X-POSITION: Bennett Talks "Years Of Future Past's" Teenage Mutant Savior Heroes
This is really late because, honestly, we’re exhausted. That show was HUUUUUGE.
Even today, two weeks later, we’re still shaking it off. Our houseguests and ourselves were practically immobile for two days following, and despite eating all kinds of vitamins and practically bathing in Purell for the entire show weekend, Julie and I both got hit with a really spectacular case of the con crud that’s kept us flat on our backs for the last few days.
It was a good con, though, great for us and for the Cartooning program and, especially, for the kids that went. Nevertheless, I’m too wiped out still to really write up everything, so I think what I’m going to do is just post our pictures and tell you about them.
Setting up this year, compared to years past, was surprisingly painless. A lot of it was that I had more help this year– we added Tiffany, my former student and current Young Authors TA, to our roster of minions, and also this year our friend Rin came out with her friend Brekke and daughter Kerowyn, so we had more people physically at the booth to cover things and help get set up. Moreover, all of them are old convention hands now and understand how everything is supposed to work. (It was like a gift from God when we were running late on Friday to come skidding into the convention hall and find that Tiffany already had the entire table set up and ready to go.)
We actually had enough time, before I was supposed to go down and meet Katie with her busload of Friday early-dismissal kids from school, that I was able to walk the floor and gather myself a little bit. One of the first people I ran into was the amazing Donna Barr, who was tabling with the gang at Prism Comics. Upon my greeting her, she immediately thrust about fifty dollars’ worth of books into my hands “for the kids!” and invited us to participate in a new venture she’s putting together for July.
Donna is a self-publishing-indie-comics-network idea machine, and she really has no patience for the old-school retailer comics-distribution network. I wish I could reproduce the pitch for you exactly; and you lose a lot without hearing Donna’s staccato suffer-no-fools-keep-up-stupid delivery. But it went something like this. “Bookstores think it’s all about them and it’s not, and the distributors all act like it’s still the 1950s, and in Portland there’s a lot of comics people just retailing out of their front room, because you can do that in Portland, and I thought, we have all these women who are into nerd culture these days, and why not have nerd parties! Just like Tupperware parties! All the indie folks can just bring a box of their stuff and set up right there in the house or the yard or whatever, I already talked to the Wacom guy about it and he was all, hey, I can just put all the stuff in the van and not even unload — so I thought, you know, let’s do this and we’re doing the first one in July, here’s a card–” And she handed me a little postcard invite to the first-ever Clallam Bay Comic-Con.
I told her I would certainly pass it on to the girls, and invited her to come and visit us when she got a chance.
Back at our table, I handed the card to Katrina, who was setting up their half of our table with copies of Drawn In while Tiffany hand-lettered table tents for them.
“You should go to this,” I told her.
Katrina blinked. “Clallam Bay?”
“Why not? We can’t do it as a class trip because, you know, it’s July, but otherwise we totally would. Talk to Donna about it. If nothing else, it’s an excuse for a day trip to the beach.”
“Who’s Donna?” Tiffany wanted to know.
So I explained who Donna was and about her various indie books The Desert Peach and Stinz and so on. “The thing is, she’s got this amazing agile mind and she’s got a million ideas, she’s the classic just-do-it indie artist success story.”
And literally just as I was finishing, Donna herself appeared, handed out more Clallam Bay Con cards, gave the girls the pitch for nerd parties again, wished us well, and was off again.
Tiffany smiled and shook her head. “I see what you mean.”
I grinned. “She’s awesome. I met her almost twenty years ago, I think– it was a little one-day show at Seattle Center, and I walked by her table and said ‘Donna Barr?’ and she said, ‘I KNEW it! I KNEW you were one of my readers! You have that SARDONIC look!’ And what could I say? I did.”
“You still do,” Julie put in.
Meeting Mr. Burgas at last was a high point for us, and certainly it was for Katrina.
Greg Burgas was actually a presence at our booth most of the weekend– we told him to just stash his stuff with us and it became a sort of home base. I often felt like I was slacking off on my job because the two of us spent a lot of time just hanging out at the table laughing and gossiping.
But I could do that, because honestly, the convention theme this year felt like it should be, “Dude, we GOT this.” Tiffany and Aja had most everything handled. Even our new kids settled into it like they’d been doing it forever.
Cal, especially, leaned into it like he was born to do this.
Friday was a lot busier than we’d expected; apparently the word is OUT on Emerald City now, because we saw an awful lot of people for whom this was their first convention. There were a great many people that came to our booth with the idea that all of us in Artist’s Alley were some kind of traveling medicine show that toured the country. I seemed to be spending a disproportionate amount of time explaining to people that no, the kids are just exhibiting here, the class goes on all year; this is a field trip for us. Blessedly, Tiffany and Aja picked up the spiel pretty quickly and we took turns.
