Well, here we are on the Chicago lakefront, at McCormick Place for Reed's 2011 Comic Collectibles and Entertainment Expo. Join me for another run through the trenches.
HAT TRICK — So on Friday, I decide to wear this combination you see here.
I think it was very Milan. The clothes looked good, but the newsboy hat put it over the top.
How do I know? People kept noticing it.
I stop to get gas. The lady behind the counter says, "Nice hat."
I get to the parking deck. As I take my ticket, the guy in the booth says, "Nice hat."
A guy from convention security asks me how much I want for my hat. I tell him it isn't for sale. He jokingly says, "You know, I could simply confiscate it." I tell him where to find it cheap online, and he leaves me alone.
I get to Xigency booth. One of the guys there loves the hat.
Talking with a female friend on the show floor, she greets me with a hug, and as we separate, she gives the bill of my hat a playful tug.
Never underestimate the power.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS — So, last year, I didn't get the big deal about C2E2 and was thankful to still have the ChicagoCon proper (Wizard World) to look forward to.
Folks, if it weren't for The Bruce being there, I'm not sure I would go this year.
Somehow, C2E2 felt more like a "real" comic convention. I had a great time all three days. Lots to do, lots to look for, lots of people to talk with. Got sketches, got books signed.
And I'm not alone.
Last year, industry pros were talking about how C2E2 was great and they'd definitely come back the next year. Now, they are wondering if they should even bother with Wizard. Wizard needed to survive and started shifting the con to more of a pop culture thing. This isn't a bad thing. But if your gig is comics, and comics become incidental to what the show was originally created for, you aren't as interested in investing your time and money in it.
Reed seems to be learning from its mistakes. Last year, it was estimated they missed their projected attendance by about 20% (27,500). This year was plenty busy, with an estimated attendance of 34,000. One guy I know who sells videos there mentioned that he didn't get a chance to rest after Friday, the place was jumping Saturday and Sunday. Apparently, Reed decided that Sunday they would let kids 12 and under in free. Parents with strollers and kids were everywhere. And merchandise was moving. They also chose a different hall than enabled better use of space, but still kept the aisles wide enough for people in wheelchairs and that.
The slogan for C2E2 is, "The con Chicago needs. The con you deserve."
They're getting there. They're getting there....
TO BOLDLY GO WHERE I HAVEN'T GONE IN AGES — I promised myself I'd never go back....
Well, that's a bit melodramatic.
Here's the thing — many, many years ago, I was in Chicago and I got mugged. I did not like being on the other end of that gun.
After that, I chiefly went to Chicago only with someone else. A swim buddy. Between things like people getting their cars towed and experiences like mine, Chicago just became a land of predators, and I was just fine not going there. My visits became very infrequent as the people I hung with developed other things in their lives that (quite rightly) took precedence over chickenshit me looking for someone to hold my hand.
My teacher would listen to me talk about things going on that weekend in Chicago and my refusal to go and just smile at me. I finally asked her in exasperation what she was smiling about.
"You'll return to Chicago."
No, I won't.
"Sooner or later, some temptation that you won't be able to resist will happen, and you will force yourself to overcome your fears."
I described that with a hearty barnyard epithet. Well, sort of. I don't swear around her. But she got the point. The entire time, I felt the beginnings of worry. She's never wrong.
With all the publishers coming to C2E2, I'd be an idiot not to go. With all the indies going there, I'd be an idiot not to go. When I found out that none of my friends were going, I didn't know what to do.
Finally, I did the only thing I could do — I bought a ticket and decided to go myself. (She didn't say anything, but I could almost hear the smirk in my teacher's voice as we talked about it.)
Mornblade decided to go Saturday, but that still left Friday and Sunday for myself. Besides, I was tired of being afraid. I can read my environment. I know how to adapt on the fly. And, most importantly, I'm going to be inside one of the crown jewels of Chicago. Logic said I had nothing to worry about. So, on Friday, I girded up my loins and drove up there.
Curiously, on the drive up, the nervousness just sort of melted away. The fear and intimidation didn't even return when I saw the Chicago skyline as I drove. I was as cool as a Perry Como groupie. I get there, get in the parking deck, and walk, completely centered in the moment.
