Comic Recon

Lately I’ve been mulling over plans to publish comics electronically. Truthfully there’s more urgency than that implies, as I’ve already received pages from the artist and passed them on for coloring. What I’m thinking about is which of several other projects to start next and, more importantly, how to market an e-only work on the convention circuit.

The Motor City Comic Con in Novi was held the other weekend. I decided to go to see if there was anybody dealing with digital content yet. Also I wanted to pick up a sketch I’d commissioned from Andy Bennett, who Wendi and I had met the last time we’d made comics. Wanting that sketch (and not wanting to stiff Andy) helped me to fight off the many reasons my brain concocted for not driving an hour to subject myself to a large mass of humanity.

It’s a really good thing I had that sketch as a carrot, because it took about a half an hour to finally score a parking spot. There were secret lots accessible along the edges, lots where cars floated tightly together on waves of loose gravel. Even those self-organized spaces had no room for my little Ion. Finally I took to circling a few lanes, a climate-controlled vulture waiting for a tasty spot to open up. I’m going to leave this part of my adventure there and hope that you didn’t catch how miserably that metaphor turned out.

The process of getting into the convention baffled me, but it consisted mainly of inching slowly back and forth in the winding line. We were all handed forms to fill out in order to gain admittance. Twenty minutes later I reached the table where dull golf pencils were available for use. I could have saved precious seconds by asking the people near me if I could borrow their pens but, and I cannot stress this enough, that would have required speaking to them. I don’t know what they would have said other than variants of ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but my brain said not to take the chance. I needed to save my social risks for the convention floor.

This, by the way, is why I’ve always been a lousy salesman. I don’t want to bother or annoy people. But a convention is a marketplace, and you’ve got to put yourself out there. A lot of people are just passing you to get somewhere else, so you can’t expect them to come to you. You’ve got to draw them in. I’m not sure how well I can do that given my general levels of anxiety, but being confident in my product and lures would make it at least imaginable.

Eventually I reached a desk, and I tried to hand them my registration form. The clerk gave me an exasperated look and told me that this was the line for buying tickets. I’d need to take the ticket and the form to go trade for a wristband. It was starting to feel like a game quest. Acquire the form and the ticket, then turn them in to your contact to receive the Wristband of Ingress. Not an exciting quest, but you have to start with the boilerplate missions to get used to the controls.

After equipping my newly acquired magic item, I went to find Nichelle Nichols. I’m a big fan of the original Enterprise crew, and even as a kid watching reruns in the 1970s I knew that Lt. Uhura’s presence on the bridge was revolutionary. I wanted to go meet her and tell her how that helped shape my views on racial and gender equality, even if the writers mostly confined her to the line “Hailing frequencies are open, Captain.” Sadly, I had to put my embarrassing confession on hold; she was off at an arranged photo-op. I’d have to check back later.

There were a few other celebs on my optional mission list, but I made a beeline through their section of the convention for the artists. The server was already pretty full, and most areas of the map were experiencing some intense lagging. (Translation for non-MMORPG players: it was really crowded and hard to keep up with all the activity.) I wanted my sketch in hand before I became completely enwiggenated and had to flee.

I pulled up short when I saw Tom Savini. If you like George Romero and/or zombies you know him as an effects creator and some-time actor. He’s a nice guy and really approachable, which is important for an anxiety-riddled me. Tim and I had seen him at Drive-In Super Monster-Rama last year, so I asked Savini if he’d be attending this year as well. After confirming that we were talking about the same film festival, he said he would. We agreed it was a pretty good set of movies.

Sharing a tiny geek-out with a man whose work I admire added bonuses to my panic control. I rolled up my signed “Grindhouse” poster and stuck it in my satchel. Any creases or wrinkles would only add to the feel of the poster. Then I plunged into the thicker crowds that milled throughout the creators section of the con.

Fortunately, Andy was pretty easy to find. As usual his table was next to that of his friend and fellow-artist, Dave Aikins. Dave was nowhere to be seen, but I figured I’d catch up with him later. I picked up my sketch (Boris Karloff as Ardeth Bey) and a copy of the anthology book “lifelike” from Andy, and we caught up. The venue had changed since my last attendance, and it seemed to have resulted in better foot traffic for the independent artists. In other words, the show was going well for him.

illo of Ardeth Bey

The face that launched my tiny Ion.

