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comic-con 2014

This year I almost didn’t make it to San Diego ComicCon. In December I received a letter informing me that I was waitlisted. It hit me hard. ComicCon has become a highlight of the year and I’d hate to miss it. Fortunately I am tenacious, and in late May a cancellation got me into the show. A few very busy weekends later, I finished Falling Rock National Park #4 in time for its San Diego debut, hopped on a plane, and found myself once again in the Happiest Place on Earth.

The convention did not disappoint. Massive crowds, interesting (and sometimes inexplicable) installations, a Paul Rudd sighting, and of course many good friends stopping by my table in Small Press to say hello.

My neighbors were Alec Longstreth and Greg Means, two friends from way back. They played a game created at WonderCon called Cosplay Alphabet. You have to spot people dressed as characters in alphabetical order. The game made us extra aware of the people passing by on all sides. Sadly, we got all the way to Z but didn’t see a zombie or Zorro in the final half hour of the show. Still, it was a great way to fill the slow times (in Small Press, that does happen occasionally).

What marked this year apart from the past two were my meetings with two television networks. I can’t say much about it as of yet, but it was the most exciting thing to happen to me at any ComicCon. You can be sure I’ll have more to say as soon as there is something to say. What I will say now is that this feels like the right progression for me. I’m living that legend the old-timers tell, about the indie cartoonist who gets scooped up at ComicCon by a benevolent massive corporation. The American Dream is alive at ComicCon.

I did my first-ever convention signing, at the Uclick booth. When I was drawing a comic strip, I sent in a submission to the comic syndicates every year. Universal Press Syndicate was my favorite, partly because they seemed the most approachable and partly because they syndicated Calvin & Hobbes. So it was something of a dream come true when they asked to run my graphic novel, Tomb of the Zombies, on their website this fall. As part of the huge promotional push for my masterwork, they asked me to sit at their booth for an hour and sign Tomb of the Zombies prints. It was totally awesome.

This show would not have been possible for me to do alone. That is why I am grateful for my wife, who not only designed the nifty book ribbons for my Falling Rock 4-book collection, but overnighted copies of Falling Rock #3 after I had completely forgotten to pack a single one.

I also have to acknowledge Rachael, who I met at ComicCon four years ago. She’s been at my table for the past two years, giving me all-important breaks for food, nature, and a chance to visit friends at tables all over the convention center. If not for her, I’d be one of the walking dead by the end of Thursday.

Some cool things I saw that are not Paul Rudd:
Tom Kenny exited an elevator I was about to enter. I smiled, recognizing him as both the voice of SpongeBob and a player on Mr. Show. He looked at my badge and said, “Oh, hi Josh! Sorry I didn’t recognize you.” We shook hands. I couldn’t do anything but grin. I met SpongeBob! He’s so nice! Why did he apologize to me?

Jim Lee was giving clues to fans as to the whereabouts of sketches he’d hidden all around the hotel next to the convention center. Although I didn’t find any, I spent a good ten minutes looking under tables and around ferns.

The original Bill Watterson/Stephan Pastis Pearls Before Swine comics. They are being auctioned to benefit Parkinson’s research. This was the second time in my life I’d been able to see original art by Mr. Watterson, and it was just as thrilling as the first. A woman beside me was nearly in tears. Standing there on the convention floor was more spiritually moving than being at a museum in front of a Picasso or Monet. (Those guys are fine, don’t get me wrong.)

Scott McCloud stopped to talk to Alec and Greg, and I waylaid him before he scurried off. He and I both were pretty frazzled on Sunday afternoon, but I was able to communicate how much I liked his interview for the documentary Stripped. He’s an incredibly nice guy, and I’m glad we got to chat for a few minutes.

