Wondercon 1999- In the beginning there was good luck. The most convenient time available when I first booked my fllight was 6:40 AM on Wednesday. As it turned out, this meant I would just barely dodge the mini-strike that the Alaska pilots union staged the weekend of the con.
My flight was effortless. Staying up all night designing my promotional material made it easy to sleep the whole way there. It also meant that my signing cards boasted that I'm nominated for "Best Penicler" and WHITEOUT is up for "Best Limied Series." This is just further evidence that it's the attention to details that makes for a truly great cartoonist.
My first business in Oakland was finding the State Board of Equalization, where I was robbed of an hour of my life because they gave me the wrong form, grilled about the names and addresses of my businesses' domestic and international suppliers, ("I don't have any. I use number two pencils that I steal from government offices.") and asked "Why you cartoon boys keep comin' back every year?"
On the way back from the tax office, I notice several emergency medical technicians standing around and peering in the window of a Chinese store. Their ambulance is double parked, but the flashing lights aren't on. Rubbernecking and eavesdropping, I discover that they're studying an enormous brassiere on display in the window, and speculating on who might have an ass big enough to fill it.
My hotel is the London Lodge. It was the called the Travelodge last year, but evidently someone from the national corporate office noticed what a shoddy job they were doing running the place and they lost their franchise. Hey- fine with me. I like a hotel with some character. The London Lodge boasts a total of one full-time desk employee working twenty-four hour shifts, phones that can call out, but don't ring, and best of all, a one-foot square patch of hallway carpet that's so damp and filthy that it has actually sprouted mushrooms several inches in diameter. Honestly, it looks like a John Totleben drawing. On the plus side the place is cheap, close to the convention and located near bail bondsmen, copy shops and a bunch of delightful Chinese grocery stores with shelves full of soy milks, ginger candies and cellophane bags of strange dried funguses, some of which appear to have been harvested in the hall just outside my room.
Every time I turn on the TV, it's showing "Batman Returns." This must mean something.
I call home and make sure that my wife has taken care of our taxes. We had given everything to our accountant months ago, and were ready with our forms, except that on April 13th, I'd received a 1099-misc from Marvel comics. I love this business.
Dinner on Friday is at the Golden Lotus on Franklin. This is one of those vegetarian places that creates brilliant ersatz meats out of wheat gluten and tofu. I'm pretty much a vegan, but I still crave flesh somethin' fierce, and I put on a fine display of carnivorous behavior. Just saying the words "Lemon Chicken" makes me feel a little like the Wolfman. I'd live in this place if I could.
Thence to the bar at the Marriott. Cartoonists and industry people seem to be clustered by their primary company affiliation. I've never known why this is, and wind up moving from group to group, irritating everyone. One of the highlights of the evening is talking with James Kolchoka, who is bright and sincere and absolutely in love with cartooning. While I had enjoyed reading "The Horrible Truth About Comics," I hadn't agreed with it, or with his Comics Journal letters. Turns out neither does James. It's one side of the argument, he acknowledges, and he could just have easily presented the other side with equal enthusiasm. Maybe he will. JK is a small, wiry guy, but he is vast, containing multitudes.
I'm outside, sucking back the second hand smoke. There are several different conversations at the table, all of which have arrived, from different starting points, at the same anecdote about a certain retailer and his unusual shelving.
Matt Hollingsworth is running his open palms across my hair and saying "Parmesan Cheese."
I need to learn to learn how to take a compliment. Everyone is congratulating me about the Eisner nominations, and telling me how much they liked WHITEOUT. There are standard ritual compliments that lubricate every interaction among comics people, but these feel different, sincere. Throughout the weekend, I'm continually suppressing the urge to disabuse people of whatever good impressions they have about me or my work.
Evryone affiliated with the management of Oni Press, past and present, is walking with a severe limp.
Chris Oarr, fair-haired honcho of the CBLDF, tells me about a great fundraising promotion they'll be doing next year. I'm impressed and offer my kudos. Chris says it wasn't his idea-- Gary Groth came up with it. Hats off Gary. Nice job.
