Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Observations From A Convention Floor: Fans Vs. Creators

(Hey kids, I'm the new guy. You may know me from RackRaids... or maybe not. Anyway, I'm honored to be here amidst such prestigious company as Jon, Ben, Big Mike and that other guy. I've got much to live up to. Apologies in advance for any Canadianisms that slip into my posts [like our predisposition towards apologizing for stuff]. And now, content:)

"Hey," a gruff voice called out to me, my back turned as I was straightening out the product on the convention floor racks, "how much for all those Amazing World of DC books?"

I turned around, looked at the man and then back at the top shelf where about a dozen issues of the official fan magazine of DC Comics from the 1970 stood apart.

"These," I said, pointing. There was something familiar about this guy.


"All of them?"


"Just a second and I’ll grab the calculator."

I punched in the numbers, calculated the figure, and told him what it was. He didn’t bat an eye. He repeated the number. Then it clicked: I was, staring eye to eye with Darwyn Cooke. I have 9 action figures he designed sitting on the book case above the TV. I just finished reading Catwoman: Selena’s Big Score. I’m not his biggest fan, but dammit, I am a fan.

There was a pause.

I knocked the price down.

He repeated the number. He seemed pleased.

I had met Cooke once before, on the airplane on the way back from San Diego last year. We talked about my newly purchased Green Lantern baseball cap and the Hot Wheels Batman floor display. I’d heard stories about him being kind of chilly, and he is to an extent, but I don’t think he means anything by it. Really, he could utter Ron Burgundy’s quote "I don't know how to put this but I'm kind of a big deal" and you’d likely think "he’s right", but he’s not pretentious, just a little standoffish, and probably unintentionally so. I didn’t actually realize it was Darwyn Cooke until I returned to my seat and my wife asked "What were you and Darwyn Cooke talking about?"

"I’ll probably be back for those," he said.

And I said "I’m not sure if anyone else will give you the same deal or not, so if you come back, flag me down."

I was caught too off-guard by the moment to react in any way but professionally, as a sales person and a representative for my Local Comics Shoppe. Just after he walked away, one of the actual store employees working the con said, "What were you and Darwyn Cooke talking about?"

I told him what went down (like I being Lee Van Cleef and he being Clint Eastwood, staring each other down), and within five minutes half of the other people working the massive booth came over and asked me about it. Or maybe I went and told them. I don’t recall. I don’t know why, but there was certainly that level of "starfucking" that we all get a kick out of whenever someone notable swings by. The only thing is, I’m horrible at talking to pros, and I don’t even like contemplating it. I could've met Keith Giffen, but I would probably reduce myself to a puddle of Boy Blob in the process.

I had a conversation with the former manager of my LCS a few months ago. We were talking about meeting comics celebrities, and he stated how much he enjoyed it (the number of artists and writers who will come up to him at the Convention and say hi is pretty staggering), while I stated how much I’d rather not, about how nervous I get. He said some profound words akin to "Just remember, they’re regular people just like we are. Treat them as such and everything will be fine."

But I can’t. My connection to them isn’t personal, it’s their work. And if I appreciate their work, it’s hard to look past what they do to see them as something more. It’s also hard not to get excited.

The more people I meet, the better I get at staying calm and cool, but I’m still not, how would you say… smooth? It’s not quite - but almost - as awkward as when I’d try to approach the girl I had a crush on in high school, when the heart starts beating faster and you get a little mealy mouthed, and your thoughts come out of your mouth like buckshot, scattering everywhere, rather than precisely, like a bullet. Eventually that nervous tick worked for me and I landed myself a fantastic lady who’s sexy, smart and loves comics (I didn’t even have to convert her), but I’m still rather clueless when it comes to making talk-talk with most comics professionals.

I don’t have the raving fanboy in me, for which I am grateful, and I’m always wary of overstaying my welcome when approaching a pro at their booth/table. And quite frankly, there’s only so much you can (or should) say to someone whom you don’t know personally, even though you may know much about them , they know nothing of you, and getting too into their business is kind of creepy.

Is it like the art of enticing a woman, asking them questions and only talk about yourself if invited? Or do you just need to relax and greet them as you’d greet any stranger (for some, greeting strangers falls somewhere between public speaking and communal showering on the comfort level).

Writing about and reviewing comics has given me a bit of an in, I can approach people with the confidence of journalistic professionalism, letting them know that I’ve reviewed their work and that they might have seen it (unlikely often though it is), or else asking them to let me know about future work and dispensing a card. I’m not going to be one of these guys who has an email exchange and suddenly proclaims, "I’m friends with XXX" on my blog.

More often than not, though, I just say to people, "I really enjoy your work," and ask them about what’s up next for them, even if I already know. Like, did you know that Cliff Chiang is working on an adaptation/continuation of Neil Young’s Greendale album? That’s kind of crazy (horse).

So, Second Printers, you have any tips for meeting your favourite creators? Jon’s already covered celebrity encounters, but dare you admit your embarrassing encounters with comic pros?

