EXCLUSIVE: Warren Ellis Brings "Genius Storytelling" to Dynamite's "James Bond 007"
Well, sort of a con report, anyway.
Here’s the thing about Emerald City. Every year it gets not just bigger, but bigger than anyone THINKS it’s going to get. We’re still getting used to the idea of a good-sized comics convention here in Seattle. We love it, don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled that people are finding out about it and that attendance ramps up every year. We just never can quite believe it. (The first year, Kurt Mitchell and I were both privately convinced that Jim and George were going to lose their shirts on the thing. “Seattle’s just not enough of a comics town to support a big show,” we pontificated.)
Yeah, well, turns out, that whole too-small thing? Not so much.
So the first day is always this vaguely frantic oh-my-God-we-weren’t-BRACED-for-this feeling. I’ve been bringing my students to this show for all five years and we’ve had a table for the last four, and Saturday, especially, always feels just crazy. It’s a nerd stampede. Which is the reason that I don’t have a lot of cool photos of comics pros for you. (The ones accompanying this article are stolen off other folks.)
I do have some pictures, and some funny stories. Those I’ll pass on to you. But to be honest we really were pretty well chained to the table all day Saturday and most of Sunday.
Here are the numbers. Thirty different cartooning students and their parents, from two different schools, rotated through table duty for the weekend. I only assigned ninety-minute shifts, but most of the kids that came stayed all day. We printed over five hundred of our “convention special” ashcans and we were left with twenty-three on Sunday evening (four of which I’ve since mailed out to folks who’ve asked to be put on our mailing list.) Now, we put maybe thirty on the freebie table, which means that somewhere around four hundred and fifty books were actually each handed to someone by one of the kids. And most of them went out signed. I also had all sorts of parents and teachers coming up to me asking how they could get something like this going at THEIR schools. It really was one of our best shows ever.
We had a pretty good spot in Artist’s Alley, more or less under the red Coca-Cola sign you see in the left of this picture, at the end of the curtained partition.
We were in the very back, right on the end. The reason it was a good spot is because it was ideal for the “second pass” people. You know, people would come in, trample each other getting to Bendis or Brubaker or someone like that, and then once their savage collector lusts were satiated, they’d think, Well, let’s look around, as long as we’re here. And we’d usually catch them on that second pass.
Here’s a shot of the Saturday crew, who took the brunt of the geek assault.
I apologize for the blurring — damn it, I WILL master this damned camera of ours someday — but I wanted to be sure the kids got their due. From left to right, you have Alaina, Lindon, Danielle, Conor, Sharon, and Samantha.
Here’s a better shot I stole off another website.
Here’s another one of the kids, working it hard on Saturday, signing a book for this nice blonde lady while Julie watches from the back.
The reason they’re all drawing so intently is because Alaina had just sold a sketch and they were all galvanized into action by this example.
It happened like this. Mostly, when we’re at the table, the kids just draw. Jeff Parker opined that it looked like some kind of Dickensian child labor operation, but I assure you I’m not cracking the whip; it’s all them. I have to encourage them to look up and actually make eye contact with people once in a while, because they’d just as soon draw pictures all day and not pay any attention to the crowd at all. (A sentiment that I suspect is shared by many of the bigger-name artists as well.)
Getting restless, Jamar wanted to make a sign offering sketches for sale.
Alaina looked at me. “Is that okay? Can we SELL stuff?”
“Can’t sell the books,” I told her. “The school prints those, and even if you guys got money for that book, I’d have to split it twenty-six ways across two schools. But if you can sell a sketch, on your own, more power to you. What happens at Emerald City stays at Emerald City. I’ll tell you now, though, no one’s ever sold one from our table in the four years we’ve been doing this. I think it might be more fun for you just to knock out a quick sketch for free, just to do it.”
Clearly my don’t-get-your-hopes-up speech had some kind of backwards effect, because when I took a quick jog to the restroom someone came to the table and actually commissioned something. When I got back Alaina was completely wigging out.
