Sunday, July 27, 2014

Comic-Con 2014

I arrived home safe and footsore from Comic-Con International in San Diego last night. Hard for me to believe, but I haven't attended since 2010. Things have changed a bit, in ways I'm not sure improved the experience for me (I'm trying to say that nicely). By and large, for an event that tries to safely entertain 150,000 people for four days, the organizers pull off a miracle, and they were very kind and helpful to me.

I attended Thursday afternoon and Friday. The best part for me was seeing many friends, and meeting some people who until now have only been Facebook or e-mail acquaintances. Also, a teaser: I know the two nicest people in the world. I'll tell you their names at the end, but just wanted to let you know now that if you've been searching for the two nicest people in the world, call it off because I've found them.

This report is a photo essay, punctuated with bits and bites of notes. IMPORTANT QUALITY CONTROL NOTE: Many of these photos are blurry/hazy because I didn't notice until I got home that my camera lens had a greasy fingerprint smeared across it. Sorry; no do-overs.

Thursday began at the tiny Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport. I didn't catch a plane here; I caught a bus to a bigger airport two hours away. I just wanted to show what your local airport looks like when they name it after a cartoonist. Seemed an appropriate launching point for a trip to Comic-Con.

Approaching the venue. My impression: a bit less street theater than at past Cons, and maybe fewer costumes. I talked later with comics journalist Heidi MacDonald and she thought there was less activity in the blocks around the convention center because people who owned vacant lots and parking lots that in the past had hosted events had raised their rates too high. Could be. But the center itself, and the sidewalks around it, were jammed.

Spiders and Turtles, oh my! I only include this photo because I read today that Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) had attended Comic-Con disguised as Spider-Man, so maybe that's him. Or he could have been one of the 75 other Spider-Men. Hard to say.

Cartoonist Todd Clark ("Lola"), writer/cartoonist Ces Marciuliano ("Sally Forth," "Medium Large"), and comics podcaster/journalist Tom Racine. Tom was one of those Internet friends I'd never met in person, so this was neat. Ces I met once seven years ago, an event he pretended to remember and then mixed me up with someone else and apologized for it every time I saw him. Todd I just met 20 seconds before taking this photo.

My pal Otis Frampton, whose "Oddly Normal" series has just been picked up by Image Comics. Couldn't happen to a nicer, harder-working guy. 

Apparently there's some movie coming out about Hobbits and a dragon?

I loved the get-up of this lady, who was kind enough to let me take her photo. She dressed up her wheelchair as the Star Tours ride at Disneyland! What a concept! One of the best costumes-slash-vehicles I saw the whole time I was there.

My pal Lex Fajardo ("Kid Beowulf" and the Schulz Studio) drew sketches to support the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. People could pay $10 and have an artist draw whatever the customer wanted. I did this for an hour on Friday, and drew a 1940's-style Wonder Woman, the Punisher's skull logo, a mermaid, and Chewbacca playing basketball. Chewbacca is hard to draw. I also had a chance to talk to the museum's Andrew Farago about the joys of new fatherhood. He still seems dazed.

Original comic strip art by cartooning great Bill Watterson and some guy named Pastis, which is currently being auctioned to raise funds for Team Cul de Sac and Parkinson's Disease research. 

The comic book without which none of us would have been there this weekend.

I took this photo for my daughters: a sort of steampunk/superhero mash-up. If there's one theme I noticed emerging in cosplay, it was the mash-up: My Little Pony Hulk and so forth. Anyway, here are some ideas that might inspire someone. 

My editor at Abrams, Charlie Kochman, introduced me to "Family Circus" cartoonist Jeff Keane. We also talked with "Luann" creators Greg Evans and his daughter Karen, standing behind Jeff. Greg pretended to be insulted when I said I thought Karen's contributions had made his comic strip a lot sharper. Or maybe he wasn't pretending.
At the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) booth: Greg Evans and master MAD caricaturist Tom Richmond. 
For the first time at any Comic-Con, I ventured into the Pro Lounge. What wonders awaited within? What sparkling wit, reminiscent of the Algonquin Round Table, would I overhear amid the tables piled high with fine pastries and exotic sliced meats and cheeses? Steeling my courage, I timidly flashed my badge at the door and entered the sanctum sanctorum of comics' elite.

I found a water cooler and plastic cups. But they were a professional water cooler and plastic cups, with ice, so take that, plebes.
Back in the streets, the Assassin's Creed video game people were letting folks run through an obstacle course. Because swinging from a rope in San Diego is totally the same as jumping across rooftops in Renaissance Florence.

What's nice about San Diego is that the whole city gets into the Comic-Con spirit. Wherever you go, retailers and service people at restaurants, shops and hotels decorate and dress for it. My hotel had a bellhop in a Superman cape. Here's the municipal trolley cars advertising the "Agents of SHIELD" series.

"Excuse me, can you tell me where to find Nickelodeon? I heard it was around here somewhere, but can't seem to find it. They should do something to make themselves more visible."

Well done.

Actual costumes from all the modern Batman movies were on display.

Wandering the aisles, I heard a woman's voice calling out "Free Science Comics!" Those being my three favorite words, I stopped to talk. Turns out she's a cartoonist with a Ph.D. in physics making comic books via the American Physical Society. When I mentioned that I'd majored in physics, her eyes lit up. I'd said the magic word. "Oh, we have something special for people who say they're in physics!" And now I have this pin.
I sought out and introduced myself to Tom Bancroft, who does an online comic I like called "Outnumbered."
That "Comic Code Authority" t-shirt I'm wearing was one of my few con purchases for myself. 
Tom was there with his brother Tony, who among his other accomplishments directed Disney's "Mulan."
They both have terrific-looking books available. Very nice guys, I was happy to meet and talk with them for a few minutes.

