Indie and the Geek: An Interview with James Sime (‘MorrisonCon’ ‘Isotope Comics’)

The moment I heard about MorrisonCon I knew I had to be there. Then like so many of you I heard the price, granted it was a couple hundred more than my average convention budget but considering that we were renting out the Hard Rock Hotel to party with and do as we pleased with some of the most amazing names and buds of mine in comics, I figured it was worth it.


As time went on all anyone talked about was the cost of such an event, and why on earth it was actually named “MorrisonCon”. The answer to the second question is that Grant was obviously not the one to name it, and to the parties actually responsible for naming the convention they designed to revolve around Grant Morrison a “Morrsion Convention”… or rather a “MorrisonCon” if you will, this all seemed perfectly natural.


As for the price, that comes down to a much bigger question. Does Indie have to mean cheap? As someone who has helped two different Indie Campaigns with their individual PR until each kickstarter grossed over $100,000 I can tell you that the answer is of course, no. (See “Womanthology” and “Agent 88”…)


In fact, one of the greatest set-backs to anything DIY is the major question of “How do I fund my independent concept without mainstream financing?”.


When you’re booking flights from around the globe, and taking over a historic Vegas hotel, this question becomes an even more delicate one.


Obviously MorrisonCon is not for everyone, (or everyone’s checkbook for that matter) but it is for me and so as you all know each month I talk to a different Indie personality making it in the mainstream for my “Inspirational” aspect of “Indie and the Geek”, this week I sat down with my friend James Sime for a long overdue interview on MorrisonCon and some other fun things…




NS- What has been the biggest obstacle with creating an indie event of this magnitude?

JS – Honestly, the biggest challenge to creating MorrisonCon was also the most exciting part… we were going to, quite literally, spend a year collaborating with Grant Morrison to create the most insane comics convention ever! Built right into the DNA of the idea is doing something very different than the things people are used to. What *would* a convention as re-envisioned by someone like Grant actually look like? I mean, if you’re going to try to do something like that, the sky really is the limit. The possibilities are endless.

As you know, the people behind MorrisonCon is a teeny-tiny group… it’s just myself, the brilliant Kirsten Baldock (who has been helping me create the greatest comic store on the planet for the last 11 years), our best friend Ron Richards (one of the architects behind iFanboy and a big cheese over at Graphicly), and the Morrisons (that’s Grant and his equally inspirational wife Kristan). And I can tell you, the alchemical thoughts that have bubbled up in the year-long cauldron of that collaboration have been beyond exciting.

The *promise* of MorrisonCon is this crazy, life-altering weekend where you’re plugged directly into this swirling world of brilliant ideas, offbeat interests, mad obsessions, and personalities who fire Grant’s creativity. We had to make that promise real, to translate as many improbable concepts and even random off the cuff Morrison riffs as possible into the tangible world. To render all that into nightclubs and hotel rooms and meeting space chairs and places for awesome humans to meet and mingle. We all agreed, it just wasn’t worth doing unless we could live up to that promise, to truly make something worthy of the name MorrisonCon… and go far beyond it.

We deconstructed the very concept of a comics convention down to the core and set about remaking the experience from the ground up with just the most exciting elements, to craft something totally personal for every single attendee. Unique, friendly, off-beat, culturally innovative, utterly unforgettable. And we wanted to focus, with laser clarity, on creating a convention where the essence is about experiences instead of commerce. About the people who are there and the ideas in their heads instead of another round of endless hype telling you what to buy next, y’know?

So the hardest part definitely was that, harnessing all those mad ideas. And as you’d expect Grant is a guy who has an endless number of ideas (laugh)!

Part of Grant’s creative process is constantly throwing these big crazy thoughts around, shattering notions of what is and what could be, re-writing rules and changing language, and always stacking new thoughts onto the last ones. There really is no end! And Grant works in the worlds of the otherworldly and metaphysical… so there were some big challenges to harness all that wonderful chaos energy and mad thoughts and to make all of those dreams a reality. Grant’s amazing wife Kristan, well she pretty much does that every single day, and she was utterly integral to the process. Because as much as “creating something out of nothing” is exactly what Ron, Kirsten and I do with our ideas too, adding in that unpredictable element of Morrison was incredible. Just letting Grant riff and condensing his mad passions into something that we could actually create was new to the three of us. But also absolutely fun!

And then… when we’d finally found the best way just start surfing on that tsunami of ideas, to feel the flow and get to carving out our own sexy lines on those waves of what-ifs… then we added in our other brilliant special guests and all their mad, crazy ideas too! And soon we’re going to add all of you to that too! (laugh)

We set insanely high goals for ourselves and our teeny tiny little group of MorrisonCon organizers. And I’m absolutely thrilled with the results. The whole thing has been completely exhilarating!


NS- In this industry we have the great joy of having many mutual friends and I couldn’t help but notice many of them in your Comic Rockstars Toilet Seat Museum. Tell us a bit about Isotope, it’s friends, and epic Museum.

JS- Indeed, we do have a lot of mutual friends… you have some seriously fantastic taste in friends, I have to say!