“He asked for old-school Wolverine fighting a T-Rex!” she wailed. “I don’t know what that looks like!”
The gentleman was nowhere to be seen, but he’d left his sketchbook. Okay. Time to punch in, teach.
I took a sheet of scratch paper and quickly doodled up a model sheet. “He means like this, with the flaring pointed black mask. Sort of like Batman’s but sticking out more. And the suit’s yellow with these pointy tiger-stripe things here and here. But don’t worry about color, just do it in black-and-white.”
Alaina considered it, then nodded. “I don’t think I can do a T-Rex though.”
“Phooey. You do dragons all the time. This is just another kind of a big lizard. Don’t panic. You guys have just as many pages in print as half the guys in small-press publishing that are here, you’re not some newbie. Get a grip. There’s all kinds of T-Rex reference here in the room if you’re not sure. Hell, there’s one right there in the program.” I pointed. “Now calm down and take a swing at it. Get your tablemates to help you if you get stuck. I’ll tell you this — most people that get sketches at a convention just like having a souvenir, and a funny drawing is usually better than a serious one, they’re easier. Don’t get stuck trying to do something magnificent. You can cheat your way out of it by doing a couple of head shots, really — Wolverine standing and the dinosaur coming up behind him, so the fight hasn’t quite started yet.”
Alaina bit her lip, nodded again, and settled in to work. In a couple of moments she had Wolverine roughed in and a pretty fair-looking T-Rex head behind him. She showed it nervously to me.
“Background,” I said. “Give it a little context. Jungle or something.”
“Do I HAVE to?” Alaina looked pained.
Jamar said, “I can do the background.”
Alaina handed him the sketchbook with an expression of palpable relief on her face, and Jamar quickly added a jungle island setting around the figures. “Should I ink it?”
“Sure, but put one of our sheets under it so it doesn’t soak through to the next page.”
Between them they had the whole thing hammered out in about twenty minutes. As an afterthought Alaina added a dialogue balloon from Wolverine saying, I smell lizard.
I was bursting with pride at this point, but I restrained myself to a nod and a smile. “Nice job. Congratulations on your first commission, guys. Set it somewhere where it won’t get spilled on until he gets back.”
That’s Alaina and Jamar, and as you can see, they are looking pretty sassy and pleased with themselves. Now you know why.
Somehow I never did get to see who commissioned the drawing, but Julie assured me he was very pleased with how it turned out and he paid $5 for it. THAT was what set the kids on fire. The rest of the weekend they hustled sketches. Here’s Jessica scoring her first sale.
The great fun of the show for us is that the kids get to interact with other pros on a peer level, it really hammers home to them that we’re doing this for real. Here’s Jessica signing a shirt that a lady named Dez wanted signed by every artist at the show. And by God, that included my students.
It tickles me no end that Jessica’s signature is right next to Paul Chadwick’s. Comics is an amazingly democratic industry, when you get right down to it.
I had mentioned Jeff Parker earlier, and speaking of Mr. Parker, that was actually my favorite sketch story. I’ve talked about my student Amethyst before, and how she is really amazingly, amazingly good.
That’s Amethyst on the right, focusing fiercely on her drawing, while in the middle Helene’s watching her work, and then Amanda’s on the left. Even her fellow students, who are actually a really tough crowd, are awed by how good Amethyst is.
Anyway. So here’s the story. This was Amethyst’s first show. In fact, this was Amethyst’s first real evidence that there are other people that do what she does; that there are, in fact, grown-ups who do this kind of work for their JOB.
So Amethyst spent a great deal of the weekend just staring around in awe and wonder. A little while after her arrival on Saturday, overhearing the buzz from the other kids about Alaina’s big score, Amethyst asked me about sketching. Having been through this with Alaina earlier in the day, I had the pep talk all ready.
