Monday, August 13, 2007

The Great Con Experience

(My daughter, Hawk Girl, posing with Spider-Man.
She followed him throughout the weekend, telling
him all about Mary Jane and other Spidey tidbits.)

(Here is a nice shot of the crowd. This is only a small
portion of the convention center.)

Three days of comic book bliss. Let’s see here. How do I write this blog post without boring you to death with my “Aunt Bessie’s vacation to Florida extravaganza?” With 148 photos (60 of which I have posted on my photo web site) and plenty of stories to tell, it’s no easy task. I’ll try to break it up into sections for your reading pleasure.

Understanding Comics
I went to the con for one main reason: discover new comics for use in the classroom. Some of you may know that I have a website for the use of comics in the classroom called THE GRAPHIC CLASSROOM. I want my site to be a resource for teachers, school librarians, and parents who may wish to introduce comics and graphics novels to their students. It’s going quite well, if you’ll pardon me the short horn tooting.

I wanted to meet comic creators – writers, illustrators and publishers – and discover new books that would be perfect for the classroom. I struck gold. I found fiction and nonfiction, fantasy and drama, high quality comics and those that have some work to do. I have to thank my friend, Linda, who works at a print shop. She was able to get me about 50 color business cards with only a two-hour notice. It’s a good thing I had the cards. I think it adds legitimacy to my endeavor and I know they helped me come home with so many media copies of titles, almost more than I could carry. Good thing I thought to bring an empty backpack with me to the con; it came back full.

I spent the whole of Friday and much of Saturday talking with comic creators about the need for high quality comics that can be used in the classroom. Much of today’s comics are not suitable for kids or the classroom. Comic geeks tend to like their girls with big boobs, little clothing and in compromising positions. I got a lot of laughs from some creators when I asked them if they had anything for kids. I know that there is a major untapped market in comics for kids. We just have a lot to do to convince creators to make them, publishers to print them, and parents and schools to accept comics as a legitimate form of literature. I know that it is and so do others, which is why the American Library Association is also promoting comics and graphic novels in libraries.

Not all creators are adult-only minded. Two such creators are Josh Elder (Mail Order Ninja) and Russell Lissau (The Batman Strikes). Both of these guys get it. They understand the importance – the need – for high quality children’s comic literature and both are committed to the endeavor. I have previously reviewed Mail Order Ninja and I highly recommend it. I have not written a review of The Batman Strikes yet (although I have read one issue), but I have two copies on my desk, one of which is signed by Lissau. I was bummed that I didn’t take my Mail Order Ninja books with me to have Elder sign them. He emailed me before the con to tell me he would be there, but I had already left.

(Russell Lissau, left, and Josh Elder, right.)

It takes people like Elder and Lissau to change the children’s literature landscape and I will there with them reviewing and promoting their works in an effort to help our youth read for enjoyment again. It seems that many comic writers begin thinking of all-ages comics when they have children. I can not recall how many times a writer at the con would tell me about the moment they realized that they could not show their work to their own children. That is the point when those creators realize that children and teens are being left out of the comic world. I believe that things are changing rapidly, and that we will see the backing and support for all-ages comics and their use of in the classroom.

The Con
Once you’ve gone to a major comic book convention, you realize that everyone just calls it “the con.” You hear it all the time: “How’s the con going for you so far?” or maybe “Enjoying the con?” I just find that funny, I guess. It was huge. I can’t really describe it except to say that it took me all of Thursday night, Friday and most of Saturday to do what I came to do and see what I needed to see. It was that big. From what I understand, the Chicago con is a garage sale compared to the con in San Diego, Ca. I can’t imagine it. This was bigger than a football field and full of thousands of people buying and selling comics, toys, movies, games, posters, stickers, and other pop culture stuff. There were comic creators on hand to sign things and movie stars as well. Actor Michael Madsen (Kill Bill, Reservoir Dogs) was there signing autographs. Lou Ferrigno from The Incredible Hulk tv show was also there. He signed an educational Hulk poster for my future classroom.

Once The Goals Were Met
After my initial job of making contacts with creators, I was free to play. I was on the hunt for some comics that I had previously been unable to find. I found out about The Lone Ranger comic with issue 5. So I was missing the first four and they are a bit hard to find. You never know about a con. You might find what you want and you might not. If you do find it, you may discover that it is expensive. That is how it is with The Lone Ranger #1. I found it for $30, $15, $10 and finally, after looking long and hard, I found it for $4. I snatched that puppy up quick. I also found the other three (issues 2,3 and 4) so I was a happy man.

I also went with the intention of finding some copies of Texas Strangers (1-3) and White Picket Fences (issues 1-3) for the classroom. I’ve heard a lot about both of these titles and I have been anxious to get my hands on them. Mission accomplished. I was also lucky to get a sketchbook of the much anticipated, The Mice Templar by Bryan Glass and Michael Oeming. The big surprise find for me was a signed copy of the George R. R. Martin piece, The Hedge Knight. Martin is one of my favorite prose writers. His ability to craft an emotional and engaging piece of fiction is a thing of beauty. His novella, The Hedge Knight, was turned into a comic by Image. This find was for me, rather than the classroom, and I almost passed it up until my wife spoke up and told me to buy it. I’m glad she said so and I’m glad I bought it.

