Thursday, April 30, 2015

Map-Making

-By Lauren Panepinto

This week I'm sharing a fun process post about a map illustration Tim Paul created for me for A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall for Orbit Books. I think map illustration often gets overlooked as a specialty, and it's something that many SFF publishers and game companies need. Not everyone is detail-oriented (or obsessed) enough to handle maps, and when you find an illustrator who really enjoys doing them, they're worth their weight in gold. Here's a bit of a look behind the scenes with myself, the author, and the mapmaker.

Final Map for Crown for Cold Silver



LP: People often ask how we decide which books are going to have maps, and most times it is author-driven. Some authors use mapmaking as part of their worldbuilding process, and some authors only have a more general idea of geography as they’re writing. If a map or diagram comes naturally out of a story, then I always like to create something to expand the reader’s experience of the book. And sometimes a “map” is not really a map - for example we’ll be doing a process post soon on Black Wolves by Kate Elliott - that book has tattoo designs for each important clan in the book in lieu of a geographic map.


In the case of A Crown for Cold Silver I knew the author had a very specific concept for the map, and when I want the author and map maker to work together directly, my go-to artist is Tim Paul. I’d actually known Tim for a few years for his more stylized illustrations. One day we were sitting at the Society of Illustrators in NYC, at some art event or another, and he was saying he was dragging out all his old Dungeon Master props and maps to start up a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. He was talking about how much he enjoyed geeking out on the mapmaking, and my head snapped over to him and I said, so….you like making maps huh? Have you ever illustrated one for a client? (See, networking is real!)

TP: Hurray for networking, and talking about yourself!

Final Cover design

LP: Map illustrators are a special - and rare - breed. You have to really be into the process of drawing the map out of the author, and tolerate a lot of fine-tuning. If you aren’t really excited by that, then you burn out quite quickly on all the revisions. You have to love the collaboration process. Many illustrators feel map work isn’t as creative as other type of illustration, but good mapmakers know there’s a lot of room for artistic license.

TP: It’s true about being a rare breed. I’ve had lots of illustrators tell me they won’t touch maps, and those few that do try, end up deciding not to do them again. As one person described, it’s like doing 50-100 little illustrations that are always changing. I actually find drawing thousands of little trees and mountains relaxing, even as I strive to make each mountain unique.

I’ve played D&D since I was 14. The maps in the books and modules were one of my favorite aspects. As a kid, I always made my own maps and worlds. Surprisingly, it took a long time to put my love of making my own maps into another way to making a living with my art.


LP: Tim and I had worked on a few maps together by this point, so I knew he would be really excited to work with Alex on his map. I introduced them and let them start talking directly. Although I don’t get too involved in art-directing a map once it gets going, I do really enjoy staying in the loop on emails, because I see all the wonderful brainstorming happening.


Meanwhile I was working on cover designs, and it started to look like the cover was going to be very graphic and textural, and I was playing with a lot of parchment textures. I realized that not only would the map be great on its own—it would be exactly what I needed for the cover.


Some covers in process of design:


TP: One of the first things Alex told me about the book was the inspiration behind the world was heavy metal. He provided a rough sketch of the world, where the land was literally shaped like a star, points and all.

He wanted to move away from such a literal interpretation as the book developed.

AM: Part of my laying out the world in a roughly recognizable shape was so the reader could visualize the world even in the absence of a map--one never knows when a map will be provided (both literally and philosophically).

It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve run a few games in my day, hence the manifest quality (sic) of the map I provided Tim--I daresay it’s as fine a piece of work as ever graced the back of my brown-paper-bag-covered algebra textbook back in high school:


TP: Alex asked if I could move the world away from this, and make it more natural looking.

However, I thought if I could keep a small nod to that original idea of his, it would make the map more interesting. So I thought about that as I started working out the details.

Alex and I went through seven rounds of changes and tweaks. Some of them were small, some required redrawing parts of the land. When working on a map, there’s no set amount of rounds. A map has many tiny pieces to it and you just have to make sure it’s right when it goes to press.

