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.