I think it was around the time I bumped into a dwarf wearing a clown outfit while leaving a sci-fi lucha bar in the company of a small harem of women that I realized Comic-Con has really changed for me. To be certain, it’s always been a somewhat surreal experience, but this was the first year it seemed to play out like a four-day, Hunter S. Thompson button trip experienced after 48 hours of meditating to episodes of Adventure Time. It was weird, tiring and more than a little confusing. It left me with a scratchy throat and a sense of fatigue that I’ve been trying to sleep off ever since. It was also one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had in ages.
I’ve been going to Comic-Con since well before I started working in comics. I first began making the yearly pilgrimage down to San Diego when I was in college. I remember picking up the first few issues of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen one of the first years I attended. This year, I picked up its latest installment, Century: 1969. That’s about the only similarity between Comic-Con then and now, however. The first few times I went to Comic-Con, you could still get passes and a hotel room without crashing the internet. Comic-Con was contained entirely in the convention center, and there was no Hall H. All the big movie panels were in Ballroom 20, and you could actually get into them without lining up half of the day. (I actually used to cheat, showing up about 20 minutes before the prior panel had ended and telling the guard that I was there to check out the end of it, which allowed me to bypass the line of people waiting for the next one. Yeah, it’s astonishing that I had the nerve to act like such an entitled bastard, but what’s even more astonishing is that it actually worked.) At night, I hung out with friends and actually went to bed early so we could be up in time to catch the morning panels the next day. There were no mixers or parties and certainly no late night beer binges. Comic-Con was about fandom for me in those days.
And for the longest time, even after I began working within the industry as an editor and writer, I still adhered at least partially to that belief. But the biggest difference about this Comic-Con compared to all of the ones past was that this was the first year I begrudgingly accepted the fact that I’m there to work. I realized that as much as I’d love to take time out to check out the “Sexy Geek” panel or stroll through the Lionsgate booth to snag one of those mockingjay pins, I couldn’t. This is my once a year industry weekend, and as a freelancer in a very competitive industry, I had to make use of it. In fact, if you’ve been wondering why I don’t really have any photos to accompany this write-up, it’s because I almost never even took my camera out. I just didn’t have the time and my focus was elsewhere. I was more interested in taking business cards than snapshots this year, which may make for a more productive freelance schedule in the months ahead, but it also makes for a very visually uninteresting blog post. Sorry about that.
Part of this newfound acceptance meant connecting with as many of my friends in the industry as I could. I never really think of myself as knowing very many editors, writers and artists…until Comic-Con rolls around. Then it becomes clear exactly how many people I know. And what’s worse is that I really do like these people. I wanted to see them, and while I made a valiant effort to hunt all of them down, a few proved elusive. Several of the good folks that I missed have since told me they came by the Archaia booth and I wasn’t there, which I can only imagine means they came by when I was having lunch or drinks with the ones I did find. People live and die by their cell phones at Comic-Con, so I need to get better about giving my cell number to people I want to see at conventions. And then I need to hire someone to answer my cell phone for me. Considering 95% of my time at the show this year was spent meeting with people, signing comics, talking to fans or sleeping—none of which are really good times to pick up the phone—I found myself ignoring phone calls and text messages until I got a break, at which point I’d have something like 48,000 texts that I needed to respond to. I seriously think I might’ve broken Verizon.
I also had two books to promote this year: Fraggle Rock and Strawberry Shortcake. Shortcake was a little weird since for the most part, I was the only Strawberry Shortcake creator the publisher had in the booth, and I look far more like a lowlife in an Ed Brubaker comic than I do a writer of happy, girly things, but the little girls who bought the book didn’t seem to mind even if a few of their fathers were giving me strange looks. Besides, the great thing about Strawberry Shortcake was that we sold as many copies to adult women as to little girls, proving that men aren’t the only ones upset that their parents threw out all of their old toys. The most interesting one was a sparkly looking porn star who offered to trade me her X-rated coloring book for a copy of the issue. (One thing you never want to hear at a Strawberry Shortcake comic book signing is, “Do you like porn?”) I had to refuse the trade, but she was willing to buy the comic and left me the coloring book anyhow, along with a little pack of Disney Princess crayons.
But where things started to get really bent was my rooming situation. This year, I found myself sharing a hotel room with four different women.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have quite a few female friends. In fact, at last count my close female friends outnumber my close male ones about two to one. I also have a female roommate and grew up in a household comprised entirely of women for much of my life, so I’m very comfortable around women. But when you’re a man working in the comic book industry and people learn that you’re sharing your hotel room with four attractive young female creators (well, technically one of them was just down for fun and isn’t in the funny book business, but it hardly changes things), you’re going to get some raised eyebrows…and maybe a few slaps on the back and presumptively knowing winks.
