I like the banner, but we should save it for version 2. I wanna make a layout around mine, but for the life of me, I can't seem to figure out how to change the background. (I did try uploading my purple gradient but it didn't show up for some reason...)
Anyway, I totally agree with you on the emoticons - we need better ones.
As for topics, I think it's up to people to post them on their own... I mean feel free to start any yourself (this goes for everyone) if you thing it's of interest!
I agree with making use of the portal, but I don't want to do too many things at once - it's not my main concern, but we will get there. Don't worry!
And just so you know, I would like to keep the general design of the layout fairly simple. Not quite as simple as it is right now, but simple enough.
I'm going to try making some emoticons. I want to "customize" this site so that things are made by me and the other members!