Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Travelogue Stops In Seattle

This weekend was a quick in-and-out jaunt up to a favorite city of mine, Seattle, Washington. This marked my 5th visit to the area, my first being in the summer of 2001. It's a great place to walk around, and I've managed to have excellent weather nearly every time. Even when I have been there during some rain, it's never been more than a drizzle or light showers. I'm fairly certain I wouldn't want to live there, however. Not because of the rain, but because it can be kinda cloudy and grey there...a much so that it would be rather depressing on a daily basis. It makes for vibrant, lush countryside; the Pacific Northwest area of the country has some amazing forests, and the rain is vital for that. But to be in a city day-in and day-out with grey skies over grey buildings, um, no, thanks. I'm too much a creature of sunlight. I'm not a tanning person at all; I actually cover up as much as possible when I'm working, because skin cancer is a definite hazard of my job, especially out here in the deserts of the American Southwest. But I just love natural light. When I'm home during the day, I've got blinds wide open to let as much light in as possible. I only keep the ones covered that would let the sun stream in directly...the electric bill is high enough trying to keep the house cool in the summer.

So this visit to Seattle was strictly about attending the Emerald City Comicon. Last year my visit to the show was incorporated as part of a 10 day Pacific Northwest driving vacation which went on as far north as Vancouver, British Columbia. I spent 3 or 4 days in Seattle, wandering around, doing touristy things with my Mom, and only went to the convention 1 day. This year, I wasn't even originally planning on attending the event, until they announced Frank Quitely as one of the guests. Quitely is an artist who has worked often with Grant Morrison, one of my absolute favorite writers. Quitely is from, and lives in, Scotland, so his appearances in this country are quite rare. In talking with him at the show, he said he hadn't been to the United States since 2002. So when I had seen a while ago that he would be in Seattle, I looked into it, saw that it would be convenient enough for me to go, and the rest just became history.

Flying out of Las Vegas Friday morning, I landed in Sea-Tac airport a little before noon. I hadn't flown into Seattle since 2008, so this was the first time I was able to take Seattle's Light Rail train system from the airport straight into downtown. The cab ride I used to take for the same trip would run around 50 bucks or so with a tip. Light Rail? $2.50. Roughly the same amount of time, nice smooth ride, good views, and let me off about a block away from my hotel. Fantastic.

Through the convention website, I was able to get a nice hotel literally across the street from the convention center, so I really wasn't going to be doing much other than going back and forth from my room to the show. By the time I'd checked in and settled my stuff into my room, it was just after 2PM, which was when the show was to open on Friday, so I just threw a few of the books I'd brought with me into my backpack and headed downstairs. By the time I got over there the show was open for business and already humming with activity. I made a beeline for Quitely's table, only to discover that his line for signing had already been cut off. I realized this when I stumbled across the person wearing the "I Am The Last Person In Line" placard that convention staff gives out to certain people in line for particularly popular guests. I was a little stunned, as it was only about 2:30, but then I saw the sign at Quitely's table that said he'd only be signing from 2-3 and 7-8 on Friday, with the rest of the time allowing for him to be on panels and do sketches which were being commissioned from him at the show. Okay, change in plans...

So I decided to make my way over to go and see Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. I've mentioned Mignola here before, as he is one of my favorite comic creators. I was such a big fan of his work a long time ago that I wound up interviewing him for Amazing Heroes back in 1991. I've followed his career for nearly a quarter century now, which makes us both older than we'd really care to admit (he just recently turned 50...he's got me beat by a little over a decade). He had a line, but I wasn't in any hurry, so I just got on to the end of that, with the trusty iPod and iPhone to occupy my time. Turns out, they really weren't all that necessary, as most folks just want to get things signed, and don't bother talking to the people whose work they enjoy. Except me, of course...

I cued my iPhone to a picture of me from my first driver's license way back in 1989, and was about to place that on the table in front of Mignola and his wife Christine to spark their memories of me, when Mike looked up, and without any prompting, recognized me on his own. No, it hasn't been since the interview that I've seen him. I've run into him at maybe a half-dozen shows across the country in the intervening years, and he still manages to remember me every time...but it still takes me by pleasant surprise every time when he does remember me. I showed them both the picture anyway, as I felt I owed it to Mike to show him an "embarrassing" picture of me, since one of the last times I'd seen him, I'd presented his wife with a bunch of pictures of him from around the time of the interview. We both were of the long-haired-hippie variety in 1991...and we both are of the smooth, shiny, chrome-dome now. Yeah, we all got a chuckle out of it, and talked for a couple minutes, but I don't wanna monopolize time when there's other people waiting to get stuff signed, so I headed off, knowing I'd see them again over the weekend.

Wandering around the show floor, I made my way over to the Image Comics booth, where Erik Larsen was going to be set-up. I'm not a big fan of Larsen's work, but I respect his work ethic, and thru his Twitter account, I respect his opinions. He has been the writer and artist of his creation, Savage Dragon, for about 20 years now, managing to put out an issue practically without fail every month in that time span. In addition to that, he also works on other Image projects, as well as being one of the chief officers of the company. I just wanted to let him know I was one of his Twitter followers, thank him for having and expressing opinions, and to pick up a copy of his new Herculian book, which was a collection of non-Savage Dragon odds and ends he'd recently put together. He'd mentioned how much fun he'd had putting this together on Twitter, so I figured the least I could do to thank him for his Twitter entertainment was to get a copy of this for myself. Read it in the hotel that night, and the fun definitely shines thru, even in the main story, which had some serious overtones to it.

