SOMEDAY, SOMEWAY -- The conversation at C2E2 went something like this.
“With Gareb gone, Wizard is becoming a big name among publishers again.”
I don't know, Wizard has too much baggage for them to get past it so quickly.
“Marvel and DC are going to be at Wizard.”
I'll believe it when I see it.
Guess what I didn't see.
Should have told him to put some beers in it.
LIVING IN A WORLD (TURNED UPSIDE DOWN) – Wizard has had problems maintaining its professionalism with people in the industry. For example, at the show two years ago, I heard two industry pros say that Wizard didn't even have their pro credentials ready for when they showed up. In fact, one of them arrived at O'Hare airport and no one met him to pick him up and take him to the hall, he hoofed it over there (can't tell you who they are, I'm sworn to secrecy). With the loss of Gareb Shamus, I had hopes that Wizard would turn things around and get better organized, to make a statement that they are committed to creating a great con experience. For starters, Wizard has a new layout for the floor this year.
And the general consensus is, it eats.
It used to follow more traditional lines, with you hitting the big ticket things (publishers, autographs, etc.) as soon as you walked in the door, the next section was dealers, and then the Artist Alley. This year, the autographs occupied the middle of the floor and took a huge chunk of space for those waiting in line, with everything ringed around it.
The booths were haphazardly arranged. An area that has been cordoned off in the past was open and more booths were put there. Part of the area resulted in a little cubby hole that got very little foot traffic. I would swear the Artist Alley tables (reduced to a few rows along the back of the convention hall) are the fewest ever for Wizard World. There were people who tried getting tables who got turned down. There was no clear delineation that I could see. Comic dealers were mixed with publishers were mixed with toy dealers were mixed art schools were mixed with fan groups. I understand the logic, to get people to see more than they normally would if everyone stuck to their turf, but it really made things chaotic. They should have stuck the Artist Alley at the entrance, then the dealers, then the autographs since people are going to see them anyway.
Talking to dealers, artists, as many people as I could, I could not turn up one person who could explain how this layout made any kind of sense. There was not one complimentary thing said that I could hear. And that was just the layout, the logistics yielded their own complaints. A few people expressed general dissatisfaction with the Wizard World rep who was coordinating everyone's placement. Wizard took forever to list the people on the web site who would be there (I was checking every day, and I think the list finally went up August 4th). People were not told what their table assignments would be beforehand, either. One guy told me he clicked on every link on Wizard's site and couldn't come up with anything. Then he tried a Google search and it turned up an unlinked Wizard page with the info. Da fuq? And even that didn't help – the whole weekend, people in the Artist Alley getting moved to other tables around the Alley, some more than once.
Wizard gave up on printing program books a while ago. This year, you got two pages, ledger size, just like it was printed out with a black and white laser. The names for the artists were broken into two groups instead of being properly alphabetized. The map at the top showing the convention hall and identifying the booth/table numbers was printed in a font size maybe a few microns tall. They could have reduced the font of the attendees' names and printed them all on one side, then landscape printed the map to make it easier to read. (In fact, last year, Chris Ehnot did just that, made copies, and gave them away at his table for free. He gave away hundreds of them.)
As long as I'm bitching about the “program”, on Saturday, I spent an hour trying to find Phil Foglio, which the sheet listed as being at table 2154. The map didn't show a 2154. Wandering around, I found a table from the 2200's in the 2500 aisle. I finally gave up and asked a staffer. Seems some of the names on the list were from last year and accidentally merged with the current list, so some of the names and tables just aren't there. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.
J. Scott Campbell was being hyped as one of the guests there. Looking at the map, I sought out his name. His name was listed there, but there was no table number next to it. Turns out Campbell didn't make it. Can't say I blame him. By Saturday, I was thinking of skipping the rest of the con and doing something actually fun. Running Slinky's down the up escalators comes to mind.
For as long as I can remember, there was the main entrance/exit to the convention hall, right there at the front. Sometimes, they would have guards stake out a side door to make it easier for people to get in and out. This year, the entrance/exit was exit only. To get in, you had to take a side door that led you in a wide path around the side of the convention hall (the ticket booths were moved into this area since the main lobby for the convention center was filled with fan groups, pop culture car replicas, ad light saber training classes). They did eventually open up a side door in the lobby for people who already had their passes, so thank God for that.
