Jul 152012
 

I recently worked in LA, helping my buddy RHODE with his project, brain-storming together in an intense schedule that did not leave time for much other than work. But on my last weekend in LA, Julia came to town, and we managed to squeeze in a day of sketching on the beach.

While everyone else was wearing swimsuits, we were the two dorks in dressed in sensible clothes drawing the SANTA MONICA PIER. But hey, there is more than one way to have fun in the sun!

Aug 022011
 

San Diego, July 2011:

This year, TWO comics related events went toe-to-toe in San Diego; COMIC CON, THE undisputed heavyweight comic book show** and, across the street-car tracks, TR!CKSTER, a scrappy little newcomer that punched way above its weight class.

I was involved in BOTH! Which qualifies me (somewhat) to REFEREE the showdown:

In the left corner: THE REIGNING CHAMP, COMIC CON!

Rhode and I had realised long ago that there would be no time to do one of our Kooky “Booth-Themes” this time around. Even a silly idea (like last year’s YARD SALE) takes a few days of preparation but we live on opposite coasts now. We drove down to the show together on the Tuesday morning before Preview Night, having met each-other for the first time in months that very SAME morning.

Prep-time being nil THIS year, we decided to actually display our stuff instead, which is a novel concept for us! Here’s the thing; sometimes those booth displays actually distract from the artwork. When you have a giant tin-foil robot towering over your booth there isn’t much room left to display prints and books! Despite last minute mini-drama, when we discovered that our trusty back-drape and table cloths had vanished from storage, a hasty trip to the fabric store saved the day, and I think we did a pretty good job of displaying our stuff, perhaps even the best we’ve ever done so far.

Rhode’s sales were his best ever! Despite high hopes, I sold only 1/3 what I sold last year. Having no new books may explain the downturn in BOOK sales but new PRINTS (and the best displayed range of designs ever) sold poorly too. Hard to explain why. We spend a lot of time behind the booth discussing such mysteries… Why does a slow-selling print suddenly sell out the next year? Why does a hot T-Shirt design go cold and then heat up again? Is it placement? Timing? Who knows? I guess the key is to always try new things and see what sticks, without getting so tangled in the SALES treadmill that you stop enjoying making the stuff in the first place.

Something new for me this year was selling little original framed paintings. Some came from my archives or sketchbooks, and others were painted while sitting at my booth.

What we took away from this particular COMIC CON is that we BOTH need to generate new material. New books, new designs and so on. Each of us definitely enjoys a show the best when we have a new book, even though the sales from those years aren’t necessarily the best. The satisfaction of having MADE something we are proud of always trumps sales. The other thing we talked about on the drive home from the show was the fact that we often decorate the booth but we have never done so to support any of our IDEAS. We have dressed as Car Salesmen or Robot men from the future but we have never decorated the entire booth in support of SKELETOWN or SEPHILINA and I think THAT is what we need to do next. Take it to the NEXT level.

**Funnily enough, even the vastness of Comic Con is but 1/3 the size of Japan’s COMIKET INDIE comic book show (IE; their version of APE!) which happens TWICE each year!!

In the RIGHT corner: The CHALLENGER, TR!CKSTER!!

Comic Con is, of course, THE definition of a comics convention, but Tr!ckster is a little harder to categorise. That is where the TR!CKY part comes in. (UN-conventional, you might say…) Tr!ckster is a bookstore/gallery/seminar, with a full bar on the side, but there are no booths and so forth. At least, that is what it looked like THIS this year. Who knows what size and shape it will take next time? Because part of the Tr!ckster concept is that it is a POP-UP event and will adapt to whatever space makes itself available. Sort of an indie-comics Halloween Super Store. With booze. Yeah.

Even though I was already locked into Comic Con 2011, having paid for my booth space a year before, I was very interested in the Tr!ckster project right from its inception. Namely, some anxious conversations several years ago about the NEW direction of Comic Con, which appeared to be moving away from its roots as a book show and steering in the direction of Hollywood (or perhaps E3).

