Monday, June 23, 2008

Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy at the Met

The conference held last Sunday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was an unmitigated success -- to the point that I think I am ruined for any more academic conferences where you go to some hotel, don't get paid, have your paper shortened by the guy who went before you and ran over, talk to people who are too tense to be friendly and too busy checking your badge to see if you are someone important, and deliver your paper in front of eight people (seven of whom do not really care) and the hotel cleaning staff.

I cannot stress enough how amazing it is to go to a place like the Met, which you expect to be a little snooty, and specifically the costume institute, who you really expect to be a little snooty -- and find nothing but the kindest people you have ever met -- people just interested in you as a person, and people equally interested in the executive producer of the Dark Knight as some fan who just came out to the bar afterward. And I am not just talking about the people lower down in the chain of command -- I am talking about serious people in charge of serious things simply being shockingly kind. I do not know how much you will care but I feel I have to mention some of these people by name (knowing that I am forgetting some): Andrew Bolton (the curator of the costume institute and one of New York Magazine's picks for one of the 50 sexiest New Yorkers), Shannon Bell Price (a senior research associate at the costume institute), Joseph Loh (associate museum educator), and two wonderful women who helped with the details, Nicole Leist and Alaine Arnott.

Oxford was a wonderful place to learn, but too often I found myself dealing with people who simply ignored Sara because she was just a civilian. The people at the Met are just NICE.

Peter Coogan brought himself to the point of insanity wrangling the conference at the Met with the shortest lead time of anyone.

Danny Fingeroth was fun and eager to help (and did not mind random phone calls from me).

Richard Reynolds was hilarious, with an infections energy -- and put up with me ribbing him about how incredibly Oxford he was (he is a Lincoln college man).

I did not get much time with Paul Levitz but he was good on stage. I enjoyed talking to his son, who just graduated from Princeton. I told him what a class act Princeton is: they always send me nice rejection letters when I apply for jobs there, in an industry when most people never get back to you at all.

Scott Bukatman had the best line of the night -- from his book Matters of Gravity (which I always want to call Masters of Gravity) when he quipped, in his talk about the superhero as dandy, that "the superhero does not put on a costume in order to fight crime. He fights crime in order to put on the costume."

Alex Ross was great on stage and his wife and I bonded over a love of Chucks, which she was wearing: I went all Doctor Who and wore off-white chucks with my dark suit and tie (the chucks matched the shirt). The Doctor Who connection did not go unnoticed (Mitch: were you the one that caught my source?)

John Cassaday was great -- and did some hilarious verbal fencing on stage with Alex -- though I got a little tense when I gave him my business card, since he may come here, look himself up, and see me taking him to task for frequently repeating images in Astonishing X-Men. I do love his work, and did note when he resumed firing on all cylinders. But it will do no one any favors if I am not honest about how I feel about my comics.

Stanford Carpenter, who interviewed John and Alex, and whose background is in anthropology rather than English, gave me some great tips on interviewing. And has eaten piranha, which is not a feat most academics can boast of.

Michael Uslan did a fun talk in which he talked about the Superman-Moses comparison (the baby sent away to keep it safe and raised by another to save his people). My mother-in-law will go see Dark Knight just on the strength of that connection, which really tickled her.

Finally my panel: Adi Granov's flight was delayed, and so our panel was was moved three times at the last minute to allow him to get from JFK to the museum -- no small feat in itself (sorry to everyone who came to see me at 2, but hey, you got to see Alex Ross and John Cassaday and Michael Uslan so get over it). Adi got there five minutes after we started, which was perfect, though because of that I did not get to talk to him much off stage. It was entirely by coincidence that I was assigned to interview Phil Saunders, on his first trip away from his new baby, who happens to be friends with my best man Brad Winderbaum. Phil is a wonderful guy and we had a great dinner -- he really became more of a friend. Finally, Gordon Smith was a hoot, and had a lot of bawdy stories he told off stage that obviously did not make it into the stage talk. The images these guys provided were mesmerizing, and the audience was incredibly pleased. (Sara wants it noted that Phil is a Car Talk fan, and earns even more awesome points for that)

I also want to thank people came to see the whole thing, especially our own Mitch, and HC Duvall, Arie Kaplan, Jose Alaniz, and Jonathan Gray, whose classroom I will be visiting soon. And of course Sara (who is the best and who, for the first time, had fun attending a conference with me), Erin, Amelia, Jen, Jill and her sister (a sophomore at Fordham who asked a very good question) Jason and Ximena, my parents, Sara's mom and grandparents.

You will note I am not talking about content much. That is because I heard a rumor that the MET plans to release a free video of the day's event on iTunes university -- so I hope soon you will all be able to see for yourselves how well it went, no matter where you are. And the exhibit itself is wonderful, and I encourage you to buy the metal bound museum catalogue of the exhibit if you were not able to make it. Andrew Bolton, who wrote the text for the book, is practically my favorite person right now.


sara d. reiss said...


Geoff: you and your panel were awesome. I am so super-proud of you that I've completely gotten over my (joking) miff-edness that you got to be invited to the Met before I did. I heart you luv.

To all conference panelists, Met personages, friends of panelists and guests: I had a BLAST. You guys were all smart, funny, engaging, and kind. Thank you so much for making this one of my most entertaining sundays in, well, a pretty long time.

special thanks to Gordon Smith, Stanford Carpenter, Jonathan Gray and Stanford's former-student-turned-med-school attendee "Jen" for taking the time on a busy busy day to look at my sample portfolio on my teeny-tiny ipod screen. You will all be invited to my next show.

Timothy Callahan said...

What is this metal bound museum catalogue of which you speak? I couldn't find it on their website, and I would totally buy it.

It sounds like the best conference ever.

sara d. reiss said...

Timothy - here's the link to buy the catalogue from the Met

hcduvall said...

Hey Geoff, I had a good time at the panels. I'm sorry I couldn't stay till the end, you were doing a great job.

I was happy to see that all the panelists were game to engage the questions. Was Jill's sister's the one about second one about diversity int he characters? Alex Ross did alright considering he had just the minute for it. I went away discussing that one with my cousin to our little family gathering that took me away.

liam said...


sara d. reiss said...

hcduvall - it was indeed Jill's sister. I spoke to Jill today and she said that her sister actually was trying to ask about the diversity within the industry itself: the percentage of writers and artists who are non-white men. But her phrasing made the question a little obscure. A good one nonetheless tho.

Streebo said...

Sounds like a fantastic event, Geoff. Congratulations all around. Thanks for sharing.

brad said...

It was awesome seeing you and Phil together on stage at the met, Geoff. We had a great time!