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19
March 2013

My Oz Comic-Con experience (2013)

At Adelaide’s Oz Comic-Con in 2012, I found validation for my art. This year, I found a community. Here’s how it happened.

Friday: From Canberra to Adelaide

It’s the day before Oz Comic-Con, and I’m worried. I’m worried that the boxes of books I couriered to Adelaide wouldn’t arrive. I’m worried that my bags will be too heavy to be allowed on the plane without paying some exorbitant excess baggage fee. I’m worried that the weekend itself will be an unmitigated disaster. I’m worried that my family will have a nightmare weekend without me there to control the damage. I’m worried that I’m wasting all our limited money on this selfish venture for no good reason. I’m regretting shaving my head – yes, it’s for cancer research and all that, a great cause; and yes, it’s giving me some bizarre kind of confidence I don’t normally feel, like I have a backlog of good karma to draw upon – but I feel a bit self-conscious, like I look a little silly… right when I need to be at my professional best.

All that, and more. So pretty much the usual.

But everything seems to go smoothly. I’m at the airport in plenty of time, and my bag only ends up weighing about 10kg. I get on the plane, and even the food they serve is decent (a zucchini quiche/slice thing with bacon in it). Things are going well.

I’m seated right next to the propeller of this tiny plane, though. Seriously, if I look out the window, it’s all I can see. Can’t quite shake the feeling that if one of those blades snaps off, I’m getting it right across the lap. The unconcerned, bored expression of the bloke I saw doing a wander around the outside of the plane before take-off stays in my mind.

Because I am to be seated next to Sean Williams at the con tomorrow, I have brought along a copy of Metal Fatigue, and I start reading it on the plane. Very cool book; the plot twists are foreshadowed/telegraphed enough that they don’t really surprise me, but his writing style is very engaging and I enjoy the reading.

At Adelaide airport, I know exactly what to do. I head over to the Skylink desk and purchase tickets for the shuttle into the city. The lady directs me out to the same place I waited for the shuttle last year and, feeling all sorts of confident, I head there to wait the thirty-two minutes until the next shuttle is due to arrive.

Fifty-five minutes pass, and no shuttle. I call the number on my ticket, and the nice lady on the line politely informs me that I’ve been waiting in the wrong spot. No refunds, no considerations for the wrong information I was told at the desk, I’ll just have to wait another three-quarters of an hour for the next shuttle.

Confidence shaken, I wait, watching the minutes of the afternoon ticking past unproductively. Aware that it’ll be three o clock before I even check into my hotel, and that from there, I need to drop my bags, organise my stock, and get the whole lot over to the Showgrounds (via bus) to set up my stall, and make it back to my hotel in time to shower, purchase some groceries for the weekend, and be at Dumpling King by 7 to meet some internet friends… the whole afternoon had just morphed from a leisurely one to a high-stress rush.

This was more like it.

At least it gives me a chance to finish Metal Fatigue. As I turn the last page, the shuttle pulls up.

Friday: Adelaide by day

Adelaide has changed a bit. That’s the first thing I notice as I rock up to my hotel. The Queen Victoria Square, which I wandered around last year, and which was the cause of all my Adelaide admiration, is now all fenced off and inaccessible. The internet cafe that was next to my hotel last year appears to have fallen victim to the proliferation of tablets and smartphones with internet access in perpetuity, and has been replaced by a dank room full of poker machines, with blinds permanently drawn to prevent occupants from knowing what time of day it is.

(Perhaps it’s a reminder that I can’t expect this to be the same trip of wide-eyed wonder that I had last year. Whatever the message, I don’t quite pick up on it yet.)

But the Hotel Metropolitan is the same as ever. The staff are friendly and accommodating and give me the very pleasant feeling of having a home away from home, like the place can be a stable base for me to operate out of. Not all hotels have this feeling, not even those with considerably more stars. The room I’m in isn’t as nice as last time (last year, I had a balcony room with plenty of space, a double bed, a TV and a fridge… and this time, I’m in a room smaller than a bedroom at home, with just a single bed and chair), but the only thing I’m really going to miss is the fridge, which means that I’m going to have to plan my grocery purchases more carefully.

