The Con Artist by Fred Van Lente

So I thought that reading this on my Fire would be superior to reading on my Paperwhite but the sketches weren’t formatted very well for Kindle so meh. I did really like the idea, tho, that you could find clues in the sketches to help you solve the mystery (why yes I was a Cam Jansen fan as a kid!) It probably works better in execution in physical format, as the Kindle versions tended to break the line drawings in half, which doesn’t make for good clue hunting. I also kinda expected the interior sketches to be closer to the art style on the cover. Each is fun to look at in its own right, but it felt a bit like false advertising given how different they are.

As to the story itself, I really enjoyed the insight into the con-going experience from the talents’ point of view. I’m a con-goer from way back, having enjoyed both comics and gaming cons before they were taken over by Hollywood celebrities, but strictly as a consumer/card flopper/dice chucker. Oh, there was the one con I helped run an RPG room, but usually I’m just there to play games and buy stuff. Tho I did hang out with Chris Claremont a lot at that one Baltimore Comic Con. Er, back on topic: I also really enjoyed our hero’s opinions on the meaning of creating as well as the relationship between creators and fans, particularly in niche entertainment. The Con Artist is a lot of fun for people familiar with geekdom, and super informative for those who want to learn more about San Diego Comic Con and the comics industry.

What TCA isn’t great at is telling a good mystery story. There’s the bare bones of one there, and there are a bunch of great set pieces, but the writing is wildly disjointed, with the emotions often feeling uninhabited (with the great exception being Mike’s interactions with Violet, but not necessarily her actions otherwise.) I didn’t feel a single emotional connection with anything that happened besides aforementioned exception. Perhaps this had to do with our protagonist feeling a little disconnected from life himself, a little numb from what’s clearly his depressed state of mind, and while that lends itself to veritas, it doesn’t really lend itself to entertainment. Still, an interesting experiment of a novel that I would like to see more tried of in future.

Oh! When Fred Van Lente talked about the perilous financial security of comics artists and writers, who earn at the mercy of their publishers, it reminded me very much of one of my favorite writers from the 90s and his current plight. William Messner-Loebs did a run on Wonder Woman that I still think of fondly, but has been reduced to living out of his car with his ailing wife. If you can spare a few dollars to help make up for a system that lacks any sort of social net for people who’ve done their best to entertain us, please go to his GoFundMe page and donate.

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