October 24, 2011
For ages, it seems like it’s been looming as something exciting and a little bit scary in the distance. From Monday October 10th to Monday October 17th, 2011, I would be visiting New York City. Tyler James, publisher of ComixTribe, had invited me out to the New York Comic Con to represent The Standard, and I jumped at the chance. Having missed out on getting tickets for San Diego Comic Con earlier in the year, I had the funds to pull the trip off, and so I decided to build a vacation to the Big Apple around my first experience as a pro at a major con. And somehow, it managed to sneak up on me, and all of a sudden I was in New York City, with the con itself right around the corner.
It had been fun seeing New York City, but with the arrival of Thursday it was time to get down to business: New York Comic Con was upon us. After another 6:30am rise and a hearty breakfast to set me up for the day, I headed down on the brief walk to the Javits Convention Center. I had scoped the place out on my first day in NYC, and it had seemed pretty barren, an empty vessel waiting for a sense of purpose. But what a difference a few days make. Now, the Javits Center was getting ready for New York Comic Con!
Once I arrived, I discovered that Tyler James and Joe Mulvey – my booth partners, who would be bringing the tables, chairs and our supply of comics – had been held up in that notorious New York traffic. And since we needed Tyler, who’d booked the booth, to get our exhibitor passes, I had to just sit around in the foyer for a while. But eventually, the rest of the gang arrived, and while Joe seeked out a parking place outside, I got to meet the mighty Tyler James, glorious leader of ComixTribe, for the first time. I always get a kick meeting people I’ve talked to online in person, and so far I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve not had an experience of someone I thought was alright over MSN or Skype turning out to be a weirdo in person (probably because I’M the one who’s the weirdo in person), and Tyler was no exception, turning out to be as smart and cool in the real world as the virtual one.
There was a brief scare where it seemed like our passes had been lost, or accidentally given to someone else, but thankfully it was resolved before too long, and we were kitted out with the Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket that is a Comic-Con exhibitor pass. Meeting up with Joe and his friend outside, we went through the arduous task of dragging our heavy bundles of stock and equipment from the car park to our booth on the show floor. An interesting aside: over the course of the week, I only noticed that the escalator from the foyer up to the show floor had stopped working on two occasions. The first was on this day, meaning we had to haul all our stuff up it like it was a regular flight of stairs. The second was on Sunday, when we had to haul all our stuff back down it again. Typical.
Another problem emerged once we located our corner booth just near Artist’s Alley. Namely, that it wasn’t a corner booth. We were located quite inconveniently next to what I can only call a massive China exhibit. If that sounds vague, it’s because that’s the impression they gave. It was this collection of 8 connected booths that ran in a big line next to where our booth was, all with the words CHINA written on top of them, but each with its own hazey subtitle, like “Skyworks Technologies” or “Guangzhou Daley Media Co” or something similarly uninformative. And these booths were typically partitioned off, and often empty. And I don’t just mean no con-goers stopped by – though people rarely did – I mean that even the exhibitors themselves were barely there. It must have been an expensive bit of real estate, but obviously these guys must have had a lot of money to throw around to book all that space then not really use it. And the problem with these massive booths was that they jutted right out onto the floor, far beyond the reach of our table, meaning anyone walking past them was automatically cast at a distance away from our table, breaking that essential passing trade connection. On the plus side, I pointed out, we were at a good place to catch people headed to the nearby bathroom.
I have to say, it was really exciting setting up the ComixTribe booth. Sure, I got a little thrill laying out my comics at my table for the Glasgow Comic Fair, but this was on a whole other level. Organising not just The Standard, but the rest of ComixTribe’s diverse lineup, reminded me of the stellar company I keep being a part of ComixTribe. The absolute best thing about The Standard being published through ComixTribe is that I get to be a part of such a fantastic roster of talent, and an incredible lineup of titles. I had already read and loved Runners, Tears of the Dragon and Epic, but once the booth was set up, I was able to sit down and read Joe Mulvey’s Scam, and The Red Ten by Tyler James and Cesar Feliciano. Both are just great comics, which I highly recommend checking out if you possibly can. Here’s the thing that helped me a lot while pitching all the ComixTribe titles over the weekend: I didn’t have to be dishonest in my shilling. My enthusiasm and passion for each of these comics and their quality was absolutely genuine.
