Letters to Holly

Sunday, June 17

The Con Weekend

Your Sis worked late at school Friday night, giving me the chance to run at the college for the first time since Sunday. I managed a 28-minute 5k. As I walked afterward, I saw the couple whose puppy I ran over and ran up to them to inquire about her. There she was, loping around with her big puppy tongue, somewhat larger than I last saw her but OK just the same. That's a relief. I was home and showered before Your Sis got home. We had a late pub dinner. Your Sis had two rum and cokes; she was wasted and deservedly so. I gathered up all my con gear, and we discussed route maps before we called it a night.

We had a languorous breakfast from the bakery before I left for the convention. It's a nice enough drive for almost 3 hours' time. I took it as a good omen that I knew the answer to the Car Talk puzzle, a rarity (Why can't kids find the gas tank on an old Cadillac? You have to move the license plate to get to it.). I arrived right at noon and talked to Your Sis about her preparations for the AP conference starting Sunday.

As I bought my ticket and started to enter the convention, I was spotted by my old comic gang. Now, you have to imagine the odds of five people recognizing each other during the busiest day of a con that might host 20,000. And for us to arrive at the same time? Another omen. We walked the con floor for a bit, checking out the various stands. At a con like this, you'll find toys, collectibles, bootleg DVDs by the score, and back issues of comics. Sellers use cons to get rid of their inventory, and Sunday's last hours can provide bargains. But I was only here for the one day. We noticed two Christopher Reeve Superman movie costumes priced in the thousands. After an hour of gawking and window shopping, we split up. I was distracted by original art for sale, and they were looking for toys. Those don't catch my eye anymore. I mean, I look at them and hope to find one thing that will demand I buy it, but that doesn't happen. I did want to find two particular comic issues and did so to my surprise within ten minutes of looking. Again, the odds are against that sort of thing. Needles and haystacks and all that.

I spotted the booth for my hometown comic store, admiring all the swag before I realized who the booth belonged to. I gave him one of my new business cards. I gave them out to almost everyone I talked to. The comic gang each got one. I think I gave the turnstile guardian one. I was pimping. But I had no idea where my publisher table was with my minicomic. I couldn't find him in the con program (and didn't until I got home and spotted his name right away, of course). So I strolled the artist section. Unlike the previous years I attended, the con was split in half: one side had the merchants, the other was all artists and creators. This is a big sea change, and I like it. I don't need bootleg copies of Dark Shadows or Tron nor do I want a statue of Catwoman, a collection of Ant-Man comics, or t-shirts with online punchlines. But I want to look a creator in the eye, shake his hand, and tell him how much I read his Spider-Man comic when I was four years old and laid up with the flu. That's why I love cons.

The first guy I talked to was Brian Defferding, who I know from online but never met. I bought the latest issue of his homemade comic and gave him my cell phone number so we and other online folks could meet up for dinner. This was 80% of my reason for going. I didn't know what to expect for the minicomic experience, but I had talked about the message-board rendezvous for weeks. I could finally put faces and voices to names. I walked a bit further and met Chris Kemple, the one-time comics editor for my university newspaper. It was with his encouragement that I was able to produce a weekly strip for almost three years. We caught up on jobs and comics. Right down from him was his predecessor, Jeff Parker, who has since become a rising star at Marvel Comics. I bought a book of Alex Toth sketches from his personal company. Toth was the design genius for the Hanna-Barbera's cartoons that didn't involve talking animals. Johnny Quest, Super Friends, Space Ghost, Herculoids -- that's all him. He also did comics work. The man was a prolific monster of simplicity, and the guy Parker and Kemple both instructed us college cartoonists to learn about and emulate.

A few tables later, I spotted my Wide Awake compadres. And right there was my minicomic, amongst the HUGE selection of WA products: pins, comics, shirts, etc. They had lucked into a massive floor space when another artist moved and handed over her booth space to them. I slipped behind the table and suddenly I was on the other side of a convention. I had a chair and some table space to hawk my comic and business cards and sketch. And there I was for three hours. The guys I sat between were WA contributors and stepped away from their stuff at different times, and I watched their merchandise for them. I even sold some of their items. My comic was part of a printer mishap where a good number of the copies were spotty, but since I wasn't paying for publishing costs, I wasn't going to complain.

This is the booth. That's Duane, a WA regular.

The publisher and the guy to my right left for about 90 minutes to talk about mincomics for a convention panel. During a lull at the table, an attendee walked up, and I was alone to greet and cajole. Just like that, I sold my first minicomic. Two dollars. Didn't even think to sign it for him, that's how surprised I was. A little bit later, I talked an eager shopper into getting at least one anthology and my minicomic. Didn't sign either of those. I did sketch in and sign a copy of the horror anthology for another attendee.