Looking out at the city through the windows, it felt very strange. It was like I was actually seeing the environment. Before, I was focused on myself and it made me an easy mark. Now, I looked at it and saw, well, still a jungle, but one I could navigate. One that, with a little planning, forethought, and attention, I could travel to and through and be okay. Not guaranteed, of course, but my odds of coming through unscathed were actually pretty good. For example, I know not to look up at the buildings, but keep my eyes on the ground around me. Muggers and pickpockets usually leave those people alone and focus on easier prey not paying attention.
There's still a lot of danger out there. But it's a boogeyman. Bad things can still happen. But it's not the sure thing I have been so scared of for about a decade and a half. Maybe I'll even come up here to check out some concerts and stuff.
Yup. She was right again.
IN TOO DEEP — Speaking of my teacher....
After my freakout earlier this week, I'm talking with my teacher on the phone. And as we talk and I vent my frustrations, she waits for a quiet point and asks me, "Have you considered that you are exactly what you are supposed to be?"
What, frustrated? No one volunteers for that.
"Not like that. You create certain things. You do things a certain way. Have you considered that you are an underground cartoonist because the alternative just isn't possible for you? At least, not under the conditions it would have?"
I have long discussed how every artistic choice we make comes with a cost. There are things that will sell and make plenty of money and/or bring plenty of prestige, simply by appealing to market demographics and the lowest common denominator. But for each thing in that model you reject, you must pay a price. My movie Firewater!, for example, could have easily been written as some dopey Adam Sandler-ish movie. But I don't like stupid humor. Well, that takes away part of the audience. The politics in the movie posited that neither party was trustworthy, and any candidate you support will likely stab you in the back. Well, people like movies that bash one party and celebrate the other, so that took away part of the audience. No action sequences. That took away more of the audience. No sex, not even a set of tits. More audience loss. While I enjoyed making the movie and felt I did just fine, getting a distribution deal or getting the general public to notice it didn't happen. Because I made something to be accepted or rejected on its own merits, I didn't even try to meet expectations halfway. And it cost me.
Oni Press said as recently as a few weeks ago on its web site that they only take pitches in person at cons. Seeing they would be at C2E2 was one of the things that pushed me to go. Several of the indies that I hang with had seen the early works or the complete first issue of Quantum Redshift and said, "You should pitch to Oni." One of them, in particular, urged me to do it. When I told him I was going to try, he made me promise to come right back and let him know what happened.
Oni didn't have a submissions guy there, but they would gladly take a pitch package back. But as I talked with him, I eventually convinced this person to at least look at the art. If the art passed muster, I would leave a pitch package. If not, I would walk away. He agreed.
I took out the first issue of Quantum Redshift. He took one look at the first page and said, "No."
I smiled, thanked him for his time (which, from the look on his face, shocked him. I guess he was expecting me to whine and defend my work), and let him be.
I went back to my friend and told him what happened. His face dropped in shock. "Have you read Scott Pilgrim?!?"
"Your art is definitely better and your writing is way better! How could they say, 'No'?!?" (Talking with others, his reaction was hardly unique.)
Well, that's just how it is. It's no offense, it's just a judgment on their part.
I noticed something odd — those outside the traditional comic book art community, those self-publishing, those working small, those in the trenches like I am, thought my work was fantastic and should get a chance. But those not in the trenches? They didn't feel my work could sell.
The thing is, those people not in the trenches?
They're sort of right.
It finally really registered that a lot of comics out there are designed to sell to a pre-existing audience of habitual consumers. People who would drop a book if it got bad have been chased out. What's left are these people who are regarded as spigots of money. Do this, and they will pay. Do that, and they won't. Publishers aren't trying to bring in new readers. I mean, when you have to know fifty years of comic history just to follow a Spider-Man story, it sends the message that new readers aren't welcome here.