“Here’s the thing,” I told her. “The fun of a convention sketch is seeing it happen, people want to see you work. So if you just pile up a lot of drawings and set them on the table, it just turns into one more thing for people to ignore when they walk up. Say you’re a customer and you come up to the table, I hand you a book and you say, ‘are you doing sketches?’ and I say, ‘tell me what you want,’ and you say, ‘I want Robin fighting King Kong.’ So I say okay and I do this.” I whipped out a Sharpie marker and did a rough sketch of Robin hurling a batarang at a big gorilla head. “See? Quick and dirty. It’s more like a magic trick than actual drawing, really.”
Amethyst nodded, and that was when Jeff Parker and his studio mate James ambled up to our table. I rattled off the spiel about the OST Arts Program and how this was our annual field trip, and offered him one of the books, explaining that everyone had done one page. He looked at Amethyst and said, “Which one is yours?”
She turned out that page to him. He was impressed. “That’s very good storytelling,” he told her. Tracing an S-shape across the page with his finger, he turned to James and said, “Look how that leads the eye. –That’s really good,” he added, turning back to Amethyst. “Is this what you want to do when you get older?”
Amethyst nodded, shyly.
“Well, you keep it up,” Parker told her.
I asked him if he’d contribute something to our class scrapbook, and he did us a big bear saying, Draw animals! They’ll make you good at cartooning because they won’t sit still!
Then James asked Amethyst if she’d do him a sketch in HIS book. She took a deep breath and asked him what he would like.
“Anything,” James told her.
“Naruto?” Amethyst asked him, and he nodded, grinning. So Amethyst did him a really nice looking Naruto sketch and he handed her five dollars.
Amethyst’s jaw dropped. She literally couldn’t believe it. James might as well have suddenly sprouted wings and a halo, the way she looked at him. Then Amethyst looked up at me, questioningly, and I nodded. “That’s all you,” I told her. “You earned it.”
Jeff and James thanked us, and went back to their table. Amethyst looked at me with wide saucer eyes, still not quite believing it.
I said, “That’s why we’re here, kiddo. Moments like that. Enjoy it.”
The best part of the story? Amethyst’s mother was standing behind us watching it all happen.
Actually, quite a few of the kids sold sketches. As you can see here, they’re starting to look a little cocky about it all.
Here’s Alaina again, Lindon in the yellow hat, Danielle in the black hat, and then Ciara in the back. Lindon contributed a sketch to a gentleman who had an Abraham Lincoln theme going in his sketchbook.
“Just any kind of Lincoln,” he told her.
Lindon said gleefully, “Emo Lincoln!” and did exactly that. The girls thought that was the funniest thing ever and Danielle promptly started thumbnailing out a strip about Emo Lincoln Meets Sasuke. (I think it’ll probably debut next month, if she gets it pulled together.) And she did a big drawing of “Emo Lincoln” that eventually sold.
I actually commissioned a sketch myself. Madison, our political firebrand, wasn’t able to come to the show, but she had asked me rather forlornly if I could get her a sketch of Raven from the Teen Titans from one of the artists. That was in the back of my mind all weekend, and I eventually got Rosie from The Color M webcomic to do a really nice one. Unfortunately, I gave Raven to Madison before scanning it, but I assure you it was terrific. Here’s a sample of their webcomic.
(Rosie and her crew are hardly older than my students but they’ve got some real game, believe me. Besides, all things being equal, I’d just as soon throw the work to an indie artist.) They were going to do it for free, pointing out the table sign that said FREE SKETCHES!! but I said nothing doing, and gave Rosie five dollars. “Promotional drawings of your OWN characters are free,” I told them. “Commissions cost money.”
We didn’t actually do that much shopping, just a couple of hit-and-run laps around the floor. Randy’s Reader Comics booth got most of my business — I cleaned him out of all the post-Starlin Mar-Vell he had. (I’m very fond of Steve Englehart’s and Scott Edelman’s runs on that book, and frankly I prefer both to Starlin’s. Starlin gets all the ‘cosmic acid trip’ credit for Captain Marvel, but it was actually Steve Englehart that had Rick Jones really drop acid as part of the storyline, in #37. Those were the days.)
