This year was rough.
Overall Emerald City Comic-Con 2014 was still a good show for the Cartooning and Young Authors classes, and my students acquitted themselves pretty well-- but it just beat the crap out of us. For the first time, over the course of the three days we were there I caught myself wondering every so often if it was really worth all the trouble.
Part of it is that ECCC has essentially leveled up in size again. I have yet to see any hard numbers but I know the show was completely sold out all three days, so that means there were at least 75,000 people there. It seemed like more. We've been hearing all sorts of estimates and speculation, and people keep saying things like 'now the third biggest comics convention in the country,' but I don't actually know if that's the case or not.
Whatever the actual number was, it felt overwhelming. To give you an idea, the San Diego Comic-Con was hitting around 95,000 attendees back in 2005 when Julie and I decided that was too claustrophobic for us-- and that convention center's main floor is the equivalent of five football fields laid side-by-side. ECCC attendance is getting closer and closer to the number that chased us away from San Diego.... and all those people are packed into a considerably smaller space.
For the most part it meant that getting anywhere meant a time commitment of forty minutes to an hour. It was swimming upstream no matter which direction you went. So our convention was spent largely at our table, wrangling the students. Whatever con we had for ourselves we spent either on the floor close to the table, or a few stolen moments walking the floor before opening.
We were on the third level, which was kind of a weird space. The main con floor was on the fourth level, and then you could go across a skybridge to a secondary convention floor-- which several artists grumped was like being exiled, since many attendees didn't realize the exhibitor booth area extended across the skybridge to the secondary fourth-level floor space-- but I can tell you they had it better than we did, because the third level was only accessible via one escalator that was not very well marked at the back of the hall, that you had to cross the entire con floor to get to. So in other words, you had to fight the crowds all the way up to the fourth floor, cross the skybridge, somehow get across the entire main exhibit area to find an escalator entrance hidden in an alcove (and not actually marked anywhere other than a ceiling banner that advertised that the Lego exhibit was downstairs this way, with an addendum in much smaller type saying that there were other things down there too.)
Many of our fellow exhibitors were really grumpy about that (I heard our area referred to as 'the dungeon' more than once) but for my part, I was a little relieved to be in a relatively low-traffic area. We still did plenty of business and I shudder to think what we would have been up against trying to manage all our students in the insane maelstrom of the fourth floor crowds.
This year's crew was me and my wife Julie, with former students Phung and Tiffany on hand to help out once again, and also this year was my former student Eileen's debut as a TA. My Cartooning and Young Authors classes from both middle school and high school rotated through in shifts over each of the three days, and we shared the table with Lindon and her Cartooning crew from West Seattle High School again. We took lots of pictures and I think I'll just post a few of those and talk about them.
This should give you an idea of the table space. I took this just before we opened Friday morning. That's Tiffany adjusting the banner, and Eileen and Phung at the table.
Yes, that's a giant carton of goldfish crackers. It gets hidden under the table before we open, but it's always there, every year.
We usually try to bring snacks and Gatorade for the kids that invariably forget to bring a lunch, and for whatever reason the goldfish crackers have become a tradition. Whenever I try to change it up there are howls of protest from the girls. "But we HAVE to have goldfish!" Even my bride chimes in on this. It's like some sort of superstition at this point. So goldfish it is.
We had awesome neighbors again as always. On our immediate right were Cory and Robin Childs from Moko Press.
They do a comic called Ley Lines that Julie really liked a lot. Robin was tirelessly knocking out sketches for everyone that came by all weekend, and she did a nice one for our class scrapbook.
On the other side we had Chris Lewis from Epigamics... his book is called Drones.
Chris, Robin, and Cory were all incredibly patient with our young charges, many of whom were new to ECCC this year and pretty wound up about it.
Of course, Cal is pretty wound up all the time anyway. He lives for this. Here he is clowning with one of Chris's colleagues on Drones-- unfortunately, I wasn't able to get his name.
It killed Cal that we only had one-day passes for the middle-school kids this year, and since the show had sold out months before, there was no way for him to upgrade his to a 3-day. It's his last year in my Cartooning class before he moves on to high school and he was determined to milk every ounce of it. The thing is, for Cal it's not about seeing the rest of the show or shopping or any of the other things my students usually are into. No, for Cal, it's strictly about tabling. He just loves actually working the booth. (He's really good at it, too; we probably took a hit on our profits by not having him there all three days.)
