Out of all of the things that I find particularly enjoyable about going to any con is the fact that when it comes down to it, no amount of preparation can really get you completely ready for one.
As an example: It’s pretty much impossible to be 100% familiar with all of the guests booked for an event like this. No matter how much you know or research the industry there’s always someone who slips by. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if every convention went off perfectly without a hitch and we knew exactly who every creator was and what they’ve been involved with.
Modesto Con was a great deal smaller than Phoenix Comicon (no shit) but there was still people we didn’t know.
9 LIVES, a comic by Preston Tucker & Cassidy Morgan was introduced to me in one of my favorite little moments of Modesto Con. We’d barely slept the night before the convention and rolled out early. At some point the colorful art being held up by wire boxes at the 9 LIVES booth drew out my inner zombie and I shambled over. I like to imagine in this instance that I was all saliva and claws and teeth.
I hear someone tell me that I have “really good – awesome hair!”
I’m like “yo what? Uhh.” I look around and realize that the artist on the book is complimenting me. Before we even talk about the comic, we both discuss hair tips which is basically one way of catching my interest immediately because I am vain.
That may not give the best impression towards how I work on the floor, but believe it or not bizarre convention conversations can kill a lot of anxiety exchanged over a booth pretty quick, and just looking at the art the two had on display I was pretty keen about hearing about the comic they made.
I like to think that both of them knew I am exceptionally weak willed when meeting likable creators and that alone is generally enough for me to want to buy whatever comic it is that they’re selling. I walked away from that booth with a copy of the first issue of 9 LIVES signed and packed away in my bag.
9 LIVES #1 is a Superhero comic. That is the most basic description I can use to let someone who’s never read it before know what kind of storytelling is held between the front and back cover. An origin story through and through, a good chunk of the book is dedicated to setting up the world it takes place in.
When I say that it’s about superheroes though I feel like 9 LIVES just from first impressions has loftier goals than being another indie cape comic book. There’s a sense in the first pages that the creators behind this book have put at least more than cursory thoughts into what kind of effects the people who fly would have on the world beyond simply stopping crime or dealing with supervillains.
We open to the most popular hero in the world being interviewed about his feelings towards having superpowers. The likely lantern-jawed Captain Fantastic lambastes over the airwaves that there’s no room in the world of crime-stopping for those without powers.
Our protagonist is a sort of unassuming and schlubby nerd who’s introduced being broken up with while he clutches a broken action figure. We’re meant to distinctly feel he’s a have-not being left someone that’s more of a have. This is a not a guy who has what it takes to ever be any more than exactly what he looks like at first glance.
Cassidy’s art brings a goofiness and expressiveness to him that other characters lack, though. That’s not a mark against the art – It works because the animated way he uses the protagonist to over emote in comparison to the other characters you get introduced to likely means you’ll take an immediate liking to him.
Yes he’s a loser, a slacker – a 100% grade a stereotypical dork but he’s also our surrogate into the world here and it works in a way that using a level-headed every-man probably wouldn’t.
Rounding out the supporting cast is a street samurai, pastel-lolita fashion girl and finally a business-suit wearing, eight foot tall anthropomorphic cat named Mr. Bixby. Sliding slowly into more fantastical elements like that works here because of our anchor to the world being such a dork.
It’s in that way that I’m reminded more reading this of Manga than it does something patterned more off of western superhero comics. A normal dude in the mix with such colorful supporting cast members is a pretty standard element in a lot of Manga and the way the opening narrative arc builds into all-out fantasy is more BLEACH than it is Spider-Man.
That’s not to say that the story arc at work here isn’t predictable. Being predictable isn’t always necessarily a reason all it’s own to dismiss a creative work. You can make up for it sometimes by just being fun to read. Some of the best superhero stories of all time are predictable, but they’re memorable and important because of how they have their own voice even in the midst of that, and I feel like I could say the same thing about 9 LIVES.
Kitschyness isn’t for everybody, and if you’re not the kind of person into a book with characters that are cyber ninjas or bald-headed super villains named Dr. Brain then it’s probably not going to grab you immediately like it would someone who’s waist deep in Squirrel-Girl.
9 LIVES still gets the Tales of the Con recommendation though, not just because I got asked about my hair, but because so many superhero comics these days attempt to be fun and few of them rarely are. Being a delight to read and having a little self-awareness can really go a long way.