Last Weekend at Emerald City

....Okay, that was big.

That's actually all any of us said for most of the weekend. Certainly, it was the first thing we heard from all our friends after exchanging greetings.

"Damn, this thing's gotten big."

"Big show this year."

"Can you believe how big this has gotten?"

"This convention is getting really big!"

And so on. The interesting thing is, although it was occasionally exhausting, and there were certainly some times at the booth where we were wishing it was possible to take a people break, overall it didn't feel cramped or crowded.

Best of all, everyone was very pleasant. Usually there's at least one bitter annoying fan-person that throws some kind of a snit, but we didn't have to deal with anything like that. For once we actually shot lots of pictures, and I stole a couple of others, so I'm just going to go through them. Call it CBR's other ECCC photo parade.

Here's how we were set up in Artist's Alley. We were in the E section, right across from the food and just down a bit from Gail Simone and Ed Brubaker, so we got a lot of spillover traffic from them.

Here you have Alexa, Lindon, Edwin, and Aja.

Aja is actually one of our grads, she was in the Denny class last year. She met Rachel, a Madison grad, at school, and they immediately bonded over both of them being Cartooning alumni, even though they were at different schools. This year Rachel and Aja were our "interns." (We used to joke about them being our "booth babes," but after the skeevy guys came up to the table wanting to photograph them, we quit making that joke.)

We had four exhibitor passes with our two tables. Three went to me, Julie, and our friend Lorinda Adams (wife of occasional CSBG contributor Tadhg Adams.) We've actually known Rin for longer than Tadhg, she was one of Julie's bridesmaids, and it's always a treat for us when she can come out to visit. My students love seeing her, too.

That leaves one pass that we usually use for an 'internship,' meaning someone young enough to carry our boxes. I walk with a cane, Julie's still recovering from her various medical things, and Rin's in a wheelchair, so the intern's job is basically to wrestle the table stuff to and from our car. For years it was Brianna, a Madison cartooning grad who was my TA off and on down at the art studio all through her time in high school.

As luck would have it, our usual "internship" spot had opened up, though, since Brianna is off at college now. Rachel and Aja had sent us a hilarious and endearing note -- in comic strip form -- asking if there was ANY way they could come to the con, despite not being in class any more. Julie and I were melted by this and decided it would be a shame to break up the team, so we sprung for an extra exhibitor pass, and Rachel and Aja both came and worked as our interns for the weekend. They had a great time, and so did we. Here's Rachel doing a commissioned portrait of a blond gentleman that came up to the table.

Rachel's young but she's got game -- she's been working the Alki Beach Art Fair as a caricaturist for a couple of years now.

You may recall that last year, Rachel and her father Lew were quite taken with our next-door neighbor in Artist's Alley that was dressed as Power Girl. (It amused me no end that when Lew came to pick Rachel up on Sunday evening, the first question he asked was, "So, was Power Girl back this year?")

Yes, she was, as a matter of fact, and I imagine she was kept busy posing for pictures all day Saturday.

Someone told me Power Girl's real name is Kristen. I am so ashamed that we've seen her at different shows for two years now and chatted and said hi and I never think to ask her name. (Because, well, my subconscious says I already know who that is; it's Power Girl.) We always enjoy seeing her and the kids love her; in fact, Rachel was running around with a Power Girl book she wanted her to sign for her father, but I don't think she ever found her. Sunday Kristen changed it up and came in a terrific lady pirate costume, complete with parrot, which I'm afraid we neglected to get a picture of. It really was very cool, though, she had a whole El Cazador thing going on.

There were lots of good costumes this year. Everybody wanted shots of the Flash.

And this little mini-Flash.

(Julie says when she took this, the kid's father was saying, "Come on, show us your muscles!")

I think Rin took this one of Starfire...

Guy Gardner posed for quite a few people.

That's his real hair, too. Talk about Method.

Of course, the Skrulls were a huge hit, though I had to explain what Skrulls were to at least nine kids and two parents.

It's hard to feel more idiotic than when you're trying to explain Skrulls, crossovers, and Marvel continuity events to the mother of one of your twelve-year-old students. (Folks, this is NOT "mainstream" comics. "Mainstream" implies that enough people know what it is that you aren't having to constantly explain it. Let that phrase go.) But the Skrull costumes WERE amazing. Part mask, part makeup.

