Greg's long day at the San Diego comic book convention, at which he manages to avoid getting punched in the nose (with bonus Warren Ellis goodness!)

You may think you have heard all there is to hear about the San Diego Con this past weekend.  You may think that Kelson did a good enough job (and, let's be honest, he did a great job showing us the wackiness that is the Con, plus he took a buttload of pictures).  You may think that Bully talking about his obsession with Jane Wiedlin is enough for you (his other convention reports are entertaining, too, by the way).  But you would be wrong, my friends.  Because none of those reports discuss what happens when the intrepid reporter braves getting punched in the nose.  Only here can you find such intrepidness!  Only here can you find - dare I say it? - such heroism to bring you the real story of Friday at the San Diego Comic-Con.  I, good readers, am that hero.  Read on to discover the whole story!

I flew out from Phoenix on Friday morning and landed around 9 in the morning.  By 9.15 I wanted to move to San Diego.  Damn, that's a nice city.  I took a cab to the convention center and began forging my way toward the building.  Weirdly enough, in that sea of humanity I saw Jake Bell, writer of Ye Olde Comick Booke Blogge and major domo of the Atomic Comics site.  So we journeyed together while I got my "press" pass (thereby bypassing the sad mass of humanity with the brown-edged passes - too bad, suckers!) and tried to enter the convention.  Yeah, that was a mistake.  Jake was trying to get down to the extreme end of artists' alley to talk to Art Adams, from whom he wanted to commission a sketch.  We ran smack-dab into a velvet rope at the "D" entrance, and could go no further.  The security detail told us we would have to wait until 10.  Like good Americans, we respected the authority of the security detail and waited.  People continued to try to convince the security dudes that they were far more special than the rest of us and were therefore allowed to go beyond the ropes, but very few succeeded.  Then the magic hour struck.  No movement from the security guards.  Oh dear.  The natives remained docile for about three minutes, and then the griping began.  I told Jake that all we needed was for one or two people to make a rush for it, and then, when the guards took them out, the rest of could go for it.  That's how it worked at Penn State football games when we wanted to rush the field (and get the goalposts, for which I was once tear-gassed) - one or two students would boldly sacrifice themselves for the rest.  What team spirit!  Unfortunately, nobody here had such team spirit, and we contented ourselves by whining loudly.  Finally, at approximately 10.13, they let us in ... but they funneled us toward the entrance to the hall, and we had to flow that way and then double back to get down to the "F" entrance, which is where Adams was.  Phew!  But the adventure had begun!

I went into the convention hall and was a bit overwhelmed, I must say.  I was in artists' alley but didn't stay there very long, because I didn't have a ton of interest in it.  I bid farewell to Jake for the time being (clutching a copy of his ashcan, which features various prose and comic stuff he's done) and went off.  I headed to the very other end of the convention hall (which is huge) to hit the retailers.  It's a comic book convention, after all, and I was interested in finding bargains on back issues!  So I walked.  And walked.  And, you know, walked some more.  Finally I reached the other end of the hall, where I dived into the various booths looking for treasure.  And yes, I found some!

One thing that annoys me about comic conventions is that the retailers bring their really old back stock.  I have absolutely no interest in "Golden Age" or even "Silver Age" comics, so I pass over a great deal of stuff.  Similarly, I have no interest in recent "hot" titles nor their cover variants, so I pass over that as well.  I'm interested in late 1970s to early- to mid-1990s stuff, but that stuff is often not easy to find.  But I did a pretty damned good job, if I do say so myself.  I picked up the seventh trade collection of Invincible, which for some reason I didn't get when it came out.  I also got the first 17 issues of New Mutants in trade, which was nice.  I have recently spoken of my search for back issues of Dazzler.  I was looking to complete my collection, and I came oh so close!  I got issues #5, 8, 12-14, 16, 23, 27, 30, 32-33, and 38, leaving me one issue (#22) short of the entire run.  I also dug up Martian Manhunter #12-21 and 23-36, also leaving me the elusive #22 short of the entire run.  I bought the first few issues of the series when it came out but dropped it.  I figured I'd give it another chance.  Hell, the issues were cheap.  I was also looking to complete my run of John Byrne's Namor series, which I skipped when it first came around but read later and really enjoyed.  So I found #1, 20-21, and 23, which means I am yet again one issue short of the entirety - this time #4.  While I was looking for things I stumbled across Alpha Flight #1-13 (again, the Byrne series), so I picked those up for a dollar each.  I read these as well, years ago, and really liked them.  Another comic I was keen on finding was Chase, but I only got issues #1-3 and 5.  Oh well - it's not like there were a ton of issues in the series!  I'm sure I'll find them eventually.  Another nice thing about conventions is that retailers package entire mini-series or runs by certain creators and sell them at a discount.  I found Dean Motter's The Prisoner series from DC, the recent Wisdom mini-series from Marvel, and the Gerard Jones/Mike Parobeck Elongated Man series, which Bill Reed was nice enough to remind me about last week.  Such was the extent of my back issue buying, and I moved onto the small press area of the convention floor.

