Marc Alan Fishman: How to Meet Your Heroes*
The other day I hopped into Facebook because, you know, why not be pseudo-social, right?. I noted in my news feed that the show-runner from the Kokomo (Indiana) Comic Con was pleading to his friends, customers, and followers to help him live a dream – to secure Denny O’Neil for the 2014 Kokomo Comic Con. I figured since I shared column space with the living legend, I might be able to lend a hand. I made some introductions via e-mail, and well… the gentlemen are ironing out the details. Suffice to say, I love their con, and hope to see Denny there next year. Heck, I hope I see John, Mike, Michael, Emily, Martha, Mindy, Adriane, Glenn and everyone who reads my column there! But then again, like the aforementioned show-runner, I am a dreamer.
Several times throughout my life I’ve been able to meet men and women I greatly admired. And in every instance I wedged my foot so far down my mouth, I passed shoelaces. It’s taken many years, many opportunities, and a few lucky breaks to finally figure out the best way to meet someone I admire and come out of said meeting with my feet solidly beneath me. Consider this my three easy steps for not making the same mistakes I did.
Look where you are.
When you come across that special celebrity / comic writer / artist / C-List celebrity from a reality show you enjoyed back in 2008, do yourself a favor and look where you’re about to initiate a conversation. Are you bumping in to them in a coffee shop or are you in a receiving line at a convention? Context is key. If you’re running into them in a setting where they might be trying to live their life, be considerate. Yes, they may hold significance to you and your life would not be complete without telling them exactly how they’ve impacted your experiences as a night nurse in the Lackawanna County Jail… but let them get that cup of coffee. If they don’t look like they are in a terrible hurry, then go on, cowboy.
How did I learn this lesson? I ran into Mark Waid at the Chicago Comic Con about a decade ago. He was perusing some long boxes deep in the heart of the dealer room. Without warning, amidst hauling out a pile of Scrooge McDuck comics, I bolted up to him, and immediately started blabbing away. He smiled, gave me a curt answer to one of the 1,000 questions I stammered out, and pulled his focus back towards the dealer. I turned a brighter shade of red, and limped away. Flash Fact: Creators don’t walk the show floor looking to be interviewed. Sometimes they’re just enjoying being a fan.
Think before you speak.
I know it’s cliché. But it’s a long-standing piece of advice for a reason. A big thing we geeks tend to forget in mid-frenzy is that our heroes are in the industries we love… but that doesn’t automatically make them as fervent, opinionated, or as knowledgeable in the minutiae of their specific craft as we may be. I like to equate this to the person at the office party who bends his co-workers ears off about work. Your heroes are people. They have likes and dislikes that don’t always align perfectly with what they do for a living. While I myself love talking comics, I also love the Chicago Bears, haute cuisine, and the acoustic-stylings of the Barenaked Ladies. So too, might Wil Wheaton have more interest in the finer points of liberal politics over phaser settings.
Simply put, when you have an opportunity to have a little repartee with an esteemed person of note? Be original. Sure, you can tell them you love their work. But in the day and age of the Internet, Wikipedia, and social media, why not have a question about something outside of the norm? I’ve found that when I catch someone off guard with a question, comment, or anecdote they weren’t expecting? It breaks the ice, and moves the conversation beyond the normal small-talk that dissipates without even a lingering memory. My case in point: Pitching to Dan DiDio to buy my book because the stickers I threw in with the deal “are totally better than those ten cent rings you’re giving away for Blackest Night.” And you know what? He bought the book, and laughed.
Remember it’s not a pitch meeting, job interview, or investment opportunity.
When you come face to face with someone you admire, there just might be that catch in your throat… that little voice in your head that says “Hey, when will you ever have this chance again! Tell them about how you can save the franchise!” Obviously though, it’s not gonna happen. Trust me when I tell you this: I’ve spent the last five years finding every way possible to dance around the idea that I’m one joke, one conversation, one chance blurb away from landing that big gig I’ve always wanted. I’m now older, wiser, and weary; conventions are where deals get started, yes, but not because you want them too.
I’ve been lucky enough to have breakfast with a CEO of a company I would shave my face to be a part of. I broke literal bread with the man. I was witty. I listened attentively. I asked leading questions. I even got an industry veteran to vouch for what good work I was doing. And you know what? I’m not working with that company now, and can safely say it’s not on the horizon either. Lucky for me, the breakfast was damned tasty and the next time I saw that CEO he waved hi and asked me how Unshaven Comics was doing.
Sorry for going a bit long today, kiddos. I’m just looking out for you. Next time you run into that retired wrestler, cosplaying sexy Spongebob, or Kevin Smith at the Quick Stop? Remember: look where you are, think before you speak, and don’t waste your opportunity to make a memory in lieu of begging for a job they don’t have the power to give you on the spot. Shake their hand. Tell them why you love their work. Ask about their favorite album released in the last year, and then leave on a laugh. Those coveted creators and celebrities are just human, and as such, it’s worth it to enjoy making a human connection with them.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell