Welcome To My Nightmare

Welcome To My Pittsburgh Comicon — Part 2 — Rubbing Elbows With Legends and Legends To Be

SATURDAY: Ladies And Gentlemen, The Nightmare Has Entered The Building

I woke up early when either Chris or Daron bumped me on the floor as they returned from breakfast. Personally, anything much before noon is early. This was WAY before noon, but since I crashed out early — for me — the night before I wasn’t put out by the intrusion. Daron and Chris have a Pittsburgh ritual. They get up early and go to Crispy Creme for doughnuts. My Grandpa was a doughnut maker and NOBODY ever made a better ball of fried dough, so I passed on the offer to join them before turning in on Friday. Patti was still asleep too. As it turns out, we didn’t’ miss much beyond Chris and Daron’s disappointment in their doughnut joint having closed since they were last in Pittsburgh. Too bad, suckas!

Being press members has its privileges. We are able to get into the Pittsburgh Comicon showroom about an hour early. Granted, there’s not a whole lot of other folks in there yet either. But we meandered the floor, checking out displays from the independent creators and plotting our itinerary for the day. Just a few minutes before the doors opened to the public, we began to make our way around to some of the big name creators to say hello.

I introduced myself to Mr. Tim Truman, current writer of Conan the Barbarian for Dark Horse and artist of one of my favorite and much missed characters, Grimjack. Grimjack, written by another favorite, John Ostrander, was a First Comics book, in a line that featured Steve Rude’s Nexus, Mike Grell’s John Sable: Freelance and Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg. Having been raised on mostly Marvel with a sprinkling of Neal Adams Batman, I found the First Comics line to be an amazing ride. I suppose in some way you could categorize all of the aforementioned titles as “superhero” fare, but they we’re all uniquely different from what Marvel or DC was doing at the time. Grimjack, in my opinion, shared some elements with Great Britain’s Judge Dredd — strange futuristic cities, central characters that were ostensibly police but operated a little more like the Punisher, to name a “Big Two” equivalent. And that might be reaching. But the gritty post-apocalyptic world of Grimjack, the political satire of Chaykin’s Flagg, the sci-fi adventure of Rude’s Nexus and the amazingly lifelike scenarios of Grell’s Sable are things I treasured back then and still do today. Mr. Truman’s availability for original sketches was all booked up for the whole weekend by the time we got to Pittsburgh, but he was friendly and signed the trade paperback of Scout that I bought from him — the one series that Tim Truman drew that somehow always eluded me. I hope to get in touch with Mr. Truman soon to conduct an interview, so keep an eye out for that.

I next found myself at the table of another First Comics alumni, Mr. Mike Grell. Mr. Grell has had a long and diverse career. Not too long ago, he was the writer of Iron Man for Marvel, but he’s probably most famous for two books in particular: Jon Sable: Freelance and Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters. Mr. Grell was not at his booth at this time, but his assistants were taking commissions so Chris and I got in line. The one guy in front of us asked for something I find bizarre. He wanted Mike Grell do basically redraw the cover to something Mike Grell already drew once in this cat’s sketchbook. I didn’t understand that at all. I mean, I enjoy a lot of artists for a lot of reasons, and some of my favorite covers were drawn by folks like Truman and Grell and Walt Simonson and Barry Windsor Smith and Neal Adams and Mike Zeck and The Mighty Mignola. But I already have those covers. In color in most cases. And so did this guy. So like I said, I don’t get it. Anyway, Chris was next and opted for a Jon Sable. Good choice, my Jersey friend. I asked for a Green Arrow, because Ollie cracks me p and nobody does Ollie quite like Mike Grell. His friendly assistant asked, “70s or 80s Green Arrow?” I’ve been reading comics since about 1976 and it honestly never occurred to me that there was a difference. So looking like a novice fanboy who had never read a comic until Captain America died, I meekly asked, “Umm…I’m sorry, could you tell me what the difference is?” The aide pulled out a cover sketch Mr. Grell did for the convention’s program and pointed out the difference. “Hat or hood?” OH!! Duh. No brainer. “Hood please, thank you!” ‘Cause let’s face it, Ollie cracks me up but the cap is ridiculous, and not in a funny way. More like a “Given the choice, why would a metamorph like Martian Manhunter choose to look like THAT?!?” kind of way. But Ollie Hood is slicker than 10 slick things, so Ollie Hood it is.

Daron and I managed to catch Rags Morales, penciler of all things good at DC, and arrange for a sketch each to be done on Sunday. Rags was a very likable guy, very easy going and good humored. He discussed his upcoming story for Batman Confidential which sounds like a surefire hit — looks like it too, he had sample pages on display. He also mentioned that he was working on something with Wildstorm, an event that would change things as we know it in the Wildstorm Universe. And…that’s all I could get out of him. He wouldn’t comment past that. I couldn’t help but try to dig a little more but Rags good-naturedly decline to elaborate. Mr. Morales, if you’re reading this, I’d love to get that scoop! Feel free to give me a shout anytime.

