Our Weekend at Emerald City 2013

by  in Comic News Comment
Our Weekend at Emerald City 2013

Well, we’ve all had a week to consider our time at ECCC, here in the comics press, and after thinking about it myself and comparing notes with the other folks that were there… It’s a safe bet that none of us was really ready for that.

Specifically, these two facts — that the show doubled in size, and still sold out.

It was kind of funny, because it showed how math-impaired most of us are. Our mantra has always been, “Friday’s the warm-up, Saturday is hell, Sunday we can relax.” Sometime around mid-morning Sunday when the crowd suddenly started to ramp up to Saturday levels again, we realized, oh yeah, SOLD OUT means ALL the tickets. ALL the people are coming again. That’s, like, arithmetic.

Of course, lots of people is what you want if you’re an exhibitor. I’m not complaining. The students and I had a really good show. I’m just tired out… I don’t know how some of our friends manage to do this fifteen times a year.

Fortunately, I had help.

To my great delight, after eighteen years, I am no longer the only Cartooning teacher in west Seattle. My former student Lindon is now my colleague; she was hired to teach the class over at West Seattle High School and we split the space between her group and mine. She was elbow to elbow with me all the way through February, running student books and figuring out field trip permissions and she even found time to contribute the anchor story to this year’s benefit book AND go to college (serious college, like biology and calculus.)

Needless to say, I was very proud of her, although it made me laugh when she burst out, “I can’t believe it… my God, I never knew how much went into this!” She pulled it off, though, even after the costume malfunction.

See, Lindon was determined to come in costume, and she had asked me about it. I told her what I tell all the kids (actually, it’s what I tell anyone who asks me.) “Just be sensible. You’ll probably be meeting parents, so I’d stay away from things like Red Sonja in her steel bikini– I know, I know, Google it–and you’ll be moving in and out from behind our table, so it should be comfortable and easy to walk in.”

Lindon took all this to heart and arrived on Friday dressed as an anime character named Yuno. It was a cute outfit and met all my suggested criteria, but there was one component she’d included that was to later cause huge problems. Contact lenses.

Apparently, among the cosplay crowd, there’s been a lot of folks trafficking in cheap contacts used to change one’s eye color into something really exotic. Lindon was wearing a pair that made her eyes appear to be glowing fiery red. It was very effective but she scratched her cornea at some point on Friday and spent the rest of the weekend in real pain. She also complained that the wig itched and by the end of the day Friday the wig and the lenses were gone. She kept the little black dress though, and finally added an eye patch because the lights hurt her bad eye so much. So everyone spent Sunday trying to guess who her character was; people just assumed the eyepatch was part of the outfit.

Apart from that, though, it went remarkably well. Once again we were blessed with great neighbors. On the one side we had Allison Ross and Elise Stevens, who do a webcomic called The Knittrix.

They were lovely people and they swore up and down they really enjoyed the kids. I guess it was true because they would read the student ‘zines and exclaim things like, “This is great! But when did bacon get to be such a thing?” (In truth, my kids do a lot of food comics, period. We’ve published a lot of stuff about talking tacos and Sandwich Man and so on. I occasionally wonder if they are getting enough to eat. The most disquieting one I’ve ever put into print, though, was Aaron’s “Super Pickle Man Goes Clubbing.” There was a disturbing roman a clef quality to that one, an easy familiarity with stuff no eleven-year-old should know.)

On our other side, we had Onrie Kompan and his book Yi Soon Shin. Onrie was great with all the kids and even gave shy little Hina a few tips on how to talk to the crowd.

The students took quite a shine to him; Phung in particular, who took up station at the corner next to his table and hunkered down there to sketch most of the weekend. At one point she did one of Yi Soon Shin himself, which pleased Onrie no end.

I bought one of Onrie’s books myself– I usually try to support our neighbors, just as a courtesy, but it turns out I really like it a lot. It’s the true story of Korean naval hero Yi Soon Shin and his efforts to defend Korea from Japan back in the middle ages. Onrie writes it, and the art is from Giovanni Timpano and Adriana de los Santos.

To my great surprise, the book is edited by Dave Kraft, someone I’d thought was long gone from comics. “I lured him back,” Onrie told me, smiling.

“Well, tell him someone still remembers his stuff. I used to read his LOGAN’S RUN, DEFENDERS, COMICS INTERVIEW, all of it.”

Onrie assured me he would, and that it would please Mr. Kraft to hear it. Overall, we just really enjoyed having him next to us and you definitely should check out Yi Soon Shin. Lots of people at the show did, he sold out by Sunday.

(If you want to read Onrie’s version of what it was like being next to us at ECCC, he put it up here. It got both Julie and Tiffany all puddled up.)

