Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chicago: The Con (Part 3)

I just brought a few books to the show… my Daredevil Omnibus for artists David Mack and Alex Maleev to sign, my Mighty Avengers oversized hardcover for artist Frank Cho to sign, my Walking Dead Book One hardcover for artist Tony Moore to sign, and my Mice Templar hardcover for co-creator and writer Bryan J.L. Glass to sign. While at the show, I picked up the Daredevil: Blood of the Tarantula one-shot for writer Ande Parks and artist Chris Samnee to sign, along with the Young Avengers oversized hardcover for artist Jim Cheung to sign.

I would have loved for any of the artists to do a little sketch in the hardcovers I brought along for them to sign, but only Bryan offered (which is ironic because he is the writer not the artist on the title) and I was too timid to ask the others, unsure of the protocol about such things.

Apart from those items, though, I wasn’t really sure what to bring or what to expect while at the con, so I took a page out of my friend Steve’s playbook
, and created a signature jam piece. I found a nice Wizard World logo, printed it off on some of Tracy’s good archival scrapbook stock, and took that around to the creators whose work I admire for them to sign. It ended up being a great way for me to break the ice and approach the artists and creators and a really cool memento of the con. I came away with nearly 40 signatures…

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chicago: The Con (Part 2)

Much of our time at the Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con blurs together after Thursday’s Preview Night, but we had a great time! Friday’s high points include meeting Chris Samnee, picking up my Matt Murdock commission, and having him sign my copy of Daredevil: Blood of the Tarantula. I also got to meet Steve Bryant, who, like so many others, I have known for quite a while on the forums and Twitter but had not previously met in person. Steve’s a really nice guy, and I had a great time chatting with him. I traded a copy of Deus ex Comica with him for a copy of his Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon trade paperback.

I ended up buying a great original page from the Uncanny X-Men: First Class Giant-Size Special one-shot by Craig Rousseau. The page is primarily of Storm and looks fantastic – I see shades of Sean Galloway and Skottie Young in it his style, only more conventional (and appropriate for this book).

It was so great to meet Pat Loika. I had no idea what to expect from him. The first thing he said to me was that in person I sound just like I do on my Marvel Unbound segments on the Marvel Noise podcast. Later, he offered to do a sketch of any character of the kiddo’s choosing (he picked Fin Fang Foom and Pat threw in some Iron Man for good measure – “Oh, crud.”) and it came out great! The kiddo was thrilled to get his picture taken with Pat and the sketch. Pat was such a nice guy. I’m looking forward to seeing him at future cons.

Tracy was most excited about the Buffy and Twilight celebrities in attendance. We made our way over to Emma Caulfield’s table early Friday afternoon, and it was kind of an awkward experience. As Tracy put it, Caulfield seemed more concerned with her hair and her phone than being fan-friendly. Tracy did get her picture with her, but that was about it. That didn’t stop Tracy from wanting to attend the Buffy/Emma Caulfield panel later that afternoon. I sat in the back with the kiddo (who read Tiny Titans the whole time, natch) while Tracy sat up front. The panel seemed kind of disorganized and again Caulfield came off a bit above it all, referring to the fans as “you people” multiple times, but Tracy enjoyed herself.

We only stopped in the con briefly on Saturday after our morning visit to Harry Potter: The Exhibition at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry downtown. Tracy really wanted to attend the Twilight Q&A panel, which was moved from Sunday to Saturday, so she headed straight from the Rosemont train station to the convention center, while the kiddo and I stopped back at the hotel room to collect ourselves. It was incredibly hot that day, miserably so. And I felt kind of overheated and sick that afternoon, so after a very brief appearance on the floor I took the kiddo back to the hotel for a swim in the pool (something he’d been wanting to do since our arrival four days earlier) while Tracy had her autograph meet-and-greet with Cameron Bright from Twilight.

Sunday, the kiddo and I went back to Steve Bryant’s table to chat and pick up a copy of his Black Coat/Athena Voltaire one-shot, and Steve offered to draw the kiddo an Iron Man sketch. But it wasn’t that simple, Steve insisted the kiddo come around behind the table and not only watch him sketch, but also help with the drawing! Steve even made him sign and date the sketch. What a great experience.

