Well, here we are at the Holiday Inn Carol Stream, home of the Chicagoland Entertainment Collectors Expo, free wifi without content filtering, and a very nice swimming pool. Wanna know how the show itself went? Well, grab your socks and read on, Joel Robinson!
It's Friday morning. I wake up with a stuffy nose and a bad feeling. I look at my feet, and I have socks on. Usually, I can't sleep with socks on, I will pull them off in the middle of the night without waking up. If I see socks still on my feet when I wake up in the morning, it means I'm coming down with something. I consider not going, but I went through all this trouble, might as well get on with it. So I pull my sorry ass out of bed and start the prep work.
One of the things I did earlier in the week was stop by a store. In the luggage department, I saw handcarts. Weight limit? 75 lbs. Should be more than adequate for a few mailers of comics and such, so I pounce on one. It was the smartest $15 I've spent in ages. Getting everything to my table took two trips, and one was just for the easel. I put the Sound Waves poster, my bag of artwork, the tub of computer games, four mailers of comics, Pam and Kylie in their respective laptop bags, and the plastic display holders for my comics. Worked like a dream. I had also stopped by Hobby Lobby. They have their easels set up on display, and I wanted to see what the hell I was doing wrong. Looked it over, figured it out, I was now set.
I get there Friday afternoon. The show is to start at 100PM. I get there with three minutes to spare (which is actually pretty good for me). I find Paul Maiellaro, the organizer. There are three sections for the show, the main hall, a vestibule, and a tent outside. He put me in the main hall close to an outlet for my computer. He gives me directions and I head inside. I get to my table, and see that, immediately across the aisle on my left is Caroline Munro, whom I've been smitten with for decades. There are some days when I actually love being me. (This picture is sort of the view from my table. If you look on the left side, you'll see her.)
Took me no time to get set up, minimalism working to my advantage with my layout. I get everything together and only then take in my situation. Originally, I had been hoping for a lull in things so that I could find Miss Munro and chat with her. With her proximity? Sorted. To the left of her table was Richard Kiel, veteran of James Bond, The Addams Family, and lots of shows like The Twilight Zone that needed a big guy. I go up to say hi. He actually remembered me! We chatted, and I showed him Sound Waves. He mentioned he had literally just gotten in from California. He has a part in the upcoming Disney movie Tangled. Activision is doing the video game, and they brought him in to do the voice of his character from the movie. In fact, they expanded on his role. Really a swell guy.
So, what is Caroline Munro really like? She's a total sweetheart, her husband is a very lucky guy. She conducted herself very much like a lady, greeting me in the mornings with, "Hi, neighbor!" A couple of people came around and talked with her about James Bond, but everyone else I could hear was talking to her about Star Crash. The movie won't be properly released on video until this Tuesday, but they had DVD inserts she could sign, the next best thing. Also there was Richard Dean. Dean is a local small press publisher who put together a book of short stories based on her character from Star Crash, Stella Star. The book is called Curved Space. I bought a copy and got them both to sign it. Also got a DVD insert and a couple of pics.
Then, the really interesting thing happened. She asked if I wanted a picture with her. I couldn't have said no if you stuck a gun to my head. By my table was open space for the door, and most people getting pictures went there so they could take a picture without clogging the aisle. My table was right there. She asked if I wanted a picture of us with my Sound Waves poster? Yeah! Snap, got the pic.
Later on, when things quieted down on Sunday, she came around to look at my Sound Waves comics. She found the characters absolutely charming and wanted to know more about them, but with all the interviews and fans, she didn't get a chance until then. She looked over a couple of the books and just gushed at how wonderful it was that I was creating something that kids could actually read instead of cynically selling sex and violence. We chatted more and she was ready to pick up a full run of Sound Waves when she realized she didn't have room in her luggage for the books (she was already taking a bunch of the Curved Space books back, and had to leave a few because she couldn't pack them without bending or ruining them). She asked if I was local, I said yes. She told me she has a couple of convention appearances next year, and made me promise to bring her a full run of Sound Waves at the next Chicago show she would be appearing at.
Of course, I said yes! Did you really think I wouldn't?
So, Caroline Munro is a fan of my work.
Lesson learned: mermaids get you in with cinematic legends. Hmm...I wonder what would happen if I sent some to Kylie Minogue?
Also there was Larry Elmore, legendary TSR artist. He was looking over the Sound Waves poster and the art pages I was drawing and asked if it was a web comic. I told him no, and we started talking about the web for comics. He mentioned that he thought about doing a web comic, his fans wanted to see one, but he had no idea how to do it. I pulled out Kylie, who had already been set for the hotel's wifi. I told him about Money For Content And Your Clicks For Free, a book about making money from original content on the web by J.D. "Illiad" Frazer, the creator of User Friendly. I told Elmore that this was the book he wanted, because Iliad literally wrote the book on web comics -- User Friendly was the first of its kind and he was soon making a living with it. As I put it, this isn't a bunch of theories about how to utilize the web, this guy actually did it, this is his exact business model, it works, it's not speculation. I showed Elmore how to find the book on Amazon and wrote down the information on a piece of paper for him. He would stop by once in a while to talk shop, especially about my inking techniques. He was really impressed with the pens I used.
Lesson learned: mermaids let you help give industry legends a chance to explore new frontiers for their art.
Erin Moran was there. I heard her voice, and I immediately pegged her as a heavy smoker. She was there with her husband and really seemed to be having a bundle of kicks (although, it does seem like she spent more time away from her table than at it. I don't mean wandering the convention floor, I really didn't see her that much), hamming it up for pictures and that. Well, she was raised in a strict Irish Catholic family, this actually kind of figures. To get to her table, she had to walk by mine. So I'm sitting there, drawing my mermaids, as she's passing. She takes a look and starts squeeing. "Look at you!" She and her husband were loving the scene I was drawing and then a later scene from the Christmas special where Rhapsody's brother, Todd, is acting like a dick in public and Rhapsody drops the hammer on him. Later in the evening, I look down the aisle and see her looking at me. Dude...Erin Moran was totally flirting with me. Like I said, she was having fun, so I'm not reading anything into it. She was goofing around, I doubt she's a chubby chaser. But it was still unexpected enough that I felt myself starting to blush.
Lesson learned: mermaids can get you laid.
Sound Waves didn't sell many runs, but I did move a few. Among those picking up a set was Caroll Spinney, the voice and puppeteer for Big Bird, Oscar, and Elmo. He just adored Rhapsody and Melody and the musical inside jokes (the gag about Melody's mother being named "Fermata" was really a hit with him), and found Stress Puppy very interesting. We had a great discussion about comic strip artists like Charles Schulz and such. He told me about a strip he does, but because of time constraints, he can only do it during breaks from Sesame Street. We also talked about the nature of the art, about the strips being wish fulfillment (the right characters succeeding despite opposition, his with characters in the Army, mine with characters in a corporate environment) without being unbelievable, that the characters readers identify with and live through get their just rewards -- like me, he regards Dilbert as depressingly fatalistic.
Lesson learned: Caroll Spinney is a great guy. Hey, I never said EVERYTHING revolved around mermaids.
One thing I found interesting was watching the collection of Bond girls. They acted very ladylike and dignified. I mention this because I can't imagine the current crop, like Halle Berry or Denise Richards (ESPECIALLY Denise Richards) acting with such refinement and generosity to the fans. It truly was a different era.
Friday night, one of the show assistants comes around with a manilla envelope. Inside is a convention program and a packet with five cards of the artwork I did for the charity fundraiser. I must have stared at those cards for, like five minutes. Completely new experience. It was very humbling.
Friday, I'm sitting there, saying hi to the crowd and doing my pages (Russell Lissau stopped by and said hi. He's not overly impressed with Quantum Redshift. Not surprising, I don't expect anybody to like everything I do. There are times I suspect my teacher is bluffing about her absolute enthusiasm for my work, but I don't have the guts to call her on it). It's been a long day, and I'm feeling the urge for some kind of refreshment. Suddenly, staff from the show are coming around with bags of candy, chips, and cookies. They are also coming around with bottles of soda. I politely decline, I can't drink soda pop. Another comes up behind her with bottles of water. I took a bag of cookies and some water. Didn't see THAT coming.
700PM is about to roll around. I'm considering what I'm going to do for dinner. There's a Portillo's about two miles from the hotel. That's when another staffer comes around and says there will be pizza for us after the show closes for the night. NOW YOU'RE SPEAKING MY LANGUAGE! The doors close and I leave my stuff there. They said they would have someone keeping an eye on the floor, but if I was really worried, I might want to take anything really valuable with me. Well, that's Kylie and Pam, so I tuck Pam in the trunk of my car and head for the restaurant. I ask for an iced tea. It actually took them a minute to scare some up (I'm reminded of one of my friends saying, "Peter, you're in a bar!"). I'm offered a salad. I decline, saying, "Who am I to take food from the mouths of starving rabbits?" Pizza was served. Everybody had their own little groups, including Bonnie Piesse (Aunt Beru from the Star Wars prequels). I find myself a table, fire up Kylie, and enjoy reading tech support horror stories, eating pizza, drinking tea, and relaxing. I call it quits about 830PM. Heading out to my car, I find a woman who was there for the convention. She had literally just gotten in, so she missed the first day. So I hung around with her for a while.
