What I Did Last Summer, umm, at Comic-Con 2004

Kelly J Cooper’s Most Excellent Comic-Con Adventures
Part 2: Saturday and Sunday

Saturday, 24 July 2004

If you read the previous installment of this Comic-Con adventure, you already know that I don’t wake up well. By Saturday morning, the weariness of two days’ worth of walking all day, carrying loads of stuff, staying up late talking to fellow comic-lovers all while trying to be the best possible me I could be was starting to take its toll. (And I wasn’t even going to any of the parties!)

Each night before I went to sleep, I noted which panels interested me starting with the first time slot and going through the entire day’s worth of programming. Thus far, I hadn’t made it to any panel that started before 2pm. And Saturday wasn’t going to be any different.

I crawled out of bed, ate some breakfast (a "breakfast burrito" previously purchased at Ralph’s, consisting of eggs and cheese and sausage and bits of hot pepper, microwaved to "molten" setting), showered, and headed over to the Convention center around 1:30pm. Piles of people all making their way toward the same place I was headed, all stopping for traffic, irritating traffic cops, and getting on and off the regular trolley runs… PLUS there were the poor fools who insisted on coming the other direction (toward us)… it all made for a slow plodding progress. Inside the convention center the crowds were even thicker. It would have been intimidating if I’d had any brainpower to spare for the thought – but I was too tired.

All the reports I’d heard were correct: Saturday is definitely the busiest day of the con. By the time I made it through (and along with) the massive crowds, it was approaching 2pm and I decided to attend the COMICS: The New Mainstream panel.

The panel consisted of Colleen Doran, Max Allan Collins, David Brin, Stuart Moore, Eric Shanower, Batton Lash, and Dean Haspiel, with R. C. Harvey moderating.

The discussion among the panelists was lively but not particularly argumentative. Questions were held until the end, although this one guy kept shooting his arm up with great eagerness every so often, as though he couldn’t contain himself.

Once we got to the Q&A, it turned into a very contentious debate, especially because the panelists all wanted to argue with the eager (and very opinionated) guy in the audience. This fellow felt the panelists were "out of touch" (all due respect) and didn’t understand their audiences. Because the panelists really wanted to address his points, they kinda blew off some of the other questions (including mine). Darnit. Topics ranged from "Manga is the wrong direction" to "Manga sensibilities have invaded American comics and are here to stay" to "comics are already mainstream, but everyone treats them as niche because they don’t know better" to "comics is not a genre, it’s a medium." The discussion was too contentious and the topics too far-ranging for me to take good notes. Plus there was a lot of talking over each other and shouting down the guy in the back.

Afterwards, I gave Brin my business card afterwards as he’d evidenced some interest in webcomics and had named Patrick Farley’s site as one of his favorites (Brin has apparently recently completed a comic himself). He told Javier Maldonado (to whom he had been talking when I walked up) to exchange cards with me. Javier works for AlterACTION, an Interactive Drama/Comic on the web. We completed the card-exchange-dance and I promised to check it out.

I left that panel fairly uninterested in seeing any others. I’d made a deal with myself before coming to the Con that I would attend at least one panel a day and COMICS: The New Mainstream had definitely met the quota, and then some.

I headed down to the exhibition hall, hoping to make more of a dent in the parts I hadn’t seen yet. Given my progress on Thursday, I’d expected to have seen most of the hall by the end of Friday. But since I spent a LOT of time at the Pixar and Gaiman/McKean panels on Friday and less than two hours in the exhibit hall, I hadn’t made as much progress as I’d hoped.

Although I planned to continue introducing myself to folks – webcomickers especially – I was also planning to zoom through the hall with less intense browsing at particular tables and more looking around and taking-it-all-in through the rest of the hall.

I started by re-visiting The Nice Guy guys to introduce myself to Michael O’Connell (the writer) and get his signature on my issue #1 comic. They looked pretty fresh compared to how sluggish many other con-goers appeared. We chatted a little about comicking and Comixpedia before I moved along.

Looking around, I decided to go through just the one side of the hall (I mean one of the long sides) until I got to the end. I was eager to finish up the Small Press area and make it to the corner to see Artist’s Alley.

I stopped by Johane Matte’s table along the wall and picked up Horus 1-3. A friend had recommended it and the characters looked cute. Johanne was nice (Canadian, so of course!) and the books looked interesting.

