Archive for the ‘Comic Market’Category

Here’s the Thing – Sexism, Women, & the Comic Biz

Today brought another round of discussion on Twitter about “the issues women have in comics.” Because I have four daughters who love comics and have attended SDCC since they were five, and because they want to be comic creators, I lamented…

“I’ve always been vexed & annoyed about the treatment of women in the comic biz, but now… having 4 daughters, it flat out pisses me off…”

This set off a chain discussion on how bad it really is in comics for women and girls compared to other industries.

Which lead to this post.  Now, in case you haven’t put 2 and 2 together, I’m a straight white American male. While my life has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, I’ve always been acutely aware of the advantages that are present and available to me because of genetics and geolocation.  I don’t feel guilty about this fact, but I’ve always felt distinctly uncomfortable when I’ve been in situations where “guys talk shit”.  This was true in high school in the 80s when guys would insult other guys by calling them “fag”. It was true when I was in college in the 90s and guys would call a female co-worker a “slutty whore”.  It’s still true today.

I’ve been working in comics professionally since 1989.  On the positive side, there are more visible female comic creators in this business than anyone thought likely or possible “back in the day”.  On the negative side, many still have to put up with the kind of crap that was part and parcel of being one of the scant female creators in comics back in the 80’s.

The other thing I’ve seen over the last 25 years? The thing that remains as true today as it was back then?

You cannot make surface assumptions on who’s “safe” or trustworthy, because it’s frequently not who you’d expect.

Example I:

In the early 90s, I went to a fairly well known comic creator’s place for a week to join a group of “rookies” in doing a marathon session to help pencil, ink, and color 24 pages in 5 days.  The mix was 3 guys and 2 girls (in addition to the aforementioned comic creator).

Said comic creator was “known” for having “progressive” ideas about female creators… that they were just as good as men, that there needed to be more of them in comics, that they needed to not put up with shit from men… and the fact that there were 2 women on the team seemed to reinforce that.  As someone who had looked up to this creator for years, it was inspiring to see someone bucking the trend, putting his money (he paid all of us) where his mouth was.  As a group, we stayed up making comics most of the 5 days, catnapping for a couple hours, coffee on constantly, loud music, laughter. It made me think, at multiple points, “this is awesome!”  The book got done, and the Comic Creator took us to a sauna/spa for drinks and “to unwind”.

I can’t speak for the two women, but I was certainly a bit uncomfortable when we got there and I realized “Oh, we’re all going to be in this hot tub… together… naked?!”  Everyone else stripped down without hesitation, hopped in, started drinking and BSing.  I convinced myself I was being “uptight”, and stripped down hopped in, grabbed a beer and tried to not feel too self-conscious.

That ended when said comic creator lifted himself out of the hot tub with an erection, and looked back and forth between the two women before asking “OK, who’s gonna help daddy out?

My reaction was a simple and loud “What the fuck?!? Dude… what the?!?” as I scrambled out of the tub, grabbing at my clothes, determined to get away from this situation as fast as possible.  The Comic Creator lowered himself back into the tub, laughing it off saying “it’s a joke, kid lighten up!” insisting I mellow out and get back in the tub.  I didn’t.  I was too freaked out… I kept feeling like “I’m an idiot, I thought we were a team, that we were all ‘bonding’ over comics, but…

It was a January in Seattle, I had pulled my clothes on over my wet skin, not even stopping to dry off, and I walked to the bus station (a good 3+ miles) and went home, cold and wet and freaked as hell.  The entire 8 hour ride back I beat myself up… “The women didn’t seem bothered by it, why did you get freaked out?  You overreacted, you’ll never get another chance to work on…” Those feelings got reinforced when I didn’t get paid for the work. Further compounding the self loathing and confusion was the moment I ran into one of the women a couple years later and her first question was “why did you freak out and run off?

Example II:

Dave Sim.