A little slice of home at the Peanuts booth, which was popular. Schulz Museum Curator Corry Kanzenberg is mugging for the camera, but I think her expression reflects genuine overwhelmedness as well.

I caught up with Keith Knight and his son, and bought Keith's latest collection. Kid has a lot of energy.

Pal Justin Thompson ("Mythtickle," the Schulz Studio) was at the booth signing nice little prints for passersby. Justin is one of the coolest people I know if only because of his previous jobs: Renaissance Faire jouster and theme-park stunt-show Batman. I envy him his resume. 

This boy had a great Ant Man costume. You probably haven't heard of Ant Man yet, but just wait'll the Marvel movie comes out in a couple of years.

Quicksilver, Hawkgirl, and Magneto mix up their comic book franchises.

In this selfie I reconnected with Eisner-winning cartoonist David Lasky, whom I met at the Baltimore Comics & Medicine Conference several weeks ago. He did a couple of panels, including.... on the fairly loose theme of making a living from your passions, or something like that. I didn't understand it and neither did the panelists, but it was a nice conversation. It was moderated by comic book writer Mark Waid, who's standing in this photo. I either saved or nearly ended the life of Mr. Waid, I'm not sure which. After the panel I approached the podium to introduce myself, because I'd been told he'd seen and liked "Last Mechanical Monster." He smiled, extended his hand to shake, and took one step toward me right off the edge of the two-foot high platform. He sort of fell, I sort of caught him, the audience gasped, and he leaped up like a Russian gymnast with a jaunty "I'm all right!" Close call.

I took this photo because five minutes earlier I'd seen the terrifying Klingon on the left sitting at his table with a small make-up mirror applying his eyeliner. Q'aplah!

Batman and the Joker. Honestly, looking at this photo, I don't understand why the Joker doesn't win every time.

Friday night, pre-Eisner Awards, Tom Racine hosted a drop-in "Drink and Doodle" gathering at the hotel bar. That's Justin Thompson, me and Tom.
As part of the "Drink and Doodle," Tom passed out blank sheets and asked everyone to for their take on the theme "75 Years of Batman" (this is his anniversary). This was my contribution.  

Drink and Doodle. Some great people came and went, including cartoonist Rina Piccolo, Ces Marcuiliano (in the back right of this photo), and cartoonist Frank Jordan.The right-most guy in this photo is Disney storyboard artist Jeffrey Ranjo, who shared some stories about "Frozen." Also at the Drink and Doodle, I gave Tom Racine 10-to-1 odds that I was going to lose the Eisner Award. He took my bet, and gave me $1 against $11 I  would owe him if I won. 
Also in the "Drink and Doodle" photo are my sisters, Brenda and Lis, who drove down just to surprise me and show their support at the Eisners. Which is where we are headed here, dressed so nicely.

With Jason Walz and Kathy Bottarini. Jason wrote a great Eisner-nominated book called "Homesick" and we've corresponded; one of the highlights of Comic-Con was finally meeting him and his wife Emily. Kathy was one of this year's Eisner judges and also runs a comic shop not too far from my town. Jason and I were grateful to her.

The Nicest People in the World
I promised to divulge the names of the two nicest people in the world, and now it can be told. For nearly 40 years, Richard and Wendy Pini have created and nurtured the universe of "Elfquest," a pioneering work of fantasy comics and literature. Aside from "Lord of the Rings," I'm hard-pressed to think of any body of work that's had a bigger influence in that field. Anyone attempting to make a comic touching on the lore of elves has to deal with the groundwork already long laid by Tolkien and the Pinis.

Richard is an astronomy buff who contacted me when Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow came out. We've corresponded, and he's kept up with (and often commented on) The Last Mechanical Monster. On Friday he told me he'd just caught up with Mom's Cancer, and we talked a bit about our families.

And then he pulled out a big box, and said nice things and something like: you may not leave here with an Eisner Award, but I had to make sure you didn't go home empty-handed, and unwrapped this:

The placard reads: "Illudium 2014 Award.
Best Webcomic: The Last Mechanical Monster.
Accept No Substitutes."

Richard built me a trophy himself, from a tapered silvery base topped by an actual gold-tinted radio vacuum tube, exactly like those that power the Robot in my webcomic. Wendy had tears in her eyes; mine may have moistened a bit too. This is the most unexpected, thoughtful, nicest thing anybody's done for me in a long time. I just have such respect for them and their work, and to turn around now and have them do something like this for me.... Holy Moley!

Wendy, Richard, me, and my Major Award.

My Major Award at home atop my drawing desk.

I think I'm pretty good with words, but I can't even tell you what that means to me.

Later this happened:

I just want it on the record that I picked it. I also got to keep Tom Racine's dollar, so that eased the sting.

Next morning I got up very early and flew back to the Bay Area for another important engagement. That's the topic of my next blog post.


Andrew Farago said...

Great seeing you! And yes, I was dazed, thanks for asking!

For what it's worth, you got my vote in the webcomics category, and you're a winner in my book.

Brian Fies said...

Your vote (and opinion) mean a lot to me Andrew, thanks! It was great to see you too, and I was happy to support the CAM in my way. Continued amazing times with Robin!