Maybe it’s just me, but attending comic conventions in America always seem to involve lots of beer and a dearth of sleep. The beer part doesn’t bother me all that much; I have a strong constitution and plenty of experience of being inebriated before conventions (which is part of the reason that I’m still barred from Hooters in Long Beach in L.A.), but one thing that I do need to have is my sleep. It was because I wanted to stay asleep a little bit longer that I went to Day 2 of NYCC a few hours after my roommate Eddie and the rest of my friends had already made the journey to the convention centre.
Due to possibly having too many friends and too much free time, I had obligations in Florida on Sunday which meant that despite having the much vaunted VIP Pass, I was only able to spend two days at the convention as my flight to Florida on Sunday was at too early an hour to allow me to hit the convention. This meant that I needed to be sure that all the important stuff was done on Friday so that, apart from meeting Bruce Campbell sometime between 2PM and 4PM, I had absolutely no plans for Saturday besides sleeping late(ish), doing some more shopping, and possibly hitting up the Abstract Studios booth four or five more times. Though myself and three friends did have plans to see the second Lord of the Rings movie in Radio City Music Hall that night after the convention, which was an event tied in to NYCC. But more on that later.
After another greasily-replenishing breakfast in The Blarney Rock near Penn Station, I felt alive again and ready to make the journey the rest of the way to the convention centre. But, like most people when they leave a bar at 11:30 in the morning, I knew that there was something wrong. When we walked to the convention the previous day, I wasn’t fully paying attention to the route we were taking. But one thing that I’ve learned is that you’ll never get anywhere in life if you stand around afraid to move, so I started walking in the general direction that I thought the convention centre was in and started hoping that the luck of the Irish was actual and true. Every time I passed a street corner, I was looking around frantically for something that I thought I recognised from the previous day and, just when I was beginning to think that panicking might actually be proper course of action, I was saved… by Superman. Actually it was Superman and two anime kids and then R2-D2 and then a whole crowd, but I feel happier just giving the credit to Superman.
From seemingly out of nowhere I was in a crowd of people still almost a mile and a half away from the convention centre that was greater in number than the entire attendance of the convention the day previous. All of a sudden I was longing for the halcyon days of yesterday when crowds were smaller and I wasn’t quite eager to see what the crowds would be like when we rounded the corner to see the convention centre in all its glory on the first full day of the convention.
As much of a difference as I found between Friday at NYCC and the typical Irish comic convention, there seemed already to be that much of a difference again between Friday and Saturday. And at that stage, I wasn’t anywhere near as encompassed by people as I would be later in the day.
The huge queue outside the convention centre that myself and Eddie were happy to avoid on Friday was there in full force on Saturday, as well as road blocks, traffic-diversion signs and some really exasperated looking police officers who felt the need to show a group of nerds how to cross the road, even though the nerd-swarm totally dominated the road and everything around it. On days like this, the geeks really do inherit the earth.
I have to admit here that I did laugh to myself quite a bit as I strolled past the ridiculously long queue outside the convention centre. The line was entirely composed of people who were waiting to get their physical passes so that they could gain entrance to the convention floor, where the magic was really happening. All of a sudden, the trouble that Eddie had getting our VIP passes the day before really didn’t seem so troublesome. And it wasn’t just the fact that I already obtained my VIP pass that made life easier on Saturday, it was also the fact that I had walked around the entire convention centre on Friday, or as much as was relevant to this particular convention, and I already knew the lay of the land. I knew where the refreshments were, I knew the best way to get to the convention floor, I knew how to avoid the anime kids and, best of all, I knew exactly where I had to go in order to meet my friends.
On Friday, we had already established where the best meeting places were around the convention floor and generally around the convention centre itself. Midtown Comics was an obvious one because it was was one of the largest retailers at the convention. The DC Comics booth was another, again because of its size and dominance in the room, but the one place on the convention floor where myself and my friends probably sent most of our collective time was at Terry Moore’s booth, Abstract Studios. To the best of my knowledge, Terry Moore was the only artist at the convention who was operating out of Artist Alley and that was because he is pretty much the face of Abstract Studios and is responsible for all of the creative output. He is supported fantastically by his wife and business partner Robyn who has been known to offer guidance and suggestions at times. In truth, I have Robyn to thank for spicing up the sketch of Strangers In Paradise‘s Casey that I got from Terry. Terry had originally intended to do a demure Casey, but Robyn helpfully suggested that Casey shouldn’t be demure, that it doesn’t really fit in with Casey’s personality as Terry wrote her over all of those years, and that Terry should draw something a bit racier and a bit more fun.
Robyn is a wise lady.
The other reason that Terry was the only artist selling sketches from the main convention floor is that the eleven (originally ten) sketches which he sold between Friday and Sunday were all pre-ordered and were mostly ready by the time the convention started on Friday afternoon.
