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Con Report: Wizard World Philadelphia 2008

Despite what felt like a lighter crowd, I had a tremendous weekend at Wizard World Philadelphia. I haven’t seen attendance numbers yet — and I haven’t ruled out wider aisles in Artist’s Alley playing into my perception -- but Friday’s attendence seemed dismal. Saturday’s crowd seemed lighter than previous years, too. Sunday -- which is usually slow -- was surprisingly brisk.

However, you know what they say: It ain’t quantity... it’s quality. And the Evil Inc henchmen and henchwomen who showed up to show their evil love were that absolute highest quality imaginable. You'll see photos of some of them along the right-hand side of this report, proudly clutching their swag. They -- and others -- came out in force to show their support in a big way. How else can you explain that -- even with the lighter crowd, I had another record-breaking convention appearance?

I’ve been doing these conventions for close to eight years now, and it’s funny, these things are starting to feel more like family reunions to me. There are so many people I look forward to seeing every year. I still remember the first time I saw Silvanus (look for him in the forums) and his lovely wife in their hand-crafted X-men attire. They were decked out again this year -- with Sil in a homemade Cyclops outfit -- complete with working visor with a hidden trigger in his glove made from ballpoint pen parts. You can see their photo, along with Yours Evilly, below.

Michael Dolan stopped by to share his enthusiasm. He’s working on a project to send comics to military men and women working overseas. I’m boxing up some of my comics and throwing in a few copies of Vol 3 for his effort. He may even be able to organize a charity book-signing in the next few months. Watch this space for details. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in participating, e-mail me and I’ll put you in touch.

Beyond the amazing fan support I was treated to in Philly, perhaps the biggest reason for my successful weekend was the presence of one man, Jeff, who has earned the nickname of Minion #1. See, Jeff is a friend of mine from my neighborhood, and he offered to come out to the convention to help me run my table. And he actually did! He was there from start to finish all weekend, running credit cards through my makeshift laptop interface, handing out fliers, making change, and doing food runs -- all of which freed me up to concentrate more on talking with people and working on sketches.

And I worked on an awful lot of sketches. A good amount of commissions came from people that I had previously done commissions for last year. One of my favorites was one of these. His photo is to the right. He commissioned a sketch of villains at a bar. This year, he bought a similar scene of heroes. And next year, he tells me, he plans to get something to go with "The Good" and "The Bad"... "The Ugly." Check out the finished "Bad" sketch below.

By Sunday I was getting a little overwhelemed -- in a good way -- by the number of people who simply walked up to thank me for my part in writing the “How To Make Webcomics" book. “Thanks for writing that book." I never get tired of hearing that. The sheer excitement over the release of the book still hasn’t subsided. And being able to announce that we’ve already sold out at the distributor level (you can still find some for sale on the Web) has only added to that excitement. As of this writing, all indications are that Image Comics will have a second printing of the book completed in time for Comic Con International in San Diego.

The support for Evil Inc Annual Report was strong, too. Having just released Vol. 3, I was able to offer Vol. 1 for a reduced price -- just as I did in Seattle. But something amazing happened. Vol. 3 actually outsold both Vol. 2 and the reduced-price Vol. 1. That was a clear indication that people had already bought the first two books and were pleased enough to buy the third. I can’t tell you how happy that made me. And, seeing people grab all three at once -- that’s a tremendous sight!

As I’ve said in the “HTMW" book, your neighbors can make or break you at a comic convention -- especially when you’re in Artist’s Alley. I’ve been so lucky. I don’t think I’ve ever been placed next to a bad exhibitor. In fact, I’ve been lucky enough to sit next to such talented luminaries as John Hebert and Alex Saviuk. (Hebert was absent ftom WWPhilly 08 for a very good reason... he was getting married to his beautiful fiance and was enjoying an idyllic honeymoon.) I’ve made friends with cool people from Captain Action and Terminus Media. I’ve always seemed to land right in the middle of a nexus of class and talent. This year, it was no different. I was joined in Artist’s Alley by Brian Roll of Odyssey Art on my left and Dennis Calero, who is currently working on a phenomenal run of Legion of Superheroes, on my right.

Both men are artists of the highest magnitude. Brian is a digital artist who uses Photoshop the way DiVinci used tempera. He had some movie-poster-style illustrations that virtually leaped off the pages. I overheard people repeatedly gasping over the expressiveness and precision of his work. Dennis, similarly, was doing some phenomenally detailed pencil and ink work. His illustrations were so darned tight. And the images were simply inspired.

I have to tell you a little story about Dennis Calero. It was Sunday -- about an hour from the end of the show. Everything was winding down. My five-year-old had come to spend the last two hours of the show with me at my table. One of the things he wanted to do was help me hand out fliers. And it was really cute watching this little salesman hand fliers to strangers and insist they check out his Daddy’s comic.

Dennis was finishing up from a long weekend of truly jaw-dropping commissions and calls my son over to sit behind his table with him. He whips out some illustration board and asks my son who his favorite character is.

“Venom!" growls my boy mischeiviously.

And Dennis starts a simple -- but pitch perfect -- sketch of the Spideer-Man villain.

Then takes out another board and draws a caricature of the five-year-old in a Batman costume.

Then hands the boy a third, blank board and a Sharpie, and he says, “Now it’s your turn to draw."

Now, y’see... I’ve been after the lad since birth to draw with me, and he’s always a little intimidated. It’s always been kind of a thing with me that my son is so reticent to draw -- and rarely, if ever, allows me to draw along with him.

He always tells me that he’s not good enough. He does the same at school. He doesn’t draw because he doesn’t like the quality of the end product. Despite gargantuan amounts of positive reinforcement, he’s quite disgusted with the results of his handiwork.

Yet, here he is, marker dancing across the board, chirping away to Dennis like the two have known each other for years! To the right, you can see the photo I snapped of of the two in action.

When the convention was over, I thanked Mr. Calero, and offered to pay for his sketches. He politely turned me down. We exchanged a few more niceties, and in short order, our Artist Alley tables were torn down, packed up, and we parted ways.

On the way out the door, my son -- the avowed non-artist -- looks up at me and smiles.

“I’m a very good artist, Daddy," he says.

Y’know. I met a lot of very kind people who said very flattering things about my work. I sold a lot of books. I basked in comic geek culture for three days. And I did a few commissioned sketches of my own that I’m terribly proud of.

But the look in my son’s eyes that day?

That’s what I’ll always remember about that convention.