INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
This year’s Emerald City Con was… an extraordinary experience.
Truthfully, I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around some of it. Doing our Artist’s Alley table as a fundraiser for the Cartooning Class was very much a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment decision, we weren’t organized about it at all… and I was very moved, and a little awed, at how well the kids came through. Not just the current students but many of our grads, as well.
The experience could be summed up in this exchange between our friend Lorinda and myself. At one point, I shook my head and muttered, “This is so amazing… I mean, teaching, it’s like putting a note in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean, you never really know how it’s going to work out.”
Rin replied, “Well, you sure had a lot of bottles come back this weekend.”
We took a lot of pictures and I think I’ll just run those for you and talk a little bit about each one.
This is what it looked like before we opened.
This is the last time we would experience quiet until Sunday evening. LATE Sunday evening. My ears are still ringing a little.
Outside, the crowd was milling around panting to get in.
Clearly, convention security was going to be overtaxed so the stormtroopers thought they’d assist with crowd control.
And then we were off….
This may give you a little bit of an idea of the swarms that descended once the doors were open. Saturday, in particular, was Hell Day.
Fortunately, we had a great crew. I honestly don’t know how Julie and I ever used to do this by ourselves. It takes a teenage metabolism to keep up with the Saturday hordes at a convention.
In the rear we have Rachel, Aja, and that’s Katrina under the mop, with our friend Rin in the front. Rachel decided to be Rogue again this year, as you can see. Katrina wanted to dress up too but couldn’t decide on an outfit (she’d brought a couple.) This is the one she started with, a character of her own named Connor, but Connor only lasted till noon or so.
Once again this year, we won the lottery by having awesome neighbors. One one side we had Jeffrey Ellis and the crew from Cloudscape Comics, a small-press artists-collective outfit based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
I bought their anthology book EXPLODED VIEW partly to say thanks for putting up with us but it turns out that I really like it.
It looks a lot like a grown-up version of what we do in class, actually — every member of the group contributes a few pages’ worth of work and then there’s bios in the back. Same basic format, just with real production values. A lot of good stuff in here.
They do a raunchy humor self-published book and a podcast as well.
I’m so embarrassed I can’t remember their names — I know I introduced myself at some point, but I couldn’t really hear them very well. The echo chamber in the hall, once the crowds were in, made it nearly impossible to converse on Saturday. But they were great, swore up and down they loved being next to us and claimed we brought them a lot of extra traffic. They were especially hilarious about pretending to almost-swear in front of the kids but they never actually did.
Since we were doing a for-real fundraiser, and thus actually accepting money, our setup changed a little this year.
The idea was that we had students on the left, alumni on the right. As people would approach, the kids would offer them a giveaway book, and if they stopped, then they’d volunteer to sign it.
Then Katie or myself would explain about the budget shortfall and collecting for donations, and add that anything over $10 got you a custom sketch from an alum. More often than not, they’d at least stop and admire the sample sketches we had up, and put a couple of bucks in the box.
Many did in fact commission sketches.
Once we were set up it went fairly smoothly despite being a bit cramped, up against the wall as we were.
That’s me and my boss, Katie. For the last seven years I’ve exhorted my various supervisors at school to come to the convention and really see how hard the kids work, but this was the first time anyone took me up on it.
It was a lot of fun having Katie there as she knew nothing about comics, conventions, or geek culture in general. But she adapted quickly. Watching her take in the experience was entertaining just in itself, and by the end of her day there, she was a complete convert. At one point Katie was even speculating on the possibility of doing this kind of thing more often and wondering what other shows there were that we could attend as a class. The Stumptown Festival in Portland, especially, was a possibility we talked about quite a bit. (Katie was also interested in hearing about WonderCon and APE, but I told her, “Baby steps. I’m only just now getting to a place where I think I know how to get us to THIS show.”)
The alumni were kept very busy sketching all day both days.
Fortunately they love to draw but my GOD they worked hard. I wish I’d gotten more shots of their work, it was of an extraordinarily high level, especially the high school kids. I was so proud of all of them and the way they’ve all kept learning and growing as artists, years after leaving my charge.