Daron requested a Black Canary from him. Me, I like to do things a little differently. I really had no idea what I wanted to do for my sketchbook. I know some people have themes. There was one guy going around getting a Green Lantern from EVERY creator he could commission. I dig certain characters a lot — Rhino, Taskmaster, Dr. Doom, Black Adam, etc. — but I don’t think I need pages and pages of the same character by different artists. You might find it cool to compare styles that way, and that’s cool with me, to each their own, but I thrive on diversity. So having asked Mr. Grell for a character he’s famous for, I thought I’d try a different approach on Mr. Morales. “Well,” I started when he asked me what I’d like for him to draw, “I’ve been running it around in my brain for days, literally, and I don’t have an answer yet. So let me ask you this: is there anyone in particular you really like to draw or perhaps someone you haven’t done much and want to try?” At that moment it seemed to me, despite the crowd still making their way into the showroom, that all sound ceased. Rags had a look on his face somewhat similar to the one The Rock would have on WWE television when one of the backstage interviewers would ask him what he thought of facing Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, Triple H or Mick Foley. For half a second I was afraid I’d broken some cardinal rule of comic conventions. Worse, I thought Rags was about to cut a wrestling style promo on me when his eyebrow arched up ever so slightly, his gaze never leaving me as a sly smile grew across his face. Apparently, he wasn’t about to call me a jabroni or call for security to haul my convention virgin ass out of the building. Apparently, he was pondering my T-shirt. I was wearing a T-shirt featuring the scene from the prematurely cancelled Dan Slott “The Thing” comic, where a bunch of Marvel characters are gathered to play poker. Rags pointed high up my right side and said, “You like Iron Fist? I haven’t drawn him since I was a kid. I haven’t drawn him professionally, ever.” As it happens, I do like Iron Fist, always have. I’m really enjoying The Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s take on him, and David Aja’s art is right up there with Michael Lark, Lee Bermejo, Alex Maleev or even Jae Lee to me. But hey, even if I didn’t like Iron Fist, there was no way in Hell I was gonna pass up the chance at the first rendition of a character Rags Morales had previously not drawn professionally. I just about knocked Daron over to grab the pen and sign up for the sketch. Rags was booked through the day, so we would drop off our books with him first thing Sunday.

Daron was itching to get an Adam Hughes sketch, so we split up as he went to find out if Adam was booked. Chris and I wandered the hall, checking out a few independent artists and admiring the work of folks like Tom Fleming. Next year I’m going to try and get in Tom’s queue early. He was booked up for the whole show, but we were able to observe him as he worked on a Ms. Marvel sketch. Hey, I’ve championed the likes of Greg Land, Greg Horn and Alex Ross in my columns but there’s no reason Tom Fleming isn’t getting some regular cover jobs somewhere. His stuff is excellent. He used to do covers for Electra regularly, and has also worked on Captain Marvel. As it turns out, he once worked for the WWE back when they were the WWF. Tom was the man who created the look for several wrestlers in the early to mid 90s, most notably Papa Shango. I know Iain Burnside will probably take away any rights or privileges I may have to the wrestling portion of insidepulse.com when I admit this: I LOVED PAPA SHANGO!! I thought he was terrific. And let’s face it, that era didn’t have a whole lot going in terms of in ring ability. After guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels and maybe Razor Ramon, you had guys like The Warrior and Sid Vicious. So what if Charles Wright was way more popular as the Godfather than he ever was as Papa Shango, he was WAY more INTERESTING as the Voodoo grappler. I wonder if I could get Tom to draw a wrestler/superhero combo for me next year? Maybe a Papa Shango versus old school Luke Cage? Or Macho Man Randy Savage and his Bonesaw McGraw alter ego preparing to do battle as a tag team? Aww man that would be damn cool. And with Tom’s quality it would be worth every penny. OH YEAH! DIG IT!

I was very happy to meet one of my favorites, longtime Green Lantern artist Darryl Banks. I admit, Kyle Rayner’s characterization has never been my cup of tea, but no matter how I felt about the whiny Lantern’s word balloons, pictures were always pretty. Clean lines, no busy panels, and I can’t recall a whole lot of guest artist issues which all goes to show that Banks was a fine, reliable artist. So…where the Hell has he been? I believe he worked on 52 a little, but then who didn’t? I was able to ask him a couple questions while he worked on a Terrax sketch for a lucky fan. Darryl has been working in the toy and sculpture industry, designing figurines and buildings like you find in better stores around Christmas time like those beautiful snowy villages some folks collect. He said he was enjoying the work. Which begged the question, “Why is Darryl Banks not working in comics right now?” The simple answer is that the work was not coming as regularly as the bills. The electric company doesn’t bill by commission. Every month, like clockwork, there it is. But the comic industry is mercurial. The checks aren’t coming as regularly, for a variety of reasons. He didn’t elaborate a whole lot, but it’s not hard to guess. The industry, no matter what the spin doctors say when interviewed by the comics media, is not real strong right now. The boom days of the early to mid 90s when speculators thought comics were a safer investment than the stock market are long gone. There also seems to be a tendency for “flavors of the month”. Hot new artists burst on the scene and pump out a few issues before jumping on to the next project. There isn’t that long term loyalty to a creative team or individual like there used to be. Banks run on Green Lantern is a creative streak of Ripken proportions compared to many of today’s titles at Marvel and DC. Some artist STILL get work despite not being able to produce even four consecutive issues without falling behind. Banks might not be extravagant in his line work or page design, but he was reliable and exciting nonetheless. Here’s hoping someone with some sense gives Darryl Banks a call so his many fans can continue to enjoy his skill and craftsmanship.

