Saturday, February 26, 2011

Con-founded

Less than a week to Emerald City Comicon. My first convention with a badge that says "Image" on it.

Since Nonplayer won't be out for another month (it's debuting at WonderCon on April 1), I'm not completely sure how I'll be spending my time at ECCC. Image has said I'll be able to hang out at their booth, but there are many more creators than seats, so that'll be touch-and-go. Right now, it looks like I'll be signing there from 11am to 12pm on Friday and Saturday. I'll be at the convention for all three days, though, so if you don't see me at Image and you want something signed (or just want to say "hi"), just ask someone at Image where they last saw me.

There will be Nonplayer posters for sale -- they're 11" x 17" on silk cardstock paper. Both the second and third pages of the first issue have now become posters:

 

There are a hundred copies of the one on the left and two hundred copies of the one on the right, and they both turned out quite nicely. After the convention is done, the posters will go up at the Nonplayer store, so don't worry if you want a poster but can't make it to Seattle. Once they're online, I'll happily ship them to any destination. If you want the poster signed, all you'll need to do is mention it in the comment section of the order form. Easy!

So what do I need to do to be ready for this convention? I'll bring good pens for signing stuff. I'll bring some paper so people can add their email addresses to the mailing list. Let's see. What else? Feels like I'm going camping. Trail mix. Gotta bring trail mix. 

I haven't had this much riding on a convention since the 1995 San Diego Comic-Con. I lived in LA at the time, and this guy at my office (a talented fellow named Raphael Navarro, who went on to become a much-beloved comic artist) showed me some sample pages he'd made for a portfolio viewing at the Marvel booth. There was less than a week until the convention, but I somehow got in my head that I'd be able to wow Marvel with some hastily-drawn Captain America pages. I'm still not sure why I decided on Cap -- I think it was because Raphael had drawn him, and on the strength of his treatment I'd decided that Captain America was the platonic Marvel character.

I was still working on my pages in the car on the way down to San Diego -- my mom was going to hit some kind of job fair in San Diego that weekend, so she dropped me off right in front of the convention and agreed to pick me up a few hours later. So there was 20-year-old Nate (still "Nathan" at the time), illusions intact, ready to take the comic world by storm.  The plan was simple: first show Marvel my work, then go over to DC, then sit back as the inevitable bidding war erupted.

The line at the Marvel booth should have been a clear warning, but I managed to keep my chin up through the hour-long wait. The portfolio review area was completely enclosed by black curtains, and an obviously-bored Marvel editor waited within. I suppose I expected him to start drooling over my work as soon as I'd unsheathed it, but his expression did not change when the pages came out. He hit me with some stock advice about studying anatomy harder and not letting my characters stand on the bottom edge of the panel, I gave him a numb "thank you," and out I went. 

I didn't even bother with DC. I wandered the convention floor until my mom showed up, and I barely said anything in the car on the way home. I haven't been back to Comicon since.

The experience did have a couple of positive effects. I started a second Captain America sample, this time working at my own pace. I never submitted it, but it was many times better than the first outing. I've always found embarrassment to be a great motivator, and this was up there with Halloween of '87 on the embarrasometer. So I leveled up a little.

I also learned an important lesson. Now, when I look at someone's artwork, I try to keep in mind that people grow. Technical skill is a learned thing, like driving or using chopsticks. It's worth trying to see through the quality of execution to find the thing that illuminates the work. If a person is excited enough about their art to show it to me, then there must be something there for me to be excited about, too. If a 16-year-old Mignola-to-be comes up to me at a convention and I dismiss him because his anatomy isn't quite there yet, I've not only done the kid a huge disservice, I've robbed the world of a great creator (and plus, my anatomy isn't quite there yet, either).

We may all be passing different mile markers on that road that leads from kindergarten craft-enthusiast to Albrecht Dürer, but if we want to be handled with care by those who are ahead of us, we need to try to remember what it was like back when we were just starting out on the same road.

See you at Emerald City!

PS. Thanks for all the comic shop recommendations, guys! I've contacted nearly 90 shops around the world, and the reactions have so far been pretty positive. If you want to be absolutely sure that your local shop will carry Nonplayer #1, you probably want to pay them a visit before the Previews ordering cutoff on March 14. It may help to tell them the ordering code, which is FEB110397. And tell the shop owner that if they contact me directly (nonplayercomic (at) gmail (dot) com), I'll send them a signed poster.

PPS. A correction from two posts ago: It turns out there is a Korean word for "loser." In fact, there are lots of Korean words for "loser." But they don't use them the same way we Americans do. Or maybe they do. I'm going to ease off on the broad cultural generalizations from here on out. My point was that my wife has a can-do spirit. Maybe that's more because she's awesome than because she's Korean. 

But Koreans are awesome, too. 

That was a generalization. Cannot win.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Good Comic Shops?

