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18. SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2002

This year, there weren’t any hotel problems.

Here’s what I was beginning to realize by now about portfolio reviews. These editors were there as a courtesy to the industry, but not really to try and find new talent. They all knew and had worked with a stable of known, successful, talented, professional artists, and they knew these artists’ strengths and weaknesses. They knew they could depend on them to do a job, on a deadline, and they knew the quality they could expect of the job, because these people did it for a living. If they didn’t personally know the artists, they knew their work, and they could get them for a job if they wanted to. Why would any editor want to take a chance on an unknown who had no experience. Maybe the sample page looked good, but how consistent would twenty-four pages look, and how would this newbie do on a deadline? Too many unknowns and risky chances in giving a schmuck like me a shot at professional work. I don’t blame them. When I waited in a review line, each editor tended to tell me I needed to work on a completely different thing, and some of them might even like the things that other editors thought needed work. Any little thing they could find, they would use as an excuse to send me away, and of course every one of them would find some little thing, because then they could send me away. I totally understand and sympathize with their position. Now I had done it all enough, and I wasn’t interested in doing it any more.

Sure, some artists are discovered that way. I’ve heard of a couple artists whose artwork blew away the editors, and they gave them work. This is Simon Bisley or Adam Hughes. These are the people who you don’t see every day. They come around a few times a lifetime. But for the rest of us, I”ll tell you how the portfolio review can work, and land you a job. If you keep spending hours in line, over and over and year after year, and if your art is decent, the editor will keep seeing you, and if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll eventually recognize you. Especially if you’re pounding them and sending new samples, every time they return the previous set. Then you’ve got their notice. Then they’re more willing to give you decent advice, or look at your art differently, and maybe help to shape you in a way they want their artists to be. I know people who’ve gotten in this way. It seems to take usually about three years.

But I wasn’t interested in doing this again this year. I decided, I’m going to get advice from artists. From people who draw for a living. And then I won’t have to wait in line for over an hour. I can just walk up to them and show them my stuff. And I’ll be able to take their advice more seriously, because they don’t have any motive to do anything except just tell me what they think.

I wasn’t looking for work. I was just looking to meet some people whose art I admired, and get their takes on my artwork. Because if I like their art, they should have the best advice for what to do with my own work to make it good, in both our eyes. And in addition, then I could meet and spend some time with all these artists I admired!

Even so, I still got different advice from everybody. And for a while I would just try and sort out what advice was helpful to me, and just not pay much attention to any advice I didn’t think would necessarily make my art better. And then I’d just try and make my art better.

Eventually, after this con, I finally decided I wasn’t interested in hearing people’s advice any more, and I stopped going to artists or editors for their opinions and suggestions, unless I was having trouble with something specific, and couldn’t figure out how to handle it. From this con onward, I pretty much just tried to look at my work and figure out for myself what was working, and do what I could to make it better. I knew my strengths more or less, and my weaknesses. When I went to cons, I just showed artists what I’m doing, and either they liked it or they didn’t. But I stopped showing them to get advice on my work. I showed them, to see if they would do a pin-up for my book that I was going to self-publish. More on that later.

GRANT MORRISON

Grant Morrison was supposed to do a signing the first day of San Diego, but he never showed up. We heard rumors that there had been a car accident on the local freeway, and anyone coming by car was stuck in unmoving traffic.

Next day we waited in line and got to Grant. His line was pretty long, and it moved slowly. We realized as we got closer, he really took his time with everyone who came up, and gave them each a chance to really visit with him. What a kind guy in this industry. So approachable. Makes you feel so special.

His right arm was sunburned, as if it had been hanging out of a car door (stuck in traffic?) the day before. I forgot to ask.

I had brought a Doom Patrol issue for him to sign. It’s probably my favorite of his run on the series, because it made me laugh harder than perhaps any other comic I’ve read. Number 34, about the evil Brain in the jar falling in love with his gorilla henchman. Grant said he’d like to do more light, fun stories, like that, but that his stories have been more serious lately. I showed him some copies of my drawings, and he asked if he could keep them. That’s a really thoughtful way to handle fans, I thought, even if he never looks at them. I’d watched him say the exact same thing with the person in line in front of us.

