My First Comic Book Convention Experience

As a follow-up to the post “This Is What Comic Conventions Are About,” I can’t help but share my first comic book convention experience.

In the 1980’s, there were a string of comic book conventions held in a single room at the North Miami Beach Howard Johnson.

The conventions consisted of local dealers and a handful of artists.  It was a small show, but it was all we had.

My First Convention

At my first comic book convention, I think I was so young that I could barely see over the tables and I’m also pretty sure that this was one of the conventions where my mother was walking around with me (in later years, she’d drop me off for the day).

These are the types of comic convention experiences that kids (and adults) should have.
That has always been the best part of the comic book experience.
It got me nostalgic for a “when I was a kid story” of how
Of course, you realize this leads me to a “when I was a kid story” (please hold back your groans, I’m going somewhere with this).
In the 1980’s, there were a string of comic book conventions held in a room at the NMB Howard Johnson and featured local dealers and a handful of artists.
At one of my first conventions (or maybe even my first), I was so short that my head just barely made it above the tables and I think my mother was with me (at later conventions she’d drop me off for the day).
So, there I am.  And Captain America artist Mike Zeck is at his table sketching.  To say I watched in awe is to say that deer pause when met with headlights.  I forget how it came up, but I learned that convention sketches were $10 (or something like that).  I was noticeably upset by this information and Zeck saw this.
He completed the sketch, pulled out a new board and furiously drew something in pencil.  His hand moved at Sergio Aragones-speed and then he leaned over and said, “What’s your name?”  I told him, he put what looked like the finishing touches on what he was doing and then handed me the board.
In my hands I now had a Mike Zeck penciled head sketch of Captain America.  Personalized with my name.
In 30+ years of reading comics, it’s one of the single-greatest experiences I’ve ever had reading comic books.
It was a nice gesture and a personal touch that pulled me into loving comic books for life.
Which is why I was so happy when I saw the story about Matt Fraction and the Littlest Vision.
This kid is gonna be a Marvel Zombie for life.  And it’s awesome that Joe Quesada and the rest of the Marvel Bullpen gave this kid (and everyone watching) this experience.
Which is why I was happy as all get-out that I saw this article.

Anyhow, at some point I ended up in front of Captain America (and later Secret Wars, Punisher and Kraven’s Last Hunt) artist Mike Zeck‘s table.

Mike Zeck  was drawing a sketch for a fan and up until that point in time I had never actually seen the act of someone drawing a comic book character.

Sure, I scribbled in the margins of my notebooks at school, but this was quite different.  This was like coming across one of the “seven wonders of the world.”  I was awestruck.  It was easily one of the most amazing things I had seen up until that point.

I forget how it came up, but as he was drawing I learned that convention sketches were $10 (or something like that).  I was noticeably upset by this information.  My mother had already paid for the admission fee to the convention and I was reluctant to ask her for more money for such a “luxury item.”

As he was finishing, Mike Zeck saw the expression of disappointment on my face and after completing the sketch he was working on he pulled out a new board and furiously drew something with his pencil.  He then leaned over and said, “What’s your name?”  I told him and he put the finishing touches on the board and then he handed it to me.

In my small hands was a Mike Zeck Captain America head sketch.  Personalized with my name, and it even had a word balloon that said, “Make Mine Marvel!”

I was a comic book fan already.  This made me a lifer.  No question.

Mike Zeck remains a permanent fixture in my “top 5 favorite artists” list and in my 30+ years of reading comic books, it is one of the single-most amazing experiences I have ever had (second, of course, to Identity Crisis many years later).

But here’s the thing.  The comic book community is full of stories like this.  So much of the culture and community is about being polite and paying it forward.

Myself and countless other fans have had numerous experiences like this.

Simple and kind gestures that make a positive impact on the fans.

Writers Who Pay It Forward

Which is why I feel compelled to add an additional story to this post.  Many years later, at the same convention, I met Louise Simonson and she took the time to show me my first comic book script.

At that point in time, the Internet was still a concept in a William Gibson novel and magazines like Amazing Heroes and The Comics Journal certainly covered the mechanics of comic books but neither really got down to the nuts and bolts of things like what a script looked like (come to think of it, outside of the Marvel Try Out, I don’t think there was even a way to see a script if you weren’t an industry professional).

So when she showed me how it was done and talked about the process of writing a comic book; that again changed how I read comic books.

(and yes, she’s a permanent fixture on my “top 5 favorite writers” list)

The Internet And Paying It Forward

Which is why I love how Brian Michael Bendis* (permanent fixture in my “top 3 favorite writers”) has used social media to give back to the fans in his own way.  If you listen to the Word Balloon “Bendis Tapes,” he provides writing advice and process tips to fans.  If DVD extras are a way to save money on film school, the Bendis tapes are the quickest way to understanding what it takes to work in comic books.  And, I should point out that he also gives back by publishing the Powers Script Book so fans could see behind the curtain.

It’s not just limited to Mike Zeck, Louise Simonson and Brian Michael Bendis.

Look at the work on the Superman house.  That’s creators and fans.  Which is to say that it’s not even just limited to comic book creators.

It’s the readers who give back as well.  Like giving a comic book they’re done with to a kid on a plane or train.  Or when you see someone in a comic book store, clearly confused (or overwhelmed), and you try to lead them towards the books that they might like reading.

The creators and the fans in the comic book community and culture share simple acts of kindness that are often absent from other media and it’s comic book conventions that are some times the most visible place this occurs.

This is kind of why I was a bit down on San Diego Comic-Con (but picked up again when I saw “the littlest Vision” and further when James Robinson reminded me about Baltimore and Emerald City in his Twitter).

This is not to say that there aren’t extremely kind people in television, movies, sports, etc.  But I seem to think that it’s inside the comic book culture that you have more “immediate” access to this type of thing (and especially at conventions).

Conclusion

There’s a great scene in the movie Trading Places where Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) is getting ready for his first day of work.  His butler, Coleman, offers him the following advice:

Coleman: Just be yourself, sir. Whatever happens, they can’t take that away from you.

And that’s the thing.  Whatever happens.  However big San Diego Comic-Con gets.  However many movies or television shows Hollywood produces.  They can not alter who we are as comic fans/readers and who the creators are and these acts of kindness that build our community.  We will always have that, and they can never take that away from us.

(this last bit would work brilliantly if I was able to ride a horse like in Braveheart…)

*I got to meet Bendis at Comic-Con in the mid-90’s, he’d just finished AKA Goldfish and was starting up on Jinx.  One of the nicest people I’ve met in comics and he even offered to replace my Caliber copy of the AKA Goldfish trade because of the crappy glue. I declined cause I felt bad that he wouldn’t have a copy of the book to sell to someone else.

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