Convention Recap: Hampton Comicon 2016

Hampton Comicon is a new one-day show run by the people behind Tidewater Comicon. Being a one-day show made it easier to exhibit and work within the Kidlet’s school schedule.

Hampton is the home show for a handful of friends, specifically Drew Moss, Bob Frantz, Eryk Donovan, and Kevin Cuffe. It isn’t easy to get us all together under one roof, so when it was clear they were all involved, we signed on, too.

Hampton starts really early, at 9am for VIP ticket holders, and after our three-hour trip to Hampton, we opened up with all of the other groggy and caffeine-craving artists. (Hampton Convention Center bans outside food, so many of us were forced to throw out breakfast and coffee upon entering.)

We had an end-table, at the front of row C, which included Peanuts and DC artist Robert Pope, Eryk, Action Lab and Archer artist Sam Ellis, author Nancy Collins, and Marvel artist Reilly Brown. Definitely an eclectic group.

As far as sales go, Hampton was great! ALL of our sales were to people we had never met before. To end our second year exhibiting without a single sale to a friend was fantastic, and proof that we are on the right track.

We sold four plush (none of them Shakes, oddly), and four books. MOO didn’t sell, so it was a little weird to have the primary character not do nearly as well as Pigasus and Stanley. Three of the four plush were Pigasus, my wife’s mascot (the fourth was Percie the Penguin). The four books were one each of BEAR, and two TEMPLE OF MOO’D.

While we didn’t do nearly as well as our best one-day show at FredCon in July, it still stands as a great show because all our sales were to new customers. And, hopefully, they will become repeat customers. A few kids even got free sketches, so maybe I will see them again in the future, too.

The highlight for me was borne out of some confusion. One of the organizers came up, pointed at me and said, “I remember you from Baltimore, can you do a panel?”

I said, “sure,” and headed off to present at a panel I knew nothing about. As it turns out, the panel was about art, both in practice, and as an enterprise. I was in great company that was also pretty amusing. With the exception of author Collins, the ENTIRE row C was on this panel! And there I was between Reilly Brown on my left, and Robert Pope on my right, with Eryk and Sam Ellis on Pope’s right.

We got four questions. Not because the panel was poorly attended, or no one could think of any, but because we all just started chatting. It was like a group of colleagues having a drink after work, talking to the new kid, and just sharing our wisdom. And, even though my wisdom is both shorter than Brown or Pope’s, it is also from a different aspect of the industry (self-publishing), so I was able to contribute.

Several people came up to us individually and as a group and thanked us for the panel, a couple of folks saying it was one of the better ones they had ever attended. That’s definitely a win.

After that, the show slowed down, allowing me to chat with friends for a bit, and pick up a comic or two. I even swapped a copy of MOO with Brown for one of his great sketchbooks, so I hope his new son enjoys Shakes.

After the show we had dinner with “the Drew Crew” (Drew, Bob, Eryk, Kevin, Marc Deering, and friends old and new) and then crashed before the drive home.

It was a whirlwind show, but a good one, and especially if The Drew Crew is back, we will be too. And, I definitely want to get on another panel sometime soon. That was fun. Although, I suspect my panel-mates had a lot to do with that. Thanks, Boys!

And thanks to everyone who organized, patronized, and socialized. We had a blast!

Convention Recap: Baltimore Comic Con 2016

To fully understand the impact of this past weekend, I offer a little backstory.

In early 2011, my mother had died after a prolonged illness, and for much of the time leading to her final weeks, I was her primary caretaker. In the few years leading up to her passing, I was working at a comic shop, and was becoming friendly with a variety of creators on social media. I had attended a handful of conventions in my youth, and I found out that three creators in particular, Francesco Francavilla, Paul Tobin, and Colleen Coover, would be at the Baltimore Comic Con.

My wife, whose ideas of comic conventions were not unlike the general public’s preconceived notions, agreed to go along to help keep an eye on our then-six-year-old Kidlet. I had established a virtual relationship with Francavilla, Tobin, and Cooper, and meeting them was an honor and a pleasure. I even got to introduce myself to Francesco with my usual humor. He was busy enough that we sat and talked to his wife for nearly an hour, and it was her advice that convinced me to start up CRASS FED, my old web comic.

