The following statistics were compiled as part of the Worldwide Blogging Census. What follows is for International Blogging Commission use only.
Braces: 5 years
Broken Bones: 2
Vegetarian: Yes, except for veal and sea turtle meat
Blogging nemesis: Unknown
Comics drawn to date: 1518
Beat Super Mario Bros. at age: 10
Beat Super Mario Bros. 2 at age: 19
Animals brought back from extinction: Moa, Velociraptor
Foreign language fluency: Kryptonian, Irish
Batman or Superman: Batman
Nerdiness quotient: 89
High school popularity rating: 13%
Total girlfriends: 8
Imaginary girlfriends: 8
Number of people likely to attend funeral: 409
Number of celebrities at funeral: 12
Facebook friends: 2,980
Half court basketball shots made: 0
Framed for murder: 1
Shot a man in Reno: 1
Tattoos designed for others: 1
Lifetime average hourly salary: $5.15
Percent chances of dying from brain tumor due to cell phone use: 74%
Most likely cause of death: ennui
Awards or Honors: Voted “King Tuna” at the Gilbert, Arizona Tuna Fish Festival (1996), 3rd Place in National Stock Market Game (7th grade), Got Out of Physical Education For Half a Year (7th grade)
This year marked my first pilgrimage to NerdFest 09, also known as ComicCon. ComicCon is the largest comics convention in the world. It was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen. You could fill the Grand Canyon with the geeks, dorks, and nerds attending ComicCon. If you stacked all the comics from ComicCon, the pile would reach Saturn. Big is not a big enough word. Neither is huge or gigantic. Galactic may work, as it has the ring of science fiction. Essentially, ComicCon is the San Diego convention center overrun with comics and comic-related phenomena, spilling out into downtown.
In addition to the convention on the ground floor, the second floor hosted a continuous stream of panels and talks by some of the best cartoonists around. Sure, if you wanted to see James Cameron and Peter Jackson gab about movie stuff, you’d have to wait 2 1/2 hours in the sun. But for a brilliant cartoonist like Richard Thompson all you had to do was find the right room. I don’t have to tell you people’s priorities are messed up. On the other hand, James Cameron gave people 3D glasses. How can a newspaper cartoonist compete with 3D glasses?
Richard took us on a journey through Richard’s Poor Almanack, his weekly for the Washington Post, and the origins of the daily Cul de Sac. Cul de Sac, as I’ve mentioned before, is the best comic strip in papers today, bar none. His humor is wry and goofy at the same time, which is probably why I identify with it so strongly. He’s also one heckuva artist. Unsurprisingly, he began his career as an illustrator and, as he put it, started sneaking words in until he arrived at comics. Instead of deciding beforehand he wanted to make comics, he slowly realized comics was the best means of expression for him. It was similar (yet backwards) to my own discovery: writing came first and I slowly added pictures.
(Below is neither Cul de Sac or Falling Rock. It is an original Pogo Sunday, which I was happily allowed to photograph for free. Buying it would have put me out about 500 bucks.)
Stephan was cheered for getting his PowerPoint presentation up and running. It was somewhat surprising they had any technical difficulties at all. I would think you could page the convention floor for help: “ComicCon attendees: is there anyone in the crowd with IT experience? Does anyone know how to work a computer?”
It was not surprising to hear Stephan got his initial inspiration from Peanuts and Dilbert, as that aesthetic permeates Pearls Before Swine to great success. He told a very funny story about angering an entire country: Turkey. In one strip, he named a llama Atatürk. This is seen as sacrilege: like a Turkish cartoonist naming a doofus character Washington Lincoln Jefferson. The scandal culminated in Stephan’s receiving an admonishing letter from the Ambassador of Turkey.
Jeff Smith signed at Cartoon Books. I was truly surprised when he recognized my comic book. I had sent him a copy a while ago, after I missed seeing him at Stumptown in Portland. The man must have the memory of an elephant, because he said he owed me a letter and made his inscription “To the creator of Falling Rock…” If there’s any cartoonist who is able to make comics accessible to readers of all ages and that don’t necessarily read comics, it’s Mr. Smith. If you haven’t read Bone, Shazam, or Rasl, do it. Now. Now!
Keith Knight (The K Chronicles) generously talked about self-syndication and gave me a badly needed boost to continue promoting Falling Rock. One booth over, Bob the Angry Flower creator Stephen Notley (in full flower regalia) signed my copy of Everybody vs. Bob the Angry Flower. While I was talking to Stephen, Keith interjected some tips aimed at Stephen about how to get Bob into more papers. Keith is not only a great cartoonist but a savvy businessman AND he looks good in a hat. Triple threat.
Kevin McShane, creator of ToupyDoops. When I first got to college, I checked the school paper to size up who I’d have to compete with for space. ToupyDoops was THE strip. Everyone knew it and loved it. Kevin turned out to be a great guy in addition to a talented cartoonist, and my strip, Atticus and Glen, wouldn’t have been as good if I didn’t have ToupyDoops as friendly competition. I was pleasantly surprised to see him again and glad he’s still cartooning.
Steve Lieber, Whiteout. I’m excited to read this murder mystery set in Antarctica. Steve also passed along a preview of his upcoming story Underground, about a cave in a state park in Kentucky and how differently the townspeople and park rangers see it. The townspeople want to open it to tourists and the rangers want to keep it closed for preservation. Values clash! Ed Abbey would have liked this comic, I think.
