Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Conning of Wonder 2014

Anaheim WonderCon, 2014

The weekend of the 18th through the 20th was an amazing, colorful, and inspirational time at the annual WonderCon comic book convention in Anaheim, California. there is a lot I would like to talk about, but for the sake of sanity and not dragging things out too long I'm going to try to condense things into two blog posts. In this post I'll talk about the highs and the few lows of each day, and I'll follow that up with a post featuring some of the photos of cosplayers I took during the convention.

That's what I meant to do, anyway. Oh well. I'll try to condense things a little more when I talk about Saturday and Sunday.

Leading up to WonderCon
In the days and weeks leading up to WonderCon I grew increasingly excited. When I attended in 2013, WonderCon changed my life. It was that WonderCon where, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I felt as though I were somewhere I belonged. I didn't have to pretend to be someone else to get approval, or behave in a certain way so that I could get a paycheck, I could just be. This year was about trying to recapture that feeling.

Friday, April 18th
One major difference between this year and last is I didn't have a six month old infant in the house and all the demands that go along with a baby. One of the joys of being the parent when one or more of your kids is still a baby is playing "sleep roulette." You never know when one of the young ones is going to wake up needing to be fed, or changed, or just because he decided it was play time. At 3:00 in the morning on the Friday of WonderCon my son decided it was a great time for that latter. He woke up and we did our usual thing. He got fed, and changed, and then I spent the next half hour trying to get him to go to sleep again. He was having none of it. He just grinned and sucked his fist in response to my bouncing, and pacing, and shushing. After half an hour of that I gave up and put him down on his play mat to squirm, and roll, and gnaw on things to his little heart's content. It wasn't until 4:30 that he finally started making the noises I associate with reaching "I'm tired now dammit!" and I was able to put him to bed. My night's sleep was completely shot. As a result instead of waking up early so I could be on the road no later than 7:30 or 8:00, I woke up at 8:00. As a thank you to my wife for letting me abandon her with the kids for three days (though I would be home in the evenings) I made breakfast that morning, so I didn't ultimately get on the road to Anaheim until after 9:00. If you ever been to a convention you know this basically means you're dooming yourself to waiting in an everlasting line just to get in the door.

The drive to Anaheim was mercifully easy. Part of that had to be that it was Friday at a time when most people are already at work for the day. Part of it had to be that it was also Good Friday. Once I arrived, the real fun started. The convention center had everyone arranged into four queues to get into the parking structure. The lines moved one car at a time as the car at the front paid at the booth and were allowed to go forward. That was the first line I had to get through. I flirted outrageously with the nice old lady in the parking attendant booth, paid for parking, and found a spot, but didn't pay much attention to where it was...which becomes important not much later.

After parking I made my way outside. Sure enough, the line to get in was the length of the convention center, wrapped down the block, and doubled back on itself. The line was for everyone. Professional guests like me and paid ticket holders alike. So I settled in for the "hurry up and wait" phase of my day. Keep in mind that in the absence of sleep everything I'm doing is fueled by coffee and determination. In this case I was lucky enough to be in line with people who were open to talking and joking and generally keeping things light while we waited. One of the people in line with me was a young woman (am I really old enough to use that without irony? shit.) named Tiffany who has her own business making Disney-themed custom merchandise. Her wares are available on the web through this site: She was a paid attendee. It may be just my opinion, but I think it possible that she has a better case for attending on a complimentary professional pass than some old geek who draws a silly little comic strip.

The line eventually moved inside and I split off from my fellow queue compatriots. I was there as a professional after all! Certainly the registration process would pay deference to my elevated status and move me and my fellow comics professionals through with an appropriate level of urgency. No. Professional registrations were divided into five or six queues based on last name, and mine happened to be the longest of the five or six queues for professional registration. Such is the price of having a last name near the beginning of the alphabet. If my last name were Zacharias I'd have been in and done in five minutes. As it was my Queue Compatriots passed me going in the other direction, their newly acquired passes dangling from lanyards around their necks.

Slow thought it might have been moving I did eventually make my way to the head of the professional line ending with the last name of "Cruz," and picked up both my passes and my two guest passes. From there I was directed into a third line where professionals and their guests were told to wait for entrance to the convention. I was in that line for maybe fifteen minutes before they let us onto the convention floor, a full fifteen minutes ahead of the regular attendees, whom I shall lovingly refer to as "rabble" (no, I won't, I just wanted to say "rabble").

When I began I had every noble intention of exercising some spending discipline. I was going to save my ducats, dammit! My money would not change hands until Sunday when the deals would be plentiful and the vendors desperate to unload stock so they wouldn't have to carry it back to the truck. No. Inside of the first half an hour I'd already spent $50, a third of my budget for the day. In the process, however, I did get to meet the very cool Justin White, AJ Herrera, and Andrea LaBartunek who were holding down the fort at the Forbidden Panel booth. I picked up three issues of their title Zombie Kill Squad and a great print of an
illustration of Maleficent. It came up that I have my little comic strip, and they asked to see it. I'll definitely be following up on that.

From there I made my way over to the area that, to me, is the whole reason for the convention in the first place. I'm speaking, of course, of that haven of talented dreamers and ambitious go-getters. I'm speaking of Artist's Alley. Maybe it's because WonderCon is smaller than Comic Con overall, but Artist's Alley at WonderCon felt like it was bigger, with more artists than the big summer convention. The less expensive booth fees for WonderCon probably have something to do with that.

My first stop was at the booth of Brianna Garcia, where I picked up a print of one of my favorite pieces of her work. It's kind of a silly thing with Rapunzel and Spider-Man, but it will go great in my daughter's room, and it's something she will appreciate more as she gets older. Brianna, for her part, was getting off to a rough start to the Con. She had lost her voice the day before (Thursday) and couldn't talk. I made some lame crack about communicating with semaphore as I waved my arms over my head. She was gracious enough not to charge extra for humoring the lousy joke.

After embarrassing myself, but picking up a great piece of original art, it was about time for the first panel of the convention, a discussion featuring cartoon luminary Sergio Aragones where he would be talking about some upcoming projects. Before going to my panel I thought it prudent to drop my purchases off in the car.

Remember when I said I hadn't slept and the only things keeping me vertical were coffee and willpower? It's amazing what fatigue will do to your judgement. I spent the next hour wandering the bowels of the parking garage looking for my car. Such was the extent of my fatigue induced lack of judgement I did two laps past the same parked cars, then went outside, came back in a different entrance (albeit closer to the one I had used on my arrival) and proceeded to make at least two more laps around what was clearly the wrong parking level. I did eventually work out that my car was probably parked on a different level. After reaching that critical epiphany I found my car within about ten minutes, but had lost an hour and completely missed the Sergio Aragones panel. Evidently suffering more from sleep deprivation than I first thought I rested in the car for about an hour then fueled up with another cup of coffee.

Not the print I bought, but representative of Kesinger's brilliant artwork.On re-entering the con I noticed the first table inside the door belonged to the very gifted Brian Kessinger. Walking your Octopus: A Guidebook to the Domesticated Cephalopod. The book is published by Baby Tattoo books and available from Amazon. As it turns out Brian is a super nice guy, and it was fun talking to him since we both work for Disney and having that in common was a built-in ice-breaker.
Brian created a character, Victoria, and her pet octopus, Otto in a series of illustrations which then led to publishing a book,

Not too long after that I ended up catching the end of a panel discussion of The Fifth Beatle, a graphic
novel by Vivek Tiwary with illustrations by Andrew Robinson and Kyle Baker. I didn't have any real interest in this panel, I just sat in on the end so I could get a good seat for Jim Lee's panel which was to follow immediately thereafter. My mistake. Turns out Vivek Tiwary is a really interesting guy, with a really interesting story to tell about making the book and now going on to making the movie, and he is very well spoken. It would have been worthwhile to be there for the whole panel, even for someone who, like me, is not the biggest fan of The Beatles.

That panel wrapped up, leaving me wanting to run out and pick up this little graphic novel about the man who put The Beatles on the map. Which led to the panel that had brought me down from Burbank in the first place: Drawing with Jim Lee. If you're a fan of comics, and you've never seen a Jim Lee panel, put it on your bucket list. He's awesome. He is very much about demystifying the process of sequential art. In most of these panels he talks about the artistic process and illustrating the characters he's working on at DC (among his other responsibilities), which usually means drawing Batman, or a Batman villain, or another character in the Batman books. This time he decided to make the panel about the storytelling process, revealed through working on pages from an upcoming issue of Batman. As the audience watched he had the writer, Scott Snyder, email him the script. He then invited aspiring artists from the audience to join him on stage where he read them the script and asked them to draw rough panels. He then talked about their layouts as he "inked" their pages with a sharpie. When that was done, he revealed the page he had done for the same script, and it was remarkable how similar his page was to elements from each of the three rough layouts put forward by the aspiring artists.

After his panels, at least at WonderCon, Jim Lee does something that others at his level do very rarely. Instead of exiting through a back door or a side entrance, he goes out through the main exit with the fans. Inevitably this leads to a clot of people forming around him and shoving all sorts of paraphernalia at him to sign. He signs everything, graciously takes pictures with his fans, and has a smile on his face the whole time. Jim Lee is a class act.

After taking this terrible selfie with Jim Lee I realized I was completely out of gas. Coffee and determination were no longer enough to sustain me, so it was time to go home. I needed what little reserves of energy remained for engaging "daddy-mode" on getting home.

As I drove home, reflecting on the day, it occurred to me that something in my chest, or the general vicinity thereof, had unclenched. I was happy, and at peace. All that I can attribute that feeling to, is a sense of rightness with how I'd spent my day. There can be no question: being surrounded by that culture, living and breathing the enthusiasm for sequential story telling is something that drives me. For one glorious day, I fit. I found where I belong.

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