Those who worry about "America's youth" and the future of American education would admire the models of mentoring and apprenticeship that remain standard in the comics world. Generations of big-name talent have risen under the avuncular guidance of vintage creator/entrepreneurs like Marvel co-founder Stan Lee, DC comics prexy and über-artist Carmine Infantino, and comic-art-school founder Joe Kubert, all available for advice, autographs, and anecdotes at Comic Con. Isamu Fukui, a Stuyvesant High School student whose S-F novel Truancy (Tor) imagines an urban dystopia in which schools are no better than prisons, was a guest star at this con because he has much in common with these kick-ass comics legends, who also published young and had minds of their own.
The industry's love of its history and artistic innovators doesn't preclude constructive criticism. Anchoring this year's NYCC was a fascinating Will Eisner documentary that, while praising his multifaceted genius, still allowed famous peers and former students to bemoan his use of "darkie" caricature for a central character in The Spirit series of the '30s and '40s.
Frank Miller, who befriended Eisner in the late '70s, says Eisner insisted that, unlike film, every comic "frame" must convey information that advances the plot of the story. This subtle narrative density was something Miller took to heart when writing and drawing subsequent projects, and it's now part of what you see incorporated into the triumphant film versions of comics like 300, Sin City, and (soon) The Spirit. Such emphasis on visual innovation and raising the bar of craft is why, though comics fandom embraces all comers, it reserves true love for those who dare to push the boundaries of their art. Fandom has only one request to make of every hot-shot contender aspiring to that love: "Astonish me."