And these ladies came up to our table to say hello and get the kids to sign a book for them.

Rin and my students all knew who they were instantly-- Julie and I had no clue. We're old-school comics folk. Julie doesn't speak manga at all, and I only speak it brokenly and with an accent.

I do know that they were part of the SakuraCon booth crew. I also can tell you that one of the girls was a bingo item, though I won't say which girl or which item. Judge for yourselves.

And of course, there were Star Wars folks. Especially stormtroopers.

The kids love it when the costume people come to our table, and this year was no exception. Lynn is the only one looking at the camera, and that's Lindon next to her. Aja is standing further back, in the dark blue.

Here's another.

That's Shane looking up from the table, and Danielle is distracting the trooper while Lindon sneaks up behind him...

...so we can get this picture.

I have no idea if this trooper knew what Lindon was doing behind him, but we thought it was pretty damn funny.

Lindon actually came for both days -- this is her last year with us, and her last con as part of our crew, so she was determined to make the most of it. The school only pays for one day's admission per student, so we can rotate both classes through over the course of the con. I think that Lindon actually skipped lunch for a week and hoarded her lunch money so she could afford her second-day pass. Clearly, it was worth it. Here's Alexa and Lindon on Saturday.

Lindon's father had planned to come, but I gather he wasn't able to. It's a shame he missed it; I never see Lindon so happy as when she's at the show. Check her out here, holding Torvald the Troll.

Laura was surprised the kids already knew about Torvald, but I assure you that it made Lindon's whole day to be the one that actually got to hold him. Counterclockwise from Lindon, it's Alexa, Nash, Edwin, Tiffany in the back, and Marcus making the silly face and giving Nash the bunny ears.

The reason the kids all know Torvald, incidentally, is because these pictures of Laura's are often the only good ones of the class we get from the convention, so they make the rounds. This is the only decent shot we have of Shane, Danielle, Jessica, and Alan. (Laura thought the boys were a little dubious -- it's because Jess hadn't briefed them on Torvald the way she had Dani.)

Anyway, Laura posing the kids with Torvald is one of the rare times they're willing to hold still and HAVE a picture taken. Most of the other times we have to sneak up on them.

This is Marcus and Edwin. Edwin was the sole representative of Aki on Saturday. I was worried that it might be a bit much for him -- Ed is very shy and introverted -- but as you can see, he stepped right in there and got his geek on. Here he is again, signing, while Tiffany sketches to his right.

Even Alexa and Lindon, who are definitely NOT introverted, tend to get lost in their sketching when they're at the table.

Mostly the kids just like to sit at the table and draw, I have to nag them to look up at people. I do sympathize -- after four hours or so, I get tired of people too. But meeting people is why we're there.

Truthfully, I had been a little worried about all the Aki kids, not just Ed. Aki Kurose Middle School is in one of the poorer sections of town, down in "Little Saigon," and this was the first year we've done the Cartooning program there. What I was worried about had largely to do with parents and transportation issues.

The thing is, for years my bosses have told me, "If you run into any snags, we've got a van you can use, we can set up a shuttle run from the school." With my West Seattle parents, it was never an issue; they would just carpool and that was it. Sometimes a kid would get stranded at the con and we'd have to get them a lift home, but that was about all. Never needed to set up a van doing a shuttle run.

My Aki parents, though, often are one-car or no-car families, and many of those parents only speak a very little English. So the first thing I did when I was putting together this year's convention attendance was request the van.

Only there was no van any more. Nobody ever asked for it, so they got rid of it.

There's a lesson there about bureaucracy and budgets -- use it or lose it. (I actually knew that, after fourteen years of working in the public school system, but stupidly I never thought to apply it in this case.)

The reason this was a problem is because I signed a dozen or so blood oaths at the beginning of the year that I would never have a student in my car. Insurance, liability, etc. The school's solution was to give the car-impaired kids Metro passes and let them ride the bus in. Again, from Madison in west Seattle this is do-able, it's a short hop. From Aki down in Rainier Valley it's almost an hour, some of it through some scary parts of town, and several parents were very much not on board with this solution. "No, no bus, too little for bus. You give ride?"

