Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Finally! I've been published by Marvel Comics!

Well, at least my last name was published.  Accidentally.  As part of gibberish.  Still, cool!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Tenth Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Accentuate the Positive

If we're going to be honest here, many comics/movie/television/video game fans have negative attitudes, or at least fall into complaining and/or snark so easily that they can be Debbie Downers. Even creators, when speaking with one another, often grouse about how a convention is going for them, how it could be better, how it's not about comics anymore, or even how they should have just stayed at home. Well, they might have that last one right.

Don't be that person.

Sure, frustrations abound at comic conventions. There are lines for everything from signings to bathrooms. There's never enough space in the aisles. There are too many fans of that thing you hate, and not enough of that thing you love. You couldn't get into that super-important panel because no one left the room from the panel before. Your booth location doesn't get any foot traffic. You spent an hour in line for food, and they sold out of the last hot dog right in front of you.

Relax. Take a deep breath. Find the positive.

The short time you're at a comic convention should be tremendous fun, even with with minor hassles involved. Relish every moment of it. If you find yourself drifting into wet blanket territory, change things up. If lines are a problem, find an activity that doesn't have one (despite appearances, there are plenty). Having trouble navigating the aisles? Use the lobby for a clearer walking path. Shut out of a panel? Pull out your grid and find another. Heck, there's one time slot in the upcoming San Diego Comic Con in which there are three panels I want to attend.

Keep that positive attitude, and use it when talking with others about comics, too. Comic conventions are one of the few opportunities that us geeks have to sing the praises of our favorite properties to an audience that might actually be interested. Yet so many attendees become hyper-focused on whining about stories they didn't enjoy. In conversations, focus not on the stories you find disappointing, but on those that you love. Create new fans for your favorite characters, creators, or stories through your positive attitude.

That's what a comic convention should be about. Spread the love of a story, a character, a creator whose work you enjoy. Bring new fans into the fold. Enjoy the time with like-minded people, even impenetrable throngs of them. Most of all, have fun!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Ninth Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Talk to Strangers

Because a number of comic fans, myself included, have led lives in which they've felt unaccepted or like an outsider, many, myself included, find themselves socially awkward.  The web series Awkward Embraces plays this social ineptitude for wonderful comic effect, but in real life, it can be a difficult obstacle to overcome.  Well, if you're going to overcome it anywhere, a comic convention is the place.  

Being among so many like-minded people provides the perfect opportunity to make new friends.  While for a lot of us, the Stranger Danger impulse keeps us away from others, at a comic convention that inhibition can be relaxed a bit.  Start out light.  You don't have to dive into your manifesto on how Sue Dibny should be the Spectre right out of the gate.  (Though, she should be, dammit!)  Instead, a simple bit of appreciation for a tee shirt or a comment about a shared situation like standing in a line can be the perfect icebreaker, and can lead to a memorable moment, if not a great friendship.

A few years ago in San Diego, I stood in the Hyatt bar wearing a blue lantern shirt that I had Zazzled up before DC started selling them in droves.  A fellow--I believe his name was Paul--came up to me, admired the shirt, and asked if I was the writer of Green Lantern.  While I wish I had a career path similar to that of Geoff Johns, I told the truth.  Still, this simple comment led to a ten minute conversation about the Green Lantern title and where we thought the story was heading.  While we neither traded info, nor become besties or anything, that brief conversation stuck with me, and was one of the highlights of that convention.

If you're looking for the best opportunities to meet people in San Diego, you'll find them in the hotel bars after the show.  That's pretty obvious.  Less obvious, and possibly even better, is the hidden cafeteria in the mezzanine area behind small press.  On more than one occasion I have met a new friend over lunch by sharing one of the few tables in this area.  Just make it clear that you have an open seat at your table, and you'll find someone to share it pretty quickly.  Possibly even me.

So when you return home, try to bring back not only clothes, books, and autographs, but a few great memories and perhaps a new friend as well.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Eighth Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Consider Others

Comic conventions can be loud, crowded, sometimes frustrating events.  Yet this doesn't absolve us attendees from trying to be on our best behavior.  One easy rule of thumb that will make a comic convention more enjoyable not only for yourself, but for everyone: be considerate of others.  This rule is useful in everyday life, but at comic conventions there are a few ways to apply this rule more specifically.