Alex was so easy to work with, because his directions were clear and made sense, even if they were just, “I decided I wanted to change something.”

AM: Tim has the patience of a saint. I’m pretty sure I sent no less than three frantic emails with the subject line “One LAST Change, If It’s Not Too Late?” Despite having already worked on A Crown for Cold Silver for several years when Tim and I started working on the map, I tend to continually revise my novels, but of course tweaking the text meant tweaking the map...

TP: It’s only ever too late, when it’s in the hands of the printer, in my mind. The map grew richer and more interesting each revision, as extra details were added, such as forests and rivers and other geographical details not on the original sketch.

For me, I like it when an author includes more than what is mentioned in the book. It makes it a more real world, if it’s not just places that are mentioned in the book.

AM: The thing about maps is that we assume their exactitude, when in fact the entire history of cartography is riddled with errors and inaccuracies, some of them resulting from ignorance, others from bias. [TP: Interesting fact, map makers often inserted mistakes on purpose so as to try and catch people copying their maps] So in revising the map with Paul I was more concerned with making sure the most textually important locations were represented than I was with pinning down every little geographical detail and defining the world as precisely as possible. I know some authors feel that mapping their fantastical settings can constrict their imaginations, but I found the process of designing the Star with Paul gave me a richer picture of the world. At the same time, I don’t feel like the map has to define where I take the story in later books--there’s a lot of open space out there, and the only one who can determine if this map was actually drawn to scale is me.



TP: It was between the first and second revisions, that I had an idea on how I could suggest the heavy metal inspiration for the book. I arranged the names of the 5 bodies of water to form a circle, and even some of the land to help suggest it. Even some of the Gates, fell on the circle.

AM: As Tim mentioned, my deep and abiding love of metal was one of the many influences on the novel, especially when it came to the geography and place names. At the same time, I didn’t want it to be too obvious lest it cheapen or cheesify the narrative. As the novel evolved through various drafts its world became more organic, but even in its final incarnation the savvy music lover might be able to use the map to decipher a soundtrack for A Crown for Cold Silver.

TP: Usually early on, I have an idea of what I want for the final look. In this case, the folded creases, the tattered edge and to look as if water had dripped on it. A well used map.

But I don’t start bringing in that in till later, so the focus at first is getting all the information right and in place.

I work in Photoshop, and in lots and lots of layers, which I try and keep organized. With so much information, being able to find the right layer is important.

LayersCoCS.png

Even after the final art, there can be changes. With so much to check, it’s easy to miss something, and it’s more important to be right when dealing with information. Like I said, I’m more concerned with the map being right, then how long it takes to get there.

This map has been one of my favorites to work on, because I was allowed the freedom to introduce my ideas, and as the map grew, Alex wanted to to be more than just a marker where the events of the story took place. I honestly probably asked Lauren one too many times when I can show it off.

AM: For my part, I couldn’t be happier with Tim’s excellent work, and greatly appreciate Lauren’s contracting him. The novel is richer for his artistry.



LP: So there you have it, the fabulous final map for A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall. If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, read this great review from NPR. And if you're a map-addict then by all means, consider it a worthwhile section in your portfolio!



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

'Above The Timberline' To Be Published


Greg Manchess

It finally happened.

After six years, one major painting, sixteen drafts, hundreds of loose thumbnail sketches, and countless hours of research, writing, and daydreaming, I can finally make my official Muddy Colors announcement that my hybrid novel-screenplay-graphic novel, Above The Timberline, has been sold to Simon & Schuster with a scheduled release of Autumn 2017!

The story came out of the above painting, done for a video about how I paint, which many of you are familiar with. When a dear friend of mine, Cat Peterson, saw the painting for the first time, he said, “You’ve got to get that in front of a publisher!” I was glad to receive such an enthusiastic response, but a publisher? Are you kidding? I didn’t even have much of a story behind what was going on. Yet I was intrigued by the idea of creating a world and an adventure around the man in the painting.