Hanging out with Bob Schreck, it occurs to me that what I'll miss most about his move East won't be his considerable promotional or editorial skills. It'll be hanging out with him-- hearing his stories and just watching his expressions and gestures. I hadn't realized just how much I enjoy the aesthetics of Bob.
One of the regular topics of discussion at conventions today is "What's he up to, now that he's out of comics?" Overall, he seems to be doing animation, web page design or temp work while he tries to figure out what to do with his life. No one discussing this is gloomy, but almost everyone seems aware on some level that they could be next.
Having watched everyone get plastered, I return to my hotel entirely sober. Batman Returns is on again. I flip the channels and find a movie starring John Tuturro as some repressed guy who desperately needs to learn to loosen up. Damn tv is acting like a fortune cookie.
My convention gear includes the following: Signs for my table, disposable camera, big stacks of my comics, battered Fed-Ex box full of original art, xeroxes of old work, promotional cards with moronic typos, art bin, aspirin. decongestant, temporary seller's ID form, single-serving boxes of Choco-malt soy drink.
The Wondercon staff has made what looks to be a poor decision. They've moved Artists Alley off the convention floor and put us one flight up in a dark room that isn't particularly visible from the hallway, marked only by a sign on a piece of typing paper. In the first couple of hours, while thousands walk the main room, fewer than a dozen people figure out that there's something else up here. I repack all my stuff, abandon the table I paid for, and go downstairs to beg for some space from my publisher.
My agent, Sharon Cho, has let her hair grow out. Her writing partner, Alex Amado, looks like he's having a much better time now that he's attending as a creator rather than working as administrator for the convention.
The Oni table is a fun place to be. On my left is Chynna Cluggston-Major, whose lively work can be found in Action Girl and Oni Double feature. Chynna is smart, funny, young and effortlessly hip in a way that makes me feel like somebody's grandfather. I'm not old enough to shake my head and marvel at "these kids today," but she, Judd Winnick, Jim Mahfood and Scott Morse all have that affect on me.
Speaking of Judd Winnick, his Image comic, "The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius," is a hoot.
I don't come to conventions intending to stock up on comics but it always works out that way. I run into Bay Area retailer Rory Root, who has an incredible display of hard to find alternative and indy comics. I pick up the two issues of Ariel Schrag's POTENTIAL that I'm missing, the latest BLAB, which feels like a waste, except for an incredible Al Columbia story, a few good short things by Chris Ware and Marc Trujillo, and some enjoyable prose writing on music-industry topics. They've also got the new Alex Toth book, which I snap up greedily, and use throughout the weekend to help clarify obscure points when I offer portfolio critiques.
The Harveys are Friday evening. The event is not terribly slick, and the program book is an embarrassment about which the less said, the better. The ceremony does move quickly though, which is always a plus. Gary Groth helps by giving three acceptance speeches that added up to fewer than ten words, total. I am disappointed when Dan Clowes doesn't win for Best Writer, as I'd really wanted to snap a picture of him shaking hands with John Romita Jr. Most of the awards are accepted by proxies- the only awardees who showed up are Jaime Hernandez and Bob Schreck. (Bob, as ranking DC editor and former Oni honcho has to make six or seven trips to the podium that night.) The emcee, Phil Lamar- an actor/comedian, is actually funny, and seems to know as much about comics as most of the presenters. Also, the banquet is reasonably vegetarian-friendly, something obviously crucial to any serious celebration of the medium.
After the Harveys, one naturally graviates to the bar at the Marriott, where people are deconstructing the ceremony. A wiseass remark I make to a writer falls horribly flat, and only the timely arrival of his collaborator's energetic pre-schooler provides a way out of an embarrassing moment. Sometimes I schmooze admirably well, other times it's as if I'm struggling to use a joystick and a trackball to control a mechanical tongue.
