Our Weekend at Emerald City 2015 (part 2)

I told you a little about our trip to this year's ECCC in last week's column. Here's the rest of the report, as promised.

For the first time in over ten years, as I said last time, we didn't have a table of our own; we were just attendees. Which was kind of strange, honestly, but I'll get back to that. We took a lot of pictures so I think I'll just run a few of those and talk about them.

We were on a very tight budget, but Julie and I had agreed that we could set aside a LITTLE for shopping and such. So we set out for Randy's Readers, the dealer booth that Tom Spurgeon and I are agreed is what really deserves the title of the Happiest Place on Earth, and the hell with what Walt Disney says. Great old Silver and Bronze age books offered for super low prices.

I am trying very hard to not buy any more single-issue comics, especially back issues, but there are a couple of things I'll make exceptions for. The first are the old DC 80-page Giants and 100-page Spectaculars, especially replacing the ones I had when I was a kid. A lot of that material hasn't been reprinted anywhere else-- well, anywhere else I can afford, anyway. And picking up a couple of old 100-pagers from Randy for two or three bucks is just about the best deal on comics you'll find in the entirety of North America. We don't even bother looking at the other dealer booths any more.

I found a FLASH, a LEGION, and a couple of Superman Giants I hadn't picked up last year.

Another thing I'll make an exception for are comics that are highly unlikely ever to be reprinted in paperback. I realize that in a world where Skull the Slayer and The Creature Commandos both have trade paperback collections currently in print, that's a pretty high bar, but there are a few unloved short-run series still unavailable anywhere except as back issues.

Like this one.

If you're a Bronze Age baby like me, you probably have a soft spot for sword-and-sorcery comics of all kinds, not just Conan. Starfire was one of those interesting failures that came out of the whole Frazetta-Conan boom of the late sixties and early seventies. The hook for Starfire was that it was "swords and science"-- more of a planetary-romance, SF kind of thing. Starfire was a slave turned rebel underground fighter, leading other freed slaves in a rebellion against the toadlike alien Mygorg hordes. The thing that was interesting about the book was that it was original to comics, first of all-- not licensed from some paperback series like Brak or Thongor or the other half-dozen or so comics series that sprouted in the wake of Conan, trying to get in on some of that Robert E. Howard action. The other thing was that despite going through two editors and four different writers in the course of eight issues, the book was still pretty good. David Michelinie wrote the first two setting up the premise, then Elliott Maggin did a couple, then Steve Englehart, then Tom DeFalco did the last one. For the most part the stories were done-in-one, but with a stinger at the end teasing the next issue. I found six of the eight at Randy's for almost nothing, and scooped 'em up.

The final thing I will blow back-issue money on is the old Marvel black-and-whites. I ask Randy about them every show, and every show he says, "Aw, left 'em at home, man." Someday he'll remember to bring them to ECCC in a year when I will have money to spend, and there will be much rejoicing.

He DID have something that absolutely stopped me dead. It was a really nice copy of the hardcover collection Batman From the 30s to the 70s, still in the jacket, for $20.

Now, if you are a fan who grew up in the era I did, that book is almost talismanic. Understand, trade paperback collections of comic book stories really were not a thing until the early 1980s, and not very many of them then. Before that time, if fans of adventure comics wanted to read those stories in collected editions, there were a very few that you could find in the non-fiction section of the library. We all knew that if you looked in the 740s, you could find, among all the how-to-draw and Peanuts Treasury-type books, stuff like Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes, newspaper strip collections like the big Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers hardcovers... and the four "From the 30s to the 70s" DC collections from Bonanza Books.

Superman, Wonder Woman, Shazam... and Batman. Our library had Superman and Batman and I checked them out over and over again throughout grade school and junior high school. Eventually I bought both books for myself, my sophomore year in high school, and then sold them afterwards in college for drug money. In later years, when I had sobered up and was picking at trying to replace so many of those beloved old favorites, I discovered that they were beloved by a lot of other people too-- even battered ex-library copies covered with stamps generally start at $50, and you rarely see any of them for less than $75. When you see them at all. The last time I'd run across one was the Shazam book down in Portland, at Powell's, for $75; then, I'd just picked it up, sighed, and put it back. I acquired the Superman book off eBay, no jacket, about ten years ago. And that was IT.