Near the end of the day on Sunday, Matt Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, walked by my table. Not recognizing him (he’s actually much better looking than his comic suggests), I gave him a postcard. He looked at my books for a few minutes and asked what tools I use. He’s exclusively digital, so I don’t think my suggestions were much help to him. Then he asked me if I did sketches. I said, Sure, why not? He wanted me draw his lady friend as a zombie. We were all laughing pretty hard at the absurdity of this whole exchange. She was understandably embarrassed, not knowing what kind of hideous creature I’d turn her into. I think I did right by her, though, and he was suitably impressed with my on-the-spot sketch. This was the best-case scenario for convention sketches. I can now retire from them forever.

There was more, of course, but this post has gotten unwieldy enough. I hope it has given you a taste of ComicCon. Until next year, when I get to learn about pop culture all over again.

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san diego comic-con 2014

sdcc-profile-2014

I will be returning to the one and only ComicCon later this month! This year promises to be even more exciting, for the following reasons:
1. I will have the BRAND-NEW Falling Rock National Park #4
2. I will have signed copies of Dear Mr. Watterson on DVD
3. I will be signing FREE POSTERS of Tomb of the Zombies at the Uclick booth.
4. My neighbors, Greg Means (Tugboat Press) and Alec Longstreth (Phase 7) are so awesome I can hardly even look them in the eye.
5. I will have an exclusive, TOP SECRET (unless you follow me on Instagram) print.
…and of course, Henry the Horse dances the waltz.
So come one, come all! Small Press will feel like an oasis of sanity after waiting 6 hours in line to see The Avengers.

comic-con 2012

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Blog comic con

SDCC 2013


My second year exhibiting at the Greatest Show on Earth was a raging success. I did my best sales ever, beating last year’s record. I saw lots of old friends and met a few new ones. I wasn’t devoured by zombies. I’ve already applied to next year’s show, so with luck you can find me back in Small Press, row O, same time next July.

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Are You There Thor? It's Me, Margaret #sdcc

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Frequent table-mate Reid decided to take a year off, so I had a whole table to fill.

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Are we ready? Yes we are. #sdcc

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Although I was technically tabling alone, I had plenty of help. My friend Rachael, a San Diegan and a biology student, was my official assistant for the show. She gave me lunch breaks and allowed me to get away to see cartoonists and illustrators I’ve long admired. William Stout was back – I think he’s been attending every ComicCon since the beginning – and he drew me a stegosaurus and told me of the new discoveries regarding its famous plates. Rachael rode her motorcycle to the convention center, which was bar none the coolest thing anyone did that whole week.

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Trek Otter #sdcc

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Portrait of #grumpycat #sdcc

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Once again my neighbors made the show for me. Four full days plus one evening is a marathon. You’re handing out cards, shouting greetings to strangers, rattling off the same pithy phrases about your books over and over again until you lose your voice. Without the good humor and support of those tabling around me, I’d never make it.

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Neighbors #sdcc

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Jeff was my neighbor for the second year in a row. Although we didn’t get into a heated Twitter battle like we did in ’12, we joked around plenty. I also got to meet Jeff’s mom and sister. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jeff’s mom, who stood behind my table when I needed to take bathroom breaks. She became as good, if not better, at selling my books than me.

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Neighbors #sdcc

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Corey and Yomi were new to ComicCon but you’d never know. They are naturally friendly; every time I looked over they were surrounded by a new and exciting mix of people. I can’t wait to read the books I traded them for.

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Homemade #beemo #sdcc

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Sweeping out the mouth. #sdcc

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Ben was once again on my right. Unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of Ben, but trust me, no photograph would do that man justice. He came with the second volume of his mighty work Pang: The Wandering Shaolin Monk. If you are unfamiliar with Ben’s work, I would highly suggest tracking down his zine about a boy who grows a cloaca when he hits puberty.

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#tmnt #sdcc

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Occasionally the river of people running in front of my table yielded a familiar face. Palle Schmidt, my friend from a country where the government supports the arts, was back in San Diego. This time he was plugging his latest graphic novel for the English-speaking market. Palle interviewed me for his podcast. He grouped me with Nate Powell, which is as huge a compliment for me as it must be a dubious distinction for Nate. Listen if you want to hear me expound on self-publishing for three minutes.

