ALL DIFFERENT THINGS (04)
Thursday. The game begins. Wednesday is but a warmup, the pre-bout weigh-in. Strip to your trunks (sportsbras optional for the ladies or the fellas whose figures need just a little help) and stand on the scales. I want a good clean fight. Maybe a little trash talk before the show. “Oh man, is that all you got? You wouldn’t even scare my grandmother?” “Oh yeah, well that weak-ass stance would get you gutted in my old neighborhood.” There we go, get the juices flowing, teeth clenched and shiny for the cameras, click click click, shutters like metallic butterfly wings crazed and chattering, flashes exploding just like RAGING BULL leaving inky blue blotches behind, washing out your vision.
That’s Wednesday. Thursday, the bell rings.
But there’s no way you can go into battle without a good breakfast. The Original Pancake House in San Diego serves a damn good breakfast. And even though I ate there once a weekend (sometimes more) for the better part of a decade. Never got sick of it. But then I never was brave enough to try the bacon pancakes either. That’s right, the bacon gets cooked right into the pancake. They do that with blueberries, too. And if you want actual corned beef hash, none of this canned Libby’s stuff, then this is the place you want to go to. I’m not ashamed to say that I ate there five days in a row and was ready to hit it for a sixth. And it’s not just that I’ve been brainwashed. My roommate, the aforementioned Savage Critic, Jeff Lester, happily went along all five days without complaint, even if it meant getting up early.
And it’s not just the food that’s great. The flatware is sliver-plated and hefty. The plates are ceramic and not plastic. The napkins are robust enough to stop aortic bleeding. The coffee is divine and in the little metal dispensers, not milk but heavy whipping cream. It’s not breakfast, it’s religion. How better to fortify the body and spirit for a day of gladiatorial combat in the rings of popular culture? There is no better way. Whatever your answer, it’s wrong on its face.
Unless of course it’s something like “Whatever it was I passed out drinking last night and a pack of unfiltered Camels.” I’ll give that one points, even if it’s something that I couldn’t pull off now. Or ever, really.
Breakfast consumed, we headed down to the trolley. You want to know the interesting thing? We got there earlier than I used to, sometime around 9am, and I couldn’t find a place to park in the Old Town transit station lot. That used to be my sure thing. I could park there at will, practically, since they started getting snippy and ticketing folks who park in the Old Town tourist lots all day. But this year? No way. I ended up trekking up Pacific Highway a quarter mile or so. Not a big deal, mind you, but kind of a change from years past. More people taking the trolley in or just a busy tourist season? Less money for cabs or something else? Who knows? I only know that my hoofing it started early.
So on Thursday, if you had a pro badge, you could go in early. That didn’t seem to be true any of the other days, but it could’ve been up to the individual doorman, don’t know. But on Thursday, I was a king, and that was okay. With very few people in the hall, the air conditioning was crisp and fresh, but before very long, that freshness would be long gone. This isn’t a complaint. It’s a fact. You put a hundred thousand people in the same building for any length of time and it’s going to get stale. Frankly, I’d be afraid if we had the technological might to keep the place at seventy-two degrees even in the face of the waves of geekanity that were crashing against the main hall.
Spent a little time on the floor, and trying to figure out what panels to go to. Thursday and Friday both were full of great programming that I wanted to get to, but couldn’t do it all. This is unusual. Most conventions, there’s one or two a day that I want to hit. But there were no less than four vying for my attention on Thursday, and a similar number Friday. Keep in mind that I like to keep my distance from the really big, really insane media circuses, so just imagine if I could tolerate those. I’d still be there.
The new iPhone app for the convention was really handy in terms of keeping track of those, by the by. I don’t think I cracked open a convention guide the entire time I was there. My only real complaints with the application was sometimes pokey response time and load-up, and the fact that I couldn’t filter out non-favorited events, or even better, click on an event and then export it to my calendar and have it warn me ahead of time automagically. I mean, that’s why we have computers in the first place, right? Maybe next year. But in the meantime, I found it a pretty useful little program. And for free, I really don’t have any room to complain.
The first panel of the day was the “Indie Comics Marketing” panel. And there’s a funny story about that. See, I went upstairs (having to take the stairs since the escalators were only for people who were just getting their badges, apparently) and got into the hall for the room. I found the line and said “huh, a line.” Okay, so I followed the line. It went around the corner. “Weird,” sez me. I keep walking. It goes around the next corner and all the way to the end of that. “Okay, really weird,” I’m thinking now. Last corner. And there’s still a line.
Apparently a lot of people want to be independent comics creators. I’m trying to think of a joke here, but it’s just not coming out. It’s like musicians not being able to watch SPINAL TAP. I mean, yeah, it’s funny, but at the same time it’s very not funny. So no jokes. I was however, very surprised at the response to this panel. I mean, yeah, I don’t mind sitting in the front row, but sitting there because I really don’t have much of a choice? Crazy. How many wannabe indie comics creators are there out there anyways?