Next, I introduced myself to Steven L. Cloud (creator of Boy on a Stick & Slither). Turns out that Pontus Madsen (creator of Little Gamers) and Neil Gustavson (creator of Robot Stories) were at the table as well. We discussed the good and bad of Comixpedia and I emphasized that if they want to complain, but don’t want to do it in public, to feel free to drop me some email. (That goes for the rest of you, too!) They all vetoed the white lettering on black background and I agreed. I also assured Pontus that there wasn’t any anti-gaming conspiracy on our part; he seemed unconvinced, but relieved. [E.-i.-C.’s nefarious note: Blast – they’re onto us! We must quickly redouble our schemes if we are to successfully eliminate all gamer comics from the Known Universesâ„¢! Umm, I mean, nothing to see here, Pontus! 😉]

I stopped by a table I’d previously missed to meet Dave Roman (creator of astronaut elementary and Raina Telgemeier (creator of Smile), both of which are published on Girlamatic. They were quiet and friendly, nice people. I love people. I’m afraid by this point I’d said "it’s good to put faces to names" about a gazillion times and was a bit tapped out for clever conversation. They kindly ignored my awkward silences as I groped for intelligent things to say before making my escape.

At this point, I left the Small Press area behind. There were some large display areas – some more like small rooms rather than tables – and eating areas between Small Press and Artists Alley. Nothing that particularly grabbed my attention or at least that I can remember.

Once in Artists Alley one of the first people I met was the exceptionally boisterous Robert Roach (mainly because he yelled at me "Don’t be shy!"). I bought issues 1-4 of his comic Menthu both because I liked him and the books looked good. He would have won my vote for "creator with the most energy." Searching for Robert online, I found The Museum of Black Superheroes which looks pretty kick-ass. I also discovered he’s the founder of Hometown Productions, the company that publishes Menthu and a handful of other titles.

I met Mark Masterson and bought Dorothy – a freaky modern alternative version of The Wizard of Oz. It looks really cool.

Nearby, I met Darwin S. Talon and picked up a copy of Comics Above Ground from TwoMorrows.com publishing. It’s an interesting looking set of essays about comics and comics writing complete with comic examples. Darwin was quiet, becoming a bit more animated when I actually showed interest in the book. He threw in some beautiful hand-made Christmas/Holiday cards for free with my purchase.

Further down that row, I met Paul Guinan and bought a complete set of Heartbreakers comics and trade paperbacks. They just looked so cool! Strong intelligent women everywhere! Kicking tremendous amounts of ass! Working together! Beating the bad guys! How could I resist?

I did not get to meet Sean Wang, but I bought Runners 1-4 from his cheerful and very normal-seeming girlfriend, because I’d heard really good things about it and the preview art I saw online was beautiful. She didn’t know when Sean would be back and I was too antsy to wait around. I should’ve asked her what she thought of the con, but it didn’t occur to me. Let this be a warning to all you would-be writers and reporters – exhaustion and over-stimulation dulls the mind!

I then introduced myself to Donna Barr, sitting there in the Artist’s Alley having a perfectly nice discussion with some friends of hers. Eventually, she noticed me rummaging through all my pockets and my bag, and interrupted her conversation to ask me if she could help me… whereupon I realized I’d left the envelope with my business cards somewhere (I can only keep so many in my wallet at a time). I explained the problem briefly and dashed off to look for my cards.

If you don’t know Donna’s work, the woman is a fantastic talent and creates more comics than I can list. I bought The Grandmother Hive in print recently and absolutely loved it. She’s apparently about to come out with a new book of the complete early Stinz stories.

Anyway, I went back and checked EVERY booth I’d stopped at that day (Paul Guinan grabbed me through the crowd in front of him so that his wife, Anina Bennet – writer on Heartbreakers – could sign my books as well. She was wonderfully cheerful, if slightly baffled by having my copies of her books shoved at her. I introduced myself and volunteered to be the Comics Grand Ambassador to Humanity and they nominated and seconded me in!). Anyway, after much searching, I found the damn business cards back at the VERY FIRST booth I’d hit on my way in – The Nice Guy. So, of course, I checked them last. They were holding ‘em special for me! Such nice guys!

Returned to Donna Barr and gave her my card. She asked if there was anything I wanted in particular then interrupted herself to say she emails everyone who gives her a card after every convention. I told her how much I’d loved The Grandmother Hive and she thanked me graciously.

