I’ve been going to New York Comic Con since 2007, back when it was held in February and Stan Lee tickets somehow sold out before the doors even opened, resulting in a near-riot.
I’ve gone several times since.
Outside of 2008 when I was nearly (and then literally) broke, I’ve been lucky enough to return and do something interesting each time. I’ve spoken with some of the biggest names in comic book history, interviewed actors and directors I admired, nearly been escorted out by the Con bouncers once (long story involving filming near Autograph Alley), nearly taken out a Doctor Who companion (John Barrowman kinda clotheslined me walking to a panel and he apologized for blindsiding me- wish I had been a Whovian at the time). It’s one of the few times of the year where I feel like I’m among people who get me…and at times see people who are so over the top with their fandom that I almost feel like a casual fan in comparison.
Even last year, I even made it to the convention for 35 minutes after filming a project with my students around New York for two straight days and then teaching all Friday. It was pouring rain and I still got in just in time to see one of my favorite artists, Danny Haas, in Artist Alley. I had one goal in mind- to pick up a Luke Skywalker print he had produced after I suggested it a few times.
Among the many disappointments and adjustments after my aortic dissection was the knowledge I’d have to skip Con this year.
Now, to an outsider, this may be one of those judging moments. “Jesus, Scott, shouldn’t you just be happy you can sit upright now? You weren’t even able to walk fifty feet a month ago without looking like you ran a marathon.”
After my surgeon, my cardiologist, my vascular surgeon and primary care physicians all recommended I walk more and push my limits a bit, I started to wonder if there was a chance I could still get to the city for at least one day. Part of the problem that no one told me about with the rehabilitation in my post-surgery world is that after a while, I’ve started to feel like I’m living in a bit of a cage. A cage can be for protective purposes, mind you- it keeps the dangers at arm’s length. It can also get claustrophobic really fast. Hence this blog. Without access to my creative drive (a side effect of the depression apparently), I’m stuck doing the same five or six things a day. It’s not Jaime’s fault, it’s not my fault, it’s just how I’m insuring I don’t suddenly catch a cold while my broken sternum mends back into one piece or I suddenly overtax myself somewhere where I can’t get help.
Weather has been awful in New Jersey of late, in part due to the fall weather cooling things down, and in part due to Hurricane Matthew’s path, so I haven’t done as much walking. However, my breathing is much stronger and my stamina seems to be solid. So last weekend, I asked Jaime how crazy it would be to try NYCC alone for a day. Con is, if nothing else, one big marathon of walking or standing in place. They’d have medical staff on hand and it’s a short cab ride/walk from Penn Station. I had ordered a press pass months ago under the assumption I’d try to go after filming with my students in the city again, so the 4 day pass had arrived on time. Filming couldn’t happen with stress aggravating my heart and the hours needed being too much for my body to handle. That left me with time. Jaime’s response?
She cautioned me to come home early, to bring food and water (way ahead of her, a water bottle and Granola bars are a part of every smart Con-goer’s survival pack) and to rest every few hours.
So to New York City I went.
Strange how Manhattan recurs in my little story. It was the last place I went prior to surgery, to film pickups for a project I’m producing. Being a stubborn ass, I wouldn’t let anyone carry my gear back up the stairs, despite the fact that one of my younger proteges offered to. An apprentice, I must mention, who spent four years carrying around a brass instrument for long periods of time.
Now, the doctors have all said the exact same thing- my aorta was damaged BEFORE I tried lifting up all the heavy boxes for the move. So it wasn’t the stress from wedding planning or the struggle to lift the boxes that caused my little cardiac incident. It probably didn’t help. So I’ve been doing my best to listen to my body and not piss it off while it’s trying to finish regenerating.
The weather had cleared just in time for a gorgeous fall morning to greet the opening of ComicCon. I made the 8:38 express train to New York, had enough time to grab a bagel at Penn’s Dunkin Donuts and headed to the Javits.
It was significantly nicer out than the last time I was there (it had been muggy and rainy the day of our shoot) and the crowd to get into the Javits was pretty atrocious, but my pro status allowed a quicker entrance.