Rachel was with us this year, but she’d paid for her own exhibitor pass so I didn’t feel like we had the right to hold her to the booth. (She DID help us to set up.) She spent a lot of time running around with Troy’s older sister Allie (another cartooning alum) and trading copies of her new ‘zine.
At one point, I said to her, “You know who needs a ‘zine?”
“Oh yeah!” Rachel lit up at this idea, and when I explained to the kids that Mr. Fraction was, in addition to being a patron of Rachel’s, also the writer of Iron Man, they wanted to come and meet him as well. So we trooped over to Matt Fraction’s table and gave him Rachel’s zine, the class convention comic, and one of my comp copies of DRAWN IN.
I have no idea if Matt Fraction actually READS all the stuff fans thrust on him, but he sure made my students feel like getting their comics was the high point of his weekend. He was insistent that everyone sign their work and was incredibly gracious to all the kids, and they were practically levitating afterwards. I say this every year, but I don’t think the professionals ever realize what a huge, HUGE thing this is for the kids to get that kind of validation, and we really appreciate it.
The real student validation this year, though, came from all the folks who came by our table and bought the Young Authors anthology.
When we’d had them on display at school for “Literacy Night,” a few weeks before, we’d kept getting offers from folks wanting to buy one, and I don’t need a house to fall on me, so we’d whipped up a little sign reading “Young Authors Anthology! Support the writers of the future! Suggested donation $5.00.”
I’d known that artists were very giving and supportive of young cartoonists but I’d had no IDEA how strongly authors felt about supporting young writers. Those kids had just about the greatest weekend of their lives.
Later I took the girls by Greg Rucka’s table (I wasn’t passing up a chance to introduce the Young Authors to an actual novelist!) and he was great to them, as well. I thanked him and gave him one of the anthologies, and asked him what he wanted for the new Atticus Kodiak, Patriot Acts.
He considered it, then grinned. “You know what? Just take it. You’re doing good work.” I stammered and fumfuh’d out some sort of thanks; I hope he understood how awed and grateful I was for the gesture, because I was too shocked to really get words out. He signed it, too.
I’d asked Chris Roberson if he could squeeze in some time to come by and talk to my aspiring novelists, and he and his wife Allison came by on Sunday and gave Amanda and Tiffany a lot of great, practical advice on how writers are always walking that line between arrogance and self-doubt, and reconciling those two is where good work comes from. I am totally stealing this for class.
We had other author visitors as well. Patrick Jankiewicz, whose Hulk book I’d reviewed here not too long ago, came by every so often. Of course, we know him as Troy and Allie’s Uncle Pat, so this wasn’t that unusual.
We had a nice chat about the Bixby Hulk and the bionic 70s, and agreed that no matter how deep our affection for the work of Kenneth Johnson might run, neither one of us was proud of sitting through the movie Steel. Even Johnson’s Short Circuit 2 was better than that one.
Saturday was noteworthy mostly for the sheer crush of the crowd. The fire marshal apparently actually closed the doors at one point and refused entry to any more people until some of the attendees inside had departed. I can believe it– just getting to the restroom and back was a forty-minute expedition.
Nevertheless, it was a good day for us, mostly because of Phung.
There was some question of whether or not Phung would even be allowed to attend… at first, her parents thought it was too frivolous, or something. (I haven’t seen it myself, but there is apparently an episode of the TV show Glee called “Asian F” about how much pressure Asian parents put on their kids. From what I’ve heard, that’s Phung’s household in a nutshell.) But we worked it out and once her folks were guaranteed that Phung would be safe and with a teacher or a TA throughout the event, they calmed down quite a bit.
The Cartooning class works hard, but the Young Authors, I’ve found, are positively driven. And of all my Young Authors, Phung is the one that works the hardest. She submitted two stories for the anthology last quarter, and so far we are at five submissions for this quarter’s. (I finally told her to pick her three favorites and we would work on polishing those.) Phung draws, as well, and in fact did the cover illo for the forthcoming spring collection.
So at our booth, she asked if she could draw and I said sure. She started knocking out little manga-style sketches, Samantha suggested she try selling a few, and so she put up a sign saying SKETCHES OF YOU $1. In no time at all she had a line.
Finally I leaned forward and said, “Honey, you need to raise your price or your arm’ll fall off.” So she raised it to $5 and she STILL had a line. She put it all in the donation box, and must have made us around sixty or seventy dollars in the space of about ninety minutes.
At that point I was starting to feel like I was running some sort of Dickensian business on the backs of child labor, so I told her she should knock off for a while and go running around. She and Samantha spent the rest of their day in Artist’s Alley, collecting sketches.