Over the period of the two days that I was at the convention, Terry and Robyn were nothing but polite and friendly and receptive and engaging. I was quite delighted when Eddie and other friends sent me text messages to say that the Abstract booth had been moved from where it was on Friday to a much more prestigious location parallel to the DC Comics booth. I was delighted because kindness deserves a reward and to be honest, I was delighted because I have a bad leg and this new location would mean a much less walking for me during the course of the day.
It’d be very easy to say that the congeniality of Terry and Robyn over the two days of my NYCC adventure was manufactured and false, that it was all put on just to try to make more sales and sell more copies of Terry’s new book, Echo. But I can’t honestly say that even if I had arrived at the booth to see two mean, nasty, snarling, surly exhibitors, I would have spent any less money or spent less time around that booth. As an almost universal rule, if you’re a comic creator who has a booth at something like New York Comic Con, you have a guaranteed audience who will flock to you no matter how you behave or how you treat them.
But Terry and Robyn are very much typical of the people that nerd folk hold in high regard. They don’t have to be nice to their fans, they don’t have to acknowledge them, they don’t have to respect them, but they do anyway.
In LA, I drank with a lot of the staff of Marvel comics. More than a year later, I met Mark Millar at a convention in Dublin and he remembered me from LA. He was kind enough to state that fact quite loudly in a crowded room which did wonders for my image that day. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Mark Waid in the foyer of a convention centre and engage him in conversation. Mark Waid wrote the first comic book that I ever bought; he brought me into the world of comics; he was the reason that I kept reading comics and eventually started going to conventions. In a very real way, he’s the reason that you’re reading this article now. When I met him, Mark Waid shook my hand and listened to me while I tried to tell him how much his work meant to me and how it was his work that had brought me to that point. He seemed flattered and thanked me for my words before he was whisked away by one of his minders.
This year, at NYCC, my friends bombarded me with a hundred stories of how awesome and friendly Robert Kirkman is. Not for one second did I doubt the veracity of their claims, but every photo that I saw of the autograph session backs up their claims.
When I got to the convention on Saturday, there was a lot of stuff that I planned to do and a lot of stuff that wanted to do. But the only thing that I actually had to do was get an autograph from Bruce Campbell. Myself and Eddie and another friend, Gavin, had all pre-booked tickets for Campbell autographs. It wasn’t until I returned home that I discovered that Eddie and myself actually account for 30% of the awareness of Bruce Campbell in the Republic of Ireland, but like I’ve said already, attending a convention in America is a very different experience than attending one in Ireland, and waiting to get into the queue for a Bruce Campbell autograph actually took longer than queuing for a Bruce Campbell autograph. When we got to actually approach Bruce for our not-inexpensive autograph opportunity, Bruce was in the middle of an audio interview. But credit to him, Bruce interrupted the interview each and every time for each and every person after their autograph had been signed to address them by name and thank them for attending the autograph session. All that was left to do after the Campbell autograph was to tie up a few loose ends and see if there was anything on the convention floor that was worth buying. Or, more importantly, see if there was anything decent that might be on sale.
In the end, I didn’t buy a whole lot more merchandise. Statues and comics and original art are awesome and very tempting to buy, but they take up a fierce amount of space in a suitcase as well as potentially costing a lot in overweight-charges at the airport. I have a lot of positive attributes and while it’s fair to say that willpower traditionally hasn’t been one of those attributes, I did manage to resist temptation. Oscar Wilde would have been so proud of me. Because I was due to be leaving on a jet plane the next morning, that final bit of window-shopping did mark the end of the actual convention for me. It wasn’t, however the end of my convention adventure. I still had a rarity of a concert to go to.
One of the advertisements that was running on the convention website in the run up to the actual convention was an advert for Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers at Radio City Music Hall. At first I thought that it was a strange, if not very prestigious, place to hold a screening of a LOTR movie, though the timing was absolutely perfect. On closer inspection, it turned out that the screening was actually more like Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers – In Concert. I have been lucky enough to see Star Wars In Concert in Dublin in March of this year and I knew for a fact that if LOTR in concert was half as enjoyable as the Star Wars version, it would be a magical way to finish off the New York portion of this holiday. I’ll fully admit that the scores to the LOTR movies aren’t as memorable or as catchy as John Williams’s scores to the Star Wars movies, but they are sweeping and magnificent, beautiful pieces of music.