Still, this is the single worst convention experience I've had. Even worse than the final time I went to ACen all those years ago. Davy Jones was supposed to be there, but he took the easy way out. As the young'uns say, it was completely made of fail. It was almost like the only mistake Wizard DIDN'T make was having a guy in a Pedobear costume chase kids around the floor while the theme from Benny Hill played over the loudspeakers.
RED SOLO CUP, I FILL YOU UP – While waiting in line to get some comics signed, a couple of people came up behind me. It wasn't their conversation that I noticed, it was the smell. It wasn't a drink, it was a drink drink. (As much as I support adult freedoms, I get a little iffy on alcohol at cons because I was a guest at one where a dealer snuck in a box of wine. His half of the room got pretty buzzed, complete with a dealer nearly getting into a fistfight with an attendee.) There were two spots on the floor where you could order full blown alcoholic drinks, the first time I can recall this happening at Wizard.
I briefly wondered if, should I get smashed out of my mind, would the floor layout suddenly make perfect sense, sort of like the movie The Wall? But decided against trying it.
OPPORTUNITIES (LET'S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY) -- Wizard is threatening to cancel any cons that don't make money.
I'm not sure when it happened (last year, I paid for the Bruce Campbell Experience), but this year, I'm pretty sure the cost of the four day pass went up by $20. VIP experiences went up $30-$50 bucks depending on what you wanted last year.
Artist Alley tables are now $400, which means you aren't seeing half what you normally see. WWC used to be the last bastion of the small presser, those people who drew their comic, xeroxed it, and stapled it themselves (Matt Feazell is an awesome guy). At that price, though, you'll never make table (Wizard doesn't allow splitting tables anymore, either). In fact, unless you were a big name who could get away with charging lots for convention sketches, you were pretty much screwed, so a lot of denizens of the trenches stayed away like politicians at a saints' convention.
Several dealers did all right. Thursday preview was actually pretty jumping, with one retailer telling me things only started slowing down about 5PM. Toy dealers I talked with said their wrestling toys were selling like hotcakes.
IDENTITY CRISIS – I've been going to the ChicagoCon since 1992 (the Image tent), and have seen a lot of changes over the years. Legends were born there, such as the booth babe in the Vampirella costume who accidentally popped out of the top of it (which, technically, isn't a legend. It's history. I was there). It was where I first discovered people like Matt Feazell (Cynicalman), Phil Foglio (at the time, What's New? and XXXenophile), Greg Hyland (Lethargic Lad), and other comics like Creature Of The Night and Hamster Man. Those heady days before the comics underground became the trenches. But the biggest thing is how, in the last few years, WWC has felt less like a comic convention and more like a flea market. Gillette had a booth hawking their razors, for example. All kinds of things with not even a tangential relationship to comics turning up there. This year? Chevy had cars there. Not even a tie-in like for the Avengers movie, just Chevy cars.
Something missing was, the last couple of years, I actually saw a handful of fursuiters at the con. That got my attention because furries generally stick to their own little subculture, they rarely intersect with any of the others, not even the anime fandom that spawned them. Didn't see one this year. Of course, that could just be because the convention center climate control system is so horrid (on the hotter days, it's not uncommon to look at the rooftop and see garden hoses snaking everywhere with the ends stuck in the compressors to help cool them off). I asked one fursuiter if it was uncomfortable in that thing in this weather. His shoulders drooped and I heard from somewhere within the head, “Yeah.”
(Some costumes just aren't practical, no matter how accurate or detailed they are. When I first saw the Power Girl costume design with the cape on one shoulder and the rope going over the tits and under the armpit, I thought it looked very very uncomfortable. The first time I saw a woman cosplaying as her, I asked if it was. She also visibly sagged and said, “Yep.”)
PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG – When I headed for the convention floor after first getting my pass, I got a surprise. Wizard was giving out goody bags. Not only something to carry your immediate acquisitions in, but some bonus stuff inside.
I know it's never anything big, but there's still that little “kid on Christmas Day” thing when you get the goodie bag and go to look at what's inside. So what did I get?
Five (5) plastic glasses from AM/PM minimarts with World Of Warcraft designs on them.
A business card for the Laugh Factory.
