You're probably thinking, That's a strange way to start the report of your con experience, Peter. (Confidential to mornblade and boxwatcher -- yes, she really does hate me). However, it is necessary. The con itself went okay, not as well as I was hoping (then again, things never do go THAT well) but certainly better than...well, I'll just get right to it.
Well, here we are at the Kankakee Public Library, an institution that occupies seven floors! Goddamn, I would have loved it here if this had been where I grew up! The time leading up to this made me a basket case. After all, this wasn't like any other con I was attending as a pro. I would be sharing floor space with some very high caliber local talent. I wasn't just there with others trying to make headway in the trenches, I'd be there with people with professionally published credits who were still active.
Yeah. THAT was a real eye opener.
Let's get the tallies out of the way. Total haul for the day? $75, involving three copies of Hannah Singer, Celestial Advocate and a surprising number of Sound Waves comics moving. That is the most I've ever pulled at a show. True, it's not that much in a big picture kind of way, but it's all in how you parse it. Keep the following things in mind:
1) Although the KPL thought the show was a huge, rousing success, enough they were openly talking about doing it again next year, the crowd was actually kind of middling. It wasn't dead, there was a good stream of people going through, but it wasn't packed to the gunnels. It was actually a smaller crowd than the CECE show I did in St. Charles, but I sold exponentially more at KFC than CECE. Tough to argue with those results.
2) Keeping an eye on how others were doing, I totally rocked. This picture here on the right is the view from my table. Although you can't see him, that is Franchesco's table on the far left. The table there in the middle being obscured by the fan is Tim Seeley, the local boy made good behind Hack/Slash. The rest of the line was small pressers like me. Seeley sold NOTHING. He signed books, but I didn't see him make one sale. I heard several people grumbling they hadn't made any sales or only made one sale. The small pressers? They managed to sell a few things to people they already knew, but other than that? Zilch. People would wander by the tables, look things over, and not stop. They spent a bit of time stopping at my table, looking over my stuff, and trying it out. You have to keep in mind a lot of people make things that they and their friends like, which automatically restricts your audience reach. I'm creating stuff to appeal to a general audience of intelligent people with opposible thumbs. The guy at the table to my right sold copies of his novel to a few people he knew, but spent so little time at his table, he easily undercut himself. So not only was I getting more interest in my work than they were, I made far more progress building awareness than any of them.
3) The library staff loved me. That means, they throw this again, I'm on the short list of people to keep a table open for.
I got up that morning extremely early. I just couldn't sleep, no dreams when I did. Tried to eat, tried to read, but I just wasn't falling in. My apathy became my greatest enemy -- set-up was to begin at 0800, and by 0830, I wasn't even on the road (part of it is, I have my technique for setting up down so cold, I can go from empty table to ready to go in about ten minutes). Eventually, I forced myself to load up my gear into The Angry Red Dragon. Got everything in there, grabbed my GPS unit, and started driving as Level 42's live Wembley performance played. I was actually congratulating myself on remembering everything until I realized I forgot one tiny detail -- silver Sharpie pens to sign the darker covers of my comic books. I started searching my mind, and realized I'd be passing by a Jewel/Osco, and they usually have them. I stop inside, and lo and behold, they have some. I grab a double pack and resume traveling.
I get to the KPL, a map of the recommended parking at my side. Because of a farmer's market going on across the street, they were recommending public parking a couple of blocks away. The temperature was already rising (glad I went with my standard camp shirt and shorts instead of the full blown suit I was considering), but went to the library parking lot anyway just in case I got lucky. I did, found a spot right there, and I went inside to introduce myself.
The organizer in charge of getting people to their tables recognized me. Sort of. She's known me for years in my "civilian" identity, and I think she suspected I was doing some sort of writing, but she didn't know exactly what (conversations with her are extremely short and she keeps her answers very curt with me. I'm not offended, some people just don't mesh. It's human nature). A staffer takes me to her, and she starts looking over her list trying to find my name. "Who are you with?"
The Illinois Paranormal Society is letting me have their table.
"You're not 'Peter G'."
Yes, I am.
She looks at me like I just told her the Earth was shaped like a burrito. "Your last name doesn't start with G.' So I had to explain where it came from. And no, she didn't stop by the table to see what I was up to even once.
The tables were small computer tables, maybe six feet wide. The guy from TIPS didn't show up once, and I was actually relieved. The two of us sitting side by side would have been a bit cramped. My Sound Waves layout had the books on top of each other, barely room for Stress Puppy, the Hannah Singer books, and Head Above Water, I couldn't put out my copies of Morbid Myths, The Supremacy, and Video Game Trader to save space -- hell, I didn't even have room for the Twilight My Little Pony figure I wanted to set out. My bank of tables was pretty close to the back wall, so I couldn't set up the easel with the Sound Waves poster. Then I thought, fuck it. I simply put the poster on the window sill. Problem solved.
