There he was.
He looked nothing like I expected. Instead of thin, parted hair, thick baroque curls snaked around his upper head. He was taller and thinner than his cartoon likeness. But something about the way he carried himself, the way the glasses sat on his eyes… I still recognized him.
This was Frank Cormier. This was Damonk.
Three years ago, Damonk had honored my work with a "Kicka** award," and ever since then I'd kept my eye on him. He and very few others â€“ Richard Stevens, Scott McCloud, Joe Zabel â€“ shared a concern with forms that I always felt webcomics needed. His gleefully experimental meta-comic, FRAMED!!!, existed to celebrate that form. And, most importantly of course, he had honored my work with a "Kicka** award." I knew him as a cybernetic entity with no nose.
But the experience of talking with Damonk was physical, tangible, real. Humidity wafted through our run-down, roach-infested hidey-hole hotel. Damonk, though interested, was wire-tense as he waited for a long-delayed reunion with his wife. Mostly, I remember that my sandwich sat in my lap, uneaten, forgotten, as we talked until Damonk's ride arrived. After he took his leave, I bit into it. It was cheap deli fare involving avocados and tomatoes and dignified with the name of a "special."
How sweet it tasted.
* * * * *
There she was.
Maritza Campos, one of my best friends in webcomics, is a charming Mexican woman whose smile lights up the room… and Comic-Con took place in a pretty big room. But she's earthy where her cartoon alter ego is willowy. She wore no glasses, while her cartoon self is bespectacled (and eyeless). What really threw me, though, was how quiet she was. Her work is so boisterous…
There he was. Chris Crosby once described himself as "a suit filled with robotic puppies," but that description only hints at his imposing size. The surprise increases when he opens his mouth and speaks in the tender, tentative tones of a friendly fifteen-year-old. Finally, there are the eyes: open, sincere, eyes that welcomed everyone who entered the Keenspot booth.
Joey Manley uses a photograph of himself on the Modern Tales message boards, so his face looked as expected. But there's nothing in his forum profile to suggest the way he puffs cigar smoke downwind, like a polite chimney.
Scott McCloud iconized his actual face for UNDERSTANDING COMICS, but he's still using the same icon ten years later, and his hair is graying a bit at the temples, clashing with his well-known image. Which doesn't mean he isn't a handsome devil: all those years of smiling and positive thinking have made his face the kind you like to see.
Really, I'm jealous. Scott's in his forties and still HAS hair. I've probably got another couple of years before I imitate Brian Michael Bendis and shave off the few remaining strands to save my dignity. Bendis' cartoon self is head-shaven, but he's also a bulgy-eyed critter with pipe-cleaner limbs. In person, Bendis is more like a slimmer, shorter Michael Chiklis.
Shaenon Garrity vaguely resembles a combination of her female leads Helen and Mell, but like Maritza she channels most of her nervous energy onto the page, leaving her surprisingly cool and collected in person. Al Foreman does the same thing with his anger in Poisoned Minds. I was expecting an angry punk rocker and got a drug-free Ozzy Osbourne.
Only Terry Moore seems to look just like his self-portraits. (Assuming that actually was Terry Moore I talked to. See, I think Terry's been avoiding me. Not only did I have to visit his table four times to find him, but he had a personal assistant, also named Terry, and a son named "Trey Moore." And now I meet this guy who looks just like his self-portrait, when none of the other cartoonists have done so. Surrre. I suspect conspiracy.)
With the others, I was reminded of the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus talks about "residual self-image," explaining why Neo looks cooler in the Matrix's mental landscape than he does in the real world. Cartoonists are liars. When they show themselves, they show themselves not as you or I would see them, but as they see themselves.
But there's truth to self-cartoons too. Who's the authority on who you are, you or your photographer?
* * * * *
There he was.
Tom Munkres had supported FANS for years… financially and emotionally. Without his encouragement, the comic book might never have become a webcomic. We rewarded him a couple of years ago by creating the character "Tim the Fanboy." Said character eventually turned evil and got killed, but Tom had never held his namesake's development against us…
And there he was, Tom the Fanboy… looking EXACTLY like Tim the Fanboy.
The face was right. The build was right. Tom had specifically blackened his hair and gotten into costume for the event, and the costume fit perfectly.
What do you say when you actually meet your webcomics character in person, in flesh, for the first time? What do you say when someone thinks so much of your work that he rearranges his wardrobe, even his hair, to match your imaginings?
If you're me, you say "thank you."
Networking is probably like this in Heaven.
T Campbell is a contributor at large for Comixpedia.