Now, immediately, I know a huge number of people reading this are thinking “Oh HO! What did Dave do?!” Expecting the worst.

In ’92 Dave was doing a US Tour for Cerebus, and my friend Randy and I were helping him organize the Seattle stop.  There ended up being a scheduling conflict, and the majority of the retailers at what was supposed to be a “one day con” bailed in order to go to Vancouver or Olympia for some event where a couple of the newly launched Image creators were appearing.  Dave responded by telling us “Let every creator in the area know that they have a table for free, get the word out, fuck having 20 guys selling back issues, let’s just make it about the creators” Dave did that even though it meant he’d eat most of the cost of the ballroom that was being rented for the show.

So the show goes off with a number of local indie creators in attendance.  There’s maybe 100-200 people that show up to check it out at most. Not completely a ghost town, but not bustling either.  The end result was that Dave and every creator there ended up spending a LOT of time with each person who had something to sign. A lot of original sketches got done. No one was making money, but it was genuinely enjoyable.  I was sitting next to Dave when this girl approached with a portfolio under one arm. She was in her early 20s, blonde, and looked like a model. It’s no exaggeration to say that she was stunning.  She walked up, and asked Dave, glancing occasionally to me and Randy, “I want to be a comic artist… I love comics, can you tell me what I should do?”  Dave and I looked at each other for a moment, expressions blank… knowing all too well what a dozen comic editors would say at that moment… before Dave said to me “Tell her what NOT to do, and I’ll look at her art”  She looked puzzled for a minute until I started talking…

Don’t go to a ‘meeting’ alone in an editor, writer or artist’s hotel room, don’t go out ‘for drinks’ with the just the two of you so you can ‘discuss opportunities’, don’t go over to his house alone so he can ‘show you the proper technique’…” I kept going on, and on, and on as Dave flipped through her portfolio, chiming in with the occasional addition, such as, “Remember it is ‘not the way it gets done’ no matter what any dirty old man tells you.

After I’d gone on for a while, Dave started critiquing her work.  It was OK, definitely in the “beginner” category.  The classic stage of “Keep at it for two years and do these kinds of things, and maybe you’ll be ready.”  He wasn’t mean about it, he gave very specific, helpful advice, and told her before she left “If you want to make comics, make sure you’re doing it your way.”  I don’t know her name, I don’t know if she followed through and stuck with it.

Driving back the next day, Randy… one of the few people who knows about the hot tub story… said to me “You know, everyone thinks that one Comic Creator is such a nice-guy feminist, and Dave is such a sexist misogynist, but…” and I said something like…

Yeah, but fucking actions tell all.

 

Here’s the Thing – Part 3 (Thought about SDCC)

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

So, then…

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.

Panic.

Think.

Improvise.

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.

Now…

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.

Now…

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.

Now…

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.

Here’s the Thing – Part 2 (Thoughts about San Diego Comic-Con)

Continuing on the relationship I have to San Diego Comic-Con, which I started writing about yesterday. Trying to explain the mixed and somewhat conflicted feelings I have towards the show.  In the last entry i talked about the first time I attended in 1987.  I won’t cover every year… we’d be here too damn long, it’d be even more rambling and pointless than my writing usually leans towards, and it wouldn’t hit the 3 ‘notes” that I want to… like Gregorian Bells ringing out… either to announce Mass, or Funerary service, or perhaps a baptism.

 

So, then…

 

After the debacle of SDCC 1987, specifically my throwing away my job because I was so. goddamn. sure. I was going to work in comics, I did a move that actually displayed some degree of sanity.  I decided I “needed to work on it”, and so my intention was to go the the Kubert School in NJ.  I had missed admission for the upcoming academic year, but I moved back to Washington State, camping out at my Mom’s house, and proceeded to work on samples, and comics and drawings.  Trying to write stories, trying to draw stories.  Sucking very badly at the beginning.  getting a little better here and there. Bit by bit.  I had the advantage that it was the 80′s and the Black and White small press explosion was in full effect.  You did short 4-8 pages for companies like Innovation, or Eternity or Calibre, and you knew it was “small time” because those anthologies only sold around 40-60k copies each, which meant you only made around $2-4k for your crappy little Black and White story, but it was learning, and you were getting paid.

