Emerald City Abides

Editor's note: Strangeways creator Matt Maxwell attended the Emerald City ComiCon and agreed to write up a report for us about his weekend.

by Matt Maxwell


See, I’m good enough at this convention thing now that I have to tack on extra difficulty just to keep myself from being bored. Which is why I traveled with my two kids by plane up to Seattle instead of doing the sensible thing and flying up on my own. At least I have enough sense to drop them with the grandparents while I try to sell books. Having an easily bored pair of five and eight-year-old kids is just not conducive to doing anything other than clinging to my last shreds of sanity and composure, and add to that selling books and spreading the Strangeways gospel? Not gonna happen.

Not that I’ve sold a ton of books this year as of yet. I write this on the Sunday morning of the show, as vendors and guests are beginning to creep in, volume steadily rising, like the lion house waking up at the zoo on a lazy morning, murmurs of greeting peppered with good-natured laughter. I guess other folks are doing better than I am. Not bad existentially, mind you, but I coulda sold a lot more books than I ended up doing yesterday. The comparison between this show and WonderCon isn’t fair, though. WonderCon on Saturday was OFF THE CHIZZAIN as the kids say. ECCC, by comparison, had a lot of foot traffic, but perhaps not as many people opening their wallets, at least not yet.

And it’s probably not fair, since Murder Moon was a brand new book at last year’s ECCC, and it’s a retread item this year. I’ve had a number of people come up who bought the book last year and ask “what’s new?”. I can only point them to the webcomic but nothing to buy. Maybe I need some merch or chapbooks or something. But truthfully, the chapbooks are a loss leader. I don’t feel comfortable charging more than a buck for ‘em and they cost more than a buck to make (and you gotta haul them around.) And they’re unsatisfying to read. I’ll print them for retailers, but I’m not excited about printing them for anyone else right now.

And that just there was a ten-minute-visit from Mel and Clark of Dead Ahead, oh, and that little book we like to call Gumby. Mel was just telling me about the wonder of seeing both pencil art from Rick Geary, and un-lettered art from Rick Geary, both of which seem both weirdly alien and compelling to me.

Oh, ashcans. Right. The idea of printing non-books to sell just seems kinda weird and wasteful now. But again, I don’t expect comic book sellers to be interested in what they can or can’t read online, and they’re about selling the printed experience anyways, so it goes to figure that I should go out of my way to get them printed preview material.

I just wish it was lighter.

As for the show itself, so far it’s been wel-run, well-lit and well-attended. Plenty of guest artists, both big and small (me among the smallest, rilly.) But there’s room for all levels of fan followings under the big ECCC tent (though I wonder if it gets any bigger, how it’ll get split up in a non-destructive manner). I understand we’re in the biggest room at the Seattle Convention Center as it stands. The crowds seemed healthy, not in danger of trampling one another or anything. But then artist’s alley isn’t usually the most active part of any convention (hell, even at SDCC, you can usually walk pretty freely around the alley when the floor itself is choked with fans and cosplayers.)

Oh, cosplay. I suppose I’m jaded, but I really only notice now when things are really crazy, or really wrong or really really creative. I look for the incongruities now. Xena pushing a stroller, that’ll get a second look and a smile. Stormtroopers versus Borg in a fight to see which expendable minion is the most expendable? I’ll give that a look. Vanilla Rorschach? Not so much. Though I loved seeing the Dr. Manhattans in black suits, blue dish-washing gloves and…no facial makeup. Talk about not being the bunny. But sometimes leaving your costume incomplete is the best way to get noticed.

Okay, more later. The floor’s gonna open in a few minutes and I need to buy some Godzilla T-shirts. And no, I’m not buying one for my editor at Comics Waiting Room, no matter how much a kaijuphile he might be. My daughter gets a Pink Godzilla from the booth/company of the same name. It’s cute. And pink. Hello Godzilla!

I won’t bore you with too many details of the flight in. But let’s just say that putting a couple of mini Cinnabons on top of a Quizno's Italian sub loaded with cappicola is probably not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. I managed not to use the airsick bag, but it took a lot of willpower and some isometric exercises.

When in Seattle and at the show, I was lucky enough to have the Big Man, aka Jim Demonakos, show me up to the fourth floor (having gotten lost within five minutes of getting to the convention center). Look up “salt of the Earth” and you’ll find a picture of Jim’s smiling mug right there. Year seven of the show and going strong. One wonders how it’ll grow, but I suspect they’ll figure out a way.