Remember my reason for attending the convention? Not the sketch, the other one. I wanted to gather ideas for marketing e-comics. Well, from Andy I learned that convention sketches are a big part of sales. That’s not immediately applicable, but it got me thinking that the lure of sketches could bring folks into range. Hanging around waiting for the sketch, all that reading material right before them… At worst, it would help defray the cost of the table. Plus nothing attracts customers like other customers.

Having added the sketch to my inventory, I was now free to leave at any time. This emboldened me, so I pursued a secondary objective. One of my friends from an RPG convention we used to attend had a booth at the show. Ian Ng writes “Omega Paradox”, published by Moonstone, and he was here with artist Mark Sparacio. They had four issues with them (well, three — it’s complicated) and assorted posters of Mark’s artwork. After introductions and brief reminiscing, Ian and I talked about the business while Mark critiqued an art portfolio.

Ian stressed the importance of the posters for bringing customers in for the pitch. I filed this away with sketches as another useful lure, but I was after ideas for what came next — showing off non-physical content to best effect. The importance of having a book came up. It tangibly demonstrates a body of work and is easier to shelf than a magazine. I reflected on Andy’s suggestion of print-on-demand, an option I’d hoped to avoid. It might be a nice (albeit low-profit) additional offering to my mainly online business model, and it would provide something to show and sell at conventions.

By this time, Nichelle Nichols was supposed to be back from the photo-op, so I wandered back to the celebrity booths. Happily, she was in fact there. I’m not noted for being quiet, but she had trouble hearing me over the general noise of the convention. I settled for getting an autograph, and spared us both the embarrassment of shouting my admiration over the din.

Lieutenant Uruha

I have nothing witty to say. Nichelle Nichols is awesome.

By now, my protection was beginning to fade. I decided to see if Dave Aikins had made it back to his table. He had, but there was a small crowd around him. Dave is almost custom-made for young parents, a growing part of comic con culture. As parents they like his work with Nickelodeon properties such as SpongeBob Squareparts, but as young adults they like his gruesome zombie art. He’s kind of like Frosted Mini-Wheats. Or a serial killer.

I didn’t want to intrude on business just to say howdy, so I circled the creator tables looking at artwork and displays until Dave’s customers thinned out. While taking everything in, I caught sight of a cool poster. It took the tired kitten-on-a-branch “Hang in there” concept and turned it into a gorgeous drawing. A mixture of sketch-like reality and precise abstraction, the piece caught my eye and reeled me in to the artist’s table.

Her name is Sara Richard, and her portfolio showed a wide range of skillfully evoked moods. She said it was her first time at the show and that it was going well for her. I compared notes about my previous life behind the guest tables, and I was glad to hear how much better it was for a newcomer now. Finally I settled on a print of two foxes that had a nice sense of attachment and longing about it. As she put it into a protective sheet for me, Sara revealed that it had been drawn for her boyfriend and the foxes represented the two of them. Art really does speak beyond the reach of words.

I wondered if I had anything that powerful to show. A lot of artists were relying on customers to be brought in by posters that prominently featured gravity-defying breasts, but Sara Richard was drawing attention for a skillful rendering of a familiar meme. It reminded me that a visual hook needn’t have anything much to do with my actual product. Cultural recognition can serve as a bridge to your own work.

The throng around Dave Aikins had cleared by then, so I hastened back to his table. He confirmed the general sense of it being a good convention and joined Andy in urging me to start exhibiting again. As Andy put it, “The world needs more comics.” As Dave starting loudly insulting comics (“Yeah, you heard me! Comics suck!”), I knew I’d have to find a way back behind an exhibitor table.

I don’t know yet when that will happen, or how I’ll display what wares, but I know this much: I’ll feel a lot better with a table between me and that crowd.

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Squawkin’ Robin

For a while now there’s been a robin nesting above our back door. She yells at us whenever we go outside, but otherwise it’s not a bother.