With the booth ready, we all headed out to a local deli for lunch. And, like the sophisticated artistic souls we are, we spent the entire meal sharing puke, shit and fart stories. Classy, my kinda people. Afterwards, we headed back to the convention center, and I took the time to have a look around the show floor. The layout was actually quite a lot like San Diego, only with less TV and movie booths, and more of a central focus on comics. I also noted that Marvel had situated itself far away from the rest of the comics booth, instead settling down right in the middle of the video game section. This struck me as a bit isolationist, and because it was so far off my beaten track, I actually never visited the Marvel booth save for passing by it on my way into the show floor in the mornings. I’d say the trifecta of the DC Comics booth, the Image booth and the Midtown Comics booth felt more like the central hub of the show floor, with the well-furnished Archaia booth situated well in amongst them.
After a while, the doors opened to the public (at least, those with 4-day VIP passes), and the first day of selling began. In all honesty, business was a little slow on this first day. We did have a steady flow of eyes on our table, but we had our quiet periods. My problem was that I couldn’t get my salesmanship down. My pitch for The Standard was overlong and clunky, and I could practically see eyes glazing over as I launched into it. I just didn’t seem to have a good knack for it, and was grateful that the affable Joe and the super-efficient selling machine that was Tyler were there to take my slack.
Shifting from my exhibitor hat to my fan hat, I took a wander around Artist’s Alley. The first familiar face I got to meet was Mikel Janin, the talented rising star artist of Justice League Dark. He very kindly agreed to sign my copy of Justice League Dark #1, and we parted on what I thought was a good note. But then I realised, to my horror, that I had given Mikel my sharpie pen, and forgotten to take it back. Now, those who know me from work will know that I am paranoid about ensuring nobody takes it from me, and I will stand and watch people use the pens they borrow fro me to make sure they give them back when they’re done. So I launched into this awkward moment where I had to go back to this gifted artist I admire, and politely ask him to give me my pen back. Thankfully, my subsequent friendly Twitter chat with Mikel would suggest this faux pas was not too disastrous.
The next folks on my list were Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, the esteemed writer/artist team on cracking Western series The Sixth Gun. Long-time followers of this blog will know I’ve devoted a lot of time to promoting this comic, reviewing the first graphic novel collection and several other subsequent issues and bestowing superlative but well-deserved praise. I tried my best to convey this praise to the team in person, telling them that The Sixth Gun had so much content packed into each issue that every individual comic was a rewarding read in itself, and that this most definitely wasn’t a comic for trade-waiters. I then gave them a trade to sign.
But perhaps most exciting of all for me on this day was the chance to meet Jason Aaron. Regular readers may know that I have gushed about The Sixth Gun, but they’ll also know that I’ve lavished numerous dissertation-length odes of devotion to the seminal Verigo crime series Scalped, a title I’ve not been in shy in saying I’d rank as definitely the best comic on shelves today, and well on its way into entering the canon of the all-time greats. Considering all this, getting to meet Scalped writer Jason Aaron was one of the things I was most excited about going into the New York Comic Con. And I’m pleased to say he didn’t disappoint. This is something that has struck me about all the folks in comics I’ve been fortunate enough to meet over the past couple of years: they’re all nice guys. It must be really deflating to meet one of your heroes, and they’re a jerk. But the comics creators I’ve had the chance to talk to have all been friendly, and keen to chat with their fans, and Jason Aaron was no exception.