But there were insane barriers to pierce in order to get this kind of book out in the market. I had to create a story, write a novel, and develop the visuals. I had no agent, and no prospects. I didn’t even know how these things got done outside of what I knew about the illustration world. And the stories I’d heard about artists trying to get their ideas published were bleak. At best.


It’s an entirely strange thing to sit down at a coffee shop, surrounded by other would-be authors, and begin a novel. It took a long time just to keep my mind from asking, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ ‘What makes you think you can do this?’ ‘You’re wasting your time.’ I didn’t even know who the guy in the painting was, and worse, why was he out there?

I’d written smaller works over the course of my life, but now ‘writing’ took on a different meaning. I read book after book about sentences, grammar, plot structure. I realized I was starting over again in a whole new field. So I decided to go about it the way I broke into illustration. Little by little.

At several Starbucks across the nation, at every opportunity to write, paragraphs became chapters, and characters became real people in a frozen world of future Earth. And it was captivating.

Then the real work started. This is a book where the images are as important as the words, where the story is revealed through visuals and the words add an extra dimension to the story line. Hours and hours of work spent on pacing, page reveals, sculpting sentences for maximum impact, and composing double page spreads. And all of that without one iota of possibility for actually getting it published.

Eventually, through deliberate efforts and a constant failure-success-failure-success cycle, the story grew and circumstances and opportunities coalesced into a publishing contract. I suppose, based on my story, you might say Hell froze over.


Over the coming year I’ll be working on the paintings and design of the book and I’ll be keeping updates on the progress here at Muddy Colors. I plan on talking about how this book got created and completed without revealing too much of the story. I’d hate to ruin the effect for readers.

Keep watching here, and I’ll send links from Facebook to Muddy from time to time as well. I have quite a few “10 Things...” posts to run by you all, too, so this will be a very busy year.

And please ask any questions you have about publishing, writing, etc. I hope this will open some doors for artists to tell more stories of their own.

100+ paintings to go!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Back to the Silmarillion

by Justin Gerard


Underpainting

 Lately I've been getting back into working digitally over monochromatic oil again.  In a previous post I claimed that I would someday return to this Silmarillion-inspired image and finish it. So to prove that I only break most of my promises to our readers, I am finally getting down to finishing it!


Color Comp

I will be adding the colors over the underpainting digitally because I am a wizard and this is the sort of thing that wizards do.


Sketch

Pencil and watercolor is excellent for showing personality, but there is nothing like oil for drama.
The following image is one I finished recently using this method of digital color over a monochrome oil.


"The Last of His Kind"

One of the great difficulties in working in this method is preserving the wonderful, distinctive brush-strokes that are so characteristic of oil.

To overcome this difficulty, after I have scanned in the image, I work in transparent layers set to either multiply, soft light or color. The object is to enhance the original, not alter it or interfere with the brushwork in any way. I work very transparently to slowly work the image up to the right tone.

Lastly there are some opaque normal layers and a color dodge layer or two. Remember: If you get stuck you can always add rim-light and that will probably save it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Walkthrough: How I paint

-By Daniel LuVisi


Hey, guys. Today I'm here to show you the step-by-steps of how I put together a painting. The painting I'll be giving the workshop for, is a first look at my next book LMS: Once Upon A Time In Amerika, coming out later sometime this year.



Brainstorming an Idea


Before starting a painting, I'll begin by sourcing through reference and color ideas. For this particular piece, I've thought of this scene for months, so I had a good understanding of what I wanted. I had to show Gabriel, the lead of LMS, at his utmost dangerous.

I'll begin with a rough sketch, usually starting on a flat file. For this particular piece, I knew it'd have more than enough layers, so I the next step would involve a lot of line work.