I was out back grilling burgers today and looked over at the nest. There was a horrible open beak showing above the twigs. Thinking that a chick had died, I moved closer to see if any were still alive. The beak twitched, and an ugly little head craned up unsteadily.

I was relieved, if unsettled, and then I noticed the others. In total four ravenous beaks waved above the nest, waiting for food to drop in. It fascinated me that they looked a bit like the ridiculous monster from “The Giant Claw”.

The burgers finished, and I took them in after taking one more look at the birds. I hoped they didn’t grow to the size of battleships.

On Being an Alien

It’s important to remember that aliens are not all from space. Or from Mexico, if you’re an Arizona politico.

The non-specificity of the term led to a co-worker at Business 1st taking offense at his residency status.

“I’m not an alien!” he complained. “I’m from India!”

I explained that Americans were linguistically lazy people, who had shortened the explicit phrase “space alien” to the generic “alien”. He wasn’t satisfied, but I distracted him with the subtleties of “cheesy”.

“So cheesy is bad?” he asked.

“Unless you like cheese,” I explained. “Then it’s good.”

He never asked me about language again.

I Wouldn’t Say That

Over the years I’ve witnessed and participated in conversations at work that would make HR flee like very uncomfortable people who do not want to deal with this shit that they didn’t cause. That wasn’t really a simile, but I intend to be blunt here.
This is your warning: the rest of this entry is completely inappropriate, not safe for work, and bound to offend most readers at some point. That’s my meaning. None of the following conversations should have occurred, especially not at work.
Here are some of the most awful work conversations I’ve overheard, participated in, or (shamefully) initiated over the years.
No Talking Sign

Talking could be hazardous to your employment.

1. “My grandfather was a Nazi.”
It’s often held as a truism that everyone hates Nazis. Much as we wish so, it’s just not true. I forget who mentioned Nazis, but the general consensus that they were bad went horribly wrong when one co-worker bluntly stated her grandfather was a Nazi soldier and that he was a good person.
Awkward silence fell on us like plague rats. We were at our work stations, so we couldn’t flee. Letting that hang there just made it worse, but nobody had a graceful route out of the conversation. Finally, feeling unclean, we averred that some Nazis were just folks trying to survive in an insane regime.
The whole incident was horrible and regrettable. Just don’t mention Nazis at work. Like most places, they don’t belong there.
2. “Gonna get me some beaver juice!”
In this enlightened age, we should all realize that work is not a place to talk about sex, your plans to have some, or with whom you’d like to have it. Some folks missed the memo.
Out of an upsettingly long list of such remarks, the standout was the guy who answered an inquiry about his weekend plans with the above appalling (if novel) exclamation.
Please don’t announce these things at work. Nobody wants to know, and it makes me feel bad for having male sexual characteristics.
3. “…a warm treat on a cold afternoon!”
This one’s my bad, and I still regret it. Believe me when I tell you that your coworkers do not want to hear about the nature show where a gorilla ate its own poop.
4. “But maybe the Taliban is right for Afghanistan.”
Religion, politics, and war… This conversational WMD was unleashed to back up the speaker’s divisive assertions in a heated argument over who should rule Kashmir. In a room filled with people who had strong opinions vis-a-vis Indian-Pakistani relations, it was already an uncomfortable topic. So why not inflame it by bringing up a conflict about which everyone had even stronger opinions?
Because no. Get back to work and stop arguing about global politics.
5. “You can trust the Asians.”
Hopefully you already see the problem with this seemingly positive statement. The context makes it clearer.
As cashiers, we were required to verify that check-writing customers were not on a list of people who’d passed bad checks at our store previously. Easy enough (and in two years I never ever found one), but some people always have to try to optimize everything.
This guy decided that all dark-skinned people were always to be checked. Whites could be skipped, unless they were young men who dressed “gangster”. Asians, he declared, were a trustworthy people and never needed to be checked. His findings were based on nothing but his own prejudices.
Racial profiling is not something of which you should be proud. Or, you know, do.
That’s it for now. I may write etiquette guides for other workplace topics if I can stomach it. I’m really not looking forward to doing one of these for hygiene in the workplace. Can I just leave it at “learn how to flush the toilet”?

Sacked

My hairdresser always asks me if I have any big plans for the evening. I’m fairly uncommunicative, so she has to use such gambits to drag me into conversations.

When I was in last time, I told her that Wendi had plans so it would likely be just me, a movie, the couch, and the cats. This reminded her of her unfortunate cat, and she told me about the poor fella’s recent ordeals.

Seems that a neighborhood tom took a strong dislike to him and inflicted harm that earned a vet $400 to repair. On returning home, he went out and promptly had another encounter with his tormentor. This time, things got very personal.

According to my hairdresser, her cat had been forcibly neutered.

A lot of thoughts crowded into my head meat: poor kitty, the advantages of professional neutering, relief that I kept my cats indoors. Mentioning this last one seemed unwise, as she still had scissors at the ready.

One moral struck me as being of the most general application; always wear pants to a fight.

Pet Service

Bogart didn’t want us to go to work today. He rubbed against my legs and flopped on the ground. I rubbed his belly and reminded him that someone had to earn the kibble money.

“No problem,” he said. “Humans will pay to rub my belly.”

His eyes glinted playfully, and I extracted my hand from his pincer attack.

“They’re not going to want to pay to get clawed,” I advised him.

Bogart displayed his belly to best effect, but that feral look was still in his eyes.

“Clawing is free with purchase,” he decided.

Cats have no business acumen whatsoever.

Just Rewards

I’ve endured a lot of morale boosters in my career. Management likes to think that workers are interchangeable parts, and so when they want to “reward the team” or “build the team” or “retain employees” they look for a single solution that will make everybody feel individually valued. Preferably on the cheap.

At Business 1st we were given stock options as an “MVP bonus”. If the company had been worth anything this might have been nice, but we’d still need to wait 3 years for them to be fully vested. When we received them the options were worth about $60 each, but it did us no good as none of the options had vested. A year later 1/3 of them were vested, so they were stocks that we could trade or keep. They were now worth less than a dollar each. The transaction fee would cost more than they would fetch. Shortly thereafter, Business 1st was kicked off the NASDAQ index.

I’d have felt better rewarded with a nice severance check.

Another place I worked was a small consulting firm. I’ll call it The Workshop. The Workshop believed that employees should be excited to work extra hours for free and cast aside their hourly rate whenever the owners wanted to use the shop for PR exercises. To their surprise, there were issues with morale.

To combat this they enacted a monthly lottery. We were automatically entered, and the prize was a massage. Granted that none of the workers could afford to pay someone to touch them, but that’s all manner of awkward as a reward. I asked if I could just have $20 if I won, and of course the answer was no. I told them to never enter my name in the drawing, and they said that I could give the prize to someone else. They looked hopeful. I explained that if I won a prize I didn’t want from a lottery I hadn’t entered they could pay the masseuse to twiddle her thumbs.

As my friend Tim would say, the talks broke down.

Lunches at vegetarian restaurants, gift certificates for specialty stores — it’s amazing how many generic rewards are actually very select and targeted.

My purpose isn’t to complain. I earn a decent living, and I’ve never felt that doing my job required any more compensation than I’d signed up for. If anything I resent the waste of work time and the look of magnaminity on whatever idiot came up with the reward. Nowadays I mostly focus on not saying any of this out loud.

So it came as a surprise last week when I was called in to a celebration and, in addition to the usual bland cake and bubbly, I was given an Amazon gift card. Finally, something that I could use! For a moment I even felt as though my work was valued and my accomplishments were noted.

Then I raced home and put in an order for the collection of Edison’s silent films, and everything went back to normal. Still, it was kind of nice. I appreciate the gesture.

Somewhere there’s a coworker wishing that we’d been given massages.

Boxing Cats

While Georges Melies created film effects and the language of film, Thomas Edison filmed this jerk making cats “box”. Guess which filmmaker died broke?