I did get a few. Here’s one of Aja’s.
And this is one of Katrina’s custom commissions. She asked the lady what she wanted and the woman said, “Well, I like octopuses.” (Yes, I know it’s octopi but that’s what she said.)
For a second I thought Katrina was going to be stuck but then she blew out this caricature of the woman herself with an octopus on her head. Yeah, the kids are THAT good.
Some people were kind of crass about it. This mother, especially, was really annoying. First she wanted to know what she’d be getting for her ten dollars.
Katrina rather helplessly pointed to the samples, but it developed that this woman wanted to see the actual sketch before she would pay for it.
And this woman wanted something special, too– a caricature of her two boys… an action pose of the two of them in their martial arts class. Geez lady, demanding much?
Katrina was amazingly diplomatic about it. I thought Rin was going to go ballistic on the woman and I had to squelch a few sharp remarks myself. She deserved some kind of smack.
Fortunately, the finished product satisfied everyone and we got the ten bucks.
But most of our visitors were much nicer. You remember Rachel’s shot of the X-Men at the beach?
Guess who got that one.
Yeah, that’s Matt Fraction, proud new owner of Rachel’s X-Men Beach Party. This may be my favorite photo from the show. Only in comics do moments like this happen: my former student Rachel, the world’s most ardent fan of the X-Men, posing with Matt Fraction, current writer of the X-Men comic, who’s just told her that her cartoon is brilliant, that he would love to do a scene of the team at the beach and that she’s caught all their personalities perfectly.
Matt was great with all the kids. He signed autographs, talked with them about comics, and generally was awesome. Here he is signing an autograph for Emma.
It was only a couple of minutes out of his day but I know how hard it can be to get away from your table when you’re working a show, and it really meant a lot to the students to have a pro take such an interest. Even my students, whose comics fandom usually begins and ends with manga, know who Iron Man and the X-Men are. They were thrilled that he stopped by.
Michael Alan Nelson also visited our table briefly.
The kids loved him too, though they had only the vaguest idea of who he was — I explained he worked for Boom! Comics and I think many of them had the idea he worked on the Muppets or something, since that was always where the line was over there. I enjoyed getting to meet him at last — I interviewed him here a while back, but it was via e-mail and we’d never met in person. I am a big fan of his Fall Of Cthulhu series, and I got Swordsmith Assassin at the show as well, since Chip Mosher sent us the first issue for review and I liked it quite a lot, I’d been meaning to pick it up for a while now… though I forgot to ask Mr. Nelson to sign it. Too busy chitchatting.
I was mostly at our table all weekend, but Julie got out some. There was no way she was missing Leonard Nimoy.
She was actually in panels for most of Saturday, she also went to see Wil Wheaton and Stan Lee. Of them all, I think Julie was the most impressed with Nimoy’s, she said he was “inspiring.”
As for me, well, I was enjoying my time at the table because it was turning into old home week. We had many visitors from past classes — Amethyst, Jessica, Shane, Andrew, and Jay, among others. Some I hardly recognized because they’re, you know, adults now. (The last time I saw Jay he was a scrawny little soft-spoken kid. Today he’s in his twenties, six feet tall and ponytailed, very outgoing with an infectious laugh. And of course his voice is an octave lower.)
Some even volunteered to put in some time sketching for us, which melted me. Lindon popped up out of nowhere and immediately wanted to put in some table time. Of course I agreed.
I took this one just because it made me laugh.
This is Lindon and Devon. I shot this because when Lindon has her head down — even today, she always draws with her nose to the paper like that, it can’t be comfortable but she always has to get way down there — anyway, it tickles me because it looks like Pikachu is sitting at the table.
Lots of parents volunteered time too.
That’s Marie, Ben, and Eileen, under the watchful eye of Gus’ mother Marilyn. She looks a little perturbed, not because of the three kids in front of her, but because her own son has abandoned his post again.
