I had planned originally to post this on the Wednesday of preivew night before SDCC kicked off. It’s telling at how truly and completely SDCC devours all time around it like a pop-culture singularity, that I’m just NOW getting it finished and up. Re-read the First and Second entries if you need to refresh your memory prior.
After this, I’ll return within the next day or two to the ongoing serialization of The Homecoming Game
To prepare for this post, you need to listen to the Who’s Eminence Front. Here’s the video if you don’t have it handy…
The Who – Eminence Front
I had returned in late 1990 to Washington State to attend WSU in Pullman. I did a number of comic gigs while I was there… the aforementioned gig for TSR, inked a story for Phil Foglio’s Xxxenophile, drew one story for Denny Eichhorn’s Real Stuff, lot’s of little things here and there. The bigger thing was that, while at WSU, I got involved in Student Publications. Specifically the Daily Evergreen. I started out in the ad department, working on Macintosh II’s using Photoshop 1 and Aldus Freehand. I learned computer graphics in a daily production environment on the job. By the end of the first year, I was doing the Editorial Cartoons. By the second year, I was doing a daily strip about college life called Edge City, and editing the Entertainment Section. By year three, I was doing all of those, plus serving as Art Director for the Ad Department. Plus I was in a band. Plus I worked 3 nights a week as a DJ. I Kept Very Busy.
Straight out of college, as in two days after Graduation, i had a job as an Associate Editor for U the National College Magazine. U was a monthly insert (we called it the “Parade” of college Newspapers) that once a month went out to be inserted into every single college paper across the US. I left 2 days before graduation since I had to drive down to LA for the job. I got there late the night before the first day of work. Working at U was not what “was advertised” to us… the Art Director and EiC had quit. It was stressful at a level far above our pay grade. There was an investigation going on regarding some “shady dealings”. I lived up to my name… I was vocal, I made it clear I wouldn’t lie for a job. I got canned.
The combo of working insane hours for 4 years straight, in comics and print, for very little money, had taken a bit of a toll, so I called my friend Andrew Brandou and asked if he knew anyone who was looking for freelance artists. i actually had more computer graphics skills that 90% of the artists in the market, so I figured I was fairly employable. He told me about a 3 month gig he’d heard about through a friend at Philips Media. I applied for the job. The contract turned into a staff position, which turned into a Senior CG artist position. Philips was going under fast due to the flameout of CD-i, so an artist friend I’d met at SDCC, Omaha Perez, told me about an Art Director gig that had opened at Disney Interactive. I applied, I got the gig. Met Steve Niles there, became great friends along with scores of other incredibly talented artists, writers, designers, and programmers. Left Disney, went to Quicksilver, built up their art and Creative Department from zero people to a staff at the peak of 15 on site. During this 15 year span of working in videogames, I still went to SDCC every year. The only “comic” I had been doing was a periodic webcomic called DeathMarch that ran on GameSpy, but I’d worked on Disney’s Aladdin, I’d worked on Star Trek. I maintained my “pro” status (while feeling very much like a faker).
By 2005, I had gotten very… twitchy. I was getting fed up with the insane production hours in videogames, the lack of control over the end product, and most of all, I missed telling stories. I’d been writing piles of notes for specific projects I would “get to one day”… and yet the days kept ticking by.
Warren Ellis putting up the Engine was the spark that finally ignited this twitchy bundle of sticks into something resembling a fire under my ass. It was the “shit or get off the pot” moment for me… I could tell by the people gathered there… some who I knew from long ago (Like Steve Niles & Ed Brubaker and James Owen) some who I was “meeting” for the first time… that there was a core of individuals gathered here, ready to try and really make comics interesting again. So I dove in and floundered around. Tony Lee and I started on a project together, which would eventually come out with a different artist as Hope Falls. Derek McCulloch and I got Image to agree to publish the book that he and I had pitched to Vertigo back in ’98 called Displaced Persons. We did a preview of the book at the 2007 SDCC, and I will forever think of that year at SDCC as, The Last Fun Con. I connected with the people I’d met on the Engine. We laughed and we joked, and we talked about comics and “what comics needed” and what our dreams were. Old friends and new. As I was leaving on Sunday, I mentioned to Joe Keatinge (who was working at Image during this time) the idea of doing an anthology based off of Tori’s songs. I hadn’t even gotten the words out and it was “done!”