Got a look at the real behind-the-scenes work while I helped friend Jimmie Robinson get set up. Rode a beaten freight elevator that had a 36,000 lbs. capacity (good for the exhibitor who’s had too many Cinnabons) and made me feel like I was going to step out into a big control room out of War Games, Dabney Coleman smoking profusely and being a perfect avatar of J. Jonah Jameson while World War III ticked down.

I gotta lay off the sugar…

Poked around the show floor a bit and was thankful that I could get my setup into an extra suitcase and some carry-ons. Though I did get dinged a fair amount of money for being over-weight. Next time I think I’ll ship stuff ahead of time. May actually be cheaper. Or less herniating, at least, with a SEVENTY SIX POUND suitcase.

Saturday started a bit slowly, but only because the gigantic lines out front needed to be processed. Cooled my heels and observed, put stacks of books in precise marching order, dropped cards on the freebie table. Waited, like a jungle cat, ready to pounce on anyone who lingered in front of my table for more than a heartbeat. Well, leap not so much as pounce. Hard for me to bend into a good crouch after that knifing I got in Reno a couple years back.

Passed by the Periscope Studio table/cluster to say hello to Steve Lieber (who is still scheduled to do the next Strangeways book cover). Would have said hello to Parker, but that morning, the role of Jeff Parker was being played by a box of Top Pot doughnuts (which I rhapsodized about last year). Johnathan Case had all three volumes of his beautiful and weird Sea Freak book for the insanely low price of two bucks apiece. Got a neat button from Indigo Kelleigh. Bavarian Illuminati go!

One of my favorite things that I get to do is to tell people that “I’m just the writer” when they ask for the artist, book in hand. I try to explain the “five minute story” concept to people and most don’t get it. Only had two people bite.

Here’s the rules: You give me something to write upon. You give me three words. “Superman” is one word. “Spider-Man” is two. Oh, okay, full proper names are one word, but nobody has yet to call me on that. I then give you at least one paragraph, probably five lines. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes shorter, but I try to give people their money’s worth.

Wait…what money? I’m doing these for free. That’s what I’m doing wrong…

Sold a few books. Not as many as last year. But then, I don’t have any new books to sell as of yet. Just cards to give away for the webcomic, which you already know is here. I did have a number of people come by saying that they’d bought Murder Moon last year and wanted more. That’s nice to hear, but I feel bad when there isn’t a second book to sell to ‘em. Patience. Get more of them headed towards the webcomic and get ‘em hooked.

Bought a copy of Air from G. Willow Wilson, who was just across the aisle from me. Lucky, too, since she ran out of copies before the end of the day on Saturday. Only just started reading it and found it better than I’d though it would be (this is a good thing, as I’m not likely to spend money on things that I think are gonna be just average. I’ve got no time for just average.) High-tailed it back to my booth in time to answer some questions and pass out more cards.

This next part is weird. See, I have to say nice things about Brandon Jerwa (writer for Dynamite, ex-writer of GI Joe back at DDP, and all-around menace to society.) Saying nice things about Jerwa is like saying nice things about John Layman. You occasionally need to do it, because their actions have merited such magnanimousness, but still…it’s weird. Anyways, Brandon did the nicest thing that anyone could do for me at a convention. He watched my booth so I could skitter out and, uh, do stuff, and even get something to eat. Thanks, Brandon. But you’re still a menace to society.

And when they say there’s horseradish on the roast beef sandwich at the concessionaire, they’re not just whistling the Battle Hymn of the Republic. My sinuses were on fire.

The crowds were solid, even in the hinterlands of the Artist’s Alley. It wasn’t standing room only or a gigantic and intertwined vining of queues (at least not until you got to Ed Brubaker’s table). One could move and breathe relatively freely, aside from the congealing of crowds around costumes or when a geeklebrity moved outside their normal signing area.

Towards the end of Saturday, I chatted briefly with Jason Aaron of Scalped and a handful of other Marvel books (but Scalped is the big draw, I won’t lie). And I broke a rule. I actually bought single issues. Like what would have been the fourth trade’s worth of them, in addition to #25. This, however, does not mean that I’m ready to start hitting a store ever week (I do NOT have the time for that). It just shows that I’m weak when the material is strong enough.