Lineart  and Why It Helps 



Lineart is truly hit or miss with me. Sometimes I love to do it, as it really helps a painting, especially in shots that require a lot of miscellaneous details. Also, when I do my lines I tend to separate different layers. Such as debris, armor, overlapping items, and back and foreground objects. 

This helps because as I get to the coloring stage, I can begin to merge each of the separate line layers with the mutual color layer. 



Background And Setting Up 



I can't begin a painting without some form of a background. Whether a gradient or a stock-photo, I require some source of a color to begin painting comfortably. Plus, it's obviously easier to tie in the colors of the characters and build them into the environment. The smoke is created with a simple smoke brush (set linked at the bottom). 

As I mentioned above, each of the background objects are on separate layers. This is so I can add in separate lighting effects smoke layers or over-lapping objects. Then, I begin to build in the characters. 



Building Up A Character 


Once I'm comfortable enough to move on from the background, I'll begin blocking in the characters. For Gabriel (right), each pieces of his armor I like to keep separate, so I can build them out one by one when rendering. I'll blame OCD for that. When painting, I'm only using a chalk-brush, which can be found in the first row of my brushes. For the sparks, it was a mixture of a stock image and a custom brush. 




Rendering 



So, as you can see I've already started rendering and have barely laid colors down for the opposing character. I can't help it. Once I'm happy with a certain point of the image, I like to get right down into the nitty-gritty and begin rendering. 




A lot of people ask for any secrets or hints at rendering, but I don't have any. I use a chalk brush 90% of the time and render out the tiny scratches, dents and dings. For the textured patterns on his body suit, I use a carbon-fiber texture set to Overlay. Try Transforming it to wrap it around objects. 





Effects 



For the smoke and debris layers, it's just a combination of different brushes designed for each. Some are scatter brushes, which are good for the little bits you see flying about. Use that and a mixture of Motion Blur and you'll get some nice effects. 



For sparks, I use a scatter brush and also the filter > Outer Glow, which when given the color orange, will surround the brush strokes with a warm glow. After, flatten that specific layer and set it to Motion Blur and Screen. Again, transform can give some fun effects.





Lighting 



For my lighting, I will sometimes paint it into the characters and other times use a combination of curve layers (using the lasso or the brush to create the selected areas). For highlights or rim-lighting (such as on his fist) I'll use a Screen Layer, with the Brush also set to Screen. I'll usually use a color close to the object I'm painting on (so blue, for this example) and it'll add a nice glow/rim to the brush. 




For larger areas such as the impact spot, or the haze coming out of the gate, I'll use a large round brush set to screen. Try using a smoke or cloud-like brush as an eraser to get some cool effects. 





Tightening Up The Characters 



As I begin rendering in the characters, I will lock the Lineart to the character layers and begin combining overlapping (armor mostly) layers to the main file. Mostly to free up some ram, but also because I've done everything I need to do. 



Once all the rocks and chunks of debris are painted, I'll also merge the line layers with the painted, and merge. Then I'll put on Motion Blur (I usually copy the original layer, just incase I'll need it back.) 



Final Touches


Nearing the end, I'll begin to add in the final touches. From adjusting curve layers to bring out light and shadow, or adding tiny scratches, debris chunks, wires cables or more. This is the most relaxing stage of the painting, as I can focus on just making it pretty. I've never shown Gabriel in "action" before, so I wanted to display what he was truly capable of.

This was an incredibly fun image, but also a stressful one. I had to color code every layer, as my OCD and ADD just began to strike war upon my patience. But in the end, it was one of those paintings I'm glad I pushed through, especially from what I learned during it.

I hope you did too. 



DETAIL SHOTS:


 

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Rising Star Award


John Fleskes has made this announcement and it's just too cool not to share it with everyone.

Spectrum Fantastic Art is proud to announce the introduction of the Rising Star Award to the Spectrum 22 Awards Ceremony. This award will recognize and acknowledge an emerging artist who demonstrates exceptional abilities and dedication in the fantastic art arena.

