Upon entering the crowded exhibitors’ room of my first Comic-Con, I felt out of place. I stood awkwardly as Batman stalked past, growling at people menacingly followed by Thor and Loki arguing about some origin story. Then I bumped into Boba-Fett and I’m sure he was giving me daggers beneath that helmet.
The next hour was spent timidly looking at stalls for no more than a few seconds in case one of the indie creators would engage me in conversation. I feared that in doing so they would discover I haven’t been a fanboy all my life and drive me out, such was the community feeling around the place. But I wasn’t there for all that. Really I was there to do one thing: to look Dave Gibbons – legendary artist of one of the greatest pieces of modern literature – in the eye and tell him “Thank you”.
The time came to see Gibbons and Frank Quitely (another artist who I am very fond of, but who didn’t have quite as profound an effect on me) discuss their early experiences in the industry, their working process and finally take a few questions. I had a question, but I wasn’t picked. Fair enough.
During the panel discussion, Quitely gave off the impression of a really nice guy. He and Gibbons had a mutual respect for one another, even when Quitely would poke fun at Gibbons by saying “So Dave, tell us about your artistic process. Or rather, tell us about your process when you used to work hard” jabbing at his fellow artist’s fame and title as the first ever comic laureate. Everyone laughed, Quitely grinned and Gibbons answered with a broad grin on his face.
When the discussion came to an end we all moved to another room where the pair would be signing books. Should I ask my question when I meet them? Would that be presumptuous? The line got shorter and shorter until Frank Quitely asked me how I was.
“I’m fine thanks” was the reply, a little bit stiffer than I intended, but Quitely smiled on as he took my book. It was now or never, I decided. “I’m a writer” I began (though I’m saying this to the man who has worked with Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison so I’m as much a writer as I am an astronaut or a “Dancing on Ice” judge.
“What’s your biggest pet peeve when reading a script?”
It’s a valid question and I would learn something of value I hoped. He paused, his pen hovering in mid-air. Despite the line being really long, he was giving my question a decent amount of time and attention. “Probably when the writer puts the reaction to a question in the same panel as when the question is asked. That stuff needs to be done over two panels.”
It seems an obvious answer, but last night I looked through the Percy Nobleman scripts and found two examples of that very thing. He spoke further on the subject for a good minute or two before he signed my book and said goodbye.
But now all that was in the past, for here before me was Dave Gibbons himself. His arguably more famous counterpart on Watchmen Alan Moore looks like that stereotypical enigmatic, philosophical writer whose presence intimidates. Gibbons on the other hand looks like a regular friendly bloke.There were no frivolities, I went straight in. “I wanted to thank you.” There was an intrigued look on his face, (perhaps he thought I was a psycho path) “I was a bit of a literary elitist before I saw a little yellow button with a smiley face on it sitting in the gutter”.
No mixing of words, no stutters, no forgetful pauses. Nailed it.
As a writer the temptation would be to heap praise on Moore, who wrote the story as opposed to the artist, but had it not been for the art, I might not have persevered with it long enough to get hooked on the story. Moore may have pulled me into the world of comics, but Dave Gibbons opened the door.
“Well you’ve wasted your childhood then” and we both chuckled a little. It was of course said in jest and he in turn then moved on to thank me for thinking so highly of him, but it hit me hard. Only because he was right in a way. When I was younger I naturally progressed from being a kid to a teen and finally to an adult when it came to mediums such as film and TV. Now I realise that I stopped reading comics that day when my eight year old self asked my grandfather to stop buying me The Dandy because I felt it was too childish, then nothing until I picked up a copy of Watchmen a decade or so later. It was as if I had simply skipped those middle years and, now as I think on it, all the great art and stories that I could have been enjoying as they came out; titles like Promethia, Fun Home, All-star Superman and even Black Hole
Reading them now is all fine and well, but they could have been more to me. Had I read them as I progressed through my own personal bildungsroman, they may have had a greater effect on me and became an integral part of who I am today.
There is every possibility I am spouting nonsense, but then there is every possibility I’m not unfortunately. I’ll never know.
The chuckle died down between us and he asked my name to sign the book.
Handing it back to me, I complimented him on a short comic he created with Gillian Flynn. Gibbons opened up a little at that, perhaps enjoying talking about something other than Watchmen. “She had never written a comic before, but she just understood them. It was wonderful.”
And just like that, everything changed… again.
Flynn is in her 40s and a journalist and novelist with nothing in her background related to comics. Yet she understood comics. It gave me hope that although I had denied myself the joys of comics during my teen years, it was not too late to gain an understanding befitting a lifelong reader. Next thing I knew I was standing on the other side, alone again.
I decided at that moment to make up for that lost time. Here I was thinking I was like an outsider. Well no more! So I brazenly strode up to a guy dressed as a Red Power Ranger and got a selfie as if I was a seasoned Comic convention attendee. Huzzah!
The next hour or so was spent talking to wonderfully friendly artists and writers at booths, giving Deadpool a high five and buying Spiderman a coke. The day culminated with a woman thinking I was “an attractive guy” and wanted to invite me along to join her casting agency for extras. Flattery gets you far with me it seems.
I left having learned something about myself and got an insight to the fascinating social gatherings that is Comic-con.
It is like a community in there, but it is a welcoming and accepting community. All you have to do is say hello.
Thank you Red Power Ranger.