Phung was having the greatest weekend of her life already, even without Onrie’s patronage; she really wanted to sketch for us again, she had loved doing that last year and was completely willing to donate all the proceeds to the program, so I said okay. We had one gentleman who came by wanting to add to his theme collection– presidents and dinosaurs. Phung was a little clenched about it at first, but she ended up doing a chibi Lincoln riding on a brontosaurus.

She’d hit her groove by then and had it in about ten minutes, including an aside with Tiffany and me to ask about Lincoln’s beard. We set it aside and waited for the gentleman to come back. When he did, and he saw what Phung had done for him, his jaw dropped. Literally, he stood there for a second in shock with his mouth hanging open. Then he gathered himself and told Phung, “I just came from Ryan North’s table, the guy that does the actual DINOSAURS comic, and yours is SO MUCH BETTER. Thank you SO MUCH.” Then he showed us what Mr. North had done, and– no slight to him, I daresay Phung spent a little more time– but it was true. Phung’s kicked North’s butt.

While he was talking to Phung, Cal knocked out another quick sketch, a caricature of the gentleman himself– Cal was doing this for everyone who spent money– and the guy was blown away all over again. He shoved more money into the donation box and when the kids thanked him he assured us it was money well spent.

Cal was having a pretty good weekend, too. He is one of my few extroverts– he loves to draw, he loves clowning around, and huckstering drawings from our table was like nirvana for him.

He sold us a lot of books and worked the crowd hard. (Next to us, Onrie was shaking his head and muttering, “I need someone like that to sell my book.”)

Cal was even happy to do a little press. The West Seattle Herald came by and did a piece on us again— their hook was Lindon’s new job, the former student turned teacher– but all the kids talked to the reporter and certainly Cal had the most fun.

The only blemish on Cal’s weekend at all was what we came to term the “Racist Cow Guy Incident.”

Every year, regular readers will recall, my students put together a special convention giveaway book to hand out at the show. Cal had done the cover for this year’s, featuring a cow trying to get into the con and being turned away. You can see it down below on the left– on the right are two ladies who thought Cal was hilarious and spent a fair amount of money and hung around to have their caricatures done. They were much more typical of the people that came by our table.

One guy, though, when Cal handed him a book, started sputtering with rage. “This? You want me to have this? This is RACIST!!”

Cal shrank back, not sure what to do, having never been confronted with Comic-Book-Guy crazy before. I missed all of this, because I was trying to deal with some other issue in the back of the booth, but Julie, I’m told, almost went over the table at the guy. She is as fierce as a mama bear about ‘our’ kids. Rather than get into it with my wife, who quite likely would have put him in the hospital, racist guy whirled around and started bellowing into the crowd, “Don’t come to this table! These people are racists!”

Most other con-goers looked at him, then looked at us, decided he was demented, and moved on. After a few seconds crazy guy did too. But it shook Cal pretty badly. He kept trying to figure out what the trigger was because none of us had any idea what the hell the guy was talking about. I mean, sure, humans are hard on cows, but… racist? (“It’s not a different race, it’s a different species,” Lindon snapped, ever the science girl. “What a dumbass.”) In any case, the cover in question was just Cal being silly. He certainly hadn’t meant anything racist about… well, cows. Who knew cows had a lobby?

Nevertheless, despite the sheer stupid of the entire incident, it ate at Cal. He spent most of the afternoon trying to figure out what he had done to set the guy off. Finally Greg Burgas and I sat Cal down and talked him through it, explaining that lunatic fans are just a hazard of being a comics person. We told him a couple of our own war stories and I finished by explaining that though I try very hard not to let this part of fandom touch my classes, there are people around comics who are just… angry all the time. “They’re Simpsons Comic Book Guys, but operating at the same level of rage that lets you survive naked in the jungle for six weeks,” I explained. “And since the internet lets all the crazy people find each other and they validate one another’s nuttiness, they’re a lot less shy about taking this demented rage out on people. Don’t worry about it.”

Eventually Cal shook it off, it didn’t ruin the show for him or anything. But we laughed about it for the rest of the weekend. When Krys Burgas dropped by our table on Sunday the first thing she said was, “Let me see this racist cow cover.”