I’ve had a rather hot-and-cold relationship with the Con in the last few years. I’ve found that since 2012, I’d grown frustrated with the crowd size, the lack of informed staff and the price gouging in some places. Some of the handlers and ‘security’ around the Autograph Alley area seem a little too happy to push around fans who get too close to taking a picture with a celebrity in the background a half a mile away. I felt old and frustrated if I stayed too long and if I came back multiple days. San Diego, which I visited in 2013 with a friend who lived in California, was even worse, with more crowding and worse staff.
That having been said, there’s something to be said for being in a safe place where everyone embraces common likes and accepts the ones they don’t understand. If organized religion and politics could function in that way, we wouldn’t have so many damn conflicts.
I’m not touching Marvel vs DC fanboys though. That’s a whole different kind of war.
My first stop upon entering? Visiting Danny Haas over in Artist Alley. I figured I’d had good things happen after visiting him the last time I was at Con. I wanted to see him first. After all, his artwork was some of the only stuff I had on my phone while I was in the hospital. I was trying to figure out how I wanted to arrange my office while I recovered, mentally rearranging the pieces as I tried to sleep amid the beeping monitors and aches and concerns.
Danny then did me an incredible kindness that made my day. I was blown away. It’s part of my wedding plans, so I don’t want to say what it is, but he did NOT need to do it. So I’m plugging his etsy site again. He’s from Florida and I don’t know if his family was affected by the hurricane, but I’d appreciate it if you took a look at his art. If you’re a supporter of any fandom, he’s probably got a piece made and if not, he’ll do a custom of it.
I had hoped to see Matt Smith, “my Doctor” as Doctor Who fans say, but his line was insanely long and I’d never have the energy to last through it. Plus, at $140 a head for personalized autographs, I just couldn’t justify it even if I had a good reason. See, I have this thing about talking to celebrities that are a part of work that mean something to me. I like to say thanks. I’m sure they get it a lot, but if it really did something for me, I feel like I should let them know that. It’s so easy to criticize authors or actors or directors or singers, especially with social media and the anonymity of the Internet.
Gratitude. It’s something I hope I’ve always shown, even if it wasn’t as much as some things probably deserved. Ever since the surgery, it has become more important to me. I’m frustrated because I don’t know how to show the depth of how glad I am that I have people in my life who care about me, doctors who saved me, strangers who inspire me. I have no answers yet, other than to try to live up to the hope that I’ll be worth the investment of emotion. When people sacrifice their free time, their finances, their energy to make your day better, I feel like it’s necessary to show you are obliged.
The people pictured above are Kevin J. Anderson and his wife, Rebecca Moesta. They’re scifi writers that were among many on the Javits Center floor. I had marked in the NYCC app that I meant to see them before leaving. I wandered the floors and almost got distracted enough to forget looking for them. Fortunately, The Universe nudged me a few rows over as I made my way to my last event, a panel on adapting books for the screen. That’s when I saw Kevin’s name on the banner.
Now, I don’t want to be that fan that interrupts a private conversation. No one likes that guy. So I waited for a chance to talk with him. I turn around and he had disappeared. Coffee break apparently. So I walk around, visit a friend at Scout Comics (shameless plug- http://www.scoutcomics.com), try not to get overwhelmed by the countless rows of merchandise, then head back.
I’ve been working with celebrities since I was 16. In fact, I met a children’s author when he visited my elementary school when I was 8 and waited until after his talk to see if he’d sign my book. I remembering asking him a couple of questions and he seemed very surprised and said I should be a journalist. For a long time, that seemed like a good idea. But I met more entertainers and politicians and athletes and I’ve gotta say, I don’t usually get tongue tied. Stan Lee and I had a pretty good repartee going and he only created one of my favorite characters of all time, Peter Parker.
So why did talking to Kevin and Rebecca make me more nervous than usual? Gratitude. Kevin and Rebecca have written plenty of books, but the ones that impacted me the most was their Young Jedi Knights series. The novels focused on Jacen and Jaina Solo, the twin children of Han Solo and Princess Leia, as they train under their uncle, Luke Skywalker, to be come Jedi Knights. They become friends with Chewbacca’s nephew Lowie and the warrior princess Tenel Ka as they try to grow up fast enough for the challenges the universe keeps throwing at the Jedi. Mixed in were themes of forgiveness, equality, addiction, adversity and the general struggles of growing up (especially in complicated and dangerous times).