From there I finished the end of the hall and swung around. Had a nice long talk with Albert Pena (who creates Orville) about comics for kids – or rather the dreadful lack of comics for kids – and other stuff about creating kid-friendly work. We talked about his characters and he drew me a cute sketch when I bought one of everything (three comics and a little paperback). Albert is a really REALLY nice guy.

Artist’s Alley is a great idea and a fantastic concentration of talent but there were WAY TOO MANY images of exquisitely-shaped women with impossibly perky boobs. Posters, sketches, cards, and comics in color or black and white. And given how much armor many were wearing, not enough muscles. All of them were accurate human depictions, albeit in ridiculous poses showing off their far too perfect anatomies. This seemed like business as usual for many artists, young and old (though mostly male). It was just something to draw the buyers to their tables, the way the booth bunnies were snagging drooling fans elsewhere in the same hall. But it was sort of sad and depressing to me. I’m used to fending off the whole "you’ll never be pretty enough" meme in the supermarket and the mall, but it bummed me out to find it in and amongst my "tribe".

Wandered back to the Modern Tales booth and introduced myself to Bill Mudron. He’s a friendly and surprisingly cheerful guy given his somewhat cranky online persona. I mentioned I’d had a chance to look over Pan before I left and I really liked it. We discussed liking/not-liking one’s work. He felt he had a balanced view of liking stuff while noticing the flaws, but I’m not so sure. I’ve found very few artists who really appreciate their own work, but instead can only focus on the problems in a piece. He took a picture of me – something about "photographic evidence"… Bill took a LOT of pictures. Bill is very cool, and once he starts talking he doesn’t stop. I like that in a conversational partner – less work for me!

That evening at dinner I met Shannon Crane (who did a fabulously funny 24-hour comic) and hung out with Katie Merritt, President of Friends of Lulu. You’ve never heard of them? Shame on you! Go join up! I met other charming folks as well but neglected to record their names. Katie and I talked about Comixpedia and FoL working together sometime in the future and she was enthusiastic. I think we were all pretty tired, so sitting was good and the desultory service wasn’t too painful and we mostly chit-chatted about inconsequential stuff. After dinner, we were all tired each bailed to our hotel rooms rather than sit around and talk.

Despite my exhaustion, I stopped off at Ghirardelli’s (open late on Fridays and Saturdays). I stood in a long line for a fabulous vanilla shake and a huge chocolate chip cookie. Yummmmmm. These treasures I hauled back to my hotel room, where I was happy to eat, sip, hide, and stay up way too late reading all but the final book of Heartbreakers. I think my brain was so cranked and full-up with information and impressions and interactions that I needed the quiet on-my-own time. And going through the Heartbreakers books was so much fun, and such a good antidote to the accumulating stress that I stayed awake to read most of the material despite my exhaustion.

Again, I looked through the schedule to think about my final day. The Con was scheduled to end at 5pm (two hours earlier than the previous days) and there were two webcomic-related panels I wanted to attend, so I wasn’t sure whether I’d manage to finish seeing the rest of the exhibit hall. I knew I was too tired to get up early, so I hoped what time I had would be enough.

Sunday, 25 July 2004
One thing that helps me wake up is engaging my attention. If I lie in bed and think about the dream I was having or contemplate my day, I fall right back to sleep. So one thing I try to do to help me achieve consciousness is have an interesting book on the bedside table. Despite the temptation to read all the Heartbreakers books Saturday night, I held off on reading the last one so it could help motivate me in the morning.

Once I recognized the alarm as NOT part of my dream, I turned it off and grabbed the final book of Heartbreakers and read it to wake me up. I really love this series.

The crowds were a little lighter than Saturday, but still a mighty stream of humanity struggling to achieve Comic-Con perfection. I started my day off in the exhibit hall, hoping to make a few contacts before the con ended. And I was also hoping to catch up with a couple of folks I’d missed thus far.

Stopping by Tranquility Base again, I introduced myself to Scott McCloud and we chatted about comics and panels and such. He then told me that Jenn Manley-Lee and Kip Manley would be back at 2pm for their shift and then were leaving at 3pm. Promising to come back, I wandered around until I found the ACTOR booth. (My fault for misreading their booth number in the guide). ACTOR: A Commitment To Our Roots is the first-ever federally chartered not-for-profit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comic book creators in need. Per their FAQ:

In late 2000, a small consortium of comic publishers came up with the idea to create a financial safety net for comic creators, much in the same fashion that exists in almost any other trade from plumbing to pottery. CrossGen Comics donated the time and money to get the extensive legal paperwork rolling, and by March of 2001, the federal government approved ACTOR as a publicly supported not-for-profit corporation under section 501 (c) (3).

