I'm back home from Wizard World Chicago (or Chicago Comic Con, as it was inexplicably re-named during our week-long stay). I'm unpacked, rested, and ready to share the tale of my first comic con as a professional, table-occupying cartoonist….
We left Ann Arbor around 10:20 am on Wednesday. We made the entire trip into Rosemont, IL in four hours, which I guess is good time. What mattered most to me was that we didn't get lost or turned around at all, which I attribute mostly to Laura's strong navigational skills, and partially to "The Music Man" soundtrack. We popped it into the player at the Indiana border, looking forward to hearing Robert Preston sing "Gary Indiana" as we passed by the city itself. It definitely calmed my nerves all the way to Rosemont. But even the much documented hell traffic that Chicago is known for wasn't as bad as I'd expected, with no jams or deadlock whatsoever.
We arrived at The Hilton Garden Inn in Des Plains, which is literally just around the corner from Rosemont, and not even a mile away from the convention center. Here's some shots of our hotel room (click on any photo to enlarge it)….
This was easily one of the nicest, cleanest hotel rooms we've ever stayed in, second only to our honeymoon at The Huron House, since we literally had that entire building to ourselves.
This was a king size bed that had those funky dials on the sides so you could control the firmness of your side of the mattress. I had my side set at uber-soft and slept veeeerrrrryyyy well.
This was the view outside our window. No, not particularly beautiful, but c'mon, who stays in a hotel based on the outside view? It's what's inside that counts. And what was inside our room was…
A digital widescreen TV, probably the closest I'll ever come to owning one. And given that we live in a cable-free world, having digital cable at our disposal was heaven on Earth for us.
The desk our room provided truly served as the perfect workstation for me. Despite what this photo depicts, I only used my own cell phone a couple times during our trip, but created some decent artwork here for the con and for friends.
We decided to stay in and rest up, so we ordered in food and watched "The Incredible Hulk" on HBO, which was a very cool and fitting way to begin our comic con experience.
Here's Laura, showing off the remains of our first night's dinner. I imagine it was blasphemous for us to have been in the suburbs of Chicago and to have ordered THIN CRUST pizza, but I didn't want to get too loaded down with cheese the night before the con opened.
After dinner I got the itch to draw, so I exorcised (and exercised) the demon by sketching Laura in bed watching TV.
The next day I woke up early, like a kid excited for Christmas, but also like a kid scared of the first day of school. Laura had to convince me to drive outside our hotel parking lot to grab breakfast at McDonalds (I was petrified of getting lost or winding up on an unfamiliar highway). Before departing to eat we took this quick shot in front of our hotel.
The con opened up at four that day (a preview night for advanced ticket holders) which gave us ample prep time.
Here we are, all washed up and presentable, preparing to hop on the hotel shuttle bus and ride over to the con at around 2:00, thinking we'd get an early start to set up.
Unfortunately, the shuttle was running a bit late, so we waited in the lobby. I was a nervous wreck, but Laura kept me sane, as always.
We finally arrived at the con, still with time to spare. Here I am standing in the artist registration line.
I would soon find out that the con didn't have badges for Laura and I, which would identify us as guest artists. Thankfully, our friends Katie Cook and her husband Ryan Wilcox (both old hands at comic cons since Katie's a professional cartoonist) were there to walk us through the process, and to encourage Laura to kick some ass on my behalf and make the con find our badges, which they eventually did. Katie has actually been kind enough to walk me through a lot of the ins and outs of our profession in the past few months. I'm very grateful to her for her advice and friendship.
It didn't take too long to set up our table, equipped with giveaways, pre-made art and other artistic bric-a-brac. My table neighbor to the right soon arrived, a quiet fella who I didn't recognize. As I was setting up my stuff, he turned to Laura and complimented my work, which was very nice of him. His own stuff was phenomenal, and it wasn't until the second or third day that Laura and I figured out this artist was Nathan Fox, who drew Dark Horses' "Pigeons From Hell", one of the scariest comics we'd ever read (and obviously loved). We soon after introduced ourselves and gushed over his brilliant work.
