I just spent the best weekend with the love of my life and a handful of my childhood heroes, and I only have a couple pictures to show for it, most of which were taken after the fact. You can stop scratching your heads, I’ll explain.
This past weekend marked the 25th birthday of my best friend and fiancée Laura Tanner. To commemorate, headed down to Novi, MI to the Motor City Comic Con, bi-annual Mecca of comic books, bootleg movies, sci fi toys, anime and manga surplus and plenty of celebrities from movies, television and the cartooning field.
In preparation of meeting my pop culture heroes, I had drawn caricatures of some of the celebrities, one copy as a gift for the celeb and one to get autographed for myself. Amongst those I drew and met were:
Legendary character actor Robert Picardo!
Picardo has starred in some of my favorite sci fi and horror films, such as The Howling (as Eddie Quist), and Legend (as Meg Mucklebones), so I drew his caricature below with him flanked by some of his screen personas.
Picardo was a nice enough guy, but it was obvious that he was there for his Star Trek fans more than he was for us old school guys who knew him before he joined Star Trek Voyager. Our brief encounter felt really rushed, so I didn’t try to get my photo taken with him. Still, he genuinely seemed to enjoy the caricature and autographed it for me. That’s still pretty cool.
I also met veteran voice actor Billy West, seen below in a great photo with Laura and I at the con!
In Billy’s caricature, I drew the man with three of his most famous characters, Stimpy, Doug and Fry. But I also tried to make a statement about how A list celebrities (such as Bruce Willis and others) are stealing work away from professional cartoon voice actors because studios can bank on a celeb’s name to sell their cartoon. I knew West shared my disdain for “Movie star” voice casting, so I figured he’d enjoy this piece. I was right.
Billy was the nicest and most real celeb I’ve ever met. He really took the time to talk with Laura and I, answered our questions, asked questions of us. And he gave me some great advice. After receiving the caricature, he says to me, “Are you humble about your work?” To which I shrugged and nodded. He told me that, essentially, you can't be afraid to have an ego. If you come across as loud and confident you may inspire others who look up to you and your work. His own story of overcoming adversity and accomplishing his dreams is tragic and inspiring, and I feel very lucky to have shared a moment with such an incredible guy.
Possibly the greatest experience I had at the con, though, was meeting cartoonist Sergio Aragones (NOTE: This photo is from another con Sergio attended. I regret not getting my photo with him when I had the chance. But I will correct this one day…).
In my youth, the man entertained and inspired me with his cartoons in Mad Magazine and with his comic book barbarian Groo the Wanderer. Through Groo in particular, Sergio taught me how to fill my drawings with minute detail, how to create simple yet hilarious cartoon characters, and how to tell stories with such visual punch and appeal that they transcend all cultural and language barriers.
When I approached Sergio’s table, at best I’d hoped to get him to autograph my original 1987 print edition of “Death of Groo.” That would have been plenty cool. But I decided to go for broke and asked him if he’d be willing to do a sketch of two of my characters, Dead Duck and Zombie Chick. As I asked, I pulled out my Dead Duck portfolio featuring the duo in full color on the cover. Sergio, in the kindest and gentlest way possible, explained that he really didn’t do that sort of thing anymore, which I totally understood (Rumor had it his sketches were being hawked on E-bay rather than treasured as they should have been. I’d be hesitant to do sketches, too). However, he said he really wanted to look at my Dead Duck portfolio. As he slowly turned the pages, he began to laugh quite a bit, and couldn’t stop saying how much he liked my artwork, and also how cute he thought Zombie Chick was. He just loved her! He even did his impression of what he thought she would sound like if she actually spoke! We talked a bit about how there really isn’t a good outlet for humor in comic books these days, what sorts of pens he used (I touched the pen he draws with!!!), he threw in some advice about drawing backgrounds, and said how he thought Dead Duck and Zombie Chick would work best in color. All these things I took in as best as my fevered mind could manage. It was equivalent to a film student getting praise and advice from Orson Welles! Through it all, Sergio was warm, friendly, quick with a hearty laugh, and ended it all with the warmest two-fisted handshake I’ve ever had. It was like a hug, I swear to god. I want this man to be my godfather. Anyway, that was the all time greatest con moment I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot. Oh, and I should mention that as he autographed my comic book, Sergio still managed to draw me a quick sketch of Groo on the title page, which is just precious.
Much love, Sergio.
Another neat connection I made at the con was with Nathan Kane, the art director of Bongo Comics. Bongo is the comic book publishing house of Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons (and named after Groening’s one-eared bunny character from his Life In Hell comic strip). Bongo publishes comics about the Simpsons, as well as their second-tier characters, and Groening’s other major creation, Futurama. I showed Kane some of my artwork and asked him what I guy had to do to get work with Bongo. Kane immediately gave me his contact info and instructed me to send him my mailing address, and he’d send me a pencil test. What this is essentially is a hand-drawn audition to see if you’re good enough to draw the Simpsons. If I did well, I may land a gig drawing Groening’s brainchildren for Bongo comics. As of this writing, I’ve hastily sent off an e-mail to Kane to set the ball rolling and get the pencil test as soon as possible. If anything comes of it, you can bet you’ll read about it here.
The rest of the weekend was just a luxury, with Laura and I basking in the warm glow of comic books, expansive (and expensive) shopping malls and great fast food restaurants that you can’t find here in the tri-cities. It was a much-needed vacation that provided a richer bounty than I could have possibly imagined. I just had to share these wonderful moments with you guys because they were that special to me.