JOHN OSTRANDER: Pros and Cons
Well, seeing as last weekend was Spam Diego, I suppose it’s time to do my Convention wrap-up.
Not that I was at SD. Not this year. But I’ve been to quite a few over the years. In fact, I’ve been at any number of comic conventions, both as a fan and as a professional. Actually, always as a fan and, for the past 25 years, as a professional as well. But something can happen and I can turn back into a drooly mouthed fan boy at a moment’s notice. Some cases in point:
During my early years in the biz, my sometimes partner in crime and often evil twin Timothy Truman and I were at a Con together. Will Eisner was in attendance and neither Tim nor I could summon up the nerve to go say hello to him. We finally got on the courtesy bus taking us from the hotel out to the airport as said convention ended and the only other passenger was – Will Eisner. So he strikes up a conversation with us and we had a really great trip out to the airport. Will got off the shuttle first and Tim and I looked at each other and decided we were such idiots because we could have spent the entire weekend with him.
I think I’ve told the story elsewhere how at a Chicago Con I had to get Julie Schwartz (who I already knew and was a legend himself) to get me to introduce me to Jack Kirby because I was completely and utterly incapable of doing it myself because this was the goddam KING of comics, goddamit!
Likewise, at a San Diego Con, I had to get Murphy Anderson (another legend who I already knew) to introduce me to John Broome, the legendary writer. Mr. Broome, on being introduced, gives me the eye, looks me up and down and said, with mock severity, “Ah, the competition, eh?” No, Mr. Broome, I’d have to be in your league first.
Yes, there are others who can make me like that and, no, I’m NOT telling you who they are.
I’ve also met any number of friends at conventions. I think Michael Davis has talked about our first meeting; I know he wound up in the suite with Mike Grell and myself (and a few others) as Iron Mike watched the first episode of the Jon Sable, Freelance TV series that wound up being on for about two minutes one season. The TV show hasn’t lasted but I’m glad to say that my relationship with Michael has.
Another friend met at a Con was Aussie writer, Dave DeVries, who we designated “that mad Australian” as a result of that weekend. We keep in touch still and he’s a good mate. Dave’s also been a pal and a bane to Brother Grell and has one of the best bar stories about him I’ve ever heard. Dave, if you see this, get on the comment line and tell it. Or maybe we can get Grell to do it.
Cons can be educational. I was doing a panel once and somebody asked me what, in my opinion, was the worst story that I had ever written that had been published. I knew and named it. A fan in the front row looked stricken. “But that was my favorite story!” he protested. So I learned – every story is somebody’s favorite story. And I don’t answer questions like that anymore.
It was at another panel that I heard this bit of wisdom from Steven Grant: “Opinions are like assholes; everyone has one.” Somebody else may have said it before Steven but I first heard it from him. The point was not to merely have an opinion but to have an informed opinion; otherwise, why should we bother even listening to you? It’s a point that has been increasingly lost these days, in my (informed) opinion.
As a sidebar, my friend Jim Murphy also explained why “asshole” is the perfect insult – it’s not race specific, it’s not gender specific, it’s not age specific; it doesn’t belong to any one ethnic group or sexual orientation. As Jim pointed out, “Everyone has one and, sooner or later, everyone is one.”
Back to topic.
I don’t do as many conventions as I used to. I may attend those to which I’m invited but my rule is that all my expenses are covered. Cons are not vacations for me; they’re working weekends. It’s nice if, at certain Cons, I get to meet some old friends I haven’t seen in awhile; it’s good if some business gets transacted and contacts made. However, my principle reason for being at a Con is be there for the fans, to sign autographs and, above all, to make the fan glad we had a chance, however brief, to meet. Fans who buy books because my name is on them deserve to have a good encounter with me. I try to have a smile, give them a smile, maybe entertain them a little if I can. Answer questions. I want them to know they are important to me.
However, don’t ask for an autograph as I’m headed for the washroom. Usually a bad time. And, yes, I’ve had people do that.
I also once had a female fan who announced she was going to buy me dinner. I was somewhat nonplussed by that and, before I could stop, she pulled a wallet out of her bosom and put three twenties on the table. That had never happened before. I tried to demur but she was insistent so I accepted the gift.
A little later she decided she was just going to give me more money. This time I insisted that she not. I had never refused free money before but this was uncomfortable. Mike and Linda Gold were at the table with me and spent a bit of the rest of the Convention “shielding” me from the fan who, they were certain, was now stalking me. I didn’t – and don’t – feel that way but they were also insistent. We had a nice dinner, though, the three of us.
But I don’t want fans just giving me money. Better they spend it on comics. Preferably my comics. I’m not against getting money but I like to feel that I earned it. Otherwise, it just feels weird.
As I get older, I find that Conventions do take a toll on me, financially and physically. If I’m attending on my own dime, I’m money out of pocket. Even if someone else is paying my way, I’m not making any money here at the computer. I know other writers can get work done while at a Con but I’ve never been one of them. There’s the three days of the Con (sometimes four) and you’re usually traveling on the day before the Con starts. So that’s four days when I’m not generating any revenue and when you’re working freelance, that can be scary. I don’t get holidays, vacations, sick days or time off for good behavior. I get paid for the work I do.
It’s also physically tiring. Traveling always takes it out of me these days. Cons do it as well. My energy gets drained. And I’m turning into a Cranky Old Fart (C.O.F. to you whippersnappers) and I likes me own bed and my morning ritual, dangnabit! I usually take the day off after I come back from a Con (if I’m smart); if I don’t, I’m dragging my butt all week. If I do take it off, that’s another day I’m not writing.
Not complaining, mind you. Being a Pro at a Con is fun. I’m as susceptible to a bit of Ego Boost as the next person and within the walls of a Con, I’m a Celebrity of sorts. Outside of the Convention Hall, once I take my name tag off, no-one knows or cares who I am and that also suits me just fine. Notice without Notoriety.
Finally, I have come out of Comic Book Conventions with two significant moments in my life. Ordinarily I would tell you that Cons are not the places to go to meet females but . . . that’s what happened to me. I met both my late wife, Kim Yale, and my current partner, Mary Mitchell, at Comic Book Cons. Of course, before that I largely dated women in “Theater” and, as I discovered, as a general rule Women in Theater assume that Men in Theater are gay unless proven otherwise. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
I’ll continue to do Cons as the opportunities arise, although I try to avoid the mega-Cons that San Diego, Chicago, and New York have become, so if you see me at one, drop by, have a chat. Doesn’t even have to be about comics.
Just . . . don’t start giving me money.
Writer / actor / playwright John Ostrander is man behind the typewriter at such vaunted comics as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy, Munden’s Bar and Batman. His own personal blog is at http://www.comicscommunity.com/boards/ostrander/.