When interacting with creators, consider their point of view in the exchange.  Are they trying to eat a quick bite of lunch, or use the restroom?  Perhaps then you should give them some space.  Have you been at their table for fifteen minutes, having a friendly chat, but at the same time blocking their products from passersby?  Think about possibly wrapping it up, or even just turning sideways, so that their booth can be seen by potential customers.  Are you about to pitch your story idea to them without them asking you to do so?  STOP.  No good will come of this, I assure you.

Be considerate of your fellow fans, too.  Beyond the cliche advice about bathing, deodorant, and the wonders of simethicone, there a few basic things you can do to keep everyone around you happier.  For example, almost every comic convention attendee carries luggage, whether it be a backpack, messenger bag, or one of those ridiculously large Warner Brothers bags.  Keep in mind that your luggage is a part of you; when you turn, it turns, and potentially becomes a weapon to those around you.  Try to avoid playing out a Three Stooges scene by whacking someone with your bag. 

Also, when you see those longboxes of bounty waiting to be plundered, it can become easy to focus on comics to the exclusion of everything else.  Attempt to keep your head on a bit of a swivel and pay attention to those around you that may want to dig into a box nearby.  Offering a little space or moving your to-buy pile out of someone else's way makes it easier for them to look, and helps the dealer sell more books.  Admittedly, I have difficulty with this myself, as my checklist is in a three-ring binder, and can take up a good piece of real estate. 

Finally, remember that wherever you are in a convention hall, behind you there's likely to be someone else who's trying to get somewhere.  Consider this person when you're stopping to look at a booth or take a photograph.  Step to the side, keep the aisle clear, and allow others to pass.  Easy to do, easy to forget to do.  It happens to the best of us, but a little more diligence will make the day better for all.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Seventh Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Take a Break

In my last entry, I suggested always having a Plan B for any con activity you might want to take part in.  Well, really you should have a Plan C, too.  That Plan C should be to take a break.  When there's so much to do, it's easy to get so invested in the convention that you get tunnel vision and forget to relax for a minute here and there.  Don't forget that San Diego is a beautiful city, especially the area around the convention center.  Consider stepping away from the convention center for a bit and enjoying the surrounding area.

Of particular note, the area behind the Manchester Grand Hyatt, known as Seaport Village, offers a quick, welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of Comic Con.  Back there you can grab a fine burger at Buster's Beach House and Longboard Bar, coffee at Seaport Coffee and Fudge,  a slice at Asaggio Pizza Pasta Plus, or even some ice cream at Ben & Jerry's.  The area also includes a number of small shops, and a small park, where you can take a relaxing stroll without dodging oncoming foot traffic. 

On the other side of the convention center, you'll find the Fox Sports Grill a great place to grab a drink or meal and check scores.  Even better, not far from the Hilton Bayfront, you'll find a boat shuttle to Coronado Island, and its wonderful selection of shops and restaurants, though a trip over there will eat a couple hours out of your day, at least.  Even the area of the Gaslamp District right across the street from the convention center can be an enjoyable walk.  Within just a couple of blocks, you can find delis, souvenir and clothing shops, bars, candy stores, art galleries, and even chain restaurants like Subway or TGIFridays.

So when you find yourself overwhelmed by all that is Comic-Con, give yourself a break, relax, and reenergize yourself for more fun.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Sixth Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Have a Plan B

In order to get the most out of any convention experience, it makes sense to plan ahead.  As much as possible, check the websites of the convention, the creators, the vendors, and other organizations to learn what parts of the show you most want to see.  Take note of what you need to do to accomplish these goals, whether it be wait in long lines, get special tickets, win a raffle, whatever, and prepare to jump through those hoops.  For example, at some conventions, the best strategy to see a popular panel is to suffer through an unpopular one occurring before it.  Sidenote: I'd like to thank The Legend of Neil for being the really popular panel right after mine in San Diego last year, thereby filling my room.  

Okay, so once you've figured out what you want to do and what you need to do it, plan to fail.  Comic convention schedules rarely fall into place as easily in reality as they do on paper.  Creators are late to signings, panels run long, lines are longer than expected, panel rooms fill up.  There are a hundred ways you could be blocked from your plan.  So while you're setting your agenda for the convention, prepare a secondary agenda.  Have a plan B for everything.  That way you're not left standing at the edge of the convention hall wondering what you should do until the next item on your list rolls around. 

