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If This Is San Diego, I Must Be Drunk

I guess I could say I'm "back" from the San Diego Comic-Con, but hey, I live in San Diego. This does have a huge impact on the way I approach the 'Con, though, so hopefully this little recap will be different from the others you may have read. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee it, and not just because I spend little time on the press releases from the convention, nor do I include photos of me placing my lips on hotel mini-bar liquor I have no intention of drinking. No, there was drinking to be done this year, and I damn well did it.

Day Zero, or Preview Night, of the Con is one I usually enjoy, because the past two years I've attended it's been much less crowded. And that means that not only can one often talk at some length with one's favorite creator or editor or whoever's working the booth, the temperature is also much cooler. The stifling, fetid atmosphere I found on Friday and Saturday was really oppressive, and made me want to get out and into a cool bar much sooner than it has in the past. So in other words, I didn't go to Preview Night. I've got kids and a job and a marriage that until the past few months has been pretty shaky, so two days was the most I even thought to negotiate. Plus, I honestly would feel bad if I missed more than those two nights tucking my kids in and all that. Hey, I told you this Con report was different. Oh, and expect the Con to go a full five days next year, so "Preview Night" is over, or so I heard.

Day One. This was Thursday, right? Didn't go. I did read the news items, and thought it was kind of funny that CBR and Newsarama joined forces the way they did, like it was so important that they put aside their differences and competition and all that. I'm not making fun, it was just a little odd, though convenient. They did do a nice job of it, not that there was a lot of mindblowing news to report. Oh, on a private note, I was disheartened to read the story about an upcoming Image book that sounded a bit like something I'm developing, but it seemed different enough that I'm not going to worry about it. It's all in the execution anyway, of course.

Day Two. Okay, this is where I actually attend. I only made it down there Friday after work, so let's say about 6:00. Met Joe Rybandt there, who got me a pass from Dynamic Forces, which was nice. I was too lazy and preoccupied to get a press pass in time, and it would have been a long wait to get one in line. What an awesome journalist I am. I hit the Con floor with him and Matt Maxwell of Broken Frontier. I didn't know Matt lived in San Diego County as well. We talked to Abhay, whom you may remember as the infamous A.K. of Movie Poop Shoot's Title Bout column. Abhay echoed the recommendation of Sam Hiti's End Times as being "the hot book of the Con", and a value at $9.95, so I picked it up and Hiti did a nice sketch in it for me. Look for a review within a week. Abhay and I talked about some mutual friends who are also comics writers, and recently they were unhappy with a review I wrote of their latest miniseries. This was something I really wanted to put to bed before the Con was over.

We decide to go get a drink at the Marriott's lesser bar, DW's, which looks to be where quite a few pros also plan to have some libations either prior to, or instead of, attending the Eisner Awards. Marc Silvestri, John Romita, Jr., I can't remember who else. Oddly, it was maybe the only time when I was with Joe that some pro wasn't passing by and saying hi to him.

Joe gave me-or maybe he loaned them to me to see what kind of comedy I could find in them and I just never gave them back-a couple comics he picked up at the Con, The Strangers and some other one I think was called The Scrapbook Detectives or something similarly appropriate to an all-ages, semi-educational title featuring three kids who band together not to solve mysteries but to stop hate crimes with their superpowerful puppy dog eyes and eye-glazingly earnest speeches. One is African-American, one Asian, and one a paraplegic, I think. There may have been a homunculus as well. The motto on the cover was "Smiles For Diversity", so I think you can imagine this book would get funnier the more we drank.

As it happened, though, the book was so dull it didn't really come up much more that night, while The Strangers would have much more of an effect on me. Later for that, though. We hit Dick's Last Resort, a theme bar in San Diego's "Gaslamp District" that is, to me, inexplicably popular among tourists. The theme is that the waiters/waitresses are rude, which I've never found that amusing, but the waiter we had was decent enough under the shtick. The group was comprised of former Wildstorm editor/freelance writer/letterer John (Thundercats) Layman, Rybandt, Marc Mason of Movie Poop Shoot, Matt Maxwell of Broken Frontier, former Image marketing guy Anthony Bozzi, Hannibal Tabu of CBR's The Comic Reel and myself. Sean Collins was supposed to be there as well, but was a no-show the whole time, which was disappointing.

We had a nice time, joking around and talking seriously about the business of comics, and it was good to hear Layman got some new assignments to pay the bills, and that he and Bozzi so selflessly gave good advice to Matt on a project he was pitching. And, Dick's makes pretty good buffalo wings. Those were the good things. One thing that was out of place was the black guy in the men's room, spraying aerosol soap on your hands and handing you paper towels and Kit-Kats. Apparently, the rudeness gives way to White Guilt Shakedown when you open the Men's Room door. I didn't begrudge the guy making a living, but it's a totally unnecessary service, especially in a low-class restaurant/bar, and it's guaranteed there aren't any white guys making an especially good living at it here. I don't mean to go on about this, but it really is a strange, old-fashioned gig, as discomfiting as a public shoe shine.