Yes, I apparently had a harem this year—a name which the group adopted themselves. Among this small collective were two artists that I’m working with on personal projects of mine, one of whom I had never met in person before. Another was a close friend of mine from the bay area who I once dated and the last was a woman with a Dune tattoo on her back and a full-time job as a bio-mercenary, which may be the most badass sounding career ever created. You throw a little alcohol into the mix and conversations were lively, to say the least.
It also meant that there was a fair amount of emotional drama over the weekend. Hell, there always is when copious amounts of booze is involved, but this weekend seemed like it had been marinated in it. One of my roommates had originally intended on attending the show with her boyfriend of five years, but then needed to make other arrangements when that relationship ended. Another is unhappy in her marriage and uncertain whether she should stick with it. One roommate had a death in her family during Comic-Con weekend. Two members of our group were vegetarians, while one of them kills animals for a living. People were unemployed, uncertain, uneasy and often in various stages of undress. It was like a Tennessee Williams play with Browncoats.
Needless to say, no one was in the mood to stay in at night, least of all me, since everyone knows the real Comic-Con takes place long after the convention hall has closed. However, I also wasn’t content to adhere to my normal practice of rounding up a group for dinner and then immediately making our way to the Hyatt afterwards. Not when there were other options.
Thursday found us at the One Plus Hub mixer before skipping the IDW party (which was loud and had a line to rival Hall H’s) and heading to the Boom! gathering over at the Hilton Bayfront. That was entertaining right up until their happy hour ended and drink prices rose to roughly the equivalent of a down payment on a yacht. On Friday, we were joined for dinner by the lovely Grace Randolph before a few of us headed off to Tr!ckster. I wish I could tell you what Tr!ckster was, but I visited it twice and I still don’t have the faintest idea. It seemed to be an art show and auction combined with a sushi bar that for whatever reason was being held in some sort of wine cellar. And the subject of most of the art was Akira Kurosawa. (That’s true of the night I attended, at least. I’ve been told the art changed each day.) I’d heard that Tr!ckster was the place to be this year, and don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable and inspiring in its own way, but after spending about an hour wandering around and seeing very few people I knew, I decided I’d be finding something different to do on Saturday night.
That something different was apparently a bar crawl. To be honest, we didn’t start off Saturday night expecting to stumble drunkenly from one side of the Gaslamp to the other. In fact, we started Saturday night off in the pool. The Marriott Marquis has such a wonderful heated pool, and every time I’ve stayed there in the past I’ve always eyed it longingly as I’ve hurried up to my room. This time, a few of us decided to stop and jump in, while the rest stayed up in the room and eyed us longingly. Then it was off to dinner at Maloney’s, which once used to be a pretty decent pub. Unfortunately, it’s now turned into a loud club with an obnoxious wait staff and a smaller menu than I remembered. Dinner turned into drinks and drinks turned into dancing. And dancing turned into all the women in our group getting swarmed by a bunch of bad dancers who were dressed as superheroes. We decided to leave.
Now, leaving a bar when you don’t know where you intend to go is never a good idea, especially when you’re with a group. We knew the plan was to end up at the Hyatt, but none of us were in a hurry to get there too early…so we wandered. We drifted in and out of a few places including the previously mentioned lucha bar and a crowded Irish pub. We had at least one round at each of them, and by the time we finally made it to the Hyatt, we were almost too drunk to take advantage of Archaia’s open tab. But that’s okay. By then, it was well past midnight and the only people who were even close to sober at the Hyatt were the clerks embarrassingly trying to explain their amenities to the late check-ins while what must’ve sounded like a stadium full of drunken football fans were arguing about whether DC’s reboot was a good idea just down the hall. It’s always hard to tell if the headache you have when you leave the Hyatt is from the booze or the noise.
Considering the sort of nights I was having, it’s little wonder I left Comic-Con in something of a daze. I managed to avoid getting sick this year, largely because I spent most of the past few days sleeping. And now that I’ve woken up, I’ve found myself missing my companions and already looking ahead to next year. That’s a first. Usually, Comic-Con kicks my ass and I don’t even want to look at another red lanyard or plastic badge holder until next summer. This year, Comic-Con kicked my ass…and I kinda want more.
I’m not sure what that says about me. Maybe this means it’s time for me to leave this crazy industry. Perhaps I’ve become like a battered spouse who has been abused for so long he thinks he deserves it. Or maybe I’m more like a boxer who realizes the only way to achieve what he’s after is through blood, sweat and pain. Maybe this is my way of saying I’m ready for the next challenge, the next fight. Maybe success lies just ahead.
Either way, it might’ve been brutal at times, but I made it through Comic-Con. And as always, it was a hell of a show.