Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
We’ve been doing this Emerald City Con field-trip thing pretty much since there was an Emerald City Con, and I really do think this was the best one yet for the Cartooning Class.
I didn’t actually take the above photo, Jackie Estrada did. (Most of the photos accompanying this article are from other folks, because in all the craziness on Friday I forgot to get fresh batteries for our camera.)
It’s always a treat to see Jackie and her husband Batton Lash at shows. Supernatural Law is a favorite of both mine and Julie’s, and Julie has never forgotten how wonderful Batton and Jackie were to our nephew Aerin in 2005 when he came with us to the San Diego Comic-Con. (Likewise, Scott and Judy Shaw really took Aerin under their wing at that con as well, which is why when someone asks my wife who her favorite comics artist is, she responds, “Scott Shaw and Batton Lash.” I think both of them could be drawing stick figures and she’d still say it– Julie always thinks of the person behind the work, first.)
Batton is always amazing with my students, too. He treated Lexi like royalty when we went for our Friday evening stroll around Artist’s Alley, insisting she sign one of our books for him and gifting her with a little pen-and-ink sketch-card portrait of her that he knocked out in seconds. I know it may not seem like that big a deal from the outside but I just don’t have adequate words to convey what a huge thing that is for the kids when artists do stuff like that.
Mr. Lash also did a nice little commission for me, as it happens. If you’ve been reading for the last couple of weeks, you may recall all the aggravation we had trying to get a ride for my special-ed student, DeMario, and how one of our parents, Gus’s mother Marilyn, stepped in to volunteer at the last minute.
Well, Saturday morning Marilyn called me to tell me that she’d been trying to reach DeMario’s mother since Thursday night and left several messages, but she wasn’t getting any answer.
I sighed and told her to come on in. “You’ve done more than enough, Marilyn, and this is our fourth try at a solution. I think we’ve all done our due diligence. Thanks, very much, anyway. I really appreciate your volunteering in any case.”
So, in the end it didn’t work out. After I saw the crush on Saturday I think it probably was for the best; I suspect the massive crowding would have overwhelmed DeMario in any case, no matter how hard we all worked to shield him.
But Marilyn had been so awesome that I decided we should get her something anyway — then I remembered suddenly that Marilyn had liked Millie The Model when she was younger, and Batton Lash was here and he’d done work for Archie, he knew how to do the Dan DeCarlo style.
So I told him about how Marilyn had really gone above and beyond for us and how she liked Millie, and asked him if he could maybe, when he had some time, do a small commission for me. He instantly got it and did an amazing DeCarlo-esque head shot of Millie, and not only did he refuse to take any money for it but he bought one of our benefit books too. Just a great, great guy.
Marilyn loved her Millie sketch, too. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t think to get a picture of it.
There were actually a lot of pros that were really great and went way beyond just being nice. Raina Telgemeier, of Smile, is a rock star in middle school and I was delighted to be able to introduce my students to her.
Eileen, especially, was awestruck. Raina did her a lovely sketch and when I bought a copy of Smile to take to class not only did Raina do another nice little doodle on the frontispiece but Dave Roman, next to her, threw in an advance copy of Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity for free and he doodled a little something for us in that one as well.
They were both awesome and I tried to send them a lot of business over the weekend. I know a bunch of my kids made it a point to get over to their table, especially after Eileen and Lexi started spreading the word that “the Smile lady is here!”
Mostly I was stuck at the booth but I did get out a little. Amanda wanted to go see a panel on Friday called “Bringing Your Fantasy World To Life” and it was quiet enough that I thought I could sneak away for an hour as well. I’m always interested in seeing what other how-to comics panels have to offer… there’s always a chance of finding ideas I can steal to use in the classroom.
I’d thought it was going to be more of a writing panel, but it was actually a very practical presentation– it might have been better titled, “How to do small press, make a living, and be smart about getting your book out there.” Amanda and I were both very impressed with what he had to say. Amanda was blown away by his art and the commitment he had to doing his story the way he wanted it, something that really hits her where she lives, whereas I was really enjoying how he was taking the time to talk about the technical challenges involved in doing small-press printing. (Almost nobody in small-press ever thinks about the actual production and bindery work involved in making a comic when they’re starting out and it’s why so many fledgling indie outfits end up crashing or going deeply in debt. Travis probably saved at least a dozen indie creators from eventual bankruptcy in there, whether he knows it or not.) Later I made it a point to get over to his booth and say hello, but he always had a line of customers and it seemed like I never had any time to wait until he had a minute.
