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Our Saturday in Olympia

by  in Comic News Comment
Our Saturday in Olympia

…and by that I naturally mean our annual class trip to the Olympia Comics Festival.

For those of you that remember the other class trips to the Olympia festival, yes, once again we had to endure our annual ritual of Persuading The YMCA To Get Us Our Bus. I’m resigned to it by now. There was the usual amount of field-trip bus trauma — which is actually a contributing factor to this column going up so late– but also as is usual, we worked it out at the last minute and got down to the show with only minimal aggravation. Apart from that it was a wonderful day, but there was a lot of student wrangling and running around for Julie and me, and I’m still exhausted. So I think I’m just going to run pictures and talk about them.

Here’s the main floor, as you come in.

There were a lot of new faces– at least new to me– this year, and I didn’t get to circulate as much as I would have liked. But it was the usual collection of enthusiastic zinesters and small-press folks.

There were some familiar old friends there, of course. We were very pleased to see Roberta Gregory, who’s always so awesome to all my students. Here she is (on the right) reading one of Chelsea Baker’s DAILY COMICS zines in this shot of the other half of the main floor.

We lucked out with our neighbors yet again. On one side were Terrana Cliff and Zoey Hogan who were gracious as always, and to my pleasant surprise, on our other side was writer Richard Mann, whose Mystery and Romance book I’d liked so much when I picked it up on a whim at Emerald City Con a couple of months ago.

Mr. Mann is also a novelist, as it happens, and he and my Young Authors spent a large part of the day talking shop. Here you can see him and my student Kiera talking about his novel Fire Trap.

Mr. Mann was so gracious and giving of his time and his books– he signed novels and comics for the kids and insisted they sign theirs for him in return– that I ended up giving him one of mine. Fire Trap seemed like such old-school pulp that I was sure he’d be all over the “new pulp” thing.

But he’d never heard of it. Nevertheless, I thought he’d enjoy a Green Ghost and presented him with one. He was pleased. “Like the Shadow!”

“Like the Shadow, but not,” I said, laughing. “That was the tagline for a lot of those guys.”

Despite the fact that this event is mostly about comics, none of my Cartooning studenhts made it this year– it was all Young Authors, from both middle school and high school, who’d really pushed themselves to get their deadlines met. So I gave them the bulk of the table display, seeing as how they’d been the ones to show up and work it. Here’s our table setup, with Kiera, Symphony, and Shelbi.

No one seemed to mind that they were prose writers at a comics show and the kids did a brisk business in zine trades. Here’s Kiera trying to decide which print she wants most.

She eventually settled on the Arrow one in the middle.

And Harmony Boom was a popular stop.

Christine Malek apparently had gotten a Young Authors anthology last year and was pleased to see there were new ones available. I don’t know if the students bought anything but if we hadn’t been on such a tight budget I know Julie would have come home with a double armload of Christine’s handmade stuffed animals for our nieces. And maybe one or two for herself.

Speaking of swag, we ended up with something really cool. The guests of honor this year were Farel Dalrymple, Jason Little, and Eric Shanower.

Now of those folks, I knew Julie would be really interested in seeing Mr. Shanower, because my wife is an ardent fan of all things Oz-related. (I am too, actually.) We had brought along our copies of the old Oz graphic novels from First Comics with the thought that maybe at some point during the day we might sneak away and persuade Shanower to sign one. That never happened, but we DID get to the Oz panel at five with Shanower and his partner David Maxine, who runs Hungry Tiger Press.

It was a fun panel and I even got to ask about my favorite Hungry Tiger project ever, their amazing re-issue of the Weird Heroes book The Oz Encounter.

This is, for those of you who don’t know, the Weird Heroes take on Doc Savage, but with a twist. Doc Phoenix is every bit the superman Doc Savage is, but his specialty is psychology, and he has perfected a computer system that lets him enter people’s dreams.

His mission in The Oz Encounter is to awaken a little girl from her coma, and when he links to her mind he discovers the delusion she’s trapped in is a twisted version of the land of Oz.

It’s one of my favorite books — I mean, come on, it’s Doc Savage, Weird Heroes, Marv Wolfman, and the literary Oz, all wrapped up in one package. How could I not love it? And the hardcover is gorgeous.

They laughed when I asked about it– “Oh, so you’re the one that bought it!” — but then Mr. Maxine went on to talk about the look of the book itself, including how they had very carefully designed the typography of the sections of the story when Phoenix is journeying through the girl’s dream of Oz to actually look like the original Oz hardcovers, right down to the John R. Neill chapter headings.

Another piece of interesting design trivia: the girl reading THE ROAD TO OZ on the cover of the new edition is actually an old family photo of David Maxine’s grandmother from when she was a little girl. And the computer bank behind her is a friend’s stereo system.

When the panel was over, the festival was about done for the day as well, and Shanower was due to join Farel Dalrymple and Jason Little for a signing event at Danger Room Comics. Obviously we couldn’t hang around for that since I had a busload of kids to get back to Seattle. So I asked Frank Hussey (festival director and co-owner of Danger Room) if I could give him one of Julie’s graphic novels for Mr. Shanower to sign, and we’d make arrangements to get it back later. Frank said sure and Julie and I went back to our table to dig out the book. But a moment later, there they were, Frank and Shanower and Maxine, and Mr. Shanower said, “Just a signature, that’s all?”

“If you don’t mind…. we don’t want to impose.” I was probably blushing furiously and fumfuh’ing a bit; I really, REALLY didn’t want to seem like an entitled fanboy, and I was trying not to gush like an idiot, because I admire Eric Shanower a lot. He asked me to spell our names and I did. (Surprisingly, I didn’t screw it up.) I think Julie stammered a thank-you but it was probably hardly more than a whisper, she gets terribly shy.

Shanower just nodded and we chatted– well, he and David and Frank chatted, I think I mostly said uh. Meanwhile the kids were looking a little starstruck themselves– Kiera and Megan, after all, had gone to the two PM Shanower spotlight panel and come back to our table raving about how awesome he was.

Well, it’s true. He IS awesome. Because as we stammered our thank-yous he did this for us, barely looking at the paper, with a ball-point pen, all the while keeping up a casual conversation. Two minutes, tops.

Mr. Eric Shanower, ladies and gentlemen. He brushes off comparisons with the exquisite work of original Oz illustrator John R. Neill, but I’m telling you, when it comes to the Land of Oz, he’s practically channeling the guy.

We said grateful goodbyes. By then it was time to pack up and head out to the bus, but honestly, when she saw what Shanower had actually done, Julie could have floated home.

Thanks again especially to Frank Hussey and Casey Bruce of the Olympia Festival for making it such a great day for us and the students, and to all the wonderful exhibitors as well. It was one of the best ever.

And everyone else, well, I’ll see you …actually, later THIS week, I hope. We really are trying to get back on schedule around here.

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