Here was the view from my table on the first night of the con.
I think what made my setup look the most professional was the incredible banner made for me by Devyn at ImPhotoGraphics. All I had to do was e-mail him an illustration, and within a week he sent me a banner so quick and easy to set up that even I could do it. Devyn showed up at the con with a copy of the art I sent him, and had me sign it. He's a wonderful guy, and I plan on sending more work his way in the coming year.
And speaking of wonderful guys, here's one of my best artist pals, Evan "Doc" Shaner...
...easily the most talented cartoonist I know who isn't currently drawing a book (that's a hint publishers--call him NOW!). Before the con, Evan and his wife Carla moved to Colorado, but he managed to fly out just for this con, and it truly made my week to be able to hang with my friend again.
And as wonderful guys go, the con was in no short supply. I've said before that I don't have make fans, I make friends. And at the top of that list is my pal Dave (you'll find I know a LOT of Daves). Dave was the first guy to commission a Zombie Chick piece from me over two years ago, before I was even hooked up to a publisher. He just believed in my work that much. In the years following, Dave commissioned me a few more times, and when this con came around, Dave just went commission crazy with me. He bought several of my "Pocketoons" (tiny drawings of popular characters) and commissioned a couple originals, such as this one of Power Girl having a costume malfunction.
In Dave's defense, he didn't specifically ask for her topless, and in my defense, she's practically topless to begin with, as seen here.
Dave's generosity reached new levels when he presented me with this gift:
This is the current sketchbook of animator Chris Sanders. Chris is the creator/director/designer of the Disney animated film "Lilo and Stitch", as well as Stitch's voice. Last year, Chris took the time to draw a pin-up of my character Zombie Chick to be included in my upcoming "Dead Duck" graphic novel. Chris had contacted me while putting his sketchbook together and asked my permission to include one of his preliminary sketches of Zombie Chick in it, which I happily allowed. And the payoff was that he mentioned me in the foreword of his book, and noted that drawing Zombie Chick was the first time he'd tried his hand at drawing someone else's character. I helped set a precedent for a famous cartoonist and got mentioned in his book! WOOHOO!!!! So Chris was giving these books out at San Diego Comic Con last month, and Dave, who was in attendance, was cool enough to grab me one. So Dave is now as cool as Chris Sanders, and believe me, that's pretty darn cool!
Here's Laura and I as we looked that first night.
Though I steadily grew more frazzled in appearance, Laura just got cuter as the days wore on.
This was one of the first commissions I got that night.
As Hellboy is my favorite comic book, this was obviously a lot of fun to do. Plus Laura says I did a great job, and that's all the assurance I need.
This was one of my favorite con attendees.
She was dressed as Walter Kovacs, alias Rorschach from Watchmen. In the slew of intricate and complicated costumes that I saw this week, hers was absolutely my favorite--so simple and so original.
At the end of that first night, with only a couple sales under my belt, I was a little disheartened, and hoped I could put on a better show the rest of the week. But dinner that night did much to raise my spirits, as I spent it with Laura and a load of artist friends: Evan Shaner, Kyle and Jason Latino, Katie Cook and her husband Ryan, David Petersen and his wife Julia and their niece, Emma and Tom Hodges. The highlight of the evening was finally meeting the uber-awesome Latino brothers, Kyle and Jason, face to face. Those guys are as talented as they are hilarious, and I hope we can wreak more artistic havoc together in the future.
I want to give special mention to David and Julia Petersen. Like Katie Cook, they've given me loads of advice and encouragement in the last few months, and helped me out so much during my first con appearance. I'll always appreciate their friendship and for looking out for me as I take my first steps in our profession.
