I would later be told that this was what a con should be.
I was sitting outside and waiting to hear from Simon, my contact within.It was Saturday morning and I was full of spunk, the purity that comes with the excitement of the unknown.Somewhere inside the Long Beach Convention Center were artists and writers that I’d have to interview, minds I’d have to get inside of, and I had no idea what to say to any of them.
When I was done skulking around the outskirts I decided to join the party.Coming down the escalator to the showroom floor felt almost surreal.There I was in Long Beach surrounded by a bunch of comic book fans that loved their books way more than any so called normal person would, looking to shoot the bull with artists and talk shop with the pros.Where did I fit into all this mess?
Fortunately, I had an artist on his way to the convention, but that was at least an hour or two away.Simon was following me around with a whip and a camera, shouting something about getting me on film for my first con.
Dammit, I had a responsibility to uphold!To get out there and find the next scoop! That’s when I saw a little boy’s bright eyes light up with over stimulation and I knew what to do.I was going to write about how I survived a con and how you can to.The trick is to pace yourself.
The first thing I saw was a big banner for Michael Turner’s beautifully rendered Soulfire (a comic that staff member Dana would later make me read to her before bed time).Passing JT Krul and the crew at Aspen was intense, knowing all of the talent floating around there.Opposite was Boom’s panel with the amazing Michael Alan Nelson, who I would later snag for a video interview on the site.
When I located Simon and Matt, they were busy looking for footage to shoot.Simon turned to me and said, “go get interviews!”So I went looking for Dustin Nguyen because I had to ask what it’s like to work with Paul Dini, but Nguyen was a ghost.So I went to Livesay’s booth where I met Jason Gonzalez.At first I wanted to know why J Gonzo was handling Livesay’s booth, but that led us into an awesome discussion about how artists craft out a living.
Later, Simon would clarify a lot of what Jason said to me, but it came down to this: advertising keeps a lot of these people employed.Many of them have turned their crafts toward freelancing for anyone who needs work.They aren’t the glorified people we think of when we think of the legendary artists that define Marvel and DC.At this con, I got a lot of real world advice from practical artists.
Jason said he would absolutely love to get back into comics.He told me about his run on Spawn with McFarlane and how much he has grown and learned since then.Jason was the first in a chain of artists that were incredibly passionate about creating comics.
Livesay stepped up to the booth and I finally got to speak with him. He seemed a bit more interested in taking commissions than talking to yours truly, but I got a chance to get his top 3 reading recommendations! He plugged his own book, Doom Patrol, but also suggested Punisher and Dark Avengers.
I bothered him about his inking work, mainly looking for insight to his process. He explained that an inker looks to give texture to things, this brought a lot of his craft into perspective for me. When I think of comics, I rarely think of what happens from the time the writer finishes the script till the time it hits the shelves. Inkers like Livesay add depth and give life to the pencil work.
I wrapped up my impromptu chat with Livesay and went to weave through the line coming from Jim Lee’s booth (he only showed on Saturday). Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures with Jason, Livesay or Jim, but I assure you they were all there. I have J Gonzo’s card to prove it!
We met up with Dana and went hunting for artists to talk to when my artist contact showed up. He and I split away from the ComicImpact crew in search of a style for our own work, but nothing was happening.
Static con moments are few and far between. Usually it’s an aside, like “hey guys what are we doing now”, or “hey let’s meet up later for lunch.” Every so often, you end up just standing there looking around all dumbfounded waiting for direction, or purpose.
We went outside for some fresh air, a clan of Predators was arriving, but they disappeared before I could grab a photo. Then it was back in, and that’s when we found Jerrell Conner. Creator and Artist behind The Redr, Jerrell’s clean character designs are a thing to behold.
My artist friend got Jerrell talking about influences and it was like eavesdropping on a lecture. A lot of independents like Jerrell like to talk about how they broke into things. For Jerrell, it started with a school project that grew into something so much more. In the end, he had a website, a large sketchbook full of great character designs and a story idea.
The biggest challenge for him is time.
Unlike Dean Trippe, the next artist I came across. Dean got his start doing the Daily Grind Iron Man challenge, which is like a dance-a-thon for comic strips. Draw a strip for each business day until you drop out. He managed for three months and of that came I Heart Butterfly, a strip about the side kick of a side kick. I remember Dean talking about how sidekick’s names were never as dangerous sounding as that of our hero’s, thus his main character.
For Dean, comics is a fun outlet for his greatest strengths. He enjoys maintaining creative control over everything that goes on in the page, and his cartoon style art shows the liberties he takes. Another thing I enjoyed with Dean was the way he played with the genre, and I’m sure you’ll see a huge Batman influence coming from his general direction. We wrapped things up with a handshake.
As we took off from Dean’s booth, we were arrested by a Storm Trooper…
We complied with the command and the Stormtrooper centered his blaster on us.My friend got a bit jittery and the Stormtrooper put him in cuffs.This is how we ended up at the booth for the 501st Legion, and that’s where I met their leader, Scott Allen.He gave me his card, which featured him in full costume as the Dark Father himself.