The origins of this new award began when Colin and Kristine Poole attended the 2014 Spectrum Fantastic Art Live (SFAL) convention. "Last year, at our first SFAL, we had the pleasure of spending hours perusing the artists’ creations," says Colin and Kristine. "Not surprisingly, we found the work of the big name artists inspiring and beautiful. What we also found notably impressive and particularly striking was the work in the 'Artists Alley.' These emerging artists are producing works of truly remarkable merit, creating their own ways of putting the fantastic into 'Fantastic Art.'


"The energy, spirit, creativity, talent and determination we experienced in our interactions with these emerging artists were so inspiring that we wished for their accomplishments and contributions to be recognized as are those of the more established artists. After a conversation with Spectrum director John Fleskes, this wish was to become a reality. We are very grateful to him for both being receptive to our thoughts and ideas and, in particular, for refining them into a much more effective form that led to the creation of the Rising Star Award.”

"When Colin and Kristine approached me about the possibility of a Rising Star award to recognize a young artist in our industry my immediate answer was a resounding 'yes!'" says John Fleskes. "Each year at SFAL we walk the show floor and marvel at the new artists who have just begun to work professionally. These are the field's future stars. To open the Spectrum award ceremonies by highlighting the efforts of a unique and fresh voice is something that I am looking forward to with great anticipation. It is invigorating to watch young artists work tirelessly to break new ground and forge the future. This is a great chance to show them how important they are during the Spectrum awards ceremony!"

The Rising Star Award also intends to encourage all newcomers to stay focused on their work and persevere through the challenges they will face in building a career in the creative arts.

"Spectrum began with the goal of providing recognition to the many artists—often working in anonymity—whose art was overlooked because of subject matter; the intent was to help give a voice to those who weren't being heard," says Arnie and Cathy Fenner. "The awards for the competition are extensions of the desire to both spotlight achievement and to elevate the public's awareness of our field, of what we do, of who we are and what we love. Spectrum respects the past, celebrates the present, and embraces the future; the Rising Star Award, thanks to the vision and generosity of Kristine and Colin Poole and the enthusiastic leadership of John Fleskes, is a wonderful expression of 'embracing the future' and will help Spectrum continue its now 22-year mission of discovery, recognition, inclusiveness, and encouragement."


“We have long enjoyed acknowledging our appreciation of people’s artwork not just verbally, but also by supporting them to make more of it—the idea for the Rising Star Award is an extension of this,” adds Colin and Kristine.

The nominees for the Rising Star Award will be chosen at SFAL4 on Friday May 22 and Saturday May 23 by John Fleskes, Arnie and Cathy Fenner and any member of the Spectrum Advisory Board who is present at the show. Furthermore, any representative selected by the Fenners and John Fleskes may also participate in the nomination selection. All artists exhibiting at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live in May, and have been working professionally for less than five years, and any artist who demonstrate exceptional imagination, skill and dedication to their art will be considered. From this group of nominees, the final award winner will be selected by Colin and Kristine Poole and announced at the Spectrum 22 Awards ceremony at the Folly Theater in Kansas City, Missouri on May 23. This is an opportunity for emerging artists to have their work presented to the Fantastic Art community and to make valuable connections and contacts.

The Spectrum 22 Rising Star honoree will receive an original one-of-a-kind award made of bronze created by Colin and Kristine Poole, a one page artist feature in Spectrum 22 and a complimentary artist table provided for the next SFAL event. This is planned as an annual award.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The COMICONfidential: PART 1

by Greg Ruth
A view from the Room at the 2015 MoCCA Arts Fest in NYC

So you've done it! After having what I assumed has has been a number of previous visits to other conventions, (at least I hope you have because what kind of lunatic would sign up to be in a con right out of the blue?) You have decided to take the plunge and stand on the other side of the table have done at you what you have done to others. This is a big moment, and an important one, (at least for that weekend... and the week before as you prep and the week after as you decompress). You will never work has hard drink as many liquids nor smile as often as you will ever do anywhere else in life. And this is a good thing because if this was what life was like we'd all be dead from it before the end of the month. So below is a list culled from my own personal and deeply considered observations considered above all reproach by no one everywhere. 