On a better note, I really wanted to publicly thank Marc Mason for his friendship through a particularly tough year for me, especially as it hasn't been wine and roses for him, either. I appreciate it, Marc.

(A friend who proofread this piece just asked which step in AA the above paragraph represented. Ha. Ha.)

I had planned to thank Marc at the table, but that evil leprechaun Layman broke out his flask of bourbon, and that's where things started to go downhill for me. I did express some of my admiration for Marc, however, by lewdly penetrating the loaf of brown bread on the table, with one, then two fingers, then some butter.

We skipped the Eisners, as planned (I still haven't heard the winners) and went straight to the Marriott's better, more loungey bar, meeting up with Dirk Deppey, new Editor-in-Chief of The Comics Journal, as well as Steven Grant and TCJ writer and Stan Lee biographer Tom Spurgeon (or maybe he came later on in the night. Also met a guy I can't talk about now, who should be publishing little ol' me (and Hannibal) as sooperhero comics writers of some brand-new characters in a brand-new universe. More on that as it gets closer to happening, but contracts are signed and things seem to be moving along steadily. Unfortunately, I was pretty hammered at this point, having been drinking for a good five hours, so I didn't have the most productive conversation with the boss, or anyone for that matter. That teetotaling bastard Hannibal monopolized him for a good half-hour, too.

What else happened at the Marriott? Hmm. I know Jeph Loeb passed through, asking Rybandt where D.W.'s was, and on my way back from the restroom I tore some sort of bust that was glued to a table right off, and carried it back to our table in the lounge. This was probably a good hint that I should switch to soda or coffee, but no, we were off to the Hyatt. Sans useless decorative bust, at least.

I wish I had good stories to tell, as this garden spot in the back of the hotel is the big meeting place for pros at night, but I was too out of it. I know I took off my shirt, I know Dirk Deppey had a train engineer hat on, or maybe it was a Greek fisherman hat, and I know the sprinklers went off right under our table at about 2:00 a.m. Also, I wasn't completely out of it, as I was able to add lots of extra word balloons to The Strangers, a compellingly bad, self-published b&w book, to make it lots better. I wish I had it now.

Second thanks of the recap go to Hannibal, for walking me back to his hotel and letting me sober up (a little) while he typed up his column.

Apologies to the Marriott.

Apologies also to Chris Ryall, new EiC of IDW and still, somehow, EiC of my old virtual stomping grounds Movie Poop Shoot, as well as a good friend. I think he had tried calling me earlier in the night, and when I got to my car at about 3:30 a.m., I think I hit the Call button. All he could hear was sports radio highlights, anyway. More on Chris later.

Day Three. You must remember that though I attacked Friday night like I was on vacation, I live here, and have responsibilities. I got up at 8:00, made breakfast for my kids, and then limped my way (literally-I pulled a hamstring with all the walking on Friday) through gymnastics with my 22-month-old daughter Ainsley. Then it was home just long enough to suit up for swimming lessons for her and my four-and-a-half-year-old son Trevor. I didn't get going to the Con on Saturday until about 2:00 p.m., and was stuck in Del Mar Racetrack traffic, so I didn't make it until about 4:00. The combination of lack of sleep (amazingly, I wasn't really hung over, just tired), traffic, and heat made me want to cut short my Con time Saturday as well, even knowing this was it. I bought Seth's Clyde Fans from the Drawn and Quarterly booth, declining to say anything to the brilliant Adrian Tomine signing there, as I didn't feel witty enough. My first thought was actually to point out that his latest release Sketchbook, which has a lot of very early strips, really points the way towards his new "White On Rice" story in the latest and next two issues of Optic Nerve, since the early strips feature almost no Asians and Tomine draws all white chicks with the same face. I realized this might not go over that well with Tomine, so I walked on.

I regret I didn't talk to some of the guys in comics who have been so nice and supportive of me, like Eric Reynolds of Fantagraphics, Chris Staros and Brett Warnock of Top Shelf, and Larry Young of AiT/PlanetLar. I've talked to all of them before, of course, but hey, it's only once a year-I should have made a better effort. To be honest, I was not just tired but a bit depressed at this point, because everyone I saw on the Con floor from the night before made me really self-conscious that I'd been so drunk. At least I had a more meaningful, if brief, discussion with my future publisher Mr. X. I did have a nice time once I found Rybandt, though, as we took a look at some stuff I would otherwise have missed, like some great, trashy original art from bad 60s paperbacks and forgotten movies.

