A view from the Room at the 2015 MoCCA Arts Fest in NYC
So you’ve done it! After having what I assumed has has been a number of previous visits to other conventions, (at least I hope you have because what kind of lunatic would sign up to be in a con right out of the blue?) You have decided to take the plunge and stand on the other side of the table have done at you what you have done to others. This is a big moment, and an important one, (at least for that weekend… and the week before as you prep and the week after as you decompress). You will never work has hard drink as many liquids nor smile as often as you will ever do anywhere else in life. And this is a good thing because if this was what life was like we’d all be dead from it before the end of the month. So below is a list culled from my own personal and deeply considered observations considered above all reproach by no one everywhere.
No one attends a convention who doesn’t really want to be there. I mean REALLY want to be there. These aren’t advertised on tv or on billboards. Your Mom and Dad likely don’t even know they exist and are probably glad for that. Cons are like psychedelic speak-easies where every year the password is the same and all the punch is spiked. Not all are the big cosplay parades, but are just a place for people who love the work. Nevertheless, they’re the softest targets for mockery but you know as much as I also contribute to it, I will also defend these goofballs forever because at the heart of every show is a heart beating full on love in all the most wonderfully weird ways possible. No one’s trying to be cool at these things, and those that are are hilarious. They are a celebration of everything the world is not: technicolored fantasticals that defy at least six laws of physics peopled by people WHO READ BOOKS. They are an opportunity for peers to reconnect and catch up, a place to meet publishers and find work, and meet your public, (or soon to be public).
So as we gear up for con season, here are some pointers for those of us inside the booth and some stuff for the attendees too. What started as a short quirky silly ranting turned into more of an epic poem of ridiculousness so I’ve decided int he spirit of internet mercy, to split this article into two separate parts. This below being the first:
Weapons check at SDCC. THis is actually a thing, and if you get there early enough you can actually see a line of every cos-player ever imagined, all together, waiting to have their various swords, hammers, or laser rifles checked for safety. One of the best, unknown secret displays of this particular show.
Why do I start with the security element, because friends, these tireless keepers of the peace will be be all up in your business this weekend. They are like your ultra-religious parents who died in a balloon accident and now must haunt your illicit house parties scolding you of not using a coaster. They hate your friends and your music and they really do not care to even bother looking at the ironically devotional X-men sunglasses you upscaled for the day. And why wouldn’t they be- they have to be the chaperones at the weirdest school prom ever. Their job is not to have fun by design, but to make sure your fun is not taken too far and everyone gets out all right. They are the gatekeepers and I have found it is best for all to make friends with them, no matter how mean they are. In fact find the meanest one and make them smile and you are done. They can answer questions, tell you where secret cut-throughs are, steer you away from the most congested entrances. They can be your dungeon masters or they can be your doom- it’s your choice and I suggest you chose wisely. They are there to keep stuff in order, and this is where they should be forgiven because that job sucks. There is no order at these things, just a constant flow of fleeing screaming people from the Poseiden Adventure but running back and forth between two upside down boats. They are the chaperones at your frat party and that job is poopy on every level so while I encourage you to remain afraid of them, please be empathetic to their plight. Put yourselves int heir shoes and as your self honestly if you would be smiling right now as a Dark-Wing-Duck/Drag-Queen-Thor tried to sneak past the ticket line? Nossir. You would not.
From A PIRATE’S GUIDE TO RECESS (by James Preller))
This is the hardest, most stressful and darkest point of the entire experience, but only if you don’t count it’s kissing cousin, The Taker-Downer. You will never be more narcissistic and selfish in your life as you will be in setting up at a show. You will find yourself feeling the urge to step on a child’s face if it gets you into that freight elevator on the first go. Don’t worry, these feelings are common as I have seen the sweetest of men turn dark right before my eyes. And that’s part of the problem: Everyone in that room, or on that street is feeling the exact same way. The whole thing is basically a controlled act of anticipatory panic, so knuckle up, breathe deep, and go with it. Thing is, everyone gets where they need to be and you will too. Shoving not required. I saw Will Eisner once make a behind the back choking gesture at a rude young woman, who’d obviously was the most important person in the building, as she banged her display poles against his cheek at SPX a while back. (Will Eisner was the man upon whom butterflies and innocent forest creatures would gather for comfort and safety, so you can feel some solace that even he was brought to the dark place by the overwhelming madness). These places make you crazy.