And so, the conversations about an alternative began. “CREATOR CON!” became The rallying phrase for that growing community of people looking for something focused more strongly on the artists and writers who MAKE the stuff we all love. And now, a few years later, TR!CKSTER has grown out of that conversation. But what I think is significant about Tr!ckster is that it is only the beginning. Tr!ckster demonstrated last month that there was more than enough room in San Diego to have not only Comic Con but something ELSE as well.

My Time at Tr!ckster itself was sadly limited by the fact that I was committed to a booth in the nut-house across the road. But, during daylight hours, I was represented in Tr!ckster by my contribution to the Anthology book and my books & prints in the Tr!ckster store. In the evenings, Julia and I would go over there to hang out and, right from the get-go, I loved the feeling of the place. Personally, I liked it best when the mix of creativity, mingling and shopping was just-so. A Life drawing session jumping in one area, while other people hung-out in the bar to chat and then wander through the bookstore with a drink while meeting new friends. For me, that blend of people making art and buying it and/or networking was absolutely perfect.

A few nights later, when there was a rock band on site blazing away in full effect, I personally found it a bit too crowded and noisy… but of course I had just spent a wearying Saturday at Comic Con and had been looking forward to the mellow side of Tr!ckster that I’d enjoyed a few nights prior, so my opinion may not be typical of the majority. Everyone else certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves!

Being one of the few who exhibited at BOTH shows, There is an interesting comparison to be made between COMIC CON and TR!CKSTER in terms of sales, and it is not what you might expect. ALL my books sold better at Tr!ckster, where I paid no booth fees. That is a very sobering fact. When even my presence at Comic Con helps my books sell no better than at a store where I was not even around most of the time, it really highlights the notion that people at Comic Con are not there for books at all.

And the WINNER of the event IS… EVERYBODY!!

It was fun starting this post by casting Tr!ckster as an opponent to the huge Convention across the road, but it didn’t feel that way at the time. They are related but separate things. One is about spectacle and promotion, the other about creating and connecting. Julia said it best when she noted that Tr!ckster actually ADDED to the Comic Con experience, taking the comics-themed fun into the evening and giving us all one MORE reason to be in San Diego that week. In fact, I can see a time when San Diego in July might become a FESTIVAL rather than merely a convention, with events happening all over the city that week (or even that entire month?) There could be COMIC CON, TR!CKSTER and a multitude of other small pop-up events. I like that idea.

At the beginning of the CREATOR CON discussion, some envisioned a getting back to basics CONVENTION; a booth-based show that focused on artists the way Comic Con used to, 30 years ago. But the Tr!ckster guys decided to do something that would NOT be modeled on the classic convention format. Tr!ckster is very much artist driven but is something like an art SALON or gallery. Meaning that there is still room for more re-imaginings from other people if they want to do the leg-work. The Tr!ckster crew has shown the way; You don’t need to wait for permission to make the thing happen that you want to see happen! There will be room for other shows, possibly also happening concurrently with Comic con. I love it.

thanks to Julia Lundman, Tony Preciado and the INTERNET for the photos!

Aug 022010
 

COMIC CON, 2010:

This year, Rhode & I had thought we wouldn’t be able to follow-through with our recent tradition of a COMIC CON BOOTH THEME; whereby we decorate our booth to look like… well, something other than a boring old Comic Con booth. A bit of silliness that we have been indulging ourselves in for the past 4 years or so. Such things, even as cheesy as they are, take TIME to prepare and the fact that we now live on separate coasts made it unlikely this time around. Although we drove to Comic Con on Tuesday morning we had only met each-other (for the first time in months) at dinnertime the evening beforehand. Yet somehow, via communication by phone, text and e-mail, we pulled it off; THE YARD SALE theme. Last minute though it was, this booth display got perhaps our best response ever.

The only drawback of this particular theme was that, hilariously, people actually wanted to buy the JUNK that we had distributed throughout the display, as “props”. “How much for the George Foreman Grill?” “Give you $2 for the Rubik’s Cube…” “Ooh, a Smurf Mug!!”