Daron is back and looks forlorn. “What’s up, Big D? Hughes all booked up?” “Oh it’s worse than that,” Daron explains. “Not only is he booked up for the weekend, he’s getting TWO HUNDRED for a sketch!” Two. Hundred. Dollars. For a sketch, simple pencils and/or inks, on a piece of paper. God I wish I had even a modicum of artistic talent. Look folks, Adam Hughes does some very nice and memorable covers and has for some time. But when legends like Mike Grell is only asking $40 for a good sized head sketch and other highly talented if lesser known artists are ranging between $10 and $20 for sketches, $200 is nuts. But not as nuts as the fact that he was completely booked. That means a good number of patrons were crazy enough to pony up the bucks. For $200, it oughta be airbrushed in color and laminated, in my opinion.

It was about this time that we found ourselves in the presence of God’s personal artist, James Hatton. Maybe you’ve heard of him? No, not God, you heathens. Hatton! He’s been a big part of our fair site for years, and he’s been steadily pumping out the somewhat minimalist yet scathingly funny “In His Likeness” comic strips for awhile now. Daron introduced me and it’s pretty neat to be able to tell people that I shook hands with the guy who draws God’s portrait for a living. That’s something that will literally jump off the page of James Hatton’s resume, should he ever need one. I mean, I’d hire a guy who used to work for God. I believe it was also right around that moment that I got to meet the legendary Soak! One of our regular readers and frequent letter writer (online of course, who actually writes letters on paper anymore?), Soak a.k.a. Connor is a Pittsburgh native. I can’t recall correctly if it was Connor or someone else in the immediate vicinity, but someone pulled open their sketchbook to show us what $200 gets you from Adam Hughes. And it was pretty nice. The piece I saw was a Power Girl sketch. But the think is, Power Girl was half-obscured by the Chief O’Hara style policeman that almost dominated the page. Power Girl was standing behind him, seductively pressing her left breast into the patrolman’s back and trying to sweet talk her way out of a ticket. And that’s the thing, if I pay $200 and ask for a Power Girl, I expect a lot of upper body development. Not half a pair and a boy in blue. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad piece, but it’s not, in my mind, a $200 piece. For $200 I’d beg Darryl Banks to draw me a Green Lantern Corps group shot, Or get Rags Morales to add a 70s Power Man next to my forthcoming Iron Fist.

As we wonder the hall, we strolled down “celebrity row.” I didn’t see Peter Mayhew standing up, but even sitting down the guy is huge. And with the thick mane of long hair, he kind of put me in mind of the late, great Andre the Giant. Marc Singer, the Beastmaster, was pretty big too and looked to be in extremely good shape. I didn’t get a chance to speak with him directly, but he was very pleasant and generous to everyone I saw him interact with. His booth was directly next to the booth for Chase Masterson, who wasn’t there. Or was she? There were pictures of her laid out and her new jazz CD ready for purchase. I like everything but modern country and wouldn’t have minded giving Chase Masterson’s music a try, but I didn’t see her anywhere and thought perhaps she went to lunch. I’ll catch up with her later.

Time to catch up with Mr. Grell. I walk up and wait with baited breath for my first sketchbook entry. The man himself is working on another patron’s sketch and his assistant hands me back my book. I open it up and…oh yeah! That’s the stuff! Ollie in all his Longbow Hunters glory! I’m smiling as wide as my dislocated jaw will allow and extend a hand towards a legend. “Thank you so much Mr. Grell,” I say, masking my fanboy giddiness with simple appreciative enthusiasm. Mr. Grell shakes my hand and says, “It’s just Mike, and your welcome.” And that’s when a fundamental truth about titles was laid bare. The proper protocol for speaking to George W. Bush is to call him “Mr. President.” Were it coming from me, he’d be lucky if I just said, “Yo, George.” He didn’t win his first election and probably orchestrated the events that helped him get re-elected. He doesn’t get a respectful title from me, because he hasn’t done a damn thing right in nearly two full terms at the helm of the country. But Mike Grell, a humble artist, handles his job with aplomb, surrounds himself with competent assistants and quietly, subtly, makes the world a better place. Or at least better drawn. So I’m afraid I can’t call him “Mike,” he’s Mr. Grell, because he’s earned it.