Once you arrive at your station ten miles away from where you were told was the nearest elevator, you can finally relax and enjoy the show. Wait, no you can’t. Now you have to unpack everything and set up all your wares and books and signs and guess what? Everyone else who you just fought against to be here is doing the same thing, and I guarantee the fellow you said that mean thing to when he rolled over your toe with her dolly in the lobby, will be set up right next door. If you come into this with karma on your ticket, this is where that ticket will be punched. Trust me on this. Your masking tape won’t work, the extension chord you brought is to short, you STILL haven’t had breakfast and the con is in ohmygod TEN MINUTES! The thing that makes this thing worse is what can save you. We’re all drowning in the same water here, (except for you, smart and organized con-person who was set up and sits happily five minutes after arrival. You don’t count. We all hate you only because we all wish we were you), so take the time for a share shrug when thunderously bang your head on your table, or hilariously drop part of your pipe-and-drape on your booth partner’s nose. Be a good neighbor and take solace in the fact you are all on this cruise ship of crazy together. You’ve just met your neighbors and this is your new neighborhood, so make sure to ask if anyone needs a drink when you go for one, take time to smile and say hello when really all you want to do is drink a bottle of Ripple and pass out on a hotel bed.
If I had to sum this up, it would be this way: Imagine conducting a reverse evacuation drill where everyone decided they needed to save every pointythingthey owned, and then bring it inside impatiently. THAT my good friend, is a con set up.
Emmett, “Silver Tipping” in Maine
First Impressions are the ONLY Impressions.
This isn’t a semester’s long discourse on the complexities of human interactive models and modes of gestalt, this is speed dating on the top of a cab on the FDR while drunk. There is no time for do overs and the one mutual human experience is that as a return to our primordial rules for jungle survival, if you’re a dick for a flash second on that convention floor, you are now a dick forever and ever. It’s not your fault, there’s just too many damned humans everywhere to take the time to invest in forgiveness. This can unfold as you are asked to sign a book moments after say, spilling luke warm con-coffee on your lap and you scowl at them. it can also blossom from the misinterpretation of you making a crude hand gesture to a friend across the aisle just as a mother of six passes right before you holding her over forty happy accident baby. (and as a sidebar, babies at a convention are the best worst things EVER. I have had babies, two of them so far, and as such like most veterans when I see a baby all those now dormant kootchy-koos come roaring back. Babies at a convention remind me of what life was like when it was innocent and their heads smell like cashew-scented hope. But walking around with a stroller on a show floor is the WORST and being stuck behind a table while a frazzled parent just tries to get five damned minutes for themselves as their scream-baby drools all over your original art sucks for you no doubt. Babies just don’t give a $#!t about any of this, and they really don’t give a $#!t-a-doodle-doo about how long you took to get that panel structure on your comics page right… that they are now using as a napkin. SO forgive the baby carriers you see, given them a wink and raise a glass to them- for they have it much worse than you do and they just need a friggin break).
In short there isn’t a lot of time to slow grow an impression of someone at a show, and what you broadcast will stick as a label, so I recommend you chose your labels well. This is a show and you are its main performer, so smile, be personable and patient. They have come to see you, so make sure you give them a reason to come back next year, not use you as a reason to discourage others to enjoy themselves. If you’re going to get bumper stickered- try aiming for Mr Natural and not that drunken Superman impersonator who keeps oggling people’s daughters. Chose well, young Jedi, for the Force is all around you and the path to the Dark Side is all too easily found.
Interior cover for the initial tpb FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND with Steve Niles.
Try not to go outside.
It sounds cruel but there’s nothing worse than suddenly finding yourself in the microwave oven blast of fresh air and sunlight after being inside a convention all day long. It’s like someone threw Gollum into the middle of The Sound of Music and EVERYONE else is Julie Andrews. (for the record you are the Gollum in this metaphor). In most shows, and really in all shows save for SDCC, this is a real danger. (SDCC is unique in that despite the fine weather of the San Diego area, there is now no possible escape from the con as it is metastasized throughout the entire surrounding city. Proof: I decided to walk to a book launch for the Lost Boy at a hotel roof about ten blocks away from the convention center, because I thought it was closer than it was, (it was not close at all), and I could use a break from the glare of cosplayers and pretend zombies grabbing my ankles on every street corner. I can tell you this with a real life tear in my eye that it was turtles all the way down, people. Not for one square inch of that entire city did I see a normal city populated by the normal boring city people that I so craved. It never ended and I honestly had to check my location with the stars above just to make sure I was actually moving through physical space and not on a treadmill inside the convention floor hall. That show does not have a boundary anymore. Be ready for that. There will be snarky overly awake imperial stormtroopers in your elevator even at 6am when you just want to try to get to the everything bagels before they’re gone prior to the show.)