I learned a lot about the 501st, mostly that they weren’t out to destroy the galaxy.Turns out they have a ton of divisions, all geared toward charity.Their upcoming charity features a rather interesting set of items up for bid.We managed to see part of a set of custom Stormtrooper helmets.60 artists have been commissioned to create 60 custom helmets to be auctioned off during Celebration 5.
While I photographed with my phone and jotted down my chicken scratch notes, Scott told me about their droid hunt.Natives of San Diego Con probably know about this, but essentially a certain number of tickets are given to con goers.The tickets contain a little droid, and each one is unique so there is a collectible element to the game as well.The Stormtroopers are then dispatched to hunt down the lucky (or unlucky) patrons with the card and bring them back to base.There, the perpetrator is given a raffle ticket for more prizes.
They let us off with a warning and we went off to witness a real live wrestling match.I didn’t get the specifics, but it was like a smaller version of something WWE would do.Really thrilling and surprisingly loud.
I met up with Simon, Dana and Matt shortly thereafter and we walked around aimlessly making lunch plans while Dana shmoozed it up with the artists.It seemed like that girl knew literally everybody there.
Matt and I rattled our gums off with my artist friend while Simon directed Matt to point and shoot.Dustin Nguyen (Batman: Streets of Gotham) was finally at his booth and I had to approach.It was time to break off again and get my journo on.
Nguyen was a popular guy amongst the artists.He had a gaggle with him, and they all spoke shop talk.Not being an artist, it was difficult to look for an opening.Dustin told that if you really want to be an artist in comics, find a style and read anything that has that style in it.This will help you hone in on something you want to do, rather than waste time chasing your style on a blank page.
Visual reference is big with these guys.
Nguyen has worked with Dini in the past so he was pretty familiar with Dini’s script style.The great thing about Dini, Nguyen told me, is that he spells it out for you.His Batman is deliberate and precise.This brings up an interesting point, as moments ago I had spoken to Ryan Odagawa who told me much the same thing.Spell it out in a precise and simple way.
Dustin was short with his answers, but he did tell me that some new DC kids stuff is around the bend, so everyone be on the lookout for that.
I was off to meet up with Simon as the con had sapped the energy from me and I required sustenance.I found them with Lady Deadpool.“Freeze,” she said, “I am Lady Deadpool.”
Simon said he was getting an interview, and Matt said he was just shooting footage for the site, but I knew better.
No doubt, Lady Deadpool was foxy, but make sure you check out the other costumed crusaders from Long Beach.
When our impromptu shoot was over, we gathered our thoughts over pizza and planned our moves for the next day. Deciding that no time should be wasted, I grabbed the awesome Michael Alan Nelson for my very first video interview evar! (09, a year of firsts for me I guess).
Michael was so interesting. Here was a guy talking to me about some of the same struggles I go through as a writer, but speaking from high atop hundreds of pages. Check out the video interview for his insight on the 28 Days Later comic Boom is putting out. SPOILER: Michael is incredibly excited to tell the story of how Selena got her Machete. Oh yea, and what happened to Jim and Hannah?
Listening to our podcast from Saturday, you know we were starting to see the crazy salvation that came with exhaustion. The freedom to say “I’ve stayed up 2 days straight and had a monumental blast.”
That night I slept (if you could call it that) on the floor.
When we awoke on Sunday it was the hustle of packing the room and getting to con on time. We arrived and all was well, but our last day at Con would be the most grueling. The morning started off with 2 panels for me.
I sat in on a panel with Jeph Loeb, Joshua Hale Fialkov, and David Peterson (creator of Mouseguard). They discussed what a writer goes through in order to make most efficient usage of that 22 page count problem. David Peterson was very insightful, telling amateurs to break things down into thumbnails when they write.
There I discovered that when you write an outline, you give yourself a rough idea of how many pages each story point will take up. This way, your artist understands what they are in for and can plan ahead. As Jeph Loeb said, if the artist and writer are in sync the comic will be great. So the lesson here is to plot things out and find out what your artist can handle.
And then I got to listen to David Wohl and Joe Benitez work through the first page of Executive Assistant Iris. Benitez is the artist responsible for the cover of issue 0, but the real illustrations go to Eduardo Francisco. This was a great chance to see how writers and artists think so differently.
As Joe said, a good editor moderates the writer/artist relationship effectively. The two are thinking on totally different levels.
As 2 o’clock hit, I left the panel and went outside for some air. My feet were beginning to ache from all the standing and I needed some time to collect thoughts, gather notes and think retrospectively. I had already been through so much, it was only a matter of time before it would end.
The others joined me briefly, but went off chasing interviews before too long including: Amanda Connor, JT Kroll, Beth Sotel and others.
I would leave Long Beach with a few prints and memories of one hell of a con. Here are some first time Con goer tips from me:
• Wear comfy shoes
• Bring lots of cash, and don’t be stupid like I did and spend it on lunch
• If you’re not afraid of walking, park far away. Just remember this warning when you walk back
• Talk with people, everyone there is equally socially awkward, so you’re among your peers.
• Don’t feed the artists
Until next time kids…