This is going to be a brief post -- I'm trying to contact comic shop owners to make sure they know about Nonplayer, and I could use some suggestions for shops you like. If you want Nonplayer available at your local shop, make sure to add them to the comments!

To sweeten the deal, I'm offering a free signed poster to any shop owner who gets back to me. Please don't ask me for a free poster if you don't run a comic shop -- I'm printing these with my own money, and I'm poor. 

The poster may be difficult to send to non-North American comic shops, but I'd still like some overseas suggestions, too. I'll see what I can do on a case-by-case basis.

Thanks guys!

As a reminder, this is what the poster looks like:



Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fear is the Mind Killer

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain. 
                                                -Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

Last week, I did a phone interview for the Comic Book Page podcast. I've done plenty of interviews by email, but this was my first real-time interview. Things went... well, I should have known something was amiss when I woke up on the morning of the interview in a state of panic.

For the entire day leading up to the 5 p.m. interview, the anxiety got progressively worse. This was my first and only chance to make a good impression on the ears of the internet, and there would be no do-overs. What if I messed up? What if the right words didn't come out? What if, God forbid, I came up completely empty? Then my mind switched to preemptive self-accusation. You're a 35-year-old man! How could something this inconsequential put you so off-balance? You're going to sabotage yourself!

As total freak-out terror began to set in, I listened to several earlier podcasts to get a sense of the kinds of questions I'd be asked. Every guest was confident, poised and intelligent. Never an "um" or an "I don't know" -- just well-reasoned opinions and easy congeniality. My fear was total.

By the time my phone rang that evening, I was in pretty bad shape. Bob Bretall, the interviewer, turned out to be a calm and sympathetic host, but during the pre-interview chat my mouth was so dry that I could barely croak the words "yes" and "no." And then he said, "okay, if you're ready, let's begin." A pause as he started recording, and then a shift in tone as he assumed an announcer voice and introduced me. Then came the serve, high and slow over the net: "Nate, welcome to the Comic Book Page podcast."

"Thanks," I squeaked. "It's nice to... see you."

There was a brief, tense pause before Bob resumed, but the seconds felt like eons. Every voice in my mental peanut gallery began shouting. You blew the greeting! This is going to be a total disaster!

Next, I was asked to give a synopsis for Nonplayer. My mental bandwidth, consumed as it was with recrimination, had fallen to sub-dial-up speeds. I'd written a few notes beforehand, but they didn't seem to match the question exactly. I went off-script and started babbling. Finally, about half-way through my meandering explanation, I drew a complete blank. This was it. No safety net, no second chances -- there was a yawning chasm of dead air, and I could find no words with which to bridge it.

I gasped, made sort of a weird squeal. "I'm so nervous right now, can we just..."

"You're doing fine, let's keep going." On to the next question, which attempted to make some sense out of the mess I'd presented so far. Perhaps satisfied with my opening face-plant, my inner critic had finally gone quiet. Things certainly couldn't go worse than they already had. The rest of the interview went quickly, if awkwardly. When it finally came to an end, I apologized to Bob for blowing the intro. He said he thought it went fine, but I knew I'd turned in the worst-ever performance in the history of the Comic Book Page podcast -- perhaps in the history of all podcasting.

The rest of the day was a blur of self-loathing. Here was confirmation of all my worst fears -- that I wasn't cut out to be a professional artist, that the comics industry would destroy me. That I was an incomplete human.

That inner critic said one thing very clearly: "You'll never be any good at public speaking. In the clutch, at that do-or-die moment, you'll always choke. You just don't have the knack for it."

As soon as she got home, my wife asked how the interview went. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip, but she could tell I was wounded.

She didn't miss a beat: it was time for some intensive media training. She never once bought into my "I'm no good at this" theory.

I'm sure most wives would respond similarly, but I wonder if there wasn't a certain culturally-ingrained vehemence to her reaction. My wife is Korean, and she clearly subscribes to the Korean belief that humans can improve themselves through practice and hard work. This contrasts especially with our American fixation on giftedness and genius. Where we are happy to sort our children into "winner" and "loser" piles from kindergarten onward, Korean teachers expect under-performing students to keep up with their peers, regardless of their supposed deficiencies. There isn't a Korean word for "loser."

I would not be allowed to hide behind the "no knack" defense on this one. After a night of beating myself up, I wrote back to Bob and asked if I could have another shot. He very generously assented. Turns out there was a safety net, after all!

Queue intensive training montage. I went to the library the next morning and wrote a detailed plot synopsis, refining it until it was brief and clear. I practiced saying it aloud, making sure to take my time, to pause between sentences. I meditated. I listened to Carl Sagan talk about our role in the universe. I made a new cheat-sheet, this time more organized and legible. At its top were two sentences:

"Thanks for having me."

"GO SLOWLY."

