Dear Austin Comic Con,
I never know how to start these kinds of things. These things always make me feel awkward and vapid… but maybe that’s ok. That’s probably how you like it anyway.
I didn’t know what to think going into Friday’s (November 22) festivities. This – as I made you well aware – was my first time. My very first convention of any kind. I had no frame of reference; not a single notion or experience from which to draw. For years I let my nerdiness lay dormant, fearing that if I let my intellect or love of “geeky things” show through I’d be an outcast. You’d need a golden calculator to divide. Thankfully our culture not only accepts nerd culture now, but praises it, even if it’s disingenious and fraudulent at times. (You know who you are.) No longer do I need to be ashamed of what I like and enjoy. Why it matters to receive the approval of other people, be they friends or complete strangers, is something I should probably talk to a therapist about…but it’s easier to write about it and actively seek out that approval. Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes… Friday.
Friday was great. Your attention to detail in getting all the Con-goers signed in was a thing of beauty. It was seamless and, dare I say, easy. Your staff and team of volunteers were energetic, very helpful and – most importantly – friendly. They made this first-timer comfortable in an environment of such a grand scale.
Walking into the exhibit hall for the the first time was overwhelming. And that’s probably too conservative a descriptor. Booths upon booths upon booths greeted me with all their shiny toys, gadgets and…the art, my god, the art. It’s like you had been stalking me for years and known the very desires of my natural mind. You had everything I could have ever imagined – pixel art, watercolors, pencil sketches, electronic t-shirts (seriously), splatter painting, comic collages, life-size Lego figures, and so much more. It was my personal Disney World.
I had made my mind up before the Con that I wouldn’t try to get into the “Big Name” panels. I get a little anxious in large crowds. Good thing I decided to go to Comic Con, huh? It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, per se. I just couldn’t justify spending the extra money for the chance to hear someone talk about their past projects or future endeavors. Sure, I’d love to shake the hand of Michael Rooker – the left one, of course – but I’m already paying $80 to just walk in the door this weekend. I just wasn’t that enamored with any of the guests this year.
And while we’re on the subject: why the price hike, Wizard World? I heard from a few friends that you jacked ticket prices up $30-$40 for one-day and three-day passes from last years prices. I know for a fact that the increase kept people away. Not everyone was put off, certainly. I heard that just based on advanced ticket sales, Austin’s Con attendance was second only to Chicago’s this year. Pretty impressive.
I was more inclined to check out the smaller panels, ones more focused on creating, developing and nurturing art. Friday was a perfect convergence of those three things in one panel: “Creativity that Lasts.” Bringing together Rob Prior (Spawn, Deep Space Nine, Heavy Metal), Bob Camp (Ren & Stimpy), Genese Davis (Writer of “The Holder’s Dominion”) and Michael B. Druxman (Screenwriter), this panel was the perfect setting for an aspiring writer and artist like me to sit and listen to real artists discuss techniques of staying creative and working through blocks and obstacles. There aren’t very many venues where you can sit under so many esteemed artists and hear about their struggles and how they work passed them. It was refreshing to hear Rob Prior be honest about the idea of originality, saying, “if you worry about being original – comparing yourself to other people – you’ve already failed. There is no true originality anymore. Everything is inspired by something. Just use your point of view to make it yours. Your point of view is what is original.” Being able to hear such honesty, Austin Comic Con, thank you for that opportunity.
Friday also presented the opportunity to meet artists, talk to them about their craft and the Con experience. I had the pleasure of talking with Blake Henriksen about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and which version of the Doctor we prefered. I also met comic book artist Jerry Rascoe and commissioned him to pencil and ink an original Batman piece. I also met the very talented Mattie Watkins and asked her to make me a watercolor Batman. (Do you see a theme running here? I’m a Batman fan. Batfan? It was my goal to get as many original Batman commissions as my bank account could handle. I did pretty well, as you’ll come to find.) Mattie was a peach: very congenial, happy to oblige and a joy to talk to.
Friday was so fascinating – all the while exhausting – I could only hope that Saturday’s festivities could live up to the same expectation. And Austin Comic Con, you didn’t fail.
I started Saturday morning walking the exhibit hall again, because honestly, there was just too much to take in on Friday afternoon, and I was sure I missed a lot. Understatement of the year. I visited the CCP Comics section of artists, and commissioned a couple more pieces – another Batman from Ryan Alexander and a Nightwing from Jazel Riley, a gift for my newborn nephew Grayson. I also commissioned Michael Duron to ink a Batman for me in his amazing Sugar Boogarz style. Seriously, you guys, the level of talent in this world never ceases to amaze me.
Your panel offerings on Saturday, Austin Comic Con, were delightful. I started with the “Free Drawings for Total Strangers” panel with creator Jason Thomas. In addition to being a really talented artist, Jason was a really nice guy. I don’t know if I should be telling you this, but Jason made waffles for everyone in attendance who wanted one while he talked about his work. He answered questions about how he got into art, why he started his website, how he got into Red Rocket Farms, even which two superpowers he’d most want to have. So, if he broke some rules by making waffles, I’d ask that you just overlook that if for no other reason than he was a great dude.
