Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, April 2

Gapers Block

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In my limited tenure with comic book conventions, Wizard World Chicago 2003 proved to be a consistent mark of geeked-out entertainment. For three days in August, geeks from all over the Midwest (and still further!) travel to enjoy comics, costumes, wild parties, and of course, celebrity appearances. People wearing t-shirts blaring "HULK," as well Star Wars characters, teenagers and adults with goth semblance, trekkers, wide-eyed children, buxom women in costume of various sorts, artists toting portfolios, and fans of every science fiction book/show/movie/etc. ever created attend this convention religiously, annually. The diversity of interest is dizzying, and if you�re not there for a specific reason it is easy to become lost. However, if you have a mission, the experience can be extremely entertaining and even gratifying. This year, my mission was not to get autographs, take pictures of celebrities, look at or even buy comics: it was to meet people, read something new, score free stuff, become inspired and mostly, to enjoy the special attention of being one of few women at this huge comic book convention.


Fig1. HULK smash!

Instead of paying money to attend this year, I was given the opportunity to actually work at the convention assisting some friends of mine who draw, write, and paint for Devil's Due comics (creators of GI Joe, Transformers, Voltron and Love Bunny & Mister Hell, among others). My duties were few, but once my 60-second training was over, I gleaned that they mainly were to "answer questions" and to assist in the sale of T-shirts to conference-goers. My friends at Devil's Due know the game: they asked me, a friend with a mild but thin obsession with sequential art to help them out, completely disregarding the fact that I know next to nothing about their entire family of comics. I suppose it's not about what you say but how you say it in order to make a sale, and I'm sure my gender played a strategic role in their sales strategy.

The culture of comic book fandom never ceases to amaze and entertain me, so I let this gender bias slide in favor of using it to my advantage and milking it for all it's worth. From behind the table, I met all kinds of people. I intentionally made efforts to not ignore some guys just to see what they would do. I smiled. I said hello a lot and said things like, "If y'all have any questions, just let us know!" and "Let me know what size I can get that for you in, okay?" I don't know that I really sold more than they might normally sell, but some men lingered who might have otherwise walked right by.

I went behind the display occasionally to retrieve various sized T-shirts for inquiring customers. I noticed a couple of times that when I leaned over, as I looked over my shoulder, people were taking pictures not of Sean Astin, that guy dressed up like Boba Fett or Lou Ferrigno: they were taking pictures of my rear end. I wondered to myself how often these guys get out. I also contemplated momentarily if and where those pictures will end up on the Internet later.

At one point, a man with a large camera caught my attention as he walked by and asked if he could take my picture. I explained to him that I was not affiliated with the comics in any way: I was not dressed as a character, there were no characters based on me, and I was not even an employee of the company. He did not seem to care. I said sure, just as long as I could take his picture, too (though somehow, this did not feel like a fair trade). This was the first instance of a complete stranger asking to take my picture -- not me with GI Joe, not me with Chekov or Lieutenant Uhura, just me, because I'm me. He took my picture, made the obligatory purchase, and left.


Fig2. A Tusken Raider protects one of the few women at the convention.

While it can be sometimes awkward, the experience of attending a comic book convention is great if you want to see/meet interesting people and score free swag. In conventions I have attended in the past, I have received entire runs of people's comics. I have been asked to sit behind the table while the artists signed comics to a long line of readers. I have been flirted with, given samples, treated to non-alcoholic drinks -- the effortless fun seems endless. If you're a girl, know that the comic book convention is your oyster and that you need to appreciate its offerings. I'm certain that my friends at Devil's Due knew that I knew next to nothing about their comics. It's not whether I know this is an alternate cover or if that is a limited edition based off of some obscure issue; we all know that it's my femininity that will sell those comics. For the reason of needing to feed my ego (and perhaps legitimize my somewhat questionable social life), this was completely all right with me, just this once.

One of the finer points of my time at Wizard World was a certain instance which earned me not only ego points but also free stuff. Across from the Devil's Due booth stood a booth rented by the movie "The Punisher," where they were applying stage makeup on conference attendees all day long. Huge bloody messes they created: scars and burns and what looked like pieces of brick embedded in people's faces. I went over and chatted with a good-looking young man about my age with a huge bloody scar on his face. He was very nice and he let me take his picture, explaining to me that he had not fixed his hair that morning because he wore a hat -- as if that's what I would notice instead of the huge wound taking up half his face. Later, he came over to our booth and handed me a black T-shirt. I said, "What is this?"

He said, "This is for you."

"For me?!

"You should go see the movie, it will be pretty good," then he winked and sauntered off. I had no idea what the movie was about (and still don't), but it doesn't matter: cute scar boy gave me a free T-shirt with a humongous skull on it, and nothing in this world can compare to a feeling like that.

On the Saturday night of the convention, there was an event called the "Wizard Party" that Wizard entertainment sponsors. This consisted of a rented party room in the sponsoring hotel where the lights were turned off, the music was turned up, and the bar was open. Along with the free limited-edition toy issued to each attendee (this year it was a Miss Piggy wrapped in an American flag), the best part is its exclusivity: only ticket holders can attend, and only comics creators and their "guests" can get tickets. That evening, I was on the arm of a very talented colorist (whom I had just met that afternoon). By the looks of the line at the bar�one of several we attended that evening -- it was dawning on me quickly that comic book people chat about Darth Vader and Superman by day but party like rock stars at night.


Fig3. A Storm Trooper menaces a poor comic book geek.

Comic book conventions are guaranteed great fun, and this year was no exception though it lacked a little of the luster of Wizard World 2002 (the first large-scale con I attended.) My ego has been inflated ten times its normal size thanks to this year's con, and I think that's enough to carry me over to next year. My friends at Devil's Due get the nod from me for showing me such a great time and really, more than anything, for working so hard at what they do. Comic book artists don't just start out good, they have to work hard and compete with hundreds of other ambitious comics artists, writers and enthusiasts for these coveted jobs with Marvel and Image, among others. They deal with a rigorous production schedule every week of the year and then they go to every con within 2000 miles to sign, sketch, and schmooze so they can keep their popularity and thus, their jobs, in check. These guys, despite their outward easygoing nature and love for the ladies, really work to the point of exhaustion. Partying like rock stars certainly doesn�t help alleviate the exhaustion -- but at the same time, something has to keep them sane.

I will always be in awe of comic book conventions, with their abundance of strangely-dressed, obsessive fans and extremely talented, motivated and hard-working artists and writers. It feels good to know that I also can try so little (just by being female) and feel like I've done something good (provide eye candy). Seriously, it seems like a fair trade to me: they can use my looks to sell T-shirts, and I can use their proximity to gain inspiration and experience great entertainment. Thus is my obsession with the comic book convention, and that is what will keep me coming year after year.


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