The Journey to the Con
Drive or fly? We weren’t sure what to do, but realized that driving would probably be our cheapest alternative, even considering gas prices. Then a friend suggested we take the train. Train? Mass transit. Comfortable. More environmental than driving our own car. Perfect. So we drove to St. Louis (as Springfield doesn’t have an Amtrak station) and caught the train to Chicago. The train going out was a double-decker super liner. There was lots of room between seats, a foot rest, and plenty of room to fully recline and not bother the person behind you. It was comfortable. There was a dining car and a lounging car with seats and tables. The train coming back was less comfy but better than an airplane. No dining or lounge car, but it was fine. Best of all, I didn’t have to drive in Chicago. I must admit to you all that big city driving makes me a bit nervous. I don’t like it all. I don’t mind it if I am following someone else, but I hate to go it alone. So this was a nice alternative.

(Wife and daughter in the dining car of the train.)

The wife and daughter really loved the train ride. We played cards in the lounge car, got up and walked around, had a convenient restroom, and read too. Well, they read. I get motion sickness so I stuck to the iPod. It was a fine time and I would travel by train again. I see what folks talk about when they travel abroad. Trains really are the way to go. I don’t see why our nation is so reluctant.

The Cab Ride and Chicago-style Pizza
We’ve all heard cabbie jokes, but never having been in New York or taken a cab in a huge city, it made little sense. The taxi driver that picked us up at the train station was a lunatic. This guy had people honking at him from pick-up at the Amtrak station all the way to the hotel, a 35-minute taxi ride of terror. This nut job, I swear to you, drove on the shoulder of the 5-lane expressway. People got in this guys way, he went around them despite the rush hour traffic. Cutting people off, nearly running them off the road, nothing was off limits to this guy. I was convinced we were going to get in a wreck. I don’t really see how we didn’t.

I thought if I made conversation with him, he might calm down. It didn’t work, but the conversation was interesting enough. We were in Chicago. We wanted to try an authentic Chicago-style pizza pie. So we asked him. Always ask a local about the best little hole to eat in. He suggested this little Italian pizzeria. Maybe you’ve heard of it: Dominos. I kid you not. The cab driver suggested Dominos Pizza as the best Chicago-style pizza. I quit talking with him after that and just prayed that we would not get in a wreck.

We ended up asking the concierge where to eat pizza. It was yum. We ordered a large pizza with sausage, hamburger and pepperoni, and a small cheese for the little one, and a salad. That was nearly $50 by the way. Everything in Chicago was expensive, but I’ll get to that later. That was way too much pizza, even for us. Three days later, we were still eating on it and we never actually finished it. I had no idea how thick these pizzas were.

(This was the small pizza!)

The Prices

I promised to talk about the prices. Holy cow! I had no idea. Our hotel was connected to the convention center and the whole complex was close to O’Hare, so the prices were outrageous. A can of coke in our mini-bar was $4 a pop. A package of M&M’s was $3.50. That’s to be expected. The food at the convention wasn’t really much better. We did finally find a restaurant close by that was a basic American grill – $21 for plenty of breakfast for the three of us and it was much better than the hotel restaurant, called O’h. At first we thought it was called that because of the proximity to the airport. It’s because it was Oh so freaking expensive. The breakfast buffet was $17.50 and they didn’t even have biscuits and gravy! The prime rib dinner at night was $35. Needless to say, we were glad to find the other diner so we could avoid O’h.

This vacation contained a lot of firsts for my daughter. I love documenting those. It’s so much fun to see a child experience the wonderful aspects of the world. She had a good time and asked me if we could come back next year. I love it that my daughter loves comics. It’s something else we can share together. We read comics together all the time.

We thought ahead and knew that she could get bored, what with all the shopping and standing. So my wife packed my daughter’s Hawk Girl Halloween costume. Boy, am I glad we had that thing. Once she donned her HG costume, she was the center of attention, which is here she likes to be. We couldn’t walk anywhere without being stopped for a picture. She did her share of picture asking too. She nearly stalked Spider-Man at the convention. He finally figured out that she loved him and he would pick her up and talk with her and the like. She talked to him about Mary Jane and how she loved him. She even told him that she knew he was really Peter Parker, but she did it quietly because she knew his identity needed to remain secret.

We talked a lot about costumes and she mentioned that she thought some folks thought she was the real Hawk Girl. Deep down inside, she knew that he wasn’t really Spider-Man, but part of her wanted to believe he was. Fine with me. That is the beauty of the child’s imagination so I don’t mind indulging her. It will not last forever. The world will school that imagination out of her soon enough.

The End
It was a worthwhile trip for me and should aid me not only with my website, but with my master’s thesis as well. Ultimately, this entire endeavor will help mold me into a better teacher. For that, I’m glad to pay the high prices. Besides, it is all kinds of fun.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like it was a great time. Thanks for the train comments...I'm thinking about taking my family on a train trip this winter.