A lot of them. At a guess, half the panel attendees were comics creators. Some were aspiring (hint: don’t aspire, just do) and some were making it. I’d obviously convinced at least two of the panelists that I was somehow making it, since I was called out as an example to emulate. Man, of all the people on this planet not to emulate, I’m pretty close to the top of that list, people. Follow the PENNY ARCADE guys. They at least treat it like a job. Me? I do what I can on a limited time and cash budget (and if someone came along offering a paying job under non-insane conditions, I’d probably take it). I may not be the epitome of the indie dream, but I do have a second book coming out this spring (STRANGEWAYS: THE THIRSTY, perhaps you’ve heard of it?) Both Heidi (MacDonald) and Kevin (Church of Beaucoupkevin and THE RACK) called me out as a hustler. Well, if they meant that I could hustle people and convince them that I’ve got skills I perhaps don’t, then yeah, I’m a hustler…
Notes from that? Do your homework. Build a community. Give people content that they want to read. Contact retailers directly. Work with Diamond as best you can. Be relentless. I probably took more that that, but really, having done this on and off for the past couple of years, there wasn’t a lot that was new to me. But it was fun to get pointed out as an expert in something. Though that’s a fleeting glory, I’ll tell you. However, I’ll take fleeting glory over none, I suppose. I did, however, get a chance to chat with Heidi and Kevin, and even Tom Spurgeon after the show. And I was reacquainted with Steve LeCouillard, who’s MUCH THE MILLER’S SON is now a multi-volume series filled with deranged medieval antics and is well worth a look.
And no, I don’t know how to make THE BEAT cover you. Same with any other site. Send out well-crafted PR with individual images in web-ready format and keep it brief. Start with that and see where it gets you.
Next panel up? Noir/Crime comics with Darwyn Cooke, Steve Lieber, Greg Rucka and Max Alan Collins moderating. Apparently comics fans are young compared to mystery fans. Let that one roll around your head for a moment, because I remember not so long ago being pointed out to look around at the audience members of a Jack Kirby tribute and seeing…well…a lot of middle-aged guy and not a lot of younger ones. I guess the noir panel skewed a little younger than that, but not a lot, it seemed. There was a lot of discussion as to why noir is more appealing than regular heroics, and Steve Lieber sagely pointed out that it’s because noir characters and antiheroes are defined and motivated by their faults. I can’t disagree with that, but by the same token, relentless crushing descent followed by relentless crushing descent can make noir’s characters drops through trapdoors into pratfalls if you’re not careful. Ah, the hazards of serial fiction.
One interesting note out of this panel that didn’t really have much to do with noir content so much, but packaging. Darwyn Cooke was pretty adamant in wanting THE HUNTER to not look like a comic book, or even a standard graphic novel in trade size. Instead, what he was after was for (and I paraphrase here) “the clerk to unbox the books, take a look at them and say ‘Oh, mystery. I’ll shelve it in crime fiction ‘cause that’s where it belongs.’ Everything from the size to the cover to the heft to the binding, all of that was saying ‘book’ not ‘comic book.’” I’m sure this mangulation of his words will get back to him and he can give me grief about it later. But it’s an interesting point, and one that gives comics folks I’ve talked to real fits. DC’s done this with some books, at least on the surface. The mass market version of IDENTITY CRISIS looked like a Brad Meltzer novel, not like a comic. I think that there’s some worth in this, so long as the package is beautiful and well-designed. Remember, manga did well because of shelf-friendliness as much as any other single factor.
And guys, I like manga, really. Just not what most manga fans read.
Does any of this make THE HUNTER a better piece of comics work? Well, I love a nicely-put-together book as much as the next guy, and a well-designed book is nice to hold. But if the content isn’t great, then the packaging isn’t going to salvage it. But if the content is great, then the object itself and its design might help get it into places where a standard comic book might get ignored. The extra-fancy edition that IDW put together for the show, by the way, is even nicer, but you knew that already. I actually wish that cover was the real cover, though doing a type treatment that wouldn’t interfere with the artwork and yet still be readable might be a trick. I don’t know. I’m not a designer. I, at best, just play at it.
I think there was a lunch in there somewhere. Dunno, the day is rapidly blending together. They do that, and it’s only Thursday.
Hmm. Oh right. The flipside of the indie marketing panel is up next. That being the “How to break into Marvel” panel. Before which they ran the TWISTED TOYFARE THEATRE episode featuring M.O.D.O.K. as an internet pirate. Kinda funny. The Nick Fury LMD that looked like David Hasslehof stuck with me. I dunno, probably not my thing when you get down to it.
As for the panel itself, easily the biggest panel I attended the entire show. So, I uh, guess, there’s more than a couple people that want to get into Marvel Comics. Yeah, I’m one of them. Of course, I’m trying to get in as a writer, which even Joe Quesada admitted is the single hardest way to get into Marvel, if not into comics in general. Remember, anyone can think of themselves as a writer. It’s harder to sneak through pretending to be an artist. Either you are or you aren’t; it’s evident in your work in a glance and not much more. Writing, however, is much harder to judge (and there’s a million of us bastards trying to get in at the same time you are.)