Bear in mind, Julie and I have spent a lot of time over the last ten years bookscouting throughout the Pacific Northwest and these are on the short-list of stuff I always look for. Nothing. Nada. For ten years. Seeing one out in the open like this in such great shape for less than $25... that never happened. But here it was. A wave of sheer acquisitive lust swept over me, and it was almost physically painful to put it back down.

Any other day it wouldn't have even been a question. Of course I'd have snapped it up. But this time-- we were still putting the pieces together from the disasters of February and March. Spending that kind of money on a book was just irresponsible. We wouldn't even BE at the show if I hadn't scored pro passes; as it was, we were on a very tight budget, we'd promised ourselves copies of various friends' new projects, and we had to save back something for us to manage the CBR dinner... and... and I should just be a grownup, dammit. So I put it back. But it HURT.

I told myself to get over it and we moved on to other things. Mostly walking around Artist's Alley and saying hello to folks we knew. We found Roberta Gregory and she signed her new book, True Cat Toons, for us.

She offered to draw our cat on the flyleaf and we gave her a verbal description of Maggie the Easter Kitty. She actually did pretty well just from that, as you can see, considering we had no photos for her to work from.

Roberta was tabling with Donna Barr but Donna was away when we came by. We never did get to say a proper hello to Donna but we did make it a point to go see her panel on how to draw horses.

Donna Barr is such a talented writer, and so smart and funny, that I forget that she is a remarkably talented artist, as well. Furthermore, she knows how to explain what she's doing, which means she is a good teacher. Trust me when I tell you what a rare thing that is for an artist. I've been drawing for going on fifty years now, and teaching for twenty, and I still learned a LOT. Julie doesn't draw at all and she was fascinated as well; Donna is just fun to listen to. There was lots of history and biology and snarky opinion, along with the drawing lesson. Well worth the time.

We saw other folks too. I talked about Convention Horror Stories and getting a sketch from Katie Cook last week, and we also said hi to old convention buddies like Onrie Kompan and Erik Thompson. And we met some new folks as well. We made it a point to stop and say hello to Adam Knave, whose Amelia Cole is a favorite with my sixth grade girls.

I've actually known Adam for years, since way way back when we were both just a couple of nerds goofing off on the CBR forums and thinking we should really buckle down and do this writing thing for real. But we'd never met in person before, so that was a treat.

We also made the acquaintance of Richard Mann and Rick Marcks, from Floating Dock Comics.

They do a book called Mystery and Romance, which they described as "done-in-one noir mystery, but with a romantic angle."

We loved that description so much that Julie and I were persuaded to pick up the first two issues, and you know, they were pretty good. Nice well-crafted stuff. You should check them out.

Wer saw a lot of panels, too. Truthfully, the main show floor was so packed and claustrophobic that we sought out panels largely as a refuge. But we did enjoy what we saw, very much. We eschewed the big Hollywood stuff in the main halls, because the crowds were so oppressive. We much preferred the how-to and small-press things like Donna's. In addition to the ones I've already mentioned, we especially enjoyed "How To Turn Your 'Zine Into Beer Money," which was put on by Amanda Meadows and Geoffrey Golden from The Devastator.

If you know their work, then you can imagine that it was pretty hilarious. But there was also a lot of smart production and distribution stuff in between the jokes, and they may have saved some youthful startup efforts from burying themselves in debt. Julie wanted to get one of their cat comics, and I thought Tiffany would love their OTAKU anthology, so we sought out their booth afterwards.

Very nice folks, and the comics are fall-down funny. OTAKU is worth it just for the "Dick Note" parody of Death Note.

And of course we were down for the archery panel. Even though we know nothing about archery.

The reason is because it was being hosted by one of my oldest friends, Jim MacQuarrie. The fact that he was coming up from California was the main reason we were going to this year's ECCC, despite our not really having any money and no students to wrangle. Jim had persuaded Mike Grell to join him, as well as Patricia Gonsalves, the archery consultant on Arrow.

