Monday, July 28, 2008

Comic-Con '08

Overview of about 4% of Comic-Con's exhibition floor.

I'm home from my day-and-a-half whirlwind trip to San Diego for Comic-Con International, and wondering whether I'm going to write a little or a lot about it. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground. I'm gonna try to keep this brief; we'll see how I do.

I flew into town about 10 o'clock Saturday--traditionally the con's busiest day--took a taxi to the Convention Center and got my badge with no trouble. One big difference this year was that Comic-Con was completely sold out in advance, meaning there were no on-site ticket sales. That seemed to change the people-flow quite a bit and, with no enormous mobs milling around the front doors, my first impression was that it was less crowded than usual. That impression was recalibrated once I got inside.

My publisher Abrams had a booth featuring their fine line of high-quality comics-related books, where I met a few people who'd only been e-mail addresses to me before. It's always fun to put a face with the @, and they're all great people who work incredibly hard. Selling books at a convention is a tough job.

My editor, the recently betrothed Charlie Kochman (hi Rachel!), with writer Mark Evanier and me. I arrived at the Con just as Mark was finishing a signing session for his beautiful book on Jack Kirby. Mark is the busiest man at Comic-Con, moderating 17 panels this year, but we had a few minutes to talk before he had to jet off to panel number 7 or 8.

Later in the day, fellow Abrams author and MAD Magazine great Al Jaffee was signing at the booth and I had a chance to talk with him as well. He couldn't have been sweeter. This is what Comic-Con is like for me: meeting people I've admired my entire life, having conversations in which my lips move but no intelligent words emerge, and feeling regret a day later when I think of all the insightful and meaningful things I should have said. It's still pretty cool, though.

Knowing my time was short, I pursued a focused strategy of finding the people I wanted to see and buying the stuff I wanted to buy, getting done in three hours what usually takes three days. I found Raina Telgemeier and had a really nice talk with her about upcoming projects, business strategy, and the terrors that wake us screaming in the night--although I think that last part was just me. There aren't a lot of people I get to talk shop with, and Raina was the first I'd seen for a while so I'm afraid she got the brunt of it. Her husband Dave Roman, who works for Nickelodeon when not doing his own projects, wasn't at the booth then but I caught up with him Sunday morning. I think they're both terrific talents who do great work.

Another talented pair I like is Otis Frampton and his wife Leigh, whom I've considered friends for a while but never really had time to sit down and get to know better until this weekend. Otis created the Oddly Normal series and has several other projects in the works, while Leigh is an expert at Adobe software and graphic design. Together, they're a perfectly complementary creative team, each filling the other's gaps and working together toward some very ambitious goals. Otis and Leigh generously invited me to a dinner party they hosted Saturday night where I met some of their friends and collaborators, including artist Jessica Hickman (illustrator of Oddly Normal Volume 3 and now working for Disney) and Grant Gould. Grant has a book coming out soon called "Wolves of Odin," and when I tell you what it's about you'll probably do the same thing I did when I first heard about it a few months ago: smack yourself in the head and say "Of course! Why didn't I think of that?" Here it is. Ready? Vikings versus Werewolves. As far as I'm concerned, that is your entire successful pitch right there. They should just back the money truck up to his door now.

Otis and Leigh, good people

This is also what Comic-Con is like for me: "Brian, this is Jessica and Grant." "Hi, great to meet you." Smalltalk smalltalk smalltalk, 20 minutes goes by, during which we start to share who we are and why we're there. Light bulbs switch on over our heads. "Ohhh, you're JESSICA!" "Ohhh, you're GRANT!" "Ohhh, you're BRIAN!" Then the real conversations begin. I can't tell you how often that happens, when you suddenly realize the nice person you're talking to is the same person who did that great thing you really liked last year. "Ohhh!"

Comic books and comic strips co-exist peaceably at Comic-Con, not quite overlapping or sure what to make of the other. But like a lot of fans I love both, and appreciate the chance to seek out comic strip art and creators. For example, there are always a couple of vendors displaying original art from Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo" comic strip from the early 1900s. If you go to Comic-Con and see a guy standing in front of those booths just staring at the artwork for 20 minutes, that's me. Long-time readers may recall that I have a small collection of original comic and cartoon art, most by friends and all very meaningful to me. This year I was thrilled to pick up an original daily "Pogo" by Walt Kelly, who occupies three spots in my personal list of All-Time Top Ten Cartoonists. August 11, 1965 is now mine, and I can cross one item off my Bucket List. My kids can finish college later.

The National Cartoonists Society set up its usual impressive booth, manned everytime I passed it by "Luann" cartoonist Greg Evans, with whom I had a nice talk about solar power and other things. Dan Piraro also put in a stint at the booth, and I unfortunately had just a few minutes to chat with Craig Boldman, who does "Archie" and with whom I've talked online before, when he had to race off to take part in a panel.