I can’t explain to you how much I needed these books at that point in my life. I moved back to New Jersey from North Carolina in the summer of 1995. We were only gone a year, but I had now lost all friends. The kids in the small town I moved to were, on the whole, pretty awful or at best, apathetic to me. My teacher, a young guy who probably was a year out of college, did nothing to stop kids from making me feel unwanted. I had two friends, both Star Wars fans. They introduced me to the saga, which I promptly devoured (if out of order- thanks MOM!) before learning they had written BOOKS to continue the story afterward!
I wanted to be friends with these kids. I wanted Luke Skywalker to be my teacher. I wanted to be challenged alongside people who had my back. I wanted to fall for a girl like Tenel Ka or Jaina. These kids had adventures. They stuck together. I had nothing really like that in my life.
So I made it happen. I had never heard of fan fiction in 1995 and it’s entirely possible the term wasn’t created yet. What I was doing felt, in a way, highly secretive, like I was doing something wrong by taking this book and writing in characters that didn’t belong. But it was a lot of fun. I can distinctly recall the air conditioning thrumming next to me, the keyboard buttons clicking smartly as I added, word for word, the story Kevin and Rebecca had created, to a Word document. As I went a long, I introduced a fictionalized version of myself and one of my friends into the main plot. It bent the story narrative in some cases, but if I did, I remember fretting over how to get the story to reach the same conclusion. At 12, I wasn’t enough of a scifi fan enough to know what the Butterfly Effect was, but essentially I was working it out, narratively, for myself.
Word by word, I recreated and reimagined and reconstructed the Young Jedi Knights stories, book by book. I don’t know what I was thinking the end result was. I just knew I needed to do it. I must have been printing as I went because by the time I was done, I would have needed to drain my dad’s laserjet of all its paper, and there was NO way I could lie convincingly if he came back to work and suddenly his printer was empty. I was a young Luke, not a young Han, mind you.
The Young Jedi Knights series came to a close as middle school came to a close. By that point, I was reading Kevin’s other books, along with God knows how many other Star Wars and scifi novels. And I was writing- despite the hell that was middle school, it became pretty quickly apparent that if I was going to survive, I was going to need to write my way through life, even if, like that early ‘re-imagining’ of the YJK stories, I kept them to myself.
In high school, I became editor of our school paper by sophomore year, contributed to our literary magazine, wrote freelance articles for the Ocean County Observer (our local newspaper) and eventually that previously mentioned movie column for the Asbury Park Press. Sometimes memory fogs over and we forget things, but sorting through my personal effects while I packed for the most recent move revealed a stack of congratulation letters from essay contests I won. In fact, of all the scholarships requiring an essay, I actually won all of the ones I applied for. I either never realized it or had forgotten that in the intervening years. College was expensive, but those essays sure helped. My writing later led to the creation of “Issues”, my web series in 2008 that got me into the Writers Guild of America, a life goal I’d had for a long time.
I can say, with absolute certainty, that while I had shown promise in writing as a child, it wasn’t until I opened up the Heirs of the Force that I really gravitated toward writing. If sticking up for R2-D2 was Luke’s first step on the Hero’s Journey, that book was mine on the path to writing. It’s a road I’m still walking on and still get lost on. Until a few short stories I wrote and co-wrote placed highly in an international competition, I had really lost faith in my skills. One of those things that ran through my head before the operation was ‘my God, this can’t be it- I have all of these stories still locked up inside and I haven’t written anything down!’.
Yeah, I know, there were bigger concerns, but that’s how much storytelling means to me. It was right up there with, “My wedding is coming up, what about Jaime?” and “I can’t do this to Mom and Dad” and “What about my students?”.
I spoke with Kevin and then Rebecca for a few minutes each about how they had changed my life. Kevin seemed to get it. He admitted it was nice to hear, since it’s so easy to focus only on the negative sometimes with the Internet bombarding us with negativity. I didn’t say it then, but I wish I had told him about my friends Joey and Ally and Jessie May and Jen and Bart. We were from different parts of the country but bonded over our mutual appreciation for Star Wars through a fansite. I got so much of my news and early tips on writing through his site and several others. Hearing news of a new novel was always such a thrill in those dial-up days. But I get it. And that’s why I made sure I stuck around to see him and Rebecca. To let them know that they had reached their target audience and it had inspired and strengthened.