I head to the shoe repair place down the road to buy a Metro ticket, but have no idea what I’m doing and flounder at pretty much every question the girl at the counter asks me. In the end, I even manage to flub the “where are you from?” question, but somehow end up with a Metro ticket and receipts I can claim on tax later this year.

My boxes of books have indeed arrived at the hotel (thank you Toll couriers), and I quickly chuck my clothes out of my suitcase and load up with books, posters and brochures. I can’t take it all in one trip, but I get most of it into my suitcase and carry-on bag, and begin the burdened lurch to the nearby bus stop to head into the Showground.

When I reach my table, there’s no one around yet, so I start setting up. My spot isn’t quite as ideal as last year, when I had a table facing out into a T-intersection, but I’ll deal with it. It’s now about 3:45, and I begin to set my stuff up as quickly as possible, attaching promotional material to the velcro backing, and planning prices and multiple-purchase deals.

I’m in between Sean Williams’ table, and Emerson Ward’s table. Sean Williams is the New York Times best-selling author of many sci-fi and fantasy novels, and he’s won the Aurealis Award (and several others) multiple times. Needless to say, I’m equal parts excited and nervous about meeting him and spending the weekend adjacent to him. Emerson Ward is an artist with no small amount of talent, who has recently successfully crowd-funded an incredible looking art book with a dragon theme. I met him at the last con, but this time I’ll have more of a chance to get to know him. He rocks up not long after me, and we talk a little.

Watching the clock, I think I can probably make all my deadlines. Then, almost as soon as I think this, along comes some news: Sean Williams will no longer be coming to Oz Comic-Con: one of his kids has come down with chicken pox, and Sean has never had it before. Rather than risk being a contagious liability for the convention, he has opted to stay home for the weekend.

By this stage, having read Metal Fatigue from start to finish earlier that day, I am actually kind of geared up to meet him, so it comes as disappointing news.

Then Emerson and I are asked to shift over, to fill up the empty table. So I move all my stuff over really quickly (with Emerson’s generous help), and split out of there. Get back to my hotel at five past six, have a lightning quick lap of Coles to grab some supplies for the weekend, take an even quicker shower, and make it to the Dumpling King by 6:57.

Saturday: Oz Comic-Con: Day The First

Early start. Heavy bag. Late bus.

I think all the buses in Adelaide are programmed to come just late enough that people have gotten past the annoyed-that-the-bus-is-late stage and into the panicked-that-the-bus-will-never-come stage, so that the response of the passenger is one of relief rather than anger. They must have done a lot of R&D to hit that sweet spot so consistently.

I dump the rest of my stock, sort out my float, and realise that I’m an hour early with nothing to do except panic. So I do that for a while, but it’s not really that much fun, so I stop and go all zen for a bit. That works quite well, but it makes time go by kind of slowly.

The venue is HUGE, twice as big as last year, no question. Big enough that my little Artist Alley booth feels a little lost on the side wall.

The day begins and people begin charging in. There are events and celebs to see, so not many people want to stop for the first hour or two. But I employ the tactics I used last time: if someone looks at my table or makes eye contact, I smile and ask them how their day is going, and if they respond, I offer them the book to take a look at. Tried and true tactic. Most people who stop to answer come over to the table of their own volition this time, without me even having to offer a book. I must be getting better at this.

Man, there are so many cosplayers here. Some of them are really impressive! Very rare to see a female cosplayer who isn’t dressed pretty exploitatively though. I guess they’re happy doing it, but honestly, I can’t help but feel that it kind of speaks volumes about the gender one-sidedness of the mainstream comics industry.

