Free State Comicon: Behind the Table

Guest Column By CW Cooke

CW Cooke

Writer CW Cooke and his wife Katie enjoy talking to comics fans at the 2011 Free State Comicon.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 was a fantastically enjoyable day. A special thanks goes out to Craig Klotz first and foremost for allowing me to take part in the Free State Comicon show and have fun out in Lawrence on that lovely day. Seriously, the only way it could have gone better is if I had a big announcement following the con.

I spent the entire day behind my table, watching people pass by, meeting fans, shaking hands, talking with other creators, meeting creators, signing autographs, selling books, and laughing. There was a lot of laughing. A lot of mischief was had on my side of the room, which we’ll discuss briefly in just a moment.

The start of the day was pretty normal, all things considered. It included a long car ride from Kansas City, Missouri to Lawrence, Kansas in the early parts of the morning. It didn’t make any difference to me though as I couldn’t sleep the night before anyways. I was too wired, too excited, too nervous for the show to start and happen. This was only going to be my second convention ever and I had to make sure it would go off without a hitch. That it would be something I would remember and the fans would remember, not because of something stupid I did, but for something amazing happening in front of them.

I can only hope that happened. You’ll have to tell me.

When I arrived, I quickly unloaded my books, got my table set up, got my sign out, my pens out, my chairs together, and then realized it only took me about 15 minutes to get set up. I had an hour and a half to wait until the show started, and my nerves were coming back. Instead of sitting still at the table, I left, with my wife, to go get some breakfast and calm down just a bit before the hoopla started.

It was much needed as I would be moving and shaking for the next eight or so hours.

Once the show started, it was on. The first people who stopped by my table, without my even knowing it, were Steve and Marianne Lightle. They were immensely polite, asking me about my comics and about what I’d written, and talking with me about Vincent Price. I had a few copies left of my Vincent Price biography. That and the Conan O’Brien issue seemed to catch the attention of the most people. I mean, I was seated next to horror host Gunther Dedmond, so of course Vincent Price would stand out. But here were Steve and Marianne Lightle, looking at my feeble offerings, and I didn’t even have a clue at first who they were. Great people, honestly, and if you didn’t get a chance to meet them this weekend, find a way. They are amazing people and amazingly talented too.

After that, the con floor filled to near capacity with people. It was incredible. I’d never been a part of something like this, where the rows were filled with comics, creators, and fans alike. The only con I’d been to before that was the Rock & Comicon at the Uptown Theater, and these were so vastly different that I can’t even put it into words. But that’s neither here nor there. Had fun at both, but Free State was different. In a great way.

Nothing prepared me for the rest of Saturday. I, like many other comic creators, am very self-deprecating. I believe that the work I’m doing is sub-par. Forgettable. That you’ll read it and realize that I’m a sham.

A lot of us think that way honestly. It’s sad but true. But I digress…

I sat next to Bill Hook and Mike Sullivan. I’ve gotten to know them from doing Free Comic Book Day at Pop Culture Comix and from the Rock & Comicon, and I count them among my comic book friends. It was a blast getting to sit next to them, as they made the day seem so much more exciting. Ask them about the license to krackle, and you’ll see what I mean. But I poorly doodled and handed them over to Bill and Mike. They would show me the work they were doing and I would be completely in awe of it. I know that they made the day smooth, just like my wife did, so I appreciate them being behind the table with me.

People came and went. I sold quite a few more books than I anticipated. I barely got away from table to do any shopping, which is fine because I ended up not spending the money that I had brought to use as change. I sold copies of Conan O’Brien, The Royals, Vincent Price, Glee, and so many others that I almost lost track. It was exciting to feel like somebody, even for just that day, and I’ll never forget that.

Outside of selling comics, I met a lot of fans. I met people like John Clark, the amazing dude who always wears the amazing costumes at the Elite Comics booths and at Elite Comics for signings or events. He dressed as John Stewart, Green Lantern, and played along with my dad, my wife, and a few of my friends. He’s a great guy, and if you get the chance to meet him, whether he’s dressed as Beta Ray Bill, Luke Cage, Steel, Green Lantern, or whoever he’s dressed as that day, tell him Cameron said, “Hi.” And then shake his hand.

I talked with Chris Grine quite a bit and got to congratulate him on Chickenhare, in person this time. If you haven’t read Chickenhare, you’re insane. Go out and buy a copy of both books and then follow the webcomic and get behind something that the rest of us have known about for a couple years now. Another great talent and another great KC creator, he drew me another amazing con sketch as a trade for a copy of the Conan O’Brien comic. I’ll frame it and put it on the wall of comic book fame that I have currently hanging over my sofa, alongside my amazing Cyborg Superman head sketch from Greg Smallwood, another amazingly talented guy from around town. I want to steal him to draw one of my comics, and if I can ever have enough cache, I will. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

This apparently isn’t going to be so much about behind the table as it will just be my experiences on Saturday, you’ll have to forgive me.

Mario Mora

Mario Mora

I got to talk with Erik Lundy and Mario Mora and Buster Moody ever so slightly. I hope to get to talk with them more as time goes on and I hope to get to know them better. I’d love a chance to write something with Erik and have Mario draw it and have Buster color it. That’s what I’m getting at. Just a big jam piece from all of us KC guys.