You’ll see it when you happen to pass by an open front door on the way to the bathroom or a panel discussion you’re ten minutes late for. The light will taunt and tease you, it wants you, and really like a house-plant crammed in the trunk of a car on moving day, you want it. If you feel you are strong enough to withstand the overwhelming desire to start running away as a baby might if released from its strtoller into traffic on 6th Avenue, then go for it. It can be a real salve. I would then at this stage avoid reflective objects. Every mirror is a Dorian Grey moment and you really do not want to see what color your skin has become after two days under those con-floor lights. No you do not. Remember when the nazi’s opened the Ark in Raiders? It’s that, but with tee-shirts.
Now when the show is over for the day, despite the mad rush that everyone has for the same few restaurants int he area, make sure to enjoy the outside like it was cool sweet water to a Freman of Dune. You need this. You want this. And you know what? You’ve busted your hump all day long being a swell participant and you deserve a good drink and a fine dinner with friends. This is the part of cons where most people get into trouble. They overdo it, they get rowdy, stay up to late and cause a ruckus. I say go for it. Life is short and the con is long and if you need to scream loud and run through the streets, do it. Get it all out of your system for tomorrow, like winter, is coming, and there will be no time for that foolishness then.
Nate at the Ashfield Lake ready to make the plunge.
Know when to see the show yourself and how to do it right.
This may seem like the most obvious of suggestions, but it’s important to get out from behind your table and see the others in the show. If you have friends elsewhere, go give em a quick hello. When they do the same to you it will be like that shaft of light through a never ending ash-cloud of the Mountt St. Helen’s of your day, and it’s upon you to deliver that self-same ray of joy wherever you can. There is a right time and a wrong time to do this as there is a right and wrong way to do this. Doing this at say, the setting up- WRONG TIME, for example. I have found the best time to see the work at a show is on the second morning just before it all opens up again to the public. No one’s over spent their life force on too many nights out, if the show is going badly it hasn’t really happened yet, and it really is the only time to get to see the work on display without fighting off the ones for whom it’s actually on display for. Plus as a bonus if you happen upon a booth of work that say, features a series of tee shirts of the Teletubbies in the act of shaving their hairy armpits while on horseback, (true story- this exists), chances are that guy isn’t at his table yet and you can avoid having to hear why it’s so meta and awesome.
If you can’t pull this off, and must do a visit during the show- totally fine, and sometimes the only way to catch a break from your booth- then know how to do it right. When meeting with friends don’t overstay. They are there to work and sell to other humans, don’t put them in a place where they feel they have to be rude by cutting you off mid story so they can do their thing. Also try stand to the side or even if possible, behind their table- especially if invited to do so. Standing in front of the table and sharing a daring adventure of the previous night’s dinner is lovely, but can’t you see all the people queueing up behind you? Get out of the way and let them pass, Gandalf! Remember as many times as you have been at a show with your colleagues it’s still not YOUR show, but is in fact for thems who hath paid to visit it and you. Unless the con-pal brings you tiny delicious pies that remind you what joy tastes like and then you can let that guy do whatever the hell he wants.
Greg Ruth has been working in comics since 1993 and has published work for The New York Times, DC Comics, Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics, Harper Collins, Hyperion, Macmillan and Simon and Schuster amongst many others.
He has shown his paintings in New York, Houston, and Baltimore, and exhibited a series of murals at New York's Grand Central Terminal.
He has also helped craft music videos for Rob Thomas, and Prince, and has illustrated children's pictures books including; Our Enduring Spirit (with President Barack Obama), A Pirate's Guide to First Grade (with James Preller) and Red Kite, Blue Kite (with Ji Li Jiang), as well as many illustrated novels.
Greg currently lives and works in Western Massachusetts.