Now the seed has been planted. Must. Get. More. Sketches! Bwahahaha! I coast down another aisle and encounter a young man around my age standing behind a display of a book called the Black Coat. I remember seeing something about that in Previews, but I don’t think I ever saw it in the shop I’m a regular at. The man behind the table is Ben Lichius, the co-writer and editor of the book. We chat a little and he talks me in to picking up a copy, not that it takes much prodding. I’m looking forward to reading it, and in a few weeks I’ll probably post a few reviews on some of the comics and trades I picked up in Pittsburgh. I ask Ben if the artist was around for a sketch, and while Ben was flying solo for a little while, he said he’d do me one if I wanted. Heck, why not? He sketched the main character from the book, and I gotta say, it’s not at all bad. Writer, editor and even a little bit of an artist, Ben Lichius is a renaissance man. Unfortunately, the sketch didn’t show up well when we tried to take a picture, but The Black Coat is proudly watching the hooded Green Arrow’s back.

In the next aisle over, I find myself in front of a portfolio of art by Dominic Vivona as part of the booth. Dominic’s pages were very dynamic and showed an advanced sense of design and layout. I ended up getting three very diverse pages, one with lots of movement and action, one with a stellar layout that helped heightened the tension of the forthcoming shootout, and one with brilliant juxtaposition of blacks and white space. Simply beautiful. Dominic mentioned that Erik Larsen absolutely hated his stuff. I said, “Erik Larsen? Savage Dragon Erik Larsen? What the Hell does he know? Nobody reads Savage Dragon except Erik Larsen.” Look, I can’t draw a circle with a compass, a protractor, or an Etch – A – Sketch but I know what I like and that’s expressive, dynamic art. And that’s what Dominic does, no matter what Larsen thinks. I also got Dominic to add to the sketchbook, and he went out of his way to make me a wicked full page Julia Carpenter Spider-Woman, inked and all. This guy should be getting a real shot at the big time. He’s that good. I also picked up an issue of Warmageddon Quarterly, featuring a Jamal Walton story — another great guy at the Warmageddon booth — and Dominic’s art. I haven’t had the time to read it yet, but from flipping though it looks like a fun read. Give them a look!

Daron, Chris, Patti and I canvassed the floor, meeting many talented creators and some fun patrons, like the young man dressed up as Deadpool. He wasn’t as mouthy as you’d expect, but the costume looked good. We were all getting a little hungry, and I was getting anxious for the Pirates and Reds game. Baseball is right up there with comics and pro wrestling for me. But it had been pouring outside all day and I wasn’t about to get tickets to rainout and not be able to attend a makeup game. But as we headed out of the show for the night, passing the still vacant Chase Masterson booth and the still outgoing almost “friendly neighborhood” Beastmaster, the sky began to clear. Twenty minutes later, we’re heading into downtown Pittsburgh under blue skies.

I dabble in city planning from time to time. Not professionally, of course, but in games like Civilization on the PC. And one thing I like to do is segment everything according to function. Residential area is over here on the left. Industrial area to the right. If the map is along a shoreline, I stick the utility systems far inland, towards the industrial zone and the entertainment district goes along the shore. Simple right? Well, in a lot of games like that, you’re taking the top down, James Hatton’s client’s eye view. And you don’t have to find a place to park. Thanks to Pittsburgh, I’m rethinking my methodology. There’s PNC Park, the Steelers’ Heinz Field, and several theatre and opera houses all clustered together and small little lots and garages already full. We finally found a garage a few blocks away from the park. Along the way, I noticed the buses of Pittsburgh’s mass transit system. Buses are buses, they’re a utilitarian vehicle for transporting people, not mobile art museums. But DAMN those buses were ugly. Disturbingly so. If Gotham City had buses, well, they’d probably look better than Pittsburgh’s.

We walked across the Clemente Bridge and found ourselves at the ticket window behind the left field bleachers. The game had already started and I hate to miss any part of a baseball game, especially since I can’t TiVo real life (yet). I ask the ticket booth attendant for four seats together, and he offers me some for $27 a piece. That was exactly the range we were looking to spend, so I agree and we’re soon in the park, looking for our seats. I’m fully expecting to be in the upper loge area. Not so! These $27 seats are infield boxes! We’re in Row R behind the screen just to he right of home plate. And did I mention it was Freddy Sanchez Bobblehead Night? Sanchez is the reigning National League batting champion, and a proud member of my fantasy baseball team. So I’m like a kid at Christmas with a brand new Red Rider BB gun with the compass in the stock. By the time we sit down it’s already the end of the third inning, with both starters mowing down the opposition with fine precision. The seats — did I mention they were only $27 — look out towards centerfield and the gorgeous Pittsburgh skyline. This is what baseball is supposed to be like, atmosphere-wise. But the on-field product, well, there’s a reason the Pirates haven’t had a season with a winning record in 17 years.

