Okay, this is gonna be fast because I still have to pack up, get checked out of the hotel, and get back to day two of the fun. In all honesty, things went better than any reasonable person could have expected for day one of an untried convention with an untried staff. Despite the occasional hiccup or missed communication, everybody involved — organizers & staff, exhibitors, and attendees — all seemed to be determined to pull together an enjoy the hell out of themselves. In every way, this determination was successful.
Half an hour before the official open, the first floor of the Eastworks building (where many of the exhibiting creators were set up at tables on either side of a wide hallway) was packed and the crowd didn’t let up for two and a half hours. Almost immediately I ran into Krishna Sadasivam and he innaugurated the new, super-sized Moleskine obtained for this weekend; the theme — beards and moustaches.
The lull came as two heavily-attended panels took place at the same time on the second floor: t-shirt designing (with Rich Stevens, Jeph Jacques, Chris Hastings and Ryan North) and live drawing on the Cintiq (with KC Green) were packed and by all accounts hilarious. My theory is that the hilariousity is a natural consquence of putting very funny people in front of an audience and getting out of their way. For example, I was asked to moderate the first panel of the show (“Print vs Web vs Bear”) a few minutes before it started, and was thrilled to see that the speakers (Chris Hastings, Jon Rosenberg, and the beard of Steven Cloud) had attracted a crowd that filled the 100 chairs and the 100 place standing room. Then again, it didn’t hurt that Commissioner James Gordon Hastings was busy being adorable during the panel.
Similarly, the Halfpixel panel (where they recorded the next Webcomics Weekly in front of a live audience) was possibly the funniest 90 minutes of podcast ever (and ended up with Dave Kellett pulling a Yoko and breaking up the band), and the second panel I moderated (“Drawing From Memory”) ran entirely on the strength of David McGuire, David Willis, and Kris Straub’s ability to build tension and anticipation an audience that couldn’t wait to see what they had drawn (with luck, McGuire will be posting photos). Long story short, if you ever want to torture Willis, give him the task of drawing one of his own characters (Ultra-Car, for those of you playing at home) in fifteen seconds or less.
The day ended up with the greatest thing that’s ever happened in webcomics — rather than trying to decide where to take fifty creators and volunteers to eat (and split the bill) — the Topatoco secret weapon known to the web at Tallahassee Econolodge (real name witheld to protect the innocent) arranged for a dinner spread (and beer!) to be brought in to the Eastworks building and got the money collected well in advance. As the collected creators ate in a building constructed in the 1880s, the possibility arose that everything might collapse and webcomics would be wiped out with only Kate Beaton, John Campbell, John Allison, and Penny Arcade to carry on and rebuild our lost civilization (you read it here first — Kate Beaton is the Secretary of Agriculture of webcomics).
The feeling of community that’s so often found in webcomics was almost tangible in the room; I watched more sincere mutual admiration going on than ever I’ve witnessed. Looking into their eyes, I could see every creator in the room getting fired up and determined … If this person thinks so well of my work, I have to absolutely bring my best work and be worthy of this respect. I saw the basis of decades worth of weekends, conventions, symposia being laid, and every person in the room felt privileged to be there at the start; in 15 years when the new up-and-coming talent wants to know why the assemblage of webcomickers has sushi at the Saturday night gathering, the answer will be “Because we did it at NEWW™ ’09.”
Time for Day Two. Pictures when I get to ’em.