Fandemonium by Rick Schindler
Ray Sirico used to have it all. Once, he was the brilliant and outrageous Clown Prince of Comics, who reinvented the venerable superhero Skylord, and ranted and rollicked everywhere from TV talk shows to Hollywood premieres.But that was in the ’70s and ’80s. Now it’s 1993, and Sirico is a drunken has-been. His wife has left him, his movie flopped, and his comics’ publisher is doing so poorly that its new corporate parent has come up with a radical marketing stunt: the Death of Skylord.Still, Sirico has one last chance to recapture the limelight: Fandemonium, the nation’s biggest fantasy convention. But others are coming to the con too: Harmony Storm, the sex-crazed actress who broke up Ray’s marriage; his former collaborator Tad Carlyle, who now has his own company, and a troubled relationship; Fred D’Auria, a fanboy fleeing adolescent traumas, and corporate conspirators who are plotting to sacrifice Sirico’s greatest creation for motives deeper than even his fevered imagination could conceive.
I have to kick this off by saying I'm really worried I won't be able to convey to you just how much I enjoyed this book; so much so that I felt an odd sense of loss once it was over. Fandemonium is a four hundred page tome, and I can safely say I would happily read another four hundred; then four hundred after that. I loved it.
The story is a satirical look at the business side of comic books. All of our typical stereotypes are here, both business and fanboy. Being a partner in a successful business (unfortunately retail, rather than publishing) and also a girl who is partial to a con or two, it was hilarious to see the plot unfold with familiarity. Although his cynicism runs through every thread of the storyline, it's clear to see Schindler's love for comic books running alongside his pessimism.
Schindler nails his characters completely. The depth of each of them was impressive, and the way I felt about them individually was incredible. Our protagonist, Ray Sirico, is the type of man I absolutely despise. Sexist, racist, homophobic, and just entirely judgmental of everyone, he's a true asshole, and we are shown him as having not a friend in the world. But he was written in such a way that I was keeping my fingers crossed for him in a "you show them, Ray!" attitude. Amazing. I was also glad to see Schindler tying all of the characters' affairs up at the finale, and I was entirely satisfied to see everyone getting what they duly deserved.
The story is so easy to get carried away with. We flit from one character's narrative to another, which creates a huge picture of an intricate plot which is strangely easy to keep track of. Schindler employs the art of metafiction (in the form of scripts, emails, memos, interviews, programs, book prices, newspaper articles etc.) at the end of each chapter to give us yet another view of his world. Both of these devices are personal favourites of mine, and only made me more eager to continue reading.
When the day of Fandemonium arrives, we are treated to the most in depth description of a con I have ever witnessed. Schindler captures the crowds, the confusion, the colour, and the costumes so well, and even unravelled how I felt the last time I went to a con on my own; I didn't even realise I had felt any of these things until I was in the shoes of one of Schindler's characters: a fifteen year old boy.
What impressed me most were the characters and stories created by the fictional publishers within the novel. Schindler told us these stories, and introduced us to these characters, in such depth that we were up to speed on the entire canon pretty quickly. That Schindler has all of these heroes and villains in his brain is absolutely overwhelming to me, and I loved taking a break from our 'real' characters to tune into a bit of Skylord. Although She-Zanna was my favourite.
You don't have to be into comics to read this book, although it helps you understand some of the smaller references. This book is about people, relationships, power, and weakness. It's hilarious with sober undertones, and despite the bright colours and laugh out loud references, it's really a serious look at the human condition.