When I say my legs are exhausted, here's what I mean -- it is not unusual for me to, in a semi-wakeful state, to stretch my legs and give myself a charlie horse. In both legs. At the same time. I even know I'm doing it, and my mind will scream, "Don't do it, dipshit!" And it'll happen anyway. This morning, I did the exact same stretch, but the muscles just wouldn't tense up, sparing me a few days of agony. So file that under "blessing in disguise."
PARKING FEES ARE $19. THE SHERPA IS EXTRA -- Day one. mornblade and I head up, he drives, I navigate. I have my trusty GPS. We aren't really expecting to need it, as McCormick Place, where the convention is being held, is just a straight shot up I-55. Mornblade ordered his ticket online and got a letter explaining where to park. It said, go to parking lot A and you're there. If you go to C, you are on the lakeside of the building and will have to walk all the way back.
Turns out, it was the exact opposite. The con was not in building A, it was C. I would like to remind readers that Chicago city blocks are approximately one mile a side, and McCormick place straddles two of them. The situation was not helped by the layout of the place (more on this in a minute). Walking in, when you get to the sky bridge, there are signs saying things like, "C2E2 -- you're almost there!" Then a sign saying, 'Welcome to C2E2!" Then the next sign was, "Tickets and registration thataway." Which is just adding insult to injury
EDIFICE WRECKS -- I had never been in McCormick Place before.
What drunken stoner designed that place?!?
It was like an M.C. Escher design project. Allow me to describe the place for you. First of, "I had to walk two miles to the con! Up hill! Both ways!" The building features multiple levels and stairs and escalators arranged haphazardly around, some leading to areas cordoned off from the rest of the center, and no warning that there is no exit until you discover it for yourself. Some staircase go up two levels without stopping, some go half a floor, landing, then the other half. Walls made you think you were reaching the end of the section, but when you got around the corner and got a clear view, you saw it continued with a doorway in another section.Signs give vague directions to shops in the building. Most of them were closed. The few that were, like the McDonald's and Connie's Pizza, closed at 5PM. The few Starbucks and many shops weren't even open. This was at 130PM on Friday.
There was a kitchen and bath trade show going on that weekend, occupying the middle of the layout. But building A, where we initially parked, was like a dead mall. Not a soul around, shops locked up. Even the escalators were switched off and the levels they led to were pure black.
Jesus Christ! Who designed that carpet, Jackson Pollack?!? Lines and spatters everywhere. The main hall for the convention has a cubist camouflage pattern that nearly made me seasick (WHICH NEVER HAPPENS! I LOVE THE WATER!)
Mornblade and I were considering hitting the McDonald's we saw just outside the convention center, just to get some grub in our stomachs. We were basically directed through building A and make an exit. Before we went out, he express concern about how we would get back inside. Given how dopey the directions were, we thought better of it, attended the 8PM panel we wanted, and hit Denny's on the way home.
SORRY, BUT ALL THE GOOD "WHO" PUNS ARE TAKEN, I'M NOT GOING TO BOTHER -- The primary reason Mornblade wanted to go Friday was that C2E2 had two episodes of the new Doctor Who show there. The first was the "season premiere" running on BBC America the next night. The next was the second episode, running a full week and a day ahead of the rest of the country. For those who may not know, Chicago has a HUGE Doctor Who fan following, so C2E2 pulling this out was pretty much a no-brainer.
I hadn't really watched Who in ages. I saw up to the second year of Sylvester McCoy's run (Ace rocks). I had a HUGE crush on Sarah Jane Smith, one that persists to this day. And I wanted Mel to boil in oil and die horribly. I saw the first couple of episodes of the ninth Doctor, and while I liked and was intrigued with it, I just never made it priority viewing. So I saw the return of the Master and Voyage Of The Damned (yeah, because Kylie Minogue was in it. Wanna make something of it?), but not much more. These were the first two with the eleventh Doctor. I knew he had just regenerated and the TARDIS was falling apart like a MiG fighter. That was really all you needed to know. This isn't Marvel or DC Comics. The writers don't make it so you have to know 50 years of continuity and everything presently happening just to enjoy the story.
We get into the viewing hall. There's cosplayers there, including a dead ringer for Sylvester McCoy (my camera doesn't have a flash, so I have either a picture of the seventh Doctor or the Loch Ness monster on my phone). I said apologetically that my favorite Doctor was Colin Baker. He said some of the stories like Timelash were bad, but some of them, like Trial Of A Time Lord, were good, and if he'd had stuff like that all along, things would be different, which I completely agree with.