However, that night brought some very sad news as well. John Hughes, writer and director of the movies "Breakfast Club", "Pretty in Pink", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", "Weird Science" and a host of others, died of a heart attack on August 6th, the first day of the con. Hughes' films give identity to teens in the 80's, and were the most poignant and hilarious reflections of society's youth ever put to film. That Hughes was from and based his films almost exclusively in and around Chicago made it seem eerily appropriate that I was in that town when I heard he was gone. Being a longtime fan of his work, I was pretty shook up about it, and made this small tribute to his passing, which I attached to my con badge and wore for the duration of the event.
Here I am at my table on day 2 of the con.
Work picked up a bit, and I got some interesting commissions. One of which came from a guy who cut a deal with me. If I agreed to draw for free any superhero of my choosing, but as a kind of food, he'd then commission me for a pricey drawing of Nightwing and The Huntress. Seemed like a good deal at the time, so by the next morning I had this piece completed:
It took the guy 'til the end of the day to make his way to my table, and I'd almost thought he'd stood me up. Despite the fact that he'd wanted me to draw the commish into his sketchbook, he was happy with the piece and said he'd see me first thing the next morning to have me draw the promised paid commish in his big sketchbook.
That day I was also reunited with the great Doug Jones, who was signing autographs for fans. I waited in line just to say hi, and thankfully he remembered me perfectly and gave me a big hug. He confirmed his mailing address so I could send him a copy of Dead Duck in November, and I left him to attend to his legions of fans. Oh, and a big ol' "Sorry" goes out to my pal Motz who asked me to get him Edward James Olmos' autograph. Regretfully, the $80 price tag attached to his signature was a wee too steep from where I stood.
I then headed over to the Ape Entertainment booth to help promote Dead Duck on their end. As it turned out, I was getting so many commissions at my table that I couldn't afford to be away from it for too long, and it was agreed that I could promote Dead Duck just as well at my table. With promotional fliers, buttons, bookmarks, a big-ass banner and lots and lots of my chatting up my creation, I know I sold the crap out of Dead Duck to people, and this con certainly helped me get off to a good start.
That night Laura and I went back to the hotel and just crashed. It was a much-needed breather from the chaos of the next two days.
The next day, the superhero food guy never showed up. I kept a weather eye open for him, and even had Laura seek him out on the con floor, but to no avail. So basically the guy screwed me out of $40 bucks and got a free full color drawing from me. I gradually began to accept my defeat, but swore I'd say something to the guy about it if he got within arm's reach of me. Here I am at my table looking ominous:
Here's a view of the con floor:
And here's Laura looking adorable as ever. She was the real key to bringing people to my table, little kids especially. She's pretty and friendly, while I pride myself on being friendly, but am decidedly less pretty and more like a bridge troll whom goats tend to flee from. Here we are together, which makes me cuter by association (I hope):
There were so many more friendly and interesting people at the con that I soon put the superhero food guy out of mind. There was a dad and his two little twin girls who bought artwork from me. The girls enjoyed creating their own comics, and it was a lot of fun to talk with them about it. I really admired their dad, a big comic fan, for taking his kids to the con and encouraging their interests, and made sure to tell him how rare and special that was. We also met a family from Canton, MI (just twenty minutes north east of Ann Arbor) who were wonderful to chat with. We talked about comics, the wife's experience as a children's book illustrator, and how much we enjoyed Canton (home of our favorite comic shop and our art supply dealer). They bought some of my Dark Crystal-themed art, which you can view here:
I have to say, I was so humbled and touched by the nice and fascinating people we met, con attendees as much as artists. The regular people who support our industry are typically friendly, shy, passionate and interesting to the nth degree. And they were all so nice to me that I wish I could have talked to all of them to a larger degree than my schedule would allow.