A flier for the Avengers cologne line-up.
Might as well have gotten socks.
I'M A WINNER, I'M A SINNER, DO YOU WANT MY AUTOGRAPH? -- Pat Lee had a booth there.
What? Tony Caputo and Andrew Rev were busy?
THERE'S A RAT IN MI KITCHEN, WHAT I'MA GONNA DO? -- I debated mentioning this, but enough other people were talking about it, it's going to get around the pro circles anyway, so I might as well chime in. I have no official confirmation for any of this, only what I've been told. There's a little discrepancy with the numbers, but they are fairly consistent.
It seems the con was a ripe breeding ground for theft.
Here's some numbers for you – C2E2 had, for its entire weekend, 8 complaints of theft from vendors, artists, etc. For a con that size in the heart of Chicago, that's pretty damn impressive.
Wizard World Chicago? By Friday night, they had over 20 complaints of theft. People in the Artist Alley were keeping an eye out for absconded items.
MISSING IN ACTION – It's always sad when people you have fun meeting one year don't make it the next year. Beth Horn, for example, missed last year, which was really sad. She's a lot of fun to talk with and a great person. I'm still waiting for someone to bring George Lowe back. He was the single best autograph experience I've ever had, the guy is a riot. I mean, come on, Wizard. You brought in contestants from The Amazing Race, and you can't bring in Lowe?
Last minute cancellations always happen. It was last year or the year before that Lauren Vandervoort was supposed to be there but canceled just before, leaving a lot of photograph dealers with unmovable stock (don't look at me. Helen Slater is my Supergirl. Hell, I think Katie Norris was a better Supergirl than Vandervoort). Vandervoort's cancellation that year was mentioned on the Wizard site.
This year, I was looking forward to meeting Lloyd Kaufman, Mr. Troma, again. I always love talking with him (I doubt he remembers me, but that doesn't stop him from being swell to me). Kaufman had to cancel as he is currently hip deep in shooting Return To Nuke'em High.
No mention on the Wizard site.
The Troma booth was still fun as always. Talking with the Troma Team people was a hoot, and they even had Tromettes there. It's just too bad Kaufman couldn't be there, and that there was no warning.
A CGC GRADING THAT IS TOTAL HORSE -- Ever since the speculator crash of the 90's, people have sought ways to maintain comics are literally worth their weight in gold instead of moving on from that mentality like the rest of us (yes, I was swept up in the frenzy for a while myself, no “holier than thou” bullshit from me). This gave rise to the Comics Guarantee Corporation, which creates artificial rarity so people can admire their comics while dreaming of buying yachts. They do this by encasing the comics in plastic, turning them into giant baseball cards. Generally, this is known as “slabbing”. I call it “gloopsticking” (five points if you get the reference).
I have a cousin who enjoys collecting comics. Only his focus is more on the value of them, not whether or not they are good reads. He loves his gloopsticked comics. He looks at my collection full of indies, recent books, and things put together by my fellow denizens in the trenches, and scoffs. “A slabbed Silver Age goes up at least triple digits every year.”
CGC is at Wizard World every year, and, being the sarcastic jackass that I am, I decided I'd had enough. This year, I was going to troll my cousin once and for all. And how would I accomplish this? By going through my archives and finding a total shit comic and having it encased in gloopstick. By the logic he exudes, since the print run was so low, and no other copies are slabbed, my comic will be worth more than any he possesses.
Because I started collecting comics during the black and white boom and have always loved indies, that means I have access to an astonishing variety of comics that pretty much no one else has ever heard of, like The Mighty 1, Pigeonman The Bird Brain, and Hawklau (and what the hell did I do with that copy of Dick Duck, Duck Dick?). So what was I going to choose?
Skateman #1? Nah, that has Adams art. That could backfire.
The Adventures Of Bayou Billy #1? Not bad, keep that near the top of the pile.
Tandy Electronics Presents Whiz Kids? Ah, now we're getting somewhere! Remember, Peter, you need to pick a comic that, when people hear you not only had it slabbed, but you are bragging that you had it slabbed, they will question your intelligence, your sanity, and even your planet of origin....
On Thursday night, I marched up to the CGC booth with my choice – a copy of Doctor Whooves – Cloud Strife, the fan comic I made just for the hell of it. Would they go along with this? Only one way to find out.
