Battle at the Comic Expo
This month brings the massive fan bases of gaming, comics, movies, and all other sorts of entertainment and storytelling together for Comic-Con International: San Diego. The event has grown to epic proportions over the years and is now larger and more influential than, arguably, at other pop culture gathering with the exception of the Oscars. Attendees get sneak peaks and glimpses of upcoming blockbuster movies, creators across the industry (writers, editors, game designers, artists, performers, etc.) appear for panel discussions and sit patiently at booths to meet and greet fans. It is a chance for those to firmly self-identify as geeks to dress as their favorite characters (cos-play) in a safe, encouraging environment. And that’s what’s at the heart of the Comic-Con’s appeal; it is an event, a place where for a week there is nothing but support, celebration, and gifts of fandom.
Such an event requires the most skilled and dedicated staff to run smoothly, and this is where Richard Andreoli starts his novel of Comic-Con, Battle at the Comic Expo. With an insiders understanding of what it takes to pull off such a massive event, Andreoli places readers behind the scenes at his fictionalized Comic-Con, America’s Finest Comic Book Expo. The novel only uses this premise as a means to get readers into the story to focus attention on the true plot–one where an emotionally troubled fangirl kidnaps one of the biggest names in comics alongside our hero, the Expo’s security chief, leaving them to save not just themselves but by proxy the Expo.
For a novel that immerses itself in geek culture, Andreoli does an excellent job of alluding to various factions in geekdom without ever trivializing them or acting as some sort of gatekeeper. Readers both those unfamiliar with Comic-Con or geek culture and those who live an breath it will not be lost in an endless stream-of-consciousness like litany of pop culture references a la Ready Player One.
Instead, they’ll read an intimate portrait of a creator, Ron Lionel, trapped by his creation, the comicbook series The Enduring. Lionel is perhaps best understood as what if one sexist, socially insecure but intellectually arrogant asshole achieved a level of fame in the industry that is a mix of Neil Gaimen’s The Sandman and Alan Moore’s The Watchmen. Lionel’s work in the novel, The Enduring, is the fantasy product of the geek world. However, Lionel has nowhere else to go and really nothing else to give. Andreoli paints a portrait of a man demanding of attention (which Lionel conflates with admiration) and viciously contemptuous of any and all who give it to him.
Handling this comic diva is Joe Cotter, the security chief of America’s Finest Comic Book Expo, ostensibly our hero. Cotter has found his niche at the Con giving him stability and what he imagines is stability. Yet Cotter himself is a writer and as the story unfolds it becomes clear he both needs to be and wants to more than simply a behind the scenes functionary. Seeing in Lionel what he desperately wants professionally but utterly loathes personally, Cotter is pushed to make a real decision about his future thanks to a crazed fan. This fan is Velma, a girl so hurt in her personal life her only connection is with the imaginary specifically Lionel’s world of The Enduring. It has left her unable to connect to the real world and obsessed with the future of her world, the world Lionel has been writing. Taking a Misery-like turn, Velma kidnaps both Lionel and Cotter in an attempt to get the answers she thinks she needs to stay connected.
Andreoli is able to weave these three stories together into a single moving and action-packed novel that feels intimate and real. If you’ve never been to Comic-Con or attend regularly, Battle at the Comic Expo isn’t a substitute but it is a loving portrait deftly using Comic-Con as his setting to bring out the dynamism of the story and characters. Andreoli’s novel is both comedy and thriller and a delightful read.
About the Author
Richard Andreoli is a writer living in Los Angeles. He’s written about educational programs at LA County Jail, crafted bitchy dialogue for nighttime soap operas, and launched numerous pop culture websites and online properties. Before all that, he worked for Comic-Con International: San Diego (San Diego Comic-Con). He volunteered in their registration, treasury, and events departments, and later produced their monthly member magazine. In his spare time, he likes to run away with the circus.