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A Bit Of Joy In This Craptacular World

Let us not focus on the reasons we cannot have nice things¹ and instead focus on the nice things that happen sometimes. I am, on this occasion, talking about the second iteration of :01 Books deciding that we needed to talk comics, Comics Relief, and the four talks therein. Editorial note: I didn’t attempt to transcribe the conversations, but where I move from paraphrase to the vicinity of quotation, you’ll find the text in italics.

They were, from the top:

The first three talked process and methods, the last was just three friendly folks killing time with amusing stories, fond reminiscences, and the side effects of having kids mess with your Zoom settings. More on that below.

Importantly, each session started with a statement of solidarity and principles from the panelists; in some cases I believe it was drafted together, in others I think the panelists deferred to the moderator, but all of them acknowledged the current situation and the plain truth that black lives matter. In Siegel’s case, he went so far as to note that if you’re going to move from acknowledging that you benefit from a racist society to becoming actively racist, you’ve got some work to do; he recommended starting with Stamped From The Beginning by Ibrahim X Kendi.

Things that stood out:

  • Ottaviani noted that Astronauts came about when he learned the story of the Mercury 13 and couldn’t fit their story into what he was working on at the time, so he parked it to come back to later. But you can’t have a book with 13 protagonists, and he didn’t want to invent a composite character to stand in for them, so he went looking for an astronaut that wasn’t famous because most people aren’t. The book features three women, but it’s about Mary Cleave because she isn’t famous like Valentina Tereshkova or Sally Ride. That lack of fame (much like Wicks’s choices to have very detailed technology but rather cartoony characters) allows a reader to see themselves in the story.
  • Makers of all stripes have made maker comics; Koch attended culinary school, Myer is a costume-maker and cosplayer since small times, and Coovert has put at least as much thought into the hows and whys of what works in comics as anybody. The key to Maker Comics, Chapman shared, is to have a series of distinct, achievable, build-each-on-the-previous projects for those following along to tackle. Ideally, six to eight of them, with something really familiar to start with, and going deeper from there.
  • Box Brown doesn’t always do documentary comics4 and doesn’t intentionally alternate between books about people (Andre The Giant, Is This Guy For Real?) with books about cultural phenomena (Tetris, Cannabis), its just that sometimes that’s how the story gets into his head. Tetris could just have easily been told about Alexey Pajitnov.

    Brown’s talk with Brill showed how important the working relationship between creator and editor is — it was a revealing look at how they work together, and what the result of that work is like. Brill will not only bring out the best in your work, she’ll find a way to get Mandy Patinkin to blurb your book and to keep your talk going if your internet goes out, as Brown’s did for about five minutes5.

  • Pro tip from LeUyen Pham: check out what your Zoom background looks like before you start the session, lest you find out that your kids have set it and you don’t know it’s a very elaborate painting of a dragon until Clint McElroy compliments you and asks if you did it yourself. For a relaxed conversation with no set agenda, Pham’s frantic attempts to clear the background (in fact, it was one of hers, and it was stunning; McElroy later commented that he missed [her] dragon hat) got things off to an amusing start, which was followed up by some amusing How did we first meet? stories.

    For Pham, it was when Siegel was a lowly, peon designer (that’s an exact quote) at Simon & Schuster, around August of 2001. Siegel’s boss was frantic because an illustrator on a children’s book had completely failed to deliver and there were only a few months left to get art in. Pham’s sample work wasn’t a typical children’s book illo, it was an oil painting and despite the incredible detail in her work, she met the original deadline in November despite the upheavals of 9/11.

    Siegel: Everybody at Simon & Schuster was “Here’s a keeper!”
    Pham: Mark was impressed with my thumbnails and wanted to know if I’d ever want to do comics.

    For McElroy, it was at the :01 SDCC booth, the summer before the first Adventure Zone book came out. I walked up to the booth to introduce myself on the first day and this guy with glasses said “Hey, Buddy, end of the line!” [furious pointing gesture].

    Siegel remembers realizing that they had something really huge on their hands — the McElroy’s were brought out to the con, there wasn’t any swag yet for a book that was a year off, just some postcards, and he figured a few hardcore fans might show up. And then this MOB came to the booth, I didn’t recognize any of the cosplay, and we had to have con security help us wrangle the line which spanned three aisles. We put up tickets for a livecast and 1500 of them sold in four minutes. John Turner Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan, is calling up me looking at pre-orders for a book that’s a year away and asking “What the hell is The Adventure Zone?”

    McElroy remarked on that scheduled signing: We came out of the secret security tunnels in the convention center and saw this huge line that just kept going and said “We feel sorry for whoever’s line that is.” But it kept moving in the direction of the :01 booth, and there were people in Taako hats and … [gestures to Siegel on the screen] and then that night you bought my dinner and I loaded up on appetizers. Success!

    Siegel wanted to come back to the idea of huge, ongoing successes (TAZ, Pham’s collaborations with Shannon Hale, Real Friends and Best Friends), neither of which he saw coming. Every time I try to design a cash cow for :01, it tanks. People can smell it a mile off.

    Pham remarked how her kids are somewhat a barometer for that — they aren’t fans of her work, per se, it’s just what mom does; but towards the end of Real Friends, when young Shannon does something jerky, it affected her older son, who wanted to know why mom couldn’t just change the story to make her nicer. I had to explain what a memoir is. It was when he got really invested in the story that she started to think it might be more than just another book.

    And it all wrapped up with McElroy wanting to pitch Siegel on his cash cow idea: a billionaire cow that travels around spending cash. And y’know, if he partnered with Carey Pietsch on it, I think it just might work.

SM20 Countdown for 8 June 2020:

¹ In this case, “Nick”, who decided to be a jerk about halfway through the first session and got the chat disabled as a result. I hope you got kicked out, Nick, I hope you got banned from future events, I hope you some day realize how little your inchoate rage at women is regarded by the world. You’re terrible and we’ve all decided to forget you.

² And author; Wilgus’s own graphic novel (Wyeth Yates provides the pictures), The Mars Challenge, comes out next week. How into space is Wilgus? She lays out Tsiolkovsky’s Rocket Equation in story form in chapter two, Gravity Is A Jerk.

³ Who was quick to note that she shares series editing duties with Bethany Bryan.

4 His next, Child Star (due out 30 June), is a fictional story inspired by multiple people who were child stars in the 80s. Brill, his longtime editor, remarked that she is in awe of his facility with awful 80s sitcom dialogue, and putting words in the mouths of assholish people.

5 At just about exactly the time that Brill’s mom was calling her. All of the classic Zoom interruptions happened at the same time.

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