I happened to wander past Steve Bryant's booth, where he was sitting behind a spread that included all four issues of Athena Voltaire plus a trade of the webcomic.  He started to explain what it was all about, and I hope he didn't think I was rude when I told him I already knew about it.  He did seem startled that someone had heard of the book, which is odd, because it seems that it's a bit more popular than a lot of small press stuff.  Anyway, we talked about the new series, which he promised would be out soon, and I told him how cool it was that he actually had the issues, because I knew they are hard to find.  I was a bit bummed out because I was running low on hard cash at this point and I could only get the issues and not the trade.  I know I could have found an ATM, but it kept slipping my mind.  That's okay, though - I'm looking forward to reading the series, because it looks really flingin'-flangin' cool.  I didn't take a picture of Steve because I'm an idiot.

I next came across Gia-Bao Tran, who was nice enough to introduce himself as GB, thereby saving me the embarrassment of mangling the pronunciation of his name because I'm an ignorant Yankee.  Tran is a very nice guy (everyone I met was very swell, actually), and we talked about Content briefly and why I didn't like the second issue (the cell phone sex, which he said was quite polarizing).  He gave me the first issue, which was very nice of him.  Tran is a very good artist, and it would be nice if more people saw his work.  He illustrated a story in Postcards: True Stories that Never Happened, which came out last week and which I would get signed by a bunch of people later, so maybe more people will see his work.  I encourage you to get Postcards.  It's very good.

As I moved on, I finally came to someone whose picture I remembered to take: Steve Earnhardt.  Earnhardt is the creator and writer of Hard-Bullied Comics, which I have reviewed here and which is a blast of a four-issue series to read.  We discussed the new art on issue #1, which looks great, and how this series featured Rudolf Montemayor's first published work, which is amazing because it's quite good.  Steve gave me a copy of the trade, which was ridiculously nice of him, and we talked about his new project, which is a graphic novel instead of a series of floppies.  The economies of comic book production comes into play again, as it's very expensive to bring out individual issues.  It's a shame.  I'm looking forward to the graphic novel, however, because it was fascinating to watch as Earnhardt slowly became a better writer over the course of this series.  Here's Steve:

I wandered around and found myself at the Oni Press booth.  Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly were sitting there signing stuff and chatting.  I told them how much I liked Local (because who doesn't?) and kicked myself for not buying a print from Kelly showing the cover of Local #11, which was beautiful.  Yes, I'm stupid.  Kelly mentioned that they were working on something for Minx, which I guess was announced later that day.  I thought I'd have a scoop!  Oh well.

I turned the corner at the Oni booth and said hello to Ande Parks, who wrote the rather brilliant Capote in Kansas and the somewhat less brilliant but still pretty damned entertaining Union Station.  He's also an inker of some note.  And quite stylish!

Next I stopped at Rich Koslowski's booth.  Koslowski wrote and drew The King, which was a wonderful comic from two years ago.  His latest is The List, which is a Christmas book with pictures.  It sounds like lots of fun - the powerful are desperate to get their hands on Santa's famous "list"!  I'll read it eventually - so much to read!

At about this time I managed to hook up with two other esteemed bloggers.  Yes, it was networking time among the blogaxy at the San Diego Con!  I had made arrangements to meet Tom Collins of the always-interesting Tom the Dog's You Know What I Like? and Ian Brill of the now-defunct Brill Building.  I hung out with them for a good portion of the afternoon and had dinner with them.  They were very cool guys and it was great to meet them.  I always dig meeting people you get to know on-line, because it's weird yet fun.  Here's a handy photograph for reference:

That's Ian looking goofy on the left, and Tom proudly wearing his GrimJack T-shirt on the right.  The first thing Ian wanted to do was head to the AiT/Planet Lar booth and say hello to Larry, who just had a kid (well, presumably he didn't actually have the kid, although I wouldn't put it past the marketing master that is Larry Young!).  We spoke to Larry briefly and then talked to Matt Silady, the writer/artist of The Homeless Channel.  Matt was (of course) a swell guy, and I got a lot of insight into how he created the "realistic" look to the book.  It was fascinating - I'm no artist, or even close to one, so the process by which guys create stuff is really neat.  It sounds complicated.  Here's Larry trying to hide from my camera!

