I asked him, "When do you know your play should be a monologue play? Or a direct address play?" He pointed out several earmarks one might go by, but most tellingly, he commented that when he's watching a direct address play, in which the protagonist talks to the audience, he expects that the character speaking is trying to hide something from the viewers. Why else would he/she directly approach the viewer? And in trying to convince the audience of the narrator's false perceptions, the truth is revealed. Therein lies the power of interacting with the audience.
Theatre is meant to take place in front of an audience, and the story is meant to take place in the audience's mind; the story impacts the audience, not just the artist. Doesn't seem like that intense of a revelation, but this conversation spurred me to remember who I am working for, who I am meant to be communicating with in my work. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and it's good for an artist to remember that. Certainly, it makes me more generous and more focused in my writing. Until I inevitably forgot how to write again. But how could I forget the audience in the first place?
Actually, I have been thinking a lot about audience lately -- except I've been thinking about it in terms of comics. In light of recent attacks on female fandom, and threats of physical harm to those who dare to speak out about sexism in the comics community, I found myself wondering how I can be part of a community when a vocal, violent minority doesn't want me as a member. I have always been proud to work in the theatre, which is a collaborative art form that demands acceptance in the best and worst circumstances. Comics are different. Misogyny is rampant in comics fandom, as it also is in gaming culture, and publishers (read: DC Comics) have catered to the idea that their best buyers are men who want their fantasies catered to above all else, including diversity and strong, inclusive narratives. I've been despairing for weeks about what women endure on the Internet and at conventions, and my anxiety only grew as the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo neared. See, I would be attending, hoping to meet some of my favorite comics creators. And I didn't want to feel like I shouldn't be there.
This past Friday, I attended C2E2, and I was impressed at how included I felt there. I got to meet some of my comics heroes, artists and creators I respect and admire, whose work I own; I had several delightful conversations about form and structure and artistic choices throughout the day. But more importantly, perhaps, I spoke with other comics fans, male and female, who shared their enthusiasm for the form with me, and who wanted to talk about my opinions as well as theirs. They clued me in to why I should be using Comixology, and debated the finer points of Green Arrow, and who the better Flash is (Wally West, obviously); I reunited with some old friends, too, whom I didn't even know were big comics fans when we first met. I even met an actor waiting in line at a signing -- art unites people at all levels! Being able to experience something together meant I formed a bond with other fans, and getting to meet specific artists only made me feel more connected to the form as an audience member. Comics creators appreciate fans because they have forums to connect with them. As a theatre artist, I must also trust my audience, and must interact with them the best I can, whether it's through direct address or any other theatrical choice.
POST-SCRIPT: I have so many memories of C2E2 to share! It would be untenable to recap the whole experience here. However, I will do some bullet points here, as you really should know how wonderful the artists of the comics industry are, for realsies.
Meeting Nicola Scott: This woman draws the most powerful-looking ladies in comics, and she was my first stop at Artists Alley. Her Lois Lane in Birds of Prey is my favorite depiction of the character, and I told her so. She laughed and asked why. I said because she looked so human in comparison with all the female superheroes. Scott responded that she loves Lois, and she and Gail Simone and Greg Rucka had been trying to get her a solo series when the New 52 relaunch was announced. My eyes bugged out -- the concepts were so cool! One involved Lois being an awesome globe-trotting adventurer! The other would've been a Daily Planet book, about the Daily Planet staff reporting in Metropolis!!! I CAN'T DESCRIBE HOW SAD I AM NEITHER OF THESE BOOKS EXIST. I hope I made it clear to Nicola Scott how much I appreciate the hard work she and her crew did to try and make this work happen. It's so cool she even told me about those pitches.
Meeting Dustin Nguyen: If you don't know Dustin Nguyen's work, pick up the Stephanie Brown Batgirl series. I brought out my copy of its third volume to be signed by the artist himself. I said that he drew one of my favorite series ever, and he was psyched to see I'd brought Batgirl with me. He pointed out his work on the book was the result of a great collaboration with writer Bryan Q. Miller, and he asked if I was happy Steph was back. I looked at him with giant anime eyes and said, "Yeah. Are you?" He looked back just as excited and said, "Oh, yeah."