The original plan had been a “leisurely” development, with a release in October 2008. Two press opportunities came along and everyone… including all of the artists and writers involved… agreed we could, and would release the book at SDCC 2008. That meant we needed to assemble a 480 page project, with 12″ x 12″ art-stock pages, 3 different edition types, with 52 stories by over 100 creators in 4 months. I was told by very good friends of mine with years of editing experience who worked at DC, who worked at Dark Horse, who worked at Marvel that “Dude, there is NO FUCKING WAY you can pull this off. It is completely impossible!”
I knew we could.
The team at Image, the artists and writers, Tom Muller & his wife Liz doing the packaging design, we were all fucking in and we were going to not only make sure the book came out, but that it blew everyone away. We were going to show them all. I got the “artist proof” of the limited edition 2 weeks before SDCC, and I might’ve cried when I went through it. I was, in a word, stoked.
This SDCC… 2008… this should have been my “moment of glory”. My Successful Return to Comics. Solid published proof that yeah… I make comics, and I make damn good comics. We had signings set up from the beginning of preview night through the final bell on Sunday. A Featured Panel and signing on Saturday. Even a follow up signing at the Golden Apple in LA a few days later. We did a signed, limited edition print of the cover that would be specific to SDCC, that each of the the creators appearing at the show could sign, and that would could sell for $35, which would then be split amongst the creators at the show. The thought being that, by doing so, each of the creators would get some kind of “income” for the time they spent signing at the booth (because we knew it was going to be crazybusy) while making sure that the accounts for book sales could be processed and disbursed after the con, according to the various micro percentages for each creator on the book. Traci Hui, Drew Gill and Joe at Image had done a great job making sure we had not only the prints, but also lovely mylar sleeves (available for another $5) to protect the prints.
Tori’s manager and I had agreed that the signing would have to be limited to 100 people. We’d both had decades around Tori fans and knew that even 100 could potentially run into hours if not managed correctly, and we were being allowed a 1 hour signing slot after the Featured Panel on Saturday. To keep the numbers down, the deal was that the first 25 people to buy a book on Wed would get in, the first 25 on Thursday, the first 25 on Friday, and the first 25 on Saturday. We figured that allowed for people who got to the show early, and didn’t penalize those who wouldn’t arrive at SDCC until later in the week. There were numbered, printed tickets, with the logo of the book on them, that were being shipped with the books to SDCC and would arrive on Wednesday morning. It seemed like a Very Good Plan.
Because of my job at Quicksilver, I arrived late by an hour to Preview Night. Frazzled and sweaty and tired from the drive down from Orange County, but despite it all, I was pumped up and excited. Joe met me at the front of the convention center with my exhibitor pass and “Sped Walked” with me back to the booth filling me in… there was a line of over 100 people in line to get Comic Book Tattoo (and to try and get the passes for that day). They were Not Happy at having to wait for me to get there. That was item #1.
Item #2… we had no books.
500 books had been shipped to the show. We had the signature for receipt of the books at the convention Center loading docks. 150 Hardcovers, 350 Softcovers. Because of the way the convention center works, Image (nor any publisher for that matter) cannot transport their items from the loading dock to the respective booth. That has to be done by the Union Workers at the convention center. They had signed for the books when they were delivered, but 500 book disappeared between the loading dock and the booth. I stopped dead and looked at Joe and Traci who had just joined us “Holy sweet fuck… what are we going to do??!?!?” We had 4 boxes of the signed, numbered, limited edition. 4 books to a box. 16 books. 500 missing. A line of 100 Not Happy fans, and I Am Not Jesus. I cannot make 16 limited editions into 500 regular books. Oh yeah, and the tickets for the signing… those are lost too.