Of course we were delighted to see Greg and his bride, and CBR stringer Jeff Robbins and his bride as well. We were especially pleased because they made it a point to come and find US, it was extremely difficult to push through the crowd if you wanted to go see someone. Apart from a couple of laps around the floor in the early morning and late afternoon, we were largely trapped at our table. We fought our way over to spend a few minutes with our old friends Pete and Rebecca Woods, and also to make sure Batton Lash got his comp copies of this year’s benefit book (he’d done a pinup for us.) Chris Roberson was only able to wave at us in passing on his way somewhere else, I had a two-second hello with Ron Marz as we passed each other in the aisles, and we never did get to say hi to Donna Barr despite several tries. Many other old convention buddies, like Jason Metcalf and the Meeleys, we missed completely. Sonia Harris and Roberta Gregory both made an effort to come and say hello at the table but I mostly missed them because I was wrangling our students, though Julie got to talk to them. We got to say hi to our CBR friends Kurt and Rob, and also Chris Kohler from Portland Underground and Mike Gillis from the podcast Mike and Pol Save The Universe! But that was about it, and most of them bailed on the CBR dinner Saturday night, too. Of course, most of our friends know it’s a working show for us, and we never have time during the day, but I had hoped we’d see them at dinner at least.

I did sneak over to Randy’s Readers to shop for a few minutes when I was feeling really claustrophobic; the dealer stands weren’t nearly as packed as the rest of the place, and Randy had a nice corner spot at the end of the hall where you could stretch a little. Lindon’s student Marie had promised her little brother “something from Marvel Comics” and she had budgeted $10 for it, and I told her the thing to do was to go over to Randy’s booth and see if she could dig out some of the old Marvel’s Greatest, a nine-year-old boy was sure to like those.

Yes, there may have been some bias in play, but really, who else was going to tell her this stuff? Lindon’s background is all in manga and anime. Anyway, I’m not the only one who thinks Randy’s Readers is the greatest dealer booth in the history of all conventions ever… over in his excellent writeup of the show, Tom Spurgeon confesses he’d move in there if they’d let him.

Anyway, Marie and I found a couple of good Marvel Giants for not very much money at all– I think the total investment from Marie was about $7. And of course, I did a little shopping for me, too.

I knocked a couple more of the Batman Giants off my list that I remembered so fondly from my younger days, and scored four out of the five issues of Black Goliath.

Even today, decades later, I’m mildly disappointed that title didn’t last– it had some interesting promise to it back in the day, but will never likely be collected anywhere. I had forgotten it was Chris Claremont that did most of the writing on that one, and rereading it today for the first time since it was on the stands, it’s certainly very Claremont-y. But in a good way.

The final issue, featuring Goliath, his girlfriend Ceil, and her younger brother Keith all stranded on an alien world, is the kind of cool one-off you used to get all the time back then.

Lots of suspense and fun and even a little lesson about Brotherhood, and with a great art job from Keith Pollard actually inking his own stuff, which Marvel should have let him do more often. Sadly, it was the swan song for the book. But I was pleased to see that it mostly held up to my memory of it.

Speaking of Chris Claremont, his table was opposite ours and he had a huge line all weekend. Now, I’ve seen a lot of online smack talk about Claremont over the years but I’m here to tell you that he is a total pro. Lord knows, if anyone’s had to deal with a lot of comic book crazy from fans in his lifetime, it’s Chris Claremont, but as far as we could see he was unfailingly gracious with everyone. He had a line of at least thirty people waiting virtually every time we looked over at him, and even in the normally-peaceful moments before the show opened in the morning and after it closed at night, there were exhibitors that ran over to geek at him and ask to have something signed, as well.

Julie was actually worrying about him. “His poor hand,” she muttered. “All that signing. He’ll have to go home and ice it or something.”

When we were packing up to go Sunday night, I made it a point to step over and tell him how we’d been seeing him put up with that crush of people all three days with no real breaks, and how admirable his graciousness and endurance had been. “I just thought you should know someone noticed,” I told him.

It pleased him and he did a mock bow. We chatted a few minutes and he went on his way.

I did get to steal a few minutes like that with pros I admired, usually with one student or another in tow. Before we opened on Friday I was able to go say hello to Doug Sneyd and tell him how much I admired him. I’m a little embarrassed about this– I’d honestly thought he was dead, but barely managed to avoid blurting that out.

Doug Sneyd and me pose together, at Mrs. Sneyd’s suggestion. I’d have never dared ask for myself.

Now, some of you may not recognize the name but I know you’ll recognize the work; his cartoons were a fixture at Playboy magazine for years and still may be for all I know. He’s a genius with watercolor– I’d already known that but it hit me all over again looking at the originals he had on display.

One of Sneyd’s amazing watercolor originals. The caption is, ‘I’m looking for a good guy.’

I told him so and he smiled. “Patience,” he said. “Gotta have patience with watercolor, let it dry before you go on with it.” He was very interested in the class and pleased we were still doing all our layouts and lettering by hand. “Not many of us left!”

