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Twenty-two years ago, I had the opportunity to attend San Diego Comic Con, which spoiled me for not only conventions, but for life as a comic shop retailer. I had such a blast on my meager personal funds and through the generosity of others that I realized that I didn't want to commit to continued impoverishment. It took a couple years to come out of a depressive state, make that realization, and fully act upon it. I still struggled in the aughts, and certainly had my lows, but I never truly regretted that decision. It was the right call.
In 2010, while visiting a comic shop during a work break on a job where I was making something like twice what I had at the comic shop, I saw a flier for a local convention called Comicpalooza. I wasn't exactly flush, and we only managed to make it to one day of the show, but I picked up several of my first ever art commissions that day. I was so excited by the prospect, and thoroughly hooked. The following year, I giddily pounced on the second full scale Comicpalooza (the very first show in 2009 was a piddly thing outside a mall movie theater, so I don't count it.) I had carefully vetted all the artists announced for the show, and shopped for new art accordingly. Adrian Nelson was not among those who had been advertised, merely sitting at the table of one who was, but I liked his samples and took a shot. The result was my first Bloodwynd piece.
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The following year worked out much the same, with my stumbling upon Nelson as he sat with the Austin collective CCP Comics at the ill-fated Space City Con. This show yielded Malefic, and I felt bad by messing him over by showing up a day early to pick up his intended color sample of Ma'alefa'ak. Sorry, Adrian.
I think Nelson dropped out of shows for a couple years to work on some commercial art projects and try to develop his own comic for publication. When he turned up at Amazing Houston Comic Con in 2015, I made sure to include him in a friends of Martian Manhunter jam featuring Glenn Gammeron. That turned out swell, and when I needed someone to pull together the J'Onzz Family Portrait Artist Jam, he came through for me again on the Martian deity H'ronmeer. The next year, I was singularly focused on gathering pieces for the Aliens 30th Anniversary reunion at Comicpalooza. I had intentionally avoided artists from whom I'd previously acquired commissions for this project, but with the deadline looming, a reached out to Nelson on Twitter as someone I knew I could rely on to deliver a home run Private Ricco Frost. We met up at a McDonald's parking lot, and chatted for a bit. He wasn't doing shows that year either, as I recall working on something of a vanity project for a well-heeled foreign patron. Not sure if anything substantial ever came of that, but I sincerely wished him the best.
Work In Progress Sketch
In 2017, I reached out to him again for a project via Twitter, this time a banner for the Rolled Spine Podcasts blog. I don't recall if Mac had designed our logo yet after a couple of misses soliciting letterers, including one I still bear ill will toward when I see him credited. I had a complicated idea for the banner, and I think it may have overwhelmed Nelson, but he also had a lot going on in life. I don't know which con we met at in 2018, but I finally decided to get a piece of the super-obscure Martian Manhunter villain The Osprey. Like the Ricco Ross piece, this was a take-home, something I generally avoid. I knew Nelson would make it worthwhile though, and I really liked his initial sketch.
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Nelson disagreed though, and halted work partway through. He said "Sorry, man. I've been making sure I give each commission a bit more because I feel like I'm turning a corner in my style and the pressure of wanting to "wow" people is really in my head." He started again, and sent me the work in progress. "I want to change what I originally put down. I sat with it and then it stopped working for me. Also, I finished the second issue and that was another reason. I'll scan it once I have it at a stage I think you can really see what I'm doing."
I didn't hear from Nelson again that year, but I saw him for the last time in 2019 at Fandemic. That year, I had begun work on a series of piece related to George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, with the intent to have the pieces signed by the actors that portrayed the characters. There were also a variety of technical people available, so I thought I might do a jam piece of actors that were no longer with us and include them there. David Early had portrayed the talk show host Sidney Berman in 1977, and appeared in many other genre favorites before his death in 2013. Nelson offered him a memorial rendition. Later that year, Nelson reached out to me on Twitter with another work in progress...
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"I decided to do a new one again since I didn't like what came before. I've gotten a bit more comfortable with my traditional stuff now. it's almost done, I just wanted to update you and find out when you want to meet up to get it." Unfortunately, my car was totaled in a flood, so I wasn't meeting anyone for the immediate future. Once I had that sorted, he was without a car while his wife was helping her mom recover from surgery. Early the following year, we went on vacation to the U.K., and then I was busy attending my final convention of 2020 in February. That was the same month as Nelson's final tweet, related to a Paypal plea. "I've recently fell ill and could use help paying for some of the now weekly trips for treatment. Any amount will help. Thank you!" I think we all remember how things went that March, and I was pretty disconnected from everyone but my most immediate circle for quite some time. I never considered Nelson's absence, even though we occasionally liked and retweeted one another. I was doing research for a podcast today when I stumbled upon a tweet from Antarctic Press in 2021. "We published 1 issue of B.A.D.A.S.S. by writer/artist Adrian Nelson who died after the first issue went to print. He was an amazingly talented creator and a good friend to all who knew him. R.I.P." That was actually a reprint of his original small press edition, which I bought a copy of at Bedrock City. I don't remember if I ever told him that. Adrian Nelson was obviously one of my favorite and most frequently engaged local artists, and I always hoped that I'd get to be that wealthy patron having him draw a comic for me someday.
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