Even if this agenda is as simple as a list of vendors you want to visit, anything that keeps you from wasting convention floor time will benefit you.  Many a convention regret stems from wandering aimlessly through a con, only to realize after it's over that there were five or six things you should have accomplished during that time.  

Plan ahead, and plan ahead for your first plan to fall through.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Fifth Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Love the Nightlife

While many comic convention attendees think the show ends when the sales floor closes, savvy fans know that this is when the best part of the convention just begins! 

Along with the masquerade balls, film screenings, and awards shows that make up the official evening programming at many conventions, great fun can be had outside of the convention center every night.  Rather than fleeing to your car and heading back home right away, consider remaining in the vicinity of the convention center or the official convention hotel.  Here you'll see some of your favorite creators and celebrities in a more social setting, and see some unexpected events.  You may end up seeing pulitzer prize-winning author Michael Chabon out getting an ice cream; find yourself sitting down to dinner with a group of Legion of Super Heroes fans you've never met before, just because you had open chairs at your table; or even happen upon a famous film writer/producer/director assisting a young woman in distress as paramedics arrive.*  The types of interactions you can't have during the show, and couldn't make up if you tried, occur at night. 

Of course, this is to say nothing of the bar scene.  On a typical evening, the bars of local hotels teem with creators networking, visiting with friends they only see at cons, or blowing off steam from a challenging convention day.  This makes for tremendous people-watching, to say the least.  Even better, if you use your very best social skills, and if someone is open to it, you may even be able to buy your favorite creator a drink and have a short chat with them.  As of today, at Comic-Con International in San Diego, this opportunity for outside-of-the-con entertainment has been extended to all hours of the day with the creation of Tr!ckster, a space across from the convention providing food service, creator signings and events, an art gallery, and more.

Whether spending time with creators or just your pals, taking advantage of these opportunities enhances the con experiece.  Hanging out with old friends, making new ones, sharing a meal or tipping back a beverage or two, and catching up on convention goings-on and life in general can be the most rewarding experiences of any con.  For me, those convention memories have become some of my most cherished.  So hang out after the closing bell, and make some memories of your own.

* All actual events that have occurred to me or in my presence after-hours.

This is the fifth of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Fourth Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Not Shit on Other Fans

I've tried to be generic with these Conmandments, but I imagine this one applies more to the San Diego Comic Con than most other shows.

While working at the Atomic Tiki Studio booth in San Diego last year, I noticed a young woman walk by with a sign sticking up overhead from the top of her backpack.  It read, "Real vampires don't sparkle."  As she walked down the aisle, she garnered a few laughs, some comments, and even one high-five.  Well, I have a message for this woman.

Fuck you.  And fuck those of you that laughed, encouraged, and high-fived her. 

This sort of statement, one designed not to bolster something you enjoy, but to denigrate something that others care about, brings everyone down.  "Real vampires don't sparkle."  Guess what else real vampires don't do?  EXIST.  Don't pretend that preferring one fictional universe over another somehow makes you cooler than anyone else.  In a year in which we've seen the harm done both to Katie because she dared to enjoy Star Wars and to Boo for committing the crime of dressing as Scooby Doo's Daphne on Halloween, can we finally admit that flying an anti-Twilight (or anything else) flag is a rotten thing to do?  It's been going on for years now, and it needs to end.  If you love Buffy and find that Twilight isn't for you, that's fine, but maybe you should consider embracing the Twilight fans, and showing them this other awesome universe they might also like, rather than belittling them.

This applies not just to Twilight, but to any area of fandom that comes under attack.  Star Wars vs. Star Trek, Marvel vs. DC, US comics vs. manga, fourth Doctor vs. tenth Doctor, etc., can all make for fun debates.  Discussing tastes and distastes among friends is one thing, but carrying a sign that openly mocks a group of fans serves no purpose than to ruin their good time.  You become the Fred Phelps of geekdom. 

By the way, to those who hoisted the "Twilight ruined Comic-Con" signs a couple years ago, consider this:  according to Bookscan numbers as reported by Brian Hibbs in his Tilting at Windmills column, the Twilight graphic novel volume 1 was the second-highest selling graphic novel of 2011, moving over 126,000 copies and beating the first superhero book on the list by more than 86,000 copies.  So for all the anti-Twilight sentiment, it appears the Twilight crowd are buying comics in large quantities, far more than supposed Comic-Con "purists." 

