Devourer of Words 006: Convention Season

Toucan reading a comic
Marc Bernardin smiling

I love conventions, even though I hate them.

It’s an odd sentiment, to be sure, to have for a thing as wonderful as the annual invasion by like-minded nerds of an innocent city, but it’s true.

I love the reunion of it all—especially Comic-Con—which reminds me of those collegiate Christmases when everyone who was off living their campus lives would come back home for the holidays and you’d all go back to that same diner you’d spent so many late nights in and catch up.

I hate the pressure of it: As a writer who’s not an invited guest of a convention, the only way to make financial sense of it is to make contacts that lead to more work. Artists can do sketches and commissions, inkers can, well, ink them and letterers can make border runs for Mexican soda and horse tranquilizers (kidding!)—but no one will pay for anything that a writer can do on the spot. I once tried selling haikus. You can imagine how well that went over. The pressure to make it all worthwhile—to sell a pitch, to score an assignment, to make an editor think you’re a dazzling urbanite that can do no wrong—can dominate a con, making it impossible to enjoy what should be an amazing few days in nerd paradise.

I love the smell. Really. A convention floor, two days in, when the body odor is nice and ripe. I love it because no one who smells like that wants to smell like that. They smell that way because they used all of their money—that they hoarded away all year—to pay for airfare or gas and admission badges and they’re sharing a pocket-square’s worth of floor space in a crappy hotel 40 minutes away from the Convention Center that has a communal shower that’s always broken. That smell is the smell of passion. Of someone willing to endure all of that to come and have the best time ever. I don’t have that passion because I’m dead inside, but I can recognize it and nod silently in respect.

I hate that it reminds me that I’m getting old. I’ve been doing Comic-Con for 12 years now, long enough that I remember being a different man when I first started attending. One whose knees didn’t turn to powder and whose spine didn’t threaten to fuse after three days of walking the floor. One who could stay out until 3:00 a.m., loitering outside the Hyatt, and still be fresh for a 10:00 a.m. panel the next day. One whose immune system was still a fully functioning affair and wasn’t always teetering on the edge of compromise. Every year reminds me that it’s been another year.

But I love, love, love the random amazing that can happen at a con. Granted, I’ve been afforded some ridiculous opportunities thanks to being both a professional and a member of the press, but if it hadn’t been for Comic-Con, I’d never have had Jim Lee introduce me to Stan Lee. I’d never have told Mary McDonnell that, if it’s okay with my wife, she can totally come and move in with us. I’d never have seen a Joss Whedon dance party up close. I’d never have been an Eisner judge and been coerced into reading books I now consider among my favorites (like Blacksad). And I’d never have sold my first graphic novel pitch, to Larry Young’s AiT/PlanetLar, almost a decade ago.

This column isn’t so much an advice column—unless that advice is to accept a con for all of the things that it is and the things that it can be. Wrap your arms around it and understand that the perfect con will always carry with it some pain, but it can also deliver moments of transcendent glory—like stumbling upon Brian K. Vaughan just sitting on the grass reading a comic.

Marc Bernadin’s Devourer of Words appears the third Tuesday of each month on Toucan!

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