I manage to get a bit of work done at last, inking this ten-pager for Doctor Who Magazine. Today I've arranged to have dinner with Jerzy Drozd, so that at least is taken care of. I put in several hours inking, finishing a page and starting another one, then Jerzy swings by to pick me up - we get burritos (which are excellent!) then head over to his place - "The Art and Story Studios" - to eat them and record a couple of podcasts. I get to chat with show co-hosts Mark and Kevin over Skype, Jerzy and I swap comics, and we have some whiskey - all very pleasant. Jerzy is nervous about showing signs of enjoying tobacco, alcohol or swearing in case I react badly - this is alien behaviour to me (my mother ticks all three boxes), but I do my best to reassure him that all is well. The evening ends with us sitting on his porch talking about writing. Looking forward to the show.
Anoher day of working in the hotel room - I feel better getting something done. I'm missing home. Jim Ottaviani has offered to show me around Ann Arbor a little bit before having me over for dinner - he comes by at 3pm and we go and see a wave-sculpture at the university by Maya Lin, a fabulous delicatessen called Zingerman's, the glorious turn-of-the-century splendour of the Michigan movie theatre (at which I take lots of photos - Muppet Show reference!) and other bits of local interest around the university (historic reading rooms, antiquarian books and other such turn-ons for the cartoonist/paper-fetishist side of me).
There are unique smells associated with each sight - the buttered popcorn of the Michigan, the heady aroma of cheeses at the deli, and of course the intoxicating smell of ancient paper. Then it's back to Jim's place where I meet his wife Kat - she makes a splendid pesto, and the evening passes by in a haze of good food, wine and entertaining conversation. I ogle at Jim's original artwork treasures on the wall - there's a huge George Herriman Krazy Kat original that gets me really excited. I think I did a little wee in my pants. At the end of the evening we take a pleasant walk to "the dairy" - which is an ice-cream parlour - and get ourselves ice-creams. Mine is a kiddy-size, which is plenty, and delicious. Then it's back to the hotel to do some more inking. I listen to some BBC Radio 4 podcasts on my laptop and think of home.
Jerzy is good enough to drop me off at the convention hotel - I arrive three hours before check-in, but they're good enough to find a room for me anyway and I see about getting some work done. I still have to prepare my workshop for Kids Read Comics - I find I am still spectacularly underprepared. I make a few more notes and try to find a way in - eventually I decide to start with the assumption that everybody there will have some comedic talent to begin with and to approach it from the angle of refining what is already there, rather than trying to make lead into gold, which I only now realise is the assumption I'd been operating on without even being aware of it. Great - the whole enterprise suddenly feels a lot less intimidating. Still needs work, though.
I hit a wall with the workshop prep and do a bit of inking for a change of pace, to the accompaniment of Charlie Brooker ranting out of my laptop - I occasionally have to stop because I'm laughing too hard. The hour of the Kids Read Comics opening party at Green Brain Comics approaches - I Google the route, see it's only a couple of miles and decide to walk it. As it turns out I allow more time than I need, but I overshoot the store by a couple of blocks and have to turn around, which conveniently makes me Mister Punctuality. I'm introduced to Dan Mishkin, one of the organisers and co-creator of Amethyst (he wrote the early, good ones) and Blue Devil, who is terrific company and takes very little effort to talk to, which is good, because after a week and a half of conventioning and travelling I find I'm a little burned out on human contact and am fighting the urge to shut my brain off completely. As the evening rolls on it gets a little easier, as I finally get to meet a lot of names who have up until now only been voices on my computer, or names in books and on websites - Kevin Cross (and his smart, funny wife Laura), Mark Rudolph, Diana Nock, Ryan Estrada, Krishna Sadasivam, Sara Turner and others I'm sure I'm blanking on right now. Dave Roman and Raina Telgemeier come in later, as do a lot of other people - the place is filling up. At one point a few of us sneak out for a quick beer - weirdly, every bar we see is closed, despite it being Friday night. We eventually find one, a really rowdy joint where conversation is difficult. I find this a relief, to be honest - I feel the pressure's off. Back to Green Brain for food (houmous, pita bread, vegetables and dips) and the fund-raising art auction which concludes the evening. My piece goes for $150, I think, and I pick up a Raina Telgemeier for $30 (a small one I can take home in my luggage without it getting bent to hell). Mark Rudolph drops me off at the hotel and I work an hour or so on tomorrow's workshop. Feeling a bit better about it now, I sleep at last.