The main story is of particular note as it was originally produced as a "24 Hour Comic", which means that the entire 24 page story was written and drawn over a single 24 hour period. This was started back in 1990 by Scott McCloud and Steve Bissette, and has grown to have it's own annual day. Larsen took a recent 24 hour comic of his, had it colored, and made it the first half of his Herculian book, with some other shorts and strips filling the second half. A 24 hour comic is a tremendous achievement, and if you don't think so, try coming even close to doing one yourself. It normally takes 2 artists a full month to render a 22 page comic that a third creator has written. There is quite an amount of work that goes into creating a single page of a comic, let alone entire books, and further on month after month. There is definitely a real strong and admirable work ethic involved in consistently producing a monthly comic book.

Around this time I made my way over to where Kevin MaGuire was seated. MaGuire is another favorite artist of mine, having rendered many issues of Justice League from the late 1980's and early 1990's that struck a chord with me. His speciality was, and is, his remarkable ability to capture a tremendous array of expressions on faces. He has always been able to draw characters with a smirk, or a frown, or a raised eyebrow, or a come-hither look, or whatever emotion or expression you could think of, better than just about anyone in the business, and do the full gamut of emotions equally well. Again, something that you would think would be easy to do, but believe me, it isn't.

After speaking with Maguire and Rosemary Cheetham, the colorist on his current book Tanga, I started to wander back to the hotel...only to suddenly realize it was about 4:30, and the panel focusing on Quitely was due to start at 5. I'd been thinking about getting some food, but now knew I was actually a little pressed for time, so I made a quick trip back to the hotel, grabbed only the books I had for Quitely, and headed back over to the convention center. As I was entering the building, I sensed someone was approaching behind me, so I stopped and held the door open as I normally would...

...and turned to see that it was Quitely himself I was holding the door open for. To quote John Cusack's Martin Blank character from Grosse Pointe Blank, "Dumb fuckin' luck!" I instantly told him that he was the reason I was heading into the building at that moment, and since we were obviously heading for the same place, hoped he wouldn't mind if I tagged along. He was fine with that, so we started chatting. I got the chance to tell him he was the reason for my attending the show at all this year, to which he was flattered. He talked about how he sits in his house working on this stuff, and since he doesn't do many conventions at all, let alone in the US, he's never really quite sure how well received the work is. Then he'll sit at his table at this Seattle show and see his line cut-off because so many people want to meet him, and he's a little taken aback.

As we made our way up the escalators, we exchanged introductions. Frank Quitely is just a pen name, but he's used it for so long that he answers to it as well as his real name. Amongst his friends, he's Vin, but I'll keep referring to him as Quitely for the sake of this piece. We talked about various subjects, including his most well-known creative partner, Morrison, and about drugs, since Morrison makes no secret of being a taker of many mind-expanding substances. That then led to the subject of Bill Hicks and George Carlin, and to my surprise, Quitely had never heard of Carlin. Thinking about it later, I realized that Hicks, while being huge in the UK and relatively unknown here in the the US, was exactly the opposite of Carlin, who was huge here and never really toured, or caught on, outside of the States. He was interested to learn more about him however, since I'd mentioned him in the same breath with Hicks.

We then made our way to the room where he was supposed to be fronting his panel, and as it was still occupied with the current talk, we stood in the hallway and continued chatting. I asked him about the recent animated adaptation of the wonderful All-Star Superman book that he and Morrison had put together, and he responded by sheepishly telling me he hadn't seen it yet. He hadn't been invited to the premiere, and hadn't even been given a copy of it (which DC staff at the show were trying to rectify immediately). I had just gotten the Blu-Ray the day before, put a digital copy of it on my iPod, and watched it earlier that morning on the flight up to Seattle. So I cued it up, and had Quitely watching some of it on my iPod there in the hallway, which I found somewhat surreal.

Around this time someone else finally recognized him, and asked him if he would't mind signing a book. He obliged, and I said to him I hadn't done that for fear of bringing a crowd around him (which is true...I had things I wanted him to sign, but if I brought them out there in the hallway, the moths would have all been attracted to the flame, and I was much more enjoying just talking with the man). He said he didn't mind, so I opened up my portfolio and showed him the 3 original pages of his that I own. Upon looking at the page of his I have from Batman & Robin (again written by Morrison), I asked him about the change they made to the piece. The published version has a very different graveyard to the one on the original piece, and even he wasn't really sure as to why they had him do a re-worked version, but they did. He also told me that he made the changes digitally, which explained why there was no patch that came with the original penciled page that I'd bought.

He also signed the 2 pages that I have from the All-Star Superman series, and I told him that the unfortunate thing about that was they were both from a scene that was cut from the animated movie. Since the film only ran 76 minutes, a lot of things had to be cut from the 12 issues that Morrison and Quitely had produced. He commented that he didn't know why they just didn't make it a series, and do the whole thing, but oh well.

As usual, this entry is taking on a life of it's own, and with plenty more to tell, I'll save that for another time...

Blog Post Soundtrack; The Police, Pennywise, Pantera, Desert Sessions, The Strokes (live), Kool & The Gang, Soundgarden, Muddy Waters, Metallica (live), The Mars Volta, ZZ Top, Deep Purple (live), Björk, Pearl Jam (live), Lily Allen, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Queens Of The Stone Age (live), King Missile, Hater, The Blues Brothers (live), The Clash, Oysterhead, Slayer, Social Distortion, Scatterbrain, Eagles Of Death Metal (live), Judas Priest (live), Jimi Hendrix, Monty Python, Santana, Infectious Grooves, Lenny White, Fugazi, The Marx Brothers

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