Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Ghost of Divine & Baltimore Comic-Con

As a huge fan of John Waters’ films, I’ve always been fascinated by Baltimore. Doesn’t matter that “Multiple Maniacs” and “Pink Flamingos” were made in the early 70’s. My vision of downtown Baltimore was of a city of freaks and characters on every block and maybe, just maybe if I was high enough I’d see the ghost of Divine about to smack me in the face with a stolen raw steak. While no apparitions assaulted me the city did not disappoint.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It was a last minute decision to venture to Maryland for the Baltimore Comic-Con. Many pros and fellow amateurs on the Comics Experience web boards had high opinions of the show. Not crazy crowded like New York Cons nor catering to other media, BCC was pure comics filled with pros from every stature of the business. Superstars like David Finch and Jason Aaron were side by side with the older guard like Herb Trimpe and Walt Simonson.

My interest in going was to meet publishers and network, possibly to give editors my pitch for a three issue mini-series. I researched the companies that would most likely be interested in a book like mine by seeing what they had printed of a similar vein. Off I went armed with character designs from my artist, copies of comics I had written to hand out and a bottle of scotch for courage. Highly recommended but coffee could substitute, I guess.

Five hours later I was at my hotel in Baltimore for a good night’s sleep but first I decided to walk around the city to seek out signs of the madness John Waters wrote about. The hotel valet advised me to walk to The Power Plant, an outdoor atrium of bars and drunk kids, but if I was into strippers Baltimore St was the place for me. Why skimp on the full tour? I checked out both.

The Power Plant was no different from any college town hangout. My TV Guide summery: “a place to drink & get laid.” Moving on to Baltimore St was a trip back in time to a pre-Disney Time Square filled with prostitutes, neon lights and pot-bellied men offering “free looks” at girls that will do “anything you want.” Considering the cop on horseback right across the street I’m sure that offer was limited.

While trekking around the city I played with my yo-yo – the Duncan kind. It was my executive stress ball which got me quite a few looks. Two couples walked passed me at one point. A girl said, “look at that.” Her date replied, “That’s the Yo-Yo Guy. I seen him around town.” I felt that Baltimore had incorporated me into its mythos, even if that dude had his facts wrong. It made me smile all the way back to my hotel room.

The next morning I entered the convention and made a beeline for the seven publishers on my list. Playing dumb I made the play that they probably wouldn’t be into my series but what would they suggest I do? The more we chatted the more they became interested until eventually some (not all) would ask to see my pitch. Three of the seven publishers succumbed to my Machiavellian plan. BHWA-HA-Ha-ha-ha!

All this took place within the first hour of the con which left me with a lot of time to fill. I met up with a lot of pros who I had friended on facebook including Mark Wheatley (writer of Blood of the Innocent & Frankenstein Mobster), Brian Smith & Mike Raicht (co-writers of The Stuff of Legend) and Jason Aaron (writer of Scalped & X-Men Schism) – all great guys! I got a good laugh out of Jason with comparisons of our careers – we both worked in the porn industry. He worked at a porn warehouse & I DJ’d at a strip club which was funding my comics career.

After the con I met up with other members of the Comics Experience Workshop for dinner. ( It was great to finally meet up with other writers whose work I critiqued & who reciprocated. Then it was off to the Hyatt Bar where the Harvey Awards were taking place. It was here that I finished off my scotch flask and had to resort to…=gasp!=…buying drinks. But c’est la guerre! A fun time was had by all.

Back at the Con on Sunday I went shopping to pick up some back issues and try some new stuff including “God Hates Astronauts” (probably the craziest book you’ll ever read!), a huge “American Flagg” collection (by Howard Chaykin) and my favorite discovery in years: “AFRODISIAC!” by Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca.

Afrodisiac is about a pimp whose origin changes with every story. His power, as far as I can tell, is he’s irresistible to women. Enemies include Richard Nixon, aliens, Dracula and God. It’s a wacked out blaxploitation-style book with amazing art and hysterical dialogue but it’s the art design that really hooked me. The stories look like old Silver & Bronze Age books that were photographed with careful attention to minor details like emulating cover designs of companies like Dell & Charlton. This is my choice for book of the decade!