I sat and sketched in hopes someone would ask me to draw for them. Chris, the publisher, handed me some folded paper and told me to make a sign saying I'd sketch for $5 a pop. I didn't even think of that, but I made my sign and drew in the most obvious manner possible to win some business.
Scarlet Witch and Namor, done at the con.

There's two things to draw if you want convention people to ask for a sketch: Wolverine and women. It's that simple. So I drew the Scarlet Witch. My card caught some eyes, and most people commented the location of Transylvania, incredulous that such a place existed. I assured them all. I knew that'd get attention.

I got to work on a jam comic. Someone folded pages of drawing paper, and we took turns making up a story page by page. It started off with a rabbit and a bear rendezvousing for a picnic, but the rabbit was late, and the potato salad had spoiled. This is where I came in. I made the bear realize he could get more if he prayed to the tater salad god, and with that I handed off the comic.

It was during this work that a guy came up to me and asked if I could draw Sandman. I'll put money that my Witch drawing caught his eye. I asked him which version of Sandman he wanted; I knew of three off the top of my head. He wanted the Spider-Man villain and explained he was asking folks to sketch in his provided art book for his son. He even had reference pictures ready if I needed them. Which I didn't. I've seen this Sandman since I was four. I could draw him with my eyes closed. Because he had his young son in tow, I did a quick sketch and inked over it. Took maybe five minutes tops. I signed it, and he asked me to personalize it. I took a photo of it (my first con sketch, for gosh sakes), and then he took a picture of the kid standing with his new sketch. This was as perfect a con sketch experience as I could ask for. And the guy handed me $5 before I could shoo it away.

A quick Sandman for a youngster.

My comic gang walked by and saw me behind the table, as did Kemple. I felt somewhat professional. I missed a few panels by the major publishers, but it wasn't likely I'd spend 90 minutes listening to what I could read online later on in the week. About 5:30, everyone was back, and I took off to see the rest of the con. I had to sprint through; the doors closed at 6. Still didn't see any knick-knacks that demanded to go home with me. But I did spot some original art by John Paul Leon, a guy whose style I greatly admire. I found a page of his from one of my favorite comic issues (and it was the last page of that issue to boot) and snagged it for a very good price. I asked him to sign it to me so he'd know it was staying with me and not marked up on eBay.

Finding and buying this page makes me much happy.

I carried it around gingerly as I checked the rest of the booths until they started to pack up. Your Sis has declared I can buy no books until my birthday as she has bought me one. So I didn't get a few trades that caught my eye. Also, I can find them at bookstores later if I really need them.

It was as I drifted to the doors that Brian called me about the dinner. The online folks had moved the dinner back to 9 p.m. I couldn't do it. I had nothing to do for three hours, and that late start time would get me back home around 2 a.m. But I also hadn't eaten since I arrived, and I figured I'd grab convenience store junk for the drive back. I knew that by leaving then, I'd be home before they sat down to eat. I wanted to stay -- this was why I really came, remember -- but it wasn't practical.

I ran into my comic gang and spotted vending machines. I wanted a large Pepsi but the cost was two bucks, and all my small bills were either the $2 for the minicomic or the $5 bill. I couldn't do it. I couldn't spend them. I wanted to frame them, and even as I told myself I could replace them later, I wouldn't have those bills. Emotional attachment won out. My gang did try to pay for the drink, but I assured them I'd get snacks down the road. We said goodbye after discussing the Atlanta con this fall. I said "hi" to some of the online guys outside the convention and called Your Sis as I walked back to the car. Sure enough, at 9:15, I was back home, having destroyed my voice with hours of talking, a big Sprite, and singing along to the iPod.

Your Sis was still packing, and I vegged on the couch until she was ready to give full attention to the adventure. And I spilled the beans as we threw back an entire bottle of Sangiovese (the brand we said in Italian accents at Biltmore). Because I was exhausted from six hours of driving and six hours of conventioning, I very easily and quickly became pickled. Blotto. And so it was we crawled to bed.

She finished packing Sunday morning before we grabbed Starbucks coffee. We sat on the back deck and sorted out her carload before her driving buddy arrived. They left around 11 a.m. I piddled around the house all day. I couldn't shake the hangover even after guzzling water. She called around 1o that night and said she just found our her AP course was approved. Just like that, first time out of the gate. It was a big weekend for both of us.

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