Meeting Mark Waid: I was lucky enough to snag an early spot in the Marvel booth line when Mark Waid was doing an hour-long signing for them. I shook his hand and presented my favorite Daredevil tale (which I wrote about here). I told him how impressive I found his work on the character, especially when it came to showcasing his irradiated perceptions. He said thanks and signed my book. I further referenced how much I related to Matt Murdock's struggle between keeping his super-powered potential secret and living an honest life (as I wrote about here). He looked up and handed my book back, with a smile on his face, like he immediately knew what I was talking about; he thanked me again, and said he was really, really proud of that aspect of his work on Daredevil. My saying that meant a lot to him, he said. ... And I nearly died, as I moved away, and he wished me a good rest of the con.
Meeting Greg Pak and Aaron Kruder: These two make up the writer and artist team for the really fun recent run of Action Comics. They were seated next to each other, so I thought I'd stop by their tables to tell them how much I dig their work on Superman. (I've browsed through their books, they're quite good.) Somehow Pak and Kruder make me see the Clark inside Superman in a way that's not been allowed in his rebooted adventures. They both mentioned the difficulty of portraying one person as two distinct personalities, but I appreciate the humanity they're letting shine through in the character. They also want to give Lana Lang a showcase, and they sure are! She kicks a lot of butt in this book. You should check it out!
Giving A Thumbs Up To Dan Jurgens: This guy drew my childhood Superman, and he created Booster Gold, The Greatest Hero You'll Never Know! I swung by his table to thank him for his work, but he was clearly working on a commission sketch or something, so I gave him a thumbs up and a "Love your work, man!"
Meeting Chris Samnee: This guy! He is an amazing cartoonist. Check out Daredevil every month for proof. I asked him to sign the volume of DD that I'd already gotten Mr. Waid to sign. I told him how much I loved the attention to detail he and Waid gave Daredevil's super-perception. He piped right up, saying, "Of course! I mean, you'd think a guy who's supposed to be blind wouldn't be able to actually SEE things with radar sight!" Good to know if he ever saw my thesis, or my previous posts about Daredevil, he wouldn't be offended. I asked how much time he and the rest of the creative team take to find new ways to express Daredevil's radioactive senses. He said he's actually been doing it through mostly inserting sound effects lately. I told him how much I loved that, given that I am hard of hearing. He then flipped to the front of my book and drew a little Daredevil face with a thought bubble saying, "Thanks!" It's adorable, and so is Chris Samnee.
Meeting Gail Simone: This was quite enjoyable, and quite a saga. I met Gail right at the end of my day at C2E2. I had a great time chatting with other fans of her work in the long line near her table, and she is such a nice person, any nervousness I felt about meeting her was silly. I had reserved a printed, limited edition Birds of Prey script from her via Twitter, and I picked that up from her delightful husband while observing how awesome a nearby little girl in a Batgirl tutu was; I pointed out I wished I had been her when I was little. Gail replied that when she was kid, all she had was, like, a towel and safety pins. (Good to know we sported similar capes.) I laughed and swallowed hard and thanked her for all her work, specifically her work on Huntress and her struggles with faith. I was describing how much I loved her prayer in the relaunched BOP series (I've written about it on this very blog). And to my horror, I got all choked up, and couldn't talk. I've never done that to someone I admire before, but Gail Simone was super chill about it, and said she appreciated my thoughts, that she tries to include as many points of view as she can in her work. She signed my BOP trades and my printed script, and we talked a bit about how precise panel descriptions need to be for references and clarity in comics scripting. I wandered off in a daze -- only to realize at 11:30 pm that night I FORGOT TO PAY HER FOR THE PRINTED SCRIPT.
I panicked and tweeted at her to see what could be done, as I was only attending the convention on Friday. The next morning, I hit on asking a friend to pay her the cash on my behalf, but they never crossed paths. I was running out of ideas, when Gail tweeted that I should come to her Chicago signing at Third Coast Comics on Monday evening. I was on a mission now. I needed to make things right. At the signing (P.S.: Third Coast Comics is a friendly store -- check it out, Chicagoans!), I stepped up and she recognized me right away, which is impressive, given how many people she'd met over the weekend. I passed over my money and did a fist pump without explaining what the money was for, which was probably confusing. But then I explained myself and felt like a total superhero, having righted a wrong. If you ever get to meet Gail Simone, you'll want to give her cash for her work. She is one cool lady.