In a New York Comic Con state of mind

(For a full photo diary to accompany the story, click here. ‘Nuff said!)

I’ll admit it: I’m a comic book nerd. I honestly can’t remember when Spider-Man and the gang of heroes that make up the comics universe first caught my young eye, but they’ve been with me every step of my life. Despite a long vacation from comics that started in high school and lasted through my mid-20s, that gang of heroes in bright spandex outfits with names like Batman, the Hulk and Captain America never turned their back on me and accepted me with open arms upon my return. Thankfully, they had all kinds of stories to tell me and I was eager to catch up.

I found my love of comics again through my Monarchs buddy, Ben. He too had fallen away for some time and after sharing our sordid pasts with collecting and badly put-together outfits of our favorite heroes, we decided to visit our local comic store in Manchester: Double Midnight Comics. Roughly five years later, Ben and I have become good friends with the store co-owner, have seen most of the major comic-related movies together and I convinced him to have his entire wedding party dress up as The Avengers. Well…maybe not that last part, but you get it.

In this time, we always talked about going to a convention, a gathering of thousands of thousands of fans where you get to meet people from the major companies, artists, writers, dealers and everything in between. San Diego has the largest such convention, which in case you didn’t notice, is all the way on the other side of the country. Boston has some smaller events that are mostly dealer shows rather than conventions, so when we saw the date for the second-largest comic convention in the world on the East Coast, we knew we were in.

Thus, Ben and I headed out on a Friday two weeks ago for the 2008 New York Comic Con and this is our story.

Thursday: The night before, we had planned to meet up Friday morning ’round 6 am to drive into NYC. Why so early? Well part of the full con experience is attending panel discussions put on by industry creators, front office people and insiders. There were about 100 or so panels, movie premieres and other events in our three-day span, so we prepped and hi-lighted our course of attack like offensive coordinators drawing up a battle plan for the gridiron. Our march would begin at 11 am on Friday.

However, as I dreaded waking up while the sun was still asleep, I read an email right before I went to bed and noticed that from 10am-3pm, only industry people were allowed inside. In other words, we were going to drive in early for no real reason. I desperately called Ben and after a few tries, we realized our near-miss and planned to head out around 10 am. We were both relieved.

Friday: After a quick four-hour drive, we were there! The Big Apple was full of awesome traffic with plenty of nice people that didn’t mind if you got in the wrong lane and were always willing to help out! Sure, they were! Back to reality, we circled the block around the Javitts Convention Center a few times before deciding on a garage to park in. It was then we knew we weren’t in Manch-Kansas anymore. It would be $40 to park for the day, a far cry from the .25 meters here on Elm Street. We threw the attendant the keys, grabbed our backpacks and headed into Javitts, eyes wide with splendor and fanboy glee.

I should also mention that planning for your first Con is no joke. Since I had booked us a night with my good friend Paz on Friday, we couldn’t just go back to the car and drop stuff off. When we walked in, we were essentially there for the day. Friday went from 3-8 pm, so it wasn’t ridiculously long but there was some essentials we needed to bring: bottle of water, sharpies, Green Goblin pumpkin bombs, etc. To make things even better, we listened to a podcast on the way down about what to know when attending your first Con. I’m tellin’ ya – the internet is an awesome thing. About 95% of what they said was accurate for our experience, including the post-Con sickness. Despite our chuckles at some of the things we heard, we soon learned better.

We decided that Sunday would be our buying day, meaning that Friday and Saturday were for walking around and not worrying about large purchases. Sunday is always great for bargain shopping as dealers would rather take less back to their shops than what they brought in. We picked up our passes and then took in the scene at the front of the gates. With minutes to spare, we got in line for the doors open and were greeted by a line of about 500-750 people that moved rather quickly. Once inside, it was a land of wonder the likes of a comic/sci-fi version of Willy Wonka or Hugh Hefner would have created. There were displays as far as the eye could see and three days for us to let our flags fly. Finally, we were home.

Saturday: We were up bright and early to make it back to Con ’round 11 am for a Stan Lee panel. If you haven’t heard of Lee, he created some of the most indelible characters in literary lore with Spider-Man, the Hulk, X-Men, Iron Man and more. Those Spider-Man movies that grossed over $1 billion combined? Wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t think of the character. While comics are looked at as being for kids or for guys that live in their mom’s basement, comics are big business and finally have started to get respect for what the medium brings to the table. Do you like ‘Lost’? Comic guys are all over that staff. How about Eli Stone? Marc Guggenheim is a hot writer right now in the comics world. Sin City? You guessed it.

The only worry in the drive in from Katonah (45 minutes north where my friend lived) was that the Pope had decided to pop into NYC, meaning the traffic could be really, really bad. Luckily, we didn’t run into any major issues and saw only a few delays going in the other direction, in addition to plenty of church-dressed people at the gas station. Nothing like a Pope and people dressed like the Star Wars characters to really take a bite out of the Big Apple.