I suppose it could be argued that the publishers are putting up money, so they have every right to refuse something they don't think they can make their money back on. But I don't buy it. Publishers have access to printers and marketing channels that, between low cost to make the books and a low number of sales to break even, means they can try it (admittedly, the creator wouldn't get paid shit for their work. Then again, we aren't getting paid shit now). But they aren't. There just isn't cache for them to attract people who don't normally read comics to their kinds of comics. And there certainly isn't the money or the bragging rights or the licensing deals that there are. Publishers have an obligation to keep the audience expanding, if for no other reason than their own self-preservation. But they aren't interested in that, just holding on to these already existing customers that spend X amount of dollars and do it so regularly, you can set your watch by it.
My teacher is right. I am what I am supposed to be. I create comics with certain stories and certain values and certain ideals. And I do it because writing stories that lack any stories or any values or any ideals not only doesn't interest me, but I would hate every minute of doing it. If I could come up with a Spider-Man story, I could be read by over 50K people. But I wouldn't care, because I would just be writing a story and putting it out there. By way of contrast, Sound Waves barely sells thirty copies. But I love making the stories and drawing the characters and seeing the people who look at the books and just love them. The reaction is real. The acceptance is real. It's not something people buy just so they can keep up with the bitching on the Internet, they accept the stories as they are. It's just a matter of when, if ever, the publishing world catches up with me, not the other way around.
Not only that, but I am regarded as approachable. While hanging around with Joe Robinson Currie, a guy came up to ask him for advice on doing web comics. He immediately brought him over to me and introduced us. What followed was about twenty minutes explaining the problems and limitations of web comics and where he can look for advice to get it right. Then, because he asked about the possibility of turning the web comic into a collected book, giving him a crash course in the state of the industry. I'm in a position to share knowledge instead of hiding it away and feeling comfortably smug.
Do I want to stay an underground cartoonist? No, I would love to become a pro. But right now, that isn't the alternative. The alternative is to write things that may never see print on some vague hope that they might, and hope that I figure out a way to do it well enough that I can at least feel it was worth the time and effort, and that I don't look at all the work I did that had nothing come of it and not feel like it's wasted. My choices are that or doing this little thing that still brings joy and makes me feel good about my work.
Not only am I what I'm supposed to be, but I'm what I ultimately want to be — happy and fulfilled. Commercially successful is a whole other thing.
LOST AT C — I miss the turn to get to the parking deck and go straight past the convention center. Unsure where I'm going, I pull out my GPS and activate it. It leads me around a little and on a straight line to the convention center. Up ahead, I see the turn in parking lot C. I take it, park, and head inside McCormack Place.
I get inside, and the first thing I see is the box office for Aire Crown Theater.
Aw, crap. I picked the wrong parking deck. This was where C2E2 was last year. Once again, I parked on the opposite side of the convention center from where I needed to be.
That got fixed on subsequent trips. Saturday, the trip with Mornblade resulting in a parking spot that put us next to the staircase one floor up, and the door took us right outside the Rock Band stage right where the convention was being held.
TECHNOLOGY IS A BEAUTIFUL THING — The wifi sucked.
On the convention floor, connecting to the McCormick Place wifi took a long time for the handshake to happen. Then, you could have full bars and no data would be received. Meanwhile, going to another building (such as the south), you could easily pull in a good signal and data rate. Needs some work.
However, the off and on nature of it enabled it to still work when I needed. Kylie pretty much stayed powered off the whole weekend, I didn't even plug in any of the two bricks I charged up for her. Fermata saw the most work. Among the things I meant to put on there was a list of comics I wanted to find. Some I remembered, like Lois Lane #12 (too expensive) and Action Comics #284 (shut your goddamn mouth, Mornblade). But there was one more, a Marvel Team-Up. And I didn't remember the issue number. Fermata managed to connect and I went to eBay. I typed in my search terms, "Marvel Aunt May". Up pops a listing for Marvel Team-Up #137.
(Side note: MTU #137 was done during what was called Assistant Editors Month. In that issue, Aunt May and Franklin Richards team up to defeat Galactus. Aunt May becomes a superhero called the Golden Oldie, and saves the day by finding a planet that makes delicious snack cakes that Galactus would rather eat than planets. Basically, the whole issue is a goof on those Hostess ads that ran in comics, where the bad guy was defeated because of the Twinkies monkey on his back. The thing was a friggin' hoot.)