At this point we figured, “ok, we’ve got a problem today… we’ll find the books by tomorrow, so we need to just get through preview night.” In order to deal with the short-term delay, we made a deal for those who wanted to get in to the signing and who had waited in line for the Preview Night allocation of slots, but did not want to drop $150 on one of the few signed, number limited editions. We’d sell them one of the prints at $35… same price as the Softcover book, I would sign the back of their badge (because trust me, my signature is… unique) and when the books arrived, they could get a softcover edition, plus keep the print for putting up with the hassle, or they could give us $15 and “upsell to the hardcover” while still keeping the print. We’d eat the loss on almost 100 prints that night, but it would be ok. The fans would be taken care of, the books would be here tomorrow, and it’d just be a “minor bump”.
The books were nowhere to be found by Thursday. At 4:45 pm, Traci, Joe, and Eric and I decided that we couldn’t be sure the books would show up in time, so we’d have to order an emergency overnight drop ship of 300 books… 200 softcovers, 100 hardcover.
think about this…
EACH book weighs 7 pounds for the softcover. almost 13 pounds in hardcover. It is HEAVY. A fan sen me a picture where she broke her foot by dropping the book on it! We’ve just literally ordered a ton of books be delivered via FedEx overnight. We didn’t have a choice… we had to have the books. I didn’t sit down to do the math because, frankly, I was already in rocket-powered “JesusFuckingChrist” panic mode, but even without doing the math I knew this would be Very Very Bad and Very Very Expensive and it meant the project as a whole… and every creator on the book… would not make the money we had expected. We made the order. We hoped the books would show up by Friday. We took the loss and tried our best to deal with the hours of Very Annoyed Fans on Thursday.
Friday was a “rinse, repeat”. More angry fans, more badges signed. Finally, at 5pm, the books arrived, and we all breathed a bit. The creators could actually sign their stories instead of a print they didn’t draw. We could sell the damn thing we’d all been busting ass on like crazy people for the last 4-6 months.
Saturday was panel day.
The last time prior to this that I had been on a panel was… let’s say 92-ish? (I can’t be sure of the exact year) Right after SDCC had moved to the new convention center. I was on a panel with John Romita Jr., Matt Wagner, Reed Waller, and Kate Worley on the “Depiction of Drug Use in Comics”. Getting to the panel on time was VERY easy… there were no crazy crowds to navigate through, and even with JR JR being in his post-X-Men prime, the audience had maybe 200 people in it max. It was a good sized panel, active discussion, funny, but it was not in any way shape or form “hectic”.
For Comic Book Tattoo, we were a “featured panel”. Tori was flying in, we had five of the creators, myself and Douglas Wolk serving as moderator. We’d have a 45 minute break between the end of the panel and the beginning of the signing session that was scheduled for one hour, in which 12 interviews were scheduled with everyone from CBR to Time Magazine to SPIN and MSNBC. It was a Very Different Beast. We had a room at the Marriott next to the convention center to prep, dress, and get ready for the panel. Being that I still smoked at the time, I spent most of the hour leading up to the panel chain smoking and slamming down as much Pepsi Max as I could. 20 minutes before the panel, the “Escort” arrived.
For “High Profile” guests, there is a guard/escort to and from all events. This was a newsflash and a half to me. Four large men showed up at the hotel room. they surrounded myself, Tori, her manager and assistant manager, and guided us down the hall to the elevator, checked the elevator to make sure it was “clear”, took us down to a service floor, and then checked the area immediately outside the elevator to make sure that it was “clear”. As weird as this was, it just got weirder with each passing second.
We went, fully flanked by security, through a series of service halls and tunnels, up a service elevator to a back area of the convention center I wasn’t even aware existed… the whole thing felt very “Special Ops” and again… weirder and weirder by the second. We were finally taken into a “special green room” for the featured panels, deposited there and told to wait until they got us. If we needed to use the bathroom, one of the security detail would accompany us and make sure the bathroom was “clear”.
