Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Synesthetic Part 4: A Lesson in Cons

Wizard World Chicago 2007 was a harsh lesson to learn coming out of the gate. This is especially true on two weeks of no sleep. Looking back at Chicago, I count it as one of the dumbest thing I've ever done. Sadly it also counts as one of the most expensive things I've done as well. I've never worked an out-of-state convention, so there were little things that I did not anticipate. One such thing would be the car rental. I had forgotten that you have to pay an extra fee if you're under 25 years of age as a renter. And this extra fee cost me MORE than the rental itself. After telling me the fee would be about $250 on top of the rental cost (~$200), the clerk asked me if I still wanted the car. I just stared at him for a second. How else was I going to get around? I'm from Texas, I barely have a concept of how public transportation works let alone the public transportation of this area. Wizard World Chicago isn't held in Chicago proper but one of its suburbs. So it looks a lot like the urban sprawl of Dallas, which means you need a car to get around. The only concession was we got upgraded to a phat full size car when a mother and daughter asked for the last compact. It put us in better spirits at least. Then we got slammed with the daily parking fee at the hotel. These little things were really starting to add up and wreck our moral. And this was only an hour after landing. We still had five days to go.

We visited my friend Anthony as he is a Chicagoan now, living pretty central downtown. He's the author of the short story that "Down Time" is based on. And of course with it being Anthony, he and I end up at a Kinko's at an ungodly hour to print out stuff for the DC Talent Search. And by "ungodly hour" I mean 11PM, which to Jake and me felt like 5AM. And no,there is no time change between Dallas and Chicago. Remember, at this point we were running on maybe five nonconsecutive hours of sleep. And of course with it being with Anthony, something goes terribly wrong at Kinko's. This time it was a broken color printer. Which meant we had to walk not to the closest Kinko's ("It's dark, we're not walking that way") but to the next closest. Did I mention that Anthony only enters a Kinko's with me on these stupid last minute print runs and something always go wrong? I'm still surprised he agrees to go.

As for the convention itself, Chicago was massive. I was not prepared for the capacity of this convention. The space is immense, the people are numerous, and the noise is a constant rumble. This was also the first comic book convention that Jake and I attended as artist alley participants. The previous cons we went to were all anime conventions, and the difference is immediately noticeable. Anime conventions, people are looking for commissions and art prints; at comic book conventions, people are mostly looking for books and autographs. And as we only had one book which was not for sale, we were ill prepared for this show. Also with Chicago being the size that it is, people there were looking for the big names. First time out-of-towners like us hold little to no draw with the fans. We had no local support, no products besides our prints, and no reputation to bank on. I think the only reason we got any attention was due to us painting at the table. Thankfully that drew in considerable amount of attention; otherwise it was have been a much longer weekend.

I spent most of my weekend talking to editors and creators showing them the book. Jake is a way better on the spot artist so I felt more comfortable with just him at the table than if it was just me. Plus there's a certain level of wanderlust that overtakes me; I'm getting better restraining myself these days. Anyways, as this was our first time at a comic convention, it took me a day or two to get the approach down properly. There's a craft to it that is difficult for an introvert like myself. First off is the intimidation factor. You got to be fearless and confident yet humble enough to not come across like as arrogant prick. Conventions have this organic ebb and flow, it can sense fear and pride with pinpoint accuracy. And with a convention this size, getting the attention of any one person is difficult. Trying to force yourself into their attention/conversation will turn people off. I've discovered over time that being known as "a nice dude" can go a long way. So figuring out how the convention floor operates was a trying process: frustrating at times, infuriating at others.

I got some real positive responses from some of the people though. The editors of APE and TopShelf were fairly receptive and positive. However TopShelf was not looking for an anthology and the editor I talked to at APE was much more responsive to a particular style than anything. Though the coolest response I got was from Ivan Brandon. He is the editor of 24Seven, the book that inspired the entire project to begin with. He was fairly impressed with the book and had some good comments to make as well as some helpful critiques. He gave me the best compliment I got all weekend when he said he really liked how the cover was designed. I really like how 24Seven was laid out, the design work on it is really good so that meant a lot to me. He wished me luck with the book and sent me on my way. This was the theme for the weekend: Good luck with the book; laters. It was another lesson we had to learn the hard way: getting picked up at a con via a submission sample is really rare. Publishers aren't really looking for talent at shows. They have people looking through the indy scene to find talent and books to sign to their company. The independent market allows for a publisher to talk to your editor about your work ethic, your speed and skill, and how well you work with others. They can look at your release schedule to see your productivity and longevity so they can pick up a stable worker and not someone who will burn out in two months. A major publisher picks up maybe, MAYBE one or two talents per year on the convention circuit. I got all of this directly from the editor of DC comics at their talent search orientation.

Jake and I refer to Chicago 2007 as "A Con". We sold a shirt, a print each, Jake did a sketch and got a commission (which was done/paid out later, after the con), and I sold a painting. Compare that intake to the output of airfare, car rental, parking, table cost, food, cost of the demo copy (a buck a page in a then 130 page book), and for me six months of wages so I could work on this project. We couldn't even hang out in the lobby with people because we were still so tired. After dinner we would just crash in the hotel room. So you can understand the level of dejection that loomed over us as we sat at the bar Sunday night doing our traditional post-con review. Though we couldn't even talk about the con. We couldn't tell you why at the time, but looking back now it's pretty obvious. It was a terrible con for us; we barely talk about it now even. Though we did take away from it some very valuable lessons and experiences. I liken it to being tossed in the very deep end of the ocean with our arms tied together. We didn't sink, we didn't swim, but we somehow paddled our way to shore eventually. I think we got saved due to the fact that the con had to end at some point.

What we did talk about at the bar was Baltimore, the next show we would be attending. It would be great; we would get a chance to hang out with Jake's sister, meet the guys of Gaijin Studios, and finally be able to meet Mike Wieringo. Jake has been a long time fan and I had recently discovered his online presence and have been following his art religiously. Everything we've heard about 'Ringo had been very positive and upbeat. Not one person ever had anything negative to say about him as a person and about his art. We concluded if there could only be one person to draw Spider-Man from now until the end of time, we'd choose Mike. We were excited.

Then on Monday, not long after we got home, I read the news that brought the comic world to a standstill. Mike Wieringo had died that previous night, probably around the time we were at the bar talking about how great he was. You could tell how the news shook the everything. There was an outpouring of love and admiration from every corner of the field. It felt like the entire industry, pros and fans, closed its doors to mourn a great loss of their own. I honestly felt a bit cheated by the universe. I just wanted to meet him in person to say "Hi", shake his hand, and tell him how much he rocked. Now I'll never get that chance.

To Mike Wieringo, a great artist and a great person. You rock, man. Then, now, and forever.

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