On my way out I happened to notice a small old man sitting outside by himself smoking and eating a sandwich. It was José Luis Garcia-Lopez. To me he is DC. Not only has he drawn more characters there than probably every artist at the con combined but as the designer for DC’s licensing division in the 70’s his art has graced every product from lunch boxes to back packs to underroos. Odds are if you ever bought any DC non-comics item, it had images by JL Garcia-Lopez. I gently tapped his shoulder and told him what a big fan I was and then apologized for interrupting his lunch. He smiled and thanked me.

The drive back was a bit tough. Torrential downpours caused flash flooding in Baltimore and forced me to navigate around underpasses blocked by cars up to their windshields with water. But with Clive Barker’s Sacrament on tape to keep me company I made it home.

Baltimore Comic-Con was a delight and a significant milestone in my fledgling comics career. While nothing may come of the publishers’ interest in my book, I feel like I’m starting to understand the business. But right now all this talk about Baltimore makes me nostalgic for a John Waters movie tonight. How about Multiple Maniacs….

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Welcome to the not-so-very beginning. Breaking into the comics business is very hard. It’s so hard that I am starting to grasp what “very hard” actually means. Sexual innuendoes aside, I’ve decided to document the pathways I’m following to become a published comics writer. There are a lot of blogs by established writers that give advice on breaking through to the Big Show, as there are (pick a number) more of amateurs detailing what they’re doing to make it and promote themselves. Yes, I’d fall into that category as well but this blog is a very useful tool with many applications – the least of which is cathartic, the most is as a whetstone to sharpen my writing.

I was at my local comic store today to empty out my bin as I do every three months or so. The clerk handed back to me a copy of DIAL ZERO #1 & 2 (which I wrote & illustrated) saying he couldn’t sell them. I asked if he wanted them for free & he declined. I asked if he read them & he diplomatically sidestepped a negative answer by saying he “glanced at them.” Now he is the nicest guy in the world. I’ve known him and have been going to that store for 15 years, I’d say. It is not possible for me to have any animosity towards him or the owner at all. But I guess the episode left me a bit vulnerable, especially after the events of the last 24 hours.

I attended a one day convention in NYC yesterday. One of the promoters (Charles of kindly offered us a table to cross promote our events. His was a monthly gathering he’s hoping to build called the Drink and Draw where comics people gather to booze up and sketch. Prizes would be given away and people can network which is a great idea. I was there with members of Pronto Comics, a collective of comics creators who self-publish to get our books into the public but mostly to send to editors of publishing companies to break into the business.

Now if you’ve ever attended a comic book convention you know it’s a brain draining experience. Whether you’re there to purchase items or meet professionals the physical effort is substantial – it’s a hassle to get there (trains, subways, parking, etc), you stand around a lot, crowds are overwhelming (to say nothing of the odors that meld into the available breathable air), the local food is terrible and there’s nowhere to sit. On the other side, if you have a table, the same applies except you have to extend a bubbly personality and outward enthusiasm to get people to come to you while explaining within 30 seconds why they should care about what you are offering. Unless you have limitless depths of energy (or a mutant healing ability), a convention can scramble your hopes into a thin liquid that quickly escapes through the coffee filter of your brain and through the drain of your soul.

That is when you have to decide whether to continue because brother, you’re just entering purgatory. Last night on the train ride home, the movie “Big Trouble in Little China” got into my head and the scene where one of the heroes mentions that the Chinese have a lot of Hells. So ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the HELL OF BREAKING INTO COMICS. If I could rename this blog that would be the title.

I’m going to use this space to detail my mistakes and triumphs (optimist that I am) but also for catharsis. I truly feel joy when I am writing. After the sixth hour at the convention all I wanted to do was work on script ideas.

I’d like to end on a positive note. As I was about to leave my comic book store I found in my bag a sketch I made at the Drink & Draw last night. I won 2nd place in a Ghost Rider sketching contest judged by Mark Teixeira (fantastic pro artist on Ghost Rider, Hex and others). Below is the sketch. A minor triumph but you take them wherever you can get them.

I’d tell you more but I got a deadline. Cheers!