COMIC-CON reopens this week, after a 2-year hiatus. I’ve not been in years, but have fond memories of the show. I first attended in 1997 and exhibited from 2001-2011 alongside Maverix Studios or Rhode Montijo. The con itself is tiring but there was one year where Rhode & I were exhausted even before arriving. We’d loaded books, merch, and booth decorations into Rhode’s dad’s enormous van earlier than usual, wanting to avoid driving, setting up & exhibiting all on the same day. But we got a late start and were tired from the get-go.
I’d had no sleep the night before, battling my surly inkjet to make new prints to sell. Rhode was tired too, after making booth decorations in Stockton and driving to San Francisco to pick me up. Though in need of sleep, I stayed awake to keep our eyes open with one of our long chats – brainstorming comics, other projects, booth decorations, and catching up with each other’s lives. Hitting LA later than usual, we became ensnarled in traffic and didn’t get to San Diego until midnight, and found street parking near the Hotel.
This particular year, Rhode was comped a free room in the fancy Omni Hotel near the convention center (in exchange for autograph signings at a previous employer’s booth). My reservation elsewhere started the next day, so I’d sleep on the floor of Rhode’s room that night. As I clambered out of the van eager for sleep, Rhode explained in urgent whispers that I should stay put while he checked-in, and we’d go to the room separately. Too tired to ask why this time we’d enter the hotel like an Ocean’s 11 heist caper (when we’d shared hotel rooms many times before) I simply became a sneaky ninja too.
Thus, skulking super spy Rhode went in to the hotel, while his point man in the van watched his back with drooping eyes.. Then Rhode furtively snuck back out and delivered the room number & card-key, like a spy transmitting the launch codes, whispering that he’d follow after hiding our tempting merch under a tarp. Now it was my turn to be a sneaky cat-burglar, tiptoeing into the deserted corridors of the posh hotel as if infiltrating a Bond villain’s compound, I found our room, opened the door with the card-key, unfurled my sleeping bag, and passed out immediately.
Hours later, the soda consumed on highway 5 leaned on my bladder and woke me up. The bedside clock said 2:30 AM, but the bed itself had not been slept in. “No Rhode! What the?!” I remembered my last sight of him – back doors of the BEHEMOTH van tantalisingly open, displaying an Ali Baba’s cave of merch with Rhode’s back turned. Had his fears of van-lusting baddies come true? Had my friend been robbed? Stabbed & left for dead!? I hastily scrambled downstairs and hit the streets in a fluster, expecting to find an oil stain where the van used to be and my beloved friend lying in a pool of blood and ‘Pablo’s Inferno’ & ‘Rocket Rabbit’ comics.
However the van was safe & sound and the merch too, but there was no Rhode. This was long before we had cellphones, so my only option was to prowl the area looking for a Rhode-shaped corpse.. but I couldn’t find him.. It had been over 3 hours since I’d seen Rhode.. “Where can he be?” I sent him an old-school text – leaving a note under the windshield wipers of the van, and head for our room. If he wasn’t there, I’d wait for him to contact me on the room phone..
Once again I skulked through the empty corridors of the hotel to our room.. But the card-key wouldn’t work! “Is Rhode inside?!” I knocked repeatedly: “Rhode?” No reply.. On my way to reception, 2 security guards arrived (probably alerted to my noise) and I took them to our room, where they opened the door to reveal my bedroll on the floor next to Rhode’s empty bed.. They called the front desk on their walkie talkies.. and were told that this was the wrong room for Mr Rhode Montijo.
“But how can that be? I got into this room with that card-key?!” They shrugged. “It happens.” I temporarily put to one side the creepy fact that random card-keys work with other hotel rooms.. and followed the security muscle to what was supposedly the right room. I knocked.. and Rhode opened the door! I was SO relieved to see him that I immediately dashed to get my stuff from the other room, as the security dudes left talking on their walkie talkies. Mere minutes later I returned to the correct room and let myself in to find..
RHODE HAD VANISHED..
The bed had been slept in but he was nowhere to be seen. Again! After sleep deprivation, battling temperamental inkjet printers & vindictive hotel doors, stalking the streets of San Diego in search of a murdered friend, who was apparently phase-shifting from place to place, my mind was about to snap. “WTF!?!” I frantically searched the room, looking behind drapes.. in closets.. in the bathroom.. and behind the shower curtain I found.. Rhode, cringing as if waiting for the Stasi Death Squad!
“GAH! RHODE!? Why are you hiding?!”
“Dunno.. Those security guys?”
“But it’s YOUR room?!“
“Where were YOU?”
“Looking for you. I thought you were dead!”
“?? Why didn’t you come to the room?”
“I thought I had!”
”I was so tired, I musta scrambled the room number..”
“..my key let me into ANOTHER room!”
“Wha? What a night!”
“What a pair of eejits”
We both burst into paroxysms of laughter, unpacking our own madness – Rhode wanted to use his comped hotel room as a crashpad for indy comics pals, and begun to think he was ”puting one over” the system, even though the room was actually his. Add a pinch of exhaustion, a tad of worry about his dad’s van, and voila; nervous ninja. My contribution to this paranoia cocktail was a sleep-deprived murder fantasy.
It’s worth noting here that neither of us took drugs, and this story illustrates why. If we got this discombobulated on simple sleep deprivation, god help us (and everyone else) if we took anything stronger. After a cathartic giggle, we went to sleep knowing that everyone was alive & safe, and that Preview Night started late enough to allow us a few hours of truly restful sleep, before we had to set up for another COMIC-CON!
While fame & fortune via comics eluded me, I enjoyed making stuff a great deal. Exhibiting was fun too, despite such occasional bouts of THE WRATH OF CON!