I didn’t get to talk to B. Clay Moore or Dennis Hopeless or Ed Bickford and a few others at all. Talked briefly with Brian Koschak and Kyle Strahm and Seth Peck, as well as Steven Sanders. Got to congratulate Sanders on the amazingly inventive and awesome Our Love is Real and talk about the future of his projects with Image and him getting what could be considered the last laugh after getting told no so many times. I got to talk with Kevin Mellon in depth about his project Heart, which I cannot wait for. I got to hear how he got involved and how he went about creating the book and the artwork with Blair Butler. Learned a thing or two about on-air promotion too. Make sure to pick up Our Love is Real when it comes out and Heart as well. KC guys doing well for themselves and you have to give them credit when it’s due.

At this point, I should mention that I met Kevin Nowlan. I didn’t get to spend much time talking with him as he spent the entire time talking with fans, drawing and signing, and he obviously had a much longer line than I could ever hope for. But I met him. Looked at some of his incredible artwork and just got a chance to shake his hand. And one of my favorite people in comics, who will be named later on in this post, said the nicest thing about me that day.

I of course got to talk with my pal Kirk Chritton who works on this wonderful website about the con, do a small little interview with him, and just talk about the future and about the con. That was a pleasure and always will be. We were meant to share a table, but things got shuffled around when I arrived at the show so that didn’t happen, unfortunately, but I know that we’ll continue to talk.

Bobby Bierley

Bobby Bierley

I also got a chance to talk with Bobby Bierley, finally, about his work with Viper Comics, about his work in general, and just about possibly working together in the future. Real small stuff so far, but the talks have started and you should know that eventually we will take over the world. You should be there to see it and enjoy what happens.

Anyways, back to the show itself, it seemed like every time I tore myself away from my table, I got pulled back to sign something. Or meet a fan. Or take a picture. I’m not complaining as that made me happy. It made me feel excited to take part in the con and it made me feel like people were there to meet me. One group came back to the table to buy more books and to get my picture, and I was happy to oblige. I got to take pictures with a few people because of my Star Wars shirt that I was wearing (took a photo for the Foxy By Proxy Revue because of the sweet Star Wars shirt). Took 2 pictures with Wild Dog as well that involved me getting beat up my Wild Dog. Never in a million years would I think I would have that story, but as you’ve seen on Kirk’s blog, his costume was amazing.

I met Terry Beatty for a brief moment when he came to my table and again talked with me over my Vincent Price biography comic. I tried to sell one to him, but didn’t even think about doing a trade with him. I should have. At the next show, I definitely will.

I talked briefly with Alex Grecian, all too briefly, about his upcoming novel. I’ve talked with him at every recent KC show and at recent signings at Elite and didn’t get much of a chance to meet with him this time, but I hope to alleviate that next time. There’s always next time, Alex!

Ande Parks

Ande Parks

I should go on record now and say that I’m probably going to geek out a bit. I sold a comic to Ande Parks. Again, I should have traded him for something on his table, but this was earlier on in the show and I wasn’t thinking. Ande, next time I will trade with you for something. But he bought a comic from me, and it was, of course, the Vincent Price book. He was very excited to check it out and didn’t think for a second that the comic would involve his love of gourmet, but when I told him it did and opened right to the page, he had to have it. It made me laugh, it made me feel great, and I just loved giving a copy of one of my books to one of my comic heroes. Thanks again, Ande.

And last but not least, my friend Jai Nitz. My family decided to go to the show to show support for me, which I thought was outstanding, and they met Jai and Chris Grine. Jai talked about how he got into comics, how Phil Hester helped him, and how he decided that he would then do the same thing for those who came after him. I’ve made it a point to always mention Jai as the main reason I made it into comics. One of the two major proponents for helping me get my foot in the door. He doesn’t necessarily believe me, but he should. If it wasn’t for that chance meeting at Planet Comicon in 2008, this wouldn’t have ever happened. I wouldn’t have nearly 50 comics in my name and I wouldn’t be doing what I love, meeting fans, signing autographs, shaking hands, and taking pictures. I would still be going to the shows, but I’d be on the other side of the table, like I was for the first so many years of my comics experience. I was a reader and a fan first, and now I’m a comic book writer. And no matter what, I’ll always thank Jai for that. And I’ll always point to him to tell people to buy his books, talk to him about comics, and I’ll always use him as a sounding board.

That’s it for this look behind the table. There wasn’t much new info back there, but I will say this, it was an experience I will never forget. I was exhausted when it was all over and feel like I slept all day Sunday and took off Monday to continue to recuperate, but I’ll do it again, whenever I’m asked. I loved meeting the fans, I loved talking comics, I loved giving insight and handing out my business cards to fans and telling them the same things Jai told me.

Never give up. Don’t take any of the no’s to heart. Just roll with it and keep going. I love comic books and I always will, and I’m so glad to get to share that with you. Hit me up with an email if you have any questions or just want to talk.

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2 Responses to Free State Comicon: Behind the Table

  1. CW Cooke says:

    Apparently, I forgot to mention something pretty outstanding, regarding the Draw Me In campaign. I think I’ll deal with that in my next guest column.

  2. Bill Hook says:

    Great article Mr. Cooke. Thanks for the kind words. I think our part of the floor was pretty lively, I would not have traded my spot for any other place at the con. There were so many great creators to meet that day, and so many interesting folks attending the show. It really was a big success in my opinion. I still have not made prints of the Frankenstein piece that i was inking that day. As soon as I do, I will send one your way. Thanks for the show so much fun. See you soon.

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