Saturday starts with breakfast with Nat (The Factor) Gertler. Nat leads me to a nifty diner where they are only slightly weirded out by my diet. We talk art and industry, shifting easily between the financial and the aesthetic.
This is the busy day at the con, and I spend most of my time sketching little Carrie Stetkos for the people who stop by to say nice things about WHITEOUT. Retailers ask for a sequel, and seem genuinely pleased to hear that we've begun one. Lee Atchison and Laura DePuy are also among my visitors. I gush at Laura about the splendid work she's doing on PLANETARY, and chat about Sequential Tart with Lee.
We've got the Oni panel today. Joe and Jamie quickly dispense with the f.a.q.'s and so the questions that follow are interesting, and provoke thoughtful responses. Greg Rucka and Paul Dini discuss constructing mysteries. Jim Mahfood and I go over the advantages and disadvantages of an art education. Someone asks me to explain the difference between the comics I do now and what I did as a work-for-hire artist-- "Everything I did then just sucked horribly. Page after atrocious page, I'd fill up Fed-Ex boxes with drawings that *lied* to my readers..." This goes on for some time, and it's a wonder no one in the audience recommends therapy.
Back at the Oni booth, just to my left, there are two Muslim women in veils getting Kevin Smith to sign their copies of Jay and Silent Bob #s 1-3, and they want to know when number four is coming out.
Saturday evening is the Usenet dinner. I'm on the mezzanine approaching the bar, trying to scam a free meal on a corporate account, when several netters in the lobby begin howling up at me like Marlon Brando in Streetcar. They want me to tag along with them. I do, and as a result, I shake off a terrible curse.
Back to the Marriott, where everyone is swimming in a sea of conversation. Jen Van Meter is talking about how stories shape our understanding of the world, Greg Rucka is lighting someone's cig and talking about the SAS, Charles Brownstein is tossing out schemes for panels in San Diego, Jamie Rich is comparing and contrasting some band's recent effort with an earlier one, and Chynna seems to concurr. Diana Schutz is putting it all into perspective. The Fantagraphics guys are dishing. Jordan Crane and Joe Nozemack are working their way towards an agreement to disagree. The air is filled with ideas, wisecracks, gossip, smoke.
I fall asleep that night while watching "They Live," a movie that stars Rowdy Roddy Piper as a regular guy who gets a pair of special glasses that lets him see the poisonous messages in the media.
Sunday starts with me dragging Nat to a Vietnamese place for a cheap fried noodle breakfast. He is amused, and doesn't die from it, which is all one can really ask of such things.
My big event today is the panel I'm on with Jim Silke, Dave Stevens, Berni Wrightson and Eric Shanower. It was sparsely attended, but really quite good. There's no plugging or ego-festing, just five guys who really love the medium talking with an attentive audience about the thinking that goes into creating comics. Strangely, Eric and I both list Barbara Tuchman as important influences on our choice of dream projects.
Jim Mahfood wants a sketch for his book, so I draw Carrie Stetko as one of his Grrl Scouts wearing a parka with band patches and cut-off shorts revealing a big tatoo running up her unshaven thigh.
When the convention is over, I drag myself into the lobby and arange for an airport shuttle. The chairs by the elevator are really confortable, and I pull out my Lonely Planet guide to Antarctica to relax and read a bit. I'm out like a light in seconds with the book on my face, (reputedly) snoring like a Black and Decker drill. Fortunately something wakes me up one minute before my van is scheduled to arrive and I don't miss my ride.
Sara picks me up at the Portland airport. She's had more good news about her novel, and is in an excellent mood, despite the late hour. We arrive home around 1 in the morning on Monday. In the next day and a half, I will have to sign my name two thousand, five hundred times, and at 6 am on Wednesday there's another flight to catch: Pittsburgh--another convention.
My web page: www.geocities.com/SoHo/Museum/8914/
Preview of WHITEOUT #1 at www.easystreet.com/~kodiak/Whiteout.html
WHITEOUT tpb ships in May. A sequel is coming later this year.