interactive.

SXSW is not currently at the scale of San Diego Comic-Con or New York Comic Con, both of which now draw around 130,000 attendees. In 2013, the Austin festival attracted roughly 25,000 participants for SXSW Music, 30,621 for SXSW Interactive, and 16,297 for SXSW Film.

Despite the smaller scale, the event extends over more days than the major Comic Cons, with the main activities for the music and the interactive festivals only overlapping on one day. For 2014, SXSW Interactive runs March 7–11 and SXSW Music is March 11–16. The SXSW Film festival — the most lightly attended of the three — spans the dates of both of the other SXSW festivals, running March 7–15 this year.

One can only imagine the challenge of booking a hotel room on the day all three festivals overlap. Nevertheless, there are advantages to separating the events by topic and allowing the audience to focus on the activities in which they are most interested.

WonderCon AnaheimPerhaps the big Comic Cons should try something similar. In addition to dispersing the crowd, it would mollify the comic book aficionados who bemoan the encroachment of the “Hollywood crowd” at the Cons, and allow the TV and movie fans unadulterated access to events around those interests.

Of course, many pop culture fans are “completists” who want to embrace everything related to their obsessions, so there would be those who feel compelled to stay for the entire event. But, one would hope, even their experience would be less stressful if the crowds were reduced by this niche-focused approach.

As I mentioned in a Knowledge@Wharton article a year ago [see "Comic-Con: The Sold-out Super Bowl of Pop Culture"] I believe a better approach — at least for Comic-Con International (which runs both San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon) — would be to expand from two cities to three. If WonderCon — traditionally held in San Francisco but relocated to Anaheim since 2012 — could secure dates for San Francisco in the fall and remain in Anaheim in the spring, West Coast fans would have abundant options to sate their pop culture cravings throughout the year. Rebranding these two WonderCons as Anaheim Comic-Con and San Francisco Comic-Con would help to market the events to a broader audience. (After all, Comic-Con International’s parent company currently holds trademarks for both Anaheim Comic-Con and San Francisco Comic-Con.)

Special Edition: NYCIn a similar vein, this year ReedPop is augmenting fall’s New York Comic Con with a smaller event in the spring focused specifically on comic books, dubbed Special Edition: NYC. ”New York Comic Con has grown to include so much more than comic books,” stated ReedPOP Global Senior Vice President Lance Fensterman in a press release. “Special Edition: NYC will give comic book fans an intimate destination to meet with publishers and special guests.”

Whether through more cities, more dates, or a larger venue, one hopes the scale of the leading Comic Cons will eventually expand to match the demand.


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