Okay... so I'm here again, despite my best efforts to weasel out of it. It started well (smell the irony!) - my flight from the UK to America was supposed to have been booked with a vegetarian meal, but wasn't; I had to work my way around a dish of Beef Stroganoff as gingerly as possible, filling up on tasteless rice, carrots and broccoli, boiled to within an inch of its life. Yum yum.
ANYWAY. I was supposed to make a connecting flight in Dallas, but due to the excruciating length of time it took to clear Customs I was late. I missed the damn thing by a whisker; it left at 3:40pm, I arrived at the gate at 3:41, panting, wheezing and sweating. Arse! The lady at the counter was very helpful and put me on standby for the next flight; I was able to get on that one, managed to sleep for maybe half an hour on the flight, and arrived in San Diego not quite fresh as a daisy, but only slightly wilted. I ended up going straight to the convention centre as I was already late - first of all, I had to find someone who could let Boom! know I was there so I could actually enter the building, because they had my badge. While I was sorting that out I ran into Tom Spurgeon and Dave Lanphear, both of whom had issues that needed sorting out and so were waiting in the same queue as me. I'm always amazed how many familiar faces I happen to bump into by chance when I'm wandering around among 120,000 strangers, or however many it is.
So! Inside the hall at last. As usual, the Boom! crew were super-nice and welcoming. Amy Mebberson, my Muppet Show collaborator on the Family Reunion story arc, and Travis Hill, the Toy Story artist, were already swamped with sketch requests. Travis was going to have a particularly busy time of it over the next few days - definitely the man of the hour.
I don't actually remember a whole lot about Wednesday night. I know I was super-tired, which probably explains it. I know I did 11 sketches - they were operating a sketch list that night, which was abandoned on subsequent days in favour of a first-come-first-served system when they saw how snowed-under Travis was getting. Stuff happened! People came! My apologies if I can't remember anybody. In any case, today was really just a warm-up - the real show would start tomorrow. Eventually I trudge back to the Hilton, where I'm staying, and finally check in - I'm sharing with Peter Krause, the artist of Irredeemable, who says he might be up early to go for a run. Good luck, I say - and zzzzz.
My body-clock, still on London time, gives me an early-morning wake-up call and I'm up and out on the street by 6:30am, while Peter's still snoozing away. The convention crowds are already out in force. I make my way to Ralph's, the supermarket, and get some carrots and apples for the sake of having something vaguely healthy to eat later on. For breakfast, though, I weaken and get a croissant. Bad Roger. Bad, bad Roger.
I get back to the hotel. Peter is now out of bed and probably off running somewhere - I take the opportunity to Skype my family and say hello to everyone. Peter comes back in after his run (brave devil that he is) and we compare notes about our respective families - his sons are all more or less grown up. Apparently they all get along really well, which gives me a ray of hope I'll cling to when my own little darlings' wilfil behaviour gets a bit overwhelming.
Off to the convention centre! It's probably the only chance I'll get all day to wander around and take a few pictures before the crowds swarm in, so I take advantage of it. Lots of properties represented which I don't recognise - of course I don't, I spend eleven months of the year in an attic staring at a piece of paper - and lots more I'm vaguely aware of that don't seem to have even the slightest connection to the comics medium, which raises an argument that's been done to death. Let's just say I get why they're there - there are probably only 50,000 regular comic readers in the entire English-speaking world, if that, and their numbers are dwindling all the time; they have to get those crowds in for something - but I think it's kind of sad that the medium after which the entire show is named is treated like some sort of ugly cousin who smells of wee. But maybe that's just me. (Not smelling of wee, I mean. Oh, let's move on.)
The show begins - and the sketches. Looking back after the show, it'll be clear to me that today is my busiest day sketch-wise, but in the middle of it, I'm just kind of zoning out - drawing is what I do all day anyway, after all. Some familiar faces stop by - Mister Phil, Andrew Farago, Zach Bosteel. Zach asks me along to a drink-and-draw event that night, which sounds like fun - it's only after he leaves that I remember the official Boom! Drink-Up is later on tonight and I should really be there instead. I finally get to meet my original editor on the Muppets, Paul Morrissey, who's working on the Fraggle Rock books these days. Fellow Act-I-Vater Jim Dougan stops by just as I'm getting ready to leave at the end of the day and asks if I have dinner plans - I don't, so we get a meal at an Indian restaurant and trade stories about our in-laws. His seem really nice. I tell Jim about how my mother-in-law routinely locks me in the garage whenever I come and visit, and about how she has the TV unplugged and facing the wall because "the newsreaders are saying rude things about her". And I'm off for another visit two days after I get back from San Diego! I love my life.
Dinner done, we move on to the Hilton for the Boom! Studios "Drink-Up" (what we call a Piss-Up where I come from) and Jim kindly gets the first round in. He goes ashen-faced when he hears the price. I'm jet-lagged out of my brain and by this stage I'm just about falling over, but I resolve to stick around at least long enough to buy Jim one in return. We end up talking a bit about my Barney Google obsession - I reckon I'll have 95% of Billy DeBeck's run on the strip scanned by the end of the year - and the current newspaper strip reprint boom in general. It's good times for someone like me right now. Jim has a penchant for some of the later realistically-drawn soap-opera strips, the Stan Drake-type stuff. Strange to think that once upon a time, if you had serious ambitions as a cartoonist, newspapers were the place to be. Thanks to the web, the daily format has had a resurgence in recent years. Daily increments of great cartoonists - the perfect delivery system. By 10:30pm I'm ready to call it a night; by 11:15 I'm snoring.
I'm up early again, though not quite as early as yesterday. Just in time to grab a coffee and another naughty croissant. It's the Eisner Awards tonight - I know I'm not going to win before I start, but even so, I mentally rehearse what I might say if I'm actually called up there. Which I won't be. I've been convinced since the nominations were first announced that the award would be going to John Stanley, because he's, you know, JOHN STANLEY.
More sketching - Amy's taking up some of Travis' overload on the Toy Story sketches today, as she's done some covers on the books and is thus eminently qualified. This manages to keep some sort of lid on the length of Travis' queue, which is pretty preposterous by now. More familiar faces stop by the table (Robert Goodin and Paul Maybury among them) and I finally get to meet my second Muppet Show editor, Aaron Sparrow. He tells me a drawing I did for him last year, a Muppet/Alice in Wonderland mash-up, is is responsible for the relationship he's currently in. Good lord. Apparently it won the fair lady's heart.
The One Wot Won It
During my lunch break I manage to pick up a few gaudy trinkets for the family back home. For the kids, some miniature Simpsons figurines and some Nightmare Before Christmas peppermints; for Sylvie, a set of Jordan Crane postcards (she's a big fan of Mr Crane). I bump into Joshua Leto behind a booth; he gave me some money at SDCC last year for some artwork which he was going to choose at a later date, and here we are a year later and we still haven't sorted it out - so we agree to fix that at the earliest opportunity. The artist he's with is amazing - unfortunately, his name completely escapes me for the moment, but I picked up one of his postcards with the intention of ordering some books when I get home.
On my way back to the booth I bump into Andrew Farago again, working the Cartoon Art Museum table. He points out where his wife Shaenon Garrity is stationed - it's great to see her again; it's been five years! Blimey. Dinner plans for Saturday are discussed. I very much want to see more of them before I go home.
Amy and I meet Darth Gonzo
Back at the Boom! booth, I'm given instructions on what's happening tonight at the Eisners. Everyone is to scrub up and look presentable. There's going to be food laid on for VIPs and award nominees - grand. The afternoon whizzes by - by the end of the day I've done 43 sketches; my running total for the show so far is an exact 100 sketches. Time to put my hand in a bucket of cold water.
Eisners! Peter Krause is up for a few as well, so we clean up, put on our fancy duds and head down to the hall where the ceremony is to be held. We're early, but Peter sees Kurt Busiek in a corner and offers to introduce us. Peter and Kurt have obviously known one another a while; they have one of those relationships where they insult one another mercilessly with big smiles on their faces. I mention that I sem to be digging a niche for myself as a writer of comics for people who don't usually read comics, something I'm quite proud of; Kurt says he used to have something of that reputation, but he got tired of it because those books receive very little support from their publishers as a rule. It's a sobering thought and one I'll have to sleep on.