The game gets a little out of hand quickly and the defense lets the Buckos down. But our gang enjoyed the experience nonetheless, because the Pittsburgh fans were so into the experience of being at the park. The Pirate mascots — a pirate and a parrot, what the team lacks in wins they make up for in mascots — came out between innings to shoot hotdogs into the crowd via pneumatic cannons. Yep, I said hotdogs. And the barrage begins with a little song, a very catchy little ditty that ends in the unforgettable lyric, “It’s time to catch some meat!” Oh man it’s hard to laugh that hard through a dislocated jaw, but I managed it. As funny as the song was the fact that EVERYONE in the park was singing every word, loudly, was astounding. And the 7th inning stretch rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” was the most full-throat chorus I’ve ever heard. St. Louis Cardinal fans are often called the smartest baseball fans anywhere, and we’re prone to applauding the opposition if they do something that deserves recognition. But Pirate fans are the most vocal I’ve ever heard, and the most cohesive. At Busch, there always a couple of sections that seem a line slow. I wonder if the Pirate fans don’t all go to the park on the team’s off day for choir practice. And to top off the aural experience, the guy sitting right behind me sounded EXACTLY like the manager from Major League. I later looked up the equivalent pricing for the same seats at Busch Stadium: $85. Holy Pujols, I’m getting ripped off at home games. It was actually almost cheaper for me to drive all the way to Pittsburgh, see the game from a $27 seat and drive back. Hey, Pittsburgh readers, I would be I your debt if someone could provide me with an MP3 file of that “Time To Catch Some Meat” song. I’m looking at you, Soak! After the game we eat at Chili’s and crash out soon after. I’m not used to these long days. Mornings are for suckers.

SUNDAY: More Indie Fun and The Long Road Home

We wander back down to the showroom early Sunday. Well, it wasn’t THAT early, but I work nights so anything in the AM is early to me. And many of the creators must have felt the same way, because very few were at their booths more than five minutes before they opened the doors again. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m sure many of them were enjoying the Pittsburgh nightlife, or at least room service. I engage in a little shopping among the vendors, looking for a pristine Star Wars #1 from Marvel for a buddy of mine at work and a copy of an old made for TV movie for another friend. I found neither, though. I did find a sweet Hellboy figure that was about the size of Rey Mysterio Jr. This thing was frackin’ HUGE. So after a quick pit stop to the car to drop off my new toy, I head back to Rags Morales’ booth to drop off my sketchbook. From there I take some time to meet some of the independent and small press creators.

One of the first to really catch my eye is a fellow named Uko Smith. He’s got a nice style, capable of both the realistic and fantastic alike. His portfolio included everything from mutant animals in complete armor with high tech weaponry to very lovely nudes. Most of my money was dedicated to other commissions, but if I ever get the chance I’d love to add a Uko piece to my collection. I’ll be on the lookout for his work at my comic shop. He’s currently working on a book called K9 – Hunter Killerz, which looks to be right up my alley. I had an good conversation with him in regards to the lack of minority characters in comics, a topic I raised last year in this column. Keep an eye out for Uko Smith!

I’m a fan of Renaissance Fairs (I know, I can hear the White And Nerdy song by Weird Al Yankovic playing already) and I’ve even been to a couple of Pirate Festivals. So you can imagine how I’d be attracted to the table of the lovely and talented Sherrie Spencer. She was dressed in a Pirate Queen’s garb, but her sketches were a nice mix of various fantasy characters. One of her most impressive pieces was a drawing of Kirsten Dunst and Brad Pitt as the characters they played in Interview With The Vampire. She said Anne Rice herself contacted her to express her fondness for the piece, and I can’t think of anything that would speak higher of Sherrie Spencer than that.

Unfortunately for the bonny pirate artiste, she’s set up directly across from Scott McDaniel. I’ve always enjoyed McDaniel’s work — I even bought his Green Goblin stuff, and I usually don’t like Tom DeFalco’s writing. But I wasn’t feeling like waiting around for a sketch from him, even though they were free — hence the long lines. Dressed in black from head to toe as if channeling his inner Johnny Cash and sporting a neck tie, he looked like he could take off for a funeral at any moment. His mother apparently handles his itinerary, as she was ever present just behind him. McDaniel was also drawing while standing up every time I walked by. I can’t imagine pumping out years of Nightwing and Daredevil while standing up.

Time to see if I can meet Chase Masterson yet. NOPE. But hey, there’s George Perez walking buy me. “Hello, Mr. Perez.” A smile and a nod accompany his return greeting. See? Legends are people too. They take the time to say hello. I had no expectation of getting on Mr. Perez’s list since I couldn’t make it early on Friday, but just to be able to greet one of the most prolific creators in the history of the industry is enough for me. Maybe 2009, though. I need a couple of years to decide what I’d want Mr. Perez to draw for me, and Mr. Perez is taking a sabbatical from conventions until then.