Looks like they’ve done a number of events, auctions, and inspired books whose profits were donated to their cause. I chatted with them, gave them my card, offered to help out, and bought something as a contribution to their fund.

Then I swung back to Tranquility Base and got to meet Jenn and Kip! Lovely peoples! They looked a bit worn out from the con, but despite that they were friendly and cheerful. I bugged them about writing for me, and they got that slightly haunted look that very busy talented people often get when they want to help but aren’t sure they can manage it. But despite my nagging, they persisted in being nice to me! So very happy to meet another one of my writers (I’ve met four so far: one in Massachusetts where I live and she was visiting, one in London England where she lives and I was visiting, and now two at Comic-Con). And I love Jenn’s Dicebox. It’s one of my all-time favorite comics, web or physical.

Dashed to the Modern Tales panel a bit late. The panel had Shaenon Garrity moderating, and Roger Langridge, Dave Roman, Glych, Tracy White, and Daniel Merlin Goodbrey talking. Interesting, low-key discussion of each creator’s method and relationship to the web. Shaenon asked a series of questions about why they chose the web, what techniques they use to create their webcomics, and what benefits they got/drawbacks they experienced from the webby nature of their work.

All of the creators responded in their own way to each question. Roger and Dave were both quiet and spoke thoughtfully. Glych was super-chatty without being vapid, but had to be reined in a couple times. Tracy kept protesting she wasn’t really an artist or a comics person. Daniel has a pleasant UK-based accent and many interesting thoughts. I wish I could say more, but I’m afraid I was too fried to take good notes about the discussion.

When the MT panel ended, I went directly to Scott Kurtz’s panel, Is Newspaper Syndication Dead? The Future Of The American Comic Strip.

When I walked in, the previous panel was cleaning up and giving out freebies. I got a copy of The Secret Origin of Good Readers: A Resource Book. I think it’s mainly for teachers, but should have some good stuff to recommend to kids.

Scott’s panel consisted of Dave Kellett (Sheldon), Michael Jantze (The Norm), Rich Stevens (Diesel Sweeties), Kristopher Straub (Checkerboard Nightmare), Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (Penny Arcade), Scott Kurtz (PvP) and the VERY funny Oliver Tull moderating.

Scott started off the proceedings by expressing his surprise at the number of attendees and asking the whole audience to flip him off so he could take a picture – he ended up taking two pictures, of the left and right side of the room. (I’m in the second one, all the way on the right).

This panel was another example of a rather contentious debate, this time about whether syndication is dead, what it takes to be syndicated, whether people even think about syndication anymore, etc. The PA guys never think of it, don’t care, and didn’t understand why they were on the panel. Jantze and Kellett are syndicated, with Jantze making his living off syndication. Everyone else covered the spectrum between them.

One of the best (and least swear-laden) quotes of the afternoon: "When pirates fight ninjas we all win." – Scott Kurtz

Scott had a big announcement – very shortly he’ll be offering PvP strips for free to any newspapers who want to run his strip. He noted that he got more email and phone calls on the day Michael Jantze had one of his characters reading a PvP comic in The Norm than for any other strip Kurtz had ever done.

Afterwards, I chatted with Michael Jantze briefly, asking what he knew about the history of syndicates and their shared history with comics. He introduced me to R. C. Harvey as a much better source of information.

As everyone was introducing themselves to each other and talking over the results of the panel, I also managed to introduce myself to Scott Kurtz and Kristopher Straub. Business cards handed out. Nice, articulate very smart guys. Kristopher didn’t talk much on the panel, but we chatted about Comixpedia briefly as the panelists milled around and he struck me as very smart. Scott was quite eloquent on the panel in both explaining his position and asking questions of others to solicit their perspectives. In person he was friendly and very happy to meet a Comixpedia representative. I guess he has a reputation for flamage, but I’m not all that familiar with this online persona. In person he reasons through issues well, looking at all the facets of a debate, and clearly explains his motivations.

