At the end of October, I was lucky enough to attend the Mid-Ohio Comic Con for ten bucks. (Thanks, Groupon!) It was the last big and fun thing I was able to do before the insanity of final projects -- and finals week -- ate up the rest of my quarter (read: the entirety of November). The experience helped me power through my schooling in a major way and actually helped me out a lot as an artist, which is basically why I'm not writing about it until now, during the middle of my winter break.
Overall, this post may be more about me gushing over the awesome thing that happened while I was there, more than it might be about the social pressures that give comics their gas. But I think there might be some good in plugging some of the work and at least one artist I saw there -- to show how a reader can draw a new perspective from a book and mix it into her own life in a positive way. So, here we go.
Thanks to my pal Mark and his scouring through Columbus Groupons, I was alerted to this comics convention about three weeks before it happened. I'm not so much of a nerd that I've been to one of these events before, so I immediately bought a ticket and then logged onto the Facebook to beg everyone I knew (in ALL CAPS) to go with me. Luckily, my Wonder Woman-loving gal-pal Megan was already going to the con in order to advertise the awesome work Pendant Productions does with their downloadable podcasts (check out her neato appearances in The Princess of Power episodes). So I had a friend to guide me around.
I signed on for this event largely to wander around the Columbus Convention, stare at adult dress-up and buy obscure Superman trades. All of these things were accomplished, but after I scanned through the guest artists list on the Ohio con website, I had a new primary goal (outside of snapping discrete photos of the wilder cosplay -- all Transformers-based). David Mack was going to sign autographs all weekend. DAVID MACK (see below, left).
This is something I've believed for years, thanks to support from teachers, family and friends -- but it's something you have to learn in this society; it's not an endemic outlook to believe a loss is a gain. Of course, every time I read Mack's books, a disadvantaged underdog is shown to be the true hero of the day, which is pretty comforting for a girl who lives with hearing issues every minute of her life. And perhaps my love of Mack's work is largely based on a "preaching to the choir" aesthetic, where I already buy what he's selling because I am myself disadvantaged to most people's reckoning. But on a deeper level, I find his stories to be profound explorations about how people deal with the world around them by clinging to the way they experience it. And I recognize myself in that struggle. So I was pumped to meet Mr. Mack and tell him how valuable his work is to me.
Upon arriving at the convention, I was hit in the face by the sight of the Batmobile. Well, a replica Batmobile from the campy 1960s show. On stepping to one side so everyone and their brother could snap discrete pics of it with their phones, I noticed that sitting behind the Batmobile were Adam West and Burt Ward -- not replicas. I'd never stood that close to celebrities before, and frankly, those guys are probably the two who ushered me into loving Batman as a little kid -- but I had bigger fish to fry. I located my friend Megan and we hit the floor, buying stickers and cute cartoons and chatting with web comics creators and eventually stopping in front of David Mack's table.
I saw a ton of people lined up to meet Batman and Robin when I came in, so I was surprised all the artists' booths at the back were relatively uncrowded. The pleasant curse of the Sunday at the comics con, as I understand it now. Most of the people who go on the last day are moms and dads with children who are more interested in buying stuff or running around and tagging costumes. That makes perfect sense to me, but it also left me with, like, zero prep time for what I wanted to say to David Mack. (Especially since I'd already wasted precious minutes on the floor bending Megan's ear about how my own thesis play's comic book fantasies were close to me and seemed to be registering as reductive or immature to others.) I didn't want to be crazy and tell him my life story; I just wanted to tell him I liked his books and why. And I'd assumed I would have a line to walk through to work out my words. Instead I spewed things out to Megan while the two dudes in front of us got him to sign something; memorable bon mots probably included:
And so on. Luckily, I didn't have time to start having a hyperventiliating fit, so every cloud has a silver lining. When the two guys moved off, I plucked out my copy of Daredevil/Echo: Vison Quest and approached Mack.
"Hi," I started.
"Hey, how's it going?" he responded, in maybe the most relaxed manner ever for a comics genius. I looked him up and down, a genial-looking dude in a ball cap and a zip-up sweater, and I immediately relaxed, too.
"Good, good. How are you?"
I don't really remember what happened next, other than to say I probably talked about how not-overwhelming the convention was, all full of parents and kids, etc. Then I dove in, trying to avoid being the biggest fangirl in the world. I lifted up my book and probably mentioned how nervous I was at least three times.
"I just want to let you know," I sputtered, "that Echo is one of my all-time favorite characters. And I really loved your work on Daredevil and his relationship with this woman who's deaf."
"Well, thank you," he grinned.