I caught up with Daron just as he was striking up a conversation with Talent Caldwell. Talent was a very approachable guy, which I discovered to be quite a trend at the convention. Maybe I had these folks pegged wrong, having had only a little previous experience interacting with creators in the business. I once had the opportunity to interview Chris Claremont for a college project I was working on, and he was extremely generous with his time and very candid with his opinions. But I had also met Bill Reinhold, who inked most of the time. When I approached him he greeted me with a very bored, “Autographs are $10, sketches are…” No hello, no smile, just the price list. For an inker. And I don’t say that to belittle inkers, they are a very important part of the comic process and the right inker can make or break a penciler. But very few people go to a comic shop and say, “Oooh look! Bill Reinhold inked Punisher #68! I better get some bags and boards for that one!” So I guess I was expecting SOMEONE to cop a little attitude at the convention. And nobody did. I didn’t talk to Talent much other than to say hello and introduce myself, but I overheard him tell Daron that he’s working on some creator owned ideas right now. I know both Daron and I were excited to hear that.

Near Uko Smith’s booth there was a display of T-shirts from a company called Hardiewear. I’m a T-shirt kind of guy. I loathe having to wear collared shirts and khakis to my so-called “day job”. If I dressed like Scott McDaniel every day I’d go nuts. So I’m always on the prowl for T-shirts. These were created by Mr. Hardiewear himself, David Hardie, who also designed artwork for various Christian Rock groups and was also in the process of starting his own youth ministry. Uh-oh. I’m a big believer in the separation of church and state, or church and everything for that matter. So I admit I was kinda expecting a little blessing or testimony to Jesus, but it never came. This guy had some really cool designs, and I picked a shirt that was a little more George Orwell than King James. We chatted for quite a bit, more about comics than anything else, and when religion became a brief topic of conversation he never once tried to preach. I think if more people of faith handled religion the way David does, respecting a persons beliefs instead of cramming their own down everyone’s throat, people like me wouldn’t be so quick to run away screaming. I wish David Hardie well and much success, both in his artistic pursuits and with his ministry.

Time to check on our sketchbooks. Rags was pretty booked up and began Sunday by working on Saturday’s requests. So when we were handed back our sketchbooks, it was time to drool. Daron’s Black Canary was outstanding, as you’d expect. But what of the first Rags Morales Iron Fist? Magnifico! I still feel like Eric Cartman, walking around with my sketchbook and taunting people with, “Look you guys! The first Rags Morales Iron Fist! Isn’t it so cool, you guys? Totally awesome! AND IT’S ALL MINE! NYAH-NYAH!“ I know, real mature, but hey, Rags knocked it out of the park. I think I’m going to keep this strategy going, of asking creators to challenge themselves a little bit, because the results are outstanding. I hope Rags Morales is as proud of the piece as I am. A Mike Grell Green Arrow and a Rags Morales Iron Fist is a great way to kick off my sketchbook, and the art from independent talents such as Dominic Vivona just ices the cake. Speaking of Rags, Patti won a Rags Morales piece at one of the Quick Sketch events, where Comicon goers buy $1 raffle tickets for a chance to win literally quick sketches done on the spot by various creators. Patti wins every year! The Rags piece was of a female Daredevil standing with the Thing, all done in marker. It’s like Alicia Masters at a costume party. Fun stuff. Next year I’m having Patti buy my tickets. All proceeds from the Quick Sketch events, and they do them several times throughout the convention, go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

Now that I have my sketchbook back, it’s time to drop some more money on original artwork. But getting great pieces from Rags and Mr. Grell isn’t free, and neither are the trade paperbacks, giant Hellboy figures and lithographs I’ve purchased from various vendors. So I want to find some pretty amazing sketches on a budget to close my Pittsburgh Comicon experience. I find two. The first is Marc Wolfe. Marc is guy who can, and does, use himself as a model for superheroes. He’s got that kind of physique. I understand he’s a military veteran and on the weekend of the Pittsburgh Comicon he added a new title: newlywed. He and his beautiful wife were spending one of their first weeks of wedded bliss drawing sketches and selling his high quality prints. I’ve remarked how so many of the creators at this event were a joy to talk to and Marc was no exception. Despite the steady stream of commissions and the fact that Marc was fighting a cold he took the time to greet everyone who walked up to his booth warmly. We talked over a couple of ideas and I opted for a Hellboy headshot. He had one piece to finish up and so I dropped off my book and wandered some more.