Neal Adams was there, tabling with his son Josh. Shane, from my high school Young Authors, wanted Josh to sign a Doctor Who book, and I had promised myself an Adams book, so we made our way over. I had a Batman book of my own too, but it would have been an additional $20 to get that signed, and I didn’t feel that strongly about it.

I decided on the Savage II sketchbook.

As Adams was signing it I admitted that his Conan was my first, it was the adaptation he’d done of “Shadows in Zamboula” that ended up being the gateway drug to Robert E. Howard for me. He made a wry face and said, “Well, you know, we’re doing that one over; I was never happy with it, they got those Filipino guys to ink it and I just didn’t like it. So I’m re-creating it for Dark Horse.”

The Filipino guy in question was Tony DeZuniga and certainly I liked it fine– still do– but I can see how it would grate on an artist to see someone else ink a job the ‘wrong way.’ In any case, a new director’s cut Savage Sword of Conan from Neal Adams is great news, but I refuse to get excited about it until I actually see a Dark Horse solicit for it. Still, if it happens, I’m first in line.

After we were done talking to Neal Adams, I told Shane, “Let’s go see a writer I really admire,” and we went to go visit Denny O’Neil.

He had a line, though it was nowhere near Claremont’s, and Shane and I were happy to wait patiently. I had brought Helltown and Tales of the Demon for him to sign– my two favorites– and we talked a little bit about his prose work and the challenges it entailed.

I had really hoped to meet Howard Chaykin, as well; in fact, that morning as we were setting up, I’d been telling Tiffany and Phung about what a huge revelation Monark Starstalker had been for me, back when I was trying to teach myself to draw at age thirteen.

But every time I’d gone over there, he’d been away– most likely in a panel, or something. When we did get over there on Sunday, though, Chaykin was in fine form… thrusting a finger forward at the fellow in front of us and telling him, “Listen, you need to be a man about this. I’m serious. Are you man enough to get out there and…?” What makes it funny was that apparently he was getting after someone to be more public about liking comics, and that person was in fact Phil LaMarr.

LaMarr was just grinning and nodding and saying uh-huh, yessir, I see what you’re saying because he was so damn happy to be standing there talking to HOWARD! CHAYKIN! He’d brought his own selection of favorites to get signed… Black Kiss, American Flagg. It was completely endearing and the sort of thing you only see in comics.

Then it was our turn. Chaykin signed my Monark Starstalker and my Shadow trade collection, and when he noted my exhibitor badge I told him why we were here. He raised an eyebrow. “Well, I forgot this year, but usually I only commit to these things if they let ME teach a class.” He went on to describe how he was teaching at Marvel twice a year and doing seminars at conventions and so on. It made me much less annoyed about how so many Marvel artists are copping Chaykin’s layout style when he explained that he’s actually teaching it to them.

But that was it for the pro moments. Mostly it was about running our booth. Which went really well, overall.

We had a lot of new faces, but that really worked to our benefit. Caitlyn is only eleven and she has a very high, whispery voice– seriously, it’s Betty Boop on helium– but she was letter-perfect on The Spiel.

Hearing this sweet little eleven-year-old girl with the Betty Boop voice exhorting passersby to unlimber their wallets because of cuts to the school arts budget was a magical thing to watch. She sold us quite a few books.

We did do another benefit book this year, mostly because it’s expected of us now.

My feeling, after the last two, was that it should be something easy without a lot of production trauma. Lindon already had a zombie story she was working on and I decided to just build on that. We added a few pinups and ran it all in black-and-white and it turned out pretty well.

That’s the cover, above, and one of the pin-ups– occasional CSBG contributor Pol Rua did that for us, actually.

So this year at our table you actually had a selection. There were the three benefit books, the two Young Authors anthologies, and the usual Cartooning giveaway ‘zine– and the kids were sketching, too.

Generally anyone who approached our table walked away with something. As an experiment, since we had the high school kids– Lindon’s Cartooning class and my Young Authors crew– with us for the first time, Julie and Tiffany and I held back and let the young people carry the ball for the most part, and they all did really well. In particular, the high school kids were really good about being gentle but authoritative with our younger ones about keeping things professional at the table.

Since I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years now, and tabling at this show for the last ten, there were many familiar faces from past classes that came by to check in. We saw Uriel and Marcus and Jay and Danielle and lots of others.

Brianna, Amanda, and Rachel all made the pilgrimage down from college in Bellingham, and Bri brought her new boyfriend, even.

We ended up taking all the girls to the CBR dinner on Saturday, and that’s when it hit me. This is what we do instead of Christmas. Emerald City is our family holiday, it’s when all our kids come home.

Except, to be honest, as exhausting and frustrating as it can be for us to get everything up and running– when you get right down to it, as far as the Hatcher family is concerned, I think Emerald City is better than Christmas.

See you next week.