The NCS booth, with Greg Evans at the helm. This picture's for D.D. Degg.

"Mother Goose & Grimm" cartoonist Mike Peters was the subject of a spotlight panel, which gives creators a forum to talk about their careers or anything they want. It was probably the single most entertaining event I've ever attended at Comic-Con, and impossible to describe afterward. Moderator Mark Evanier played an excellent straight man, asking Mike a question and then pretending to be exasperated as Mike took hilarious 15-minute detours into his childhood or his mother's old television program in St. Louis or his Catholic military school education (wearing scapulas with Jesus's portrait on one side and Patton's on the other), only to end with Mark asking the exact same question and setting off another great story that barely addressed it. What an expressive, affectionate, free-associating, flamboyant personality! I left amazed that he could focus on anything long enough to actually sit down and draw a comic strip every day. It was the most fun I had all weekend.

Mark Evanier and Mike Peters. This picture is fuzzy because the lighting wasn't great, and I didn't intend to post it until I saw the expression on Mike's face. That expression pretty much sums up his entire talk.

Comic-Con would be nothing without several celebrity or near-celebrity sightings. Among mine: movie director John Landis, writer Ray Bradbury (in a wheelchair and honestly not looking real good, but hey! It's Ray Bradbury and he's a foot away from me!), Eric Estrada, Lou Ferrigno, Lindsay Wagner (still extremely rrowr!), Robert Culp (shook his hand and told him I enjoyed his work), others great and small. (Private note to Karen's brother: Tori Amos's book was all sold out and all tickets for her autograph session snapped up two days before I arrived. Sorry, man, I tried.) I had a very nice three-minute chat with writer-actor Wil Wheaton, who was a kid in the movie "Stand by Me," the teen-aged Wesley Crusher in "Star Trek," and now all grown up and writing a blog I like. Wil and I talked about being dads, a subject on which his depth of feeling matches my own.

"Star Trek" HQ, with Avery Brooks (Sisko from "Deep Space Nine"), Jonathan Frakes (Riker from "The Next Generation") and, behind them, Robert Picardo (the Doctor from "Voyager"). All three--and in fact every celebrity I saw at the con--were very gracious toward fans and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

I also want to mention a 17-year-old 'zine creator from Berkeley named Joseph Cotsirilos, who I met on the plane. Unfortunately, we didn't start talking until the plane's wheels touched down in San Diego. I ran into him a couple of times at the Con and wouldn't be surprised to hear his name again in a few years. Joseph, if you see this, your stories about the Marine recruitment center and the spilled drink in the subway in particular showed me you've got a nice eye for detail and observing life's telling moments. That's good stuff. Keep at it.

In addition, I had one cool ego-boosting moment I won't recount, as well as a fun moment with one of the facility security staff. On Saturday I asked a cute, young, petite brunette in a red "Staff" jacket where I could find something; as we were talking she apologized for her strong Irish accent and I reassured her she had absolutely nothing to apologize for. Next day as I walked into the Con she was manning the door, so as I passed by I pointed at her and said, "Hey, you're Irish!" as if I'd just figured it out, and she displayed the funniest mix of surprise, amazement, and bafflement I think I've ever seen in my life. Laughing, I told her we'd spoken the day before, and she said, "Thank God! I thought you could somehow see it in my face!" And that's all the flirting I did all weekend, honey, I promise.

Can you believe this is the short version? And I haven't even written anything about the real reason I was there. That's my next post....


dddegg said...

Thanks for posting the photo of the NCS booth. I've come to rely on your reports of the Con for inside stuff about the comic strip cartoonists. Almost everything I read is about the comic book people.
Al Jaffee!!! Whoa!!
Did they have advance copies of his upcoming Abrams book that he was signing?

ronnie said...

What DD said. I LOVE these Comic-Con reports. Every year when I see some mention in the media that it's going on I look forward to your post on it. (No pressure.) ;)

I like Wil Wheaton's blog too. A genuinely nicer guy would be hard to imagine (well, as much as you can determine he's genuinely nice from his blog and from interviews). He was so despised by TNG fans and just quietly skated through it with dignity (all the harder given that a) he was an adolescent and teen and b) he lives online, where much of the vitriol against him was posted) and came out a quietly successful man.

Love the photos of cartoonists, especially Al Jaffee, and the peeks behind the scenes. And congratulations to Charlie, who's become a recurring guest-star in your blog...

Brian Fies said...

DD and Ronnie, thanks. DD, I answered you on racs but will here as well: Mr. Jaffee was indeed signing copies of "Tall Tales," which were available at the Abrams booth. It's a nice hand-picked collection culled from his interesting vertical-layout newspaper comic strip, full of late-fifties and early-sixties goodness. I liked it.

I enjoyed talking to Wil. I could tell it was the end of a long day for him, yet he took the time. Nice guy.

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