One of the show runners gets up on the stage. He got a crash course in how dedicated Who fans in Chicago are. He pointed out that he knew some of them had already torrented the first episode, because he saw them watching it on their laptops around the convention floor. "Please don't spoil anything for the others here." Also, at concerts, people used to hold their lighters up. Nowadays, they hold their cell phones up. The crowd held up sonic screwdrivers. Not just any, please note. The tenth Doctor's sonic screwdriver was available in toy shops. The eleventh has a different one. The runner saw the crowd raise their eleventh Doctor sonic screwdrivers and activate them. His jaw dropped. "How did you get those already?!?"
The episode started with a special "greeting intro" by the eleventh Doctor and his current companion, selling the specifically Chicago crowd that they were going to love this. Once again, this is Chicago. They could have put up a piece of card with "cheer" on it, and the crowd would have gone nuts.
So, I'm watching the first episode. Maybe it's because I shot a movie. Maybe it's because I draw comics and will sweat the layouts and designs (in a recent issue of Sound Waves I drew, I showed Todd's room for the first time. Todd is Rhapsody's younger brother, so I put posters at odd angles on the wall, toys located around the room depending on where his interests were at the time, stuff like that). Set design is crucial -- it was what tipped me off to what the big twist ending of M. Night Shayamalan's The Village was, because the environment, if you paid attention, told you what was happening.
The episode starts off with a little girl wondering about a crack in her wall when the Doctor crash lands in her back yard. The episode moves quickly, jumping ahead twelve years. I'm grooving to the episode and enjoying it, when I get a jolt. At one point, the Doctor goes up to a character and takes his iPhone from him and starts looking at the pictures on it. It wasn't that it was an iPhone (although the Android is cooler), but that it was there. It took me a minute to figure out why this was a surprise. The episode hadn't really given any hints of modern technology. The cars visible in the background are at least ten years old. The set designs and layouts are much older. There are even old analog clocks that show the time by flipping panels down instead of digital displays. And yet, here's an iPhone, then a modern cable TV remote, and a guy with a laptop and wifi.
The show's head writer, Stephan Mofatt, got promoted to producer. And one thing I knew about him was his reputation. He is an expert at plotting things out in advance, giving little hints that all tie in together somehow by the end of the season. Also, from a production standpoint, this takes work and design, especially the cars in the outside scenes. I had given up on 24 in the first season when I realized what I thought were clues were just mistakes the writers made. Mofatt is light years better than that.
When the episode was over, I leaned over to Mornblade and asked, When did this take place?
He blinked at me in confusion. "What?"
I explained what I noticed about the set designs and how it wasn't adding up, and pointed out how, at the start of the episode, the Doctor said the crack in the wall was actually a crack in space-time, two timelines touching that shouldn't be. I told him with finality, Something's wrong.
The guy sitting behind us leaned in and told me, "You're right." Mornblade and I looked at each other in surprise.
So this season has Neil Gaiman writing an episode and I've apparently discovered a major clue to the season. I think I'll be watching this one.
OKAY, I'M OFFICIALLY A "CARTOONIST" -- This is actually a bit of a paradigm shift for me. Remember, I beat myself up for just doing the best I can as a penciler. As a result, this weekend was really weird.
To kill time and relax, I'm drawing the poster for Sound Waves and working on pages of the comic. Now, there are other people here and there working on sketches as well. People see what they are doing and just move on. So I started drawing, figuring no one would really notice me.
The poster I'm working on features Rhapsody and Melody swimming around in the ocean, pure joy on their faces. People come by, take one look, and go "SQUEE!" Seriously. There was a guy cosplaying as a Gears Of War character, who said he thought my characters were adorable and his daughter would love it. Jim Valentino gushed about how cute my characters were and how funny some of my bits were. This is a guy who draws super complex stuff for the Bigs, and he's raving about my chibi minimalism. Industry pros, con goers, moms pushing strollers, guys who look like extras in a zombie movie, everyone is loving my art.
I'm talking with a friend of mine, who has done professional pencil work for the Bigs. He loves looking at my art, which blows my mind. I showed him the current page I was working on, penciled and halfway inked, and he was examining it in detail. He said he understood how I got the results I do. It was then that he said something that brought everything into perspective for me. He told me, "Cartooning is very difficult." He held up a sketch of a female Flash he had been commissioned to do. He pointed out a part where he goofed on the anatomy and perspective. I told him I didn't notice it. He explained, "That's because I disguised it. I can use lines and shadows to hide my mistakes. Cartooning, you can't do that. And you can't just draw a cartoon, you have to do something people react to." What he was saying was comic book penciling, you can admire the technical skill. Cartooning, you are after a reaction from the audience and your art has to sell it. Which is what my stuff was doing.