My friend Dave came back, bought some more artwork, and asked if I'd be willing to do some pro bono work: drawing two sketch cards for an artist friend of his. I was more than willing to contribute, and it was a lot of fun. Below are the cards themselves, and the reverse sides that I drew on:
At one point during the day, Laura jumped up, grabbed the camera, and started taking photos as if she saw the second coming of Jim Henson. As it turned out, Chewbacca had entered artist alley. Take a look at the photos below:
Now, I don't know if this was a fan in costume or perhaps the actual Chewbacca performer Peter Mayhew (he was in attendance, after all), but either way it was a damn cool costume and a damn tall Wookie. That, plus the blurriness of the photos Laura took gave the moment a cool Bigfoot sighting kinda vibe.
One of the most fun commissions I got was from my friend Ryan Wilcox (husband of Katie Cook) who had me draw him as a Jedi. Since I'm as old school a Star Wars fan as they come, it was a pleasure to do.
And certainly the most unique and heartfelt commission I did the whole week was for a gentleman who had a copy of "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk Jr., a book of the principle requirements for writing. Evidently it's a standard tome of knowledge for aspiring writers and has been since it was written in 1918. The man brought this book to me and, noticing that I hand letter all my comics, asked if I'd be willing to copy a quote from Henry David Thoreau onto the inside cover of the book for him. The man's son was going into college, and evidently had aspirations to be a comic book writer, so the father decided to give him this book and have a comic artist with decent penmanship inscribe the book in Thoreau's words. I was actually quite honored to be asked to take part in such a warm gesture of support to his son's dream. I was also proud due to the fact that so many cartoonists these days use digital fonts to letter their comics, whereas I've always hand lettered my stuff, and am quite proud of my penmanship. Anyway, it was just a really neat moment to be a part of.
Here's a cool Ghostbusters costume that Laura and I admired:
And here is one of the coolest moments for me at the con, my first face-to-face meeting with fellow artist Chad Porter.
Who is Chad Porter, you say? Well to me, he's a great artist, a well kept secret of talent that publishers would do well to unearth. But more importantly, Chad is the best friend I've made on Deviantart.com. We've spoken online constantly over the past two or three years, encouraging each other, counseling each other through moments of professional doubt, joking around and admiring each others' talent. And by coincidence, this particular con was not just my first con appearance but Chad's too, which was a great thing to share. So this was the first time I got to meet Chad in person, along with his lovely wife Sarah, and the guy was even cooler than I'd previously known. The fact that Chad is from Canada, Toronto specifically (my favorite city in the world that I've yet to visit) just raises his stock higher and higher with me. I know we've cemented a friendship that will blossom with much more hilarity and naughty drawings as time rolls on. Below is a wonderful Zombie Chick drawing Chad did for me. Such a great guy…!
That night, Laura and I met up with my old college friend Becky, her husband Phil and their con Cody for dinner at The Outback (the best meal of the whole trip, for certain). It was great to see them and to step away from the con chaos for another quick breather.
The last day of the con had its own brand of chaos, since we had to check out of our hotel, load up the car and still have everything we needed to throw into the hotel shuttle bus for the con that day. Here we are getting ready that morning.
Note my Jughead hat and Hellboy t-shirt, which prompted me to dub myself Hellhead or Jugboy.
Here was my table setup that last day.
I made a lot of sales that day, the best of which had to be this Scooby Doo commission:
A very nice guy asked me if I could draw the whole gang in some kind of funny scenario, and we agreed upon a price. When he came back, he decided he liked it so much that he wanted to pay me extra to color it. In the end, I made a good chunk of change for it, and he really liked what I'd done, which matters more to me than anything.
I also made a lot of purchases that last day. Among them:
This awesome Wonder Woman bust (no pun intended, but unavoidable all the same), which Laura searched out for me (Have I mentioned Wonder Woman is my favorite female superhero? Well she is). Laura also found me a cool Inhumans trade paperback that I was looking for.
And this comic...