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The night I tried to steal Neil from @amandapalmer

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Henry Barajas. This guy. We first met at last year’s Con, but he’s from Tucson. We tabled next to each other at last year’s Tucson ComicCon, where I realized that he is the most outgoing, networkingist cartoonist I’ve met. He is quite literally a Renaissance Man. He does stand-up, writes for the daily paper in Tucson, writes comics, and knows just about everyone in the business. For some reason, he took time out of hanging with Neil Gaiman to help me sell books at my table. Henry gave me the energy boost I badly needed on Friday afternoon. I was in a bit of a rut, caffeine loosing its effectiveness, and he shook off my cobwebs and got me back in the game. Can I throw any more metaphors in there? He was my con coach.

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Ask me about my involvement in #DearMrWatterson #sdcc

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Joel Schroeder, director of the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson. If you asked me what sort of movie I most wanted to be a part of, I would have said, duh, a movie about Bill Watterson. Well kids, I’m here to tell you that dreams really do come true. Joel emailed me last fall, requesting permission to use a Falling Rock strip in his documentary. I held off responding for a good ten minutes before mashing all the keys on my keyboard until I typed YES OF COURSE. Now the film is complete and Joel is preparing for a nationwide theatrical release in November. He sent me a poster for my table and stopped by on Saturday to deliver a stack of postcards. Turns out, everybody at ComicCon loves Calvin and Hobbes. People walking quickly by my table would stop in their tracks when I handed them a card to ask about Dear Mr. Watterson.

Mr. Watterson, if you happen upon this blog, I want you to know that people dressed as zombies, people in capes, women, men, young, old…every single person who goes to ComicCon loves Calvin and Hobbes dearly. There is no other single comic (or movie, or TV show, or viral video) as universally loved as that strip. If you ever want to come to ComicCon, even in disguise so nobody will bug you for a snowman drawing or whatever, I think you will have a great time.

Also, I think you should make a Spaceman Spiff graphic novel. Think about it, get back to me later.

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Hello old friend #sdcc

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I figured out that people on panels had a special badge, so I began asking everyone with a Panel Badge what they did. It always yielded interesting answers. I met a scientist who works at Jet Propulsion Labs. He is a consultant on an upcoming film about a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. I hadn’t heard of Europa Report before, but based on his description I am 100% going to see this movie – especially given my longstanding dream that NASA will devote a mission to the ocean moon.

I also saw Lawrence from Office Space! I had no idea what to say to him as he walked by. I just said “Heyyyy!” He turned, smiled, and said “Hello!”

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#sdcc

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There was, inevitably, talk among cartoonists about the watering-down of ComicCon. I’ve only been attending for the past five years so the crazy crowds are all I know. With the movie and television and video game and toy companies comes a much broader audience. The people who are there to see Game of Thrones or Hunger Games are not necessarily going to spend any time at Small Press or Artist Alley looking at self-published minicomics. I understand the need to sell well at this show. It is expensive to stay for five days, it is difficult to stand up all day shouting the same pitch to passerby. It can get tiring even if you do well. I come back exhausted. If you don’t do as well as you’d like, it can be disheartening. That’s true for any show. But I disagree that ComicCon is less good because of all the hoopla. If anything, people can get exposed to more pop culture than they ever would have anticipated. I have personally sold comics to people who say they don’t read comics. At ComicCon, it’s all about discovery.

For me, ComicCon is more than just another show. The jarring cocktail of pop culture produces something bigger than any of us. Fans, cartoonists, Stormtroopers, publishers, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers all share space in the sprawling convention center. I’m certainly glad I’ve done we’ll the two years I’ve exhibited; it has made it worth coming back. But more importantly, it exposes me to a phenomenon. ComicCon is the epicenter of popular culture. We come out knowing what the trends will be for the next year. We are part of the zeitgeist, a moving target that perches in the Gaslamp Quarter for a week before heading for parts unknown. It feels good to know that my work can fit into that huge swirling mass.