It was tremendous fun even though what we know about archery could rattle around in a thimble with plenty of room left for a thumb. Both Mr. Grell and Ms. Gonsalves had wonderful stories about their experiences as archers, as well as anecdotes about the DC superhero stuff. And Jim is always fun to listen to.

We hung around afterwards and it amused me to see that the one that was mobbed was Patricia-- with a bunch of young people wanting to know about archery as a sport, not just showbiz anecdotes from Arrow. Here she is persuading one eager young lady that it's worth taking up, while Jim's daughter Ashley (herself no slouch as an archer) looks on.

I finally worked up the nerve to ask Patricia how the hell they'd done the boxing-glove arrow on the show. She confessed that it was digital-- but that she had physically worked out how to make it work at her home range beforehand, and showed me a picture on her phone of her actually shooting a boxing-glove arrow. So it CAN work, you guys.

Mike Grell was doing a signing for the Hero Initiative, so we wandered over there to thank him again and ended chatting and shooting the breeze for another twenty minutes or so. Mike Grell is a wonderful raconteur; convention people, if you have him as a guest at your show, I assure you that a panel where "Mike Grell Just Tells Cool Stories" would be AWESOME.

We fell for one of the Green Arrow prints they had for sale. Because the Hero Initiative is a good cause, and because the thought of this hanging in the home office was too cool to pass up, especially after everyone signed it.

That was it for us and shopping. Except....

...I realized that we'd spent $25 on getting the Emerald City Princess Leia variants for our friend Don. He wasn't going to be able to attend and had emailed asking us to please get them for him, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, and he'd pay shipping and everything. Of course we agreed.

That was $25 we'd be getting BACK. So technically we still had $25 in the shopping budget.

Could the Bat book possibly still be there at Randy's booth? Surely a deal like that was too good to pass up. Any collector, any bookscout, would have lunged at it. But it couldn't hurt to check....

So we did and it was, miraculously, still there, unsold. I grabbed it with a clear conscience, having discussed it with Julie beforehand and because, obviously, God wanted me to have it. As a bonus, I had a nice chat with Randy about the Bonanza books-- he didn't know there was a Wonder Woman edition out there as well. Of course, the Shazam edition is the Holy Grail. Someday....

Anyway, that was this year's Emerald City Con.

Here's the weird thing, though.

Despite essentially having the year off and thus a relatively low-stress convention experience, Julie and I realized somewhere about halfway through the weekend that we really missed tabling. We missed having the kids, we missed the booth experience, we even missed the chaos of closing and packing out and the Dead Dawg dinner we usually have afterwards with our equally exhausted aides. We missed all of it.

So Sunday morning we went and found Kristina and Mike at the exhibitor check-in and asked them to keep us in the loop. Next year I'll have at least four books in print, that's enough to table on, and we can split the space with the kids. It won't be an official Cartooning field trip, but if Julie and I can swing the table fee an unofficial one is more fun anyway. We had several of 'our kids' at the show that just came on their own, and I know we could staff a booth with students even if they bought their own passes. We also talked about doing some sort of panel about comics in schools. I know quite a few of our kids that'd come for that, including a couple of potential panelists.

Since our finances are slowly getting straightened out-- Julie just started a new job this week and unemployment finally came through with BACK payments, and of course there was the GoFundMe that so many of you chipped in for, bless you all again-- we are no longer in the danger we were. We can figure out how to do it. And as Kristina said, "You guys and the kids need to be here. It doesn't feel right not having you. We'll make it happen."

So this year was fun and we had a good time, but next year promises to be even better.


Crass Commercial Interlude: Speaking of books in print, the Domino Lady book that I previewed in this column is on sale now.

The story I did is actually my favorite so far that I've done for Airship 27, and I really love what James Lyle did with the illustrations. Ted Hammond's cover is cool too. The Amazon link is here for either paperback or Kindle; or you can get a downloadable PDF version for just $3, here. Do check it out, won't you?

End of commercial. See you next week.

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