MIKE ALLRED

Went to an X-Panel, which was less entertaining than the previous year. We milled about after, and watched Mike Allred leave with his editor, Axel Alonso. Elizabeth asked what I wanted to do next, and I said, “Sh!”, and I followed them like a stalker. They got to the floor area and parted ways, and I boldly called Mike’s name. I told him what a huge fan I was, but that I thought the coloring wasn’t very good in his issues of Marvel Team-Up. I said I thought all the air-brush effects completely wiped out his line-work. He aggressively asserted his agreement, and we got talking a little. He said he was looking at artists he admired who’d built up such a huge body of work. His Madmans had come out so infrequently, he was making a conscious effort this year to find ways to work quicker, and put more books out for his fans to enjoy. I asked him if he ever does commissions. No, he’s too busy. I asked if he ever has original art to sell, and he said he likes it too much to sell it, and laughed. I felt fucking fantastic to be talking with my idol Mike Allred about his art.

Elizabeth wanted to be more and more helpful. She continued waiting in lines, while I did other things or tried to meet other people. She would encourage me to run off and do something, and she would just sit and wait for me to get back. Every time I got back, she had befriended all the people in line around her. She’s so damn cute and friendly and likable! And a new bonus to having a cute wife: if I took her with me when I tried to meet people, she made the people much more willing to open up and not think I was the complete nerdy comic freak that I actually am.

TIM BRADSTREET

Seeing Tim Bradstreet’s art, I had felt he would be really intimidating. I assumed he’d be hard to get to as well. I just happened to walk by while he was there, and found him amazingly approachable and friendly. He told me about when he tried to get into the comics industry. He loved Tim Truman, and shyly went to him at a comics convention. Truman had critiqued his work, and Bradstreet went back to him again at the next con, over and over. Then one convention, Truman said, “This looks really good, Do you want to do some inking work for me?” That was Tim’s shining moment, landing work from his idol like that. Another kid came up to Tim to show his work, and Tim was really kind about giving support. What a nice guy!

A WRITER WHO I WON’T NAME

I found one of my favorite writers from my formative years, sitting at the DC booth. I had brought one of his comics to the con for him to sign, not knowing he would be there, but assuming everyone came to San Diego, in case I found him. I told him how important his stories were to me as a kid. He kind of glared at me and said, “Well I’m still making comics now, you know.” I replied, “I know, I think it’s great.” He settled down, but it was too late. His comment rubbed me the wrong way. You know, I thought, I understand that you were really a sensation in your younger years, and that you probably just don’t get the same attention you do now that you used to. Fame is a fickle, delicate thing, and it eventually tends to die out for a lot of people, because as you get older, the younger have different interests, not to mention the young just don’t take the time to learn their history. But in addition to all that, my tastes, and other peoples’ tastes, change as we get older, and as we change. I loved Star Wars when I was seven. But I’m not seven any more, and I have a hell of a time trying to sit through those movies now. I don’t really like science fiction at all, as a matter of fact. Maybe I’m interested in what you’re still doing, and maybe I’m not. We’re both different people now, and the whole world is different now. This is bullshit for you to snap at me just because you’re unhappy with your current readership in comparison to your former super-stardom, when I came here to tell you that you were important to me. I thanked him for the autograph.

DEAN ORMSTON, AND MY FIRST ATTEMPTS AT GETTING A PIN-UP FROM AN ARTIST

When I spoke with Mike Allred, I was building to try and ask him about getting a pin-up for my book. But when he said he doesn’t do commissions or sell his art, I abandoned my plan. Too bad I won’t be able to get a pin-up from one of my favorite artists, I thought. But there are plenty of other artists out there.

Walking around, I stumbled onto a booth where Dean Ormston was sitting at his art dealer, and he was very quiet and friendly. I timidly showed him my stuff. He had little to offer in terms of critique, but kindly said it looked good. I timidly asked if he might let me pay him for a drawing of one of my characters, that I could publish with my stories, and he said he might be willing. I thought he could do something with Dr. DeBunko, like with a bunch of scary monsters behind him, and him saying, “Of course there’s no evidence to suggest that there is such thing as monsters.” He was the first artist I asked about a pin-up, and I was really nervous to ask, but he gave me his email. When I got home, I had to email him twice before I got a reply. He said how busy he was, but to check back. I made a few check-backs, but never heard from him after that.

SCOTT McCLOUD

Building up confidence, I showed my copies to Scott McCloud and asked about him doing a pin-up. He said he has to be careful, because his computer art takes a long time to produce. And since he of course has projects of his own to work on, he can only afford to do pin-ups where he’ll get the most bang for his buck. Meaning, of course, to my delicate ego, that my book has no potential for visibility or career-bolstering, and he’s not really interested.

STAN LEE

Elizabeth and I went to go hear a Stan Lee talk. Amazingly, while waiting, up walks Stan Lee, practically right next to us, so we turned and gasped and said hello. We told him what an honor it was, and he said it what an honor it was for him. I wish I had been more on the ball and tried to get a quick photo with him. We never had such a close-contact opportunity as this one, accidental, fly-by-the-pants encounter.