Bart and I have grown up to be best friends. He’ll stand beside me at my wedding as my best man. I gave a speech at a celebration of his marriage. My officiant, my other best friend Jess, is a fellow Star Wars fan that joined us in those early fandom days. My friend Joey, a California Star Wars fan, will be giving a reading. We all became Star Wars fans at a young age. They didn’t all read the same books as I did (though we did read plenty between the group of us) but it felt like we had that common bond. So many of us are writers in some form or another. We practiced the skill together. Some of us have stuck with it. Others have moved on to other things.
In a way, I found my Young Jedi Knights. I didn’t know it at the time. Honestly, I never put it together until I started writing this blog. But it’s pretty clear that when those books came along, things changed. If writing is part of what keeps me going, then that was a major catalyst for what came later. I know for a fact I was not nearly as eloquent on the Con floor (though I am proud to say I didn’t babble or become incoherent) but I’m glad I got to thank these special people for sharing their gift with the world. It’s not easy being a creator. Everyone will judge you. It’s easy to keep it to yourself, to not risk the slings and arrows of the critical horde. I don’t know how much time I’ve lost being afraid of that. I saw all of the books Kevin had put out and realized that even with those nasty online reviews and disapproving critics, he kept going. They both did.
So I said thank you. I hope they see this. Maybe it will give them an even better understanding of what those books meant to me. I think they got it though. They didn’t see a scary fan. Their eyes gave it away. I think they were happy. I guess it’s nice when something you devote weeks, months and years creating with nothing but your mind is appreciated and loved by someone.
Like old high school or college friends, Jacen, Jaina, Tenel Ka, Lowie, Zekk and the whole Young Jedi Knights crew grew up and were handled by other authors. I didn’t always agree with how they were handled to the point where I stopped reading the books. I couldn’t see them anymore. It was like when you see a person you grew up with that were suddenly so changed, you couldn’t see yourself getting along with them anymore. Then, when Disney bought out Lucasfilm, the books were classified as non-canon. They didn’t exist anymore. They were no longer official.
Not unlike my take on the Young Jedi adventures, actually. They were now equally real in the ‘film universe’ of the now-Disney property. This saddened me, but like the memories of friends I’ve lost touch with over time, their absence doesn’t change the fact that they were a part of my life for a long time. They mattered, they changed me.
For all of ComicCon’s faults (seriously guys, lower the price on water bottles!), this is why I keep going back. Despite the headache moments, there is always the chance you get to meet someone who impacted your life in the past, or may in the future.
This is Katie. She and I met at ComicCon in 2008. She was one of the first people to visit the Issues booth we had set up. She was so supportive of our comic book shop comedy, we nicknamed her our Official Issues Fangirl. We kept in touch on facebook but we lived pretty far apart, so we didn’t see each other much. Except, despite the odds being astronomical, we always found each other on the Con floor. It’s like clockwork.
After leaving Kevin and Rebecca, I made my way to the last event I wanted to get to- a panel on adapting books to the screen, featuring a panel that included one of my new favorite authors, Lev Grossman of “The Magicians” fame. The line was long, so they had to send elevator loads of people in groups of six of seven at a time. As I got in the elevator, I thought to myself, “Well, guess I’m not bumping into anyone I know this time at Con.”
I’d just missed out on seeing my friend Jill Pantozzi (shameless plug alert: http://thenerdybird.com) by a few minutes, and this was it for NYCC 2016 for me…and then I hear “Scott!?”. I think to myself “Nope, no way, there are less than a baseball team’s starting lineup in this elevator- there is no WAY someone knows me amid thousands of people at Con”.
And then there’s Katie, with her big smile and an armload of books. See, Katie is another reason I come to Con. She sort of exemplifies the spirit of the event. She always seems to be excited. She’s constantly bouncing around from panels to signings to photo ops, grabbing swag and free books everywhere. There have been times where I was just feeling like I couldn’t do another Con the following year, and then somehow we’d bump into each other and I’d think, “Ahhh, stop it, it’s not that bad.”
Gratitude. Be grateful for the people who remind you of who you are, where you came from and why you do what you do. That was my surprisingly deep lesson from ComicCon.
That, and beware of people with anime swords. Dodged a cup-check at the last split second at least three times. So….hey, grateful my reflexes are slowly returning.
It’s the little things in life…
Until next time my friends,