My wife, however, got the best of it, finding the handful of creators we interacted with to be nothing like the preconceived notions the general public have of comic fans and creators. (She even got to watch me fight through fanboy paralysis when I happened to find Stan Sakai with no one at his table, and spent ten minutes desperately trying not to faint.) She enjoyed herself enough to want to come back the following year.

A medical emergency for my mother-in-law meant Baltimore 2012 was just me, the Kidlet, and a friend. I got to see Francesco again, plus Drew Moss and Bob Frantz. Kidlet and I also got to investigate a relatively new thing, the “Kids Love Comics” pavilion, which was really just a six-by-six area where kids could get a mask, or a cape, or draw their own heroes. Surrounding this pavilion were creators who made books aimed at younger readers, with the hope of getting, keeping, and nurturing readers. One man in particular, John Gallagher, was running the show essentially by himself, and he was doing a heck of a job running his table, and making sure that every kid got a few moments of uninterrupted attention.

Also there was Jamie Cosley, whom I had met thru Twitter, and who has since become a close friend, mentor, and collaborator. Subsequent trips over the next couple of years created, and expanded, our “comics family,” to include folks like Todd Dezago, Matt and Suzanne Wieringo, Craig Rousseau, the Mariano Brothers, Liz and Jimmy Reed, and more.

In 2013, we added an annual trip to HeroesCon, which expanded the family further to include the DeFractions, Amy Chu, and Erica Schultz, Joey Ellis, and more.

On the way home from Heroes 2013, my wife realized that not only was she having a good time at these shows, they were becoming exactly what some people expect from a family reunion: wonderful, exhausting trips that we hoped wouldn’t end.

Right after the 2014 HeroesCon, I was laid off. The anger and frustration with the manner in which I was let go wore off by the second day, transforming into concern and confusion, as I wondered what was next for me.

As it almost always happens, I took a shower that night…and it hit me.

On the drive to Heroes, my wife was behind the wheel and it was about 2am. I was doodling on my phone, and I sketched a goofy image. It was the Kidlet’s favorite toy, a cow, and I had drawn it as an astronaut.

In the shower, an idea and a title came to me. I kept repeating it to myself until I was finished with my shower and dried off. I fired up the computer, and typed for a couple of hours.

I had a rough draft, and ideas for a handful more books. My wife and Kidlet were asleep, so I waited until the morning to share what had occurred to me.

Shakes the Cow had been born, and MOO THOUSAND AND PUN was underway.

I self-published MOO and debuted it at AwesomeCon 2015, which was my first convention as exhibitor. Another book quickly came to mind, and by the time Baltimore 2015 rolled around, I had published MOO THOUSAND AND PUN and the BEAR FROM A.U.N.T.: THE HONEY DON’T CASE, and was a “veteran” of three conventions. At the end of Baltimore 2015, we were packing up and saying goodbyes to friends.

John Gallagher, along with his co-conspirators for Kids Love Comics, Mark and Chris Mariano, offered me a chance to join the pavilion, and be a member of Kids Love Comics.

In the following year, I published the follow up to both books, TEMPLE OF MOO’D and BEAR FROM A.U.N.T.: CASE OF THE PUSHY OCTOPUS. OCTOPUS debuted at Baltimore 2016, along with a new chapbook from the Kidlet, and plush Shakes toys, handmade by my wife.

There is a Beatles song I have thought about a lot these past two years, With A Little Help From My Friends.

Before Baltimore 2016, we had exhibited at seven shows across Virginia, DC, and North Carolina.

Only one show, VA Comicon, was a bust. It was the only show where we didn’t sell enough to make back our table fee – at a show where tables were less than 100 bucks. At every other show, we made back at least our table fees.

And we could not have done so without our friends. In addition to the backers for the Kickstarter that helped publish MOO, friends came by our tables and picked up original art, coloring books, extra copies, my wife’s cookbook, Kidlet’s comic, and more, to help us out.

It was pretty amazing…but I having dealt with depression for over thirty years meant I couldn’t just enjoy the slow success. Doubt crept in as always. Luckily, it wasn’t enough to keep me from creating.