 

(and yes kids, the irony is completely dripping off of that previous paragraph)

 

Roy had gotten hooked up with a guy who put out Kung Fu magazines, and who decided that since this comic book thing was taking off, he wanted in on it, so Roy and I ended up editing Tales of the Ninja Warriors, Tales of the Kung Fu Warriors, and… inexplicably… a skateboard-themed comic called SHRED.  Neither Roy or I skateboarded. Neither one of us knew crap about martial arts. Didn’t matter. Each month we were doing 16-24 pages of comics across three different books.  we used our editorial position to get friends some of their first gigs, and to hire people that we admired or dug (since the book actually paid a page rate).  Getting Ted McKeever, pre-Plastic Forks to do the cover for Shred #1. Getting Bernie Mireault to ink my pencils for Street Rott… these were golden moments for us, and I found myself drawn more and more to the “stories about the people”.  The struggles of “normal humans” were the stories that I was becoming obsessed with drawing and writing, and the Spandex Overblown of the pre-Image-exodus Marvel just struck me as cold.  I was becoming an Indie-nerd when it came to comics, and by that point I was smart enough to know that if I didn’t have a “real job”, then I couldn’t do the kinds of comics I wanted to do.

 

In summer of 1990, I asked a couple of friends from when i had lived in LA back in 86-87, Andrew Brandou and Tori Amos, if I could “couch crash” for a couple weeks at each of their places while I tried to line up a steady storyboarding gig either in animation or on Rock Videos.  They were incredibly giving and helpful and said “come on down!”

 

May turned into June, turned into July, and I hadn’t found a gig.  Klasky Csupo said I wasn’t “quite right” for storyboarding the Simpsons.  There were some rock videos for Marty Callner here and there with the Scorpions and Aerosmith, but nothing steady, and my finances had fast reached the point where I would have to make a choice of fish or cut bait.

 

I decided to go back to school. This time, I’d go to a “real” four year college. Get a full degree, maybe a Masters degree and teach while I made my comics.  Because at that point, that was the motivation… i just wanted to make the comics. I wanted to tell people stories. I wanted to make them laugh or make them cry, or fear, or love.  I wanted to reach out and say “hey… this is what being human is, don’t you think?”  I registered for WSU in Pullman, Washington and would head back a couple weeks after Andrew and I went down for SDCC that year.

 

Now…

 

Over that 3 month period of job hunting, I had basically been camped out on Tori’s couch.  It was one of the hottest summers in decades, and her apartment had NO AC, so she and then-boyfriend Eric Rosse had ensconced themselves up at his climate controlled place in Tarzana while they worked on new tracks, trying desperately to produce some 11th hour miracle songs that would get Atlantic to agree to put out the incredible music she’d been working on for the last two years.  During the days, Andrew and I would drive to Hi De Ho comics in Santa Monica or Golden Apple, and I’d pick up issues of Grendel, or Sandman, or Taboo, or Beanworld, or try to complete my back issue hunt for issues of Cerebus.  These expeditions… multiple times a week… resulted in 12 stacks, 3 feet high, of comics and graphic novels, neatly arranged around Tori’s apartment, like monoliths.