The Isotope was built out of a dream to try something new with comics retail. At the time I was happily slinging fancy cocktails at a lucrative bartending gig and I didn’t even really think of *myself* as the person behind the counter, y’know? I just knew I wanted to see something different, something radical in the world of funnybook retailing. I wished someone would open up a store that would push the bleeding edge of comic retailing modernism by combining a comic store, an original comic art gallery, an active workshop/meeting place for creative individuals, a venue for once-in-a-lifetime happenings, and a relaxing get-away from the pressures of life. They’d build it to appeal to people who had never been inside a comic store in their lives especially. But also a place where people like me who had been obsessively delving into the artform for decades could always walk out surprised by finding something new. A place that celebrated true comics culture in the best way possible representing great comics from all over the spectrum of brilliant high art indy books to just great pulp superhero stuff. Where the people who owned it just liked comics and people who read comics as much as I did! I wished comic stores could more like the stylish watering holes I worked at, with a swank lounge atmosphere and some beautiful fixtures and custom leather sofas to relax on.

Eventually I just got frustrated waiting and just built my dream store myself! And it’s been seriously the most rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling thing I’ve done in my entire life. At the time people told me I was crazy, because it was very different in the universe of comics retail than what people were used to. But since then it has been terrific seeing the influence filter through the retailing world. Like all ideas, these things are viral, and they spread. It’s a thing of beauty to see those original ideas grow and mutate with all the new folks throughout the years. I am utterly blessed people like what we do here at the Isotope and to have gotten to make such an amazing impact on an industry I love so much.


But… we were supposed to be talking about our mutual friends, right? Right. Too much ranting, sorry!

Over the course of the 11 years I’ve made friends with some of the most wonderful creative people I could ever hope to meet. It’s been a great excuse as a retailer to just write to all my favorite comic creators and say “Hey, I’d like to throw a big crazy party for you at my funnybook shop, can I fly you to San Francisco for the weekend?” (grin)! And I’ve also taken that opportunity to bring in almost everyone the Isotope’s regulars have ever asked us for. Lots of them are now our mutual amigos!

The Comic Rockstars Toilet Seat Museum got started way back in 2001. It was founded by two great gentlemen. We had Brian Wood in for an in-store and I gave him a little more beer than I probably should have… and he vandalized up the store’s bathroom (laugh)! The lid Brian did was so good I decided to hang it in the Isotope’s gallery with the rest of our original art. And the next day another friend of the shop, the always discerning Rick Remender stopped by, saw the lid and said with a sly grin “Hey, why does Brian Wood get a toilet seat? What do I have to do to get one around this place?!” I went to Home Depot and bought ten more lids that night!

Since then we’ve had so many talented people doing lids for us. Frank Quitely, Warren Ellis, Amanda Conner, Brian K Vaughan, Dave Johnson, Ed Brubaker, Jane Irwin, Brian Bendis, Darwyn Cooke, Jill Thompson, Danica Novgorodoff, Ben Templesmith, Donna Barr, Mark Millar, Lark Pein, Steve Niles, Tony Harris,  Eric Powell, Josh Cotter, Bill Willingham, Jason Aaron, Brandon Graham, Pete Hodapp, Jim Lee, Jamaica Dyer, Darick Robertson… it is a massive and jaw-dropping collection of original art from big names and amazing up and comers from all over the world. My only rules are (#1) they have to visit the store to get one and (#2) I have to like their comics.

I still don’t have a Mike Allred lid… I need to have him in soon (laugh)!


NS- Any chance of adding a Hard Rock seat to the mix this MorrisonCon?

JS- Unless the Hard Rock starts making comics I like and visits the shop I think probably not. But… if Grant vandalizes the bathroom at the Hard Rock I am definitely going to steal it!

NS- What advice would you give someone looking to start an independent event so outside of the mainstream norm?

JS- More than anything else – Life is short, follow your heart, you *can* make your wildest dreams a reality. If you feel with every fiber of your being that your idea is something that *has to* happen and that it will make the world a happier place for the world… throw away the rules and just figure out how to make it happen. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to create amazing things, you just have to have the passion and drive and love to make it through the hard spots and to make it work. If you create something and your heart is in the right place you will be amazed at how often the universe will move the Heavens and Earth to help make that dream a reality. It can be done. And it should be. 

So, please… do that, people!

Of course every new project that breaks from tradition or reinvents things that have come before is bound to be a target for some criticism. But don’t worry about that. Spend your energy concentrating on creating great works. If you do *that* it won’t be long until the only thing you’ll hear from the peanut gallery is silence. Can you hear that? It’s my favorite sound (laugh)! Do your thing, dream as big as you can make your brain dream, surround yourself with friendly brilliant people who share your passions, and just do it all to the very best of your ability. Things won’t always be easy but if you make something wonderful for the world around you to enjoy and can help other people make magical memories they will treasure for the rest of their lives? It will all be worth it in the end.
Oh and don’t forget to invite me to your crazy event. I want to see the cool things you create!
NS- Tell us a secret about MorrisonCon.

JS- Oh fun, even Grant and Kristan haven’t seen this one yet… !


Take a peek at this secret behind-the-scenes map that shows all the cities that people have bought tickets in to attend MorrisonCon. The reason we decided to hold it in Vegas was so that it would be easy for people from everywhere to get to… and check out that map! It is unbelievably cool to see people from these cities from all over the globe coming to this event. Love it! I also took a look at our list of attendees just this morning, a full 1/3 of them are women. So that makes me happy too. Very fun to know it’s definitely not going to be your typical local comic con demographic (smiles)!


Thanks for the nice interview, Nicole!





Thank you, James! Can’t wait to see you all in Vegas! Join us next week on our regular host site of Fanboy Comics for an interview with Jeff Burns! –N



Photo by the awesomely talented Allan Amato... (See you in Vegas, Dude.)

Photo by the awesomely talented Allan Amato… (See you in Vegas, Dude.)

Nicole Sixx