I also picked up my Tony Stark commission from Skottie Young Sunday afternoon. Amazing. And, after running into Dave Wachter on the con floor and realizing he was through most of his commission requests, I couldn’t resist throwing more work his way and asking for a Ghost Rider headshot for Tracy that came out beautiful!

The bulk of Sunday was reserved for bargain hunting. I picked up 20 collected editions – both trade paperbacks and hardcover collections – for an average of four bucks each! I also snagged the Devil Dinosaur Omnibus for $5 and the Secret Wars Omnibus for less than half the cover price. Good stuff all around. The one deal I missed out on, and it was my own fault, was not picking up the Captain Britain Omnibus for $40 before the booth sold out of all their copies. But I got so many other good things, I can’t complain. There was plenty of stuff I’ve been dying to get my hands on that were available for anywhere from $2 to $5 each, like Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin and Doctor Strange versus Dracula trade paperbacks, Spider-Man: The Death of the Stacys and Brian K. Vaughan’s Logan hardcovers, and some DeFalco Spider-Girl and classic Spidey team-ups with the Fantastic Four and the Black Cat.

I’ve been really digging on Black Panther lately, and wanting to try Matt Fraction’s Punisher and Brian Michael Bendis’ Alias MAX series, and the Last Day of the Con sales were a great opportunity to bring some of those titles home. Especially when I was able to find volumes two, three and four of the Alias trades for as little as $2 and $3 each!

By far, the best part about the whole convention for me was getting to meet so many people I have become friends with over the last few years on various online comic book forums. Sometimes it was a far-too-short “hello” and “nice to meet you,” and with others it was a wonderful, lingering conversation over a meal. I wish there had been more time to spend with Vince and Chris and Pat, in particular. It was great to at least be able to meet folks like Zack and Scott and Eric.

I think our con experience was probably a bit different from others’. We didn’t stop in at the Hyatt Red Bar or anything like that at night, so I know I missed out on getting to hang out with Vince and Pat and all at length, but I still had a great time.

I quickly realized that visiting on the con floor for any length of time is difficult, especially if you don’t have the same objective as others at that moment. I didn’t attend any panels other than that Buffy one for Tracy, so it wasn’t like there was opportunity to just sit and chat with friends unless there was food or drinks involved. And I’m fortunate that we were able to go out to dinner with Matt and Sarah, and Chad and Heather that first night. We ended up having a great time visiting, and it’s amazing how strong the friendships formed over the internet can be. There was never a lull in the conversation the entire night.

I was so bummed when I realized that we’d just missed Dave at Millennium Park the day we came in town, but we made up for it by going out to dinner Friday night and having lunch together at the end of the weekend. Again, with only the comics forum as our starting point, it’s grown into a very cool friendship, and we’re looking forward to getting together again soon.

That Sunday lunch with Dave also included Mike and Amiee, which was great because they breezed into town late Friday and then back out of town immediately after we ate, so it was good to have some sit-down time with them to visit.

We met so many cool people, I can’t say enough good things about the con experience. There is a chapter of Deus ex Comica where I talk about online communities and the bonds we form over common interests, and it was nice to discover those connections translate so effortlessly from the seemingly impersonal medium of the internet to real life. Now more than ever, I “get” what is so great about these cons and why I continually go back to the forums… the friendships.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Chicago: The Con (Part 1)

Wizard World Chicago began Thursday with Preview Night from 4 to 8. I loaded up my messenger bag with copies of books I brought to be signed by various creators and a few copies of Deus ex Comica to hopefully sell. We headed over a little before 4 – we were simply too excited to heed the advice of our friends Matt and Sarah, who recommended we wait until just after 4 to avoid having to queue up with the crowds to enter the con floor.

The kiddo, still completely oblivious to the impending comic book-y goodness in his future, was completely bummed out when we walked out the doors of the hotel and headed towards the parking deck instead of towards the Rosemont CTA station. He was hoping we would be headed back into the city. Instead, we walked up to the skybridge that connected our hotel’s parking deck and the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. It was quite a hike taking the walkway (after that initial time, we just went back and forth by way of the main doors – our hotel was directly across the street from the convention center), but it amped up the kiddo’s excitement.