The banners hanging around San Diego read "Celebrating the Popular Arts."  That attitude should be shared by the attendees.  We should be celebrating the things we enjoy, and trying to bring new fans into the fold.  Leave your snark and bile at the hotel.  Bring the love.

This is the fourth of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Third Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Peruse Small Press

Some parts of a convention floor are as unexplored by con veterans as they are by newcomers, and that's really a shame. At large conventions, fans flock to meet their favorite creators, and the crowds around the A-list writers and artists in the major publishers' booths or in Artists' Alley can become huge. When you find yourself overwhelmed by the masses, there's one place you can seek solace and discover some great comics at the same time. Off to the side or in the back of the convention floor, tucked away in its own little world, you'll see the Small-Press Area.

While usually sparsely populated, the Small-Press Area offers the opportunity to discover creators, characters, and books that you likely won't find anywhere else (outside of a convention devoted solely to the small press, such as the MOCCA Festival, APE, or SPX). Here you'll see comics fueled by passion, with characters and concepts the creators have developed on their own time, and about which they care deeply. Best of all, for those who don't appreciate superheroes, the work you will find in the Small-Press Area of a convention will include stories in almost any genre or on any topic you can imagine. You name it, someone has probably done a comic about it, and many of those comics can only be found here.

In the Small Press Area, you also have the chance to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. Several properties that started out as books from small press companies, if not in the Small Press Areas of conventions, have achieved significant mainstream success. Dave Stevens' Rocketeer, made into a film in 1991 and just now coming back into popularity with a new anthology series from IDW, was originally published by a small company named Pacific Comics. The Tick, which has gone on to star in dozens of comics, a Saturday morning cartoon series, and a live-action series, started as a mascot in the newsletter of a comic shop, New England Comics. Jeff Smith's Bone and Dave Sim's Cerebus, both hugely successful, were, for the most part, self-published. Perhaps the best known success story from small press would be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird self-published the first issue of TMNT, reportedly with money from a tax return and a loan from a relative. From these humble beginnings, small press creations can turn into some of the most beloved characters in entertainment, and you can say you knew them when…

As an added bonus, many of a convention's best bargains can be found in the Small-Press Area in the guise of mini-comics. Mini-comics, often made at the size of a standard piece of paper folded in half, and usually printed either at Kinko's or at the office on the sly (that's where I did mine…shhh!), offer the reader a chance to sample an artist's work, usually for a much lower price than a normal comic issue. Forget paying $3.99 for a comic! I'll take a mini-comic for $1 or $2 any day, and learn about an amazing new talent. Of course there are exceptions to this rule; some creators have to charge a little more to cover Kinko's or ink cartridge costs, some choose to deck out their mini-comics with more expensive cover stock or paper, giving them a unique look and feel. (The work of Ryan Claytor comes to mind in that regard.) Nevertheless, at any price, minis are a great way to see a new creator as they develop their skills and try their hands at storytelling.

In the interest of full disclosure, my blog about Small Press would be incomplete without mentioning the work of Steve Bryant (Athena Voltaire, Cipher), Jim Heffron (Territory 51, Anna Arky, The Further Adventures of D.B. Cooper, It Tolls for Thee), and Michael Heffron (Aunomati). In recent years I have worked on some of their books, and have spent time behind the table with them in the Small Press Area in San Diego. Seeing the effort that they--and everyone in the Small Press Area--put into making and selling their comics, all in the name of getting their stories told, makes me have an even greater respect for the creative process, and that's something in which you might want to share.

So when you're in line to meet Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, Stuart Immonen, or Jim Lee, remember that they and many other well-known comic creators got their start on small press books. Head on over to the Small Press Area, and discover tomorrow's A-list creators for yourself.

This is the third of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Second Comic-Conmandment: Thou Shalt Not Be Creepy

I'm a hugger. I love hugs. Men, women, friends, strangers, doesn't matter. Hugs rock. If you see me at a convention, and you've followed some basic hygiene in the previous day or so, hugs will always be available upon request. All you have to do is ask.

That said, I will not be availing myself of the numerous offers of "Free Hugs" to be found around comic convention floors. When I look around at those making this offer, they mostly seem to be teenagers, and I get the impression that the offer really only extends to other teenagers. Still, every year I see a fifty year-old man walk up to a fourteen year-old girl and wrap her up in a lengthy bear hug. And then I feel the need to take a shower. Thus the hugs-only-upon-request policy.