Until next year, ComicCon.

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#lego Iron-Man #sdcc

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Blog comic con

SDCC

For the next five days, you can find me here:
San Diego ComicCon, Small Press table O-6.
Here’s a map!
comc-con-map-joshshalekCloser:
small-press-joshshalekSay hello, check out the two new issues of Falling Rock National Park, let me know how many zombies you’ve seen so far. It’ll be fun!
Feel free to ask about my small but pivotal role in the documentary Dear Mr. Watterson. I can talk about Bill Watterson all day.

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Blog comic comic con

san diego bound

sdcc-2013-josh-shalekThis month is July, which means the San Diego Comic-Con is a-comin’.
From July 17-21, you can find me stationed at table O-6 in the Small Press Pavilion.
If, like last year, Joss Whedon trudges by my table, I’ve got a great pitch for AVENGERS 2.
I don’t want to give it all away just yet, but it involves both a surprise 90th birthday party for Captain America and the Hulk’s favorite stretchy sweat pants.
In 3D!

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Blog friday robot

friday robots

Happy Friday everybody! Mountains from Telluride, buildings from San Diego.

Also, there’s this:

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autobiography Blog comic con

welcome to comic-con, sincerely your hotel

Some of the most entertaining reading of Comic-Con was this one page welcome letter from my hotel.  The third paragraph outlines what to do when removing your costume make-up.  The entire letter is riddled with hyperbole, making it seem entirely insincere.  I love it.

 

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autobiography Blog comic con

comic-con tweets with commentary

Everybody loves Twitter.  Having already conquered the blogosphere and the myspacesphere, I decided that Comic-Con 2012 was the perfect opportunity to make myself known in the Twittersphere.  I commenced Tweeting without reservation for five days.

Arriving Wednesday afternoon, I taxied from the airport to my hotel, washed the plane grime from my face, and strapped on my backpack, my new banner (pictured above), and wheeled three heavy boxes of books the half mile to the San Diego Convention Center.  I was sweaty when I arrived.  Sweaty, but ready for the next five days.  There was no line for my badge, one of the many perks of being an exhibitor, and I was ushered into the convention center by the smiling Comic-Con staff.

Preview Night was only three hours long but I met nearly as many people as I would in a normal day of any other convention.  It was merely a hint of the madness to come.

Eating breakfast the next morning, I was struck at how the local San Diegans attempted (with varying degrees of success) to live their daily lives in the midst of this massive event.  Some eyed us interlopers with curiosity, others attempted to ignore us entirely.  My hat is off to the waitresses of the Gaslamp Quarter, many of them dressing in old superhero t-shirts or donning fake glasses.  They earned every penny that week.

Every single morning at 9, the convention hall opened to the public.  Invariably the first people I saw running by were those intrepid souls attempting to purchase some exclusive toy that was made in limited quantities and only sold at certain booths at the convention.  The announcement not to run was played for the first half hour of the show; nobody paid it any attention.

It only took me fifteen minutes to spot my first Wookie.  The costume of the year this year seemed to be Adventure Time.  So many people dressed as those characters.

This is true.  A man approached my table and as we chatted my eyes wandered down to his badge.  Badges listed not only a person’s name but where he came from, an interesting bit of information I enjoyed learning.  This time, however, my attention was fixed on the man’s name: Charlie Brown.  He had a sketchbook; he was asking cartoonists to draw Charlie Brown in their own style.  I obliged, and here is the result:

Slave Leia, usually a Comic-Con favorite costume, was not as popular this year.  Maybe I just missed all the Slave Leias.  Maybe they all hung out by the LucasArts booth (UPDATE: they did).  I was not disappointed to miss them.  It’s awkward to see women dressed that way.  Comics aren’t about that anymore – not the good ones anyway.