Peter Krause and I in our Fancy Duds
In the Eisner hall we meet Tony Parker, also up for a gong for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Other Boomers start to trickle in; before long there are three tables full of us. To cut a long story short, none of us won a blessed thing; my category lost to Scott Pilgrim, which in retrospect I really should have seen coming - that property is pretty unassailable at Comic-Con this year. My hotel has an ad for the film on the side of it several stories high, for crying out loud - and, bizarrely, three of the award categories are presented by the entire cast of the film, which, if that wasn't a bit of paid advertising, sure as hell looked like it was. Actually, I expect the film itself will be great - it's directed by Edgar Wright, who has yet to deliver a dud. Spaced is still one of the top sitcoms of the nineties (Father Ted being the only other serious contender off the top of my head).
After the show I see Charlie Adlard, who picked up an award for The Walking Dead, and we chat for a bit. He's joined by Duncan Fegredo, Sean Phillips and Shelley Bond, and I wallow in the familiar accents as we pass some time. Then, some drinks at the bar as we drown our sorrows, although to be honest, I'm not that bothered; even if I'd won, I'd essentially be accepting the award on behalf of Jim Henson, who is the guy everyone really would have been voting for. I see a few people I know - Frazer Irving, Shannon Wheeler (Too Much Coffee Man), Stephen Notley (also known as "the Bob the Angry Flower guy"), Bryce Carlson from Boom! and his lovely girlfriend Lindsey, who's just arrived. Then I'm out of there, acutely feeling the length of the day.
Gonna whiz through this one, as I failed to make notes at the time so I'm already forgetting most of it. Early start, as usual; I drop by the Marvel both with the intention of introducing myself (they've got a huge Thor throne set up there and are giving away Thor the Mighty Avenger #1, which I wrote), but I can't get anybody's attention apart from one guy who has no idea who I am, but is friendly and apologetic that he's no-one important. Well, you were nice to me, that's important enough. Off to the Boom! booth - lots of sketching, lots of meeting people. At one point a guy comes up who tells me he was part of the team who created Doctor Teeth under Michael Frith. I don't know enough of the trivia to know if his story checks out, but I've got no reason not to believe him - I gratefully shake his hand.
Thirty-eight sketches today.
Show over, I head towards Andrew Farago and Shaenon Garrity for our dinner appointment. We're joined by Comics Journal editor Kristy Valenti, who at first I don't recognise - it's been years since or last fleeting introduction, and her hair was a different colour then - and some other people I haven't seen in forever, Dirk Tiede and Jason Thompson among them.
Dinner is at a different Indian restaurant from the one I went to on Thursday, and is excellent. Shaenon mentions she's been doing some teaching lately and finds it terrifying - I have the same feeling about doing the occasional workshop at events like Kids Read Comics, although it turns out we're both terrified for completely different reasons. Anyway, it's really nice to catch up with them. My tired brain has trouble holding up my side of the conversation - by the time we're done I'm ready to call it a night. Shaenon, Andrew and Kristy walk me back to the hotel and I collapse into bed.
Kristy, Andrew and Shaenon
My flight is an afternoon one today, so I'm only at the con for the morning. I have a panel at 10am conducted by Mark Waid, who I've barely seen throughout the show - the only times I've seen him he's been accompanied by an impossibly glamorous-looking lady friend, and he gets me to do a sketch for her while we get started. The panel goes well, Mark making it easy, as he does - one guy in the audience has an idea for a plotline which I initially am resistant towards, then I start to consider ways it might work, and by the time I get back downstairs I think I've got four issues out of it. Mark promises him free swag if he drops by the booth, which I certainly hope he did. Soon it's time to say goodbye - I can't get out of there fast enough by this stage, but I put the brakes on long enough to say goodbye properly to the Boom! gang, staff and fellow artists, who have been 100% friendly, kind, helpful and supportive throughout the whole thing. Good people.
Soon I'm on the plane and on my way home. I find it easy to sleep for a change - not really surprising, I suppose. I'm glad it's over for another year. Hopefully forever - I'd love to avoid it from now on - but I doubt that's possible. Every time I think I've done my last Comic-Con, like the mafia, they pull me back in. As long as I don't wake up with Stan Lee's head in my bed I supose that's a cross I can live with.