Kids Read Comics Day 1 - Saturday
Wake up nice 'n' early, with an eye towards prepping my workshop one last time before the show - I'm proud of the thought I've put into this; I think I have some sound, teachable strategies worked out for generating comic-strip humour, based on some solid comedy principles. Breakfasted and (more or less) prepared, I put together my wheelie suitcase full of guff and head out to the Henry Ford Centennial Library where the convention is to be held. The mighty Google assures me it's just a short walk away. It is - kind of. What Google doesn't tell you is that there's a significant stretch of the route without any pavement - I'm forced to drag the suitcase along the grass verge. What larks. I get to the library covered in a fine coating of sweat and lawn clippings, ready to face the convention-going public in the manner to which they have no doubt become accustomed.
The show itself is great, if a little slow. Not in a bad way - it's steady, manageable business. Sketches are going well. Books, less so - it looks like I've overstocked and will have to ship a bunch of things home before my plane leaves on Monday, so I'm not totally off the baggage-weight scale. At lunchtime there is food laid on for the exhibitors, courtesy of Art & Story - I have a falafel wrap, which is excellent, and I thank the guys for laying it on. Towards 1pm I'm dragooned into an extra bit of programming, a Quick-Draw event, due to Matt Feazell having to leave for a family emergency. This turns out to be great fun, possibly one of the highlights of the show. Three cartoonists (me, Diana Nock and Mike Bocianowski) are given a challenge made up of suggestions from the audience which they have to draw against a strict time limit, the winner being judged by the volume of audience cheering. Half a dozen challenges later I'm an honorable runner-up. I forget the winner - I think it was Mike - but Diana knocks it out every time with sheer crazy inventiveness. My efforts are more traditional gags, like bad New Yorker cartoons. The kids seemed to like 'em, though.
Back to the table for an hour, then the dreaded workshop. I'm nervous, my notes all laid out in front of me as a visible crutch to get me through. Five seconds in, it's obvious that I've put in a lot of work for nothing, as what essentially happens is a bunch of five-to-ten year olds ask me to draw fart jokes for an hour. I go with the flow - I offer a figleaf of analysis at the end of each bit, once I've drawn the strips we work out together as a group, but this is essentially a sideshow for the kids, with Uncle Roger as their ink gimp. Once I've accepted that, I find it's actually pretty good fun. I make an executive decision at one point and steer a strip away from bodily function humour, because we've already been down that road for a while by this stage, but otherwise my input is more in the way of herding cats.
Back at the table and I'm trading books with loads of people now. This for me is the best part of doing shows in far-flung corners of the world - I get to see a ton of small-scale, small print run books that never get wide comic-shop distribution; everything is utterly unique and this show is the only chance I'll ever get to see most of it. The level of talent around the floor is for the most part really high, probably even more so than at the UK Web and Mini-Comix Thing, which it resembles in terms of scale (and that show's pretty good).
The show wraps up around 6 - I've been invited to a barbecue at Mark Rudolph's place and Zach Bosteel (amazing name!) has offered me a ride there, so after dropping off my artwork at the hotel we head out. It's a hell of a long drive - I think we'd been expecting it to be a half-hour or so, but it takes us over an hour. At one point we get lost and drive miles past our turnoff. Eventually we get there and the beer and conversation is flowing freely. I just have the one drink because I'm pretty tired and another one will have me snoring. There are grilled mushrooms for the vegetarians, and salads and dips and other good things. I sit on the back porch swatting bugs most of the night, enjoying what are essentially hugely entertaining rants by the other guests, particularly Kevin Cross, prodding them once in a while with the occasional question to keep things moving. Zach offers to take me back around midnight - we spend another hour in the car finding the hotel. Zach is good company, an interesting guy with an interesting mind. I resolve to check out his work. Around 1:30am I finally get to bed. I'm getting too old for this...
