by Greg Ruth
Wherein we continue with our journey into the luminous hinderbelly of both setting up and attending the human social experiment we often refer to as the "Comic Convention" or the "Comicon", or if we're really being honest, the "Madhouse Wonderscape of Indelible Pleasures". If you'd like to read the first part of our story, please go to HERE.
Never apologize for what keeps you going.
I do not care if you're a vegan who rides unicorns and survives only on the joy of innocent children who hug their grandparents, in the outside world, in the con-sphere Papa needs his coping mechanisms. I for one am an avid avoider of soft drinks normally. (I'm more of a seltzer addict myself but that's mostly because I am now old and must stave off death-mouth). On the floor of the show after a few hours I need a Coke. Not coffee, not a cool drink of smart water, or iced angel's tears. I need a stomach eating, gurgle-burbling ice cold Coca-Cola. It's how I survive and it is literally the only thing that keeps me going. I will down a truck load of these, one overly priced half-can at a time. I know it's like that petroleum brown horror the Orcs for poor Merry and Pippin to drink on their way to Saruman's daycare center, but one cannot take away the pure life giving essence that a cold, freshly opened can of Coke can bring. And besides like I said before... you won't finish it. How else could you find it spilled later over the bottom of your coat sleeve while going out to dinner if you did? (Sorry for that Allen Spiegel... I do it to you each and every year I know).
Think of it this way, if you get tossed out into the inhospitable blackness of space, and you forgot to put on your helmet, you have two choices: die of lack of oxygen and whither into a frozen bug-eyed statue, or learn how to breathe outer space. Find your coping mechanism whatever it is, (as long as it's not the pizza they serve on the floor. That is NOT pizza and it may be a little alive in all the wrong ways). If someone walks by and tries to shame you for chugging your tenth bottle of peppermint flavored super Red Bull, that's why God gave you a middle finger. (to help you better grip your tiny canned beverage of course). This is about surviving and learning to breathe outer space and it's no one else's business but yours. Do what you need to do. The great thing about cons is "grace" is not a requirement.
Boundaries Part 2: and obey the rules... sort of
A wise politician with a deft comb-over once intoned wistfully, (before being led off to prison for insider trading), there are rules one must respect and stay true to, and rules you can skip over. Know the difference.
These shows all have their different rules and laws of the jungle and you are best to respect that business if you want to get and go along. Some spaces are lorded over by the unions, especially any in NYC- and those guys will END YOU if you try and hone in on their action. I heard a story from a publisher who dared to set up their lights on the pre-set up day for the show only to find that because they were supposed to let the union guys do this, came in on opening day to find all of their lights had been roughly taken down and made to disappear as an example to him and others. Probably put in cement golashes and tossed into the Hudson River, but we're not supposed to talk about that (he writes as he touches the side of his nose knowingly despite that he's alone in his office). The union guys at a show don't fool around and they do not care a limp pickle about how much time you put into your hand knitted booth slanket. If you were supposed to wait for hours so they could not do it, then that is what you are supposed to not do, do. Other rules, like where you should enter and exit, not moving your table out a bit or cobbing off a neighbor's electrical system and so on... these are fuzzier areas and are case dependent. Know the difference.
Another key element is to both exploit the hell out of your space as much as possible and also not to do so at the expense of your neighbors, or the pedestrians that may continuously trip over your ten foot tall banner of that mashup comic you did with Sonic the Hedgehog and Hillary Clinton for Noname Publishers inc. They man or woman next to you spent just as much money on his/her table as you did and cried just as much trying to get off the freight elevator as you did no matter how much a big wig you imagine you are or actually are... the con floor is a place of equality, or should be. Be a part of that magic instead of a stone in the shoe of it. Now this is not to say that going as wide and high as you can with your stuff isn't okay. You do own your space for that brief time and it is entirely expected and desirous of you to create a little storefront that is awesome and attractive to be in as a visitor, it just doesn't have to be that way at the expense of your neighbors. Remember these are the people that can get you a Coke when you need it.
