L.A. Report

November 7th, 2006 | Posted in General

Now that I am (more or less) caught up in the studio, I can post a report about my trip to the L.A. Comic Con.

First, I was very sorry I could not spend at least a few days in L.A. I think that would be a fascinating place to explore. Instead it was a whirlwind visit, flying in at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and catching a 6:30 p.m flight out on Sunday. That did not leave much time for sightseeing. However when I agreed to attend I knew that unless I did it as a quick visit I would end up regretting the time spent away from the studio. Typically the deadlines always seem to come due just at the times I have trips planned. I’m pulling an all-nighter tonight as penance for the trip, but it was fun.

I have to remember to send Bruce Schwartz a piece of art or something to say thanks for the generous invitation and promotion of the event. He has been planning these one day conventions for years in L.A., in the past doing a show a month but now they do about 8 a year or so. He, Jeff and the crew there were tremendously hospitable and made the trip both easy and fun on my part. Thanks, gentlemen!

I arrived on Saturday afternoon after a late morning flight out of Minneapolis. Things didn’t look good at first, as I was sitting in a center seat in the back of the plane, with the seat on my left occupied by a large, hairy woman with an even larger laptop and on the right by a young woman with a 3 month old baby. The lady with the computer had papers all over her lap and stuffed in the seat pocket. Her laptop had a screen about the size of a bedsheet, and had “arm rest hog” written all over her face… at least what face I could see under all that hair. The baby on my right looked like she had a healthy set of lungs… I mean the kind that might make good bagpipes. She was staring at me with a “I’m going to shriek like a banshee for three and a half hours, pal… and if you think those Bose noise-cancelling headphones are going to help you, you’ve got another think coming…” I’m a bit on the wide-shouldered side so sitting in the middle seat is bad news no matter what, but this looked like three plus hours of travel torture.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that hairy nerd woman on the left gave up on the laptop after the guy in front of her promptly leaned his seat back so far she couldn’t open that gigantic screen enough to see it without being a contortionist. She spent the rest of the flight studying papers that had to do with mental illness (not her’s, I’m pretty sure). She also apparently had the bladder of a camel, because she drank a giant bottle of water and a can of Coke and never got up to use the bathroom. Good thing, because meanwhile on the left baby-zilla started squawking on take off, occasionally shooting me a “this is nothing, I’m just warming up..” look when mommy, who was about 5 foot nothing and maybe weighed in at 98 lbs whipped out a breast and the kids head disappeared under the blanket. Just for fun the kid kicked me for 10 minutes or so before apparently passing out under there. I don’t if that mom had been drinking vodka all morning and her milk was spiked, or if the kid lost consciousness from lack of oxygen, but she was out for the entire flight. I still had to watch my iPod with my arms hugging my chest because I had no shoulder room whatsoever, but at least it was quiet.

That evening I was invited to go out to dinner with Mark Evanier, an enormously well respected and successful writer for comics, television, films and entertainment. Among his many accomplishments over a log career, Mark writes “Groo” with Sergio Aragones and also wrote the book “MAD Art” which I am fortunate enough to be in. Mark and I had met briefly at the Reuben awards two years ago when the NCS roasted Sergio and he emceed some of the evening’s events. I have raved about Mark’s fantastic blog many times here, but for anyone interested in comics, cartoons, television and entertainment history or just plain good, funny and entertaining writing, it should be a daily stop along the information superhighway for you. Anyway he heard I was coming and kindly invited me to dinner. We went to a famous L.A. landmark dive restaurant called “The Original Pantry”. “The Original Pantry” has been in business since 1924, and I think I saw some of the “original” waitstaff still on the job there. We had a nice meal and even nicer conversation. Besides being an enormously talented writer Mark is a comic book and L.A. historian and told me some of the history of MAD I never knew (not that I know a lot). It was fascinating listening to some great stories about his experiences working in TV and comics. A great guy and a wonderful talent.

The convention itself was a one day show, and is an old school kind of comic book con. It’s much more of a swap meet than the multi-media extravaganzas most comic cons have become. I rarely appear at comic cons, but if I get the chance to I like these grass roots kind of shows, where you can actually meet people and check out a lot of cool old comics and other books. Bruce puts on a great show, and the space was just the right size. It’s held at the Shrine Auditorium, which I was told was the place that hosted the Academy Awards for many years. My table was set up next to Sergio’s. Also nearby was my long-time friend Steve Silver, who is now a big time animator and character designer about whom I can say “I knew him when…”.

Seeing Sergio is always fun. Is is a big bear of a man with an accent so thick you can cut it with a knife. He always hugs you and is so genuinely glad to see you and so full of questions about what you have been up to that it is impossible to be bored or happy around him. He is one of the funniest and most brilliant cartoonists in the history of comics, so he’s also got that going for him… which is nice. Mark stopped in for a while also, and I also saw cartoonist Scott Shaw! (yes, the exclamation point is part of his actual name).

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Mark Evanier, Sergio Aragones and myself

I always feel a little weird appearing at comic book conventions, because MAD isn’t really a comic book and most of the people that attend these events are strictly comic book fans. I was pleasantly surprised at this show in that a lot of people came with their copies of MAD in hand and some were even familiar with my work. I usually get the distracted, walking away reaction when a kid comes up to me only to find out I don’t draw “Beppo the Super Monkey” or anything else for DC or Marvel. Sometimes they get a little closer to the mark and ask if I draw “Spy vs. Spy“… sigh. Actually I drew sketches non stop all afternoon, gave away about 100 copies of MAD that the gang from NYC sent for the show, and met a lot of very nice people. I even ran into a few old friends who used to draw for me at my theme park operations and are now doing work in illustration and animation on the west coast. Wish I could have hung out a bit more with them.

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Me busy doing as sketch for somebody. Photo by Jose

One guy I was pleasantly surprised to see was Grant Geissman. Grant is a fantastic musician as well as a comic book, MAD/E.C. historian and collector. He’s written a few books and is often tapped by MAD to help compile their “Mad about …” books. He wrote “Collectibly MAD: The MAD and EC Collectibles Guide” and most recently “Foul Play!: The Art and Artists of the Notorious 1950’s E.C. Comics!” for which we was nominated for an Eisner award. Grant plays and writes music for a lot of clients, one of which is the TV show “Two and a Half Men“. In fact he has a cameo in my parody of that show from a few years back… he’s the beach bum strumming a guitar while the kid gets on a school bus in the background. He is also in a terrific band called “Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band“, and recommended me to Gordon to do the cover of their latest CD, which was a lot of fun. Grant came by to say hello and have me sign a bound edition of the year of MAD which contained that “Two and a Half Men” parody. He also gave me a copy of his new CD! Awesome stuff.

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Myself and Grant Geissman

The trip was fun but way too short. I barely got to talk with Steve Silver or anybody else I knew there because I was too busy doing sketches and relentlessly pimping the magazine. I rushed out at 4:30 and raced to the airport to catch my flight. Cartoonists tend to work in a solitary room lit with a single drafting table lamp and not much interaction with anybody, so it’s always interesting to go out into the world and see if anyone is actually reading any of the crap we do. I met a bunch of people who really do read the magazine and were happy to see me there! I didn’t even have to lie and say “Yes. I draw Spy vs. Spy!”… much.

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