**At this time, I want to publicly apologize to Ben for not warning him about Paz’s sports allegiances. You see, Pazzy is from the area and loves the Mets and Rangers. Ben is orginally from the Philadelphia area and is a diehard Flyers fan. Once we walked into his place, the Rangers/Devils playoff series was on tv and I’m sure you guessed how that went. (Sorry, bud. I had NO IDEA they had a model of Martin Biron in effigy outside their house…)

Following a full day of ‘Conning, we went to our hotel room we had booked for the night, just outside of Times Square. After showering off the filth and disgust of being in a much more crowded hall on Saturday from 11am-8 pm, we walked into the city and ate dinner at ESPN Zone. What followed can be summed up in three distinct sentences:

  • I got hustled for $8 for a free Onion newspaper by a homeless guy.
  • We walked about 40 blocks to a bar Ben used to go to while in some junior United Nations course he took in college. The highlight of my time here was trying to figure what the skin irritation one of the bar patrons had. I think the last time a female walked through the doors and actually stayed was probably during the Reagan years.
  • It’s been about five years since I was last in Times Square and yes: it’s gotten bigger and brighter.

Sunday: Bargain day was finally here. After arriving at 10 am and doing more and more walking, it was crunch time. For years, I’ve been tabbed as ‘cheap,’ which I take offense to. Much like my dad once said, I’m ‘frugal’ meaning I value my money and look for deals where I can. There’s a big difference there, people…a big difference! With a few dozen dealers ready to start getting rid of their stuff and me with a fistful of coins, I went on a furious tear, ripping through .50 boxes, comparing different hardcover prices and targeting two booths for a last-second push. The result? I came away about with about 50-75 fifty-cent books, a few half-price graphic novels I had targeted and a 100% illegally pirated Iron Man 1960s cartoons dvd. My messenger bag was overstuffed like a shirt that was too small and my feet felt like they were dragged across rusty metal. I was toast, Ben was toast and it was time to head home.

Of course, we hit a horrendous traffic jam on the way back. Of course, Ben’s car had a small dent in the front after we picked it up Sunday, to which the attendant denied their responsibility. And of course, I felt like ass Monday and Tuesday thanks to the 3,000 germs floating around the Javitts.

But I did learn a few things! Wanna hear ’em? Here they go:

-The comics crowd is a diverse one and doesn’t get enough respect: About 10 times, I turned to Ben and said, “Dude, I don’t want this to sound racist but there’s a lot of minorities here.” I was flabbergasted and ultimately, proud. While there were plenty of white folk, there was just as many African-Americans and a large amount of Asians and those of Indian descent as well. I was shocked as you don’t hear much about the comic industry in today’s hip-hop/street culture, so to see such an outpouring of diversity was eye-opening and awesome. In a world where people are always pointing to how people are being excluded, more needs to be done for recognizing those industries that are diverse by nature. The creator side still has a way to go, but based on the crowd, that will soon change.

-Comic creators are amazingly accessible and love to meet fans…for the most part: On that afore-mentioned podcast, artist Skottie Young said he liked to meet fans at Cons for a simple reason. After being primarily alone with drawing or writing for hours a day, Cons are the really only chance for them to meet with those reading their books. I talked and listened to more writers and artists during the various panels and Artists’ Alley than I ever would have imagined. They were happy to meet people (and sell stuff), which was refreshing. In a very tight-knit industry, they have become surprising celebrities.

-There are a lot of people out there trying to live the dream: For every Marvel, there’s a Devil’s Due Publishing. For every Iron Man, there’s an Atomic Robo. For every guy or gal that has made it, there are hundreds more looking for that spot. There are more publishers and ways to get into the business than ever before, which should be encouraging for those willing to step up. I know it got both Ben and myself thinking about some potential projects and it’s nice to know there are avenues we can head down to make it happen.

-Ben’s a great guy. Yeah, this may come of as a bit schmaltzy, but it was awesome to spend time with one of my most trusted friends. We talked a lot about comics, but we talked about a lot of other stuff like marriage, getting older, our past at the ‘Narchs and life in general. Road trips – even small ones – are great for just chatting it up about everything and nothing at all. I still remember the 1200-mile baseball trek Clyde and I took in 2004 and the talks we had while zooming across the flat plains of the Midwest. I have a lot of friends in my life and Ben definitely appeases and enhances my ‘Let’s get nerdy!’ talks when I need them. (Now can I have my Hulk mitts back? Please?!?)