With four books, and new plush toys from my wife, we drove to Baltimore with hope, and a hopeful ace up my sleeve.

Not only did my invitation from John Gallagher and the Marianos allow me to join the Kids Love Comics family, it brought an invitation to submit art for the annual Yearbook. This year, Baltimore was celebrating the 75th anniversary of Archie Comics, and I was invited to submit a picture of my character interacting with some or all of the Archie gang.

I'm telling everyone I worked on a book with Francesco Francavilla!

I’m telling everyone I worked on a book with Francesco Francavilla!

I drew a picture of Shakes as a soda jerk at Pop’s, serving Jughead malts, while Archie looked on, bored, waiting for Jughead to finally finish ordering drinks. It was accepted, which meant a large number of attendees would be coming by to get my signature in the yearbook (a full book of autographs yields a prize of free art).

A late start meant we couldn’t set up until Friday morning, so we went to dinner with the Wieringos, and a friend and winner of the ‘Ringo Scholarship from SCAD, Nicky Soh. If you ever get to Abbey Burger Bistro, try the antelope burger. I’m pretty sure I heard Peta folks scream with every bite. It was a late night, and eventually we got to sleep, excited for the new day.

Some sample sketchcards that were available at BCC:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday started with some frustration getting our stuff into the convention center, but once we got set up, it was just a challenge staying at our table and not running off to visit friends. Luckily for the Kidlet, she had no such restrictions.

Before the show began properly, I got to spend a few moments with friends Thom Zahler (Love and Capes; Long Distance), Joe Endres (Scamped), and Christy Blanch from Aw Yeah Comics Muncie, and a wonderful talent in her own right. (Write?) I even tracked down the Kidlet to go shopping for Lego figures (don’t ask how many) before I planted myself at table 3004.

We were seated next to Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham, creators of a fun historical fantasy called Tuskegee Heirs, which involves, yep, descendants of the famed aviators. They were great neighbors, as we spent some of our limited down time having fun. Right behind us was seated Joe Endres. Thanks to my wife and Christy Blanch, Endres and I were supposed to engage in a “Carol Channing Impersonation Contest” all weekend. Unfortunately (luckily?), my throat was killing me so we only managed the occasional Channing Shout Out to each other, which simply confused everyone in ear shot, but had my wife in hysterics. So it was worth it.

We got to go spend money at the booth of one of our favorites, Cuddles and Rage, and see the lovely April Alayne, and the custom-satchel-wiz Zombisaur. Emily Swan and Nicky Soh also had tables in Artist Alley, along with another of our “kids,” Eryk Donovan.

At the rate we’re going, by 2020, half of the artist alleys at Heroes and Baltimore could be listed as dependents.

Friday, sales-wise, was wonky, and almost entirely made up of friends’ purchases. With two exceptions.

First was a rather fun goofball named Justin, who is the creator of the MOVIE BUFF GAME, a trivia game in which the game is run entirely on what knowledge you already have. The cards have no trivia on them whatsoever, but are strategy cards dictating flow. Everything else requires you to outsmart your opponents. It’s a fun game that only takes a couple of plays to get the hang of, and when you are really into it, it can even get diabolical.

Justin came by after Kidlet had spent some time with him at his booth learning the game. He later brought back his wife, and they picked up both Shakes books and a plush for their toddler. That sale saved our Friday, and set up a big moment for my wife.

At the middle of the day, a little boy walked up, smiling, arms outstretched, and said, “COW!” The look on his face when we handed him his very own Shakes was priceless, and made my wife’s weekend.

Those two exchanges may not have broken records sales-wise, but they sure as heck won the day for us regardless.

(After we got back, Justin posted photos of their child with Shakes, and my wife has beamed ever since. Their kiddo is a cutie, and any support you want to throw at them, we heartily encourage.)

Friday after the show, I got to have no fewer than three fanboy fits.

Jose Luis Garcia Lopez was in the lobby of the hotel as we were waiting for dinner, and I got to go thank him for everything he had done in his career. Garcia Lopez was not only an influence in my storytelling, but I got great joy out of everything he has done. Simply put, he is one of my heroes. (I had sent Kidlet with a copy of his Batman 66 book to get signed to her, but she sneakily had him sign it to me. Silly Kidlet.)