These booth-theme ideas grew out of a conversation on the drive home from Comic Con 2006 (the first time we ever dressed up; in cheesy BLUE jump-suits, to promote CLOUD BOY) and that conversation continues to this day. I cannot now remember who came up with each idea because, in each case, they grew from one silly suggestion to the next. I do remember that each year, one of us begins to doubt if the idea will work (the line between cheesy/funny and outright stupid/lame is a razor’s edge, my friends) and the other guy becomes the torch-bearer for the idea. The Used Car Salesman theme excited me more than Rhode and he went along with it initially with some reservations (though he said at the end of that show that it was his fun-est ever, till that time). This year, I was the doubter; not that the idea itself was funny but that our execution might not work. But at a certain point, I decided to trust Rhode’s instincts rather than my own, and it worked out just grand.

Comic Con 2010 was our best ever, financially speaking. The runaway success of Rhode’s new children’s book, THE HALLOWEEN KID, made books Rhode’s biggest sellers this year. It was the prints that made up for the continuing downward curve in book sales for me (sadly, even the NEW one). Though this trend is a disappointment, I don’t take it personally, as Comic Con itself has been moving further and further away from its roots as a show about Comics. No need to dwell on that issue any further here (enough has been said about it already). My goal is to continue doing books come-what-may, as that is what drew me to these shows in the first place. A few years ago, I drifted away from doing comics, as I followed market forces towards the sales that would pay for the considerable costs of exhibiting. The new strategy is to firstly do a book each year and then use that book as a source for images that can become prints AS WELL. That way, the sales of prints should aid in sales of the books (“like that print? This is the book that it came from!”) or, at the very least, justify their existence as a mine from which to dig up images.

Socialising is always my favourite thing about Comic Con and, as always, I could not spend time with everyone that I wanted to. Wednesday’s PREVIEW NIGHT ended so late that Julia and I ate a tired but happy dinner back at our hotel. Thursday, meeting a crew of old cronies compensated for the slowest service of all time at an Indian place called MASALA. Everything clicked for Friday evening’s dinner at LOU & MICKEY’s. Hilarious conversation and good food culminated in a game where filthy phrases became the basis for creating new cocktails. We even had the Barman mix one to our specifications. The true name of this drink (pictured below) is too filthy to mention in this here G-rated blog but, in honour of its creator, Mr Kirk Thatcher, we gave it the optional name of THATCHER’s DELIGHT for use in polite company.

The hilarity and exhaustion (not to mention the effects of drinking the aforementioned saucy beverage) meant that I was too tired to move from my chair and thus unable to attend the party at the MAVERIX STUDIOS condo; an event that I seem to miss each year. Which was too bad this time around as I had recommended it to OTHER friends who showed up in my absence… But the main thing is everyone had fun. I will definitely be there NEXT time!

Saturday was exhausting. Even knowing ahead of time that it will be busy, it is hard to prepare for the sensory overload that is a Saturday at Comic Con. The combination of crowds and constant traffic at our booth, combined with frequent visits from many friends, meant that my mind was deep-fried by the end of the day. Walking wearily back to my hotel, I was not strong enough to resist the already-formed plan of dinner at OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE; that fake-Aussie eatery. I lodged a few half-hearted complaints but nevertheless climbed into the car that would drive me to the humiliation of Koala Fries, Platypus Burgers Kangaroo Shakes and other such nonsense…. to my surprise, the food was actually tasty (don’t tell any real Australians that I said so or FAIR DINKUM my citizenship will be revoked) and of course the company and conversation was entertaining. Just what I needed.

Sunday, sales at the booth were very good compared to previous years and though this had us in high spirits, we were both very weary, right from the beginning of the day. Lately, Comic Con starts EVERY day at 9AM (whereas the weekdays used to start from 11AM in the old days) meaning now there’s no chance to catch-up on sleep after the long drive down from San Francisco, and the subsequent evenings of fun and revelry. This schedule is cumulatively tiring, even on a healthy body, but especially on poor old Rhode, who had picked up a come-and-go infection that left him looking green by Sunday afternoon.