Based solely on the fact that I had already attended Star Wars In Concert, I felt confident that I could predict the format that the evening would take. And I felt absolutely no need to hold back in telling anyone who’d listen all about how I felt the evening would go. But of course, I was wrong. LOTR and Star Wars have very little in common apart corm their fan base and their use of same the Hero Myth that we’ve seen in a million other stories from Harry Potter to The Matrix. So it makes sense that this lack of commonality would hold true to their respective concerts. Instead of the show that I predicted, with a live-on-stage narrator and edited clips with various themes, we were instead treated to movie in almost its entirety. A few minor small scenes were edited out due to irrelevance, but 95% of the movie was shown to us that night.
The movie was shown on a huge screen at a lower-than-normal sound level so that we could enjoy the full effect of the music. In front of the screen was a choir. In front of the choir was the Prague Symphony Orchestra. In front of the orchestra was a small podium. On that podium stood the very person who composed the score to The Two Towers, Howard Shore. Part conductor, part rock star.
Due in part to the rare opportunity that the show afforded and the fact that New York had been over run by nerds for New York Comic Con, every seat in the house was filled that night, and with that many people in one place, you’d generally expect to hear a certain amount of background noise, but in the few instances where the orchestra fell silent, you could tell that every single person in the audience was silent too. In particular, during the scene before the epic battle at Helms Deep, the silence was eerie. I think it’s safe to say that everyone who was at the concert had seen the movie before and they knew what was going to happen during that scene, and they knew what was going to happen after it. But one of the wonderful things about attending a show like this is that what was old becomes new again, and certainly for my part the silence was due to breathless anticipation.
In that kind of situation, you’re aware of everything that’s happening around you and all at the same time, I was watching the screen, I was watching the audience, I was watching the orchestra and most of all I was watching what Howard Shore was doing. All through the evening, watching Shore had been equally as entertaining as watching the movie itself. The man is a very energetic conductor and when he conducts, he gives it his all. But during this I-don’t-remember-it-being-this-long silence, he seemed to be rocking back and forth on his heels and then stepping back and forth on the podium. About two seconds before the score started back up again, Shore stood as far back as he could on the podium without falling off and then launched himself forward towards the orchestra and the choir, arms, wrists, hands and head all moving at the speed of light but apparently all at once working separately and in unison to guide every single person between himself and the movie that was playing on the screen in front of him. The man could probably have stood statue-still all night and the Prague Symphony Orchestra would have delivered a rendition of the score that would have pleased the entire audience but credit to him, Shore gave it his all that night.
I’ve seen this movie more times than I care to remember and I’ve listened to the soundtrack on my iPod a ridiculous amount of times too. I don’t think I ever realised how enjoyable they both could be until that night, or more importantly, how important one is to the other. What was old was new again and I couldn’t do anything but sit there and let myself be overwhelmed by the wonder that was unfolding in front of me and think how the concert was the perfect end to yet another convention adventure.
At the various conventions that I’ve been to in various parts of the world, one thing that I’ve learned is this life that we lead, this Nerd-Life, gives you access to the people that you admire and respect. It gives you access to your heroes. Back in 2005, at my first American comic convention, I attended Kevin Smith’s panel. This was the day before I met Kevin for the very first time. As I had hoped, the panel was funny and informative and then funny again. People asked weird questions, people asked dumb questions, people asked familiar questions that we had all seen and heard on DVD at that stage. But all that was OK, because Kevin has a gift of answering a question in a way that allows him to tell whatever story he feels he needs to tell and works it around to the original question. One question from that panel still sticks in my mind though, and that very simple question was, “Do you worry about people stalking you?” His answer was honest and funny and it’s one that I think applies to almost all comic book creators and nerd-idols. He said that the person who asked the question should check out his website and see the diary of events that were coming up, as well as the amount of personal information that was available there. He said that there was legitimately no need to stalk him because anyone with an Internet connection and a calendar could tell where he’d be seventy percent of the time, and that if you approached him, he’d be polite, talk to you and sign anything that you asked him to. He also told a story about why he wouldn’t have his kids name tattooed on his wife’s posterior, but the stalker story is much less creepifying.
The next day when I met Kevin face-to-face on the convention floor, I was delighted to be able to get a photo with Kevin, and even though the convention volunteer who was looking after Kevin that day wasn’t able to get a proper photo until the fourth attempt, Kevin was happy to pose with me again and again until the photo was taken properly. I was pretty impressed by that, and it was the first time that I was able to witness that fan respect in person. There’s only been one instance from that day until this where I met a creator at a convention who was actually ignorant, and if you catch me on the right day and buy me a pint of Guinness I’ll take great pleasure in telling you that story in detail. But every rule has an exception, and that particular person was the exception to the rule. In New York, I was able to meet some of my heroes for the very first time and was able to see some of them in person yet again. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed in any of them this year and that I was gratified to see that whatever respect I held for them was justified and was reciprocal.
They say that you should never meet your heroes because they’ll always disappoint you. I’ve always found that to be a very depressing view. If you believe this to be true… it’s time to get yourself some new heroes.