ELAYNE RIGGS: The awesome factor
I haven’t talked that much yet about being what my life is like being married to one of the relatively few lucky and talented people able to make a living as a comic book artist. There are a few reasons for this, among them being stuff I’m not allowed to reveal in a public forum because of various confidences. (For instance, it’s driving me nuts not being able to talk about Robin’s next inking assignment, and ComicMix readers will understand why once it’s been officially announced.) I walk a fine line between wanting to crow about the comics I see in their formative stages and realizing that any specifics thereof will often require massive doses of pre-approval before I talk about them.
But I can still indulge in generalities, one being a topic on which I’ve briefly touched before — the blurry line between being a fan and being a pro. Today I want to talk specifically about dealing with pros from a fan’s point of view.
What brought this on was my musings after attending the Dave Cockrum memorial last week. I was acquainted with Dave and Paty from the days when they used to appear at NYC comic shows, mostly the Fred Greenberger ones but I think they were also at some of the "church cons" that Mike Carbonaro held before those shows moved across the street from Penn Station. When Dave was at the VA hospital a bus ride away from my apartment, I visited him once in the bitter winter because it was the right thing to do, not because he was This Big Name. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a lot of luminaries from those old cons as people and friends before I really knew any of their work. And I remember when I used to mention their names in Usenet posts, the way I’d mention other friends and acquaintances, I’d often receive nasty accusations of "name-dropping" from my fellow comic fans, with an attitude of "how dare she talk about these Names as though they were — people!"
It seems far simpler for many fans to think of pros as abstracts on whom they can project their own entitlements than to interact with them as fellow human beings. And whether this consists of treating fictional characters as more important than the real people who create and work on them, or erecting pedestals and shrines to the objects of your affection, the result is much the same.
Now, I’m not immune to what I call the Chris Farley Effect. Just ask poor Mark Waid, whose writing I loved (and still do). It happens to speak to me on a very visceral level, I just connect with it and get a lot of joy out of it and don’t feel the need to justify that to anyone. But for awhile I misinterpreted that joy as something else entirely. Heck, I remember a particularly embarrassing moment at a con when I pulled the "I’m not worthy" catchphrase (complete with genuflecting gesture) on Mark and Colleen Doran, one of my absolute favorite artists, causing Colleen’s mom (who presumably didn’t get the reference) to try to earnestly assure me that I was, indeed, worthy.
Fortunately, I like to think there’s a limit as to how much of a fool even I can make of myself. And I finally straightened myself out and stopped making Mark supremely uncomfortable, and now we’re friends again. And Colleen and I plug each other’s weblogs and talk about gardening and other mundane matters. But even after all that, I occasionally still shake my head in wonder and remark to myself, "Wow, I’m sitting here at a Cockrum memorial and Peter David’s sitting in front of me and Mark Waid’s sitting next to me! How awesome is that?!" Or "wow, I’m getting my picture taken with Colleen Doran at BEA and she’s going to put it on her blog! This rules!"
So yeah, I get it. It’s human nature to look up to people, and I’m a writer who looks up to other writers who leave my meager efforts in the dust, and a comic book reader who looks up to artists who do stuff I could never do because, my God, these people make such magic and how could you not be in awe of that? And I’ll tell you another not-so-secret: you can bet your boots these people I admire also have people they admire, around whom they’re apt to act all tongue-tied and loopy.
But part of acquiring social skills involves recognizing and avoiding potentially awkward situations. I’ve had a number of close-but-no-cigar encounters with real-world (as opposed to comic-world) celebrities like John Goodman standing alone at a Firesign Theatre party, Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner dining out at a West Hollywood restaurant, an invitation to present a birthday card to David Cassidy in person backstage at a Broadway musical in which he was starring. Imagine, being able to shake Radner’s hand back when she was healthy and beaming! To possibly get a peck on the cheek from a teen idol on whom I’d crushed since I was 13! But I declined all these opportunities. I wouldn’t know what to say to Goodman. Radner and Wilder deserved their intimate moments together. And Cassidy — well, I just didn’t want the image of him I had in my head to be supplanted with any reality, no matter how much better it might be.
Maybe if I worked in the Business of Show I’d have treated those situations differently. And maybe that sort of timidity rules the minds of many comic book fans who believe that any Name they recognize but haven’t met is a celebrity and therefore should not be thought of or talked about by anyone else as if they were a "civilian." But you should never assume that someone you regard as inapproachably famous will be thought of the same way by others. Nor should you assume those others take their friendships for granted.
Because of many factors, including my marriage to a comics pro, my age, my years of working at conventions and my online presence, I’m lucky enough to be friendly now with lots of comic book writers and artists whose talent I consider astounding and whose work I think of as magic. And I’m no less in awe of their abilities because they’re my friends. In truth, I find the abilities of my non-comic creator friends just as awe-inspiring. But you can’t learn the magic (and isn’t that the source of much of the awe, the desire to be like those you admire?) if you can’t get past the ga-ga stage and into serious peer relationships.
On the other hand, remember when Robin Riggs inked and colored that Silver Surfer that Alan Davis penciled for Marvel’s Heroes benefit book? That was awesome.
Elayne Riggs is ComicMix‘s news editor and is crushing on you right now.