I get three kinds of students — the ones who want to write, the ones who want to draw, and the ones who just want to geek out and be surrounded by comics. Gus is one of the geeks. He will produce drawings if you lean on him, but for him the point of being at a con is to get cool stuff. All I ask of the kids is to put in a ninety-minute shift at our table on the day they attend, but Gus could hardly bring himself to even do that much, he’d brought money and it was burning a hole in his pocket. First it was Leonard Nimoy’s autograph — even if you brought your own item for him to sign it was still a wince-worthy forty dollars — and then he negotiated an advance on his allowance to go buy some comics.
Marilyn has always been one of my favorite parents and her reaction to this was completely charming. She ordered Gus to stay at the table and do his job. Then she went off to go get her son’s comics herself. Naturally, not being an expert, she consulted me.
“Randy’s Readers,” I told her. “He’s your guy. He sells comics that aren’t collectible, just in average shape… his market is people that don’t really Collect with a capital C, but only want to read comics. If I ever get a chance to take a break I was thinking of stopping over there myself, to be honest.”
Marilyn agreed that was the place to go and the girls were exhorting me to take some kind of a break, and Marie wanted to come too, so off we went.
Marilyn explained that Gus wanted war comics. “So violent,” she said, ruefully.
I laughed. “Well, I grew up on blood and thunder myself, it’s not all that damaging really. The key is that there has to be a story, I try to make sure they aren’t just doing a videogame shoot-‘em-up. There’s a fine old tradition of war comics that did great stories, Sgt. Rock, G.I. Combat, Unknown Soldier…. we’ll find him some of the good stuff.”
Marilyn perked up. “Yes, I know Gus liked that Unknown Soldier book you loaned him. I was going to try and find some of those.”
Mission defined, we now moved with a clear purpose. Once we were at Randy’s booth Randy himself stepped in and was very helpful, explaining to Marilyn that there was the Unknown Soldier series from Star-Spangled War Stories and then there were the ones in his own book.
“What’s the difference?” Marilyn wanted to know.
“Later ones are probably cheaper,” I told her, smiling. “But I don’t think Gus will care that much, he’d enjoy any of them.”
As for me, in showing the various war series to Marilyn I stumbled across this one and decided I couldn’t pass it up for six bucks.
Our Army At War #269, a reprint of stories featuring work by Joe Kubert, George Evans, John Severin, Russ Heath, and even Mort Drucker (!) I could spend hours just looking at the pictures in this one.
I also fell for a couple of Superboy Giant reprint collections from my childhood that I’d been trying to replace for a while. Mostly these days I’m a trade paperback guy, but nostalgia can still get me.
Marie said curiously, “I know who Superman is, but I never heard of Superboy.”
“It’s like Smallville, only he actually wears the costume,” I heard myself say, and suddenly felt a hundred years old as i realized there’s probably two generations of schoolkids now who know Smallville as ‘their’ Superman the way I think of Bates-Maggin-Swan Bronze-Age Superman as ‘mine.’
When we got back I told Gus he had the coolest mother ever. “At your age I’d have killed for a mom who said, ‘you finish your work, I’ll go make sure you get your comics.’ That’s unheard of.”
Gus blushed, grinned sheepishly, and gave his mother a hug. Marilyn beamed and said, “I have my moments.”
There wasn’t time for me to do a whole lot of shopping — there never is — but Rin found a dealer who had a big box full of graphic novels and trades for $5 each and I fell for a couple of those, too.
Empire is one of those late 1970s Byron Preiss productions where he was deliberately trying to move comics into a bookstore market — about twenty-five years too soon, it turned out, but he produced some handsome books when he was trying. This one was an original piece by Samuel Delany and Howard Chaykin, hoping to scoop up some of that newly-minted SF audience that Star Wars created back then. I’d never actually read it and I’ve always been curious about it. Holliday I’ve never heard of, but I’m always up for a Western comic, and for a $5 trade paperback it’s hard to go wrong.
Most of our shopping, though, we tried to do in Artist’s Alley itself as much as possible. We like to support the creators. Julie picked up the new Muppet book from Boom! where Amy Mebberson was — you should pardon the expression — doing a BOOMing business.