At his panel, I loved all his stories. When we got home, I would get a DVD of Kevin Smith interviewing him, and I realized it had a bunch of the same stories. Then Elizabeth read his autobiography, and she said it had more of the same stories. I would begin to learn he always told all the same entertaining stories, as I heard them again and again, with each interview or tv appearance or magazine article I would subsequently catch.

We waited in line for hours for his autograph, and got a signature for my Fantastic Four Masterworks hardcover. There was someone in line with us who drew a lot of fairly crude, simplistic drawings, but I loved this sequence he did of a Karate Jimmy Carter in action. Who comes up with that kind of stuff? This guy was going to have Stan sign a drawing of Spider-Man he’d done himself, but finally opted to have him sign the program book instead.

LEW SAYRE SCHWARTZ AND DICK AYERS

Lew Sayre Schwartz and Dick Ayers sat next to each other in artists alley, and both of them and their wives were very friendly. Elizabeth and I found ourselves hanging out with these guys a fair amount, and really enjoyed them all, and got their contact info. Both of them looked separately at my pages, and were very kind. Lew’s wife told Elizabeth that when they were at the Eisner Awards, Lew was looking at the slides of all the “best promising newcomer” awards and whispering, “Chris’s art is better than all these guys.” Well, it’s certainly a nice sentiment, and it made me feel proud.

After spending way too much time with these guys, I nervously asked Dick about doing a pin-up for me. He said he’d be up for it, and gave me his business card! I asked Lew, but he said he isn’t drawing anymore.

EDDIE CAMPBELL

Eddie Campbell told me about doing his basically self-published EgoMania book. He said there were loose stories, interviews, and things he wanted to do, and so he decided, he made a big wad of extra cash for the “From Hell” movie, and he’d just take that money to publish this book, the way he wants to do it, and see how far it goes, and just keep publishing it until the money runs out. I later learned he was only able to get it to run for two issues, and this after issue two had an Alan Moore interview. What a goddamn industry…

He looked at my Dick Hammer pages, and pointed out the panels he liked better, which tended to be the photo-referenced ones. He pointed out the ones he felt weren’t as strong, which tended not to be photo-referenced. He said when he did “Snakes and Ladders” for Alan Moore, he knew he would need a model for the snake dancer, so he hired one, and was very pleased with how his art for that sequence turned out. He said he didn’t think he could have done the sequence without a model. I told him I would see him again next year, and he said he’d definitely remember my work, because it was unique. Now that I’d had a couple successes asking other artists about pin-ups, I asked Eddie. He just kind of smiled and shook his head like he was busy and not really interested. I really enjoyed spending time with him, and read his current comic while we were still at the convention. I actually emailed him when we got home to tell him about it, and he printed my letter in his next issue, which featured an extensive interview of Alan Moore. For you Chris Wisnia completists out there, the issue was EgoMania #2.

MORE LEW SAYRE SCHWARTZ

We sat in on Eddie Campbell’s interview of Lew Sayre Schwartz, and there were only maybe a dozen or less of us listening in there. It was awful. Lew had really interesting stories to tell, though, about how Bob Kane was so popular, he had DC paying him to produce more stories than he was able to produce on his own. So he hired artists like Lew, and paid them himself, out of the money he got from DC. But the catch was, they had to agree that Bob would get to sign his own name to their work. That way, DC still thought it was Bob’s art, and Bob still got credit. The artists didn’t care because they were happy to be making money. But that’s why we don’t realize who all these classic artists are or what they contributed to our medium.

After the talk, Lew drew a quick sketch of Batman for a very small child. Later, back in artists alley, I asked if I could pay him to do a sketch for me. He agreed, and I ended up paying for him to send me a Golden-Age Batman AND a Golden-Age Joker color sketch. When they arrived in the mail, I found myself sucking my breath in, because it was so great to see a Golden-Age drawing of Batman by one of Batman’s Golden-Age artists. I thought it was beautiful!

LOS BROS HERNANDEZ

All three Hernandez brothers were in artists alley, sitting together. The first day, Gilbert wasn’t there, and I had really enjoyed his “Grip” for Vertigo. Jaime was friendly, but quiet and didn’t really have any advice to offer about my work. Mario seemed friendlier and more outgoing.

Next day, I found Gilbert, but Mario and Jaime weren’t there. Gilbert looked at my stuff and recommended I put more space around the voice bubbles. He said things are too cramped otherwise, and it’s amazing how much less professional bubbles look when they’re cramped. To show me an example, he pointed out some of his “Grip” pages, and realized they looked pretty cramped, and didn’t think they were a good example.