Armed with my knowledge, I went up to the first comic seller and showed him what I was after. He said, he wasn't sure he had that, most of his stuff was golden and silver age. "If we had it, it would be in one of those boxes," he said, pointing to a set of three short boxes on one of the tables.
I go up to the middle box. I start searching.
About a third of the way into the box, I find MTU #137.
The guy's jaw DROPS.
His partner comes around to look because he sees the cover and wonders what the hell is going on. I tell them about the issue. I pay, and as I'm going away, they're talking about who they can order the issue from for themselves.
THE BLOOM IS OFF THE ROSE — I'm not going to go into details. I will simply say this....
Adam Hughes is a fantastic artist. I love his work. I think he's great. But I am never going to bother collecting his signature on my comics ever again. Those that need to know the details do, and those that don't need the details don't. I'm not interested in talking smack about the guy, I just want people to understand I'm just done.
A DEAL AT TWICE THE PRICE — One of the complaints I hear from rennies is how people looking to go to ren faires "in costume" will simply wear an oversize T-shirt with a belt around the waist and black leggings and call it a ren faire costume.
This weekend, I saw the comic book analog.
There were quite a few girls there wearing black cotton catsuits with superhero Underroos over them. Boy's Underroos. And that was their costume. There were a couple of Batwhatevers and a couple of Superwhatevers.
It's one thing to try and make a costume on the cheap. Misty from Pokemon is a good example — jean shorts, yellow sleeveless T, red suspenders, you're done. And it's one thing to try to come up with a unique spin on a costume, such as the Summer Fun Stormtrooper at Wizard World. But this isn't keeping the cost down. And it isn't a unique spin. It's just lazy. If you're going to cosplay, put some effort into it, will ya?
CHEAPEST COSTUME AT THE CON — There were quite a few people there who just had a diamond thing over their head, like the active cursor in The Sims.
YOU GOT A BAD REPUTATION, THAT'S WHAT YOU'VE GOT — One of the wallpapers I can choose from on my computer is a picture of the Johns from They Might Be Giants in this pose you see here. When it comes to cosplayers, I usually just take pictures. But this image looked fun, so I thought to myself, I'm going to get a picture of me with someone acting out this pose.
Partway through, I ran across a Supergirl cosplayer. Perfect! I go up to her, she immediately adopts a pose so I can take a pic. I do, then ask if I can have a picture with her.
"Sure!" she says.
Well, I was hoping for a specific pose.
As soon as I said that, her face dropped. No no no it's nothing like that! I told her. I quickly pulled out Fermata and brought up the image of the Johns. She looked visibly relieved and agree to the pic. Another guy took the picture, remarking how much he loved it, with me being all Action Man and that. But still, the fandom has a really bad rep when her first reaction seems to be running for security.
By way of contrast, one guy got a picture of himself with Power Girl. He was down on one knee, holding her hand like he was proposing while she looked appropriately bashful and flattered. Just goes to show, not all fandom fantasies are horrifying. It's just where the smart money goes.
THE TRUE SIGN OF ART IS EVERYONE INTERPRETS IT THEIR OWN WAY — Diamond had huge posters advertising their Femme Fatales line-up. These are resin statues of original commissions instead of pieces they have to share the profits of with comic companies. So we're talking, basically, female stereotypes.
One was a goth woman. Jet black hair in poms, white shirt, plaid skirt, dark make-up, studs, heels....
Because I didn't see the "Femme Fatales" thing at the bottom of the poster, my first thought was, Awesome! An Abby Scuitto statue!
Disappointed that it's actually something pedestrian? You betcha.
AND SPEAKING OF REINTERPRETATIONS — Last year at Wizard World, I wanted to get sketches done of Thor-ified characters. Basically, take a character who is pure of heart, and thus would be able to lift Thor's hammer, and have them transform into Marvel's thunder god. But I just didn't have the steam to do it.
Riding up to C2E2 on Saturday, I'm talking with Mornblade and I mention the Femme Fatales figures. I described the goth chick, and the first thing he said was, "Abby!"
I laughed and said, That was the first thing I thought, too.
And suddenly, a thought hit me.
Abby would be able to lift Thor's hammer.
