Family Affair: Of Comics and Comrades

Family Affair: Of Comics and Comrades

I hate leaving my family on convention trips. The past two weekends, I was in London for the London Super Comic Con, and in Seattle for Emerald City Comicon. Normally, I'd never be crazy enough to book conventions on consecutive weekends. I flew back from London, had about 36 hours home, then hopped a plane to Seattle. But who in their right mind would pass up a trip to London? And Seattle is one of my favorite cities, while ECCC is one of the best two or three shows in the country.

So I had to say yes to both, even though it meant missing my family (which includes my lovely wife, three kids, two dogs, two barn cats and five horses). But after not quite two weeks away, with a brief stopover at home in the middle, it was even more obvious to me that when I was separated from my family, I was with my other family. My convention family.

Conventions, especially larger ones, are like family reunions. You get a chance to see old friends, and meet new ones, many of whom you only see at cons. Not long ago, some cowardly pro, hiding behind the name Truman Sterling, wrote at another site that "...everybody is nice to everybody else at conventions. Even fellow professionals are nice to one another, even if it's phony nice. Which I often find it is because it's a small industry and invariably, people's real opinions come home to roost. Over the years and with the number of people I've worked with on different books, I count less than ten people I consider trustworthy and genuine friends."

Yeah, I call bullshit on that.

Presumably that's all true for whoever "Truman Sterling" is, but it says a lot more about Truman Sterling than it does about the comics industry. In other words, if you don't have friends in this business, and don't trust people, it's your fault, dude.

I've said before, and will happily say again and again, that comics has more good people in it than any other business I've ever come into contact with. If you don't have a wealth of friends in this industry, you're doing something wrong. Conventions are a moveable feast, a recurring party that allows pros -- most of whom work alone, staring at the same four walls day after day -- to interact with not only each other, but with fans as well.

London Super Comic Con was held at the ExCel Center in East London, a bit outside the heart of London, though the city center is a quick train ride away. The area around the ExCel Center felt a bit like an oasis, with some hotels and restaurants, but otherwise a bit off by itself. It reminded me of the old Wizard World Chicago shows, which were not really in Chicago, but Rosemont, a short train ride from Chicago proper. I always liked those shows, because they had a sense of community. Most people from the convention stayed right in the area, because there wasn't a lot else in the neighborhood.

London Super Comic Con was much the same, with most of the guests congregating after hours in the pub or hotel bar. LSCC was also refreshing in that it was a comic show: completely about comics. No TV or film stars, no retired wrestlers or Playboy centerfolds from 1974, no Lou Ferrigno hawking autographed 8" x 10" glossies. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with those pop-culture aspects at a show, but there's something refreshing about a comic con that is overwhelmingly about comics, like Baltimore Comic Con or Heroes Con in Charlotte. In just its second year, LSCC got it right.

London gave me the chance to hang out with my Top Cow brothers Matt Hawkins, David Hine and Tim Seeley. I was also able to spend a lot of time with one of my best mates, writer Ian Edginton, who presented me with a paperback treasure he'd found, a book called "Secrets of the Samurai" with illustrations by Alex Nino.

I got to catch up with artist Declan Shalvey in the pub, and meet other Irish creators, including Will Sliney and Stephen Mooney. I was able to finally meet Turkish artists Mahmud Asrar and Yildiray Cinar, as they shivered outside on a chilly night while Yildiray grabbed a smoke. I caught up with my "Witchblade" buddy Mike Choi, and had a great dinner with Ian Edginton, John McCrea and Esad Ribic, who is delightfully Falstaffian company. Sunday night conversations with Tim Seeley, Kevin Maguire and Rebekah Isaacs at the hotel bar went into the wee hours.

The Monday after the con, my friend Andy Lanning collected me at the hotel, we dropped in for a visit at Forbidden Planet (where we ran into Dan Slott) and then managed to squeeze in a few hours of sightseeing in London, traipsing through Trafalgar Square, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the National Gallery. After that, we hopped the train to Andy's house, where we ordered takeout curry, and I slept blissfully for about 10 hours before heading off to Heathrow to fly home. Comics people look out for each other. Need a place to crash for the night? Someone will cover you.

Because of its size, Emerald City Comic Con was even more of a reunion. ECCC is run by Jim Demonakos, aided and abetted by his right-hand man and brother, George, both of whom I'm fortunate to count among my friends. I've been to Seattle six or seven times; it's a city I love, despite six hours of flying time to get there. But that inconvenience is forgotten when you get to share a stretch limo, from the airport to the hotel, with Scott Snyder and Howard Chaykin.