No one attends a convention who doesn't really want to be there. I mean REALLY want to be there. These aren't advertised on tv or on billboards. Your Mom and Dad likely don't even know they exist and are probably glad for that. Cons are like psychedelic speak-easies where every year the password is the same and all the punch is spiked. Not all are the big cosplay parades, but are just a place for people who love the work. Nevertheless, they're the softest targets for mockery but you know as much as I also contribute to it, I will also defend these goofballs forever because at the heart of every show is a heart beating full on love in all the most wonderfully weird ways possible. No one's trying to be cool at these things, and those that are are hilarious. They are a celebration of everything the world is not: technicolored fantasticals that defy at least six laws of physics peopled by people WHO READ BOOKS. They are an opportunity for peers to reconnect and catch up, a place to meet publishers and find work, and meet your public, (or soon to be public). 

So as we gear up for con season, here are some pointers for those of us inside the booth and some stuff for the attendees too. What started as a short quirky silly ranting turned into more of an epic poem of ridiculousness so I've decided int he spirit of internet mercy, to split this article into two separate parts. This below being the first:

Weapons check at SDCC. THis is actually a thing, and if you get there early enough you can actually see a line of every cos-player ever imagined, all together, waiting to have their various swords, hammers, or laser rifles checked for safety. One of the best, unknown secret displays of this particular show. 
Security

Why do I start with the security element, because friends, these tireless keepers of the peace will be be all up in your business this weekend. They are like your ultra-religious parents who died in a balloon accident and now must haunt your illicit house parties scolding you of not using a coaster. They hate your friends and your music and they really do not care to even bother looking at the ironically devotional X-men sunglasses you upscaled for the day. And why wouldn't they be- they have to be the chaperones at the weirdest school prom ever. Their job is not to have fun by design, but to make sure your fun is not taken too far and everyone gets out all right. They are the gatekeepers and I have found it is best for all to make friends with them, no matter how mean they are. In fact find the meanest one and make them smile and you are done. They can answer questions, tell you where secret cut-throughs are, steer you away from the most congested entrances. They can be your dungeon masters or they can be your doom- it's your choice and I suggest you chose wisely. They are there to keep stuff in order, and this is where they should be forgiven because that job sucks. There is no order at these things, just a constant flow of fleeing screaming people from the Poseiden Adventure but running back and forth between two  upside down boats. They are the chaperones at your frat party and that job is poopy on every level so while I encourage you to remain afraid of them, please be empathetic to their plight. Put yourselves int heir shoes and as your self honestly if you would be smiling right now as a Dark-Wing-Duck/Drag-Queen-Thor tried to sneak past the ticket line? Nossir. You would not.

From A PIRATE'S GUIDE TO RECESS (by James Preller))
The Setter-Upper

This is the hardest, most stressful and darkest point of the entire experience, but only if you don't count it's kissing cousin, The Taker-Downer. You will never be more narcissistic and selfish in your life as you will be in setting up at a show. You will find yourself feeling the urge to step on a child's face if it gets you into that freight elevator on the first go. Don't worry, these feelings are common as I have seen the sweetest of men turn dark right before my eyes. And that's part of the problem: Everyone in that room, or on that street is feeling the exact same way. The whole thing is basically a controlled act of anticipatory panic, so knuckle up, breathe deep, and go with it. Thing is, everyone gets where they need to be and you will too. Shoving not required. I saw Will Eisner once make a behind the back choking gesture at a rude young woman, who'd obviously was the most important person in the building, as she banged her display poles against his cheek at SPX a while back. (Will Eisner was the man upon whom butterflies and innocent forest creatures would gather for comfort and safety, so you can feel some solace that even he was brought to the dark place by the overwhelming madness). These places make you crazy.

Once you arrive at your station ten miles away from where you were told was the nearest elevator, you can finally relax and enjoy the show. Wait, no you can't. Now you have to unpack everything and set up all your wares and books and signs and guess what? Everyone else who you just fought against to be here is doing the same thing, and I guarantee the fellow you said that mean thing to when he rolled over your toe with her dolly in the lobby, will be set up right next door. If you come into this with karma on your ticket, this is where that ticket will be punched. Trust me on this. Your masking tape won't work, the extension chord you brought is to short, you STILL haven't had breakfast and the con is in ohmygod TEN MINUTES! The thing that makes this thing worse is what can save you. We're all drowning in the same water here, (except for you, smart and organized con-person who was set up and sits happily five minutes after arrival. You don't count. We all hate you only because we all wish we were you), so take the time for a share shrug when thunderously bang your head on your table, or hilariously drop part of your pipe-and-drape on your booth partner's nose. Be a good neighbor and take solace in the fact you are all on this cruise ship of crazy together. You've just met your neighbors and this is your new neighborhood, so make sure to ask if anyone needs a drink when you go for one, take time to smile and say hello when really all you want to do is drink a bottle of Ripple and pass out on a hotel bed. 

If I had to sum this up, it would be this way: Imagine conducting a reverse evacuation drill where everyone decided they needed to save every pointy thing they owned, and then bring it inside impatiently. THAT my good friend, is a con set up.

Emmett, "Silver Tipping" in Maine
First Impressions are the ONLY Impressions. 

This isn't a semester's long discourse on the complexities of human interactive models and modes of gestalt, this is speed dating on the top of a cab on the FDR while drunk. There is no time for do overs and the one mutual human experience is that as a return to our primordial rules for jungle survival, if you're a dick for a flash second on that convention floor, you are now a dick forever and ever. It's not your fault, there's just too many damned humans everywhere to take the time to invest in forgiveness. This can unfold as you are asked to sign a book moments after say, spilling luke warm con-coffee on your lap and you scowl at them. it can also blossom from the misinterpretation of you making a crude hand gesture to a friend across the aisle just as a mother of six passes right before you holding her over forty happy accident baby. (and as a sidebar, babies at a convention are the best worst things EVER. I have had babies, two of them so far, and as such like most veterans when I see a baby all those now dormant kootchy-koos come roaring back. Babies at a convention remind me of what life was like when it was innocent and their heads smell like cashew-scented hope. But walking around with a stroller on a show floor is the WORST and being stuck behind a table while a frazzled parent just tries to get five damned minutes for themselves as their scream-baby drools all over your original art sucks for you no doubt. Babies just don't give a $#!t about any of this, and they really don't give a $#!t-a-doodle-doo about how long you took to get that panel structure on your comics page right... that they are now using as a napkin. SO forgive the baby carriers you see, given them a wink and raise a glass to them- for they have it much worse than you do and they just need a friggin break). 

In short there isn't a lot of time to slow grow an impression of someone at a show, and what you broadcast will stick as a label, so I recommend you chose your labels well. This is a show and you are its main performer, so smile, be personable and patient. They have come to see you, so make sure you give them a reason to come back next year, not use you as a reason to discourage others to enjoy themselves. If you're going to get bumper stickered- try aiming for Mr Natural and not that drunken Superman impersonator who keeps oggling people's daughters. Chose well, young Jedi, for the Force is all around you and the path to the Dark Side is all too easily found.


Interior cover for the initial tpb FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND with Steve Niles. 

Try not to go outside. 