Well, it wasn't the comic I was looking for, really--it was the artist. Frank Cho, creator of the comic book "Liberty Meadows" and a much sought after "sexy girl" artist, was in attendance. I wanted to meet him, thank him for his influence and give him a Dead Duck print as a gift. He was very cool to talk to, really seemed to like Dead Duck, and asked me about my career. I kept it short to as to not keep the fans piling up behind me, but I bought this autographed comic to commemorate meeting Frank. Very neat experience.
I bought this awesome noir-ish drawing of The Sandbaggers from Kyle Latino:
And I'm indebted to Jason Latino for introducing me to "Wolf at the Door", a Fantastic Four trade paperback that not only was as brilliant as he described it, but was also dirt cheap. Jason went the extra mile by running to the vendors and bringing me back a copy as I drew a commission. Now that, folks, is a true friend!
But my favorite art purchases came from Coran "Kizer" Stone. This was a gent who had a table directly across from mine. I peeked over from time to time to see what he was up to, but never thought to introduce myself. Then, on the last day of the con, Kizer put this gorgeous sketch of Hellgirl up on a tiny easel:
I immediately knew I had to have it, and he was selling it for five bucks! He deserved so much more for it, but not wanted to pass up a bargain, I had Laura run over and buy it for me. About another half hour passed as I bit my lip and fought the urge to commission Kizer again--and then gave into temptation. I bolted over to Kizer's table, introduced myself, gushed over his talent, and requested a Wonder Woman drawing, which he pulled out within ten minutes:
He walked it over to my table, and I was in absolute awe of his talent. We talked for a bit, he bought a couple pieces from my table, and we exchanged website info. Can't wait to talk more with him down the road!
As it turned out, the superhero food guy from days earlier finally made the mistake of browsing by the table to my left. I stood up and screamed out to the guy, saying I'd been looking for him. I took him to task, saying he broke our deal and never came back to have me draw the paid commission he'd promised. He started back peddling, and babbled out something about how the sketchbook he was going to have me draw it in was in the hands of another artist who was drawing in it, so unfortunately he couldn't get to me. There was little I could do about it, but he knew I was pissed. He apologized, and wisely got the hell away from me.
Still, one negative moment amongst a mass of great ones isn't enough to spoil such a great first con experience. Part of the fun I had was sharing art with friends like Evan Shaner. I gave him an original Bone drawing I did, and he gave me this cool drawing of the Thing:
Months prior to the con, Evan and I had some jam sessions where he drew one half of a cartoon and I drew the other. He brought the two most recent examples with him to the con:
Hellboy by Shaner and Nightcrawler by Fosgitt…
And Popeye by Fosgitt and Sub Mariner by Shaner…
The last con photo I took was of a purple remote controlled R2D2 hitting on the girl sitting across from us. That was a stone cold hoot!
By the day's end, we were absolutely beat. We packed up our wares, said our goodbyes to all the friends we knew and all the friends we made, and headed towards the con parking lot to be picked up by the hotel shuttle bus. However, one small item caught my eye, resulting in a last minute impulse buy:
Have I mentioned I'm a HUGE Hulk fan? Possibly my favorite superhero ever. I saw this bust and decided I had to get it. I was unintentionally smart in waiting 'til closing on the last day when the retailers were selling their merch at cut rates. I got this sexy baby for at least a $30.00 discount, one less thing for the retailers to box up and ship back to their shops. So you see, we both win!
So we boarded the shuttle bus, got to our car parked at the hotel, and had an extremely easy ride back home. Once we crossed the Michigan border, we found an A&W just off the highway and had our first real meal of the day (we'd survived on a backpack full of snacks and bottled water most of the week). We pulled into our parking lot around 11-ish, happy to see our cat Goonie (who'd been lovingly attended to by my aunt Karen during our absence), but not so happy to find our building's water turned off due to nighttime water main construction. Despite the construction, I was partly glad to be home. But more so, I was already missing the wonderful experience we'd just left behind in Rosemont. I hope to relive it to some degree at future cons, but I'll never forget that first wonderful adventure in Illinois…