The Comicon Buddy System

My second visit to the Emerald City Comicon was much, much better than the first. It was all about the people.

There were a few good people the first time around. I was lucky to run into an amazingly talented nerd rock singer / highschool friend. Saw a friend or two from a Tacoma comic shop. Then a couple friends with perfectly sculpted costumes. The kind of movie-set-quality Lobster Johnson and Harley Quinn that you can't buy (this year they were the Monarch/Dr. Girlfriend showing up in a bunch of the ECCC slideshows I failed to farm for filler photos).

Via Seattle Weekly's excellent ECCC 2013 slideshow

But they all had this one thing in common: they'd followed the buddy system. They'd either driven in with someone, or sometimes buddied up with fellow geeks once they'd arrived. They knew, and I really didn't. Without a buddy, I was done with the show almost right after I'd parked.

This time, Squatch was my buddy. He'd only ever been to the TriCities' RadCon, a gathering roughly 1/32nd the size. He'd read comics his whole life, and folks like Mike Mignola and Fiona Staples – both in attendance – had inspired and kindled his love of art. We almost walked right by Mike, the creator of Hellboy, before Squatch noticed the name scrawled above a middle-aged bald man. There was a modest line, so we talked while it wound down. People would drop in, and drop stacks of a few, to sometimes a few dozen, comics they'd wanted signed. Squatch had left his at home, not wanting to “be a dick.” But while we talked, people in the line sometimes nerded out. To that, Mignola had 10% apprehension and 90% delight. Others unzipped special comics holders, then deposited neat stacks in front of him. To that clinical accuracy, he responded with efficient signing. Sometimes he'd ask the gaping fans, “Where should I sign this?”

After the line petered out, Squatch walked up. He couldn't say anything. Mike looked up, now registering something like 80% exhaustion, 20% apprehension. Squatch finally pointed at Mignola's originals, held in a portfolio case not unlike the one holding Squatch's unfinished comic, back in the car. Squatch asked, “Mind if I look through these?”

Mike nodded.

Originals, mostly from Hellboy in Hell, ranged in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Mike now looked slightly engaged, as Squatch's face lit up on flipping through pages. Still, the two said nothing. Another fan nuzzled up beside us, and bluntly held something out towards Mike. He pointed, could you sign this here? Mike did so, without speaking. He held out an identical book and said, “Could you make this out to Sally and Frank?” Again, it was signed without words, and the fan vanished without any audible thanks.

Squatch was making sounds of appreciation. As he flipped through originals, I could see the same kind of rough marker work that Squatch used. Mignola's influences on my friend were obvious. Big haphazard strokes, and characters with bulk.

Squatch looked up, fairly mindblown, and flipped Mignola's book to the start. There's a solid beat as they stare at one another. Mike blinks.

“Thanks,” I say.

“Thanks,” says Mike.

“Um, thank you,” says Squatch.

There's another moment of silence, like Squatch might say more. Might talk about how influential Mignola's use of lines and color had been to a teenage Squatch. Might have let the man know that his work had a serious, sincere impact. But while that second drags on to two Mike nods, returning to an earlier tired look. I know that Squatch, who up till recently worked at Subway, had just very nearly ponied up for one of the pricier originals.

Squatch had a similar experience with Fiona Staples, the artist for Saga. Though he's got eight longboxes and a closet full of lovingly-jacketed comics, the eight issues out for Saga are among his favorites. Since he didn't bring them, out of austere avoidance of anything obnoxious, he buys one of the prints featuring Lying Cat and The Will. He finds a twenty in his wallet.

The best Saga cosplay at the Con:
Izabel the dismembered spectral babysitter 

He mumbles something about her making a cool comic.

Her handler – a haggard, ferret-faced man with greasy hair – snatches the cash.

“Thanks,” she says, looking apprehensive at the force of that transaction. But she smiles. “Do you want it personalized at all? What's your name?”

“Uh, Jared. But you don't really have to.”

“Well, here,” she says. I can make out her signature, and his name.

I don't remember any other words passing back or forth. We seem to awkwardly drift from the table.

Squatch is, for those who've never experienced the phenomenon, experiencing a full-blown Nerdgasm. We're walking out to his car, in order to safely deposit his newly signed treasure, and he barely says a word.

At about 6:30 or 7pm, we found a table by the Convention Center's two-story escalator, and gave politically correct, thoughtful appraisals of the show's costumes. Our gender-conscious friend Kim had even joined us, graciously overlooking the show's various wardrobe malfunctions, and lauding the imagination and drive of everyone in costume.

“Jesus Christ, look at that He-Man! That fucker is hot! If you two are allowed to talk about cottage cheese legs and cleavage, then I get to marry that man. I am going to marry the fuck out of him, and tear off that little banana hammock, and we are going to have a lot of hot little babies.”

Comics Alliance has a good photo of
the He-Man in question.