It sounds cruel but there's nothing worse than suddenly finding yourself in the microwave oven blast of fresh air and sunlight after being inside a convention all day long. It's like someone threw Gollum into the middle of The Sound of Music and EVERYONE else is Julie Andrews. (for the record you are the Gollum in this metaphor). In most shows, and really in all shows save for SDCC, this is a real danger. (SDCC is unique in that despite the fine weather of the San Diego area, there is now no possible escape from the con as it is metastasized throughout the entire surrounding city. Proof: I decided to walk to a book launch for the Lost Boy at a hotel roof about ten blocks away from the convention center, because I thought it was closer than it was, (it was not close at all), and I could use a break from the glare of cosplayers and pretend zombies grabbing my ankles on every street corner. I can tell you this with a real life tear in my eye that it was turtles all the way down, people. Not for one square inch of that entire city did I see a normal city populated by the normal boring city people that I so craved. It never ended and I honestly had to check my location with the stars above just to make sure I was actually moving through physical space and not on a treadmill inside the convention floor hall. That show does not have a boundary anymore. Be ready for that. There will be snarky overly awake imperial stormtroopers in your elevator even at 6am when you just want to try to get to the everything bagels before they're gone prior to the show.)

You'll see it when you happen to pass by an open front door on the way to the bathroom or a panel discussion you're ten minutes late for. The light will taunt and tease you, it wants you, and really like a house-plant crammed in the trunk of a car on moving day, you want it. If you feel you are strong enough to withstand the overwhelming desire to start running away as a baby might if released from its strtoller into traffic on 6th Avenue, then go for it. It can be a real salve. I would then at this stage avoid reflective objects. Every mirror is a Dorian Grey moment and you really do not want to see what color your skin has become after two days under those con-floor lights. No you do not. Remember when the nazi's opened the Ark in Raiders? It's that, but with tee-shirts.

Now when the show is over for the day, despite the mad rush that everyone has for the same few restaurants int he area, make sure to enjoy the outside like it was cool sweet water to a Freman of Dune. You need this. You want this. And you know what? You've busted your hump all day long being a swell participant and you deserve a good drink and a fine dinner with friends. This is the part of cons where most people get into trouble. They overdo it, they get rowdy, stay up to late and cause a ruckus. I say go for it. Life is short and the con is long and if you need to scream loud and run through the streets, do it. Get it all out of your system for tomorrow, like winter, is coming, and there will be no time for that foolishness then. 

Nate at the Ashfield Lake ready to make the plunge.
Know when to see the show yourself and how to do it right. 

This may seem like the most obvious of suggestions, but it's important to get out from behind your table and see the others in the show. If you have friends elsewhere, go give em a quick hello.  When they do the same to you it will be like that shaft of light through a never ending ash-cloud of the Mountt St. Helen's of your day, and it's upon you to deliver that self-same ray of joy wherever you can. There is a right time and a wrong time to do this as there is a right and wrong way to do this. Doing this at say, the setting up- WRONG TIME, for example. I have found the best time to see the work at a show is on the second morning just before it all opens up again to the public. No one's over spent their life force on too many nights out, if the show is going badly it hasn't really happened yet, and it really is the only time to get to see the work on display without fighting off the ones for whom it's actually on display for. Plus as a bonus if you happen upon a booth of work that say, features a series of tee shirts of the Teletubbies in the act of shaving their hairy armpits while on horseback, (true story- this exists), chances are that guy isn't at his table yet and you can avoid having to hear why it's so meta and awesome.

If you can't pull this off, and must do a visit during the show- totally fine, and sometimes the only way to catch a break from your booth- then know how to do it right. When meeting with friends don't overstay. They are there to work and sell to other humans, don't put them in a place where they feel they have to be rude by cutting you off mid story so they can do their thing. Also try stand to the side or even if possible, behind their table- especially if invited to do so. Standing in front of the table and sharing a daring adventure of the previous night's dinner is lovely, but can't you see all the people queueing up behind you? Get out of the way and let them pass, Gandalf! Remember as many times as you have been at a show with your colleagues it's still not YOUR show, but is in fact for thems who hath paid to visit it and you. Unless the con-pal brings you tiny delicious pies that remind you what joy tastes like and then you can let that guy do whatever the hell he wants.