One costume I highly approved of was Girl Tintin.  I saw two this year and they were both very cool.  It’s kind of a Peter Pan thing, and not demeaning.  I like to think of Tomb of the Zombies as my version of a Tintin adventure, with Kate Crane as a female Tintin.

My tablemate Reid and I saw him walk by, then turned to look at each other with the same awestruck expression.  We equivocated for a while, but in our guts we knew immediately we had seen one of the most popular guys at Comic-Con.

A very drunk Abe Lincoln gave us quite a lot of money for a bit of double-sided tape.

Reid couldn’t stop laughing at the cover to the Events Guide, which featured not only a very healthy looking Tarzan but a zebra butt (hint: center right).

I am so jealous of Katie Cook, who is not only a very talented cartoonist but apparently gets visited by Patton Oswalt.

Ruben Bolling is one of my favorite cartoonists; I cannot recommend Tom the Dancing Bug enough.  It was truly an honor to receive this book from him.

I bought only a few books this year.  Baby’s in Black (by Arne Bellstorf) is a true tragic love story about Astrid Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe.  Stuart was in The Beatles before they hit the big time; he was a friend of John’s from art school.  Sadly, he died from a brain aneurism in 1962.  This book is one of the very best comics I have ever read.  Beautiful black & white illustrations, understated and melancholy tone, Baby’s in Black is a rare and precious achievement.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Reid is a huge fan of dinosaur artist William Stout, with good reason.  The man’s a genius.  He’s also been at every Comic-Con since year one.  Reid showed William his drawing of Bigfoot, at which William said, “I know the guy who made that suit.”

My neighbor Jeff Shuetze draws “a geeky comic about a nerd in Hollywood.”  He did killer t-shirt and print business; I’m looking forward to diving into his online comic.

My second celebrity sighting.  Staying in the convention hall all day long was inconceivable, so I’d take a lunch break to enjoy some of San Diego’s beautiful weather.  On my way out I saw a crowd of hundreds of people, all of whom had their cameras raised high above their heads.  When I turned to see what all the hulabaloo was about, I saw Robert Downey Jr. standing on the Marvel stage with a bunch of little kids all dressed as Iron Man.

Jeff took an unhealthy liking to my table mascot, Smokey Bear.  At one point I looked down at my table to find Smokey conspicuously missing.  Determined questioning of my neighbor revealed him to be the culprit.  Jeff is a great guy, but he has a terrible poker face.

One of my proudest additions to the table was this custom-made cash box by Cody Acevedo.  He took the old cigar box I was using and transformed it into this work of art.  Not only does it look great, but it holds money.  Maybe not Rmoney, but mini-comics money for sure.

Was this the funniest exchange of the convention?  It was certainly close.

Comic-Con has always been an exciting adventure for me.  This year, my first as an exhibitor, was a high-water mark for me as a cartoonist.  Thanks to my friends and neighbors, both old and new, for making Comic-Con such an essential event for all cartoonists.

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autobiography Blog comic con

san diego comic-con in pictures

More to come in writing, but here is a visual log of my five days in San Diego. As it was my first time as exhibitor, I took some pictures of the booths without the huge crowds surrounding them. It is an unadvertised treat to be able to wander the convention hall with only my fellow exhibitors around.

For a minute-by-minute recap of Comic-Con, I highly recommend reading my Twitter feed, as well as those of my friends and neighbors Reid Psaltis, Jeff Schuetze, Victoria Ying, Mike Yamada, Tammy Stellanova, Chet Phillips, and Dave Kellett.

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Blog comic con friday robot

friday robots

Just because I’m at San Diego ComicCon doesn’t mean you miss Friday Robots!
And hey, if you are in San Diego right now, stop by my table.  O-5 in the Small Press Pavilion.  It’s always nice to see a friendly face.