We moved on and saw one of the coolest (and by coolest I mean absolutely stupid) things at the convention: the Girls and Corpses magazine booth.  I guess there's an audience for that particular combination, although I can't even imagine who.  Oh wait - Tom bought a copy! 

Here's the kind of thing you can find in Girls and Corpses.  Surprisingly, I heard of this magazine two years ago.  Unfortunately, now I've been reminded of it.


At this time, we went upstairs.  Ian wanted to check out the Image panel, while Tom wanted to see the preview for Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween (which casts Malcolm McDowell in the Donald Pleasance role - McDowell has taken over from Pleasance in the "go-to" actor who adds some class to your low-budget horror flick).  The Image panel was the only panel I even half-attended, and I don't really have much to say about it.  I mean, according to Erik Larsen (I guess it was Larsen - I was sitting in the back of the room and could barely see the panelists, much less their names), every single comic that Image has coming out in the next few months is the coolest one ever.  I'm serious - he'd put a slide up of, say, Casanova.  "I love this book," he'd say.  "It's so cool.  It's the coolest book."  We would all ooh and aah about the nifty covers, then the next slide would show, say, that new Steve Niles/Bill Sienkiewicz book.  Now, I'm drooling over the idea of Sienkiewicz doing interiors again, but Larsen was even more enthusiastic.  "Man, I love this book," he'd say, sounding strangely familiar.  "It's probably the coolest book we have."  Then we'd get a slide showing Invincible, and everyone clapped because that's such a fave.  Kirkman spoke of the 50th issue of both this and The Walking Dead (in which he claimed everyone dies), and then Larsen broke in with, "God, I love these books.  They're, like, the coolest thing we have."  Make up your mind, Erik!  I know you love your own company, but come on.

I left Ian and Tom to their respective things and went back downstairs.  I happened by the Penny-Farthing Press booth, where they were selling copies of the first Captain Gravity series plus the trade of Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril.  I bought the first series because I didn't have it yet, and then I berated the salespeople.  Why would I do that?  Well, I bought the six issues of the second series and tried to get other people to check it out because it's a damned nifty comic by Joshua Dysart and Sal Velluto.  When the trade was solicited, there was a completely new issue in it, making it a trade of seven issues!  I was a bit grumpy about it because I supported the comic when it was coming out, and then the trade features a LOT of new material!  I didn't really berate them that much, just mentioning that it was kind of strange that they would do that, but they offered me a good price on it and, like a sucker, I bought it.  But that's still annoying.

I went back to AiT/Planet Lar because I wanted to talk more to Larry about his company.  We discussed The Black Diamond and how neat it is.  Larry was nice enough to introduce me to Richard Starkings, who was around the corner in his own booth.  He was hanging out with Moritat and John Roshell.  Starkings and Moritat, of course, are the creative force behind Elephantmen, which is a very good comic book.  I talked to Starkings for a good 45 minutes, because he's a very nice guy.  We talked about Image's business model, which allows him and other creators a great deal of freedom.  He also told me that Moritat drew Solstice under his "real" name, Justin Norman, which was news to me (I suppose I could have found it out on my own).  Solstice, by the way, is a brilliant comic book that I encourage you all to get.  He gave me a few goodies like the latest issue of Elephantmen (I told him I hadn't bought an issue yet because he kept sending them to me, and he joked that I was a cheap bastard, which of course I am) and the hardcover trade that comes out this week.  I'll have to take a look at it, because I might be giving it away as I already own the issues.  He also gave me the first two issues of Strange Embrace by David Hine, about which he raved.  As my only experience with Hine as a writer is the latest issue of Spawn, I'll be keen to read it and see if the raves are deserved.  Moritat was also very nice, and drew a sketch of Sahara (seen here on this astonishingly beautiful cover) for me gratis.  That was surprising and very cool of him.  It was great talking to Starkings, especially because he knows so many people in the industry and has been in it so long.  Bryan Talbot stopped by at one point, but I didn't get a chance to talk to him.  Oh well!