I did buy a complete run to date of his comic, The Bean #1 through #7, and was pleased to find he is talented as well as smart. Very much recommended, especially if you have a young person around who enjoys Tolkien-esque fantasy. (Interesting aside — I found out last week that Travis used to share studio space with my old friend Mordechai, years ago. I swear the comics world is only about ten feet across.)
Mostly, though, I was trapped at the booth so if I wanted to say hello to folks they kind of had to come to me. I didn’t mind being stuck too much, though, because as I’ve said before, it’s a treat for me just to hang out with our grads and watch them work.
Julie and I don’t have kids of our own, so the cartooning students that keep in touch over the years are more or less family as far as we’re concerned. Brianna, especially, we enjoyed catching up with, we hadn’t seen her in person since Christmas of 2007 or thereabouts. It was an interesting experience to realize that Bri is my colleague now, a fellow art teacher at the YMCA in Bellingham. Seeing her ease and confidence with the kids was a lot of fun: she gave twelve-year-old Josh a pep talk at one point that really turned him around, he is usually chokingly shy.
She hasn’t missed a step artistically, either. I watched her knock out one amazing piece after another, all weekend long.
She’d brought her big board with her and we had a lot of people pause as they went by, just to watch her work.
I mentioned this to her at one point on Saturday, and she beamed. “I know. I wore something low-cut today, too.”
“Aaaugh! I used to be your teacher! I can’t be hearing this stuff!”
Bri laughed at my horrified expression. “It’s marketing!”
She was amazing all day Saturday, hardly ever left the booth and did a much better selling job than I would have.
Really, all the girls did me proud. There had been a little minor tension on Saturday about Rachel being gone so much, and I admit to being a bit frazzled about it myself; but fair is fair. I reminded everyone that she’d asked in advance about stuff like the Guild and Buffy panels, and referred them to the written schedule I’d done earlier (that no one actually read.)
To Rachel’s credit, she brought in a bunch of sandwiches and snacks for everyone on Sunday, completely unsolicited. (Much better than what Julie and I had brought, as it happened, for which we were all grateful; but I was very moved that she’d do it at all.) That evaporated the tension. The key to a teenager’s affections is very simple, I’ve discovered: Feed them. Almost anything can be forgiven if you apologize with donuts.
People came to us, too. I was very pleased to finally meet Chris Roberson (and his lovely wife Allison) in person at last. He’d been at Emerald City the previous year but, as always, I was crazy busy and never seemed to find a moment to go say hello. That year I’d even brought a copy of Adventure! for him to sign but since it didn’t happen, I went home and set the book aside on top of a pile in my office, and there it stayed until this year when I remembered to throw it in the bag again. At least it was handy.
This time I was able to get it signed, and we had a nice chat.
I told Chris that Rachel was a huge fan of his X-Men novel, The Return, and asked him if he’d come by later and visit with Rachel a little, knowing it would send her into orbit. He agreed, and later when he did so, Rachel almost levitated with delight.
I almost never see Rachel tongue-tied but she was so starstruck that it left her at a loss for words for a few seconds. Chris was great about putting her at ease, though, and soon they were just two X-fans talking.
It was a lot of fun to watch, and Rachel did him a Rogue sketch that I hope he got– he had to leave before she finished it, so we had to leave it for him at the Boom! booth.
My favorite Rachel fangirl moment was on Sunday afternoon, when she scowled and said, “I wanted to go say hi to Matt Fraction, but he always has a huge line.”
“It’s thinning out some here,” I told her. “We can spare you for a little while. I’m surprised you aren’t mad at him, though.”
“Mad? What about?”
“Oh no!” And Rachel ran off to remonstrate with Mr. Fraction.
A few minutes later she was back. “He didn’t kill him,” she told me. “He did the funeral.”