Prior to hooking up with Joe, though, I got to see Chris Ryall again, and see him workin'. He was talking to, I believe, the wife of a respected cartoonist about IDW possibly publishing the guy's beloved 80s creator-owned series, and after about five minutes of this Nick Barrucci of Dynamic Forces showed up with a sweet hardcover of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar. Eventually, we did talk, though I soon became conscious of a guy waiting for us to finish, so he could hand Chris his pitch. Apparently, dozens had already approached Chris with what they felt was a perfect fit for IDW, so Chris was really getting broken into his job early, only two weeks into it. I saw him a couple more times that night, and it was fun, not just because I enjoy the guy, but because I really like watching him deal with all these people, from pros to shmos. Someone pointed out to me later that night that there were probably a lot of people who resented Chris' meteoric rise, from columnist to web-editor to EiC in just a few years, whereas, say, an assistant editor at DC or Marvel may have to eat shit for years and years before rising to full editor status. But this guy and I agreed that Chris deserved his good fortune, and cliché as it is, it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

If I seem a little more reflective now, well, there's a reason. As much fun as I had on Friday, I realized that I didn't want to make an ass of myself a second time on Saturday, and wanted to just have fun, have lots of good conversation, and maybe even do some creative work. This plan worked out well, as Rybandt and I caught a quick drink at the Hilton before the exclusive IDW party he was invited to. I was his "+ 1" date on the guest list, or I would never have gotten in. My drink, incidentally, was a Coke, as I didn't want to start too early. As with the Mr. X thing, I can't talk too much about what Joe and I are working on, but it's cool stuff that I think has a real shot at getting published. Of course, everyone thinks that, so again, I'll say no more until it becomes real. Suffice it to say, we had a good meeting, planning our next step forward, as we sipped our drinks al fresco between the Chris Oarr table on the right and the Mr. and Mrs. Ike Turner table on the left, with John Landis a late addition.

Joe and I headed over to the IDW party, located in a private, two-story room in the back of Rock Bottom Brewery. I'd been there before for a friend's fortieth birthday, though of course he didn't have it decorated with 20 foot high banners of the blonde chick from CSI: Miami and didn't have monitors showing a constant loop of IDW-related comics and videogame footage. Beer and snacks were free, so one might think I would lose control again, but no. This was actually my favorite kind of party, where I had at least a couple friends to talk to, a comfortable place to sit, some new and interesting people to meet, and a low enough volume that we could hear ourselves. So Joe and I chatted a bit with Maureen McTigue of Harris Publications and her friend, who's with Simon & Schuster, and I also really got on well with Mr. X's wife, after putting my foot in my mouth about her home country as being a less desirable place to expatriate to than, say, France or Africa. Among other things, she came up with a great packaging idea for a whimsical children's book idea I had, and then she and Mr. X had a good talk about not writing down to kids and how Stan Lee improved countless kids' vocabularies with his comic book writing style. By the way, Joe told me he did spot Stan the Man earlier in the week drinking a beer, which is a nice image. The stereotype is of the old guy-any old pro, not just Stan-drinking Scotch or martinis, but a beer just creates a much softer image, you know? A true sonofabitch doesn't drink a beer when he's 80.

Tim Bradstreet stopped by and is apparently working on something revolving around Anne Frank, of all people. He joked about how the people who hired him must not be familiar with his usual work, and I remarked that I'm sure Anne spent a good deal of time in front of brick walls. It was really just a playful jab at how he uses brick walls as the background of so many of his comic book covers, but he laughed and said something along the lines of, "That's so wrong," which led me to believe he thought I was being anti-Semitic or insensitive or something. Not intentionally, at least.

Steve Niles showed up with his friend and future collaborator (I think) Thomas (The Punisher) Jane and his girlfriend Patricia Arquette and her daughter. Someone mistakenly told us that Niles (who's already married) and Arquette were together, but thankfully that was straightened out before anyone passed it along as gospel. Both talented actors, and she looks even better in person, but I didn't feel like bothering them.

Rich Johnston sat at our table for a little while, too, and though we didn't have any great, meaningful conversation, it was nice to finally meet. He didn't cough up any great rumors, though ironically, one of the wackiest stories of the Con was about him and John Layman, which you'll just have to ask one of them about.

The IDW party had to end pretty promptly at 11:00, so Ryall, Mark Haynes and I headed over to the Hyatt. Really liked meeting Haynes, and it sounds like he and co-writer J.C. Vaughn have a good handle on telling new stories based on one of my favorite shows, 24. Oh, and come to think of it, just before we left, I somehow put my foot in my mouth again. See, the waitresses who had been serving us on the upstairs level started unbuttoning their white Oxford shirts for some reason. Then, they hoisted a tray of beers and started to head downstairs, and I asked, "What kind of show is going on?" I didn't ask in any leering way, like they were going to do some sex show, but I was just honestly curious why the both of them had to button down at the same time. They took it the wrong way, and gave me a really dirty look that Mark could feel from five feet away. Now, admittedly, I've said suggestive things when drunk before, and had actually had a running joke about circumcision with Mrs. X earlier, but I wasn't drunk, and I wasn't lewd, this time. Oh, well.

Spent another hour or two at the Hyatt, not drinking anything and just talking to Abhay, Hannibal and, thankfully, one of the two comics-writing buddies I mentioned earlier. We had a good talk about my review, his other projects, Grant Morrison (a big influence on the guy), and other things, and I think we're still friends. That felt like one of the most important things I accomplished over the weekend.

-- Chris Allen



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