WILL EISNER/SCOTT McCLOUD DEBATE

I listened to a bit of a Will Eisner panel, with Scott McCloud. Scott was arguing that the medium of comics has to be updated to computers, both in execution and in the experience of reading them. Eisner was arguing there’s something magical about making the product by hand, as well as having a comic in your hands to read. Sorry, Scott, but I’m in the Eisner school of thought on this one. Perhaps to the detriment of my work. I love drawing by hand, lettering by hand, leaving sloppy, choppy, imperfect lines that look like mistakes that you can’t really do with crisp computer work.

After the talk, we were one of the many who ran up and swamped Will. I held out one of his archives and a sharpie. He grabbed it and signed it for me. I used the same technique bumping into Brian Azarello. I pictured bringing a new Archive book for Will to sign every year, although they’re so heavy and burdensome, I never managed to do it beyond that first one before he passed away.

MIKE MIGNOLA

I went and listened to a Mike Mignola, Guillermo del Toro, Ron Perlman talk, about the upcoming Hellboy film. I was impressed by Guillermo, who swore like a goddamn sailor and said his goal with the movie was to make a Kirby-style, giant-monster ass-kicking fight movie. If that’s your goal, then Hallelujah, I say! The place was packed, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to Mike in there.

Later I found him signing at the Darkhorse booth, but of course, his line was swamped. He was continuing to hype the film, and Ron Perlman was there with him. I tried to go toward the end of the signing, and that’s when I learned lines get capped off, where you’re not allowed to wait any more. You’re too late. You’re out of luck.

As I went by a little later, I realized he was still there, standing around and talking with people. I quickly ran up, pulled some Hellboy books out of my bag, and asked if he could give me a quick signature. He just said no, that he’d been signing all day. I couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t give me a quick signature. He was just standing there. All right, I packed back up. I was frustrated how inaccessible he was. It made me appreciate Mike Allred that much more, that he didn’t mind if you just walked up to him and visited with him. His lines weren’t as crowded. Little did I know just how friendly and sweet Mike Mignola actually is. But I wouldn’t realize until the following year.

CARMINE INFANTINO

Carmine Infantino was tucked away at some hidden booth. I went and tried to show him my monster drawings, and he wasn’t particularly interested. I asked about a pin-up, and then he became very uninterested. Although, looking back, I think it may not be so much a rudeness thing as an East Coast way of speaking, which we on the West Coast sometimes misinterpret as anger toward us. As I was winding down from my failure at trying to get a pin-up from him, up walks Julie Schwartz, and he sits down with Carmine. I didn’t know what to say, and didn’t want to bother these two living legends who began a conversation as if I weren’t there, so I left.

MURPHY ANDERSON

Managed to hunt down Murphy Anderson. He and his wife were at a booth, and his wife said how much she liked my tie. I showed my monster drawings, and he said, it looks like stories out of Strange Adventures! I said, exactly, and asked about a pin-up. He and his wife kind of looked at each other. He said he doesn’t really draw any more. But just the same, they gave me their mailing address. I wrote them a couple times, but never heard back from them.

STEVE RUDE

I found Steve Rude and really wanted to show him my work. At one point, I got to him, and he said it was bad timing, but why don’t I come back the next day.

The next day, I found him with just one gentleman there, and no one in line. I waited to speak with him while this strange guy was talking about some kind of Eastern meditation technique where you attune yourself to the air currents. And he suddenly closed his eyes and started swaying and jerking around like some drugged-out rag doll freak. Then after what seemed like an eternity of him flopping back and forth and nearly bumping me a couple times, he opened his eyes and said, Like that. Steve spoke with him for a LONG time.

It was a long wait, but finally I had a chance to show him my pages. He picked out one of my Dick Hammer pages, and gave me one of the most in-depth, helpful critiques I’ve gotten. Much of his advice was how he would do his own art, which wasn’t necessarily the look I wanted, but he re-sketched some of my panels to show me what his thoughts, and even let me keep his sketches. I thought he was really sweet to take so much time with my work. Although I didn’t get up the nerve to ask him about doing a pin-up, I left with one of his flyers for his website, and also with his contact info.

Elizabeth and I were exhausted once again, but we survived our second con, and I had just as great a time as our first year. All the great artists I’d met! Unbelievable! All these great artists just hanging out, and there for you to approach and visit with! All the email addresses I’d received of my favorite artists! What a goddamn industry! Even if I didn’t ask all these artists about pin-ups, I could get in touch with them now, and ask about pin-ups when I got up the courage.

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