Next week at this time, I'll be in the belly of the beast: Comic-Con International San Diego. I've written before about my history with San Diego here and conventions in general both here and here.
More than any other show, San Diego is an ordeal, at least for me. Since I'm on the East Coast, it means a cross-country flight and the accompanying dose of jet lag. It also means being "on" as soon as I arrive, and pretty much constantly thereafter, until I get back on the plane.
I'm looking at next week's trip with a mix of dread and anticipation. It's work. Between signings, panels and meetings, there's never really time to enjoy anything at the show. That's not to say I don't enjoy myself. I got to see all the Batmobiles in person last year, and that was worth the trip all by itself. I also get to catch up with friends I only see a few times a year, though it's no longer the mecca for comics pros it once was. I used to be able to count on seeing most of my creator friends there each year. That's not the case anymore, as more creators choose to avoid the hassle, and especially the expense. As esteemed philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
I know creators who have vowed to never set foot in the convention again, annoyed that something called "Comic-Con" has become about a myriad of things other than comics, annoyed at the barely-manageable crowds, annoyed at the incessant commercial hucksterism of it all. And to a degree, I understand that frustration. Comic-Con is not what it once was, and never will be again. If you want a show that's mostly comic-centric, you need to go to Baltimore Comic Con, or Seattle's Emerald City Comic Con.
San Diego is also the site of my strangest convention experience ever. Not necessarily my worst convention story, though. That one would probably be finding that a promoter had booked me into a fleabag roadside motel; when I opened the room door and turned on the light, the first thing I saw was a roach scurrying across the bed. Needless to say, I didn't stay there.
My guess is that my strangest con experience happened in 2003, which I'm pretty sure is the last year that CrossGen Comics exhibited. Once the doors closed on Sunday, I helped break down the CrossGen booth (though most of the heavy-duty work was done by the facilities manager, John Smith, and some hired professionals). Being in the convention center after the show is over on Sunday is akin to watching a swarm of insects devour a corpse. Booths are broken down, unsold merchandise boxed up, pallets carted away, carpets rolled up. In fairly short order, there's nothing but bare bones.
A guy walked past the table, headed for the front doors, presumably to see the hostess and be seated. But he didn't make it that far. As he passed our table, he glanced at me. I semi-recognized him from the convention; I'm pretty good at faces, though names tend to trickle away from me. The guy made a u-turn, and came to stand next to our table. He was slight and unremarkable, still clad in his con gear of cargo shorts, button-down shirt and backpack. "You are Ron Marz." A statement, not a question. I said yes, and shook his hand (it was a little sweaty), told him it was nice to meet him.
He didn't introduce himself, he just went on: "You wrote the Silver Surfer and the Green Lantern." I said yes. "You wrote the Silver Surfer with Jim Starlin, who is your friend. That was your first work in comics." I said yes again. "Then you wrote the Green Lantern, and you created Kyle Rayner to replace Hal Jordan in the Emerald Twilight storyline. Why did you create Kyle Rayner to replace Hal Jordan?" At last, a question instead of a flat statement. I explained that the direction came from DC editorial, but Darryl Banks and I were left largely to our own devices to create Kyle. He went on, running down a list of other projects I'd written, including the "Aliens" crossovers with Batman and Green Lantern, as well as "Marvel vs. DC" and its fan voting (some of which he disagreed with). It was like having someone deliver a lecture about my career to me. "Then you moved on to the CrossGen Comics in Tampa, Florida." By this time, our appetizers showed up. The waitress had to navigate around the guy in order to put down the plates.
I thought maybe he'd take the food's arrival as a sign that is was time to move on. Nope. "You write the comics 'Mystic,' 'Scion' and 'Sojourn,' but then you stopped writing 'Mystic' so you could write 'The Path," which is like a samurai story. I like samurai stories." He went on, randomly talking about the CrossGen books. He said he liked "Sojourn" too, but was not a fan of CrossGen's shared universe. Me neither, honestly. "You used to live in Woodstock, New York, but now you live in Tampa, Florida, so you can work at the CrossGen Comics." Yup. I just kept eating my appetizer. There really wasn't much else to do. We weren't actually having a dialogue, it was a monologue, because he didn't seem to grasp how a normal conversation worked. Bill was trying to stifle giggles at this point. It wasn't really funny, per se, just awkward and weird.
At some point during all this, I glanced back at Terry and Rachel, who seemed equally flummoxed just being an audience to what was happening. "When you lived in Woodstock, New York, you lived on West Saugerties Road, near the artists Jim Starlin and Bernie Wrightson and Terry Austin. Whoa. He knew where I used to lived. It was... kind of creepy. That kind of information wasn't as easily available as it is now, when our lives are splashed across Facebook and Twitter. Bill looked at me with an arched eyebrow. "You used to play the volleyball every week with Jim Starlin, Bernie Wrightson, Terry Austin, Fred Hembeck and other comic artists. What was that like, to play the volleyball with comic professionals? I wonder if any of them were concerned about injuring their drawing hands."
Almost 20 minutes after he appeared, he was still going strong. The entrees arrived, Shrimp with Candied Walnuts for me. The fact that our meals were on the table in front of us didn't give our guest/interrogator any cause for pause. I considered gesturing the table behind us and saying, "Have you ever met Terry Dodson?" But I couldn't bring myself to inflict my misery upon someone else. "You have three children -- two boys and one girl." I didn't quite know what to say. I'm protective of my children, very careful of putting them in front of the public. How did he know how many kids I had? I think I said, "That's... not something I really talk about."
That seemed fine by him. He just moved on to other topics and kept talking, like wondering whether I might go back to "Green Lantern" someday (turns out I did). And then, with our meals almost gone, he seemed to run out of things to say, almost like a top winding down. He looked around, blinked, and seemed search his memory for another factoid to offer up. And then: "Well, don't want to take up too much of your time. Bye!" He turned on his heel and walked away. As far as I know, I've never seen him again.
Terry Dodson looked over, his expression still pretty stunned. He asked, "Did you know that guy?" "No," I said. "But he apparently knew me."
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts" and "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athleta Comics and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.
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