After that, in walks Walter and Louise Simonson. I wished Walt a Happy Birthday, and he agreed to take a picture with Shakes. (More on that later.)

I recovered from those two interactions to have dinner with Brian Stelfreeze.

Brian kept me in comics in the early 1990s, and at three previous shows he has been an angel with the Kidlet. We took him out to dinner to thank him, and we had a great time, making jokes, telling anecdotes, and talking shop. He was great with the Kidlet as always, and they even have a contract, wherein she gets a full painted commission if she is taller than 5’9” by Baltimore 2020.

Saturday was the big day, with the majority of fans there for just the one day. One customer liked my art and asked for a “cowmission.” When I asked, “sure, what would you like,” she replied, “can you draw a penguin?” My wife tried to stifle a hearty laugh as I pointed to my banner, which features the now infamous avatar of almost twenty years. “I think I can handle that,” I replied. She pointed to my “Cow Tipping Appreciated” sign and asked me to draw it for her. We also sold two more plush Shakes, one to an adult who also came forward, arms outstretched, calling, “Cow!” I suppose we’ve struck a chord.

Some of the drawings I did Saturday when I was really punchy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choopie and my wife (right).

Choopie and my wife (right).

Kidlet got a surprise when she discovered she had been written and drawn into the newest PERHAPANAUTS graphic novel, INTO HOLLOW EARTH, in a couple of sequences with her favorite chupacabra, Choopie. Writer Todd Dezago knows us well, and captured Kidlet’s character perfectly, and artist Craig Rousseau did so just as perfectly with pen and ink.

I didn’t find out until Sunday, but my friend Christy Blanch, moderator extraordinaire, moderated the panel featuring Kristian Nairn of Game of Thrones. Christy showed a picture I had given her of Shakes as Hodor to Nairn, and he signed it!

Good thing the Man Eating French Fry was fried in peanut oil.

Good thing the Man Eating French Fry was fried in peanut oil.

The highlight of the day was a Mr. Peanut cosplayer, who wore a hard-shell (ha!) costume, and had to bend over completely at the waist to see my portfolio. He bought a piece of original art, a cartoon I had drawn earlier of a “Man Eating French Fry.” We are still giggling over that.

A couple of friends rounded out the sales day just before a fire alarm shortened our day.

Dinner was our usual trek to the Irish Pub, Tir Na Nog on the Inner Harbor, and it was the normal annual meetup of friends in the “We All Live Within 15 Miles of Each Other in DC, But We Only Get Together For Dinner Out Of State.”

Yeah…we’re weird.

Sunday was a bit of a whirlwind. Kidlet had popped a fever Saturday after dinner, so she and my wife stayed in the room. I went to breakfast with some friends, and then over to the convention. Like a doofus, I had forgotten coffee, but friends grabbed me something to drink.

Most of Sunday’s sales were to new fans, save a couple of folks with “comeback cards.”

Sample free sketches for returning customers.

Sample free sketches for returning customers.

I had been talking with Steve Conley (The Middle Age) about the yearbook, and he suggested adding a business card to the page when I would sign my page in the yearbook. I did that one better by printing postcards with all of our information on one side, and a blank area on the other. When folks came up to get their yearbook signed, I asked how the scavenger hunt was going, and when I gave them back their book, I showed them the card and said to come back later for a free sketch. This way I could show them what I do when they had more time to listen.

 

Squirrel Girl!

Squirrel Girl!

On Saturday, there were two adorable kids in costume that got sketches, one of whom was dressed as Squirrel Girl. I mentioned we knew Erica Henderson from exhibiting, and that I would share a picture with her of the girl in costume. Her eyes got huge, and every time she saw us during the rest of the show, she smiled and waved.

Sunday, a dad and son came back to get their sketches, and while I worked, they looked through my books and picked one up. The cards worked!

The best part of Sunday for me was an early sale by a young mom with a little girl. They decided on MOO, and went on their way.

Not half an hour later, my phone buzzed. The mom left a message on my Facebook Author page, and she told me that her little girl had made her read MOO to her four times during lunch.