I also attended the “Behind the Voice: Voice Talent of Comics & Cartoons to Screen” Saturday afternoon. I’ll be honest: I have no voice talent, much less a desire to get into voice-over work. But an opportunity to hear Bill Wise – the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog – and Shannon McCormick (DC Universe Online, Red vs. Blue), among others, talk about voice-over work and bringing some of our favorite characters to life was nothing short of intriguing.
Austin Comic Con, remember when I said I wasn’t all too interested in going to the “big name” panels? Well, out of shear morbid curiosity – and because my inner child was screaming – I decided to check out John Cena’s panel. I grew up watching WCW and WWF/E. I loved the Ultimate Warrior and Sting – and apparently face paint, too. I loved the NWO, the Bushwhackers, Legion of Doom, and The Rockers. And I’ve always heard nothing but good things about John Cena and his work with the Wounded Warriors Project and Make A Wish Foundation. So I wanted to get a closer look, and can I tell you something? It was quite enjoyable. Cena has always been a crowd favorite in the 5-12 demo, and that was evident based on the attendance. So many kids. A lot of questions. So many in fact, Cena skipped over the introductory interview with the moderator and got right to Q&A, and 45 minutes later, anyone who had a question got an answer, including the kid who asked if Cena would marry his mom. “She’s right there. Will you do it right now?”
Sometimes I find it hard to get past the BS and facade that celebrities put up when dealing with fans, but Cena seemed to be the genuine article. One question that stuck out to me came from a boy in a wheelchair, presumably from MS or some similar debilitating handicap: “What inspires you to wrestle and do what you do?” the boy asked. And Cena, without missing a beat, pointed to the boy, “You. You inspire me. I do this everyday because I know you – and others like you – are out there living your life and watching me. And I want to do right by you.” Cena was emotional and you could hear the strain on his voice as he answered. It was moving. It was real. And in spite of my pride and snobbery going in, I truly enjoyed it.
Following Cena’s panel, I went to Lion Forge Comics: Super Fun Good Times – Yeah! where audience members got a chance to play Pictionary with some of the artists for prizes. Lion Forge is a start-up comics company who for the last year has been primarily online. They are developing their first print publications currently, and are working with familiar titles including “Airwolf,” “Knight Rider” and “Miami Vice,” along with original content like “Roboy,” “Rampage Jackson: Street Soldier,” and “Joshua Run.” This team of talented writers and artists were well worth the effort it took to get from one end of the Con to the other after Cena’s panel – even if I was a little late thanks to the hoard of tiny Cena-philes.
Sunday started a little slowly for me. After walking the exhibit hall at least 15 times over, I was more than a little beat. I decided to take it easy, for the morning portion, anyway. I caught Tom Cook’s panel (Animator/Director extraordinaire; He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, Thundarr the Barbarian) and, I’m probably sounding a little like a broken record at this point, but he was such a good guy. I had met him a day earlier, and asked him to sign a few items that I had made using his characters, and he happily obliged. Suffice it to say 8-year-old Justin was ecstatic. Eh, who am I kidding? 30-year-old Justin was just as excited.
After Tom Cook’s panel, my wife dropped off my 5-year-old son, Boston to participate in his first-ever Con. Earlier in the week, Boston informed me that he’d like to go to your event as a robot. Luckily for him, his dad is creative enough to make it happen. When he got out of the car for your “Kids Day” extravaganza, he was immediately greeted by Jason Thomas of “Free Drawings for Total Strangers.” Jason walked us over to his booth, gave Boston a sticker – always a hit with him – and drew him a picture of “Bill the Penguin.” Jason Thomas made another fan that day.
Boston also took pictures with the TARDIS, a couple of R2 units, and we ran into Darth Vader, a couple of stormtroopers and jawas. Remember, Boston was dressed as a robot. Well, the jawas flipped out when he walked over to them. It was incredible. And can I tell you, the Passport Adventure you had set-up, was genius. Collecting stamps in his little booklet, along with Con Exclusive artwork from three of the artists, made his day. So, as a father, thank you Austin Comic Con for putting on an event that was kid-friendly.
After we finished collecting the stamps, we headed upstairs because Boston wanted to participate in a karate class by Jason David Frank. That’s right, the Green Ranger. The frakking Green Ranger taught my son karate moves! I don’t know which one of us was more excited by that, but thank you again, Austin Comic Con for making it happen.
All in all, Austin Comic Con, I had a fantastic weekend. I feel like I need to soak in an ice bath for a couple days, and it seems as though I have caught the “Con Flu” as well. But, it was worth it. You knew it was my first time, and you were (mostly) gentle.
Until next year,