Today I experienced my first convention: cosplays, panels, contests, and more. I kind of knew what to expect based of various tidbits I’d picked up from various YouTube videos and IGN articles. But I was a bit nervous for some reason.
Armed in my Marvel Civil War t-shirt and with Legend of Zelda messenger bag, I went forth. There was a slightly surreal encounter with the Winter Soldier in the parking garage, followed by an elevator ride with a group of Batman villains and a three year old Captain America. All before even entering the convention hall.
The cosplays just got better and better. I wish I had pictures to show you, but there were Gallifreyan doctors, Jedi, Lara Crofts, a Yoshi, and Pokémon. There was even a Mythbuster and a replica of the famous Smokey and the Bandit car. And yes, there were many, MANY Harley Quinns and Jokers. At one point I was in an elevator with a Suicide Squad Harley and Joker who were, well, very in character.
Sadly, we (my mom and brother came, too) were running late, and I missed the panel I was most looking forward to. “Cover Art Masters” was a panel all about creating your own cover art, something I don’t have any experience in yet. I was excited to learn Babs Tarr was one of the guests. Her design for Batgirl in ‘Batgirl of Burnside’ has become an icon in modern hero redesign. Ironically, I’d done a study of that cover a couple days before I realized she would be there.
After getting in we rushed to get my brother signed up for a kids’ N64 Pokémon tournament. I left to go to a Star Wars Panel, featuring Dave Barclay, Ian Whyte, and Dexter Vines. There’s a full blog on what insightful, and often comedic, things they had to say coming soon.
After lunch, my brother continued to kick butt in the tournament, despite never having played the game before, and I went to a panel entitled “Batman Day 2016”. It was here that I realized just how little I know about comics. I enjoyed reading as a kid and still do when I find the time and resources (let’s face it, comics aren’t cheap). But the room was filled with people who knew every detail about the Batman universe.
The guests were Larry Hama, Jeff Parker, Billy Tucci, and Jack Purcell: all artists who had intimately worked with Batman comics for many years. It was a fun time, even if I didn’t always know what they were referencing. At the end, two random audience members were selected to participate in a Batman trivia game.
The idea was that the artists would stump them by asking about specific and little-known details in the Batman universe. It was funny- one contestant knew every answer but one, and responded like it was common knowledge (I, of course, had no idea what the answers were.) The other contestant knew some things, but always leaned towards her presumable husband for definitive answers. They both won a prize package that included Batman toys, plushes, and some comics.
I quickly went next door for the “Making a Pop Culture Legend” panel. Although the audience was fairly empty, it was one of the most hilarious times of the convention. Featuring Blair Shedd, Andrew Robinson, J. K. Woodward and Otis Frampton, the artists discussed the challenges and adventures of working with existing popular works, like Star Trek and Assassin’s Creed. A blog sharing their advice on dealing with fandoms and editors will also be published soon.
Meanwhile, my brother lost the tournament in the semi-finals. It was a close game too- he would have won if he hadn’t unknowingly used a Gengar move that only had a 5% success rate. He was given a gym badge for making it to the final four, which made him happy.
As the day went on, I lost most of that nervous feeling. You see, where I’m from I’m used to being the only one who really cares about those things (besides my mom and brother, anyway). Never at school did I have a genuine conversation about the deeper meaning of Doctor Who or just how special the Legend of Zelda series is. Not only was I now surrounded by fellow fans, but they were just passionate as I am, often even more so. It was a welcoming, yet somehow intimidating feeling.
That intimidation was still a little present as I preceded to the last panel of the day. In front of the salon doors was a crowd of Red Shirt workers and costumed attendees. The cosplay contest was starting at the same time in the room next to the panel. One of the Red Shirts told me there was no more room for the contest, and naturally said I was there for the panel. She let me through, and I turned the corner to face an empty room.
Seeing no one in the audience gave me a social panic, and I tried to turn back. As soon as I did, I heard the Red Shirt say, “She’s your only one!” The moderator was approaching, and quickly ushered me in. No leaving now. The artists on the panel made some jokes about choosing any seat I like and being the only one, which helped a bit.
All day I’d been trying to stay in the background. Take my notes, learn what I can, and move on. Asking a question in the fandom panel took an illogical amount of courage on my part. I think it mainly came from this: besides elementary school art teachers, I had never met an artist. Let alone many comic professionals who are successful and incredibly skilled. Growing up in Small Town, Nowhere does have some disadvantages. I was intimidated in an awe-inspiring way, if that makes sense.
So in the end, I had a virtually personal panel with Ron Garney, Shawn Crystal, Joe St. Pierre and Bill Walko. The official title was “The Swiss Army Knife Comic Book Artist” with the focus of being an artist in a variety of mediums, including movie character design, commercial marketing, and more. The moderator, Thomas Novak, started by asking prepared question around those topics, but the conversation evolved into more personal advice for me.
The artists were talking about their passions in the art world, and asked me about mine. I was taken aback, like, ‘Oh, yeah, they’re actually talking to me.’ I answered that I have always loved writing, and would one day like to create a graphic novel.
And their advice was priceless. Learn to draw everything, only one action per comic panel, you can always self-publish, and absolutely make sure to protect your original ideas are just a few of the gems of wisdom they had to give. They shared experiences of designing packaging for clients, character design for the movie I Am Legend, and what it’s really like working for large companies like Marvel and DC.
At one point I asked when they thought they were skilled enough to be a professional illustrator. The general answer was that you look for work. Whether you’re hired or not, you need to continue working on your skills. It’s a lifetime effort. They also said something I’d heard before, but was especially poignant coming from them: anyone paid for their work is a professional. Even if it’s just a nickel for a quick sketch- if someone pays you, you’re a professional.
You don’t need to wait for an editor, or skill-point, or income level to be a published or professional artist. What matters is to keep moving. Self-publish, sell your work online. While editors and publishing companies can help, they are not necessary, especially in the modern world we live in.
Okay, I’m filling in some of my own words there. But the point is that finding a career in art is a very individualized journey, one without set requirements or limits.
Over time, that intimidation became enthusiastic awe. When they first asked if I had a question, I didn’t know what to say. By the end, I kept thinking of more and more things I wanted to ask them. After all, their careers have consisted of work and opportunities that I have only dreamed about. In retrospect, I’m glad I was the only one who came.
With Day One of Granite Con over, I am thrilled, inspired, informed, and a little surprised at how out of my comfort zone I went. It was a great day, with experiences I certainly won’t soon forget.
Have you ever been to a comic convention? What was your experience? I’d love to hear in the comments below!