I am also approached by a proud father and a young teenage girl with a portfolio, and they ask me to take a look at it. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’m a digital artist who couldn’t draw a person to reasonable proportion if my life depended on it, so I looked through the portfolio (which looked really quite impressive to me), and say that it’s great. I really genuinely hope she got more valuable feedback from other folks.

The day goes on and a few familiar faces, exhibitors from last year, pop around to say hi. A few customers from last year also pop around to complete their collection of The Lesser Evil – one really nice guy even bounds up to my table and says “I’ve been waiting nine months for Book Three!” I gave him a special deal because enthusiasm.

People also seem keen to hear about the sequel coming next month, and I was keen to tell them. Hopefully, there’s a little hype out there that will stick around.

I’m by myself at the table, so regulate food and fluid intake strictly. One mouthful of water every fifteen minutes, or after a long conversation. Never enough to overload my kidneys or bladder – they have a long wait ahead of them. The only food I eat all day, despite having bought and packed way more, is a pear and a chocolate muffin.

A lot of folks early on pay for books using $50 notes, which begins to eat into my limited float pretty heavily. I’m usually able to use guilt to upsell the entire trilogy of books to them, though, so it isn’t all bad.

Friends of a friend, and fellow Artist Alleyers pop around to say hello: Matthew Hoddy and Caitlin Major, the talented lunatics behind the comic Space Pyrates, who have also recently had a successful Pozible campaign to bring their work into print. They are very nice people, and through them, I learn of plans for some of the comics folks to meet up at a bar down the road at day’s end. Last year, I headed back to my hotel after each day. But this year, I had no TV in my room, so I say okay.

By day’s end, I’ve sold exactly fifty books. Not a bad day by any means, but I still have 97 books left to sell. Breaking even on this endeavour is going to be a tough ask. But it is possible. Everyone else is reporting slightly disappointing sales, so I figure that I’ve done as well as I could have. A lot of con-goers are saying that Sunday is the day they plan to shop, so I anticipate more customers tomorrow.

Wander down to the Goody (pub down the road) and meet a bunch of awesome folks. Paul Briske, creator of Buzz Mandible, is a total dopppleganger of a guy I went to high school with – even the voice – but is much better company (it is kind of a Truman-Show-esque moment meeting him for the first time, I gotta say). Pete Yong is a very talented artist with more experience in 3D than I’ve got, and I am able to discuss my comic techniques in more depth than usual with him. Amy Maynard is a PhD candidate at University of Adelaide, studying the sustainability of the Australian comics industry; I’m keen to participate in whatever interviews she wants to conduct, and am eager to read what she comes up with in the end. She seems very interested to learn that I’ve had academic comics published in the past. The Space Pyrates folks also were there, along with a bunch of other folks who I didn’t get a chance to talk with.

I call it a night after about two hours, and wait in the freezing cold for about twenty minutes for a bus that never comes. In the end, a different bus arrives (reaction: relief – well done, Adelaide), and I make it back to my hotel.

Sunday: Oz Comic-Con: Day The Second

First time on an Adelaide tram. It runs on time and gets me to the Showground by 8. I am running out of credit on my Metro card. Contrary to what I was told would happen, it’s charging me $3.26 per trip, and I have to recharge the card at the automatic booth at the tram station.

Totally random encounter with an old high-school acquaintance who is now living in Wollongong and is volunteering for this convention. Didn’t get much of a chance to catch up, but got intro’d to her very friendly husband. After the con that night, I’ll go looking for them to give them a leftover copy of my books, but it’s like looking for two needles in a labyrinthine haystack, and I am unsuccessful.

Day Two is a very slow day. I have zero sales until after 11am (two hours into the day. Starting to realise that I’m not even going to come close to breaking even.

A few people who bought Book One yesterday come back and buy the remainder of the trilogy. Those people are awesome people, the very best. Actually, I stand corrected: the folks who were the first people ever to buy Book Three (having pre-ordered it at the last Oz Comic-Con) stop by to say hi – they are the best people.