It's not the age difference that's at issue here. Should a teenager ask me for a hug, a hug they shall receive. The issue is the imbalance of power in that brief relationship. The adult taking advantage of the free hug puts the teenager on the spot, basically forcing them to choose between either accepting a hug they might not otherwise welcome, or shunning the hugger, thus taking some of the fun illusion of freedom and acceptance away from their open offer of affection. It's up to us, as adults, to seriously consider the position in which we put kids in this situation. An easy rule of thumb for adults: if you don't already know a youngster well enough to ask for a hug, leave them alone.

Sadly, the “Free Hugs” kids aren’t the only ones who suffer from creepy behavior by con attendees. Most comic convention floors feature dozens and dozens of cosplayers and booth models. Regardless of their reasons for dressing up, regardless of whether they’re being paid or not, regardless of the clothing they wear (or lack thereof) or how they may act while "in character," inside the costume is a person who deserves the same respect that you should afford to anyone else. All too often I hear post-con horror stories of supposed fans groping booth models and cosplayers, or speaking to them in overly suggestive, if not downright lewd terms. This needs to stop. Now. Have the same consideration and caring for the feelings of your fellow fans that you would for your dearest relatives, and treat them with that same degree of manners and civility.

Comic con attendees deserve a fun, safe environment. As fellow attendees, it’s our responsibility to behave properly, and assure that environment exists for everyone.

This is the second of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The First Comic-Conmandment: Honor Thine Elders

Comic conventions, particularly larger ones, often become a mad dash from event to event, signing to signing, panel to panel.  Hours can be spent in lines hoping for a sketch from the hot artist of the day or an autograph from the star of a fan-favorite film.  In this insane shuffle, you might take for granted some of the creators or celebrities from years past, and miss the opportunity to say hello and thank you to some of the most influential men and women to work in comics and film.  Do not make this mistake, as I once did.

At Comic-Con International in 2004, while trying to work up the nerve to give my first writing sample to Diana Schutz, I spent some time wandering around the Dark Horse booth.  Lines snaked all around, some for creators, some to purchase books, some for those famous large, yellow bags.  As I stood by the information desk, an older gentleman in a tan suit stopped nearby.  I looked at his badge, and was surprised to find that it was Will Eisner, there to promote the "Will Eisner Sketchbook."  At the time, I knew the name Will Eisner, but I hadn't read very much of his work.  I decided not to say anything to him.  Later that evening, I watched as he spoke at the awards ceremony named in his honor and helped give out the trophies.  I decided that I would read as much of his material as I could find, and the next time I had the opportunity, I would thank him for his work.  I never had the chance.  A little more than five months later, he was gone.  To this day, I regret that missed opportunity.

On the other hand, I can think of a number of creators and celebrities whom I've taken the time to talk with, and in every case, the experience has been wonderful.  Irwin Hasen, Sam Glanzmann, and Dick Ayers are just a few names that come to mind.  Each of them had wonderful stories to tell, and were more than happy to chat.  Still, one name will always stand above the others:  Gene Colan.  Iron Man being my favorite Marvel character, I had been a fan of Gene Colan's artwork since my teenage years.  At the same convention where I failed to speak to Will Eisner, I did take advantage of the opportunity to meet Gene.  Early on opening day, I stopped by his table to say hello, look at his original art pages, and arrange for a sketch of another favorite character, The Spectre.  Having a loving and devoted fan base, Gene's table was swamped, and he didn't have time to talk.  Late on Saturday afternoon of the con, having decided to pretty much call it a day, I thought I'd take one more pass through artist's alley.  Gene was there, and wasn't overrun by fans, so I went over to his table again.  I expressed my enjoyment of his work, and my admiration for the painting entitled "The Boys" that he had recently completed after decades of work.  Gene received my compliments graciously, and then did something completely unexpected.  Somehow, he turned our conversation to my work in television, and told me of his love for sound work, particularly sound effects.  We spoke for twenty minutes, ending only because the convention floor was closing.  That conversation is a memory I will cherish for as long as I live.

Take advantage of these opportunities when they arise.  The rewards for doing so are as great as the regret you may feel if you don't.

This is the first of The Ten Comic-Conmandments series. Check back here or follow me on Twitter to read future entries.