THE ROAD GOES EVER ON AND ON -- Well, I went to the con, expecting big things to happen. I went with a stock of The Supremacy #1's and the 28 copies of Cloudburst. Also took with copies of the Stress Puppy graphic novel and copies of Sound Waves #1.
It didn't do dick.
I dropped off a copy The Supremacy with my contact information at Avatar. Last time I approached them, after a story I wrote for Zein was accepted, they weren't really bothering to look for freelancers. This time, the editor seemed at least willing to keep a file. Also dropped one off with Ape. The publisher and I sort of go way back. I stopped by his booth the first year they were at the ChicagoCon and we jawed for a while, and we catch up with each other professionally every year. Just to make sure he associates me and my work in hopes of my proposals staying out of the slush pile. Aspen said they were open to freelancers and gave me the contact info, so it looks like I have to slog through some more books (I understand Fathom is a huge seller, but it just didn't grab me).
So, that's the comic field. How about video games? As Elvis Costello sings, less than zero. Turns out the Video Game Expo that they were advertising? They were just taking sign-ups for the con in October in Philadelphia. They were running game tournaments there (including a Smash Bros. tournament. I told the guy I felt sorry for whoever was officiating it, and he said that when players are in the same room, they're a lot friendlier than online. Sort of like Worms players, I opined. We then spent time discussing our favorite tactics from Worms), but no game companies, no studios, no nothing. I could have skipped working on Cloudburst and it wouldn't have made a difference.
But the thing is, I'm still happy. I actually faced down a lot by doing what I did. I had been a basket case before the con, wondering if I would be able to figure out what I needed to do next to continue advancing as a writer. It would have been so easy to just puss out. Likewise, I didn't even have a new game project this year, other than finishing up Thistledown, which is hardly dazzling to prospective studios. I wanted to work on something if for no other reason than to pitch it to Atari, and figured I would have it completed in September or October. Not only is the game done early, but (and this is the important thing) I gave myself an unrealistic, contracted development schedule. AND I MET IT. I rose to the challenge and pulled it off.
That's what makes me feel good. In golf, they have a saying -- never up, never in. Or, as the old Polish proverb goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. (And the corollary to that expression is, "When you resign yourself to fate, your resignation is instantly accepted.") There is no end to this journey, and there is no map. And yet, I've not only taken new steps to continue to expand my world, I have proven that I truly do have the skills to handle whatever this slowly revealing land of mystery throws at me.
That's a very warm feeling.
Still not worth a self-congratulatory hoagie, but a very warm feeling.
SUPPOSE THEY THREW A PARTY, AND NOBODY CAME -- I had been hoping, at the very least, to show off Sound Waves to DC and Marvel. DC's Johnny DC line is aimed at all ages, as is the Marvel Adventures line. With an issue of Sound Waves under my belt and two more in the can, I thought I could show them off to the editors and see if I could get my foot in the door there (especially since Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures don't get mixed up in whatever universe-changing crossover is going on that particular week).
They weren't there.
Marvel (I guess) sent people for portfolio reviews, but that's it. (The portfolio reviews were for pencilers, inkers, and colorists. I'm a writer, so fuck me.)
Who didn't show up? Pretty much all the Haves of the comic book world.
Marvel didn't show up.
DC didn't show up.
Dark Horse didn't show up.
Image didn't show up, not even Top Cow.
IDW didn't show up.
Dynamite didn't show up.
The biggest publishers there were Aspen, Avatar, and Ape. From there, it was smaller ones that Diamond has deemed worthy of survival (well, okay, Dabel Brothers was there, even though Diamond may have axed them from their future catalogs, but you know what I mean).
I know that San Diego was only last week, so no doubt people are still hung over from it. But still, it is a trade show, and one put on by Wizard, which is Marvel's biggest cheerleader. I would have thought THEY would send something.
Wizard has been in this situation at least one time before. They scheduled the ChicagoCon a week after San Diego to try and show what a big deal they were. Publishers blew them off and stuck with San Diego. Last year, Wizard held the con in June (and, IIRC, had June penciled in for this year, too). Had they done that, they would have had a much more dynamic turnout. Wizard World is popular as long as it doesn't conflict with the big boys (Wizard scheduled one of their cons for the same weekend as Heroes Con to try to force them out. Comic professionals responded by boycotting Wizard cons that year, including Scott Kurtz, who was supposed to come to Chicago that year). And the June date was not the original one they trumpeted, it was originally in August but they changed it. They could have changed this one.
On the bright side, the con was a lot more cozy this year. I could actually hear myself think for a change. But with rumors that the ChicagoCon is on the block, you need to make a bigger splash than that to attract buyers.