Somehow, I had never really thought of Sound Waves as cartooning. Honestly, I thought it was just me puttering around, it never really registered how much work was going into it. And when I look at my artwork and think about the cartoonists I admire, I get a similar vibe. I always wanted to be a cartoonist, even when I was a kid and reading my Peanuts books every day.
There was another thing to consider. I know lots of comic pencilers who have some pretension about them. This also goes for John Byrne. Jeff Smith, the creator of the awesome Bone, was at a con when Byrne approached him (this was witnessed by dozens of people at the booth that day, including industry pros). Byrne literally patted Smith on the head and said, "Keep up the fair work." From the seething looks the crowd gave him, it's a miracle Byrne is still alive (Smith is one of the true gentlemen in comics. He was shocked, but he quickly shook it off and went back to interacting with the fans).
There were several cartoonists there as well as pencilers. Adam Hughes was there, and I got him to sign all my MAZE Agency comics. He scrawled his initials and didn't say a word except when I gave him an issue he didn't work on. I apologized and he went back to signing the books. At one point, he was sitting there working on sketches and had a sign saying he wouldn't sign anymore books until 530PM. I understand the guy is busy (especially considering he was charging $400 for a sketch and all his slots booked up in the first two hours), but he can't even sign books? When all he does is write "AH!" and that's his sig? And for people with only two or three books to sign, not fifteen like I had?
By way of contrast, the cartoonists were a total gas. They were friendly, they couldn't wait to talk, they weren't pushing their books, they were content to let you look and if you moved on, you moved on. They are a really decent crowd. The only cartoonist I'm aware of who isn't taking pride in his work but letting his ego run unchecked is John Kricfalusi (All cartoons since Tex Avery suck! I'm a genius and the only one doing it right! Networks and viewers are just too dense to get how awesome this is! He doesn't actually say that stuff, but that's the gist, especially on his blog).
So, I am officially declaring myself part of the crowd.
I am a cartoonist.
HE WHO TRAVELS FASTEST TRAVELS LIGHT -- As I was riding up with Mornblade on Friday and on a bus on Saturday, I didn't bring my usual haul of shit to the con, as I had no idea where to store it or how accessible it would be. I had the bag I carry my artwork in and my shoulder pack that holds Kylie (my IBM S10 netbook) and a large mailer box for comics. I took a couple of mailer boxes on Friday to keep in the trunk of Morblade's car, but divide the books between them to keep dashing back and forth to a minimum. I had my Mighty Mouse wristwatch, whose precision and smart styling have made it the #1 choice of Polish mangakas everywhere. And instead of my usual camera, one that uses floppies, I had my new-ish cell phone. I had a pay-as-you-go from Cingular before it got devoured up by AT&T. The phone's battery was starting to go out. I had an extra phone -- my dad got a new phone and simply swapped out the SIM chip and told me I could have it. Rather than shelling out for a new battery on a phone that I couldn't access the web with because its browser was no longer supported, I swapped the chip and put it into service. I customized the wallpaper (Rhapsody and Melody, natch), learned how to use the camera, and put a few MP3's on it. The internal memory is only 20 meg. So I have wormsong and the first television interview with Stephan Pastis on it. The camera phone is very lightweight and took pictures at a higher resolution than the floppy camera does. I'll still use the floppy camera, but for the "You can't take it with you" trips, this worked out really good.
WELCOME TO THE FUTURE -- Talking with the pros I'm friends with gave a chilling glimpse into what comic cons in Chicago are going to be like. What you thought of the con depended on why you were there. The fans seemed pretty sold, but it's tough to screw things up with them. You have to really botch things up like ACen, and even that won't keep them away. The Artist Alley folks thought it was great. Dealers? Not so much. Reed didn't provide chairs, so you had to buy them. At $50 a pop. They wouldn't let some get extra tables, even though there were plenty left over. The con program told what comic pros would be there, but wouldn't say where. Basic staffers were on the floor, but the people actually running the con apparently weren't to be seen. Those with complaints weren't going with this, this is the first con, it's a learning experience. As far as they were concerned, Reed had done the NYC con for years, and were guaranteeing X number of attendees, so this constituted incompetence.