 

One evening Tori came by to pick up some stuff, and was stunned at the stacks of comics.  She wasn’t a comic reader, had no interest in them, but she asked “OK, so if I was going to read ONE of these, what should I read?”  I thought for a second, knew the frustration she and Eric had been going through with the new songs, and handed her issue #17 of The Sandman. “Calliope”.  She sat down on the couch, I went back to sweating over color and line samples for an animation company. A few minutes later, she’s looking at me wide-eyed… “Do you have MORE of these?!”  Within hours she had all of the single issues I had with me, plus one of the trades, and was on her way back to Eric’s.  I was stoked that I had gotten a friend to like A comic book.  The first step is always the hardest…

 

A week later, Tori showed up at the apartment with a tape with 5 new songs.  She asked if I wanted to hear them.  I said of course, and the notes rolled out… blue shiver of something undefinable as I heard her tell someone goodbye by saying “If you need me, me and Neil’ll be hanging out with the Dream King. (Neil says hi by the way…” I might have cried. I know I shuddered.  I told her “this is GOLD. This is AMAZING.”  She wasn’t sure, but I knew, good god I knew.  She left the tape.  SDCC was the next week.

 

And Mr. Neil Gaiman… he was going to be a guest.

 

I didn’t tell Tori I was taking the tape. I certainly did not tell her I was going to give it to Neil.

 

Andrew and I had, for the last few years, been putting together an annual mini-comic called “OUCH!” that contained two 8 page stories, where we would each draw the story the other wrote.  Each year there would be a “theme”, and other than that, it was wide-open crazytime.  We’d “release” these each year at a room party held at the Hotel San Diego… a fleabag dive that cost $32 per night for the two of us. No AC, roaches the size of Texas… and usually the day before the party we’d hand out flyers to pros we admired or knew to try and get them to come to our sketchy dive of a party.

 

THIS was social networking in caveman years.

 

Once at SDCC, we located the Spiderbaby Grafix booth, where Neil was signing with Michael Zulli for their adaptation of Sweeney Todd that was being serialized in Taboo. Clive Barker and Steve Bissette were there as well to promote the adaptation of Rawhead Rex.  I waited in line to see Neil… only 8 or 9 people deep, but to this date it is the ONLY time I have waited in line to see someone… and when I finally got to the front, I shambled and rambled and muttered about the release party, giving him a flyer and wouldn’titbegreatifhecouldcomebutdon’tfeellikeyouhaveto, and I finally gave him the cassette with Tear in Your Hand, Precious Things, Little Earthquakes and a couple other songs on it, telling him “This is a friend of mine… she’s got a label deal so she’s actually ‘real’… she sings about you and she loves Sandman, please don’t sue her!”

 

Neil did the patented “Curious Neil” headcock, not unlike that of a Westie or Scottie dog, grinned and said “OK”, and I moved down the line to Mike Zulli.  I stopped, and Mike looked a bit startled.  Most people in line went from Neil, then exited, not bothering to stop, but I loved the Puma Blues.  The last few issues were MAGIC and dear god I wanted to be able to create stories like that.  I asked Mike if he was doing sketches, and he said yes, what did I want.  I told him “please draw what YOU want, what would make you happy.” He sat back a bit, looked a bit surprised, then happy, then drew the most beautiful Puma in ink and colored pencil and chalk for me and it’s still one of my favorite pieces of art I’ve ever gotten.

 

Two booths down from Spiderbaby was TSR, who had decided to get into comics, and were doing “theme” lines… horror, Sci Fi, Fantasy, etc. with games in the back of each issue. Roger Silfer was running the place and saw my portfolio and called me over.  I went. This time no Eeyore Presence.  I’d been published enough times that I knew I could do comics. Maybe I wasn’t great, but I didn’t suck complete ass. I wasn’t a “plumber”.  He really liked my stuff, wanted to hire me to do 4 issues… I’d be working with Doug Moench as the writer and my editor would be Steve Gerber.  Two of my favorite comics of ALL time are Howard the Duck and the Moench/Sienkevitch run on Moon Knight. So, being told “hey we want to pay you a page rate to work with these two” out of the blue, with no warning… that was some kind of small, wonderful treasure stumbled upon.  We could go home and not even have the party that night, because it couldn’t possibly get better.

 

Oh, but it did.