Kids Read Comics Day 2 - Sunday
Despite my tiredness, I wake up ridiculously early, which is par for the course for me these days. Aargh. Still not early enough to catch Sylvie and the kids, who will be out for the whole day at the annual school fair (Sylvie being one of the chief organisers, she's there hours before everyone else). I write for a while, then I breakfast, shower and brave the grass verges once more. No suitcase this time, fortunately - that, and my books, remain at the library. It's a slow start - someone mentions that everybody's probably still at church, which seems obvious, but living in a country where even the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have his doubts about the existence of God, it surprises me. People still do that? The only churchgoers I know back home do it just to get their kids into good schools.
My workshop rolls around - at noon this time, so I'm getting it out of the way early. It takes much the same form as yesterday's session, only this time Matt Feazell is in the audience, which momentarily paralyses me - I know full well that he could be standing up there instead of me and running rings around my shabby performance. I soldier on, and everybody seems to have fun - those that stay, anyway. A few leave early, for reasons unknown. I'd like to believe it's because they were wanting some of the theory I'd prepared, but I expect it's more likely to be because the thing was an utter shambles. At one point during one of our improvised four-panel strips, desperate for a punchline, I shamelessly recycle a Goon Show joke. If Matt Feazell spotted it, he was kind enough not to mention it. Once we got onto the hands-on stuff, where the kids made their own strips, there was one boy up the front who had the most amazing ideas. I don't know whether it's because my blather about anticipating the obvious and doing the opposite for comic effect had sunk in or whether he just had funny bones, but his stuff was genuinely funny. All the kids were really original - none of them used the characters we'd worked up together, they all made up their own. I felt a warm little glow.
Back at the table, another falafel wrap was waiting for me courtesy of the Falafel Fairy (Jerzy won't like me calling him that). Lunch over, it's back to work. Traffic is slower today, and I get to walk around a bit during longeurs and pick up a few books. Aware that I'm accumulating paper like a madman, I calculate that I'll have enough time to go to the post office on Monday morning before I fly home and ship a ton of it back separately, which seems like the only sane course at this stage. It'll be worth it - I can read my own books anytime, but this stuff needs to be grabbed when I see it.
I got to meet William Messner-Loebs, who told me he's writing for Boom! as well (I told him I read Journey back when it was first coming out, which seemed genuinely to surprise him - maybe I don't look as old as I think). Actually, I met a lot of people and reacquainted myself with a lot of others, and many of the names aren't coming to mind right away, to my shame - I'm pretty awful with names at the best of times, but the last couple of weeks have been a challenge all round. I remember Joe Foo, Paul Storrie, Thom (blanking on surname), Michelangelo something-or other... oh, I'll shut up now, I'm just embarrassing myself. Forgive me, people!
By six o'clock everyone's pretty eager to get out of the joint - it's been a long, slow afternoon, and most of the general public went home an hour ago. Dinner arrangements are made - the plan seems to be to meet in the hotel lobby and head on somewhere from there, so I prevail upon Zach one more time to take me and my heavy suitcase back to the hotel. Soon, gear dumped, I head downstairs, and pretty soon the place is filling up with exhibitors. The plan now seems to be to order pizza to be delivered here - there is beer available at reception in a little fridge you could miss if you blink, so we get in some drinks and the chatter begins. Kevin and I compare notes o the New Zealand punk scene - he's got a smattering of knowledge, but it's all of bands I've never heard of, and I thought I'd at least heard of most 1970s New Zealand bands. I promise to send him some Exploding Budgies and Toy Love and whatnot. Kevin asks me if I've ever been in a band - I mention my only claim to fame in that regard, the mighty "Gondaliers of my Black and Blue Love Canal", in which I perform as Knuckles the Malevolent Nun. He and Mark Rudolph are intrigued by this and make me promise to send them MP3s presently.
(Left to right: Kevin Cross, Laura Cross, Zach Bosteel)
The company is great - really, the company is hysterical - but I feel ever more exhausted and I still need to pack. It's time to say goodbye. I go around the room thanking everybody and slink upstairs to do what needs to be done. It feels like an ending in a way - and I guess it is, as far as this report is concerned - but I feel like I've made some friends.