I got there and the staff was busy taking comics like The Walking Dead #100. I looked over the form for the grading process and nearly balked. I wanted the grading on the spot, not sent in. The fastest service they offered cost 3% of the value of the comic, $150 minimum. Yeah, I think what I'm doing is a fine joke. Just not at that price.
A lady saw me looking at the form and asked if she could help me. I asked about the turnaround times and that and she said they do on the spots. When I mentioned the price was a bit steep, she asked me about the book I wanted graded. Indie, black and white, published this year.
Back in the game. I produced the Doctor Whooves book and she and the guy next to her looked at it like, “Seriously?”, reaffirming I had made the right choice. Then the guy delivered the bad news -- “I'm not sure we can grade this. We can try, but I'm not sure it will be allowed.”
I immediately reached into my pack and pulled out my emergency back-up. I placed a first issue of my Sound Waves comic on the table and asked, How about this?
They ultimately took both books. Sound Waves is guaranteed to be slabbed, and we'd see about Doctor Whooves. I paid the $50, took my copy of the form, and waited.
On Sunday, I went up to the CGC booth, a drum roll playing in my head and the receipt like a gun on my hip. I got up and asked, Are my books ready?
“What are they?”
Doctor Whooves and Sound Waves.
“Oh, I know exactly where they are. I remember them because they seemed so odd to me.” Awesome!
He brought me the books. Both were gloopsticked. Doctor Whooves got a 9.6, despite the 4 from the Romanian judge (I know! I don't know how I got so funny, either!). Sound Waves #1 got a 9.8. I'm trying to remember to treat them with respect and dignity (I'm currently using the Doctor Whooves one as a lap tray for my netbook as I type this). So the next time I see my cousin, I will go, “Hey, cuz! Doctor Whooves. Only ten in existence, and only one slabbed. What will you give me for it? I hear Europe is nice this time of year.”
POP MUSIK -- Not a complaint, just noticing....
The entry way to the convention hall had music playing over the loudspeakers for people waiting in line. Hair metal, thrash, classic rock...
I don't remember what song came before it, all I know is, when Nat King Cole's “Unforgettable” started playing, I just about got whiplash. Next day, they were mixing in portions of Mark Snow's music from X-Files. On Sunday, they mixed in music on the convention floor, playing some classic funk. And I thought MY music tastes were diverse.
AS THE SKETCH TURNS – Most of my money at conventions goes to commissions. Not just established characters, but I also enjoy getting sketches of my own characters, seeing how other artists interpret them.
Usually, when I'm not getting sketches of my characters, I will pick a theme and get a few reflecting that. Artists in Artist Alley see me coming and react with a combination of excitement and dread. Excitement because they never know what I'm going to pick, and dread because, well, they never know what I'm going to pick (one of the crown jewels in my collection is by Andy Price. I told him I wanted a drawing of the MythBusters. The sketch he came up with has Jamie holding a lighter while standing behind Adam, who is wearing roller skates, holding ski poles, and has a giant skyrocket strapped to his back. Oh, and a T-shirt that says, “I'm with stupid” and pointing straight up at him. He's telling Jamie, “Don't worry, I saw this in a cartoon once.” I must have shown that to everyone in the Artist Alley that year). One year, I wanted sketches of Bulleta (a.k.a. Baby Bonnie Hood) from Darkstalkers, one of my favorite characters. Another was Arle Nadja from Puyo Pop. Then there was Harry Dresden. Last year's theme was Thor'ed Out Heroes – pick a character who is pure of heart and thus able to lift Thor's hammer, and draw them Thorified. The best was by Scott Rosema, who drew Strawberry Shortcake as Thor, with strawberries instead of circles on the outfit and the lightning bolt splatting on the ground behind her like it was made of Jell-O.
Thanks to a suddenly jumped up work schedule, I didn't have much time to think of a theme for this year. Before I knew it, the con was right on top of me and I didn't have anything. I love sketches of my characters, but it's kind of limiting. I wanted something fun.
A few weekends ago, I actually had the full weekend off, and went toobin' with one of my friends. As I reflected on that, I came up with an idea – this year's “theme” would actually be a jam piece. I took an 11X17 and wrote the title at the top, “A Salute To Toobin'”. I seeded it with two images to get things going. In the upper left corner were my characters Rhapsody and Melody, and in the lower right was Deadpool in a Pinkie Pie swim ring. That left the rest of the area wide open for whatever anyone was going to do.