-Finally, I was somewhat depressed on Monday. I’ll be honest with you: the stereotypes you probably have about ‘Conners are fairly accurate. Most of us aren’t or weren’t the prom kings or part of the upper crust in high school. We’re recluse, savvy with the internet and always willing to talk comics with others who share the same interests. Put us all in one giant room for three days and suddenly, there are no outsiders. Everyone is happy and positive, non-judgmental and extraordinarily polite. For three days, Ben and I laughed and smiled, geeked out a few times, walked a ton and bought a bunch of stuff…and there were 10,000 others just like us doing the same thing. To break out of that cocoon on Monday was a rough landing, Holly.

So to sum it up? My Comic Con cherry got blasted to bits and I’m already looking forward to what could be our next venture. A return to NYC? How about Emerald Con in Seattle? A trip to the old wooden ship, San Diego? Snikt! Thwipp! Excelsior!

For a full photo diary of our trips with captions that includes my run-in with Saturday Night Live’s Bill Heder, click here.

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14 Months Later

I don’t think I have ever been as tongue-tied in my life as that November 2006 day when I told my boss that I had decided to end my hockey career. It was tough to sum up exactly what I was feeling and why, but I got the words out somehow and in February of last year, I walked out the loading dock door of the Verizon Wireless Arena into the great wide open, not looking back. (Here were my thoughts a day before that fateful walk).

So just over a year later, what did I learn?

-I made the right choice. Yep, this is a pretty simple statement but it really sums it up. I’ve been fairly lucky in my life with these bigger choices and not once have I regretted making a career move. While I did take a slight pay cut from then to now, I’ve got my life back and have more opportunities to do what I want to do as opposed to what others need me to do. I am asked often if I miss working in hockey. I miss the people I worked with, but not the work itself.

-I am still driven to be better. When I lived in Portland for a year, I felt that I did more, whether it was working out at the gym, giving maximum effort at work and staying in contact with friends. As the years went on, that internal motor started to shut down. I yearned to write more, to read more, to create more but I always came home at night mentally worn down. Now, I am in a mind space that encourages balance and it revived that inner drive I had suppressed. The best compliment I have ever got, “Man, you’re not one for down time, huh?” Blogs, podcasts, interacting, creating…there’s so much I still want to do and will do. Now, I have the opportunity to do it.

-Small businesses can be both frustrating and great: I enjoy a lot of leeway at my new gig as we have no traditional hours, no traditional dress attire and no traditional, well, anything. From the outside, people are both jealous and a bit dismissing of this because it’s not the norm. But that’s ok. There is no one way to run a business and luckily, I don’t have to deal with a lot of the corporate b.s. and politics that can slow down workflow. However, there’s a lot of self-discipline you have to have in order to be successful at a place like I work in. Decisions often take a little more time and changes often happen over weeks and months, not hours and days. There have been occurrences that have frustrated me, but overall, I’m really happy. We have a great group of people and even though I don’t understand all the decisions that the higher-ups make, I love the challenge of trying to figure them out.

Side note: For those of you that have no idea what I do, I handle sales/marketing/p.r. for a web development shop called Amplify Studios. We build web sites, applications and everything else you can imagine in the interactive world. One of our big applications that I spend most of my time focusing on is called SendLabs, a web-hosted email marketing service. A big departure from hockey? Uhhh, yeah…you could say that.

-With time comes a need for focus: In my two months between jobs, I watched a lot of Family Guy, drank a lot, didn’t shave and overall, was pretty lazy. After I started at Amplify, some of the bad habits were shaken but a lot weren’t. Unfortunately, my health began to spiral downward with some weight gain and side-effects that came along with that. Recently, I’ve taken some measures to change the tide which I’m going to write in-depth about in the next few weeks. I think I learned overall that you need to identify some core values in yourself that will remain no matter what changes around you. I will never let taking care of my body take second place again…ever.

-I still love NH: I had the opportunity to move back to Portland with a job that paid well, but would have put me on the road up to 50% of the time, defeating the purpose of me coming home again. It’s tough for some to comprehend, but I have no reason to leave here anytime soon. Great friends, close proximity to all kinds of stuff to do, familiarity and a name that people recognize. It’s a bigger city, but it’s nice to know that within a few phone calls or emails, you can get through to someone based on reputation and background. For me to leave now and reset everything I’ve built up here since 2001 would be foolish.

You must be thinking, “Wow…must be nice to have it all figured out.” Hardly as I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. I’m still learning new things everyday at the new job and I’m sure to make mistakes every now and again. I need to learn to temper myself in certain situations and be more assertive in others. I need to figure out how to balance my outside interests so I can still have a little bit of down time if I need to. And most importantly, there is still a hole that I need to fill with sharing some of this with another person. It’s great to talk about stuff with friends, but there’s something about that connection you can make with someone that goes a bit deeper than with your guy friends.

14 months later, I’m happier than I’ve ever been and am looking forward to another fun and full summer. Life is good right now and I hope that in another 14 months, it’s even better.