Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Comicpalooza 2014

2013 was a crumby year, which extended to the Comicpalooza Texas International Comic Convention. The con itself was improved in organization and presentation, but I was so stressed out and harried that year that I didn't enjoy myself very much. I got some excellent commissions between that show and Space City Con, not to mention meeting an idol like George Pérez, but crowds and outside pressures meant I couldn't appreciate it as much as I would have liked. As it turned out, the job I took in the latter half of the year made the worst ones in recent memory seem like cakewalks. I fell completely out of touch with my family, barely saw my friends, and was swimming through a morass like molasses professionally. I was finally free of it about a week before Comicpalooza 2014, which had extended the show from three to four days, so that I even gained breathing room in my recreation.

I realized a few weeks back that 2015 would mark the 60th anniversary of the Martian Manhunter, the biggest cause for celebration I've had for the blog since its inception. I'm also quite frankly burnt out on blogging and my lifestyle in general, so this anniversary gives me something to work towards and look forward to in the coming months. I'm not sure the current semi-daily posting format will survive 2015, but it gives me cause to make the best of the next year & a half in that department, should I decide to make a drastic change thereafter. Also, while I've spent much of the past four years pursuing Handbook of the Marvel Universe style static reference shots of obscure Martian Manhunter related characters, the anniversary also gives me not just license, but a sort of imperative to shake things up in the commission department.

To that end, I decided to try my hand at "jam" pieces, where whole groups of characters are drawn on the same page by a variety of artists. I've been afraid to try such a thing, due to the challenging logistics and potential expense, but I realized that even a disaster would be more interesting than just staying the course. I also wanted to try one of those jams where the page is laid out like comic book panels, so each artist can do their own isolated images within a confined space. These are usually head shots, and I thought that might be a good way to involve big name, very expensive artists where figures would be more prohibitive. I tried ruling out those pages with wooden blocks of various sizes I'd bought and a Sharpie, but the results were dreadful. My girlfriend tried her hand at same, and it proved steadier, with much more useful results. I bought a new art portfolio backpack, which made carrying commission gear massively more comfortable, and arrived at George R. Brown Convention Center sometime after noon.

Comicpalooza 2014 Wonder Woman Lego Life-Sized Statue

There was no line as I picked up my pass, but there was also no program book, so I was encouraged to download Comicpalooza's "app." My smart phone isn't very, I don't install apps at the drop of a hat, and what the hell kind of con doesn't offer a program? The same kind that never lists their Artist Alley anywhere and were rearranging their set-up right up until the last night. Well, to be fair, they did add a downloadable list two days before the con, so they were just too late for me to get any use out of it. Anyway, I did my usual canvassing of the grounds, figuring out who was where and mentally prioritizing. A number of artists hadn't arrived yet, and I did some mingling before diving into commissions. Lane Montoya was the first artist I talked to about my jam idea and trepidation about same, but we started off with a full color commission all her own. Mark Nasso completed a commission for me last year, but I hadn't had time to collect it from him before the con. He got the same earful about the jam as Montoya, and offered some ideas of his own. I'd have started the jam with him, but he didn't have his art supplies on hand yet. As it turned out, despite patiently listening to me blather on, neither Montoya nor Nasso took part in the jam, at least so far.

Comicpalooza 2014 Resident Evil: Apocalypse Alice Cosplay

I met Pat Broderick and talked to him at length about stuff I couldn't have foreseen, like counterfeit currency and Doom 2099. For Friday, he worked on a solo commission. I approached Kevin Maguire, who was only doing head shots. I set up a commission with Paul Gulacy. I looked at Neal Adams' table and commission rates, then put any notions I might have had on the backburner under low heat. I lingered around Don Rosa's table until he was free, and then as he insisted of all his visitors, I sat down on a chair in front of him to talk. Rosa was very friendly, and open to drawing a duck head shot for me, but rebuffed my suggestion of doing Zook. I also spoke with David Petersen, who does beautiful little fully rendered pieces for $200 if you preorder them in advance from his site via a system he sets up a week before con appearances. I hadn't, so that was that.

I of course spent some time at Jim Steranko's table, which wasn't fully set up yet. An old acquaintance was talking to Steranko at the front of a line, while I leafed through a small book of available pre-made commissions at the back. When my friend was done, I flagged him down. He had bought the cheapest original art available, a few inch square drawing of Nick Fury's face, for $150. We caught up for a long while, as I had left the line, intent on trying again later. Finally taking the plunge, I gave art boards to two different artists to initiate the first installments of the jam. They both turned out great, so then I gave both boards to Chris Beaver, so he could make his additions overnight.

Comicpalooza 2013 Superman Lego Life-Sized Statue

A few years ago, I was given scans of a Professor Erdel story by one of the blog's readers. I never got around to writing it up here, and wanted to check it for art reference. I don't think the file survived my switch to a newer operating system, so that was the one comic I was looking for at the con. On Friday, there was a vendor with several longboxes of dollar comics, the sort of which people would be crawling over the rest of the weekend. I decided to check this one stand for comics, and he happened to have a single box of $5 bronze age books with that one comic I was looking for. Serendipity.

My girlfriend was off on Friday, and I had promised one of my best friends that I would buy him a ticket for Saturday. I thought I might just get another four day pass, which would be cheaper than two day passes. Unfortunately, my girlfriend stayed home, and I waited too long to get the Saturday pass. A line would surely await the next day. When I got home that night, I found out that the majority of the programming that I would have been interested in for the entire weekend had already been missed on Friday, including panels spotlighting Steranko and actress Erin Gray. Another sign of con brilliance was scheduling a look at Golden and Silver Age Comics with Roy Thomas and another investigating "Dark Secrets of the Silver Age" with Neal Adams on the exact same day and time, because there's no audience overlap there, twits. The GF and I are behind on TV watching, so we caught a single episode of Fargo where a man found a briefcase full of money in the middle of nowhere and announced "God is real." Debatable, but again, it feels like cosmic authorship when events turn in such a manner.

Comicpalooza 2013 Taskmaster Cosplay

My two best friends were going to attend the con, together, despite a number of obstacles. One had managed to wrangle a four day pass, while the other wanted to meet me for breakfast before standing in line together. We ate at IHOP, which was lousy, so I grabbed a much preferable steak Crunch Wrap from Taco Bell on the way over. The line was indeed ridiculous, and entirely through my fault, it took an hour and a half for him to gain entry. I had to hit the can, and I checked on a few commissions, but I still suffered about an hour at his side. I don't know how many people were at the show that day, but Pat Broderick made mention of 30,000. All I knew was that it was crowded, most of the artists were occupied, and I was sick of carrying all that weight on my back. Beyond picking up already initiated commissions, I blew off any more art patronage activity for that day.

Comicpalooza 2014 Wonder Woman & Gender Bent Captain America Cosplay

There were a number of bands playing over the weekend, but nothing that offered the spectacle of an Arc Attack. The con had taken over the entire convention center this year, so the stage was isolated to the farthest left section. I ate most of my meals there, because there were no lines across a variety of food venders, plenty of tables, and live music far enough away to still be able to use a phone. Next door was the geek engineering section, where robots tried to shoot hoops, 3D printing was ongoing, and so forth. This was the only area where I felt my girlfriend missed out by not attending this year. There were a lot of tables for fan groups, local TV/radio stations and such that were sparsely populated and seemed like a waste of space. I'm not saying they should turn down that endorsement money from Allstate, but I certainly steered well clear of their big red tent and glad-handing. I didn't see as many t-shirt stands or as much small press presence, so if there was a trade off from the increased presence of mundane advertisers, it wasn't in the nerds' favor.

Comicpalooza 2014 Jubilee & Gambit Cosplay

Comics continue to be well represented, with even Barnes & Noble coming out to play along. Most booths were selling trade paperbacks for half price, and they were moving. One dealer had two sets of the second Nick Spencer T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for $8 & $9, so I felt safe in holding off until Monday, by which point they and numerous whole longboxes were long gone. There were dollar bins by the dozens peppered over the con, with two large scale dealers offering libraries of them. By contrast, some creep had a bunch of lovingly presented sets for disturbingly inflated prices, and they were still attractively stacked on Monday. Enjoy hauling that back home, schmuck.

Comicpalooza 2013 Zatanna Cosplay

The con was much more clearly segregated this year, as the dealers gave way to Artist Alley, and that was halted by a large square area of black drapes for the celebrity signing region. I didn't put much effort into looking for stars, so I didn't see many. The buddy who was talking to Steranko tried to engage Peter Davison about a festival and charity he's running, but sensed no interest, and just paid for Doctor Who's signature. I guess I probably saw him and some of the other Doctors present (Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, & Colin Baker) but I'm not enough of a Whovian to recognize any of them at twenty paces. One of my best friends' mom probably could, but it was John Barrowman who he scored an autographed photo from as a gift to her. Captain Jack must be an entertaining guy, because his audience was constantly cheering or otherwise excited. The same friend introduced his fiancé's son to Lou Ferrigno, and the original Hulk like to have crushed my not-small buddy's hand with a shake. My other best friend was into Bret Hart and Kevin Nash, but did nothing about it. However, both besties decided they wanted to try and see what kind of free contact they could get from Stan Lee, which turned out to be a few kind words and a fist bump. Ladies get handshakes, by the way. I like Stan, but I hate lines, so I passed on that.

Truth to tell, I vastly prefer going lone wolf at conventions, and while I couldn't continue my mission objectives with the buddy baggage and crowds, I was still irritable as all hell with just bopping around listening to my bros being wise asses. I needed a break. Most of the cast of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were available for signings at various points, but the only one I laid eyes on was J. August Richards. I made a small effort to find Agent Coulson and Ming-Na Wen, to no avail. The only other celeb I cared about, Rose McGowan, never crossed my path.

Comicpalooza 2013 Penguin & Gender Bent Two-Face Cosplay

Saturday programming wasn't as enticing as Friday's, and we'd already missed the "Roy Thomas Introspective" while stuck in line. The whole weekend, stuff I was interested in seemed to be scheduled for right at or very near opening, instead of after the dealer's room closed, when I was most interested in sitting down for a show. My friend with the festival had been running lectures at the con for a few years, which I'd consistently missed, so I was set to catch one finally. It was a solid presentation, but I hadn't been sleeping well, so I did doze off here and there. By the end of that, we were all about done for the day, and left for Dimassi's Mediterranean Buffet and a hearty meal. We blew off Days of Future Past, and the two of us who are Kids in the Hall fans finally watched Dave Foley's The Wrong Guy and enjoyed it. The third thought it was terrible and passed out snoring. I was home before midnight.

Sunday, I could begin the jams in earnest. One piece saw three additions that rapidly increased in scale. I felt bad about that, since the later pieces made the first two look like postage stamps, but the overall effect was outstanding. The other piece added a full figure at the artist's insistence, which skewed the proportions somewhat, but still worked together relatively in scale. Some artists were done in half an hour, and others half a day, so I started two additional pages to help keep up the pace in productivity. One unknown artist turned a board sideways, which I wasn't sure about at first, but then realized would probably help control the proportions in a way the first two boards hadn't. Then two name artists produced large head shots on that board instead of matching the figure, so to heck with that. On the fourth board, I was more explicit about keeping scale and so far, so good. A fifth board was added.

Comicpalooza 2013 Aquaman Lad Cosplay

Mike Mignola was available more often than not from Saturday onward, but wasn't doing any sketches, so traffic was light. Greg Capullo, who I think was only doing signatures, had long lines that restricted access to other tables. Aaron Lopresti would have been great to do a Diane Meade figure, either on her own or as part of a jam, but he was packed up and leaving early enough on Sunday that I couldn't get work from him. One of my all-time favorite artists, Mark Texeira, had canceled early in 2013 and was added to the con late this year. Not having seen him in two days, I assumed he was a no show, until my buddy texted me that he'd set up in the celebrity autograph section. That worked out nicely.

While I'm thinking about it, another peeve of mine this year was the rudeness of many volunteers. A few that I approached were helpful, but others weren't very well informed. Mostly though, there were guys constantly barking orders. You can't use that door! No photographs! No entry! You have to use the elevator! You can't use that escalator! We're closing in five minutes! Leave now! I understand the need to be authoritative at times, but so many of these guys were loud, discourteous, and outright bullying that even though they were rarely addressing me, it was hard not to take offense. They were like overly aggressive dogs yapping incessantly.

Comicpalooza 2013 Green Lantern John Stewart Cosplay

There were a few interesting bits of programming that juggling jams made me pass on, but I'd been wanting to try my hand at "Geeks Who Drink," and Sunday was the day. The description said it would involve a nerdy pub quiz, and I assumed there would be required shot taking or something. Color me disappointed, as not only weren't drinks required, but the bar that was a hundred feet outside the door of the ballroom we were in shut down within the first hour of the 90 minutes game. People were expected to form teams of no more than six, but I didn't know anybody, so I sat in this big hall alone writing down my solo answers. I did talk to another guy, who like myself had expected the trivia to reflect a comic/genre convention. Instead, an entire round was devoted to naming which African nations reached certain bodies of water, while another involved matching divorced celebrity couples. I managed to tie for seventh until getting blown out of the top ten in the last round of scoring, but it was overall lame. I had planned to stay for the burlesque show if I had needed to "dry out" before driving home, but I hadn't drank anything. I was also told that I would have to leave the ballroom, go to the end of a long line, and then reenter for the show in half an hour. One of my exes used to take me to burlesque shows, which were mostly quaint and a little dull. Unless these girls were the next Dita Von Teese, I could go to a strip club for a more appealing show with no waiting and a light cover. Instead, I went home and drank some Smirnoff while surfing the internet.