WELL, THERE'S YER PROBLEM! -- While chatting with a couple of industry pros (pencilers), one of them revealed the big secret to how to break into the comic industry. We were discussing how the writers need to make stories more accessible to bring in new readers. And one of the guys said, "Well, it doesn't take talent to get ahead as a writer. You just have to kiss the editor's ass more than anyone else."
Well, I always wondered what I was doing wrong. I guess I know now.
UH, IS MINE SUPPOSED TO SAY, "LIVE STRONG"? -- I'm guessing that Wizard World is concerned about counterfeiters copying the badges and getting in the convention for free (more on this later). This year, instead of badges, everyone was given a Tyvek wristband. I asked what if the band breaks or comes off. They told me to bring the remains and a copy of my receipt and they'll give me another (the receipt was saved as a .pdf on my computer).
Interestingly enough, my band for the whole weekend was blue. Hospital wristbands that are blue usually mean the patient has some sort of allergy.
Oh, yeah. Couldn't have planned that any better if you tried.
FANBOY LOVE FOR SALE -- There are heavy duty rumors going around that Wizard World is looking to sell the ChicagoCon, and the rumors went into overdrive when the people running New York City Con announced they were putting on a convention in Chicago next spring. As a result, I suspect a lot of the roster was done to draw in as many people as possible. Several people from Twilight were there (I asked a Blade cosplayer if I could get a picture of him at the Twilight booth, but he said no), along with various actors, wrestlers, Playboy models, a musician (Taylor Dayne), and so on. Oh, and the one that really hacked me off -- they apparently partnered with Anime Central. ACen would provide evening entertainment and run some of the panels (as well as the traditional anime room) in what they were called ACen Aftershock. My experiences with ACen staff and planners have been consistently rotten. I would love to hang with otaku and jaw for a while (with only the rare exception, anime fans are fun to talk with in person instead of online), but not with the clowns from ACen at the wheel.
There were also booths that made it feel more like a swap meet than a con. Lots of fake weapons being sold, a massage area, and even a booth providing tattoos. Gilette had a booth for their new razors and some computer games set up that I could bang out in my sleep.
The sad thing is, there was a definite undercurrent of glee to many people at the convention over Wizard's situation with no major publishers there and so many side attractions there, many of whom either didn't show up or created strange schedules (one of them, I think it was the actress from the last Underworld movie, only signed for a few hours on Saturday, and she was one of the major guests). I'm not sure what their problem with Wizard is, although there was some deserved complaints. But the gloating just seemed too much to me.
A REQUEST FROM AN ASPIRING ARTIST – All of you looking over someone's art and giving critiques, could you PLEASE say something more specific than, “You need to learn anatomy?” Even on tiny little specific hint would be a lot better than the vagueness of the boilerplate.
BRIDGES TO CROSS -- Apparently to shore up the convention roster, Wizard brought in several celebrities and pseudo-celebrities to sign autographs (some of whom bailed anyway. I couldn't find Gary Coleman or Gena Lee Nolan, and I think a few others cried off as well). One of them was Todd Bridges from the TV show Diff'rent Strokes. When I meet these people, I usually try to talk with them about something other than the main show everyone else will mention. For example, with Margot Kidder from a couple of years ago, I didn't talk to her about Superman, I talked to her about Trenchcoat and the episode of Banacek she was in.
Todd Bridges, for most people, would be tough to come up with something different in his career. However, I am not most people. There is a show in Britain called "Banzai", which is one of my favorite dumb fun shows. It's all about silly betting contests. You can't even be sure you can trust the show, since they only show the outcome, not what goes into it, but the announcers (and Mr. Shake Hands Man, my favorite) bring such enthusiasm to it, it makes it worthwhile. (Lou Ferrigno, who is at the ChicagoCon every year, appeared on the show twice himself, but he's not as fun, so I have yet to ask him to sign my discs.) Anyway, Bridges appeared in an episode of Banzai. It was a race between him and a dog. A little girl would throw a stick in a swimming pool, and Bridges and the dog jumped in and raced for it. Bridges lost, the dog won.
So I go up to Bridges. He's shaking hands and being personable. He reaches out to shake my hand, and I say, I saw you on Banzai.
He rolled his eyes. "That was rigged." Reflecting on the set-up of the show, I thought (but didn't say) No shit?
Turns out they did three takes. The first one, Bridges won. The second, Bridges won. The third, the dog won, and the director called "Print it!"
AS THE SKETCH TURNS – Due to car repairs, I did not have as much for sketches as I usually do. I settled for two pencil sketches of Harry Dresden.
Franchesco! decided to up the price of his commission, attempting to use economics to cut back on requests. $100 for a full body shot, $60 for a bust. It didn't work, he was still overwhelmed.