Did I mention this was getting weirder and weirder?
In the Green Room I look around and 5 feet away is Hugh Jackman, a few feet over is Lena Headley and Summer Glau (who were appearing at the time in the Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles). Tori knew Lena and they started chatting. I nodded to Hugh and again for the 400th time thought What… the… fuck… I’ve worked in entertainment for almost 30 years, going back to doing my first storyboard gig for a feature when I was 16 years old. I don’t get starstruck, or awed by “celebrity”. To me, they are just people that Do The Work. This whole situation, though… it was damn weird.
Finally, the security detail grabs us, we get into formation with the other panelists, and we’re moving. Fast. We go back behind two black curtains, and Douglas Wolk starts introducing everyone, and the panel is off and going. The presentation part goes very well, Tori and I picked the panel participants based on who we thought would be able to provide the perfect mix of creative insight with comedy and banter, and the mix was really good. Ted McKeever, David Mack, Elizabeth Purvis-Genco and Kelly Sue DeConnick riffed on the themes and the process with clarity, charm and humor. When we got to the Q & A portion, one of the audience members asked Tori what comics she liked reading now. She didn’t hear the question and it was repeated… Tori leaned over to me and asked “what’s the name of the crazy Surreal Time Spy comic…?” I whispered back “Casanova”, which she nodded, then repeated to the audience. The panel concluded after some more Q & A, including a funny bit about the The Joys of Swearing… (which starts around 3:20)
and we were done.
for those of you who might be living under a Comic book rock for the last 5 years, Casanova is the Brainchild of Matt Fraction with brain-ripping art by the very talented twins Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. It is quite simply put, one of those aforementioned comics that kicked my ass into actually getting back into comics again. Matt also happens to be married to Kelly Sue DeConnick… the only person besides myself who wrote two stories for Comic Book Tattoo, and who was on the panel.
Matt was in the audience for the panel, and as the security phalanx moved us out, Matt quickly came over to give Kelly Sue a hug and to tell Tori a simple “thank you” for mentioning Casanova. He wasn’t trying to have a big conversation, or have a pow-wow that would have slowed us down… he was simply trying (because Matt is truly Good People) to acknowledge his thanks. Instead, the security detail threw up and arm, blocked him from even getting close, even though I was insisting “it’s ok, he’s…” and they hustled us off before the exchange could be completed.
And it may seem naive, it may seem petty, it may seem misguided… but that moment… that was the one that “broke” SDCC for me.
I’m not kissing ass here when I say that Matt is simply put one of the best 5 comic writers in the business today. He’s helped redefine comics in both the indie and mainstream worlds, and (IMNECTHO), you would not have the Iron Man film series as it exists if not for Matt’s riffs on the character. I have lifelong friendships that endure to this day that occurred because of random moments like the simple act of grace and courtesy Matt was attempting, and the possibility of moments like that… new friendships, new connections, new inspirations… in that moment it was very painfully clear, SDCC could not allow for them any longer.
Now, mind you… I say that, having been through the logistical hell involved in just one “mid sized event” at SDCC that I entirely understand why it has to be that way. The show is Too Big. There is simply Too Much Going On at any given moment, and with the massive number of “non comic celebs” that attend the show, the logistics and security HAVE to be run at this level.
But the part of me that went to his first show in 1987… the part that made friends, and contacts, and a life in this business through those casual encounters and happenstance moments… that part feels an incredible sense of loss. A sense of loss for myself, and for my daughters who love comics and writing and want to make their own. For the generation “trying to break in now”. I’m well aware that change is constant, and conventions rarely reach a level of sustained homeostasis. They either expand and explode, or they wither and die. It doesn’t make the aspects lost any less sad.
I’ll always love SDCC. It gave so much to me, in so many ways. But I mourn it at the same time, as that show no longer exists.