Comic Cons: Work vs Play

October 8th, 2014 by |

I went to my first convention as a fan, though I was ostensibly there to cover it on behalf of Hardcore Gamer Magazine, in 2007. It was a nice time—I finally met Gavin after years of knowing and writing with him online, I put a couple other faces to names, and I had a good time. I went to one panel where a company announced its next crossover and its dozens of tie-ins mere days after they finished their last crossover and the audience audibly groaned. Not just one loudmouth in the back, either, a large enough portion of the audience was so dissatisfied with the news that they straight groaned in disappointment. Even people who are on the hook don’t like being blatantly sold to. I laughed, and then I never went to one of those panels for fun again.

I learned a lot that first year, and I’ve been to a couple of cons a year since. SF-era Wondercon, San Diego, New York, and Emerald City—those are my shows. I worked NYCC and SDCC to make up for the travel costs, but I generally went to ECCC and WC for fun. But even “working” the cons as press means, at most, four-to-eight hours of actively doing things that aren’t for you, with a lot of free time in those hours. You’re essentially free to do whatever you like as long as you hit those meager marks and turn in copy. I took advantage—swims in the hotel pool, posting up at a bar’s patio for hours because the sun’s out, and sometimes even going into the show to see people.

I’m doing cons for Image now, which means I’m working-working, not press-working. Between sales and signings at the booth, panels at shows, and needing to keep up with my day job duties, I don’t know how to do cons any more, at least the hanging with friends and having independent fun part. It’s a whole different animal, going to a con to work versus play, and I’ve been having a hard time with it since I got started at Image last year.

It’s not that it’s difficult or annoying, though I suppose it is both of those—it’s just different. It’s new, it’s unfamiliar, and I’m still feeling my way through it. I’m distracted and unfocused when trying to have fun with friends, and I could tell. They could, too. It sucks, but it’s my row to hoe.

I’m finding a balance. I usually have a bad time at comics parties/events, so I focus on what I know works for me instead of the event-oriented nightlife. Finding a dark corner somewhere, leaving the con, walking and talking, whatever whatever. Talking about comics with strangers. I’ve taken to doing quiet, small-scale dinners with close friends instead of the sprawling comics dinners. Starting the show off on a good foot with a no-pressure thing. It works. It’s working.

I don’t really get stressed out at shows, but I do get anxious. Instead of being able to do nothing, I’m representing a company and have responsibilities. I want to make sure that I meet that need, so my down home work ethic says “All work, no play, son.” Which doesn’t work. It’ll burn you out. You gotta find things that work for you. I dress up, too. Nothing too wild, I’m not Dapper Dan over here, but I like to put a little extra effort out there to look nice.

I like doing panels, too. I’m doing four for Image at NYCC:

Thursday, 5 – 5:45PM
Location: 1A21
Comics can contain entire universes between their covers, and panelists Kelly Sue DeConnick (PRETTY DEADLY), Jason Latour (SOUTHERN BASTARDS), Jamie McKelvie (THE WICKED + THE DIVINE), Brandon Montclare (ROCKET GIRL), Kyle Higgins (C.O.W.L.), Tim Seeley (REVIVAL), and Ben Blacker and Ben Acker (THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS… SPARKS NEVADA: MARSHAL ON MARS, THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS… BEYOND BELIEF) excel at creating worlds that you can simply fall into from page one. Anything goes in comics, and now’s your chance to pick the brains of some of the most creative minds around.

Friday, 12:15 – 1PM
Location: 1A14
Comics are much bigger than superheroes. Kieron Gillen (THE WICKED + THE DIVINE), Antony Johnston (THE FUSE), Megan Levens (MADAME FRANKENSTEIN), Amy Reeder (ROCKET GIRL), Scott Snyder (WYTCHES), and Joshua Williamson (NAILBITER) create comics that range from sci-fi/crime to historical romance to horror and far, far beyond. Whether you’re here to broaden your horizons or check out a new work by your favorite author, these creators demonstrate the potential of comics.

Saturday, 2:15 – 3PM
Location: 1A06
No matter how weird of an idea you may have, if you can hook someone, they’ll be a reader for life. Wes Craig (DEADLY CLASS), Matt Fraction (SEX CRIMINALS), Steve Orlando (UNDERTOW), James Robinson (THE SAVIORS), Roc Upchurch (RAT QUEENS), Frank Quitely (JUPITER’S LEGACY), and Brian K. Vaughan (SAGA) take strange ideas and turn them into intensely relatable and entertaining comics. Now, they’re going to share their secrets and talk about how fun it is to make the unreal real.

Sunday, 2 – 2:45PM
Location: 1A10
All-ages comics are crucial to the longevity of the comics industry, and can be an incredible tool in entertaining and education children. Bring your family and come listen to panelists Nick Dragotta (HOWTOONS), Otis Frampton (ODDLY NORMAL), Chris Giarrusso (G-MAN), Sina Grace (PENNY DORA), and Fred Van Lente (HOWTOONS) speak on creating kids’ comics and the importance of libraries in spreading awareness.

A cool thing about my job is that I get an alarming degree of freedom when it comes to coming up with these panels. They all get approved by the mothership, but the rosters, the ideas, the descriptions, all of that is easily 90% my fault. Image does big announcements around Image Expo, which means I’m free to make the panels exactly what I want out of comics panels: an interesting discussion between people who know their stuff. I’m only there to help keep it moving and to involve the audience.

Here’s my approach: “What do I want to know?” That’s it! I’ll prep notes before the panel, and if I’m doing a Powerpoint presentation I’ll have a cheat sheet in there too. I only come in with a few specific things to ask, because I’ve found that if you start the conversation off right and then let it flow from that foundation instead of reading from a list, you’ll end up with a good time that ends up tying back into the theme of the panel. It’s like magic. So I’m up there to fire the starting gun, ask follow-up questions when people say interesting things in passing, and involve the audience. It’s a chance to satisfy my curiosity, and to create and satisfy curiosity in the audience.

The truth of comics panels is that the audience in the room is already on the hook and engaged. They may be the most engaged of all your fans, at least by a certain metric. So selling to them, letting them know it’s going to be X issues and come out on Y day and its ISBN is Z, is a bad tactic. They already know, and if they don’t know, they will know soon enough. So my choice is to engage them. Give them what they want and give them something they’ll remember. I’ve been blessed to have panelists that are gregarious and hilarious. I lose it laughing on-stage at least once a show, oftentimes more. The audience seems into it, too. People dig my approach. We may not have much for breaking news, but I’d put my panels up against anybody else’s for sheer quality.

I’m still finding my balance, though. New York Comic Con is my last show of the year, just a few weeks after a rough one, so I’m hoping I can have a good time and do my job well, too. I could be nervous or afraid, but honestly? I either will or I won’t. None of this is new to me, and I know what I’m doing, so I’m not going to sweat it. I’m just going to do it, and things will work out in the end.

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One comment to “Comic Cons: Work vs Play”

  1. I appreciate reading about how you deal with this sort of shit. It makes a difference knowing that the fact of anxiety doesn’t have to ruin anything, that it just needs to be dealt with in ways that function for you.

    Hearing someone whose work I respect discuss that sort of coping candidly makes it easier to do it myself.