comic-con's gates of fire

comic-con went fairly well this year. i don't know how many of you followed my updates on twitter, but i found that just the simple mechanism of thinking, 'okay, i'm going to blog this,' helped immensely with the anxiety. taking the train down was one of my better ideas, although i am definitely going to spring for business class, next time. my legs are so long, that scrunching myself into the coach seat on the way back physically hurt, and my muscles were cramping so much i couldn't sit still, annoying my seatmates.

on the train down, i'd been rereading the war of art, by stephen pressfield. in one of the chapters, he writes about how much better it is to be taking blows in the arena, instead of sitting in the stands, or on the sidelines. pressfield also wrote a book about the battle of thermopylae, gates of fire. he's very good at describing the battles creative people go through, in military terms; maybe because he's an ex-Marine. by the time i got off the train, i felt like i used to before a fencing bout, or before a big game.

i avoided the big lines, and walked right in to pre-registration. once i got down to the exhibit hall, i opened up my pack, and fished out one stack of cards. i'd put some on the freebie table that's right near the entrance, earlier. i took the cards out of their envelope, and took a deep breath. i found a good spot, right at a large intersection, where there was enough room that i wouldn't block any foot traffic. it was around noon, so it wasn't the horrid sardine-like crush that the con turned into, later in the day.

i stood there, paralyzed. i wanted to throw up and run. all my nerve was bleeding away. this is lame. i'm stupid. no one's going to want to see my art.

a group of men walked past me. i opened my mouth, but nothing came out. they'll just throw the cards in the trash. my work is trash. they passed me. a young boy walked past me. a crowd of young geeks in anime costumes blew past me, too. i was still standing there, concentrating on my breathing, feeling my feet on the ground. people were beginning to look at me, wondering what i was doing there. i wondered, too.

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a group of teenage girls came right at me. i locked eyes with the nearest one to me, and found myself saying, 'hi! check out my website! for my art!' and my hand moved out, a card in it. who moved my hand? i sure didn't. the card feels as heavy as a broadsword in my sweating palm. the girl took it, and the other girls put out their hands for cards, too.

i swing my sword.

now people are coming closer to me, and i find my courage. a man in a wheelchair. i swing. a young couple take a card. a cluster of men with cameras and press passes around their necks take a card. i step forward into them. i turn to avoid being hit by someone in a costume featuring a tv monitor on a pole coming out of their back. i get leered at by a man old enough to be my grandfather. i raise my shield and move forward. a stormtrooper takes a card. i don't recognize my voice as mine anymore. i keep moving my right hand to my left, slipping card after card into my right hand, turning to face the new people walking toward me. my right arm is moving on its own, swinging forward again and then again as this voice that isn't mine says, 'hi! check out my art!' i'm fencing with the crowd now. my smile is a weapon; my glare a shield. someone tries to touch my breasts, and i dodge and step back, out of reach. although there's now a crush of people around me, i keep an open space around my body so i can move.

i reach down and discover i'm not holding any more cards. i walk over to some tables, and pull out the food i brought, because i'm shaking with adrenaline. i eat quickly, drink some water, then pull out the last batch of cards, and walk to a new spot. i start swinging again.

after all my cards on me were gone, i walked out of the exhibit hall into the cooler air in the hallway, and leaned against the drinking fountain i refilled my camelbak from. i walked back up to the freebie table, where i'd left a stack. i figured i'd grab them and go hand them out, too. but there was no sign of the cards left on the table, nor had they been thrown away, according to the staff there. very, very strange. could people really have liked them so much that all of them got taken?

it was time for the portfolio review appointment; the next battleground. one thing that struck me as odd was just how few other artists i knew were out there, showing their work. i spotted a couple of people i knew in the hall. but i saw no one else at portfolio reviews, or showing their work to small presses. maybe i just missed it all (totally possible), but here's a good example of how strange it was:

when i signed up for the wizards of the coast portfolio review, at 10:15, i was #35 on the list. they started at 11, and would be going until 7, with a break from noon-2. now, from past experience, i guessed that there was little to no chance that they'd be to #35 by noon, so i decided to come back at 2. at 2, they were only on #14. so i left and came back at 3, when they were in the early 20s. around 3:15, they had a shift change of art directors, and the art director who took over grabbed the list, and then called out a name. no answer. she called it again. no answer. she called the next name. no answer. she went through about 10 names, before someone answered. we'd now hit #33. i waited, a little anxious, but not nearly as much as i thought -- i'd been sitting right next to this new art director for a while, and she seemed nice. #34 was also a no-show, and it was my turn. i was only the second person she'd seen, and so she was relaxed and not exhausted and aggravated.

i thought about all those people who gave up and didn't bother coming back to check on the list. or nerves got the better of them (which i certainly understand). they were in the stands. or they'd left the park.

the art director from wizards of the coast that i saw was very complimentary and said she liked my work a lot, and could definitely use me for some work. she wanted to see more fantastical stuff from me, to prove i could do beasts and whatnot, so i'm going to do some of those and send them in. unlike past years with WotC, i think that this time, she was serious about it. she didn't have anything technical to critique in my work, but instead complimented how i handled light; she said i did it very well, and that was rare. the thing that made me think she was serious, is that she asked for my card -- a first!

retelling it, it sounds like such a small thing. just a card, right? but i felt like i'd just survived my own private thermopylae. i walked out of the portfolio review area shaking from my nerves, lightheaded and dizzy, but happy.

afterward, i went back into the exhibit hall, feeling like now i could wander around freely, without guilt. i made a point of stopping by jon foster's booth to say hello, and he said he could tell i'd been working hard. he really liked my first piece in the portfolio, and said it showed that i'd come a long way in the last year, and really been putting time into it to improve my chops. that was so awesome to hear. jon is always so gracious and kind, and generous with his time, which i always appreciate. he probably thinks i'm lame for thanking him every year, but i mean it. he was sharing a booth with dan dos santos, who i'd met last year at the dinner and drinks/sketching thing. dan looked through my portfolio and was also encouraging. at that booth, jon's big smile and hug of welcome make me feel like we're part of the same thing, like we're fighting together in the same battle.

i see some people from the studio, and we wander over to see justin sweet's booth. there, i run into someone i knew from Wossamatta U, and so he and i play Old Home Week, catching up on how things at the alma mater are going, how the people we both know are doing. i try to connect with an acquaintance for dinner, but it ends up being a wash and we have to leave early. i don't say all of how i feel about the day.

i kept swinging.

i'm not sure they'll understand. so i keep it to myself, and just say that it went well.