I have this fantasy that my students will want to do things other than shop; that perhaps they'll talk to the artists or go to a panel or something and actual Learning will take place. But that's rare. Mostly they want to hang at the table, or else they want to go blow their allowance as quickly as possible. Across from us, NancyM4 was doing a lot of business with my kids.
Nancy was selling stuffed animals and other toys that were anime and manga-themed. She said that ECCC wasn't that big for her compared to, say, Sakuracon, but I suspect the girls put her in the black for the weekend. Tiffany was advising the students to wait until Sunday and haggle, but most couldn't wait. Even Lindon fell for one.
I have no idea what the hell it is, but clearly, Lindon loves it.
I know that a lot of the toy dealers and such that were consigned to level three with us were crabby about the comparatively low traffic (honestly, there was NOWHERE that legitimately could be called 'low' traffic. We had LESS traffic, but it was still very crowded.) The great thing about it for me and my students, though, was that our level was where they put all the novelists, which was a tremendous bonus for Young Authors. We had Chris Roberson and Allison Baker from Monkeybrain just a little ways up, which was nice; I got to chat briefly with him and laugh a little bit about some high school drama we were experiencing Friday afternoon (I'll spare you, but suffice it to say that true love had gone temporarily sour for a couple of the older kids.) Several of my Young Authors were starstruck over getting to meet John Scalzi, who was a few tables away, and Eileen was overjoyed at getting to meet Cornelia Funke.
I myself had a few fanboy moments-- Peter David was right behind us on the other side of the pillar, looking healthy and back on form. I was grateful the pillar shielded him from our raucous band, nevertheless. I'd warned the kids for God's sake be considerate, he's been ill, but he seemed fully recovered.
I told him so when I sneaked over to have a couple of books of mine signed on Sunday, adding that I hoped it wasn't crass to say it was a relief to see him up and around and doing his thing. He laughed and assured me that people had been telling him that all weekend.
Just up from Peter David was Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert, with a display of books that stretched across three tables.
Here it is from behind-- I just leaned around the pillar and shot this from our table. That's Mr. Anderson himself on the far left, signing away.
Looking at his stacks and stacks of books on display at the table, I thought at first, Jesus, that guy's got a really supportive publisher. Which is true in a way, because it turns out that Kevin Anderson has branched out into small-press publishing on his own, running it with his wife Rebecca Moesta under the name Wordfire Press. To my delight, he publishes not only his own stuff but also other writers' work-- in particular, Mike Baron's.
I knew that Baron was writing novels these days-- in fact, we share a publisher, he did a book called Biker for Airship 27 not too long ago.
I treated myself to his latest from Wordfire, Skorpio. We had a nice chat for a few minutes.
It pleased and surprised him that I had the Nemo in hardcover. "That one's hard to get," he told me. Apparently they'd just sold out of the paperback edition at the table an hour or so before.
Buying the Baron book was a rare moment of weakness, though. We were on a budget, so I mostly confined myself to bringing stuff from home to get signed, and not much of that; just the Anderson books, a couple of Peter David novels and comics trades, and a Jonah Hex hardcover for Jimmy Palmiotti to sign since he was on level three with us too, just a few tables away. He drew in it as well, which delighted me. "Hardcovers get a drawing," he said cheerfully. I wasn't going to argue.
But overall, for me, there was very little shopping. I did make a brief stop at Randy's Readers Saturday morning and picked up a couple of Batman books from the 1970s, just because.
I've promised myself that I'm going to by God go trades-only for the most part, but I do occasionally fall prey to sentiment and spring for back issues I remember fondly from my youth. The early days of "THE Batman" supplanting Adam West are on that short list, as are books from the "25 cents- BIGGER AND BETTER" era at DC Comics... and Randy had them at two bucks each. This is why I never bother to even look at other back issue dealer booths at shows any more.
On that same Saturday morning stealth lap around the floor before opening, we got to say some hellos. We spent a few minutes at Camilla d'Errico's booth, chatting; Tiffany had promised herself a custom mug of hers, I guess.
And we also saw Mark Monlux, who I'd met the year before at the Olympia show. I got so carried away telling Tiffany about how awesome his movie cartoons book was that I ended up getting her one. As he always does, Mark offered to do a custom doodle in the front putting her in her favorite movie. Tiffany thought a minute then asked, "Do you know the Studio Ghibli movies?"
Of course he did. You can't stump Monlux. He whipped out a quick sketch of Tiffany in one of her favorites-- I honestly can't remember if it was Howl's Moving Castle or what, but it was Tiffany in a castle.