Coming down the escalator from the walkway to the main lobby of the convention center, people were queued up to get their wristbands and others were milling about until the floor opened. There were big banners with Superman, Spider-Man and Captain America flanking the main doors, and the “Chicago Comic-Con” logo was splashed all over, but the details slipped by the kiddo. When we asked him where he thought we were, he responded, “The airport…?” (Not a bad guess, actually: He knew we were one stop from O’Hare on the blue line, we’d talked about how close we were staying to the airport, he loved all the planes flying overhead every time we stepped outside, and we did walk a long way on the skybridge, so I can totally see where that guess came from.)

We walked him over to the banners and pointed out the “Chicago Comic-Con” logo across the top, and the light bulb finally lit up! He was simply beside himself that we came all the way to Chicago to go to a comic book convention.

We picked up our wristbands and eventually made our way onto the Preview Night con floor to take advantage of the smaller crowd. I had brought my copy of the Bendis/Mack/Maleev Daredevil Omnibus with me, and made a beeline straight for David Mack's table so I wouldn’t have to carry the book around with me forever. He was finishing setting up, but took time to sign my book, talk to me a bit about his Kabuki project, and signed and gave me copies of his last two sketchbooks. (It was pretty cool that he was giving away his sketchbooks, which were professionally done, when so many other artists were charging for sketchbooks that amounted to staple-bound pamphlets.)

A few tables down from Mack were the Dial R Studios guys. I got to meet Dave Wachter, creator of Deus ex Comica’s incredible cover, in person for the first time, and picked up my preordered sketches of the Hood and Etrigan. If anyone is underpricing themselves, it’s Dave. The quality of his work makes you feel guilty for paying so little for it. I hope he breaks big soon… cover work for someone like Dark Horse would be perfectly suited to his talent, along with being a huge, well-deserved step in the right direction for him!

I also got to meet one of Dave’s fellow Dial R Studios mates, Andy Jewett. Andy surprised me by asking to buy a copy of Deus ex Comica before we’d gotten very far into the conversation. And that ended up being the first of many book sales (some expected, some unexpected) over the course of the next few days. I went back to these guys a lot throughout the weekend, and I ended up getting Andy’s sketchbook, Word 2, which contains some of his best sequential stuff. I enjoyed it so much I ended up reading it straight-through twice in the first sitting! Andy has a bit of a sentimental bent to his work, especially his autobiographical sequences, that makes me think he might really enjoy Deus ex Comica.

The kiddo must have asked me three or four times that first night where my table was. You see, all the comic book conventions he’s been to have been small, local shows where I have a table setup to sell copies of Deus ex Comica, so he didn’t know any different… he was told this was a comic con, and in his mind that meant Dad should have a table for his book. It was very cute.

I made my way over to Bryan J.L. Glass’ table because I had a great time talking to him at the Screaming Tiki Con back in October of last year, and I was excited to have him sign my Mice Templar hardcover collection. I had emailed Bryan about Deus ex Comica earlier in the year and he was very encouraging. While he was sketching and signing my Mice Templar book, I pulled out a copy of Deus and his face lit up… “That’s you! I remember you!” and he immediately asked me if he could buy a copy of the book. What a cool experience! I have been meaning to pick up a copy of Bryan’s novel, Quixote, for a while now, and I ended up going back later in the weekend to get it.

From there we visited IDW’s G.I. Joe artist Robert Atkins. I have been a big fan of the Darkhan City Times Awesome Things Podcast since its inception. Robert, along with his buddies Quinn and Troy Johnson, put together a professional, entertaining, informative, and usually all-ages appropriate pop culture podcast. It was great to meet him in person after talking with him via email and on various forums over the last few months. I had commissioned a full marker sketch of G.I. Joe’s Scarlett from him in advance of the show and was amazed by what he produced. I can’t count how many people asked me where I got it. Vince thought it was a print when he first saw it, and Chris stopped me on the con floor to tell me how much he loved it. That’s how great this piece looks! I also ended up trading Robert a copy of Deus ex Comica for one of his Snake-Eyes prints. Gorgeous stuff.

I picked up a copy of Justin Bleep’s Super Human Resources trade paperback. I love his art style and am really looking forward to digging into this story. Preview night was also great for being able to just chat with the folks in Artist’s Alley, like Mouse Guard creator David Petersen. At first, the kiddo and I talked to him about how much we enjoyed Fall 1152, and how it was one of the first comic books I really sat down and read to the kiddo. But soon, Tracy took over as she and David had a good ten-to-15 minute discussion about the Twilight saga and how much they both dug it.

