Letters to Holly

Friday, June 22

New Time

The first day of summer was hot, but I needed to run. And I did, in my best time yet: 26:43. That's almost ten minutes off my Halloween race time. I ran hard for the whole 5k, despite a lack of lungpower. I'm feeling it this morning. The town is stampeded with runners; seeing their unmistakable runner physiques, I have no illusions of winning this race in two weeks. As races go, Halloweeen apparently was for fun; this one is for reals, yo.

I rewarded myself with a burger from the new drive-thru place, and it was underwhelming. I should have gotten a Whopper. It's been a while since I've eaten from the big-name fast food joints, but I'm getting that craving.

I may take advantage of the Bachelor Week and catch a film in the theatres. I hate to go alone, but I can also see something Your Sis won't even sniff at. I don't have much interest in the new Fantastic Four film, even though it's playing within 2 miles of the house. I'd consider the Fine Arts theatre right down from work, but this is the first night of the Smashing Pumpkins 9-night stint, and downtown will be a zoo. And as I look at the fandango listing of films offered right now, there's nothing I want to see. A trip to the Buster of Block may be in order.

Picture of the Day
The Cats Eye Nebula, somwehere out there.

Thursday, June 21

Toil and Try

The weather was perfect for yardwork. A little wind, a lot of clear air, many shady trees. The half of the garden that we didn't cultivate is overgrown. Well, was overgrown. It was a mess of ivy, weeds, and a thick-stalk brush. Attacking it made my weed-eater line vanish in a hurry. I fetched the hedge trimmer, squatted, and mowed the plants away. I think we're gonna have to -- excuse me, I'm gonna have to -- dig up the root balls. We won't grow anything on that half of the garden, not for a while anyway, so there's no hurry. I raked the successfully hewed greenery into the compost pile. I worked hard enough to skip running until later on today. The potato plants are about a foot tall.

I tried an experiment mixing honey, lemon juice, and pepper for a baste on broiled chicken. It may have worked better had I not used a frozen fillet pre-coasted with a "seasoning mixture." This mixture eclipsed the recipe and made it taste eggy, like a heavy pancake. This is not my favorite flavor. Thankfully, I made mac and cheese as the side.

I tried to watch a film called The Dreamers about three youngsters playing at sex and art in mid-'60s Paris. It's no fun. It's Moulin Rogue without the charm or energy. Also, the last ten minutes feels like a bad play. Watch only if you want to see lots of full frontal nudity. The gal from Casino Royale is starkers for half the film.

Picture of the Day
I often check in on my old newspaper's website to see how it's chugging along. The website is the same as before, but the publication is technically a new animal. The old paper is gone, and this new publication is a product of the former news editor dressing up his material in the clothes of the original publication. What was a small operation is now a tiny one, and he wasn't able to find a graphics guy with my expertise. He's making do with what he has, and I suspect he's trying to keep it afloat until he can sell it for a tidy profit. I don't think that's possible in such a glutted publication market, but that's another rant.

When I was there, we used to butt heads over packaging articles. He wanted certain art styles to accompany his cover stories. Once, he gave me a page from a Sunday New York Times with an industrial Soviet illustration and told me to hold on to it so I would make something in a similar style for a story he would write later. My point is, he would put the cart before the horse, packaging his story before he wrote it, and at the very least this puts into question his journalist ethic: Would he leave out crucial material in order to maintain his established desire package? I didn't appreciate this degree of input. We had specialized jobs; he'd write, I'd package. He criticized my covers often, not because they were bad, but because they weren't what he had in mind when writing the piece. He claimed more than once that he was the only one who cared about our product, and we were all letting down both him and our duty to the readers.

Anyway, I bring this up because the current issue includes what appears to be a sit-down with Barack. That's a very nice get for a paper this size. But, jesus, look at that headline.

Who pronounces his name "Buh-RACK?" Why reference a movie more than 20 years old? This cute style of headline removes any dignity and importance from the biggest story of the paper's short life. Here's how you package a story about a conversation with Barack Obama: "A Conversation With Barack Obama." Save the puns for county council scandals. And that top-left graphic looks like it took five minutes in MS Paint.

I hate to see the paper -- even a descendant of my old paper -- reduced to this. We won national awards when I was there. And despite our conversations on the subject, neither version of the publication contacted me for cover work when I moved here. Not that I think Jim would contact me; obviously we didn't get along well. Also, I hear he doesn't pay; he offers trade for advertiser coupons. He then likely can't attract the artists he needs, the artists the paper needs.

Wednesday, June 20

Rain. More Rain. Followed by Rain.

So, yeah, it precipitated all over the place yesterday, and now I worry that our potatoes are going to be mashed before I can pull them out of the ground. There's little I can do except bury them further in soil, but that only protects the green stalks, which are useless and toxic. All the tubers remain buried for now, so they might be OK after all. The weather has been odd; both towns have received hail within three days of each other. Big hail too. Not the simply annoying variety.

The rain kept me from working in the yard or running at the school. I considered running at the gym, but the treadmills alter my stride and make my calves and hips ache.

I stayed home instead and drew some more. I decided my next minicomic will be an expansion of the cat comic I did for Your Sis when she visited you in Snazzyland. It's already thumbnailed and scripted, but I will polish it up for the general audience. Your Sis still refers to its punchlines, so I know she likes it. The super-cool previous idea remains on the back burner until I can decide how to print it: in multiple parts or as a regular size comic.

Picture of the Day
My Geek Card will be revoked unless i post an image of the motorcycle from the next batman movie. I'm cool with a Batcycle; that big tank he drives is too cumbersome to go through alleyways. He used to have one in the comics, until he moved full-time to the Batmobile and Robin became the cyclist of the duo. Of course, Bats also used to have a Batcopter, Batjet, Batboat, and I think a Batrocket.

Tuesday, June 19

Convention Follow-Up

Three things to add to the previous post:

1) There were a lot more women attending this year. I'd say the gender ratio is 65/35 now, a vast improvement over previous years. The ages were varied, and I noticed more female creators. There were some costumed folk but nothing on the scale of Atlanta's DragonCon.

2) I narrowly avoided acknowledging a guy who stalked me in high school. We met through a mutual friend, and apparently he switched from shadowing that guy to me. Just wouldn't leave me alone. He knew my class schedule and was there virtually every time I turned around. I had to give him an ultimatum. Figures, the first time I'm the one to break up with someone, it's a guy. He was at the show, but I'm not sure he recognized me. He looked the same however.

3) Turns out, the Sandman sketch I did was for one of the message board people I didn't get to meet later. We had no idea. He saw my convention comments on that board and identified himself and had the photo of me with his son. Again, the odds are astronomical.

I ran my fastest 5k yet at 27:24. My feet are hurting this morning. If the weather holds out, I'll do yard work tonight. The potato plants are getting so tall that they're falling over. This may be a sign they need more stabilizing soil. I can't tell if the scattered yellow leaves means the plants are ready for harvesting or they're receiving too much water. It has rained a lot here.

Your Sis had a full first day at the conference, and she called to say good night around 11.

Picture of the Day
The pic of me after the sketch.

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.