While waiting for Marc to finish the piece, I find myself in amongst the vendors again. I must have missed a row or two because I would have noticed a gorgeous Asian girl before now. At the booth for Sirens of Cinema magazine was Amy Lynn Best and Sofiya Smirnova. Both of these beauties can be seen in the horror movie Abattoir. Horror’s not my thing, I admit, but breathtaking models of Chinese – Russian heritage absolutely is. I bought a DVD featuring Sofiya in a very sexy photo shoot and a montage set to music. I might learn to like horror movies if she’s in them! These lovely ladies were very generous with their time and extremely friendly. All the best to both of you!

On the way back towards Marc’s booth I meet Khoi Pham,, who has been handling the pencils on Peter David’s X-Factor. He was just about to take a break but he stuck around long enough to receive my compliments on the X-Factor job. That’s one of the best books Marvel produces and my favorite X-Title right now (sorry Ed Brubaker). I’ve always been a big supporter of all things Peter David so it was nice to hear that Khoi was enjoying his gig. I hope to talk to him longer at another time. I took a moment to flip through some of his samples and one in particular really made me laugh. It was a sketch of Starscream from the Transformers. He was staring glumly at a rather puny-looking gun in his hand, which was Megatron, the Decepticon leader. And the word balloon above him says, “You transform into THAT?!?” Priceless! I always thought the same thing. How the leader of the Decepticons could transform from a giant metal robot into a little handgun always made me scratch my head. Wouldn’t it be so dense no one this side of Thor could pick it up? Starscream was the coolest Transformer anyway. Man, I hope they don’t screw him up in the movie.

I’m back to Marc Wolfe’s table and the Hellboy is terrific! It’s a realistic approach, more Ron Perlman than Mike Mignola, but it’s a piece I’m proud to have in the book. Chris and Patti are standing next to me now and they ask Marc for a Darth Vader headshot. Marc cautions them, however, that with his art being mostly pen and ink and Vader being almost completely black, it might not look quite as great as it sounds. Chris turns to me and says, “We kinda want something Star Wars, but Vader is to dark. What do you think?” I think there are three really cool characters in Star Wars. Lando Calrissian, Boba Fett, and Darth Maul. So I suggest Darth Maul, trading one Sith Lord for another. Everyone nods in agreement and I head off for one last sketch.

The Drumfish Productions table caught my eye on Saturday and I chatted with the folks there a little bit before we headed off for the baseball game. But I had set aside a little money for these guys because all of them were intriguing. Rich Bernatovech is the writer of a series of full length graphic novels called “Sentinels.” The story is about a superhero team called The Sentinels that disappears. Their super-powered children take up the reigns and find themselves embroiled in the mystery of their parents’ disappearance. Stop and consider this sort of undertaking. Rich and his artist for the entire series, the extremely talented Luciano Vecchio, created four full length graphic novels of more than 200 pages each (I think, I don’t have them with me as I type this but trust me, they’re every bit as thick as any full size Marvel or DC compilation). There aren’t a lot of tandems in the industry that put out four issues of anything much less four trades. As interested as I am in the story itself, I’m even more excited to watch Rich and Luciano grow and evolve as storytellers from book to book. In almost every occupation you hear the phrase, “paying your dues.” Somebody stamp “PAID” on Rich and Luciano (figuratively, not literally) because they’ve done it. Luciano mentioned that he was working on a piece for Marvel as a try-out, and he showed me a few panels of Venom fighting the Runaways. He should get hired on his rendition of Venom alone.

Along with Rich and Luciano sat Jamie Fay. He’s working on a book called “Neverminds” with Rich, and he had some sample prints on display. One of them caught my eye immediately. Gambit. Are you kidding me? Why on Earth would anyone want to prove their ability by drawing Gambit? Well, Jamie proved it all right, because Daron and I, both avowed Gambit haters, complimented Jamie on his card-tossing mutant. Jamie’s style is manga influenced without being quite full-blown manga. We had discussed a commission on Saturday and on Sunday decided on Mary Marvel. Why Mary Marvel? Because he hadn’t tried one yet, and I like to challenge artists a little. And because Jamie had several other prints, besides his Gambit, of characters I don’t like. And everyone one of them looked amazing! His Donna Troy was fabulous. He did a Spider Girl that I gawked at for some time, appreciating the effort he put in to get her goggles to look like they had actual lenses. If he can do Donna and Gambit and Storm and other characters I don’t like and make me say, “Wow!” and if he’d never done a Mary Marvel piece, a character I was more or less ambivalent about, it seemed like an exciting choice. And I was right. His Mary Marvel has probably drawn more ooohs and awwws for it’s sheer cuteness than anything else in my book so far. It makes me both excited and nervous about the Mary Marvel focus at DC this coming year, as I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed in it compared to Jamie’s awesome rendition. Jamie Fay makes annoying characters cool and cool characters cooler. What more can you ask for in an artist? Keep an eye out for Rich, Luciano and Jamie because these cats are too talented to not get a crack at something with the Big Two soon. Check out Daron’s terrific Catwoman from Jamie, too.