But that was mostly it for any wandering around. By and large I was content to hang at the table and watch my students do their thing. And they did me proud.
We had lots of young people coming to the table, many of whom were just delighted to see a school program like ours existed. And the students really enjoyed seeing all the costume folks.
Of course, along with goldfish crackers and our pre-show lap around the floor, convention bingo has become a tradition. There are quite a few of these floating around the net, and I was encouraging Cartooning to create one of their own for this year. But time got away from us and we ended up using this one, from Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying. Apparently they were at ECCC too-- I had no idea or I'd have sent the kids up there to thank them.
Anyway, Samantha and Claire took it to a whole new level-- they play EXTREME Convention Bingo, which is not just spotting the person, but getting the person in that square to sign it. I would never dare, but cute pre-teen girls get away with a lot. Here they are swarming "Sexy Stormtrooper" to sign her square.
The only real sour note came on Saturday afternoon-- a couple of Lindon's surly Goth boys were taking a turn at the table, and they clearly thought they were too cool for us. They were hulking seventeen-year-olds all decked out in chains and leather, and apparently they were being so profane that Robin asked us rather diffidently the next day if we could maybe get our group to tone it down, which was just plain embarrassing considering WE were the ones representing a kids program. Of course, this would have to happen when I was taking one of my brief breaks-- it was, in fact, when I was talking to Mike Baron. (Once I was back the boys knew enough to shut up, so I wasn't aware of any of this until Robin told us about it Sunday morning.)
Naturally we were horrified and apologized profusely to Robin and Cory. Lindon, especially, was feeling despondent about it. She's still fairly new to teaching and asked me rather helplessly how to discipline kids. "They don't listen to me at all," she said. "I get so sick of their shit."
"Never forget you are the adult," I told her. "More, you're the teacher. You OWN them. Make them believe it. You only have one arrow in your quiver, but it's deadly-- you can kick them out of the program. Use it. Don't be afraid to let your anger show, it's a tool. Like this--" I sharpened my tone into what Julie calls the Scary Teacher Voice. " 'You two idiots almost screwed the entire program because of your self-centered need to make a cheap joke. We've been doing this for ten years now and one of the reasons we are able to keep doing it is because we have a good reputation and the convention people like us and work with us to make it happen. Part of that reputation is not being a jerk and interfering with the business of the people around us, and you preening little punks messed that up-- Robin told us your jackass behavior was actually scaring kids away from their table. Here's a newsflash-- there's nothing really witty or cool about being a jerk and offending people. There's nothing novel about it. It just makes you look unfit to be out in public... which clearly you are.' And so on. Really let them have it. Bring the bitch with a capital B. If they try to interrupt just talk over them and shut them down. 'You have talked WAY too much already. You don't get to talk now. You keep your mouth shut and listen.' "
During this last, my wife came around the pillar, her expression one of complete horror. Lindon and I both looked at her and started to laugh. "I'm not yelling at HER," I explained. "This is a demo."
"Yeah, he's teaching me, it's fine," Lindon added.
Julie looked hugely relieved. I found this absurdly endearing. My wife is fiercely protective of all 'our girls.'
And of course 'our girls' were in attendance. ECCC is really as close as we get to a family holiday; it's like Christmas, all our kids come home. Rachel and Brianna and Amanda all were down from college in Bellingham, and Katrina was working at the Everfree Northwest booth, and they all found time to come by the table at least. Bri even brought her live-in boyfriend Brandon again, which caused Julie to hint that maybe they should consider making it legal. "For God's sake, honey," I told her, "Let the kid up off the mat. He took last year's grilling and still came back to see us this year, that should be enough." Brandon took it in good spirits... which only served to further cement my bride's conviction that he's clearly The One for Bri, but she kept it to herself.
Lindon's boyfriend Calvin came by on Saturday and we decided we approved of him since he lasted a full year and took our occasional teasing of him in good humor as well. "You have to understand, the girls are as close to kids of our own as we're going to get," I told him. "Tormenting their boyfriends is a perk. We're just kidding. --Well, mostly."
Katrina had a new boyfriend too; but that's just business as usual. (As Lindon said, "I'm with Greg on this, I don't bother to learn their names unless they last at least three months.") Katrina had apparently met her new guy at Everfree; he was a Brony, which amused us all greatly and mystified Eileen, who demanded Katrina explain what a Brony was. I was going to tell Eileen to save it for later but Katrina said, "No, it's okay, if she comes by the booth he'll be a lot more explanatory and less defensive, they get kind of evangelical."