It was an exciting start to the second half of our vacation, and we capped it off with a fun dinner with our friends Matt and Sarah, and Chad and Heather. The kiddo was on his best behavior, impressing everyone by ordering calamari and quietly reading the Tiny Titans trade paperback he bought from creators Art Baltazar and Franco earlier in the evening. In fact, in what became a blueprint for the rest of our vacation, the kiddo was never without a comic or collection of some kind to read while waiting in lines with me or while the adults were having dinner and talking or whatever. He went back to Art and Franco’s table the next day and bought the second trade paperback volume of Tiny Titans, then again on Saturday to buy the single issues that follow the two trades and ended up with two great sketches – a Beast Boy from Art and a Kid Devil from Franco.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chicago: The City

The afternoon we arrived in Chicago, we dropped our bags in our room and headed up the street to the Rosemont CTA station to make our way into downtown. In the past, Tracy and I have always flown into Midway, which is on the orange CTA line, and we’ve always stayed in the Loop downtown, so it was a new experience for us to have a 45-minute to an hour ride into the city, but it wasn’t a big deal, and the kiddo loved riding the trains.

Tracy and I felt great being back in Chicago, but it was definitely a new experience to be there with the kiddo in tow. We had to forego lunch at our favorite Chicago restaurant (Bistro 110) for a quick bite elsewhere, then off to the LEGO Store in the Shops at North Bridge. The kiddo loved the store and picked up a Bionicle and some other small items, then we went down one floor so I could go to my favorite chocolate shop... Vosges Haut-Chocolat for chocolate covered bacon. (Yes, it's awesome!) From there we headed south on Michigan Avenue to Millennium Park. The kiddo loved the Bean (“That’s the biggest orb I’ve ever seen!”) and the spitting faces of Crown Fountain.

We decided to get City Passes for this trip (another first for us) and so we took advantage of the new Skydeck Ledge at the Willis (née Sears) Tower. I was a little apprehensive about the Ledge, but once I got out on it, the view was amazing.

The morning of day two began with breakfast at the hotel. The kiddo thought that was most awesome thing ever... breakfast, including donuts and fruit and bacon and eggs and oatmeal and milk, all he could eat and always more being brought out. After he had his fill, we hopped back on the blue line and back into the city to explore the Museum Campus.

Shedd Aquarium was first on the list. What an amazing facility. There was so much to do and see at Shedd, but it never seemed overwhelming. The Planet Earth movie was very short and I didn’t find the effects that great, but it was included in the City Pass admission so I can’t complain too loudly (and the kiddo loved being sprayed with water and hit with bursts of air in the 4-D theater experience).

The beluga whales were incredibly beautiful and graceful, and probably my favorite animal at the aquarium. The kiddo loved the Wild Reef exhibit, primarily because there were sharks. (And, hey, what’s not to love about sharks?!) Tracy loved the sea otters – so playful and humorous.

With about three hours left before closing, we switched gears and headed over to the Field Museum so we could at least meet Sue and explore the museum with the time we had left. The kiddo loved Sue and was spouting off facts about her and dinosaurs in general for the rest of the week. Dinosaurs Alive! was one of the very best 3-D movies I’ve seen (and really put the Shedd 4-D movie to shame). My favorite part of the Field was the Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement 1956-1968 temporary exhibit. Understandably, the kiddo was a bit bored (the magnitude of the images are still outside his grasp), but he was very patient with Tracy and me while we lingered on each and every amazing photograph. It was impossible to not choke up reading some of the stories behind the photographs and witnessing the courage captured in the images.

From the Museum Campus, we took a water taxi across Lake Michigan to Navy Pier, again, something Tracy and I had never done and someplace Tracy and I had never been. It was far too touristy for our tastes, but the kiddo had fun walking around and seeing the sights.