 

Andrew and I expected maybe 5-6 people to show up to that year’s “OUCH! Release Party”

 

Maybe.

 

Instead, by 10pm, the one 20 x 10 foot room was packed with dozens of people, and dozens lined out into the hall.  The room fridge had broken, there was no AC, two of the three windows had been painted shut.  It mattered not in the least.  It was a Great Time.  Neil had come along, telling pretty much EVERYONE over the course of the day about “this interesting party”, so Bob Schreck, Neil, Kate Worley, Heidi MacDonald, Pia Guerra (at her FIRST SDCC), Reed Waller, Derek McCulloch, Mike Dringenberg, Chip Mosher, and dozens of others came in, did drawings, shot the shit. Got to know each other.  Friendships were formed that night that last to this day.
 
Wasters

Neil & I argue dead mystics over warm beer


 
At one point, Neil and I sat on one of the beds, sweating our damn asses off, drinking warm Miller Beer, arguing the relative merits or the writing of Aliester Crowley.  There was the infamous “shirt swap” (A story I’ll leave up to Neil to tell).  At 3 or 4am, the last of the folks petered out and it became one of those parties that, again… to this day… has become one of those “oh, holy shit you were there too?!” events at SDCC. An event that happened because I handed someone a tape and a flyer to a party for a minicomic no one knew of.

 

That was 1990…

 

Part 3 to come…

Here’s the Thing – Part 1 (Thoughts on the San Diego Comic-Con)

Here’s the Thing…

I’ve had more than a few people over the last handful of years ask me the question:

What do you think about the San Diego Comic-Con?

The frequency of this question has only increased over the last couple of years since I and the wife  and the comic-con-loving daughters have moved down to San Diego.  Kids at school find out that the girls get in because their Dad is a “pro”, and invariably at some point I have a parent or two asking “how do I get tickets?” What’s the secret?”  I tell these people “The secret is run. Run far. Run fast. Run the fuck AWAY! Odds of you getting tickets are stacked against you, it’s too expensive, and you will find yourself more miserable in a short period of time than you ever thought possible!

(or, a more-polite, parentally acceptable version of the above.)

That response, to both casual acquaintances, and to fellow pros and long-time SDCC fellow attendees is a reflexive response at this point. I don’t even think twice about saying it, or some variant of it
(with embossed foil cover, sold two weeks later on eBay at a 400% markup, no doubt)

The truth, however… the truth is a bit more complex. A little more… melancholy and regret.

I first went to Comic-Con back in 1987, when it was in the old Civic Center building.  The building is still there. Walk up Front Street to 1st Ave if you want to see it, and marvel at the fact that… that year, in 1987, they broke convention records by having 40,000 attendees.  I had driven down with my then-art school classmate, Roy Burdine, because we had seen an ad in the Comic Buyer’s Guide. A FULL PAGE ad that had Captain America pointing his finger straight at you saying “MARVEL COMICS WANTS YOU!“, followed by the fact that Marvel would be looking for new artists, new writers, new inkers and letterers at the Con.  Roy and I looked at each other for about 3 seconds (if that) then got to work on creating a Deathlok story… a 4 page short that basically riffed on the moment between Frankenstein & the Little Girl in the classic Universal Film.  We had no idea what we were doing, this being pre-internet, and managed to produced 4 pages that… in MY mind… were awesome.  They certainly were impressive considering i had never in my life tried to create a professional comic before.  Being that I had sound judgment, and a good head on my shoulders, I quit my job the week before the con, and Roy and I made the drive from downtown LA to San Diego. Paid the $10 for the weekend pass (registering on the spot) and I made a beeline for the Marvel Booth.

I say booth, but at the time, the Marvel booth was four folding tables, arranged in a box, no background, no table skirt. Some comics and posters scattered here and there. If you saw such a table in Small Press Alley today at any convention, big or small, you’d immediately dismiss them as being a shoddy operation.  At that time, at that place, the Marvel “booth” was PLUSH. They had an enclosed space people could not walk behind them while they sat at their table.