Why am I saying this is the future? Because every industry pro there loved it. Partly because they were treated well, but also because it wasn't Wizard (the climate control working correctly might have also had something to do with it). If the pros have to pick one show or the other, they are going to go with Reed. Some pros even bailed on their requests for tables for this year's ChicagoCon. Rumors are circulating that Wizard is thinking that this year's ChicagoCon may be the last. Dealers will also vote, going to the con with the most fan magnets. A couple of people commented that the porno booth, hentai dealers, and the booth for the Admiral Theater weren't there. You could feel the momentum turning, and it does not look good for Wizard.
REUNITED, AND IT FEELS SO GOOD -- The pic above of the X-Men 3 Kitty Pryde had a bonus. Her boyfriend was with her. He saw me and asked, "Didn't I make a movie with you?"
I looked close at the guy dressed like Sgt. Rock and blinked. "Dustin?!?"
Dustin played Kahnaley in the Firewater! movie I shot years ago. I had lost his e-mail addy, so I lost touch with him. We started talking about the shoot, making his girlfriend laugh at the times we had. I got his current address and resolved to keep in touch this time.
RUNNING THE MAZE -- I'm starting to think that gathering writing samples to show off at conventions is time and money better spent elsewhere. Not that I'm giving up the writing, just giving up trying to score gigs at conventions.
Found out a little more about the Johnny DC line from DC Comics and how to pitch. Nobody there to do it with. Marvel is looking for people, but they take their stuff through their web site, not at cons. The only real bright spot was when I was walking by the Archie comics booth. Chatting with a couple of people there, I mentioned I had started an all-ages series last year. The guy I was talking to gave me a business card. He was the vice prez of Archie, and asked me to e-mail him a writing sample. I did that as soon as I got home (issue #4 of Sound Waves). If nothing happens, nothing happens. But I was thinking, and I couldn't remember any stories of people getting work by pitching at cons. So I think I need to focus my efforts elsewhere. Still working it out....
HOW TO DESTROY YOUR CAREER IN FIVE MINUTES OR LESS -- One exception - there was a DC editor there, running around the floor. One pro pointed him out to me. He asked, "Are you going to pitch to him?"
I said, Now?!? He'll shoot me down in flames and make sure everyone knows who I am! I'll never get anywhere!
Remember, kids, if they ain't at the booth doing official duty, don't bother them. Word shoots around the comic industry really fast, and you'll never control what they say.
EXIT, STAGE RIGHT -- There was a stage set up in the lounge area, and they had a steady rotation of filkers playing music there. For the uninitiated, "filk" is folk music with a sci-fi/fantasty bend. It's actually pretty popular, with actual companies pressing and distributing CD's. Wizard rock doesn't qualify because it is rock music, not folk. Oh, and the crowds get a lot more into the fun of it all.
So I got to hear songs extolling how unstoppable the Juggernaut is or how sexy She-Hulk is and so on. Well, a few bars, anyway, I really didn't stick around long while they were on.
There were also some people trying to do comedy troupe stuff based on comics. They worked hard and tried to sell it, but like the filkers, I detected no real crowd reaction. I'm not sure if they just weren't wowwing them (very possible) or if the crowd just wasn't paying attention.
HIGH MARKS FOR MCCORMICK PLACE IN ONE AREA -- The bathrooms were clean! And they had soap! Holy fuck, this IS better than Rosemont!
THE SHOW MUST GO ON -- First, there was the amusements involving the parking. Then there was the fun of the layout. Saturday morning, the escalators leading to the show floor, there was a guard saying it was for exhibitors, we attendees had to take another way in. We walked through the queuing area, circled around, and wound up taking the exact same escalator from the other side of the hallway it was in. Staffers giving directions to the parking areas and such didn't have their signals straight. Posters around the con floor told people to text any questions about the con to a certain number, and they'd get a response within seconds. I was tempted to text, "Where the fuck am I?!?"
Saturday night was An Evening With Neil Gaiman. McCormick Place was built to incorporate the old Aerie Crown Theater into it. I'm sitting, killing time while waiting for the bus to go home. Gaiman's show starts at 700PM. A guy is on his cell phone. I stop drawing as I listen in.
Unless I'm missing something, there were three different tickets for getting in. At least once, they had to tell entire lines to switch places with each other. One line was taken all the way back in the queuing area, making people wait almost a block away before letting them cross to the door to get in. The guy on the phone was bitching like crazy about all the hoops he and his friends were jumping through just to get in. I love Neil Gaiman, but I think I saved myself a lot of headache by not going.
COSPLAY CONFIDENTIAL -- Not a lot of men cosplayers there. Of them, the most popular costume seemed to be the Comedian from Watchmen. There was a guy as the Bob Kane Batman, but pulling a roller suitcase with him. I thought, so much for the idea that Batman keeps everything in his utility belt.