Paul Sizer lowered his sketch prices this year. I got a sketch of Rhapsody and Melody from Sound Waves.
THE ADVENTURES OF SNARK BOY AND BLAH-BLAH GIRL -- There were a couple of teenage female cosplayers there who had done great jobs on their costumes. I asked to take a picture.
I fire up my camera, an older Sony Mavica that uses floppy discs. The disc I had in there was full, so I asked for a moment to swap the discs. As I ejected it, one of them said, "Is that camera really so old it uses floppies?"
I shot her a look. Are you really so old you know floppies when you see them?
She let me take the picture, then glared at me and walked away. I'm SUCH a bitch.
WHO DO YOU TRUST? -- Illinois recently passed a new law that made driving even one mile over the speed limit in a work zone punishable by a ticket that is outrageously expensive, a second will suspend your license and require driver's ed class, and can't be overridden by a court. Speed cameras are set up to catch the marks. And given how cash strapped my state always seems to be, I don't trust them to not adjust those numbers a little bit.
Technology to the rescue. One little fact not everyone is aware of is that GPS units will keep track of your speed. Insurance companies will use this in trials to prove the accident victim was not driving legally and the insurance company is right to not pay out an expected amount. So I made sure to take my GPS and have it on as I drove through the work zones. So I have a witness that is acceptable in a court of law.
OKAY, TIME TO CALL THE WHITE COATS -- One of the drawbacks to doing Stress Puppy is the awareness of the subset of furry fandom called "plushophiles," who like having intimate relations with stuffed toys.
One of the booths had a two-foot tall plushie Wonder Woman.
IF YOU CAN'T STAND THE HEAT -- The weather in Chicago was okay for the Thursday preview night, and rainy on Friday. Saturday, the heat rose and the evaporation made the whole thing a muggy mess. Temperatures in the high 90's with humidity closing in on that as well. Inside the convention hall, things were somewhere in the neighborhood of Plank's Constant. The only reason people weren't spontaneously combusting was all the sweat drenching them.
As I ran the habitrails leading from the parking decks and hotels to the convention center, I looked out at the top of the convention center. Each A/C unit had a garden hose run to it and stuck inside. You could see the water from it pouring out the bottom.
Folks, when your cooling system needs a cooling system, it's just too damn hot.
THE HOUSE BAND -- A video podcast had a booth close to the main entrance, and at one point, had a live performance. The instruments were loud. Really loud. It reminded me of the comic company that made "Donna Matrix", whose booth blasted techno "mood music" from a multimedia display that had people plugging their ears to protect their hearing. One guy's booth was almost right next to it, and he looked like he couldn't wait for them to finish.
I remembered a Stress Puppy strip I drew, where a guy was showing off his new electric guitar at the office and blasted the eardrums of everyone at his cubicle farm. He asked if there were any requests, and someone suggested, "John Cage's 4'33". Swing it hard." I was tempted to go up and run that past them.
I HEARD A RUMOR -- (Anonymity to protect the innocent and guilty. These guys are outspoken enough, if they want people to hear their opinions, they'll say it for themselves.) Supposedly, a couple of pros were really hacked off at Wizard World. One of them had come in by plane, and no one picked him up at the airport, he walked to the con from there. Then, when he got there, they didn't have his pass to get into the con ready. He pointed out that they didn't have another guy's pass ready either. And these were two of the main guests being bragged about. Hope everyone got enough signatures from them, because I doubt they'll be coming back.
THE CIRCLE IS NOW COMPLETE -- It was 17 years ago that I went to my first ChicagoCon. That year was when Image launched and there was the big Image Tent to collect sigs from the crew. I didn't make the connection that the Valentino who did the normalman comics I loved so much was the same as Jim Valentino, artist on Guardians Of The Galaxy and creator of ShadowHawk. Wouldn't have done me any good anyway -- I was only there one day that year, and everyone was limited to one signature from each creator.
Valentino was there last year, but I was too distracted to really talk with the guy. This year, I wasn't going to let that happen again. I grabbed all my normalman comics (complete except for the normalman/Megaton Man crossover) and brought them up to him, asking him to sign. We then had a conversation about all the great comics that existed during the Black And White Boom.
The only drawback was trying to find him. The online list had him at a table in Artist Alley. The actual program book had him at another. When I checked the list that was set up outside Artist Alley, they had him at another table all the way across the hall, right next to Rob Liefeld (I understand Liefeld is a nice and fun guy to talk with and he's very personable and all that. But professionally? What a drama queen).
And no, I didn't bring a copy of X-Factor where Shatterstar is revealed to be gay. I didn't think the payoff would be worth it.
SCORE! -- Lina Inverse plushie for $5!
STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF -- Two guys on the video podcast said they were cosplaying as Sith Lords because "we didn't want to look like idiots."