At first, Jason bamboozled me a bit: when I produced Scalped #25 and told him that, after much painful deliberation, I had decided this was my favorite single issue of the series, he asked me the dreaded question, “Why is this one your favorite?” I garbled at him in incomprehensible Glaswegian for a while as I struggled to come up with a good answer (I failed), and then I introduced myself as the writer of the Studying Scalped columns he had kindly linked to on his blog. It was great that Jason knew who I was enough to thank me for the columns I’d written. I also told him I was the guy who’d asked him to bring along Scalped #3, #15 and #16 to the con, and he responded by producing them from his backpack. Getting these elusive comics given to me by the writer himself! I was ready to pay double the cover price or more, but Jason amazingly said I could just take them for free! What a classy guy. With these issues in my collection, I was now the proud owner of every Scalped single issue save for issue #1. I tried to fire a couple of quickfire Scalped questions at Jason before leaving. Will there be any Scalped deluxe hardcovers in future? Probably not. Will there be any Scalped retrospective panels at San Diego 2012 or next year’s NYCC? Again, probably not, but Jason did mention I could take part in some kind of series of closing interviews at the end of the series, which would be amazing. I gave Jason copies of The Standard #1 and #2, then gushed some more about how Scalped was one of the greatest comics of all time, before finally making my exit.
In terms of stuff I bought, I was able to grab almost all the issues of Zot! my friend Jamie Fairlie was missing from his collection, and I picked up two T-shirts from DC’s Graphitti Designs booth: a Swamp Thing T-shirt, and something I’ve wanted for a long time: a grey Batman with a black Batman logo. That’s right, none of that “black T-shirt with the black bat logo inside a yellow circle” movie bullshit for me, I’m a comics purist, baby! And a nerd.
Back at the ComixTribe booth, Steve – the friendly fan from Jim Hanley’s – stopped by to say hello. He had read and enjoyed The Standard #1 after buying it at the signing, so was here to get his hands on The Standard #2. I have to say, this happened a few times over the course of the con, and it was the biggest compliment. When someone buys and reads the first issue one day, and takes the time to come back the next day, tell you they loved it, and buy issue #2? That’s quite possibly the most rewarding thing about writing these comics. It’s a great feeling. Steve also ended up buying the rest of ComixTribe’s lineup too, which was great. Perhaps our first convert of NYCC. Thanks, Steve!
Once the NYCC preview night wrapped up, I stopped back at my hotel to make a quick change and drop off my heavy satchel bag (this bag, filled with books I wanted signed, was the bane of much of my travels during the con), before heading down to Tempest Bar for ComixTribe’s Drink & Draw event. Food was provided in the form of giant pizzas brought in from a nearby pizzeria. Yes, that’s right, pizza again. And these ones were MASSIVE, dwarving even the oversized slices from Pronto Pizza. Quite possibly the biggest pizza I’ve seen in my life.
Drink & Draw started off quiet, but once it got going we ended up with a good crowd of comic creators at the event. Now, I say “quiet”, but what I actually mean is that deafeningly loud music was banging away at all times, and it seemed like the louder I tried to speak, the louder the music got. See, I just don’t get this. I see a bar as a place meant for socialising, so while ambient music is fine, what’s the point of cranking up the volume so loud you can barely communicate? And remember, I was trying to make myself understood to a bunch of New Yorkers with a thick Scottish accent as it was, so I was already fighting an uphill battle.
I did get to have a few good conversations, though. In particular, I got to have some lengthy chats with Rich Douek, regular ComixTribe commenter, and writer of an intriguing title called Gutter Magic that I was able to get my hands on at NYCC. And I also got one of Tyler’s friends to draw up an image for one of the artist edition covers of The Standard, which was greatly appreciated.
After hanging out for a few hours, I took my leave, feeling a little sick from the watered-down Coke and oversized pizza. But it was a good kind of sick. The New York Comic Con was off to a great start. And it was only going to get better.