And of course we had to find a moment to see Margot Kidder. We were sure there would be a huge line, but surprisingly, it was relatively quiet.
Just for fun, I had an old copy of Tales of the Zombie with me that I was going to give to her — it had a shot of Margot Kidder in it, pre-Superman, and I already had the Essential so I didn’t really need it; the book had turned up in an eBay lot I’d scored a few weeks back. (You’ll find the photo, from Sisters, in “The Voodoo Beat” column in #6.)
She was working on a crossword puzzle and as we approached she looked up and said, “What’s the decimal part of a logarithm?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, and looked at Julie. “Math is her area.”
“I can’t remember,” Julie said.
“Oh well.” Ms. Kidder was philosophical about it. “How are you today?”
“Pretty good.” I gave her the magazine. “We have something for you. I’m betting it’s a piece of Margot Kidder memorabilia you don’t have.”
She looked at the picture and burst out laughing. “Such a flattering photo, too!”
She started to sign it and I waved her off. “No, no, you keep it. We’ll buy a photo though.”
“Well aren’t you sweet!” Margot Kidder beamed at us and signed a lovely color shot of Superman and Lois in a hot clinch (Julie’s pick.) She thanked us again for the magazine and we went back to our table.
Our friend Mike came up a minute or two later and I asked him, “Hey, what’s the decimal part of a logarithm?”
“I’m not even sure what a logarithm is,” Mike said. “Why?”
“Margot Kidder wants to know.”
We never did figure it out. I had hoped we could get the answer so I could send one of the kids up to her table with one of our books and the announcement, “Ms. Kidder, the decimal part of a logarithm is…” It would be the sort of random joke the girls love, especially Lindon. But we never got the answer.
I finally looked it up on Google on Monday and discovered it’s called a ‘mantissa.’
We had nice neighbors. Across the aisle from us we had Michael Golden and Renae Witterstatter — Michael Golden did a lovely Dr. Strange for the scrapbook, captioned Storytelling is the art of making the Magik real for everyone! Make it real.
In a delightful coincidence, Amethyst had an old copy of Micronauts in her binder, one of the grab-bag books I’d given the kids at the class Christmas party. I said to her, “Do you know who drew that book?”
Amethyst shook her head.
“That man right over there,” I said, and pointed out Mr. Golden. Amethyst’s jaw dropped again — she really was having the best first convention ever, I think. She scampered across the aisle to get it signed and Michael Golden insisted she sign one of hers for him in return. The kid just about levitated.
Amethyst’s mother was looking at me like I’d somehow arranged it all. “You have to understand,” I said, grinning, “the world of comics is only this big.” I held up thumb and forefinger about a centimeter apart. “It’s not as shocking a coincidence as you might think.” Still, I have to admit it was really cool to have him right across from us. He was a great neighbor.
And Renae Witterstatter and I had a nice chat on Sunday morning, just before the doors opened to the public. (She greeted me with, “Where are all the little girls?” I assured her they’d be along.) She was scheduled to do portfolio reviews on Marvel’s behalf throughout the weeeknd, and she told me that if any of my kids wanted to get their pages looked at she’d be happy to do so. Rachel, Aja, and Emily all took her up on it.
That’s Emily getting her review, while Aja waits behind her. Renae was completely wonderful with the girls and believe me, they took it to heart.
Roberta Gregory also stopped by and said hello on Sunday — this was a real treat, because the girls had been terribly disappointed not to see her at a booth somewhere; they all love her cat comics. But even though she wasn’t working the show, she stopped by for a visit.
As luck would have it, Roberta had new cat-comic promotional flyers with her and Aja and Emily and Rachel snapped those right up.
In addition to Michael Golden and Renae Witterstatter, we also were right next to Neal Bailey of the Superman Homepage. He and his people were amazingly patient with my crew of hyperactive pre-teen hellions.
