A COLUMN TITLE SUGGESTS ITSELF
Your turn will come.
Yet another in the long list of reasons why San Francisco is the best city in America is its proximity to the superior vineyards of Napa Valley, and, by extension, to the number of local vineyards who love to come into SF and throw wine-tastings.
I went down to my local purveyor with every intention of picking up two sixers of Red Stripe to go with the Black Angus filet and salad that I was going to make for myself for dinner that night, when I stumbled into one of the periodic tastings this place will throw to spotlight a local vineyard's bottlings. These soirees are usually unadvertised, because, even to the uninitiated, "wine tastings" translates into "free booze."
But they figure a knowledgeable vintner exposing his wares to customers who were coming in anyway is an added-value service which will pay off in the future, in either more sales, increased foot traffic, or, at the very least, positive word-of-mouth for the shop.
So as I was gathered around the small table they had set up with about fifteen other folks, the pleasant chap behind it regaled us all with a running commentary on wine etiquette as he poured for us a taste of his vineyard's output.
As I listened to his smoothly-practiced patter, a lady in her dotage and long dispossessed of any manners she might have had started indelicately trying to elbow me aside in order to get served more quickly. Instead of cracking her in the head with my empty, waiting glass (held by the stem, not the bowl, so as to better see the true color of the wine unmarred by my greasy mitts) and yelling, "Wait yer turn, Granma!", I said, "Heard this speech before, huh?"
She turned to me with what she probably hoped was a withering stare and said she wasn't used to waiting.
Usually, when I'm out in the world, I'll encounter something that reminds me of a situation in the comic book industry. I know Matt Fraction, editor of the comic analysis site Savant is waiting breathlessly for my "How comics are like broken stoplights" column, for example… but oddly at this juncture with the old rude matron and dulcet tones of a master winemaker vying for equal attention in my field of view, I realized simultaneously two things:
First, good things come to those who wait, and second, there really are things that make a good comic.
The first lesson I learned very early in life, standing with my dad in line at Six Flags over Texas in 1968, and, in order to pay back this woman for the old-lady elbow to the ribs she gave me, I related this story to her as we waited for a taste of Napa Valley ambrosia:
We were at Six Flags on one of our regular family outings, enjoying the amusement park like any middle-class mom and dad with a boy and a girl would do; but, there comes a time when the boys want to go on a ride that the girls just don't feel as excited about, and it was then that I learned the first lesson.
I was getting particularly antsy, hopped-up on cotton candy and Dr. Pepper and who knows what else, standing under the hot Texas sun in the summertime, waiting in an interminable line to experience what was my favorite ride. I forget the name of it, but it was a big round room that spun very fast. The centrifugal force eventually pinned you to sides, and, just when you thought it couldn't get any more fun, the floor dropped about two feet and you spun, suspended, in the air.
Man, I couldn't get enough of that ride.
Anyway, my dad and I were standing in this line, and I think I started to actually vibrate with little-kid anticipation. I'm sure I started to mouth off, or something, because my dad stepped over, blotting out the sun, as he did, in those days, and said, "Listen, let me tell you something…"
And there was just something in his voice that made me think I was about to hear One Of Those Things… those pronouncements that I was hearing quite a lot in those days about How The World Works. So I was quiet as we took just a half-step out of line.
Looking towards the ride, he said, "See all those people ahead of us?"
"Yes," I squeaked my little six-year old squeak. Why is he torturing me, I remember thinking. That is a LOT of people.
"Now look this way," my dad said. "See all those people BEHIND us?" I had to admit that there were probably just as many people behind us in line.
"This is how the world works," my Middle-class American Dad said. "Sometimes there're people ahead of you in line, and sometimes there are people behind you in line. Eventually, it's your turn."
This tale practically hypnotized the old lady, and by the time she realized the Zen-like truth to the story, the guy behind the table was pouring her a glass of his vineyard's Sauvignon Blanc and she waddled away on her way.
And I thought entertainment in general and comic books in particular are just like that. Sometimes there are people ahead of you in line, and sometimes there are people behind you in line. There's no need to get antsy; if you keep fighting the good fight, your turn will come.
This may explain the popularity of "All your base belong to us," for example.
The second thing I realized, while the winemaker was talking about the various etiquettes involved with the "mystique of wine," as he put it, is that like the things that go into making a good wine, there really are things that go into making a good comic.
Like the folks who orchestrate an evening of different wines and the accompanying meals, or the many different sorts of stemware, or the ability of a good host to "make sure there's a generosity of spirit around the table" as Karen MacNeil, chairman of the wine department at the Culinary Institute in St. Helena, California, puts it…
…there is a whole "mystique of comics" as well…
But that's next week's column.
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