I, obviously, had to be a part of this.

Now, as we’ve determined, I had a good solid head on my shoulders. Which is why i made a beeline to the Marvel table, identified the man who was the Editor in Chief at the time, slapped the portfolio with the illustration board samples in it on the table, stuck out my hand and said:

“Hi, I’m Rantz Hoseley, your new inker!”

The EiC raised an eyebrow, and looked at me, looked around to see if someone was fucking with him… this long-haired rocker-looking kid grinning at him couldn’t be real, right?… then once he figured out that it was indeed “for real”, he slowly started going through the pages.

It took him about 5 minutes, he cocked his head and looked at me with a wry grin and said “Sorry, Can’t use you.”

I stood there, A flood of cold ice pouring down my back, feeling as if I’d been delivered a death sentence. “But… is… uh… could I… uh… do you have a place for interns or anything?!?  I can…” He waved his hand, making it very clear the discussion was done. “Kid, trust me, go be a plumber. What you got there? you should be a plumber!”

Roy muttered something along the line of “holy fuck” as I turned from the table an aimlessly walked through the hall. I had NO reason to stay there.
Now, understand, I’d dreamed of being involved in comics since I was in 2nd grade. Since I figured out… hey, there are people that do this for a living. Marvel was, up to that point… the pinnacle. What the fuck was i going to do?! What worth did I have?  None. Not a bit. I’d completely and utterly failed. Done.

I’m wandering like a gutshot soldier.  Not quite dead yet. But numb and knowing death is coming. It’ll be here any minute, when a lanky guy from behind a different table a few rows over calls out “Kid! Hey, Kid! C’mere!”  I wander over, notice that the hand-lettered sign says they are “Dark Horse Comics” I’ve read The first 3 issues of Dark Horse Presents. I’ve read the one issue they’ve put out of Concrete… one of the weirdest comics I’d ever seen aside from the Flaming Carrot… so I know it’s a “real” company, if a small one.  The lanky guy grins, sticks out his hand “I’m Randy, you’re an artist? We need an artist to help us finish up a book, let me see your stuff.”

I manage to somehow not cry but tell him in my Very Best Eeyore that I’m NOT an artist. The EiC at Marvel said I should be a plumber.  Randy waves the assessment off telling me to ignore that asshole, insists on seeing my stuff.  So I show him.  He spends almost 20 minutes going over the pages, then looks at me, nods, and says “Look, you’re not ready yet, but there’s something there.  I’m not an artist, but you need to work on things like line weight and spotting blacks…”

He pauses and calls over Michael T. Gilbert to get his input. They both nod and point to areas where I’m off in the weeds, but just as often pointing to things I inadvertently did right. Mike takes a brush pen, the first i had ever seen, and in 2 minutes does a sketch of me standing there, that is all gesture, not detail, but INSTANTLY nails the scene, the setting, the characters, the depth of the environment. It was like living in a Black and White world for your entire life then discovering hey kid, there’s this thing called color…

Randy Stradley then apologizes for not having business cards yet, but proceeds to write the office address and phone number down on a piece of paper for me, and tells me to stay in touch.
I believe him when he says it.

Roy and I wandered, dazed out into the main lobby. Sitting on a bench, talking about what a fucked up deal that was with Marvel, what a horrible ass I had been, and how incredibly cool Dark Horse was (From that day on, I have been an Evangelist for Dark Horse, and even did some little work for them back in the 90s).

As we sat there, with the few purchases we’d made, within rapid succession, I saw Jack Kirby come around the corner with Roz. Roy and I both bolted upright like soldiers in the presence of a general. He shook our hands, said hello, talked to us briefly about comics and art and the ups and downs. “You love it? Yeah? You keep fighting. Remember that” Kirby said and Roz led him off.

That was just the first year I went.
1987.