Saturday. I get there about 945 (early birds were allowed in at 930. I just can't win with this road construction). Actually, that tipped me off that I was having a good time, that I put real effort into getting there on time. Busiest day yet, lots of people coming by, one couple thought Sound Waves would be good for their granddaughter but she was "too young" to read it (she was seven. Speaking as someone who was reading at the sixth grade level before he was out of kindergarten, I find that a bit insulting). Erin Moran stopped by to watch me draw. Not exactly the best spokesperson, her enthusiasm was a little overwhelming for the kids looking it over.
Ari Lehman, the original Jason Vorhees in the original Friday The 13th, was having a blast. With his hair, mustache, black T-shirt, studded cuffs -- he looked like a death metal version of the Prince Of Persia. He was going around to the different guests and declaring, "YOU'RE EVIL!" I smirked at him and said, well, you WOULD know. He thought about that, then nodded his head. I also dug up a picture on the Internet to show him. People are replacing the "I'm with stupid" T-shirts with "Epic Fail" and the arrow pointing to the side. Someone had set up a display of these shirts with the arrow pointing to a display of Twilight shirts. He thought that was funny, and soon everybody on his side of the room (including the current Jason Vorhees and the actress from Dark Shadows) were goofing on Twilight.
Richard Dean, the editor of the Curved Space short story collection, came in on Saturday morning. He had a lot of boxes. As I was a little behind schedule, and my table was right across from Miss Munro's, he was organizing his stuff there and pulling it over. I showed up, and he gulped about commandeering my spot for the moment. I told him it was fine and let him finish. Later on, he came over to look at my comics. I told him about Head Above Water, Sound Waves, and Stress Puppy -- The Rise Of Holly. He thought that was interesting, so I opened the book and showed him the scene where Holly flips her shit while trying to upgrade the Windows machines. Then I showed him the gag based on the AOL commercial where the guy said, "I can't even program my VCR, and I'm on the Internet!" He works tech support, and I'm guessing Holly became his patron saint in that moment. He asked how much. $10. He took the book and asked me about the online portion. I pointed him to Hard Way Studios address on the back -- they aren't updating the strip right now, but the archives up to "Package Deal" are still there. I suggested he check out "Loose Canons", the Christmas storyline, first. I could see and hear him laughing. A new fan.
I signed several of the Sound Waves cards. If I'm invited next year, I need to make the design with a little more open space.
A group of builders were there. They make replicas of robots from movies. They had a full size Twiki from Buck Rogers, the requisite R2D2 and C3PO, a life-size Wall-E, a miniature Bender, but made of epic win was the full size Tom Servo.
I had eaten a real hardy breakfast that morning. I can usually eat a manly pile, but I made sure to overdo it a bit to get me through the longest day, 1000AM to 700PM. Halfway through, the staffers come around with box lunches. Inside is a cold sandwich (I opted for Italian sub), chips, a cookie, and an apple. A good apple, not those mealy ones. Also came around before and after that with extra chips, candy, and drinks. I figured, since that night was the charity dinner with some of the guests of honor, that I would be smart to think about dinner plans. Portillo's it is. Then they announced that a dinner buffet for us would start at 730PM. They started with soup, bread, then the buffet. They had a Polynesian revue do a show, and one of the guests did her stand up act. I slipped out relatively early to make sure I got plenty of rest.
Sunday. Relatively quiet. Once again, lunch is brought around to us. Folks, this show treats the talent right. At the end, Paul came around to thank everyone individually. I asked him if I could come back next year, he said it would be great. Everyone also got a complete set of the cards from the fundraiser. Russell Lissau's is just a picture of him. He wasn't there Sunday, so I couldn't give him shit for it. Yes, I totally got Caroline Munro to sign her card, along with a few others.
So now, I'm back home. Only a few comics sold, no games sold, but damn, what a blast. This is the first time I actually felt like an industry pro instead of some schmuck struggling against his own insignificance. I hope I go next year. Just the Caroline Munro stuff puts this solidly in the win column. Once I post this, I'm off for a self-congratulatory hoagie. I'll be back to my usual bitching, pissing, and moaning tomorrow. See you all then.