I couldn't give ride, though, not without risking my job. Hence the problems. The hell of it is, I don't disagree with the nervous parents' position. I sure as hell wouldn't put any twelve-year-old daughter of mine on the #7 bus downtown, especially in the evening. We did eventually figure it all out, but it was a hassle. And some of the kids did bus it in, though parents came and got them for the trip home.

The other reason I was a little nervous is because I wondered if the con itself might be a bit much for our new kids, there's a certain sensory overload to the experience. This is mostly me being stupid and projecting, because it can get to be a bit much for Julie and me. (We're, y'know, old, and we rarely get to leave the booth. Talking to a thousand people over the course of the day is wearing.)

But the kids? They think they've died and gone to heaven. Edwin was another one who scraped together the extra cash for a second day's pass, just to hang out. I told him he didn't have to work, he'd done more than his share, but he was nice enough to cover a shift on Sunday so some of the girls could roam around and shop.

Rin tried to make sure Julie and I got some show too. Saturday's always a zoo, though Julie and I did manage to sneak away for Wil Wheaton's reading.

I knew Wil's writing from his blog, but it was a revelation for Julie. He was hysterically funny, especially reading from this essay, and Julie was instantly a fan for life. She immediately wanted to run and get his book. Unfortunately, so did about a thousand other people, and we couldn't justify standing in line that long. We felt guilty enough about being away from the table just for the panel. But we put it on the shopping list, and our new copy of Wil's Dancing Barefoot arrived yesterday, with the other two on deck. Recommended.

Wil Wheaton, Jamie Bamber from Galactica, and Julie Benz from Buffy were our A-list celebs. (Adam Baldwin canceled, to Julie's chagrin.) We also had the crew from Stan Lee's Who Wants To Be A Superhero? and it surprised me how much business they were doing. What really surprised me was that they did quite a bit more than Julie Benz; with Adam Baldwin gone, I'd assumed she would be the default Whedon mob victim. But she was charging for her autograph and for photos with fans, and I imagine that probably had a lot to do with it.

After the reading on Saturday, my wife kept an eye on Wil Wheaton's booth off and on for the rest of the weekend, hoping the line would thin out enough that she could dart over there and buy a book. Sunday afternoon, it finally did, and Julie got as far as standing up to go over to his booth. Then she hesitated.

"I'm nervous," she confessed, and blushed to the roots of her hair.

"Oh, for pity's sake." I grinned at Aja and said, "Aja, take my wife over to meet Wil Wheaton."

"I'm nervous too," Aja said.

"All right, then, you can prop each other up. And take him one of our kids' books," I added. "I bet he'd enjoy it."

A minute later Julie was back. "Where is our camera?" she blurted. "The girls are going to get a picture with Fat Momma!"

"Huh?" I blinked. "What happened with Wil Wheaton?"

"He's leaving, and he didn't have any more books. I gave him the kids' book though, I said we were training the next generation of geeks. And he said 'Rock on!'" Julie beamed. "And then the girls wanted to meet Fat Momma and she said she would pose for a picture and I didn't have the camera, I need our camera! Ah, okay, here it is," and she was off again.

Which is how we got this. Aja, Fat Momma, and Rachel.

What shouldn't have surprised me, but nevertheless did, was how excited Rachel and Aja were to meet the gang from Who Wants To Be A Superhero? After all, the show's a success, so people must watch it, but I'm always a little surprised that any of us admit to it. I heard really good things all weekend about the cast members that came this year, though, and we very much appreciated Fat Momma bending her booth rules to let the girls get their picture. Julie bought some stuff from her as a sort of thank-you -- I'm not sure what, I think she gave it all to Rachel and Aja. I never got to see it.

Professionals were wonderful to my students all weekend. They usually are, but the ones I especially want to single out are CBR's own Gail Simone, who despite being mobbed both days was extremely giving of her time for many of the students, and even made it a point to visit our table. She let Julie take this in the morning before the ravening hordes arrived.

Rachel gave Gail a colored-marker sketch of Spider-Man standing between Gwen and Mary Jane ("I see his happy sense is tingling," Gail's husband Scott remarked) and Gail thanked her profusely and treated it with the reverence you'd give a commission from a star artist. That's the kind of thing a kid remembers for decades after, believe me.