Get your face straight, and bottle the desperation
There is a perpetual and ongoing debate about whether its proper to sit or stand at a booth whilst at a show. Some think sitting makes you look like a king holding court and it gives the wrong impression, but standing all day sucks and is exhausting and if you're tall it can be a little intimidating especially for kids and smaller sized humans. I do both myself and can even be seen doing both during the same conversation with the same visitor. As long as your casual about it it doesn't really matter. What does matter is your demeanor. I'm not saying you should stand with a pie-eating grin on your face the whole time because that is psycho. No matter how tired you are or how ill you feel from drinking all those cokes, put your best face forward and be there for the peoples. They have literally paid money to be there and some, as hard it is is to believe, have come to see YOU. And I think we've all walked by the booth with the guy behind the table who looks like he's just waiting to murder someone- note also the safe-zone sphere of emptiness around the front of said guy's table or the children that dash past it like leaping over a troll's bridge to the other side. Don't be that guy. It's not just your work that's on display it's you too. Be friendly and receptive without being crazy-eyed about it. Be chatty but only in a responsive state. They don't really want to hear a long tale about how you dropped a big mac in between the seats of the van, on the way here that you now plan to eat on the way home. They want to get a little inside peek at who you are and hear about your work. Be responsive without being aggressive.
Another controversial thing is the habit of drawing at a show. Personally I can't really do it. It gives me the collywobbles even to imagine drawing in public. Others can do this with aplomb and they have my respect and envy. Seeing Jon Muth do his sumi ink thing right in front of you is pure magic, and the con is typically the only place you get to see him doing this, as positive example. But... well I will almost never draw at a show except when asked to draw a sketch in someone's book. (My rule about con-sketches is simple- if it's free, they don't get to complain about how bad it is). It tends to be a way to look busy when you're not, or acts as a shield against the very people you are supposed to be there to see. If you are tasked with doing some sketches, back away from the table and do so while your booth partners take over, or barring co-help, wait for the lull that comes and do it then. Personally I walk right on by anyone with their head buried in their sketch books at cons. they may as well have a sing that reads: "Go away, can't you see I'm busy being fabulous?" I know guys who even do work on the con floor, ink pages or whatever... Terrible. Unless it's part of a demonstration for the audience, I think it makes one look like a self important turdmuffin. Be present. You are there to perform for others and everything you do behind your booth will be part of that performance. Be conscious of what face you are presenting to the world. Being nice and present never hurt anyone but it helps everyone.
The End will never End
Anyone who's been through one of these knows this simple truth about a show: the last hour of the show is the LONGEST week of your entire life. No matter how good or bad a show you are having, this is always true. The show is on its last legs and ready to peter out, and your brain has already hailed a cab for the hotel room. Ultimately, I myself recommend NOT looking at the clock. It is far better to be surprised by the yelly loud man walking down the aisles telling you it's over than to check back every six minutes to find only ten seconds has passed. Ignorance is your friend here. Hug that business.
The flipside of the coin to the Setter Upper. You thought it was ugly setting up before this party? Now imagine that same dynamic but without all the hope and anxious determination and add ten hangovers. Even the most ardent environmentalist will find themselves throwing plastic sandwich containers over their shoulders during this stage, and often at others in the room. It's like the Thunderdome in a hospice center that someone lit on fire. All the precious golden tidbits of your art have now become heavy slightly dented burdens you now must figure out how to get back into the box that mysteriously won't accommodate them like they did a few days ago. Your back hurts, your soul is dirtier than it was before the week started and all the faces of the con will begin flashing in your mind without permission. You have just been through and out of something and now you have to carry its luggage. Some exhibitors will have had a TERRIBLE show, and will be near tears or actually crying openly, so that salvation is clearly not coming for them. There is little you can do for them except to remind them that you have been through one of those too- or will be. And you will be believe me. Cons are like candy Whoppers- there is always a stinker in the box that makes you wish you had gone for the Raisinets. Don't gloat or dance with joy no matter how great your show was because then you will be, by accident or on purpose, the Julie Dreyfus laughing too loud on her cellphone while the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad kicks the $#!t out of you on the church-house floor. The war is over, the allies have cut the locks on the prison gates and freedom is now inevitable, so no need to rush or be pushy. Just as that jerk across the way was set up hours before you even arrived, he has now also completely broken down and left the show as a final indignity. Better to pretend this terrible creature never existed at all rather than try and understand his magicks. Be warm and empathetic, feel your exhaustion and be ready for the hug fest. there will be LOTS of hugging and this is the nice part of the terrible end. There are two things that make this part of the con the best part: the show is over and you can return to your life. Thew war is over soldier, time to shuttle home and start the PTSD.