I brought my older son, Killian, to Seattle with me, so he could check out the show, see the city, and visit the Experience Music Project (he's a guitar player and a big music fan). Friday morning we went to the EMP, which is housed in a Gehry structure next to the Space Needle, with Cully Hamner and Paul Jenkins. I'd been to the EMP two years ago with Cully, who is one of my best friends in the business, and Nelson Blake II, my artistic partner on "The Magdalena," who has slept on my couch more times than I can count.

It turned out Paul is a guitar player as well, so he and Killian (a lefty) jammed for a while in one of the practice rooms, while the musically-insufficient (meaning me and Cully) mangled the electronic drums.

ECCC offered a chance to catch up with a bunch of friends. I got to spend time with closer pals, like BOOM!'s Filip Sablik, writer/artist Phil Hester, sculptor and artist and former Disney animator Ruben Procopio, Kirby Krackle's Kyle Stevens, artist Tony Shasteen, "Skullkickers" writer Jim Zubkavich, and Stone Chin of Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed" PR team. And those are just the people with whom I got to share a meal. The list of everybody I bumped into for a quick chat, or a beer at the hotel bar, is a long one.

Three different friends told me they were expecting babies. I had a moment to congratulate Dave Marquez, who worked with me on "Magdalena," on his well-deserved Marvel success. I got to meet writer Gerry Conway, and thank him for "Firestorm," one of the first DC titles I latched onto as a reader. I caught up with actor Paul McGillion of "Stargate Atlantis," with whom I struck up a friendship in New Zealand last year when we were there for a pair of conventions. My buddy Francesco Francavilla and I were in an elevator with Michael Rooker of "The Walking Dead." Another fellow in the elevator told Rooker, "You look a lot like that guy on that 'Walking Dead' show." Rooker said, in that unique rasp of his, "Yeah, I get that a lot..." Then he 'fessed up, had a laugh, and shook the fellow's hand.

My friend Jeff Streeter, the biggest Teen Titans fan I know, flew out to the show from New York, and continued filling his legendary sketchbooks with Titans commissions. One was by Cully Hamner, who was sitting at the table next to me, so in between signing books, I watched him draw it. Another was by Ruben Procopio, a great Nightwing piece. Ruben and Jeff were among our group for dinner on Friday night. Nice when you can connect friends to friends.

ECCC was also a chance for me to hang out with a relatively new friend, Israel Idonije, defensive end for the Chicago Bears, and founder of Athleta Comics. I'm writing Athleta's first offering, "The Protectors," with art by Bart Sears. A comic fan since childhood, "Izzy" flew in Saturday, after a morning TV appearance in Chicago, in order to check out ECCC, sign an exclusive "Protectors" litho with me on Sunday, and promote the debut of the "Protectors" prequel webcomic, updating daily in March.

We made the pilgrimage to one of my favorite restaurants, Metropolitan Grill, on Saturday night, with Killian, Izzy, Cully, Phil Hester, "Nightwing" writer Kyle Higgins (a huge Bears fan) and Kyle's girlfriend. Great meal, great company, followed by some social time in the hotel bar, catching up with friends and staying awake way too late.

My phone went off 7:15 a.m. Sunday, Izzy texting me and Killian to come work out in the hotel gym. It was more than a suggestion. So we dragged ourselves out of bed and headed to the 35th-floor gym. Killian did a circuit with Izzy, while I rode the stationary bike next to Howard Chaykin, and we talked about musical theater, Australia, and why Dave Johnson is the best cover artist of the last three or four decades. Now my son can tell people he worked out with an NFL player (Killian was still sore two days later), and I can tell people I pedaled next to Chaykin.

After some meetings and our signing on Sunday, we found out another Bears' defensive end, Shea McClellin, who just completed his rookie season, was at the show. Apparently he's yet another comics fan on the Bears (along with Izzy, and linebackers Lance Briggs and Nick Roach). Must be something in the water at the Bears' training facility. I met Shea, signed his sketchbook (it's a little disconcerting to have an NFL player ask for your autograph), and gave him a copy of "Shinku" Volume 1.

Sunday night, before Izzy had to get to the airport, he and I had some time to relax in the hotel lobby and discuss the past two days. The signing was great, we had some promising meetings. Much was accomplished. But more than all of that, I told Izzy that I thought the best thing that came out of the weekend was that my friends were now his friends. That's how this industry works. The love of comics means everybody's starting on the same page already. In comics, there are the friends you have, and the friends you just haven't met.

This is a family. And the family keeps growing.

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts" and "Ravine" for Top Cow, "Prophecy" for Dynamite and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

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