When the call came that evening, my heart went back to jackhammer mode. Bob handled me with kid gloves this time, pointing out that if something went awry, I could just say "do over" and we'd edit that part out. And then came the dreaded pause and shift in tone as Bob began the podcast. He welcomed me to the show.

"Thanks for having me," I said, triumphantly.

And the whole thing went fine. Afterwards, Bob and I talked about his amazing collection of comics and memorabilia. What a cool guy! With my fear-blinders removed, I could enjoy Bob for what he was -- the most passionate fan of comics I'd ever met. I like Bob.

I went home exultant. It was like I'd gotten hold of a time machine and rewritten my own history. All thanks to my wife, who refused to let me run back to the safety of my burrow. Could it be coincidence that after thirty years of spinning my wheels, I'm only able to finish something with her around?

No, it couldn't!

Okay, on to other business. The first Nonplayer interview is up over at Good Comic Books. Joe's questions were great -- I especially enjoyed talking about the differences between comic-making and game design. Thanks, Joe!

Also, I'll be at Emerald City Comic Con from March 4-6. This will be my first-ever convention appearance, so if you want to witness the in-person equivalent of my interview crisis, you'll be able to find me either in the fetal position somewhere near the Image booth, or loitering just within earshot of Geof Darrow. I have printed up 100 Nonplayer posters to sell, so come and get them while they're hot. They're 11" x 17", and they look like this:



No speech bubbles! I'll happily sign yours, if that's how you like your posters. My comic won't be out for another month, but I'm hoping a couple of early adopters will swing by to say hi.

Thanks!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Here We Go

Some of you may have seen this over at the Nonplayer website, but I felt I should post it here for posterity's sake:


The guy on the right is my friend Joe Keatinge, and the guy on the left is Moebius, my all-time comics hero. Joe and my studio-mate Justin "Moritat" Norman went to the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée Angoulême last week to scope out the French comics scene (and to see the by-all-accounts-stupendous Moebius show in Paris), and before they left, Justin made me print out a copy of Nonplayer #1 to take along with him.

I need to make a quick digression. Despite being universally overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated, comic creators are the most generous, selfless, and encouraging people on planet Earth. Justin and Joe are great examples. These are busy guys with books of their own to think about, yet they went out of their way to take a sample of my work to the other side of the planet. In my experience, this is unusually nice.

Also illustrative of this rampant altruism: the existence of pinup artwork. Comic artists regularly make pretty drawings for one another for free. Nonplayer #1 has three pinups in it, and all three contributors (whom I will showcase in a future post) are full-time comic artists. Which means they had to carve time out of their already impossible schedules to do free work for a guy they only met a year ago. In what other industry do you encounter that kind of generosity? I find it a little inexplicable, but I assume it has something to do with the general sense that comic artists are embattled underdogs who must stick up for one another. They're like scrappy English street urchins.

With so much competition in the world of comics, you'd expect newcomers to be treated with coldness, if not contempt. But once again, almost every creator I've met has demonstrated a strong conviction that a rising tide will raise all boats. Perhaps this "more the merrier" attitude is buttressed by the knowledge that attrition among comic artists is worse than at the Battle of the Somme. There's little danger of overcrowding.

ANYWAY. Justin apparently dared Joe to go up to Moebius after a lecture to show him my book. And according to Joe's account, Moebius said something like "very cool, beautiful, may I have it?" What a nice guy, right? It looks like that generosity of spirit goes all the way to the top of the comics pyramid. Joe called me a few minutes later, and I could tell from his quavering voice that something weird had happened. His first words were "somebody stole your comic." I was in the midst of telling him it was okay when he interjected, "it was Moebius!" And then I went all Tourette's and started jumping around my studio. 

That photo still sort of blows my mind. A part of me still thinks it's 'shopped. People like Moebius inhabit a mythical dimension that we can view but never touch. To see my comic in his hand is like seeing my brother walk by in the background of the cantina scene in A New Hope. It's totally unbelievable.

So! That was nice.

In other news, Nonplayer #1 is listed in the February issue of Previews (Previews is the distribution catalog that comic retailers use to order books for the coming months). If you want to make sure that the first issue appears on the shelf at your local comic shop in April, please mention Nonplayer the next time you visit. The item code for Nonplayer is FEB110397, and there is a four-page preview on page 178 of the Previews catalog. Thanks for your help!

Finally, I would like to start showcasing some Nonplayer art by folks other than me! If anybody wants to submit Nonplayer-related artwork, I'd be happy to show it off at the official Nonplayer website (and maybe here on this blog, as well). If you wanna, send stuff to nonplayercomic (at) gmail. Yes, I know there are only eight pages out there (plus, as observant onlookers may already know, one page fragment on the banner for the Nonplayer website and two more bits on display at the Nonplayer Store). Between all these, there should be enough funky creatures, guys with pointy ears, and weird-looking swords to come up with something, right?