"Yeah," I said, gaining a little momentum. "It has kind of a specific resonance for me, because I'm actually hearing-impaired--"
"So there's not a whole lot of books out there that feature women who have disabilities, or that specific disability. And there's a lot of stuff going on in Vision Quest that -- it just -- reminds me a lot of my experience of the world, growing up."
It's about this time I notice what an active listener Mack is. He keeps maybe the steadiest eye contact of anyone I've ever met, and everything about his body language is open, as he leans forward on his elbows to express interest. I immediately feel that whatever I say can't be an over-share or freak him out too much. So I open my book and flip through, looking for a specific page.
"Like, in this part of the book, you have her saying when she's playing the piano, 'It's the silence between the notes that's important.' That the silence is where she lives, as a non-hearing person. Well, that's exactly what I feel like, that everybody else can hear everything around them, but I'm designed to work through those silences. I'm constantly trying to understand or put pieces together. Does that make sense?"
And he said maybe the best thing one person can to another:
"I think I know what you're talking about."
Relief immediately flooded through me. The troubles I'd been working through in my own work about comics and pop culture and childhood fantasies and disability -- they were troubles I could surmount because there was someone out there tapping into the same struggles I was working on. I told Mack how I was taking the idea of gutters (the white space between panels in a comic book) and using them to express something similar to what he wrote in Vision Quest about varying points of view. He shook his head excitedly and began rooting around on his table.
Mack picked out some volumes of his other main series, Kabuki (actually his school thesis -- he got an A on it). "Have you ever read any of my other work?" he asked. "There's some other stuff here that I think will give you an idea of where I'm coming from, too." He gave me two issues of Dream Logic, a collage-like examination of his artistic process and signed them. And then he handed me a copy of Kabuki: The Alchemy, his latest volume of Kabuki. "This has the widest range of what I do on the page, and it's kind of in the middle of things, story-wise--"
"I don't mind that. I like being thrown into the middle of things."
"Well, I'd love to have you read that, and track me down on Facebook or Twitter or email, and tell me what you think of it," he replied.
I flipped through the book, which was, uh, beautiful, and I immediately decided to buy it. He signed the two books he gave me for free and then signed The Alchemy (which I would highly recommend as a metaphysical and plain-meta polemic about artistic achievement and the value of turning life's messes into their triumphs), and asked if I wanted Vision Quest signed, too. I handed it over and Megan and I talked to him about where we go to school and what we both do, and as we're talking to him, I realize he's been drawing my book the entire time, barely taking his eyes off of us as we're chatting. And when he hands back my book, it has the coolest caligraphy-penned freehand drawing of Echo ever. Amazing.
At this point, we decided to wander off, because now there was a line behind us. But the entire rest of my day is colored by the lovely conversation, even after Megan left for the day and I was cornered by a yelling and excitable comics vendor named Crazy Ed, who felt it necessary to share his love of Superman with me (and the fact that he'd had a Bells' palsy attack the night before), to the point where I had to buy three books from him, because he did such a good job selling them after spending the night in the hospital.
All in all, my first comic con was a super-duper positive experience, and one I found creeping into the risks I took in my own work for the rest of the quarter. For the majority of my life, I've been cool with my hearing issues, but I've also been alone with it, and I didn't know how to express what was going on with me to people who weren't me. But talking to Mack made me see the value in digging deeper into telling those stories through a comic booky vein. After all, if what he wrote and drew resonated with me, wasn't it possible something I had to say about my experience might have value for others? Needless to say, I reworked a bunch of stuff in my own thesis, and my early worries about my work being immature vanished. And I'm set to finish a strong thesis this spring.
Back to Mack's eye contact thing. A week or so later, when I interrupted my busy schedule to read "Dream Logic," I learned where it came from. Mack spends two pages in one of those issues describing how growing up, his dad never made eye contact with anybody. Later on in life, he was criticized for displaying the same behavior, and eventually he was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a disorder that is apparent in stiffened social interactions and trouble with conversation. I had no problems interacting with Mack at the con, but it is pretty easy to see how he uses what many would see as a defect and internally-blocking disorder to create dreamy and creative stories that appeal to all kinds of people (while he works extra-hard on his eye contact). After reading this, I decided to really spend some time exploring disability in my own work, since there's not a dearth of stories about disability on the scene and maybe there's a way to get other people to understand what I'm going through, even if it's not what they're going through.
All this to say, I can only state that David Mack, Crazy Ed and my friend Megan are a part of a larger community that has space, form and heart for those stories. As silly as comics are, they give people the base to express themselves to an extent that I don't think I understand until after I got home that Sunday night.
David Mack Candid: No clue? Any ideas, everybody?