So that’s about it…or is it? Chris and Patti catch up to me again and they have a devious look in their eyes. “What’s up?” I inquire. “Don’t be mad,” says Patti, failing to suppress a smile. She opens their sketchbook and shows off a seriously badass Darth Maul…in RED. That’s right, Darth Maul was in full on menacing red and black glory. As we (Daron, the guys at Drumfish and myself) all voice our satisfaction with Marc Wolfe’s piece, Chris says, “He told me to find you and let you know he’ll color your Hellboy if you want him too.” HELLS YEAH! Marc Wolfe Hellboy is cool, but Marc Wolfe COLORED Hellboy would be hella cool! So I walk back over to Marc’s booth and he looks up and says very matter of factly, “Did your friends tell you like them better?” Even fighting a cold Marc’s got jokes. What a kidder. “Actually, they said you might be inclined to color my Hellboy?” Marc gives in and explains that once he got done with Darth Maul in black, he just couldn’t give it back to Chris and Patti without the red in it. It just wouldn’t be Darth Maul without it. And then he got to thinking the same thing about Hellboy. In just a few minutes he has colored my favorite heroic demon including highlights and I have to say that as cool as it was in blacks alone, it’s pretty damn great in color. Thanks again Marc, and congratulations on your wedding!

And that was the end of our show. We were needing to hit that dusty trail and start the trek back to St. Louis. Before we left, though, I was finally able to find out that Chase Masterson was dealing with some personal issues and after Friday was unable to attend the rest of the show. I hope she’s able to overcome these issues and get back on track soon. I was also able to meet the ever busy Renee George, who invited Daron and I out to cover the show. I had an absolute blast and can’t wait to do it again. Thank you, Renee and everyone who worked on putting the Pittsburgh Comicon together.

My Top 5 moments of the Pittsburgh Comicon trip:
1) Getting to meet and make new friends of Chris and Patti, whom I’d heard a lot about previously from Daron, and Conner (Soak) and James Hatton. It was terrific to meet some of the people from Insidepulse.Comicsnexus.com after writing for them for almost two years.

2) Meeting and/or getting artwork from legends like Mike Grell and Tim Truman and future legends Daryl Banks and Rags Morales, and outstanding talents such as Tom Fleming and Marc Wolfe.

3) Getting to spend time talking a little about everything with Rich, Luciano and Jamie at Drumfish Productions, Dominic Vivona at Warmageddon’s booth, Uko Smith, and David Hardie the rock and roll youth minister. I would be happy to talk shop with any of these folks again.

4) Meeting and talking with Sofiya Mina Smirnova, because it’s a tossup between redheads and Asian women as to which I’m more of a sucker for. And because I always expect gorgeous models like her to be stuck up or dismissive of fanboys, and she was anything but. In fact, everyone on this trip except for a few people at the Radisson were extremely friendly. The creators, the models, the People of Pittsburgh, my new friends from New Jersey — you couldn’t ask for a better time.

5) PNC Park and the whole ballgame experience was a ton of fun. The game itself was no big shakes, but the full participation of the fans and that “It’s Time To Catch Some Meat” song was a great time.

My Top 5 disappointments on the trip:
1) The Radisson. When someone makes a reservation for two beds well in advance of the show, YOU HONOR THE RESERVATION. And don’t try to talk around the problem and blame the computers or misue the term “Run of the House,” which you people obviously don’t get. You dropped the ball. Sleeping on the floor of a hotel room for two days wasn’t particularly great for back, and add that to an 18 hour round trip in a car and you can imagine how I felt come Monday.

2) Adam Hughes charging $200 for a sketch. If Mr. Grell doesn’t charge $200, where do you get off? For $200 I could get FIFTEEN pieces of art from Marc Wolf and Jamie Fay and be THRILLED with them.

3) That enough people coughed up $200 to fill up Adam Hughes’ commission schedule for the weekend. Insanity.

4) Not having enough money for an original page by Tim Truman. I think I stretched my budget pretty far, all things considered. But if I know Mr. Truman is going to be there next time, I’m earmarking some money just for a Grimjack page.

5) Not getting there until late Friday. Daron and I agree that next time we’ll leave on Thursday if we can swing it with our crappy day jobs. I want to get in Tom Fleming’s line early next time, and maybe get a Uko Smith too.

I will probably not have a column up next week as I have a lot going on at work and some things I can’t put off at the house. But the week after that we’ll be getting back to the more traditional Nightmare columns. More second guessing of Bendis, more punches and jabs at what passes for continuity anymore, maybe another Casting Call, and another group participation thing or two. And certainly at some point in the near future I’ll be spotlighting some of the work I’ve picked up at the convention, such as the Sentinels series and Warmageddon and hopefully and interview or two as well.

Until then, thank you for joining me at Pittsburgh Comicon. I hope to see you all next year and please drive safely — especially if you’re driving a big rig, those Runaway Truck Lanes are diabolical.