Despite all the realities around you, you are not in a Twilight Zone episode and this will actually come to an end. You will be filled with a mix of frantic racing desperation to get the hell out of there along with a deep sadness in leaving behind your new and old friends. It's the last day of summer camp and it's as bittersweet as bittersweet can get. I have hundreds of people I love dearly whom I only ever see at these things. You will meet some of the best people ever and you will make friends that will I can guarantee you, will could well know for the rest of your natural life. I had no less than four separate instances where two of us stood, gob-smacked by the reality we had now known each other for close to twenty years. The cons become a reunion of sorts, and this is a really special thing if for the only reason that they get it. You'll get home and you'll still be high/exhausted and wanting to share all the hilarious details of your week with your spouse, but the bored far away resentment in their eyes will tell you this is not working. It's like telling someone else about the awesome dream you had last night- so exciting for you, but not for anyone else. They just don't get it, and that's a mercy in reality because they will rehabilitate your butt back into the real world faster with this attitude and let's face it. You really do need to get back to work.
Some final musings:
-if ever interviewed on the floor of a con, remember they use a mic so even if you can't hear yourself, talk like you can because otherwise the whole thing is you screaming like John Madden anytime of the day, for twenty minutes.
-If someone slides a book they want you to sign under the bathroom stall door, (this is a thing that happens), you are allowed to keep it and desecrate it however you see fit.
-If your booth partner returns to the table with Very Berry Vitamin Water when he/she was to get a coke, murder is an acceptable solution to this. No state save for Massachusetts will prosecute you for it.
-Bring layers, dress for all four seasons simultaneously. Trust me on this. You will experience all four seasons daily.
-Avoid wearing shirts with your own name on them. You will look like a giant man version of a toddler who keeps running away and needs to be quickly identified for a return trip home. You have your lariat and on that is your name, and that should suffice. The rest is what conversation is for.
-Eat well later at dinner. Seriosuly. There must be one moment in the day that is about luxury, and baby, this is it. Get that top shelf gin in your martini, go nuts. You deserve it.
-When hauling all your crap to find a cab, I recommend leaving it near a lamp post whilst you venture out to hail one from at least ten feet away. This will fool the driver into thinking you're alone, and when you get him to pop the trunk, it's too late for him to drive away when he sees all the detritus you are bringing into his car.
-Shoes. go for comfort over style. Comfy shoes with good arch supports will win the race everytime over a pair of fabulous come-hither Fonzi boots. Like as not your feet will be hidden behind the table kicking over other people's Cokes, so it doesn't really matter what they look like. I say look at nurse's feet or those of your waiter/waitress for ideas, and do them. Your feet will ache and be mad at you at the end of the day anyway, but a decent pair of shoes can mean the difference between a gently scolding and a slap across the face, Great Santini style.
-Don't call anyone, male or female at a show, "babe". It's weird, creepy and too intimate. You see where you are right?
-Be sure to thank the security folk on the way out. They won't expect it and it will startle them, but they recover fast and no one else will do it or does. Leave on a nice noter with a thank you.
-Dress however you want. there really is no rule here except perhaps... cover as much of your body as you would if you were going to work as a golf caddie. This is the minimal. Anything less is streaking.
-If you're somebody and you don't want or have time to get stopped, borrow a boothmate's lariat. I know, I know it's against the rules and it violates the afore stated respect for security. But seeing Thom Ang spend most of Comicon pretending, quite successfully, to be Phil hale makes it all worth it.
-Give the kids the floor. They are small, and they live in a world made for giants- this world in particular is freaky bizarro world giants. So be a bench, and Moses the waters for them. Make eye contact and go for a smile. You might just get one back by accident. While you don't have to let Mr. Chocolate Fingers paw over your its edition books, think of an alternative other than scolding. You're giving away something for free, give them that and you will turn a poopy moment into a treasured memory. You might even endear their parents to grab a book of yours.