P.S. Darwyn Cooke did come back for those books the next day, he did hunt me down and I may have given off the impression of an excessively nervous Nelly. In reality I wasn’t nervous that it was him, but shaking because I hadn’t eaten much yet. Seconds later everyone else in the booth knew that a) Darwyn Cooke was here, b) what books he bought and c) how much he paid for them. It kind of got incredibly geeky and out of hand.


Scotus said...

Thankfully, I have no stories involving me acting like a stammering fanboy, but I do have one less-than-proud moment:

The morning of the Baltimore Comic-Con a few years back, I was gathering up all the books I wanted to get signed. Mark Waid was appearing (as he does every year), so I grabbed my set of Kingdom Come 1-4.

I actually had two sets, one of which I'd already gotten signed by him a few years earlier. But I figured I'd get the other one signed, too, maybe to keep, maybe to sell on eBay.

So I'm at the con, I get up to Waid's table, tell him what a fan I am, as I had the previous times I'd met him, and hand him the books. He opens the first issue and...it's already signed. I had grabbed the wrong set by mistake.

Waid, totally unfazed by my idiocy, opens each book and says something like, "Boom! Signed! Boom! Signed! Boom! Signed! Boom! Signed! See how fast I am? You didn't even see the pen move, did you?"

So yes, a little embarrassing, but we both got a good laugh out of it, and because of how cool he was, I was able to walk away without feeling like a spazz.

Devon Sanders said...

Three years back at Baltimore Comic-Con, George Perez was there and I was there with my shop setting up a table.

One of the con staff ran up and told us George was signing books early so his line would be shorter later.

I ran up to him with my copies of New Teen Titans. Now you gotta understand Perez is my art idol. I don't really draw anymore because I know I'll never achieve his level of detail.

I stood there in line, wanting to tell him how much his work had meant to me. How I rejoiced the first time I saw him do a "Gil Kane nose upshot" in Crisis On Infinite Earths and knew what he was going for. How I thought his design for Deathstroke was one of the most inspired in comics.

I wanted to tell him how I rejoiced at his comeback with The Avengers.

I get up to the front of the line and said, "Mr. Perez, I know you must here this all the time but I absolutely love your work."

He looked up, big smile on his face, scrawled off a few signatures and said, "Thanks!" and waved the next person up.

It might not have been the one I wanted but it was a moment.

Ken Cox said...

I, too handle meeting comic professionals poorly. I try to stick to questions (e.g.: "How's your next project coming?") However, if they're friendly, I usually do well. Mark Waid, Alex Ross, and the late, lamented Mike Wieringo being good examples.

However, I would like to share a shining moment: I was at ChicagoCon in 1997 and Julius Schwartz headlined a sparsely-attended Silver Age DC panel. This was not long after Superman died, Bane broke Batman, and Hal Jordan went crazy & evil. There were plenty of fanboys promoting the change to the status quo, but I asked a few questions that clearly revealed my pro-Classic DC, not-all-change-is-automatically-good attitude.

After the panel, as Mr. Schwartz was leaving, I got up to thank him for all he'd done for DC. He shook my hand and said "Thanks, son. You're one of the good ones."

Fanboy heaven.

Jon said...

Phil Jimenez & Geoff Johns, holding a panel with an audience of about 15. Lots of interaction with the fans, but then they ask the "what project would you like to see us do" question. Phil jams the mic under my nose, my mind goes blank. Unsure of what to do, I take hold of the mic (there'd been a lot of mic passing going on), but Phil's not about to let it go. I manage to stammer out a "eh, Firestorm...". Man, I had no idea, that was all I could think of, and I felt like a prat. Other people came up with cool suggestions, although Geoff was cool, he name dropped Firestorm a couple of times later on, which I figured was for my benefit heh.

The main thing I hate is asking for sketches. We only ever get one writer and one artist at the local scifi con, so it's not like you can target people in an artists alley or whatever. I always worry that I'm going to break some sort of convention etiquette or something. Should I ask for a character they're familiar with? If they're exclusive with Marvel, can I ask for a DC character? If I'm the 9 millionth person to ask them for Batman, will they find it painfully boring? etc

With Phil Jimmenez I just went ahead and got Firestorm (thankfully before that panel...), since he's drawn just about everybody. It's my favourite piece and he was appologising because it had been so long since he'd drawn him. I asked Jimmy Cheung for Moon Knight because I was too much of a wimp to ask for Firestorm (Will a Marvel guy know who Firestorm is? ha, I'm such a dork). Nicola Scott was really open to doing anything, but I still wondered if I should be aiming for something familiar to her. It took me until the second day to pluck up the nerve to hand her some reference material and ask for a Firestorm pic. It was worth it though.

Graig Kent said...

Jon... you brought up an awesome thing I think should be talked about:
sketch etiquette.

I may post longer about this, but I think if you're paying for a sketch (or even if the artist is offering free sketches), you can ask for what you want. If they refuse, that's cool (I saw Bob Layton do this last weekend) but generally, if it's not pornographic (or sometimes even if it is) they'll probably do it.

Some artists might refuse merely because they're not familiar with the character, so if you're going to want a specific character sketched, then you might want to bring reference with you.