I got to do a little shopping myself, as it happens. Saturday was crushing, but Sunday was so easygoing that both Julie and i felt we could abandon the booth for a while and go look at things we wanted to see.
Julie wanted to look at Legos– there was a whole display on the floor below.
As for me, I was content mostly to wander around and say hello to folks; I hadn’t really thought about doing much shopping. I did pick up a few indie trade paperbacks that I thought looked cool.
I wasn’t really going to do a lot of back-issue shopping, though, until Gus came by the table Sunday afternoon.
Gus is one of our graduates, he’s a sophomore in high school now. He had been by to visit class a couple of weeks before, wondering if he could volunteer to help out at the booth. I’d told him that all our slots were full– which was true– and added that if he was really serious about it, the time to ask was in August the year before, because that’s when those decisions got made. He’d looked crestfallen then and I regretted being brusque about it, but I get asked about extra passes a LOT in the weeks before the show.
So when Gus appeared at our table on Sunday, I was surprised. “Hey, you made it!”
“Yeah,” Gus said, and paused. “You know… when I asked about helping… I was wondering, I didn’t mean buy my pass, I meant would it be okay if I came and helped out anyway? Even if I bought my own ticket?”
Now it was my turn to be crestfallen. I’d assumed the kid was angling for a free pass and really he was just homesick for Cartooning. “Of course you can, you should know that all the grads are welcome. Come on back.”
On Sunday afternoon the crowd had thinned out some; there wasn’t a lot of work to be done and the kids had it covered. So he came and sat in the booth with me. What Gus really wanted to do was hang out and soak up the nerd ambiance, I suspect. We chatted about comics for a while and when he asked me if I’d done any shopping yet, I grinned. “I was just thinking I should go look at Randy’s Readers. Come on.”
So, even though I’d promised myself I was OFF single-issue comics, especially back issues, REALLY FOR SURE since I’d spent a backbreaking week installing new shelves and rebuilding the home library… Gus and I went and blew a wad at Randy’s Reader Comics anyway. Yes, I am weak and fallible.
Randy is my favorite dealer because he specializes in reader copies of Bronze-Age stuff, meaning he has “my” comics at very reasonable prices. I scored a whole bunch of old books that I literally haven’t SEEN in forty years… they’re not really that collectible, but no dealers –not even Randy–ever seem to have them. But I lucked out, because this year Randy had a whole bunch of stuff I’d been after for YEARS, at one to three dollars each. I think I paid six bucks for the Superman Giant with Brainiac and Metallo, but that was the only big expenditure.
Yes, these were largely nostalgia buys, especially since I have most of the Marvel stuff available in trade paperback in one edition or another. But no one seems interested in reprinting 1970s Superboy, and the Tarzan and Sgt. Rock 100-page books are wonderful collections of long out-of-print classics.
Gus, on the other hand, was all about the Unknown Soldier. That’s my pick of the 1970s DC war books too, and it pleased me that Gus still agreed with me after I’d introduced him to the title a few years back.
But my very favorite moment of the weekend came during a quiet moment on Sunday, when I was just sitting back watching the kids do their thing. Amanda was manning the Drawn In half of the table on her own, and there was a skinny little girl in front that looked like she really wanted to approach but was having a terrible time working up the nerve.
Finally she came close enough that Amanda was able to coax her forward the last couple of steps and start a conversation.
Amanda asked to see her portfolio and paged through it, giving the young lady lots of encouragement and good advice, while the girl looked at Amanda with awe and wonder.
Finally she moved on and I grinned at Amanda. “Now you’re a pro,” I said.
“I just thought… she seemed sort of lonely,” Amanda said. “I don’t think she has many friends.”
“None of us did when we started,” I told her. “Most of us were weird and lonely when we were that age, it kind of comes with the territory. Seriously, that was a real professional moment, there. You gave her something she’ll hang on to for years. Trust me.”
I paused. “You know, years ago– you probably don’t even remember, but it was back when we were still at Qwest Field for this. Camilla d’Errico was banging out a whole bunch of sketches for you and Stephie and Aja and Jess and everyone and at one point she sang, ‘You all have to keep doing this so you can come and table with me and we will rule the comics world!’ And here you are, doing it…. and I got to see it happen. That’s a rare privilege for a teacher.”
Amanda just smiled, and may have blushed a little.
There are lots of other stories, but I think that’s the best of mine, so I’ll stop there. Thanks again to everyone who came to see us at the table, and especially to our CBR colleagues Greg and Sonia and Jeff; we really enjoyed meeting you all.
And all the rest of you… I’ll see you next week.
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