Here's an fairly personal story I didn't expect to share about C2E2. But the more I think about it the more I have to.
So here it is.
C2E2 was a very strange experience for me as someone not tremendously well versed in, or intensely devoted to, comics. There was a layer between the subject matter and me that I couldn't quite penetrate. A level of excitement on some people's faces I envied from a place in myself that I'm not proud of in the slightest.
However, the people I did connect with most were the artists on Artist Alley.
Artist Alley is the space on the expo floor for all the artists who aren't "superstars" (though not obscure in any way) to sell/exhibit their work. Everything from books, comics, sketches, prints. Aisle after aisle of artists. All lined up with their work pinned above their heads. Most were buried in their sketchpads, frantically drawing while someone else handled the customers.
It was surreal. So much art in one place. With the competition seated only feet away.
When I walked up to artists alley I was completely overcome with the anxiety I would feel if I was in that situation. There was just so much. How could you ever expect people to pick you and your art over the next guy?
The thought of that pressure was so intense that tears started to well up in my eyes. What guts these artists must have to have to put themselves out there as people walk by their booth without a second glance. It was like an art show, except the styles are not all that divergent. How does one choose which rendition of Iron Man is better? I still can't tell you the answer to that question.
And it was hard for me, as someone who cares about how those artists feel, to pass them by. To largely ignore the work of many technically talented people.
But most of the stuff simply wasn't interesting. Because the artists were playing to the crowd. I got the distinct sense that to do this they had to sacrifice some of their own style. And that wasn't what I was looking for.
Still I felt bad because I saw a piece of myself, of any person who creates work or has the drive to create work, in the artists. I wanted them to do something interesting and different to give me a reason to support them. Most didn't. Because most people were trying for the easy sell to the guy who wanted Iron Man. I get that. It still made me sad.
But there were some extreme bright spots. When I found someone doing different things the conversations I had with them were incredible. I got where they were coming from. Why they were representing their ideas in this medium. Why someone would put out a comic book full of nothing but onomonopia. Why Richard Nixon was throwing a pokéball.
The best experience I had with an artist, however, was away from Artist Alley. It was with this guy named Brian Schrank. The art he had hung up was so shockingly different from everything else that I was instantly drawn over to his booth.
He was offering postcards of the stuff for free (rather than charging $2-$5 like the other artists). And demanded I take a few. When I complimented his work on being different this is how he responded:
"That's really nice of you to say. I never know if I should do these things because the work is so different from everything else. I worry about it being too weird for these crowds."
Then he did a very soft pitch for his book Gentle Carmel that was almost so soft I missed it. Until he said this: "It's the story of the journey of an autistic boy who recedes into himself, becomes homeless, then becomes a superhero."
Little did he know that my goal for the entire day was to find the least approachable, most out there art at C2E2. Because that's the stuff that will move any industry forward. This was exactly the thing I was looking for.
We talked for a while more about how he got there. How he came to the idea to do a book like this with so many styles and such evocative images. To segment the character's personality so you felt how he felt at different stages in his life. It was absolutely tremendous.
The book cost very little compared to most things at the expo, just ten bucks. I was sold.
Brian tried to run my credit card using Square but his phone's service was acting wonky. I had very little cash left in my wallet, not enough to pay for the book. And he told me to take it, because our conversation had given him faith in his work.
But I know that printing and creating a book costs money so I insisted that he take what little money I had left. He insisted I take it for free. We argued about this point. An artist trying to give his work away for free, and a customer so enthralled he wanted to give the author a little something to offset costs. A token of appreciation. And, taking a step back from it all, it's amazing to think how wonderfully surreal the whole scene would have looked to any passerby.
It was an awesome moment. A moment that I'm so, so glad I had.
Eventually Brian gave in and took my three dollars. We both thanked each other profusely and parted ways. Ever since then I cannot get this scene out of my head. It was a perfect moment and I felt more present then than I have in a long time. Going into C2E2 I did not expect to have nearly as good of a time as I did. It was moments like this that made the entire experience unforgettable.
If you would like to read Gentle Carmel, Brian has posted it to his website as a free(!!!) PDF. And if you love it as much as I did you can buy a copy on Amazon to support him. I really think you should.