The rest of Sunday was fellow exhibitors and friends stopping by, saying goodbyes, and in some cases hellos and goodbyes, and slowly packing up. We made it back to the hotel, lazily ordered food, and tried not to keep each other up from snoring. The drive home was a quick one, interrupted only by a quick stop at the drugstore before we landed at home to fight falling asleep at four in the afternoon.

Last COWmission of the show.

Last COWmission of the show.

We were lucky to be guests this year. With only seven shows under my belt before Baltimore 2016, I am still a newbie, still green. We’re still learning what works and what doesn’t, still learning the best times to take a break from our table. Still learning. But, Baltimore 2016 will also be important as the first convention (eighth overall) in which sales to new customers and fans exceeded friends’ purchases, both in numbers and amounts!

John Gallagher, Mark Mariano, and Chris Mariano showed great faith in us, offering us a spot in the Kids Love Comics pavilion. It’s a small, tight family, and it meant the world to us to be included. Simply put, we were honored. We got to hang out with Chris Giarrusso, a family favorite, and Dawn Griffin, who is as much a goofball as I am. We got to see Tim King for all of five seconds, but also got to chat with Franco and Howard Chaykin.

My BCC takeaways, including an autograph from Hayley Atwell.

My BCC takeaways, including an autograph from Hayley Atwell.

Oh, and, we met Hayley Atwell.

There are so many moments with friends, family, and new friends, new family, and icons of my youth, that I am sure I have forgotten someone.

Joe Endres and I talked about an idea for a new book.

Chris Mariano gave me very kind, and much-needed words of encouragement.

Brian Stelfreeze and Hayley Atwell made the weekend for my Kidlet.

Kyle Roberts asked me to be a part of his sketchbook that includes artists I have no right following.

The COWmission for Kyle "Aw Yeah Muncie" Roberts of Spider-Shakes.

The COWmission for Kyle “Aw Yeah Muncie” Roberts of Spider-Shakes.

A stranger (who asked to not be photographed – which made me create my own backstory for him) bought my original art page for my entry in the yearbook. (The proceeds I immediately gave to the ‘Ringo Scholarship.)

Ramona Fradon stopped to ask if we knew where her table was, echoing my fanboy moment from this past HeroesCon.

These shows are filled with people I idolized ages ago, and people I am just getting to know.

These shows have provided me an outlet for my creativity, and a battery to fuel it.

And most importantly, these shows have given me, my wife, and my Kidlet, a glorious extended family that no other job nor industry could have provided. None of what I do now could ever have been done without them.

In other words, Thank You, Baltimore! We will definitely see you next year!

(Want to see what Shakes was up to while I was tableside? Check out her recap here.)

To Boldly Go Where Darned Near Every Writer Has Gone Before

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the first airing of STAR TREK.

Seemed like a good day to post a story I wrote several months ago for a contest.

Simon & Shuster held a contest late last year to revive the old fan fiction series of books based on the STAR TREK universe (I know, I know…for exposure). The basic rules were easy: write a short story between 7,500 and 10,000 words set in the Roddenberry Universe (meaning, no stories set in the Abramsverse). The story could be set in any of the television series, from the Original Series to Enterprise, or any of the first ten feature films.

I had no real illusions that I could win the top prize, or perhaps even one of the lesser prizes, but the contest would provide me a good exercise in writing characters I had not created.

When trying to figure out what story I could write, I did what I always do: think of what my wife would get a kick out of reading.

For some reason, I thought it would be fun to make the focus of my story a specific supporting character, and the joke came to me fairly easy. I had the basic plot, and soon I had the setting.

I won’t say that this is my best work, but I sure as heck had a blast writing it. I’m happy with it, and I think I did a decent job writing the characters. Plus, my wife enjoyed it, and since she isn’t as die-hard a Trek fan as I am, I would say that is a success. (And, no, it wasn’t chosen by the editors. Oh, well.)

So, Happy Birthday, Star Trek. And my gift is letting you all read my first attempt exploring the final frontier. No…no regifting.   (Story is a 750kb, 23-page PDF.)

Write Long and Prosper.

JRD

To Tweet, Or Not To Tweet?