So we took our time in packing, after the show was over. Many of our friends just roll up a banner and simply walk out the door at the end of a show but the downside of our silly Booth Shenanigans is that it not only takes a while to prepare but ALSO to break down and getting all the stuff into the car (both at the start and the finish) is 3-dimensional TETRIS. Unfortunately, we couldn’t toss the YARD SALE fence-posts because they were needed back in Stockton (that wasn’t merely a prop; it was a genuine NORCAL fence, my friends!) though we did abandon the Astro-turf. The break-down of the booth this time around was the longest ever but we weren’t in any hurry. It was actually our first chance to relax since the show began! Coming back to my hotel to find a desk clerk rocking the good time COMIC CON party attitude in Clark Kent attire (see above) was an amusing end to a good show.

After freshening-up, I hooked-up with the Maverix crew at YAKITORI/YAKYUDORI for a post-con chow-fest; ending this year’s show at the same restaurant where the eating BEGAN the year prior. A huge mob of us invaded the place, and the waiter looked like he’d have an aneurysm when we ordered 4 of everything on 3 separate menus. The best part of Sunday though, was the chance to sleep-in before the long, and eventful drive back to the Bay Area (doing that story justice would take up an entire blog post on its own!)

…ah, SLEEP…. Actually, that still sounds pretty good to me! ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Mar 032010
 

I have been busy lately, but creative output on my personal projects has been slow… Which sounds like a good excuse to post about interesting things my friends have been doing.

Sanjay Patel has completed a new book, called RAMAYANA: DIVINE LOOPHOLE, this time published by CHRONICLE BOOKS. It is another of his explorations of, and introductions to, the stories told about Indian gods, done in his super elegant graphic style (the real Indian deity is Sanjay himself, in my opinion). I’ve seen this beautiful book but arrived too late to secure my own copy at his recent book signing at SUPER 7. You can order your copy now from AMAZON.

Brian McDonald also has recently published a new book, called INVISIBLE INK, all about the secrets of telling a good story. Some of the ideas have been mentioned on his always interesting INVISIBLE INK blog, but the book contains all of his wisdom and many years of experience as a screenwriter and teacher of story-telling, bound in one tidy package. I have already read the manuscript and fully intend to pick up a copy of this great book. It is available now on AMAZON.

Rhode Montijo has been up to more of his street-art hijinks… Spreading good-vibes and creativity for no other reason than he enjoys doing so; a philosophy that I greatly admire. I already posted about his CRAYON PORTRAITS caper and now you can read about OPERATION SNOWMAN on his own blog HERE. After years of enjoying such Rhode shenanigans as this, I am beginning to suspect that he is actually an elf, or hobbit or some other such magical creature, and not human at all.

Jul 292009
 

This year Rhode and I tipped our hats to the home-made and hokey quality of con-culture when we adorned our Comic-Con booth with a giant home-made tin-foil robot and dressed ourselves in cheesy outfits with tin-foil trim and retro/future shades. It was very much the “plan 9 from outer space” aesthetic at our booth this time around.

“The Future is Tomorrow!”
Our concept was that we had brought the robot back from a future time where human beings no longer make comics, instead Robots do all the work and the handmade artwork is a thing of the past. We had no idea if this facetious and silly concept would work, or if we would just make idjits of ourselves, but we were gratified to see that many people actually got a kick out of the home-made and cheesy quality of our booth.

Rhode deserves ALL the credit for constructing the robot. Although we both hatched the concept on the drive home from the 2006 show (the show where we dressed up in cheesy jumpsuits) I was not able to participate in the construction of the robot. That was all done in Stockton by Rhode, while I was at my apartment in San Francisco, locked in a epic clash of wills with my stubborn printer, in an attempt to crank out prints to sell.