“Oh, well, all right then.”
Brianna also got to re-connect with professional friends of hers, as well– Pete and Rebecca Woods. Rebecca had practically adopted Bri when she was my student in the 8th grade, and they’ve been sort of in touch ever since then. (The Woods are terrific with all my kids, and have been for years, but Bri and Rebecca really bonded.)
Pete also gave Bri this hilarious pin-up page. Pencils by Pete, inks by Rebecca.
Really, they are among the nicest people in comics.
As for me, I enjoyed just getting to sit and chat with Aja on Saturday afternoon. The floor was very crowded and claustrophobic on Saturday, but the ShatnerQuake we had all been dreading never quite materialized — the con organizers had cleverly put all the Hollywood folks one level down from us, which had the effect of thinning out the crowd in the main exhibition hall to just the comics folks. And when William Shatner was doing his panel, it took a lot more people off the floor so that we actually had kind of a nice little lull. I told the kids to take the rest of the day off and do their running around.
Most of them took me up on it, but Aja was content to hang out with me and sketch and gossip. She seemed subdued but cheerful, and I assumed that was just because the day had been draining for all of us. I felt subdued myself.
It wasn’t until I got a text the next day telling me she was sick that I realized Aja had probably made it through Saturday just on willpower. No wonder she hadn’t wanted to fight the crowds. Her message read as incredibly guilty and mortified. I immediately sent her a note back telling her please to just get better, don’t worry, she’d done an amazing job Friday and Saturday and she should concentrate on taking care of herself.
When I told Rin about it later she just smiled and shook her head. “You have to understand, they all worry about disappointing you.”
“None of them could. They’re all amazing, I try to tell them. Look at this book they did for Chrissake. And all this.” I waved a hand at the booth. “Have you seen them this weekend? All of them. Jesus, I watch them work and I realize, my God, they really did it. They turned pro.”
And they really have.
Our grand total for the weekend, when we counted everything up, was $772.00. Only about half that was book sales, the rest was the girls doing commission sketches. They donated everything they brought in to the program… which was well over three hundred dollars. Add in the mail-order pre-sales, and we cleared $862.00. And we still have plenty of books left.
That actually beats what we did last year… not by much, but we had Starbucks matching funds that time. This time it was all us, so really it was more than double last year’s total in terms of actual sales.
And that’s not to slight the actual kids from my classroom working the booth. They all did a great job too.
We had 850 of the student giveaway ‘zines, and for the first time ever, we ran out on Sunday afternoon. Which means that every one of them went out signed by a student. Really, overall, it was our best Emerald City ever as a class. The kids are already asking me about the next one.
(As it happens, that’s the Olympia Comics Festival on May 21. This year we’re going as a class, and we’ll have a table. In fact, I’m assured we’ll even get the damn van and I’ll be allowed to drive it. Of course, we’ve had such assurances before… but however we manage it, we will be there. )
I just have one last thing I wanted to mention. Monday after the show, Rin and I went to Aki — her flight wasn’t until Tuesday, and Rin enjoys sitting in on class when she is in town. We got there a little early, as I usually do, so I could check in with DeMario.
He was instantly apologetic. “I’sorry, mister Greg, I couldn’t get the transportation–”
I waved it away, embarrassed that he felt like he had to apologize to me. “Never mind that, it’s fine, I understand. No, I have something for you.”
He brightened. I fished a book out of my bag. “Here you go. That’s a student ‘zine with your page in it, and the kids signed it for you.”
His eyes grew wide as he saw his own page, right there in print. “Dayum,” he blurted, completely forgetting adults were present. I ignored it and grinned at him. He added after a moment, “I wish I could have gone.”
Maybe in Olympia, I thought. It’s small enough. And there has to be a way to get us a van …after all, I just gave them almost nine hundred bucks. That ought to make an impression on someone at van time.
And that’s it for this year. I appreciate your indulgence, all of you who’ve hung in there for all 12,000 words of this con report over the last three weeks. (Believe it or not, I cut a lot out. God knows how enormous this might have grown if the photos had turned out.)
Thank you all …and I’ll see you next week.
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