There’s other ways into Marvel, of course. Many of them involve being in New York (though I guess the LA office might offer some opportunities as well). And everyone has a different story about how they got into The Show (Joe Quesada’s was particularly funny and fortunate, and even Jeph Loeb’s got a smile). But the truism is that there’s a million ways in, but each time someone gets in, that way gets welded shut behind them. Might even be true.
Was it a useful panel? Kinda? It was certainly entertaining. Steve Wacker’s got a great singing voice. Dude should be doing dinner theatre. And no, this is not to intimate that he shouldn’t be editing the Spider-Man books, so please don’t misquote me and pass it along to him in an effort to torpedo my writing career. I can do that just fine all by myself.
Speaking of torpedoing, there was a guy who’s hoping that he’s not remembered for asking the following: “Why is Marvel’s hiring of writers so limited and stunted? I mean, you’ve got the same guys writing all your big books.” Again, please note that it’s not me asking this question, because this is pretty bone-headed. There’s plenty of new writers working at Marvel, just that they’re starting on anthologies that nobody reads and over at the all-ages titles and on MARVEL ADVENTURES and the like (which I enjoy quite well, thank you very much.) You don’t get handed THE AVENGERS overnight. It doesn’t work like that. But wow, even asking a question like that, much less asking it when the EIC is sitting in on the panel…that takes some real clanging testicles. Not a lot of brains, though.
Oh, and apparently Deadpool wants to get into voiceover work. The irony, it’s killing me.
Did I mention that I was toying around with a Ben Urich pitch, starting about the time that the idea came to me during the noir/crime panel some two hours previous? I was. And I could do this, and this, and then this… There was some potential there. And then, what did Jeph Loeb say during the Marvel panel? “You know, you really need to take a character that’s out there and build something around them. Someone like…Ben Urich.” A thousand aspiring writers (again, don’t aspire, just do it) grabbed up their iPhones and frantically typed in: “GET ON THAT BEN URICH PITCH RIGHT NOW. GOLD. SOLID GOLD.” I could hear pencils scratching on papers behind me, so fast that friction threatened to cause them to burst into flame. Such is the power of dreams and the key handed to the dreamer.
So yeah, about that Ben Urich pitch. I’ll be shelving that. The Marvel editors are going to see nothing but Ben Urich from now until Christmas, 2012, assuming we’re all still here then and the Mayans haven’t had their revenge and a planetoid the size of Texas doesn’t smash into the Pacific, prompting a disaster scene that would give even Irwin Allen nightmares. You can have all your 2012s, to me the yardstick for a disaster flick is still EARTHQUAKE. Without a lot of b-rate television and film stars, you can have all the special effects you want; it’s still not a disaster flick.
You know, I’m sure there was another panel that day. But I’ve completely forgotten what it might have been. I had other fish to fry, namely the Hero Initiative cocktail party hosted by Darwyn Cooke, which took off kinda early from the show and was being set up in a room at the Hard Rock Hotel. Oddly, I thought the Hard Rock Hotel was over by Horton Plaza in downtown, but it turns out that I was thinking of the Hard Rock Café. The hotel’s right by the convention center, not far from the HEROES carnival that was set up and the SyFy takeover of a chunk of the Gaslamp. I’m wondering how those sorts of things pan out, by the by. Seems like an awful lot of money to spend on something of questionable advertising value. But then I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t want to watch a show just because it showed up in the background of a bunch of photos on Flickr.
But I never claimed to be a marketing genius, either. Maybe they know something I don’t know.
Stood around the Hard Rock lobby for a little bit, chatting with the other auction winners. One of them had just had read something for her local comics reading club that was unusual. What was it? Maybe SEAGUY 2? I can’t remember. I recommended they tackle THE FILTH as a good potential subject. Nice and meaty and plenty of room for interpretation there (just so long as you remember that it’s more or less THE INVISIBLES turned inside-out).
The party itself was a pretty intimate affair, with Darwyn genially signing copies of THE HUNTER and doing the spot color on the bookplate. I mostly stuck with bourbon and Cokes (not really a fan of Jack Daniels and didn’t feel like paying for the good stuff, so the Coke goes a long way towards cutting it.) Munched casually off the spread and talked awhile with Dave Bullock, who I somehow didn’t realize had directed the animated version of THE NEW FRONTIER, but there’s a lot that I like about his comic art. Stuck around an talked awhile, admiring the view from the balcony as the sun dipped behind the convention center and dusk finally gave up and called in the night crew.
A good night in all. Sometimes I have them, even if I sometimes ask the dumbest goddamn questions at times. Why anyone puts up with me is beyond me.
Ended up falling in with some of the Hyatt regulars before I lucked out on catching one of the last trolley rides out of downtown and to Old Town. Just don’t depend on that happening after midnight, even with the Green Line special running straight from downtown.