Grabbed dinner with some of the Periscope folks over at the Tap House. Watched a pair of cosplayers dressed as Sally Jupiter and Silhouette descend the long staircase into the restaurant with Joe Walsh blaring over the speakers and said to myself “Hurm,” by way of recognition. Funny how Silhouette got only about 1500% more screen time in the film version of Watchmen than she did in the comic. Diggin’ the lurid, my friends.

Talked comics, flamewars, vegetarianism and other subjects over cider and halibut and chips. Listened to a soundtrack right out of Rock Band, which immediately put me at ease. There’s no situation that can’t be made better by blasting “Gimme Shelter” at top volume. Really.

Afterwards, we retired to the Dragonfish to kill time before planned karaoke. I ordered The Confucious, which was a pineapple, mango pure and rum concoction topped with a burning sugarcube. The flames flickered cool and blue, rum-fed and enthralling. It was mighty tasty. I only felt a little old as I retired, begging off karaoke (nobody, drunk or sober, needs to hear my infernal caterwauling). Watched The Arcade Fire on Austin City Limits, interspersed with flicking back to a documentary on the assassination of MLK, creating my own Godspeed You Black Emperor album in the process. Try it at home!

I’m being mean. The Arcade Fire does better straight-ahead rock songs than GYBE does. GYBE is probably more interesting sonically. And they’re a truckload darker.

Which brings us back to Sunday morning when I started writing this in the first place. Sunday itself was a fair bit quieter than Saturday, though I had a lot of late sales that brought the days within neck and neck of each other. I’ll note that “Cowboys and Werewolves” seems to be the thing that drops people in their tracks and makes them march over to my booth after cruising noncommittally down the middle of the hall, not making eye contact. I’m probably gonna be sunk when I have to use another tagline.

Got a good look at the new book Viking from Ivan Brandon and Image. I was ready to buy a copy but apparently they’re not for sale just yet. Orders came in huge and more had to be printed, pushing things back a bit. I guess that’s a good problem to have.

The best costume at the show, bar none, was the four-year-old girl in the gold lame (not lame as is bad, but lame as in fabric) Dalek costume, cherubic grin peeking out over death ray and manipulator appendage. She may have some deep-seated psychological problems later on, but for today, she was queen of the world. Honorable mention goes to the six-foot-plus Mojo Jojo costume-wearing guy, who totally worked it.

Had a lot of time to look at what some other vendors were doing instead of just selling books. I’m going to have to investigate t-shirts and prints a little more carefully. Maybe buttons, too. Again, I’ve got to learn that just because I don’t like ephemera and other merchandise doesn’t mean that other people don’t like and won’t consider purchasing it.

I’m sure there’s more stuff, but it does tend to blend together when you’re at the show. I Twittered a lot of stuff in off-time (which was frequent, sad truth be told), which you can read by following highway_62 over at Twitter. There’s probably more twit than anything else there, really.

Made a few contacts, got to look at some new artwork. Gelled some plans regarding the next Strangeways book. See, The Thirsty is dragging out a bit, and going to come out later than anticipated. I would have hoped for a late Summer release, and that may still happen, but that’s seeming unlikely here in the early days of Spring. So what probably will happen is The Thirsty will come out early next year. Next will be Dry Heart (and other stories). The main feature, about 40 pages, is nearly done (it was planned to be issue #5 of the monthly Strangeways book, the one that withered on the vine.) The rest of it will be made up of shorts, and some short shorts. While that one’s cooking, I’ll have pages for book 4, called The Stitcher, underway, so that the gap between three and four will not be so long.

It’s a lovely plan. It may not even blow up in my face. This is, of course, assuming I can construct eight page stories. That’s got me a little nervous, actually. But it will be good exercise. And maybe I can get to work with some other artists, which is also educational.

Packed the show down and said brief goodbyes to people. Said “hello” and “goodbye” to Ed (that Criminal guy) Brubaker in the same five minutes, and then headed out of town to see family (aka, the reason why I was able to hand kids off to grandparents and actually get work done this weekend). Traffic on the 5 north, radio channel-surfing, fragments of favorite songs and brief flickerings of other things. Homemade jerky at the gas station and some Tim’s Cascade Chips (kettle chips beat Lay’s all hollow).

Then figuring out how to fix my mistake of double-booking the weekend of 4/19 while away from my office and not having any of my reservations in front of me. Stumptown in two weeks, Fangoria convention in LA, sadly, will have to wait until next year.

Oh, and don’t worry, even in light of a slow con, I’ll be back next year. Got my table already and everything. One slow show does not defeat make.

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