Leaving the panel room, Mr. Harvey and I chatted all the way back down the hall and promised to email each other with more data about the history of comics syndication. R. C. is a well-known comics historian and has written several books and numerous articles on the subject of comics and comics history. Definitely one of the grand old men of the comics world. We split up down on the first floor I headed back into to the exhibit hall, bound and determined to finish the last chunk of space I hadn’t walked through.

That’s when I saw the X-Wing fighter. Big.

I also made a special trip to swing by Anina Bennett & Paul Guinan’s table in the Artist’s Alley and pick up a Heartbreakers enamel pin. I just wanted to say an extra "thank you" because I liked their books so much. And I wanted to tell them in person that their books kicked ass!

Briefly met Paige Braddock of Jane’s World and bought a "Dating for Dummies" t-shirt as I have all the Jane books currently in print. I didn’t know she’d be there, and I couldn’t resist stopping when I passed her booth. I mentioned that I thought Jane was actually smarter and more together in the earlier strips (which I’d bought from Plan Nine Publishing a while ago; I don’t know if they’re still in print). Jane hmm’d, and I suddenly realized what I’d said and hoped it wasn’t offensive or stupid. And since I was a bit embarrassed and still had a lot of hall to look at, I excused myself and dashed off.

I was looking for the Top Shelf booth when I stumbled across the Bloodfire booth. They publish Kindergoth, which is what caught my eye. I have long been in love with Jeff Zugale’s work on Mystic For Hire, one of the first web comics I started reading. My control wasn’t as good as it should be (my inner fan-girl slipped out!) and I actually whined about the lack of Mystic For Hire updates! Sorry Jeff! I know, whining is bad. Complaining about free comics is even worse. Anyway, I’ve read Kindergoth 1-5 now and they’re pretty funny in a completely over-the-top kinda way.

As the guards were threatening to kick people out, I found the Top Shelf booth and had another brief chat with Eddie Campbell. I wanted to know if we could continue our conversation online and he was agreeable. Eddie rocks. Bought the first trade of the Alec collection: The King Canute Crowd.

And finally walking out the door, some exhausted and obviously frazzled girl shoved half a dozen comics in my hand yelling "Free! Take them! I don’t want to carry them anymore!" and shoving more comics into the hands of other passers-by. All perfectly normal, regular-cost type monthly issues. So I’ll even have some comics I didn’t pick out to read.

Somewhere during the conference (Thursday or Friday, I think) I lost the plastic, extendible poster tube I’d brought for large art and posters. Or maybe it got stolen. In any case, it didn’t show up in the Comic-Con lost & found, nor in the Convention Center lost & found. Bummer. $15 down the tube, as it were. It even had my name on it. So if you’re the one who took it or found it and kept it, I hope you stub your little toe. Hard. Every day. Forever.

At dinner on my final night in San Diego I met Aaron Williams and his wife, Dave Gross (EIC at Amazing Stories), Phil Foglio, Jeff Carlisle, plus Wendy & Bill Love, and a couple other folks I didn’t really get to talk to or exchange names. Phil drew an orange peeler in my notebook (for the purposes of illustration… haha!). And I got the chance to tell him how much I love Girl Genius.

I apologize to all those people I missed meeting. I figure there are something on the order of 999,950 of you… give or take a few. We can try again next year. And if I met you but didn’t buy something from you, it was only because I had limited resources in both money and muscles to carry the stuff around. I really do love you all.

If I make it back next year, I’d like to actually socialize with some of the webcomickers rather than squeezing in a conversation while the convention whirls and swirls and yells around us. And I’ll try to make TWO panels every day. Baby steps.

My final outing of the night was for another Ghirardelli’s run (vanilla malted this time), then bad syndication TV and finally to bed. Got up the next morning and dashed through the morning ritual, mailed a tube of posters home, packed, and made it to the airport in plenty of time… even though I stood in the wrong line for 20 minutes.

Apparently they opened my checked back at the airport (I found one of those little notices when I unpacked) but fortunately they didn’t rummage. I’d done a very elaborate job of packing my t-shirts (used and freshly bought) around piles of comics in an intricate don’t-get-bent fashion. Successful, actually, as nothing got bent.

Now I’m trying to crawl off California time. Not much luck thus far. And I’m working my way through the stuff I bought. OH THE ADDICTION! Excellent.

Kelly J. Cooper
Features Editor
Comics addict extraordinaire

p.s. Feel free to post links to other Comic-Con reports here for easy finding.