While on the one hand it is wonderful to see nerd culture being embraced by the mainstream and even Hollywood, it also makes the event so huge that it becomes a chore to attend. Simply finding the booths that you want to see, even those that you have known about in advance, is so very hard that it sucks all the fun out of the room sometimes.

Moreover, The focus has shifted away from the comics and the artists themselves to media promotion, movies, games, celebrity panels, and limited edition collectibles. A better name for the show that Comic Con has become would be MEDIA CON. Comics seem to be the last thing on people’s minds these days.

But I love going there. I enjoy seeing certain friends who I only ever see at these events. I enjoy wandering around the hall and seeing the beautifully made figurines, the original artwork, the prints the life sized maquettes… I love all of it even though I am not a collector (I got more than my fair share of nerd genes but I did not get the COLLECTOR gene).

Even though I do not collect toys or artwork, I enjoy seeing them. Being able to go to a dealer booth and see original artwork, drawn by my art-heroes, and hold it in my own hands and see the brush strokes is a real charge for a comics dork such as myself. One of my favourite things in the world is to see the work of human hands, and for that reason, I love Comic Con. It also explains why I get a kick out of all the fans in costume, both the shoddy home-made and dorky outfits and the beautifully hand-crafted ones are both a testament to the fan-love that drove the event in the first place.

Some people I know have always expressed embarrassment at the fans in costume, as if they lower the tone, but for me that has always been the heart and soul of the event. Without them it is just a huge room full of people buying stuff. With them in attendance there is some sense of fun and pageantry and, more importantly, an expression of the joy of being there not for profit but just for fun.

This was probably my best show ever, largely due to the intense socialising I did this year, in what was certainly the most tiring show I have ever done. I am still dealing with the cumulative sleep deprivation of a week of fun. And yet, there is a strange love/hate aspect of going to Comic Con that is hard to pin down. Each time I go, I have so much fun, and yet it can be an overwhelming and even frustrating experience as well. I think that no matter where you are on the nerd-spectrum, from super-nerd to barely-nerd, there will be moments of joy and pleasure at Comic Con and moments where you have reached your threshold and want out, ASAP…

In the years I have been going, first as an attendee and more recently as an exhibitor, COMIC CON INTERNATIONAL has grown exponentially into a huge media event, and lately it seems that the hokey and home made quality that I used to love about it is being crowded out by the huge, the corporate and the slick.

For all the reasons listed above, plus the escalation in costs of being an exhibitor (I have never even come close to making back my costs at Comic Con) Rhode and I are not sure whether we will continue to do the show in future… or perhaps we will opt for a smaller cheaper exhibition space next time.

Apr 292009
 

Last weekend, I was back in the Bay Area for a preview screening of UP, the 10th feature film from Pixar. The studio always puts on a good show at their WRAP PARTIES and it is a delight to see co-workers aglow in the joy of watching what they have worked so hard to make, while partying in fancy finery; evening gowns and tuxedos, even top hats and tails.

The film is fantastic, and watching it was extra fun for me because a good amount of my work actually made it into the final film; not always the case when you work only at the very beginning of the process, which was the case for me here. I am philosophical about having most (if not all) of my work cut out of projects because, after all, that exploration and opportunity to revise is what storyboarding is all about. So it was a special treat to see a lot of my work in the film. I very much enjoyed the working on this project with a crew that was full of gracious people, all the way UP to the directors themselves. However, all those good vibes didn’t make it a cake walk; I worked harder on this film than any other!

🙂

The most gratifying part of it all is to see the finished film. It came out wonderfully. This film has a blend of madcap silliness and yet emotional realism that is difficult to strike, but one of the things I most enjoyed about it. I have never seen a story like this before and I think it is one of the best that Pixar has ever done (though I clearly have my own bias on that score) but I can state with absolute conviction that it is certainly my favourite film that I have worked on thus far. I hope that you all like it too. It opens everywhere on May 29th.