A guy in a I work at NASA shirt, who up till recently seemed ready to stab me, finally stalks off. We see a catwoman with an enormous, abnormally-pert chest.

“Not real at all,” says Kim. “At the very least a serious pushup.”

“So what?” Asks Squatch. “If it does justice to the costume, I mean --”

“So there's no way she's bought that just for the con.”

“We actually saw them earlier,” I say. “Funny story.”

“Oh!” Says Squatch. “Right!”

“So this little kid is tugging at his dad's pant leg, saying 'Daddy I really want to gooo. I'm tiiired.'”

“And he says, eyes firmly drowning in that Catwoman cleavage, 'Hold up just one second, Daddy's gotta take a couple pictures.'”

The female Tony Stark we've dubbed, “Toni Stark” comes up the escalator. Her only departure from street clothes is a bright blue light under a white camisole. Someone chimes in, “eyes off the light, Pal.”

We're all cackling, enjoying jokes at the expense of others, when the comedian Brian Posehn walks by. Lately he's been writing a run of Deadpool, one that Squatch has followed religiously.

“Brian Posehn!” I say. “Time to go.”

Squatch stays seated. So I grab him, pull him up, and Kim follows. A huge crowd piles up around the escalator going down, and we're a good ways behind the man. While we wait, I ask a lethally thin pre-teen in excessive facepaint, “Hey, what are the candy corn horns from?”

Homestuck!” He half shrieks, looking ready either to weep, or to leap at me in uncontrolled rage. It's the most terrified I've been in months, and I'm glad when we're finally get on the escalator going down.

“Dude, I'm not going to say anything to him. I don't want to bother the guy.”

“You love his writing. You have a lot of respect for him.”

“Can't do it, dude. Not if he's as tired as us. What would I even say?”

“Just tell him what you just said. You respect his work.”

Squatch grimaces, and walks over to him while Kim and I stand aside. We both grin at each other. I tell her that the most he's said to any of his heroes here, until now. Squatch walks over to me with his phone.

“Here, just hit the picture button.”

I hit the wrong button, so he has to break from posing with Brian to fix the phone. They're both tired, and their faces momentarily show it, but Squatch hands the phone back to me. Brian, a huge guy, makes a tough pose. Squatch gives a gleeful smile. I snap a couple pictures.

The next day, we spend mostly lost, and wandering. The current artist for The Walking Dead is listed in one place in the ECCC program, but word of mouth puts him across the expo floor, or even at the Image Booth. It was our third time orbiting in the rough location listed on the program, but it was still good. Plenty of crap to make fun of, the occasional, lovingly made costume, or lovingly-made art. But after failing to find this one artist, again, Squatch was just wandering. Since he was shambling into a madly overpopulated part of the convention, one we'd wandered easily half a dozen times already, I diverted us down an emptier lane in Artist's Alley.

We came up next to a booth we'd visited already, for Eric Powell.

Powell's Goon is, for me personally, a profound and inspiring comic. The voice is utterly unique. One of his books in the series, Chinatown, dealt with love and loss in a language I'd needed. It was one of those books you serendipitously pick up at a time when you really need it. I'd later find out that Powell had fought to present Chinatown  in its intended format and style – and had won. It rarely happens in comics; hearing about it made me so, so happy. I'd already picked up a bookmark for The Goon, the last time we were here, but Powell hadn't been there. There was one new face sitting, sketching.

Some promotional art for Chinatown.

“Are you the guy?” Asks Squatch.

“Nope,” he said. Then grinned. “Yeah, it's me.”

“Wow, cool,” said Jared.

He was about to say more words to a favorite creator than he had all weekend.

Jared shared that he'd just been comparing Powell favorably to Rob Liefeld. That while Liefeld's art hadn't changed much, since he'd been a 16-year-old rising star in comics art (something Liefeld himself humorously admits), Powell's had evolved, matured, and then evolved again.

Powell, whose eyes were energetic and friendly, but most of all present, at first grinned.

The tattooed blonde woman sitting next to him gave a good-natured laugh, but threw in that Liefeld had always been an exceptionally nice guy.

Powell chimed in, complimented Liefeld, then started up a conversation with Squatch on making comics. I got the distinct impression that Squatch and Powell – for lack of better analogy – were both tuned to the same frequency. In one trade paperback for The Goon, Powell had outlined his progression from early days in pencils, and then pens. At the time, a few years ago, Squatch hadn't yet read The Goon. But having seen both, Powell's earlier work had reminded me a lot of what Squatch was doing. It was one of the early hooks – that I could get the same kinds of slightly strange stories I might from my friend – if only my friend could have more time away from his job as a Sandwich Artist.

While they talked about Liefeld's technique, technique in general, and The Goon, I was doing the very thing I'd mocked Squatch for all weekend. Face to face with a creator I admired, I said next to nothing. I just, you know, listened. And looked over Squatch's shoulder as he flipped through originals.

Good weekend.

Remember to use the buddy system.

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