The resulting piece is wonderful. Franchesco! Did Spider-Man, Hilary Barta did The Pulverizer from What The -- ?! Shawn Alleyne did the Hulk, and Rene Castellano did Red and the Wolfman. I'm wondering if I should try to get a couple more added at C2E2 next year or leave it as it is, a complete work from the weekend. We'll see.
LETHAL INDUSTRY -- Wizard's layout for the Artist Alley was pretty crunch. One group of tables found itself with only one way in or out.
As I was walking by while taking in the lay of the land, I overheard the guy stationed right by it ask for a dollar to get in.
I turned to look. Sure enough, artists who had paid for tables there were being extorted by whoever was the guy on the end to get in. An artist a little further down the row promptly pulled his table back a bit, giving people a way in and out without having to cough up. I'm guessing the problem got fixed, but just the fact that it occurred to the guy to do it is really not good.
COSPLAY CONFIDENTIAL – According to my unscientific survey, the most popular costume at the con was Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, followed closely by Chell from the video game series Portal. After being overwhelmed by Doctors at the last few conventions I've gone to, he put up surprisingly small numbers, but still enough to be the most popular male costume.
BOOK 'EM, DANO – Spinning through the con brought up some interesting finds for indie comics.
First up was the guys at Instant Press , David Gruba and Rene Castellano. We became aware of each other because we were both working on comics that were a twist on the story of Red Riding Hood. While I threw mine into a Tex Avery situation, Gruba and Castellano created a domestic comedy, where the wolf(man) and Red wind up getting married. It has a wonderful charm to it and some pretty nifty bits in it (Red makes the wolfman's stake extremely rare – it's a baby calf that is still alive). They have two books out so far (Bride and House Of The Wolfman), and had free ashcans for the next one, Feast Of The Wolfman.
And speaking of Red Riding Hood, someone else has their own twist on the story. Victor Carungi was there for his Paper Street Comics, and he was hyping The Legend Of Red. Set in modern times, a magic knife that hunts werewolves chooses a new wielder, who has to learn quick against fantastic enemies. He also had two issues of The Elite, which is like a cross between superhero comics and Series 7 – The Contenders. A reality TV show give people superpowers and puts them in situations for the amusement of viewers.
Tucked off to the side was Anthony Belmontez. He has hung up a shingle as First Strike Comics and has released a zero issue of his project, Heroic 5. The artwork and storytelling takes me back to the small presser days, although it's not exactly an origin issue so much as laying the groundwork for the rest of the story.
Mess Bucket Comics came up with an interesting story, The Arcane: Awakening. It puts superpowered beings who got their powers from being descended from the bloodlines of angels and demons to decide the fate of the world.
Lee Cherolis was there with a trade of his web comic, Little Guardians which follows a couple of kids switched at birth. One is a magic warrior for the village, the other a simple worker's family. The switch is done to protect the ego and reputation of the village's defender, and strange things start happening, forcing each to face destinies they never considered.
I got a real hoot out of Spinnerette, another web comic being collected in trades. It's a twist on Spider-Man, only the heroine gets four additional arms along with other stuff. It blends some of the impracticality of superheroics, but has a lot of great touches to it. The art has a sort of Adam Warren vibe to it. Protagonist Heather Brown's extra arms have a number of subtle things and expressions, such as two sets doing a “Spidey Sense” thing while the last set calmly holds a cup of tea and a saucer. It has some wonderful lines, too (“We're not rapists! We're just douchebags!”).
ALMOST FAMOUS -- This is the table of Chris Ehnot.
Did you notice anything interesting in there? Let's zoom in on the lower left there.
The sketch you see on the left is a commission I got from him of Rhapsody and Melody from Sound Waves. He liked the piece so much, he made fan prints.
Someone is making fan pieces of my characters.
He told me the prints are really popular with little girls who see something “Disney” in the whole thing and in Rhapsody in particular. Kind of like when my Stress Puppy strip officially became Xeroxlore, I have inspired a fan print. Of course, I had to get a picture of Ehnot and I with the piece.
And yes, I did sign my own copy.