The other professional who really went above and beyond with my students was Mike Grell. I'm afraid I wasn't able to get a decent shot of him but Aaron Albert kindly let me have permission to use one of his.

Mike has been very supportive in the past and really takes an interest in what the kids are doing. He had a nice talk with my graduate Amanda about her zine, and he is now Carlos' favorite creator ever.

I should explain about Carlos. The boys at Aki are endlessly fascinated with the mythology of superheroes, especially the Marvel heroes. It started with the publicity push all year for the Iron Man movie, which piqued their interest, and so I made sure to include some Iron Man and Avengers books in the Aki package of comics that came to the Christmas party.

All the kids were into it but those really set Carlos on fire, his inner collector-geek was awake and raring to go after that. He had a reaction that I've seen a few times over my years teaching middle school; he immediately set out to learn the "real" story. Not the film version of Iron Man, which he understands is an adaptation, that's the "movie one." Carlos is hell-bent on discovering the real one. The one in the comics.

So when he asked me who worked on Iron Man, he meant the real one. I pointed to Mike Grell and said, "Mike over there did Iron Man for a while. He's really nice. You should go say hello to him."

Carlos bit his lip. "Would he do me a sketch?"

"He might. What a lot of pros like to do is trade. Take him one of our zines, show him what you're doing with Spark-Man. I bet he'd be interested. Anyway it's more polite to offer something in return, show him that you understand it's not free. If you can't afford to spend money you should always at least offer to trade a book or a drawing. Don't just go and say, 'hey, dude, draw me something,' like it's a monkey doing a trick. This is work, the artists do this for their job."

And off he went. Twenty minutes later he was back and holding a Mike Grell Iron Man headshot, done in marker. Carlos looked at me with goggled eyes. "He did this for me," he said, awed. "And he read my story."

I don't think there are adequate words for what that twenty minutes from Mike Grell did for Carlos. You should have seen the kid's face. It bordered on a religious experience.

And Mike was that gracious with all the kids. I wasn't able to get away from the table much all weekend but I damned well made time on Sunday to get over to his table and thank him. At which point I was floored by him thanking me for doing the class. Just a hell of a guy.

The one real regret I had for the weekend is actually the same one I have read in many artist blogs and studio con reports this last week; Emerald City is now big enough that you can miss seeing people. Rin tried gamely to get me out and away more, but even though I got up from the table more than in previous years, somehow I never had a chance to just walk Artist's Alley and visit with friends.

I had a quick hello with local artist Edward Pun and Ben from Mad Sea Dog, and a couple of minutes' chat with Ellen Forney at Fantagraphics. (All of them also lamented not getting out and around more; Ellen admitted ruefully that she was supposed to be done with her signing forty-five minutes sooner, but of course it was when she was getting up to go that all the people showed up.) I'd pass Gail in the aisles, and we'd laugh about how at least we'd got to do a quick zigzag lap around the floor on the way to the bathroom. And Heidi and Jim Meeley came by our table once or twice.

I did manage to take care of something I've wanted to do for a couple of years; finally, I got Rose and Madeline from The Color M to contribute something to our class scrapbook. And I even got this picture of the girls while Rosie was doing it.

I think Julie might have bought some more buttons, too, on a different pass. She loves their stuff.

That was about it for the hellos. Next year, damn it, I WILL find time to circulate. At least a little on Sunday.

However, Rin and I were able to persuade my wife to get out and have more fun this year, at least. Julie worries about the students like they were her own kids, and watches them like a mother hawk all weekend to make sure that they're all having a good time. Since at any given moment there's at least one kid that's hungry or tired or out-of-sorts, this makes for a hard weekend for Julie: she can't relax until whatever it is has been put right and there's always something to put right.

This in turn distracts me because when I can see Julie is worried about something, I am compelled to find out what it is and take care of it, and so I am worrying about THAT while I am in the middle of whatever student crisis has erupted at the moment. Thus the hamster wheel spins. Having Rin this year helped with that, because she's good at getting Julie to take a break. Much better at it than I am, certainly. It was Rin's intervention that got us to the Wil Wheaton panel, and also persuaded Julie to check out the auction.