I got to the con and made a beeline for Artist's Alley. I knew the artist I wanted to commission for this. I told him what I wanted. He hadn't seen the show, but his wife had her Android phone and started looking up pictures and information on the character.
And so, I got a sketch of a Thor-ified Abby. Check it out.
I'M JUST SOME PUTZ WHO PLAYS TOO MUCH ROCK BAND — They had a set up to play Rock Band 3 there. I tried it quickly on Friday. Damn, those Ion sets are nice. And they're apparently on sale, too. I'm ordering one first chance I get.
However, the drum set had a regular chair. It sat a smidge too low and I had to scoot to the edge (risking tipping it over) in order to play.
Saturday was when I was going with Mornblade, who is part of my Rock Band rock band the Swim Buddies. He wanted to play, so I was ready. I stuck my extra drum throne in the car and popped my 2B's into my pack.
Getting there, I ask the C2E2 guy running it if I could play on a regular drum throne instead of a chair.
"Sure. If you got one handy," he laughed.
Needless to say, he wasn't expecting me to return not five minutes later with a regulation drum throne and my 2B's. He just blinked as I climbed on the stage, pulled the chair out, and sat. Hardcore, motherfucker.
Quite a few people wanted the throne. I offered to leave my sticks and throne there, he said sure, he'd be there all day. I noted that, after a while, everyone went back to the regular chair but my 2B's stayed in use the entire time.
OH, WE'RE THE BOYS OF THE CHORUS, WE HOPE YOU LIKE OUR SHOW — So, partway through Saturday's Rock Band playing, this sight appeared....
No, this isn't a spin-off called Visual Rock Band. Apparently, these people didn't know each other, but when they started running into each other, decided to have some group fun. And part of it was to play Rock Band.
The song they choose? Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.
Keep in mind, I love Queen. And long time ago, there was a woman in my life who could sing Freddie Mercury's part dead solid perfect.
They slaughtered it.
I'm not talking casual. They were off key and just barely finished with three stars. How they kept from bombing out, I don't know.
They also attracted the biggest crowd of viewers of any of the players. People took pictures as one kid watched in horror. I'm not kidding. His eyes were fixated and his mouth hanging open and you could almost hear him thinking, "I had a dream like this once. Woke up in a straight jacket."
Short time later, going by the Rock Band stage, people saw this sign.....
No Stairway! Denied! All I know is, I'll never have to listen to Mornblade bad mouth his own singing ever again.
CAN I HAVE THIS DANCE FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE? — It was one of those moments that reminds me, for all my cynicism, love is real and alive.
Lots of couples cosplaying together. And one couple, him as the Flash and her as Supergirl, in the middle of one of the Rock Band numbers, just came together and started dancing with each other. A slow dance, completely disregarding the pace of the music, all that mattered was the moment they were sharing.
It should happen to all of us.
LAYING THEM IN THE AISLES — One of the things that makes a cartoonist what they are is the ability to look at a situation and somehow find comedy in it. Doing improv can refine it, but you can't teach it. You either have it or you don't.
On Friday, at the end of the day, I come outside the convention hall. Several cosplayers are standing around talking, including Dread Pirate Rob, Dark Superman, Batman, and a guy that I recognize as the Godzilla cosplayer I spotted at Wizard World last year. He was out of costume, wearing a tank and bike shorts. Which only confirmed how uncomfortably hot that costume gets.
The Godzilla costume itself was on the floor as its wearer talked with the others.
I looked over the position of the costume, and that wonderful cartoonist inspiration struck.
I bounced up to all of them, camera in hand, and asked, Can I get a picture of all of you standing around the Godzilla costume like you just slayed the monster?
They all looked at each other and you could see the light bulbs going off over their heads.
As they got in position around the costume, a crowd started developing. In no time, dozens of people were beside me, cameras at ready to get this moment of spontaneous silliness.
They got in position (on the second take, Dark Superman decided it would be funnier to hold Godzilla's head in triumph), and cameras preserved the memory.
And all because I look at the world strangely.
MOST OBSCURE COSTUME AT THE CON — One guy was there dressed as Hard Gay, the Japanese "reality" star.