My last post on the social media website Twitter was July 19th, a series of tweets condemning the racist attacks on actress Leslie Jones. I quit using the service because clearly, if the service wouldn’t defend a celebrity, they sure as heck weren’t going to defend my daughter.

To her credit, Jones rejoined the service a few days later, and has since talked with the CEO of Twitter about how they need to strengthen the protocols to prevent anonymous trolls from generating campaigns of hate against anyone without a penis or white skin.

Surprising to no one, I was more productive without the service, and my latest book actually was finished over a week early. I did miss the interactions with some of my friends who only use Twitter (looking at you, AB and Homeslice!).

But, discussions with a couple of friends since mid-July had me rethinking my position.

Aside from being a little “holier-than-thou,” two things have been itching at me about my decision:

(1) my not using the service meant that an ally to equality (even one of limited influence as myself) had effectively been silenced, which is exactly what those MRA yahoos want, and (2), It was a better message to my daughter that, in the face of such vile and misogynistic behavior, you stay and be part of the fight, and not standing silent on the sidelines.

I’m no hero, and I’m no warrior (social justice or otherwise). But I believe in equality for everyone, no matter their gender, skin color, or orientation. And I need to show my daughter that just as important as sticking to one’s convictions is the ability and strength to stand in the storm with those being rained upon.

I can’t yet say how much I will use the service these days, but I do know that I will be using it when appropriate to stand and tilt at windmills with the women, minorities, and LGBTQ community folks who are stronger than I am, simply by being themselves.

It’s Anything BUT Crabby at Baltimore Comic Con!

It’s almost here! The second of our two “must attend” shows every year, BALTIMORE COMIC CON, begins Friday at 1pm!

Here we are!We have the honor of being guests of the KIDS LOVE COMICS pavilion, hosted every year by Mark Mariano (Happyloo, The O>Matics) and John Gallagher (Roboy Red, Zoey and Ketchup).

We are at Table 3004, facing the concession stand. Somewhat ironic, I think.

Not only will we have copies of the convention cookbook, CON GRUB, and DFP favorites MOO THOUSAND AND PUN and THE MIGHTY HIPPOFARTAMUS, but we will have three NEW items at our table!

First is the newest Stanley adventure, THE BEAR FROM AUNT: CASE OF THE PUSHY OCTOPUS, which is having its DEBUT at Baltimore!

Then, Kidlet will have for sale a chapbook preview of a short novel she is working on, about elementary school drama, BEST FRIENDS.

And, while she hasn’t been able to get CON GRUB 2 quite finished, my wife is hard at work assembling the new SHAKES PLUSH TOY! SHAKES LIVES!!

We will certainly be busy next weekend, and we hope everyone stops by and picks up our new products. Bring your Kidlets, and they can choose from some of the finest creators in All-Ages comics, and many artists (myself included) will do free sketch cards for your Kiddoes!

The big deal for me is big for collectors, too: my art, featuring Jughead and Shakes, is in the Baltimore Comic Con Yearbook! Yep! I’m in a book with folks like Thom Zahler, Steve Conley, Francesco Francavilla, Katie Cook, and Matt Wieringo! This should certainly generate traffic to our table, so if you are wanting a copy of the newest stuff, get here early!

Thanks again for all of your support, and we look forward to seeing everyone next week at Table 3004!

Where to go for KIDLET APPROVED creators!Also, as with every show, we are surrounded by our wonderful friends, and we would really appreciate it if you took a moment to check out their wares as well. Here is a map to all the “Kidlet Approved” creators exhibiting at this year’s BALTIMORE COMIC CON:

If you’re the kind of convention goer who includes shopping for goodies, then I direct you all to Booth 505. Booth 505 is home to Christy Blanch, who not only writes comics, but owns AW YEAH COMICS! MUNCIE in Muncie, Indiana! And if there’s anything I want to see more of in comics, it’s amazing female creators…and Christy certainly qualifies!

One note: My wife and I are soon to celebrate our anniversary, so our gift to each other was tickets to see Hayley Atwell. I’m going to the panel, my wife to the photo session. So, from 1 to 3 Sunday, we will be at our table intermittently. We almost feel bad about this, but…C’mon… AGENT CARTER!

See you all soon!

Cheers!

~JRD