This was very cool, a benefit for Josh Medors. As recounted here, the auction raised over $10,000. I took several of the kids through the viewing room just so they could see original art pages close-up, and there were a lot of good ones. Julie fell in love with this Tom Beland page.

She went back and forth on whether we should spend the money, but the cause was too worthy and the swag was too awesome to resist. So Julie finally went to the auction, and was thrilled to actually win the page. It made her weekend, shopping-wise, and gave us all a badly-needed morale lift Saturday afternoon when she came back so aglow with joy over her new purchase. We were getting con-weary by the end of Saturday; even the kids were getting a bit sick of it by then, but Julie's delight at her score energized all of us.

I wished I'd gone myself when I heard this painting went for a very reasonable price; it should have sold for a lot more than $150. That amount still would have torpedoed our convention shopping budget for the weekend, but it would have been worth it. I fell in love with it the second I saw it, and Julie liked it too.

The photo doesn't really do it justice. It was a stunning oil-on-canvas, huge, and it dominated the auction room. Since the auction was to benefit Frank Frazetta's assistant, at first glance I thought it actually was a new Frazetta; Julie was the one that spotted the "S" signature that said otherwise. I couldn't see the display card with the information, and didn't want to hold up the viewing line behind me. But I looked it up when we got home. It's called "Inside The Mountain," done by an artist named Shane White.

Speaking of swag, I did get some shopping in. I took the Aki boys with me -- Carlos was on a mission, remember, and Erick and David are almost as interested in the "real Marvel" as he is. And the students in general were almost more hypnotized by the sight of all those comics, all for sale, than they were by meeting actual artists and seeing them sketch.

I had told all of them to bring as much money as they could spend, because they would spend it, and indeed they did. The Aki students had a more limited budget than the Madison kids, but everyone cleaned up. Here's a shot Julie sneaked of Cheyanne from Aki, who's lost in wonder over one of her purchases.

Edwin and Lindon and Connor all bought wooden swords. God knows why, but this year wooden swords were the 'it' thing to have for my students. Those and fox tails. (We're still laughing over how Lindon proudly affixed her newly-acquired fox tail to her behind, and then shouted in consternation, "Hey, I am NOT a furry!" to the three kids that promptly marked her off as a bingo item.)

Anyway, I was more interested in old comics than tails or swords, and since Carlos and his friends were so intent upon research, I took them along. I went to Randy's Reader's first, as I usually do, and was delighted to find three DC 100-pagers I've been after for a while.

This was the last of the Archie Goodwin Detectives I needed to complete the set. I've been hunting this for years.

I already had the Manhunter story in trade, of course, but the Archie Goodwin-Howard Chaykin Batman story in the front, "Judgment Day," has never been reprinted, and I really like it. An interesting little factoid about this one is that it marks the first-ever appearance of Harvey Bullock.

I had thought for years that Bullock was created out of whole cloth by Doug Moench and Don Newton during their run, but here he is a decade earlier from Goodwin and Chaykin.

Bullock only exists in this story to be a suspect and he's not even given a first name, but you can see that his visual is still essentially the same. (He's put on some weight over the years, but hell, who of us hasn't?) I don't think anyone used him again until Doug Moench decided to bring him back, and certainly it's Doug Moench that did all the work defining him... but first is first.

Add in a Jack Cole Plastic Man story, an Alex Toth Eclipso, a couple of weird Golden Age rarities like Ibis and Alias The Spider, and of course Manhunter, and you can see why the Goodwin Detectives are my favorite run on a DC book ever. They're usually prohibitively expensive but Randy had this for five dollars and I grabbed it so fast I think it left a smoke trail.

I also picked up a couple of Justice League books from around the same time.

The Christmas one, #110, was the first time I'd ever seen John Stewart as Green Lantern. And the Amazo story in #112 is the conclusion to the cliffhanger in the original Libra story DC reprinted last week; that's actually the part of the story I remembered for years, the bit where even "half a Batman is better than anyone else," as an awed Superman puts it at story's end. Damn straight!

The boys were overjoyed to discover quarter boxes. I don't know who the genius dealer was who had the stall next to Randy, but he came up with a brilliant innovation -- he provided knee cushions to those folks that wanted to kneel on the floor and pore over the longboxes. That sold him a lot of books. (Julie certainly took advantage, she found me a big chunk of the DC adaptation of V.)