FOLLOW THE WHITE RABBIT — Some guy for Westwood College was there dressed as the school's mascot, a giant white rabbit with a black T-shirt. He did dancing actions and shit like that. My first exposure to him was at Franchesco's table. I'm talking shop with Franchesco, answering his questions about my artwork, and something makes me look to my right. And I see this giant white rabbit in a black T-shirt doing a mascot dance next to me.
I look at Franchesco and deadpan, "Dude, this acid is GREAT!"
CARPET BOMBING — Last year, I mentioned the horrible carpeting in McCormick Place. This year, I found there was a practical side to it.
The carpet on the sky bridges has lots of dark blues and greens going in stripes across the floor. As I walked, I noticed the carpet had torn — there was a strip of black duct tape there. It blended perfect. The only reason I noticed it was I was so familiar with the pattern and it violated the object model.
DOWN IN FRONT! — Westwood College had set up two hi def TV's so people could play Marvel vs. Capcom 3, presumably to make people think, "Hey! If I join this college, I could be making games like this!" (Full Sail University was also there, but they had no such display.)
However, lots of people seemed to forget how important seeing the screen is for video games. Because of wireless controllers, big screens, and horrible viewing angles (I HATE modern TV's, give me a CRT any day), the crowd watching and playing hung back a little bit. People would blithely walk in between the players and the TV. And they would do it obliviously, not caring that people were doing shit and they were blocking the view.
WAR OF THE COLLASAL BEASTS — I gave MvC3 a whirl. Being a veteran of fighting games in general, the game does have the feel of the old 2D fighters. However, I found the game annoying. When it comes to art, there is a point where you are no longer making art and are just showing off. You lose the audience as you try to grab how cool what you are doing is. The fights no longer felt as intuitive and as soon as someone busted out a super move, the game literally stopped as dramatic images of the characters readying their attacks took over the screen. It was long enough to grab attention, not serve as a visual cue of, "Here comes the big one!"
The game got a few things right. Deadpool, for example, walks with a strut. But it just didn't feel like a real game to me.
PART OF MY WORLD — One of the things I mentioned at my report for Wizard World last year was I had two dream pictures that I wanted. I wanted one of me with Sailor Jupiter, and one of a local cosplayer who does Ariel The Little Mermaid reading one of my Sound Waves comics. Last year at Wizard World, I got the picture of me with Sailor Jupiter. One down, one to go. Another town, do one more show....
As I mentioned, the Ariel cosplayer is local. I saw her two years in a row at Wizard World, but at the time, I had only just started Sound Waves and didn't have the fascination with mermaids I currently have. She was at C2E2 last year and Mornblade scored a picture of her. It was after I saw the pic that the idea of her reading one of my comics entered my head and I decided to seek her out at Wizard. If she was there, I didn't see her.
Saturday, C2E2. I see a woman cosplaying as Rapunzel from Tangled. It's nearly the end of the day, and I haven't seen Ariel at all. Figuring it would be the next best thing, I approach her for a pic, then ask if she will pose with one of my comics. She isn't sure (given what a lot of indie comics feature, I guess she was worried about what the content would be), but says okay. Her face lights up when she sees the comic, although whether from delight or relief, I don't know. I got the pic and figured that would be it.
Sunday, C2E2. Walking around the aisles is a woman as Ariel in princess mode — blue ball gown, so clearly not from her fish tail days. Still, it's Ariel, it's close enough. I get a pic and ask if she'll hold one of my comics.
She tilts her head and looks at me. "Wait a minute — I remember you!"
It was the Rapunzel cosplayer. The hair threw me. (Wigs. I saw her a couple of hours later as Rapunzel again.) She not only gleefully posed for the pic, but told me she would be at Wizard World in her regular Ariel "fish girl" costume. We agreed to watch out for each other.
So consider this a trial version, I'll get the full version later.
MOST POPULAR COSTUMES AT THE CON — If you just count generalities instead of specific characters, Ghostbusters took the prize this year, followed closely by the different incarnations of Doctor Who. If you get to individual characters and split the genders, men didn't have a clear leader this year, although I think Batman was the winner. Women's leader seemed to be Harley Quinn.
And here's the rest of the cosplay pics I didn't have room above for. See you next year, for sure.