She was kept busy all weekend. A lovely lady, she was great with all the kids that came up to her and sketched Kermits and Animals and Miss Piggys till her hands were raw, most likely. I don’t think a single kid went away empty-handed.
And I made it a point to pick up a bunch of stuff from Camilla d’Errico on Sunday morning. I was able to catch her a few minutes before the show opened, when it was actually possible to have a conversation.
Camilla has been a good friend to my students for several years now… they don’t remember her name but they all know the Awesome Manga Lady From Vancouver. I bought about $25 worth of stuff from her because A) I can use it in class and B) she deserves to be rich and I do what I can. She had a line all weekend but I did get to chat with her for a few minutes on Sunday morning. Largely on what became the typical Sunday conversation topic in Artist’s Alley, “Great to see you, sorry I didn’t come by earlier, we were stuck at the table…. My God! Wasn’t yesterday hell? How many people did YOU get?” Everyone loved the increase in business but hated fighting through the crowds on Saturday.
Sunday afternoon I did get around a little bit. I got a couple of books signed from Kurt Busiek and Len Wein, and I had a flattering couple of minutes with Les McClaine, the original artist on The Middleman. He saw my badge and said, “Hey, Greg Hatcher! I love your column!”
Seriously. I was shocked speechless. I spluttered and fumfuh’d and blushed like a schoolgirl, finally managing to choke out that I was a huge fan of his, that my students and I all adored The Middleman. This pleased him, and we agreed that it was a shame it didn’t last but it was great to have something that cool exist at all.
And I got to say hi to Pete and Rebecca Woods, from Periscope Studios. We hadn’t seen Rebecca in about six years, she hadn’t come to ECCC in a while, so it was great to catch up. Rebecca immediately wanted to know how Brianna was doing, since when Bri was my student years ago she practically camped out at the Periscope Studios table, and Rebecca happily adopted her. I told her that Bri wanted desperately to come this year but she had finals up at Bellingham, she was in college up at Western. Then we had a mutual groan about how old we are getting.
Because Bri couldn’t make it to the convention this year, we wanted to at least let her know she was missed.
When I got the idea to recruit additional Cartooning alumni to do charity sketches for our fundraiser, my first two thoughts were Brianna and Nadine. They’re both in college now, and they’ve kept up with their comics work as well. They were pretty amazing in the seventh grade, and they’ve only gotten better.
Here’s what Bri was doing when she was in my class…
…and here’s a more current piece.
Sadly, Brianna had finals or she’d have been there with bells on, she assured us.
Nadine had finals too but she did make it down, which delighted me. She was probably the single most gifted student I’ve ever had. Her serial “Mermaid’s Touch” still gets gasps of awe when the kids go through the old books.
In fact, when Katrina joined my class when she was in middle school, she was so inspired by Nadine’s work that she took the same pen name, “KittyBell.”
Seriously, Nadine’s strip had the kind of impact on Katrina that the Goodwin-Simonson Manhunter had on me when I was that age. It was a revelation for her. It’s why she worked so hard at teaching herself to draw manga… seeing the back issues of our class book with “Mermaid’s Touch,” and trying to draw that way, is the reason Katrina’s work took such a quantum leap between sixth and seventh grade.
Now, I never knew this until Katrina came back a few months ago to volunteer as my TA, and sheepishly admitted that she’d stolen the name KittyBell from Nadine. Hearing this story completely charmed me, and I thought Nadine should know about it too. On impulse, I tracked down her email and sent her a note telling her this, letting her know that no matter what she was doing these days, she already had a small legacy in comics.
By the way, here is what Nadine is doing these days.
Anyway. So I was in touch with Nadine again, and I thought it would be great fun to get her down to the con and have the two KittyBells meet at last. As it happened, I had an extra pass since Lynn, my TA at Aki, had too much schoolwork and couldn’t come. So I offered it to Nadine, explaining about our fundraiser and asking if she’d mind doing a few sketches for us. She would be a rock star, I assured her.