So off they went, and when Katrina and Eileen came back he was in tow and went over it all again for us. I'm afraid my eyes glazed over a bit and I never really did get a clear picture of what the Brony thing is all about. But he seemed like a nice enough young man and I would never pick on him for liking My Little Pony-- after all, I like forty-year-old comic books starring Batman and Robin and most adults consider that equally silly.
Picking on him because he was dating Katrina was an entirely different proposition, though-- I wasn't going to pass THAT up. When he and Katrina were heading back to the Everfree booth I told him it was nice meeting him, and then as he turned to go, I added, deadpan, "Just remember, you need to treat Katrina right or I'm coming after you."
"And..." I added a glare-- "...It won't be pretty."
The kid looked absolutely horrified. I took pity on him. "Relax, I'm just messing with you."
Behind him, Katrina, utterly and completely unsympathetic, was howling with laughter. "Oh, God, I love you guys."
Jessica was home from school in Idaho and had brought one of her sorority sisters to meet the Cartooning clan; I think her name was Shannon. She was shy but acclimated fairly quickly-- clearly, the Dork Side was strong in this one. Here's our crew at the CBR dinner on Saturday night; that's Shannon and Jessica on the right.
Above them, over in the corner there in the Hawaiian shirt is Pol Rua, who was up from Australia. It was great fun to finally meet him in person, after being e-pals for over a decade. Fortunately, Julie and I had found some time Thursday evening to hang out with Pol and have dinner, so we actually got to enjoy his company-- everything during the show itself was largely on the fly, and apart from the few stolen moments here and there that I've recounted for you, we always felt rushed and harried. By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around we were on our last legs. I was exhausted, achy, and snappish; and I had just about had it with comics, kids, crowds, and the whole damn thing. All I could think about was a giant meal of comfort food and a week's worth of sleep.
Then Devon and her dad showed up and I was reminded why we actually do all this.
That's Devon seated there in the middle, just in front of Tiffany. She is new to Cartooning this year, and painfully shy. I don't think I've heard her say more than two words in a row since we started class last fall-- but on paper she has an antic sense of humor. She did the cover for this year's giveaway 'zine.
The snake wearing antlers as a disguise to score a snack is typical of Devon's sense of humor, and the cover endeared itself to everyone that saw it. Devon herself, though, had no idea how much people loved it until they were lining up asking her to sign it. And that quick, that little girl was having the greatest day of her life.
I wish to hell I'd been able to get better shots of this. But I think you can see even in that blurry pic above what an incredible thing this was for her. Certainly, her father did.
When Julie and I went up to go find Pete and Rebecca Woods we toted Devon along because we knew Rebecca would get a huge kick out of meeting her, and certainly Devon would enjoy them. Unfortunately, we missed the Woods by just a few minutes-- apparently they'd left early. (I daresay they were as wiped out by then as we were, and they had to drive to Portland that night.)
But we introduced Devon to other friends we ran into on the floor or saw in Artist's Alley-- Onrie Kompan, from Yi Soon Shin; Alex Cox from the CBLDF; Camilla d'Errico (again); lots of others. All of them treated Devon as a peer and congratulated her on being in print and getting to work her first show. Bob Layton, bless his heart, had her sign one of our 'zines for him and talked to her for at least twenty minutes about being patient and hanging in there and not quitting.
"It comes in plateaus," he told her. "You're trying and trying and trying and suddenly you see how to do something and everything moves up a level. You just gotta be patient and not get too frustrated. Art and I were just talking here about how much we hate our own work--" He meant Art Adams, sitting at the next table.
Adams couldn't resist. "Actually, I mostly hate your work," he put in, which broke us all up.
Devon was enchanted, and she took all of it to heart. Watching it dawn on her (and her dad) that this was a real thing, that you could make comics for real and do it your whole life-- that's why we do the show. That moment happens for most all of our kids at some point over the weekend. There's just nothing like it. It justifies all the craziness and stress it takes to make it happen.
I honestly don't know how long we're going to be able to keep doing the Emerald City Con as a class trip. It's getting so big, and so expensive, that even my decades of experience in school district budget-fu may not be able to sustain us much longer. We brought in over $400 in donations and comic sales, which helps... but it's not nearly enough to cover it. And this year damn near crippled me and Julie and even our youthful aides.
But for what the class gets out of it... on reflection, it's still worth doing. I think we can hang in there at least one more year. Just please God, let's hope 2015's ECCC comes a little easier.
See you next week.