Comicpalooza 2013 Silver Sable Cosplay

Monday was last chance time. As long and hard as I had thought about getting a Neal Adams or Michael Golden, I couldn't float their prices, and never approached either. Maguire and Gulacy were going or gone. I'd spent $300 with Pat Broderick already, and while I had something else in mind for him, decided to draw the line there. Josef Rubinstein always seemed to be working on sketches, and what I really wanted was some inking done, which he wasn't doing. I didn't locate Doug Hazlewood, if he was at the show. I'd wanted to try to talk Carl Potts into the jam, but the timing wasn't right on Sunday, and I don't recall seeing him Monday. I haven't been able to do anything with writers at these conventions, but I'd hit upon the idea of getting quotes or other textual material from them related to the Manhunter's 60th. However, the only two writers I thought might have a background that would allow contributions were Scott McCloud (was he there?) and Roy Thomas. It seemed presumptuous and painfully dorky on reflection though, so I abandoned that notion.

Comicpalooza 2013 Scarlet Witch & Captain America Cosplay

My friend with the four day pass turned up again, and reciprocated my buying him a signed Steranko print with a DC heroes fleece throw I'd independently intended to buy, but was unwilling to carry, so I'd waited. He knows me too well. I still really wanted to get Steranko to do a head shot of either J'onn J'onzz or Patrolwoman Diane Meade for me, even going so far as to print reference of a 1950s actress who resembled the patrolwoman in her little cap, just in case. I hit up Steranko, but it was a no go. At the least though, I wanted to get a signature and tell him what his work meant to me. I had the remains of a copy of Strange Tales with an iconic Steranko story with me. The cover and many early pages were long gone, while those that were left were brown as a grocery sack. My uncle had given it to me in the early '80s, and I'd read it to death. My grandmother occasionally wrote my name on the splash of comics to identify their owner, and my mother had supported my comic reading habit. Steranko was pleasantly surprised by the acidic artifact and its journey, dedicating a splash page photo stat of a dystopian metropolis to all four of us. Trust me, it's appropriate.

Comicpalooza 2013 Punk Rock Storm Cosplay

Though he'd refused sketching in 2013, I noticed Shane Davis was doing them this year, and managed to score a surprisingly good head sketch quick and cheap. I saw a chance to add to the page with James O’Barr, who knocked out a nifty sketch within the last couple of hours of the show. I even managed to squeeze in Blue Beetle and Booster Gold full figures in that last hour. The final artist was running late and applying watercolors, which took until about a half hour after the dealer's room had closed to finish. The piece needed an hour in the open air to dry, and as I exited the hall, I saw that heavy rains were causing flooding throughout the city. I malingered on the third floor of the center for a while, then tried to find where live music was still playing. The exterior doors were locked, but I got into the hall when someone exited. Hungry, I bought a gross, fatty plate of brisket, and started eating just as it was announced that the last band was forced to cancel. The next hall over, a live low-rent wrestling program was recording for national broadcast. I watched that for a few matches before enacting my plan. I took out the fleece throw blanket, wrapped my portfolio in it, stuffed them into my backpack, and added the plastic wrapping for good measure. The rain had died down some, so I made a break for the car, leaving Comicpalooza behind until next year.

Comicpalooza 2014 El Chapulín Colorado Cosplay


LissBirds said...

I'm sorry it wasn't the greatest con for you, but I always appreciate the detail in your write ups so I can live vicariously.

I can't wait to see this jam piece. How big is it, exactly? Or is that a detail to be revealed later?

No program...that's kind of sad.

Stan Lee was there? Awww. And S.H.I.E.L.D.?

Too bad you couldn't get a Steranko piece, but at least you got to meet him.

Too bad the volunteers were rude. Some people just take things *too* seriously.

Any cosplayers representing the Martian Manhunter family this year?

will_in_chicago said...

I am sorry as well to hear that this con wasn't much fun. I did enjoy reading the post and appreciate your work here.

Diabolu Frank said...

No-no-- please don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the con. I just try to write the full spectrum of the experience, good and bad. Considering how dire my work life was before the con, schlepping all over that concrete floor for four days was a relief. Maybe I need to roll out more of the individual art commission anecdotes to better show the positive?

Liss, right now there isn't a single jam image, but a series of boards with their own exclusive, self-enclosed jams. One-to-two large interconnecting images was the plan, but that fell apart swiftly in execution. I am trying to get them themed though, where the initial attempts became pure free-for alls. I might be able to alter that digitally in some cases, but they're still fun on their own, and probably work best as is.

There's never any Martian Manhunter cosplay that I can see. I'm not good about seeking out cosplayers, especially when I'm on the hunt for commissions. That said, Houston has always been a Marvel town. I see some DC cosplay here, but it's usually reserved for icons (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and their respective families. Occasional Flash or Aquaman action.)