Women? The Baroness from G.I. Joe put up good numbers, but the most popular costume was Supergirl, hands down. Not just the grown-ups, either. Lots of grade school girls dressed as Supergirl, like a chibi comic brought to life.
The little girl's Supergirl outfits were bought from a costume shop, which figures. There was one booth had a woman wearing a Snow White outfit bought from one of those sexy adult costume web sites (no, I will not discuss how I know this).
One woman was cosplaying as what I could only describe as Death Warmed Over. It's pretty tough to screw up a costume based on Death from The Sandman, but she did it. GG.
There was one guy dressed as Robin from Batman. Nothing personal, but when you hit your twenties (to say nothing of your forties like this dude), you are just too old to cosplay as Robin without giving people the creeps.
GIVE THE AUDIENCE WHAT THEY WANT -- As I walk around, a woman dressed as Slave Girl Leia stops me to talk. She's part of a burlesque review called "Nerdlesque." They do stripteases and such with comic book and sci-fi themes. I asked her if she'd ever seen a TV show called Leverage. The first episode featured a computer hacker in a hotel room watching as a bunch of Slave Girl Leias had a light saber fight. "Oh, we do stuff like that," she said. As she wandered the floor giving out fliers with a Wonder Woman-type performer asking, "Who should I tie up next?", I noticed she was wearing the actual outfit for the striptease. The back of the Slave Girl Leia top had a velcro strip holding it closed, with a little tab to grab and go.
I am a gentleman first. But she didn't even notice me behind her. Ultimately, my integrity was greater than my temptation. Just saying she might want to think about a costume less likely to be monkeyed with outside the stage setting.
READY FOR MY CLOSE-UP, MR. DE MILLE! -- Scott Kurtz, the creator of PvP, was there. As we talked, I mentioned I do a web comic. He asked me about it, and I told him a little. I pulled out Kylie and fired up a couple of strips to show him. He was nodding in approval, and I asked if he would give me a critique. He read a few strips and asked me to send him a link to the actual site and he would give me a full blown critique.
Before I left, he gave me his first impressions. He said my strip was excellent. I was funny, my timing and set-ups perfect, my art was great.
(everybody sing along)
...your text is hard to read.
WHO NEEDS STARBUCKS?!? -- There were two different booths there handing out free energy drinks. One was called Venom, and the other was Amped. The booth babes smiled as they handed them out to thirsty geeks. I didn't take one, I think most energy drinks taste like shit (a lot of them also have artificial sweeteners, which I am allergic to). But it's nice to see someone keeping the crowd going while the espresso machines were locked away.
I'VE MADE SOME NEW FANS, APPARENTLY -- Art Baltazar was there. I first saw him outside the convention area, talking with a friend. Once again, I left him alone, I don't like to intrude on other people's personal space. On Saturday, I'm wandering through the DC display when he spots me. He loved Sound Waves and told me to keep at it. Go me!
Also there was Brent Fowler. He does a comic called Wannabeez and works with Hard Way Studios. He's still doing work for them, too, lettering the upcoming Suicide Note. When I asked him if he wanted a Stress Puppy graphic novel, he leaped on it like a deranged Slinky.
Another Haven, the video sellers, I friends with, introduced me to a guy they were letting hawk his stuff at their booth. Turns out he was the creator, writer, and artist for Chakan The Forever Man, one of my favorite comics when the black and white boom started (he was only 15 at the time!). Brian couldn't wait to introduce us. As we talk, I show him some Stress Puppy strips. He starts reading them, to the point he forgets he's supposed to be working the crowd to sell his sketches. He read the "Keeping Up With The Jones" storyline making fun of anti-smoking zealots and "Java Development", where the office is arguing over who should be making the coffee, and he's laughing like a loon. He asked for a link to the site so he could keep up with the strip.
So, all in all, I've learned quite a bit. I have a better idea how to reshape my strategy and how to make my efforts count. I've found a couple of trustworthy publishers and have learned what they respond to (note to self -- dig up more copies of The Supremacy pronto!). There's a lot of people digging my stuff, and I've made some new friends. The one booth my friend who does booth babe work at? They are all horror and b-movie fans. I blew them away with my knowledge and everyone thinks I'm a swell guy (two of them actually met Michael Berryman, and told me some great stories. Great guy, I hope I get the chance to meet him some day). All told, I got a lot more out of this than I did Wizard World. The only drawback is I didn't get many sketches. I commissioned one, and that's it, which is waaaaay below my usual standards. But the ChicagoCon is just around the corner, I'll make up for it then. Stay classy, folks!