What really stopped Carlos and Erick and David in their tracks, though, was the guy who had the wall of bookshelves featuring Marvel trade collections.

"That's the most bang for your buck," I told them, "apart from the quarter boxes. Twenty percent off everything according to the sign."

Carlos considered carefully. When your entire convention allowance is one twenty-dollar bill... "I want to know about World War Hulk," he said. "Is there a World War Hulk book?"

The kid had stumped me. I knew there WAS one, but was it out yet? Certainly not on this discount shelf. I decided to punt. "Hulk would be under H, I think. See what he's got."

At which point another customer asked me a question and I had to explain it wasn't my booth. (I get this a lot, I think it's my glasses and graying hair. People assume I know things.) When I turned around, Carlos had his choice.

Kids today. Oh well. "Huh. Okay. We'll have to look through the credits and see if anyone who worked on it is here," I told him. "Let's find the dealer and pay for it."

"Can you name all those guys Mr. Hatcher?" David wanted to know. "Who's this one?"

"Ghost Rider."

"Ghost Rider was a comic?"

I pointed at the Essential Ghost Rider further down the wall. That distracted David for a moment. Carlos paid for his purchase and then showed it to me. "I can't find the credits, Mr. Hatcher."

Actually, neither could I. The book wasn't a story at all; it was an encylopedia/handbook sort of thing with art that had been clipped out of other comics. More of a gamer-type sourcebook than a comic. If I'd flipped through it in the store I'd have snorted and muttered ripoff. But that book and the Mike Grell sketch are now Carlos' most treasured possessions. He and Erick and David spent the rest of the day looking up heroes in it and arguing about who would win in a fight.

They were still at it in the evening when we were waiting at the entrance for their ride to arrive. This was actually the funniest moment of the show, I think. Jim Meeley had stopped on his way out to say hello (and hand out a few free books to the kids -- thanks again, Jim!) and David piped up, "Daredevil is blind, Mr. Hatcher?"

Before I could open my mouth to answer, Jim said, "Yeah, he's blind, but he has a kind of radar sense, he can sense the outlines of things. And his hearing and sense of smell are raised to superhuman levels, he had a radiation accident that changed him." He rattled this off with the same sort of helpful, informative courtesy that you give someone who's looking for the nearest ATM machine. It was hilarious.

The kids would have quizzed him for hours, and I'm sure Jim would have cheerfully answered them if he hadn't been parked in a loading zone.

Julie had called it. We were training the next generation of geeks.


I could go on, but this is already turning into a book. I think you've gotten the high points of our convention.

You can see Rin's version of it here.

It's worth checking out just to see the various sketches she traded back and forth with the students. Lindon's Wonder Woman, especially, is amazing.

See you next week.... after we get some sleep. We're still exhausted.

THIS JUST IN! Convention video is now going up on YouTube. Here's one that has a shot of David and Lynn, still looking a little shell-shocked. You'll see them right after the shot of the bald Jedi in the brown cloak.

Also, the dealer at the very end is the guy that got the rest of the "V" comics out of the fifteen-cent bin before Julie could scoop them up, and she was a little peeved at him. "He was a dealer," she said, sounding wounded. "You would have read them and enjoyed them, he just wants them to sell."

I don't actually mind, myself -- a big hunk of "V" books for a dollar and a half is just fine by me, that's still a nice score -- but Julie's shopping instincts are much more predatory than mine. Anyway, it's his friend that put up the video, I guess, so all is forgiven.

Also, Kristy Valenti over at ComiXology has a nice piece up about the show; I mention it here specifically out of all the different con reports I've seen because A) it's an interesting look at another exhibitor's viewpoint and B) because she's the only photographer besides us to get a shot of my students. (This has been a pet peeve of Julie's for a couple of years now. "Your kids are doing amazing work! That's news! Why doesn't Jonah ever put up any pictures of them?" I protest that technically, he DOES, since this column appears on CBR, but it still irks Julie that the kids don't get more press.) There's a great photo of Marcus and Edwin accompanying her piece, and if you click on it it will take you to a larger version where you can get a really good look at the kids' poster collage and the back-issue display, if you're so inclined.

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