It’s been a very busy month and it’s only going to get more stressful I fear, but I’ll talk more about that in another post. For now, I thought I’d follow up on our trip to the New Orleans Comic Con.
I haven’t been to a comic convention in about fifteen years and haven’t drawn a comic book for eleven of those years. So when Wizard’s World invited me to the New Orleans convention, my first thought was, “why?” However, I love New Orleans and wanted to go back so it was a perfect opportunity. The question was; what was I going to do for two days at a comic book show? I figured the only chance for those days to not be a total waste was if I did everything I could to let people know who I am and what I’ve done.
I’ve always been a horrible self-promoter. A perfect example is the first convention I “worked” as a professional, which, coincidently enough was when I lived in New Orleans. It was a small one in Baton Rouge and I drove in with a friend of mine. I found my table, unzipped my portfolio, and haphazardly laid out the pages I wanted to sell. It looked very unprofessional and, oddly, enough, no one came over to talk to me. In fact, they seemed to give my table a wide berth. My friend couldn’t take it and rearrange my table in a professional manner. He neatly laid out the pages for sale, organized by title. He placed my portfolio in the center and fished out a few copies of my published books and splayed them out in a semicircle. Amazingly, people started coming over. It was a lesson for me about presentation but it was also a lesson in not being embarrassed to put myself out there.
In recent years, with the explosion of social media, I’ve been experimenting with self-promotion. And I am still fighting embarrassment. It’s hard because part of me thinks it’s all self-serving, pretentious crap and the work should speak for itself. But the truth is, artists who hope to make a living off their work must be able to sell themselves, to convince editors, publishers, producers, and the public that they are worthy of interest. Your work can’t speak for itself if no one is listening. There are so many talented people out there, you have to be a little self-serving and pretentious to be seen. You do have to keep it balanced, however, or you’ll become all show and no substance. In other words, an asshole. Luckily, I’m surrounded by artists better than me so it keeps me somewhat grounded.
For the New Orleans Con, I printed up two large posters. One was a collage of the different comics I’d done in the past so that people could easily see my published books. The second one was for Star Wars: The Old Republic, my current project. Our lead concept artist, Arnie Jorgensen – one of the “better artists” who keeps my ego in check – painted the SWTOR poster. I printed out screenshots from our game to display, brought some of my best original comic work to show and sell, and sold comp issues of books I’d worked on. I Tweeted, Facebooked, and Blogged as much as I could stand. I did whatever I could think of to let people know I was there. In the past, I’ve spent whole conventions staring at the wall – trust me, it sucks. If all this got a few people to show up, then it was worth it, if I made a little money to pay for the trip then so much the better.
My wife and I drove to New Orleans the night before the convention. The next morning we lugged a hundred pounds of comics and artwork to the convention center, over broken and craggy New Orleans streets – not fun. By the time we found the entrance, got our passes, and set up our table, I was dying. I barely had enough time to cool down before people started showing up.
Day one of the convention went surprisingly well. I had a steady flow of people, enough to make a bathroom break difficult. I sold a lot of comics and met a lot of people excited for Star Wars: The Old Republic. I did a couple of sketches and sold some of my original art. Towards the end of the day, as people were clearing out, Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol from “Battlestar Galactica”) came by my table. My wife and I both are big fans of “Battlestar Galactica” so it was a trip to meet “The Chief.” He was a cool guy and we chatted for a bit. Then he bought a copy of “Flashes of Fear” (the Halloween anthology I helped put together). Apparently, Aaron Douglas is also a fan of Star Wars: The Old Republic because he was wearing a SWTOR tee-shirt. Keisha Tillis from “The Walking Dead” also stopped by. She was sweet and “The Waking Dead” is another of my favorite shows – great comic too.
Day two was a little slower. I sold some more original pages, sketches, and comics. I met some really cool people. One nice surprise was how many became nostalgic when they saw the books I’d worked on. Like the woman who was there with her two kids but stopped when she saw “The Books of Magic” comics at my table. She had really loved that series and got a little sentimental when she saw them again. Her kids had never heard of “The Books of Magic” and were more interested in the “Spiderman vs. Punisher” book I did. Another girl actually got a little teary eyed when she saw that I had worked on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Apparently, the book meant a lot to her. Very few of these people knew who I was. I was just some anonymous artist to them. It was the stories and the art that had moved them. And I liked that. It made me proud to have been a small part of something that had such an impact on people.
By the end of the day, I got a chance to walk around, talk to a few people, and compare notes with other artist. I met Bill Sienkiewicz for the first time. He’s one of my favorite artists and a huge influence on me. I bought a sketch from him and talked shop for a bit. Just that short conversation with him was a huge motivation for me.
Overall, the convention was way more successful than I could have hoped and I had a good time. I didn’t make enough money to cover the whole trip but I did make enough to cover the cost of the Sienkiewicz sketch and pay for our meals in New Orleans, both of which were not cheep.
We spent our last day in New Orleans wandering around the French Quarter. We had beignets at Café Du Monde for breakfast and walked through Jackson Square. We checked out the apartment where I used to live on Conti Street and tried to find some of my old haunts. Unfortunately, almost all of them were gone. We tried to go to La Madeleine – one of the mainstays of the Quarter – for lunch. It was gone too. There was a new restaurant in its place so we ate there. The waiter told us that La Madeleine had closed up shop after Katrina, as had many of the restaurants in the Quarter, but new places were opening up. We walked around a bit more, checked out Bourbon Street and a few of the touristy places. For a break, we rode the streetcar to the Garden District and back. We stumbled upon a film crew shooting an episode of “Treme” and unknowingly walked through the set, past actor David Morse. We nearly wreaked their shot and got a few nasty looks.
That night we’d planned to go to the House of Blues for dinner but got pulled, almost against our will, into a tiny Italian place called Frank’s. This place was great. Frank himself took care of us. He was no joke – serious Italian and serious food. He told us that people were talking to him about a doing a reality show, so be on the look out. Oddly enough, there were also a couple of comic book collectors there. My wife and I spent the whole time eavesdropping on their conversation. I’ve met many collectors in my day but never any like these. They talked about dropping 200 grand for original art like it was nothing, and causally mentioned owning Fantastic Four number one. It was almost surreal, like Mallrats meets the Sopranos.
We called it a night and headed home the next day. It was a good time and it was nice to see New Orleans hosting such a large comic con. It was the first time a convention that size had been held in the city and the people were very happy to be there. I think it made the whole event seem a little more significant. Many of the people who came by my table were natives, they had lived through Katrina and put it behind them but it hung in the air. You could feel it. The storm did not kill New Orleans but the city is still recovering and figuring out what it will be in the future. It’s quieter than I remembered, different in a way that’s hard to describe. It just wasn’t the place where I used to live, more like that place’s twin brother