Jesus titty-fucking Christ....
CHO CHO ROCKET -- My main goal for this year was to get the signature of Frank Cho on as many books as I could. Cho is the man who, with his Liberty Meadows strips and books, got me back into comics after I had nearly dropped out completely. He would be set up in Artist Alley, and I hovered around, waiting for some sign that he would turn up.
Finally, I saw a sign at the table on Saturday, that he would be there at "2:30ish". I checked the time and saw that it was 2:17. There was already a huge line forming. Sucked, but I would gladly wait in line for Cho's sig. I dashed to my car to grab my stack of comics. However, the crowd was thick with people walking two or three abreast and standing still, jacking up how long it took to maneuver through the aisles. It took me approximately 52 minutes to get to my car and back. When I got back, the line was gone. I started swearing like the child of a sailor and a union worker, thinking that he had shown up, signed everything, and taken off in that scant time, and if people hadn't been clogging the lanes, I could have had some sigs. I started thinking, maybe I can get him on Sunday....
Then, a friend of mine pointed out that Cho was there. The line was starting to form again as he got situated. I raced to the end of the line, and made it up after all.
One of the books I had Cho sign was my convention book from the 1999 ChicagoCon. Inside it were several comics strips and excerpts from indie pros. There were two strips inside by Cho from his Univesity Squared comic strip (I stumbled across the program while organizing my comics last November, and kept it handy in case any names turned up again. Imagine my shock when I saw Cho was a guest of honor). If I only got one item signed, it would be that one.
I put it before Cho. He blinked in confusion. I explained it had a couple of his strips and turned the page to them. Comprehension dawned. "This was the only time I've been to Chicago!" So I now have the ultimate Frank Cho collectible. I was actually tempted to slab it.
I had also brought a video camera and tripod. The program said that Cho would be speaking on a panel with Mike Allred and others about making the jump from indie comics to the mainstream. I thought it was at 5PM that day and asked Cho if cameras were allowed at his panel.
Uh-oh. I explained, and he said he had no idea he was supposed to be on a panel, but if so, I was more than welcome to record it.
Later found out he REALLY had no idea about the panel. It actually started at 3PM, shortly before he turned up to sign books.
MEN DRESSED LIKE SAILOR MOON - 0, although that was just at the ComiCon, Sailor Bubba may have still turned up at ACen and I was just too stubborn to go.
MEN DRESSED LIKE SUPERGIRL - 3. One even brought his buddy dressed as Wonder Woman. They were built like John Belushi in Animal House. THE GOGGLES! THEY DO NOTHING!
MEN DRESSED LIKE PEDOBEAR - 1. I asked for a pic, and he approved! Although, one guy seeing what was happening asked if it would be a good idea to get a couple of kids in the shot. After I threw up in my mouth a little, I told him no.
MOST POPULAR COSTUMES AT THE CON -- Lots and lots of Green Lanterns running around this year of both genders. As far as individual genders? Most guys seemed to go for Superman, although there were a surprising number of stormtroopers with Braveheart kilts on. Women, it was a toss-up between Supergirl and Chun Li.
Since there was a sort of anime con running concurrently, I expected not just anime cosplayers, but also some fursuiters. I counted five total. On Saturday, one saw me shaking my head and asked if I had a problem. I explained no, fursuiting is just cosplay, and I have a set of Gryffindor robes and school uniform at home.
"So why are you shaking your head?"
It's over 90 degrees out there, muggy as hell, the climate control is malfunctioning, and you're wearing a full-body fursuit. That can't be comfortable.
"It's not so bad," he said. That's the thing about fursuits -- never let them see you sweat.
There was also a face-off of sorts between a guy with huge Optimus Prime costume (IIRC, he won the ACen cosplay competition years ago), and a Sentinel. Nothing says "cosplay" like an outfit the size of a tacky airport theme restaurant.
IT'S A BIRD! IT'S A PLANE! IT'S SUPER POLE! -- On Saturday, on my way back to my car, I saw another car in the parking deck. Hood open, guy staring in lost confusion, kid in the back, wife at the wheel.
He saw me coming. "I don't suppose you got a set of jumper cables, do you?"
As a matter of fact, I do.
I pulled my car, the Angry Red Dragon, around and pulled out my cables (I had bought 20 footers a few months ago because I was tired of, no matter what side of the car I pulled up on, it was never the right side). Wired up, I stepped on my gas. As the Dragon roared, his wife tried to turn the car over. It started right up, and they were on their way back to Wisconsin. He asked me if I wanted any money for the jump, and I laughed. Considering how quick and minor the effort was, taking money just seemed absurd to me.
But, they were stranded. You never see Batman helping citizens in that kind of distress.