I got a lot of traffic from casual passers by. And one group that annoyed me. When people show an interest in my stuff, I wave to my display and tell them, "Reading's free". Whatever they reach for, I start telling them about it. One guy with some kids came up and started looking at Sound Waves. Two of his daughters picked up issues. Another guy was looking over Hannah Singer, and I started telling him about it. When I looked back, the man and is daughters were gone, and so were the issues of Sound Waves they were reading. Fucking assholes. Some people, when they found out I was selling my books instead of just giving them away, walked away upset. One kid (had to be about 16) looked over Sound Waves and declared to me, "It seems like it's been done," then walked away. Wow. So this is what it feels like on deviantART. Another guy bought some of my Sound Waves comics because he recognized the name "Peter G". Turns out, he was one of the people who bought a copy of Cloudburst and loved the game, and was interested in what else I was working on.
Mornblade and Boxwatcher showed up, although Mornblade did something really shouldn't have. I was fighting cottonmouth all day, and needed a drink bad. All they had was soda pop, and I can't drink soda. There was a Burger King about two blocks away, and I politely asked Mornblade if he could grab me an iced tea. He said sure. When he came back, he was sweating like a sumo wrestler in an iron works factory. Turns out he WALKED. I asked him because I thought he would DRIVE. I apologize, Mornblade, if I'd known, I never would have asked you. I do NOT use my friends, and yes, Mornblade, I'm gonna feel guilty about this for a while.
Jonathan, my old friend who was in the Firewater! movie with me, also turned up. Hadn't seen him in about a year, it really has been too long. Also, a guy came up and was digging my stuff and he said, "Long time, no see." I didn't recognize him. It was Aaron Feynman. Back in 1992, when I first got bitten by the self-publishing bug, his dad, Myke Feynman, and his friend, Jim Ridings, were my mentors, showing me the ropes and warning me of the traps that lay ahead. Aaron was about 11 the last time I saw him. He was thrilled to see I hadn't given up. He made me promise to see him when he sets up his table at the ChicagoCon this year.
The pages of Red Riding Hood that I did and brought with were a hit. Everyone was loving it. Franchesco went on and on about how he loved how I was depicting the Big Bad Wolf and how the angular appearance added to things.
Some people from the Chicago Jedi managed to commandeer the table to my left because the guy didn't show up. While holding court with Mornblade, Boxwatcher, and Jonathan, I mentioned Marvel's New Universe. Turns out, the leader of the Chicago Jedi? She worked for Jim Shooter during the time of the New Universe and she gave some very interesting stories about working for Marvel at the time.
One of the small pressers did come around and look at my stuff and talk shop with me for a couple of minutes. He really liked what I was doing.
Which makes the ending that much more of a letdown.
About 430, I figure I've seen all the action I'm going to see for the day and start taking down my stuff (I was actually one of the last people to start breaking down, a couple started about 230-300). I get most of my stuff out to my car in one trip, just leaving a few items in case any last minute buyers show up. Before I can return, however, a tornado siren goes off and the library orders everyone to the first floor for shelter. I have to admit, if you need to wait out a tornado siren, I can think of places a whole lot worse than comfortable fabric chairs next to a coffee bar and a shitload of books to read. People were already making jokes about "I survived Kankakee Fantasy Con 2011!"
I was there with Franchesco, and Gene Ha gravitated towards us. The two of them started talking shop. I don't like being the fifth wheel, so I went aside to let them jaw. I saw the organizer who learned The Truth about me. I mentioned the quirk of fate that got me in, how TIPS gave me their table in the first place. She looked at me in annoyance. "Well, if I'd known that, we would have gone to the waiting list and given it to one of them." I pointed out politely (don't ask me how I kept my irritation in check) that I was the first person on the waiting list. "Oh, okay, that works out then," and walked away.
It was very strange. Several of the industry pros had gathered into their groups and were talking about their con experiences. I politely tried to get in on conversation, but after I said what I wanted to, they went back to talking amongst themselves, not even acknowledging my presence. That includes a group of small pressers that I was talking and sharing funny stories with back on the convention floor. I started feeling like Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack -- "I should have stayed home and played with myself." Nobody, not the other small pressers, not the ones who climbed out of the trenches, not even the pros who claim to love new talent, was the least bit welcoming. They had turned their immediate space into their treehouses.
I thought to myself, Jesus Christ, it's like high school!
The shows I've done, the people I've been with, those I've worked alongside in the trenches? There's this atmosphere, an attitude, of comradery, of meeting people and being friendly. Fan? Someone with credits under his belt? Someone who just wandered in? Didn't matter. They talked to you and were interested in you as a person. The DuPage show from last year, when Connie Faye, Russell Lissau, and Art Baltazar came around to my table, said hi, looked at my stuff, talked shop, invited me to go have pizza with them after the show before I went home!, was a beautiful experience. I was one of the group, a group of good people going on an adventure into the unknown and doing the best they could. This was the polar opposite, a bunch of people who didn't feel an outsider like me could add anything to their exclusive club.
I wound up pulling a book off a shelf and reading until the all clear sounded. By then, the show was well over and the library was asking where they could order copies of Hannah Singer to carry in their inventory. The day was actually pretty good. It just would have been nice if there were other people there looking to share it.