Scott C.’s Double Fine Action Comics. I’ve been following Scott’s blog for a while now, really enjoying his watercolor prints. Meeting him in person, he struck me as an older, taller, cooler, more successful version of myself. Action Comics is a web comic he later collected into a book. His day job? Video game designer. He also has a beard. Triple threat!
I made new friends; perhaps they saw a guy not dressed as a stormtrooper and thought “he can’t be in the right place.” Christian Ward, whose series Olympus is fantastic and not done with watercolor (but don’t tell anyone). Stephen McCranie is an Albuquerque cartoonist and is as talented as he is tall (he’s tall).
Of course I had to wander the movie side of the convention. It was there that I got all my cool swag, including: a Green Lantern ring that lights up (I’m thinking of going back in time and proposing to my wife with this Green Lantern ring.), a gigantic Watchmen swag bag, a Transformers seat cushion that does not transform into a robot, a light-up Astro Boy pin, an Adventureland key chain that lights up, and a few other buttons and posters that do not light up.
There were no less than two captain chairs from the deck of the USS Enterprise at the Con. One was part of a raffle. Yes, you could win Captain Kirk’s chair. Every time I walked by, someone was getting their picture taken while sitting in the chair. I was recruited for employment at Stark Industries. I saw Kenan Thompson (of Saturday Night Live) walking into a restaurant and subsequently getting stopped for pictures. Seth Green (of Robot Chicken) was doing some kind of webcast from the convention floor.
A few celebrities I did not see but were there: Kristen Bell, James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Sigourney Weaver, Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, Henry Selick & Neil Gaiman (promoting Coraline’s DVD release), Eliza Dusku, Denzel Washington (?!?!?!), and more! Since I’m already good friends with Denzel, why try to get together at the busy Con? We’ll just have a beer back at his place in Indiana.
Finally, the ComicCon experience would not be complete without a stack of new reading material to take home:
Neptune, by Aron Nels Steinke. He was not able to attend ComicCon in person, but Aron’s book made its debut in San Diego. Having finished reading it, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to people who A) have either read comics before or not, B) like books or don’t, C) think Dick Cheney should run for President or think he’s the Great Satan. All political joking aside, Neptune is, like Jeff Smith’s Bone, accessible to anyone. I hope it becomes a huge seller so I can sell my signed copy on ebay for 50 million dollars. Which reminds me, I saw an issue of Spider-Man #1 at ComicCon. That shouldn’t be out in the open. It belongs in a museum!
Owly: Tiny Tales, Andy Runton
The Gigantic Robot, Tom Gauld
Little Mouse Gets Ready, Jeff Smith
Lonely Heart, Tara McPherson
Mountain lions, like Rashida Jones, are best admired from a distance. Both are beautiful elegant creatures, yet both become deadly when approached. Get too close and something (claws and teeth, a huge bodyguard named Big Bip) turns a magical encounter into a trip to the local ER. Today I want to talk about mountain lions, especially as they relate to my character Melissa in Welcome to Falling Rock National Park.
Melissa is, as hawk-eyed readers have pointed out, a mountain lion. She is interested in abstract sculpture, sleeping, devouring small desert creatures, and the short stories of Richard Yates and Lorrie Moore. Like real mountain lions, Melissa can often be found napping on a warm rock in the morning or in the shade during the hot afternoons. Also like mountain lions, she can only be found when she wants to be.
There is an exhibit at the Denver Zoo (in Denver!) featuring a snapshot of a family on vacation in Colorado’s foothills. The picture seems innocuous at first. However, it has been enlarged and a certain area highlighted to the left of the family. In that spot, not twenty feet from where the oblivious parent and children stand, a mountain lion lurks in the tall grass. The family hadn’t noticed anything amiss until they got home and developed the photograph.
That’s just how mountain lions roll. If they need something, they take it. If they don’t want to be seen, they won’t be. I have been told a mountain lion’s roar sounds like a woman shrieking. Though I’ve never heard it myself, I can imagine it would be mighty unsettling to hear that sound outside my tent, many miles from civilization. When I was in Boulder, I often went running along the mountain trails just outside of town. These trails could not have been safer. They were used constantly, sun or rain or snow. I never walked a snow-covered trail that didn’t have multiple footprints already, no matter when the most recent snowfall occurred. This did not mean they were mountain-lion-free, however.
I was helping a customer at the store where I worked. When I was looking up a book for him, he told me he’d seen me running the other day. “Oh really?” I said, somewhat surprised to be recognized. “Yeah,” he said, then he really surprised me. “I’ve also seen mountain lions on that trail, so be careful.” I did my best to look strong and healthy the next time I ran that particular trail; mountain lions are opportunists like the rest of us and won’t work harder than necessary for a meal.
If you have the luxury of seeing a mountain lion before it rips out your throat, you should make yourself look as big and frightening as possible. If you’re with another person, stand together arm-in-arm and wave your free hands like crazy. Make lots of noise too. The mountain lion won’t go after a big scary creature with two heads.
If I ever have a hard time getting a handle on what Melissa would say in a particular situation, it is only because mountain lions are so inscrutable. Sure, they have to eat, and they sleep a lot like all cats. But there is something more to them. A mysterious core knowledge that may only be known by the mountain lions themselves. It is compelling yet utterly unknowable by the likes of me. I do my best to approximate.