Mar 052009
 


This year, I didn’t have a new book, despite my best efforts. That is two shows in a row I’ve exhibited at with no new product, so that trend has to STOP. A for my booth-partner Rhode, he’d planned to have some new sculpts for sale and got the sculpt and castings done, but technical difficulties (with the paint) made that product a non-starter too, though he had a great “coming soon” prototype to show off (Comic Con 2009, will hopefully be where the real thing will go on sale). This year Wondercon was fun, as it always is, and much better attended than expected, given the economy being in tough shape, but this time around the show was all about the food.

Thursday, just after setting up our booth and collecting our booth-badges, a group of us old con-cronies head off to Mi Lindo Peru in the Mission district for some tasty Peruvian food, chased down with a visit to the crowd-pleasing Mitchell’s Ice cream.

Friday, both attendance and sales were slow, but that was more than made up for by a meal at Henry’s Hunan and then a visit to the Cartoon Art Museum. I was geeking out hard on all the fantastic artwork on display; Gene Colan’s pencils, inked pages by Will Eisner and George Herriman… and then I walked around the corner and found the WATCHMEN display. Page after page of fantastic artwork from the comic book including some fantastic thumbnails that Dave Gibbons used to plan his black spottings PLUS some artwork, props and costumes from the upcoming film.

Saturday attendance was crazy; just like Comic-Con. Sales were good and we celebrated by going to Zante’s for some Indian Pizza. That place is great, but for the first time ever the restaurant was insanely crowded, due to there being a large group already there for a birthday party. The food was worth the wait, however, and we then went to Mitchell’s a second time. Later, in my stomach, the ice cream took on the role of Cobra and the Indian food became Mongoose, and they battled it out through the night.

Sunday was a pretty typical day of moderate sales, leaving me time to up some purchases of my own, including the new book from GHOSTBOT (first time exhibitors!)and CORA by Ted Mathot (both of which are great books). Rhode and I managed to pack down the booth and make our getaway in record time and a large part of our motivation was to be on time for a rendezvous at the Schnitzel Haus. What followed was a meal so hearty, fun and filling, that it became dubbed the inaugural Feast Of CONover. I look forward to the next!

Dec 252008
 

Rather than post my own Christmas card, here’s a link to a Christmas post by Rhode Montijo. Both he and his writer pal Jason Jaworski recently set up on Broadway in New York city to make hand-drawn crayon portraits and type-written short stories for the passer-by Christmas shoppers. In return, the recipients were encouraged to donate to a Salvation Army bell-ringer standing nearby. I am no longer surprised when Rhode surprises me; he has so often inspired me in the past. But this new idea of his is something EXTRA special.

A very MERRY and INSPIRING CHRISTMAS, everybody!

Nov 032008
 

Due to my continuing computer troubles (the meltdown of both my G4 laptop and my backup hard-drive in the same month) I was not able to reprint some of my old mini comics, nor do the scanning and formatting for a new comic that I had planned to release at this years APE convention. Despite all those let-downs I had an enjoyable show.

I spent most of the show at my table hawking the old wares, chatting with friends and doing some sketches and though I was mainly booth-bound, I did manage to pick up a few good books during my brief breaks. ROCKET TOWN by Bob Logan, both BOOK PLATE and BELLE DU JOUR by Bill Presing, DEREKMONSTER ANNUAL 2008 by Derek Thompson and also Keith Knight‘s THE COMPLETE K CHRONICLES.

The after-show socialising was especially fun this year. On the Saturday, a group of us went to HENRY’s Hunan, where we dined like Emperors, and then saw the CROM show at the nearby VARNISH gallery; an exhibition of artwork inspired by the movie CONAN. On Sunday night, we had dinner at ZANTE’s Indian Pizza in the Mission district, followed by Mitchell’s ice cream, and then walked to a nearby park where the Day of the Dead parade terminates. This event was much better attended than in previous years, and there was a LOT of creativity on display in the altars and people in skeleton costumes.. Perhaps this event has grown as the San Francisco Halloween festivities have gone sour…

Even though I heard some people grumbling about the date change (from April to October) in my view, the fact that APE 2008 took place on the same weekend as both Halloween and Day of the Dead was an extra special treat this year.