Here's Moritat, Starkings, and Roshell.  Excellent guys all around!  Below is the sketch Moritat did for me:

Then I wandered some more, and took a picture of, well, I'm not proud of pandering to the lowest elements of our geeky society, but, you know, it's girls in bikinis:

No, it's not a very good picture.  I'll make up for it soon, I promise!

I went back to the Oni booth and met Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten.  Johnston knew who I was, as he occasionally stops by the blog, and he was typically swell.  The trade of Wasteland is out, by the way, so pick it up if you want to read a neat post-apocalyptic story with fantastic art.  He mentioned that he has the entire story plotted out, including the ending at about issue #50.  He also said it's a pretty good seller for Oni, so I hope he can continue and finish it, because it's getting better as we get further into the story and it will be very cool to see where it's going.  I was going to buy some of Antony's other stuff like Closer and Three Days in Europe, but I was, as you recall, running low on cash, plus I was running seriously low on places to put all my booty.  More on that below!

That's Johnston on the left and Mitten on the right, by the way.

I had hooked back up with Ian and Tom, and they wanted to head toward artists' alley because Ian wanted to speak to Steve Lieber and Tom wanted to say hello to Zander Cannon.  So we headed into the scary part of the convention, mainly the movie studios and non-comics-related pavilions.  Seriously - if you're going to a comic book convention, do you really need to buy a kilt (which you could do there) or check out what's happening on the Sci-Fi Channel?  I guess you do.  I could not have cared less about the ancillary stuff, because I'm hard core, man!

We stopped at Steve Lieber's table and spoke to him for a bit.  I was going to mention that the first time I saw Lieber's work was on Hawkman in the mid-1990s, but does anyone really need to be reminded of that?  Lieber mentioned that the Whiteout movie wrapped filming in April but they still don't have a release date.  Despite the somewhat odd poster of the Frank Miller cover with Kate Beckinsale's face, I'm really looking forward to this movie.  The comic is awesome, after all.  Lieber had the two trades to buy, and I asked him where the version with both trades was.  He said he doesn't even have a copy - he had a copy, but a few years ago he took a bunch to a con and accidentally put his in with them, and now it's gone.  Apparently it's out of print and he can't find it on eBay.  Poor Steve Lieber!

Tom had met Zander Cannon long ago, so he wanted to catch up.  He mentioned that he's writing a new Top 10 series, which could be rather cool.  Gene Ha is pencilling it, so it might come out before my children go to college.

We moved back into the "entertainment" section of the convention, where we saw the most awesomest thing there.  At a movie booth (the Weinsteins'?) stood a model dressed like Rose McGowan in the "Planet Terror" section of Grindhouse.  Now, her wig wasn't great, but nobody was looking at her wig.  They were looking at her leg - which did not exist.  Yes, she was an actual amputee with a rifle strapped to her knee:

Now THAT'S commitment!  We were wondering if, as an amputee model, this young lady heard about this gig and thought, "Hot damn!  I'm all over this shit!"  Or did they have her on speed dial?  Either way, this was the coolest thing going, and I didn't need Erik Larsen to tell me that.  I didn't get a picture when Danny Trejo came out and posed with her.  Go to Tom's blog if you want to see his somewhat crappy cell phone pictures.  Mine are much clearer, but they don't include Trejo.

It was around five o'clock when I headed over to the Comic Relief pavilion for a signing of Postcards.  This anthology features some excellent stories by a host of good creators, and although not all of the stories work perfectly, it's still a fascinating project.  My book was passed around to Antony Johnston, Ande Parks, Matt Kindt, Rick Spears, Rob G, GB Tran, Joseph Bergin III, Jason Copland, and Micah Farritor, as well as Jason Rodriguez, the book's editor.  I spoke briefly to Copland about our love of Marillion, which is of course the Greatest Rock Band in the World, and we also talked a bit about his story in the book, which is a creepy claustrophobic tale that owes a lot to its art, as the story isn't fleshed out terribly well.  Jason's a cool guy and it was nice to meet him.  When I got my book back it looked like a high school yearbook, only with cooler signatures:

You'll notice another signature I didn't mention.  The last person to sign the book was Tom Beland, who was standing around because he didn't get a chair.  I gave it to him and hoped he would sign it before he noticed my name, but as he started, he asked if he should write something mean and nasty because of who I was.  I joked that I was trying to avoid telling him my name, but we shook hands and laughed about our weird feud from last October.  He apologized for his actions, I apologized for what I now realize is a fairly immature review (I stand by my convictions about the book, but not the pretty mean tone of it) and we had a nice conversation.  He was very cool about the whole thing.  His story in Postcards is actually one of the better ones, and I told him I might have to check out True Story Swear to God one more time and give it a second chance.  As proof that I met him, here's a picture of us:

I also really like what he drew in my book:

I like that Lily looks like she really wanted him to kick my ass.  She wanted blood!  Anyway, it was great to meet him, as well as all the other creators.  It's a bit weird to realize that a lot of people know who you are - I've never come across that phenomenon before, but it's also pretty neat.  Of course, now it's going to be hard to be mean to their comics.  I may have to be less childish when I give a bad review!  Oh, the horror!

By this time I was exhausted and ready to eat dinner.  I hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, but even though I wasn't that hungry, I figured if I went any longer I might drop dead.  I had also been carrying a big bag and a little bag full of comics around all day.  I heard very late in the day that I could have checked my bags, and considering I didn't really buy much after about noon, I would have, but there I was, lugging around my entire haul like a sucker.  I ached for days afterward, I'll tell you that much!  Ian, Tom, and I went out to dinner, and then I caught a taxi to the airport.  While I was waiting for my plane, I realized I didn't have my Moritat sketch.  Shit.  Where the hell was it?  You realize I was carrying it around in a plastic bag all day, not putting it in my bigger bags where it would get crushed, and now I didn't have it.  I assumed I had left it at the restaurant, and when I called them, they confirmed that they did in fact have it.  Phew!  I called Jake and asked him to pick it up on Saturday, and he, not being a dick, did so.  My friend Robert takes a flat portfolio thing to each convention because he gets a lot of sketches, so he brought it back to Mesa.  I was very grateful.

I went away for the weekend (it was my thirteenth anniversary on Monday, so the wife and I fled to northern Arizona for a bit) and then, on Monday, I headed to the Mesa store of Atomic Comics to meet Warren Ellis (through a horrific storm that actually flooded the freeway near my home).  It turned out I didn't talk to him at all - he was a signing machine!  One thing I noticed was that he used hand sanitizer whenever he shook hands.  He has a bit of the Howard Hughes in him, I guess!  He was very jovial and not at all scary, but that's possibly because I didn't mention I got him to sign the collected edition of Come In Alone because of the fun irony involved.

He also kind of has a Mick Fleetwood thing going on with that outfit.  Still, he's more stylish than I am!  Next to him was Jacen Burrows (that's not him in the picture; he was taking a break), who signed my copy of Scars.  I asked him why he doesn't work for the Big Boys, and he said whenever his contract comes up, Avatar says they have another project with Garth Ennis or Alan Moore or Ellis lined up that they'd like him to draw.  He told me if he worked for Marvel or DC he'd be stuck doing fill-in issues for a while, whereas with Avatar he can do series with these very talented writers.  We talked about Avatar's reputation as a porn publisher, which I think is pretty unfair.  It's good to see their profile rising through some very good comics over the past decade or so.  A lot of people think the Avatar house style of art is too "busy," but a look at Burrows' work puts that to rest.  Sure, some of their artists put a ton of detail into the work, but for me, someone like Juan Jose Ryp is better than a guy whose art looks sketchy.  It's all a matter of taste, I guess.  As I talked to Burrows, William Christensen, the editor-in-chief of Avatar, came over and said hello.  He thanked me for getting the word out about the company.  I told him if they keeping making good comics they'll get recognized on their own.  It's nice to see more people giving them a chance.  This is Jacen, by the way: 

So that was my big day at the convention and my coda at the comic book store.  I had a great time, but I'm not sure if I think it's necessary to ever go back.  The Con is pretty overwhelming, I'll tell you that much.  I'm not as jaded about it as those people who claim it's not about comics anymore, because despite the presence of a lot of non-comics-related stuff, there was still plenty for the discerning comic book geek to do.  I can't imagine spending four days there, unless people don't go for the full time every day.  I was a bit disappointed not to go to more panels, but that was just a compromise I made.  I also missed a few people I would have liked to meet, most notably Peter David, who was around somewhere (at the IDW booth, I think, which I just missed).  But that's okay.  Life goes on.

Anyway, it was a fun day, and I got to meet many excellent people, and whenever you end up at a restaurant quoting They Live ("... put the glasses on!"), you know you've had a good time.  And isn't that what it's all about?

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