People are responding to my cheery nature though. I smile at everyone who looks in my direction and ask them how their weekend’s going. A lot of people stop just to have a chat, and I’m behaving not at all like myself: I talk to them, engage with them, even if they’ve got no interest in my books.

I realise about halfway through the day that even though my sales aren’t great and I’m staring inevitable financial deficit square in the face, that even though my shoulders and feet are killing me, that I’m kind of malnourished and really tired, that I’m actually happy. Happier than I was last year, when my book was selling better. Just talking to people, making a genuine connection instead of just using my friendliness as a tool to sell books.

A couple of times, bored people (usually disinterested girlfriends or wives) approach me because my table is devoid of visitors and we’d have a chat for a while. We’d talk about what it meant to follow dreams, to have jobs that you didn’t really feel connected to, all sorts of ‘big’ life stuff. I feel really happy for most of the afternoon, and realise that I have redefined what it means to succeed at an event like this.

It’s not the kind of success I can afford to cultivate at every event I attend, but it feels really good this time. At day’s end, I’ve only sold about 40 more books, but that’s okay.

People are telling me how much it costs to get a photo with William Shatner. $80 for a photo, $50 for an autograph. Same for Richard Dean Anderson. Not saying they aren’t worth it (though I personally would hesitate to pay that much), but that’s a lot of money to drop and sadly acts as a deterrent for a lot of fans. When I hear this, I start giving away free prints and joking with people that I’ll take any excuse to sign my name, because I love doing it! I believe that everyone who comes should be able to take something home with them, not just those with wads of cash to blow. It feels like the right move, and a lot of people are grateful, even if they have no actual interest in my books.

At the end of the day, I pack up my stall, and decide to make a gift of books to the folks I’ve gotten to know this weekend: Emerson, Paul, Matt, Caitlin, Pete. Although I wasn’t angling for it, they are happy to offload some of their excess stock on me in trade, which is awesome of them, gotta say.

We head out to the Goody again, with a couple of new folks I haven’t yet met, but quickly change plans and head to Chinatown for dinner. We get a range of dishes, including a mega-chili Sezchuan dish that the waitress teases us about (“I don’t think you’ll be able to handle this. We don’t give refunds, even if you need an ambulance!”) and have a blast of an evening. We talk bad movies, weird job experiences, and have a simultaneous three-two-one-EAT suicide-pact-esque taste of the hyper-spicy Sezchuan dish (which is awesome, but had too many small bones to be actually edible, sadly). Most of the evening, I just sit back and listen, contribuing little but laughter, having a great time.

(Incidentally, I learn that a cash fare on the tram is costing the others $2.90, and wonder why I’m paying $3.26 with my Metro card [which I also had to fork out $5 just to get])

The night ends at 11pm. At this stage, everyone is planning to be at Oz Comic-Con in Melbourne, which will be awesome. I look forward to it.

I get back to my hotel room and start to read some of the comics I’ve traded for. And then – only then – do I begin to appreciate the true level of insanity of these people. I feel a bit like a straight-laced nerd, but have a vague relief that they seemed happy for me to be tagging along anyway.

Had a lot of fun, met a lot of awesome people, and – if I haven’t grossly misread the entire situation – have made a bunch of new friends.

Bring on Melbourne Oz Comic-Con already!

Monday

My flight home leaves after about 90 minutes of delays. Snack is another winning zucchini slice with bacon. Awesome. On the plane, I have what you might call a ‘Twilight Zone’ moment. The guy sitting in the seat I was in on the way over to Adelaide is wearing headphones and has a shaved head. From behind, he looks pretty much exactly like how I think the back of my own head would look. And then the pilot starts talking about what the weather will be like in Adelaide when we land, and I’m convinced that I’ve been caught in some sort of bizarre time loop, and I’m about to repeat the entire weekend.

I make it home.

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