Power Girl, who was definitely the costume hit of the convention, was based at his table. I was a little nervous about some of my more conservative parents voicing objections to this, but thankfully, it never came up. In fact, the students really took to her, she was a hit with them too. Here she is with Rachel.
Rachel actually did Power Girl a sketch and presented it to her. This was another favorite moment from the show. I wish to hell I’d gotten a better picture of it. Fortunately, Rachel’s father sent me a good one: here it is.
Rachel’s father Lew came again this year and frankly got my vote for Most Valuable Parent. He was an enormous help, and it was though his tireless volunteerism and good humor that Julie and I got to have any convention for ourselves at all. He is endlessly interested in the whole comics scene, the subculture fascinates him. He asked me about Power Girl, who the character was, and I told him that she was essentially Superman’s cousin from a parallel world; blessedly, he didn’t press me for details. As much as I like Lew and know that he would listen with genuine interest, I would feel like just way too much of a nerd trying to explain about Earth-1 and Earth-2 to one of my students’ parents. I couldn’t resist showing off a bit of trivia knowledge, however.
“There’s actually a funny story about her costume design,” I added, glancing up to make sure I wouldn’t be overheard. “Wally Wood, the artist that worked on the original book, liked his girls buxom. And there’s an urban legend that with each issue of the book, he made Power Girl’s breasts a little larger than the month before. Now, I don’t know if this is true, and Wood’s dead so there’s no way to ask him — but the visual evidence bears it out. And ever since then it’s been traditional for Power Girl to be just stacked. No matter who’s drawing the book.”
Lew and Rachel thought this was hysterical and immediately went off in search of Power Girl comics to investigate this phenomenon for themselves. A while later they returned and I asked, “Any luck?”
“No comics,” Lew said, “but we found a book, a paperback book of Power Girl. You’re not kidding.” He glanced at our next-door neighbor. “I have to say, she’s pulling it off.”
We had all sorts of costume folks stopping by our table on Sunday, actually.
Clearly, our table was the happening place for Star Wars characters. Other people were standing in line to get pictures with them, but we didn’t even have to get up.
Laura made sure everyone posed with Torvald, too. Here’s the Sunday afternoon crew:
Clockwise from the rear, that’s Amethyst, Helene, Amanda, Stephanie, Jessica, and the OTHER Jessica.
Laura even got Julie and me, against our better judgement.
Not much left to tell. Thankfully, no kids-and-parents drama this year; it was all just fun. The only regret was that we really didn’t get out on the floor more, though we did get to say quick hellos to Heidi and Jim from Comics Fairplay, and a brief visit with Gail Simone — Emily and Aja wanted to be sure that they got to show “the nice red-haired Justice League lady” their sketchbooks again.
As luck would have it, Gail’s next-door neighbor was Camilla d’Errico, and the girls were all instant fans as soon as they saw Camilla’s amazing manga paintings. Camilla was infinitely patient with all the girls who went trooping up to see “that awesome manga lady,” sending everyone away with a sketch and a catalog and an invitation to visit her webpage. “You all have to turn professional so we can all be at tables together and rule the comics world,” she told them. She was so wonderful I felt like I should buy something, but all I could afford was the sketchbook for Burn, which as it happens was well worth it and has all sorts of cool stuff I can use in class.
It finally dawned on me where I knew Camilla from. She had been equally wonderful to my Alki Studio kids the previous summer when we saw her at one of the little one-day Seattle Center shows, where she was part of Quenton Shaw’s crew. I feel like an idiot for not remembering, but my one consolation is that I’m pretty sure Camilla didn’t remember either. At any rate, we all know her now and I’m telling you she’s really talented. I look at lots of manga-style stuff as part of my job and Camilla’s got something uniquely her own going on, it’s not just more Ameri-manga crap. Watch for her work.
And that really is all we’ve got. I hadn’t really intended to do three columns about the cartooning class in a row, but to be honest this is what consumes our lives the entire month leading up to ECCC. It was a great show but we’re still exhausted. Someday we’re going to figure out how to do this and still get a decent night’s sleep at the same time.
See you next week.
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