Day three began much like the previous day... with the kiddo consuming a huge breakfast at the hotel. Then we hopped in the car for Schaumburg, which completely confused the kiddo and helped reinforce Tracy’s suggestion that we were headed to Wisconsin for cheese. We had found a deal on admissions online prior to our trip, and thank goodness, because LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago was a bit of a letdown for us. It was definitely skewed towards a younger set than the kiddo and the store was really kind of lame compared to Orlando’s Downtown Disney and the Michigan Avenue LEGO stores we’ve been in.

The Factory Tour is misnamed, the Model Builders Workshop was kind of blah, and the Dragon Ride is geared towards littler kids. Regardless, though, we made the most of it and the kiddo did have fun. The coolest thing about the place was the Miniland Chicago display, which was a huge Chicago cityscape, complete with Batman perched atop the Sears Tower.

Later in the trip, we made a point to visit the Museum of Science and Industry for Harry Potter: The Exhibition. This was an amazing presentation of costumes, set pieces and behind-the-scenes information about the Harry Potter movies. It was an extra admission on top of our City Passes, but worth every penny. It took us around two-and-a-half hours to go through the entire Harry Potter exhibit, and the only disappointment was not being able to shot photographs in the exhibit. The attention to detail represented was remarkable – the stitching on every costume, the authenticity of every set piece, the personality given to every wand!

It was sad to take that last train ride back in from the city after the MOSI visit. (At least for Tracy and me, the kiddo still had no idea what to expect day to day!) Much like going to Disney, it was revelatory to see this city we love so much through the eyes of a seven year-old. I don’t know that we’ll be able to look at Chicago the same way again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chicago: The Setup

If you’ve read Deus ex Comica, you know I consider the dad from Calvin and Hobbes my parenting role model. And this summer’s vacation was another opportunity to completely mess with the kiddo. Tracy and I made the decision to go to Wizard World Chicago this year because none of us have been to a comic book convention of that size, it was during the kiddo’s summer break, and the week before the kiddo’s birthday. We decided to extend the trip by coming into town early in order to take advantage of the city we love.

Along with having never been to a comic con of the Wizard World size, Tracy and I had never driven to Chicago and we’d never taken the kiddo with us to Chicago prior to this trip, so this was something new for all of us.

We didn’t tell the kiddo we were going on vacation or anything about the plans. I surreptitiously packed his bags the weekend before we were leaving, and on Tuesday morning we told him we would go out for a special family breakfast bef
ore dropping him at summer camp and heading to work. He ate a huge breakfast, hopped in the car, and we were off. He didn’t notice when we missed the exit for summer camp and soon fell asleep (full belly = sleepy). An hour or so later, he woke up and realized he wasn’t at summer camp yet. We told him to look on the seat beside him, and he found the Spider-Man messenger back we’d picked up for him. We then told him to find the kid’s atlas in the bag and figure out where we were.

On the drive, the kiddo made all kinds of wild guesses as to where we were going... some of the more amusing ones were Kansas, Iowa, Vegas, South Carolina and Florida. Clearly, we’ll be working on his map reading and orienteering skills.

Besides the kid’s atlas, we also packed some chapter books and a bunch of comic books. Three or four hours into the drive, the kiddo announced, “I finished reading all the comics.” I mused aloud to him, “I sure hope there’s someplace to get comics where we’re going...” Completely bummed out and in the dark about the convention in his future, the kiddo sadly responded with conviction, “I doubt it.” Tracy and I laughed about that exchange all week leading up to the con.

Eventually, the kiddo figured out we were in Chicago by the highway signs and was genuinely excited at the prospect of this seemingly spontaneous adventure. And five-and-a-half hours after leaving home, we walked into the lobby of the Embassy Suites in Rosemont, directly across from the convention center where the con would be held a few days later. The kiddo was bowled over by how “luxurious” it was. The main atrium area where breakfast is served is surrounded by plants and a water feature. The kiddo thought it was tropical and exotic.

We never told the kiddo what we were going to be doing each day, or how long we were staying in Chicago, or any details whatsoever. Tracy took to telling him we were going to go to Wisconsin to see how cheese is made. She milked that one (heh, pun) most of the week, much to the kiddo’s frustration, because she is usually the one he can trust to give him a straight answer.

In reply to the kiddo’s nightly inquiry about what we were going to do the next day, we took a Dread Pirate Roberts approach and told him “Good night, kiddo. It was fun. Sleep well. We’ll most likely drive home in the morning.”