And she was.
I was thrilled Nadine was able to come down and sketch for us, she’s really blossomed into a lovely young lady. Though we’d been in touch via e-mail, we hadn’t seen one another in person for eight years. I remembered Nadine as a painfully shy, skinny little freckle-faced daydreamer of a girl, and I was a bit startled to see this stunning redhead in her place. Though she’s still a bit shy.
Truthfully, I didn’t mind being stuck at the booth because I was happy just to sit and watch her work. Her drawing’s only gotten better over the years, but I don’t think Nadine’s ever put it together that people will actually give her money for doing it. Watching her dawning realization that these people were lining up for her, and the surprise and pleasure that appeared on her face as she figured it out, was one of the most fun things I’ve witnessed at a convention. Ever.
Later our friend Kurt asked me who the redheaded knockout was, and I said, “That’s Nadine. Remember MERMAID’S TOUCH?”
Kurt sputtered, “THAT’S Nadine?! I feel like a lech now!” Then he looked a bit chagrined and added, “Okay, I’m only human. But goddamn that girl is gorgeous.”
As for Katrina, I’d kept Nadine’s attendance as a surprise for her. When I introduced them Katrina let out a squeal that ramped up into a register only dogs can hear. Later Nadine did a drawing in Katrina’s sketchbook that I wish to hell I’d gotten a picture of, it was very sweet.
There was a lot of sketch-trading going on with our grads. We even got a couple. Here’s what Katrina did for us.
How awesome is that? I really do have the greatest job in the world.
I could go on and on. It was just a great, great weekend. As chaotic and stressful as it got at times, I wouldn’t have missed it.
And it turned out we brought in a fair amount of money, even.
One of the things I’d been adamant about was that the donation box should be sealed and self-contained, as much as possible — I didn’t want an open container full of currency that anyone could just reach into. So Katie had her student aides make up a cardboard box with a slot in the top, wrap it in bright yellow paper, and decorate it with photos of students. Then on the sides they lettered out, THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATION! HELP KEEP CARTOONING ALIVE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL! And people just fed bills into the slot all weekend.
So we never really saw how much money we were getting. I knew we were doing pretty well — I knew Nadine alone had brought in sixty dollars or so just in the hour and a half she spent with us. I figured we had at least a couple hundred, maybe even three. But I didn’t want to be responsible for the money end of it any more than I had to, so I arranged to have Katie pick up our cashbox late Sunday just before closing.
Monday Katie emailed to tell me we’d pulled in $429. What’s more, Starbucks had agreed to match it so the grand total raised for the afterschool program was $858.
That’s EIGHT HUNDRED AND FIFTY-EIGHT DOLLARS. In two days. Armed just with some teenage sketch artists and a cardboard box.
I was floored. I mean, I knew the kids were good and the program has had a lot of support in the comics community… but…. damn.
I kept thinking about that, and about how much everyone enjoyed reconnecting with one another. (Or, in the case of Katrina and Nadine, just getting to connect in the first place.) And how the older kids, meaning the high school and college cartoonists, were talking about how much they missed doing straight comics and how they should get the band back together, so to speak.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Finally Tuesday I sent out an email to a bunch of our older grads that I knew were still doing comics on DeviantArt and elsewhere, pitching a possible book project. Wednesday I drove up to Madison and met with Katie to show her a budget proposal I’d worked out for an honest-to-God benefit book project we could actually sell.
I’ve said for years that one of these days the Northwest comics community is going to see a real explosion of creativity from this group of talented kids that have kept doing their own comics, often years after leaving my class. I’m thinking that day might be on the horizon right now. It’s too early to go into detail, but I think we’re actually going to do this. Watch this space.
In the meantime, thank you to everyone who helped out. Especially the grads, but also the students, the parents, Laura and everyone else who got the word out on Twitter and elsewhere, and most especially, all of you Emerald City attendees who came by our table and dropped a few bucks in our donation box… and those of you that couldn’t come but mailed a check instead. You all rock my world.
See you next week.
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