Less Human Than Human

I’ve never felt human. I don’t act right, and I’m pretty sure I don’t think right. Most of the time I feel like an observer, poorly camouflaged in an attempt to get closer to my subjects. Over time the disguise has improved as I’ve learned that humans find babies to be adorable and believe Tom Hanks can act. Yet there always seems to be more that separates me from the species.

My mom assures me that whatever his many faults my father is human, but she’s in denial. Anyway, parentage is beside the point. This is something else, like I’m wearing an ill-fitting Edgar suit.

Last week a group of us were talking at work. Our meeting had ended, and we were engaged in the requisite banter that precedes everyone going back to work. The topic of my imposing presence came up, as it sometimes does, and I was referred to as a bear. That happens, and although I’ve never quite understood it I have come to expect it.

Then a manager said I was more like a feral panda: cute, sort of cuddly, and vicious.

I’m not quite convinced, but I did ask for a tire to play with.

Feline Nocturnal Activity

You don’t need ghosts or demons to wish you had video of what happens in your home while you’re asleep. Cats turn out to excel at generating a sense that unexplainable forces are at work.
Oh sure, for the most part their nocturnal doings are limited to the strategic planting of hairballs or a rambunctious game of poop hockey. Once in a great while there’s a mysterious odor that’s eventually traced to a grisly trophy stash. Every now and then though, the furry devils really put themselves out in order to sow human confusion and uneasiness.
One morning last winter we came downstairs to discover that the fish had weathered an eventful night. The end of their water filter had fallen to the bottom of the tank, exposing any passing fish to the full force of the filter’s suction. Sure enough, Wendi found one of them dead in the filter. We were two fish low though. Weird.
Then another fish vanished.
We thought of the cats, of course. We know they’re not trustworthy; they’re bored, overfed predators. There just didn’t seem to be any way for them to manage it. There were no convenient perches at the fishing hole, and no tell-tale splashes of water. If they had tiny fishing poles they were kept well concealed. It was a mystery.
Then the weekend came, and Wendi saw Ling curled up asleep on top of the fish tank. Suddenly everything made horrible sense. Ling must have climbed onto the tank because it was warm. Being all of about 6 pounds tops, she could sit on the lid with no problems. The choose-your-own sushi bar was a bonus.
Bad Kitty!

Ling’s defense was that she was thrown out of her home at an early age.

All access to the tank was barricaded, and our two remaining fish continued to remain. We returned to the usual nighttime protocols: poop and puke.
Until a few weeks ago.
I’ve written about my weekday morning routine. I staggered into the kitchen as usual, Ling yelling at me for not feeding her quickly enough. Waving at her to quiet down, I went to get a fresh cat dish… and stopped.
It took a few moments to process what my bleary eyes were reporting. There was a plastic container on the floor, on its side, and there were things nearby spilling out of it. Little brown things. The kibble bin had fallen. The kibble was wet. There was water on the floor. Probably from the broken glass.
My puzzled gaze tracked up to the counter directly above the mess. Coffee maker. Pill bottle on its side. Fish tank.
“MAOOOW!”
Ling sat in the middle of the mess, impatiently reminding me of my duties. Everything came together, and I realized that Ling had tried to climb onto the food bin in order to do some night fishing.
“Bad kitty,” I told her.
“MAOOW!” she insisted.
So I fed her.

A Villain by Any Other Name

I play City of Villains, a comic book based MMORPG. For those that don’t know what that acronym means, I’ll explain through example. I get to control a powerful zombie and his zombie minions as they rob, steal, and vomit their way across a shared virtual landscape.

One of the silly little pleasures I take in the game is finding terrible names for my villains. I’ve got Chick Trax (a young boy who learned demon summoning from playing Dungeons & Dragons), Jane Dare (a woman who savors a challenge), Dirty Varmit (a gun-for-hire who wears a bunny suit), and many other characters with silly names.

I thought of a doozy the other day. It was funny, it referenced the power set, and it was obscure enough that there was little risk of someone else having already claimed the name.

Today I have no idea what it might have been. It was Major something, but that hardly narrows down the possibilities. I can’t even remember the power set or anything else about the villain.

It certainly must have been obscure.