Saturday, January 17, 2015

LumaCon I

I had a swell time today as a guest of the first annual LumaCon held in Petaluma, Calif. (hence the "luma"), a comics convention organized by high school librarians aimed at kids and families. The idea was to sit local kids side by side with comics pros to get a look at the art, craft and business of storytelling. 

When one of the organizers contacted me last October, I thought it sounded like a cute idea and signed on. Honestly, I didn't expect much, and wouldn't have been shocked if the whole thing had fizzled out. As time passed I saw the guest list grow; LumaCon got commitments from pretty much everybody north of San Francisco who'd ever picked up an inkpen. I was impressed. In the past couple of weeks the press got wind, and every conversation I had with anybody involved in local comics (which admittedly wasn't a lot) touched on it. I still didn't know quite what to make of it, but I was beginning to think it might be big.

What it was was charming, and the most positive experience I've had at a comic con in a long time. Small, simple, low-key, unpretentious. One old comics hand told me it reminded him of the San Diego Comic-Con when it started in the '70s. The whole thing fit into one large round room at a fairgrounds, with a raised platform for panels and speakers, an Artists' Alley, a hands-on craft zone, LARPing (live-action role playing) outdoors, and a bake sale.

I've never been to a convention with a bake sale before.

No idea how many people came but the sign on the wall said the room held 907, and it was full. I did a morning panel titled "Doing What You Love: Artists' Stories" with Paige Braddock (Schulz Studio, Jane's World, Stinky Cecil) and Michael Stribling (art director for LeapFrog games and toys). The sound system fritzed but we did fine passing around one working mic.

Then I manned a table for a while. I have nothing to sell, but I brought my books and pages of my original artwork for people to look at, and had terrific conversations with probably a dozen or more kids (and their sometimes befuddled parents and grandparents) about my work and theirs. I saw pages of comics by a 10-year-old boy that astonished me with their Chris-Ware-like sophistication and met a 14-year-old girl whose Photoshop skills crush mine. I'm on the tail end of a bad cold so my voice sounded like a saw blade on a chalkboard before I lost it completely, but nobody minded.

My daughters, who are convention tabling veterans of their own, noticed the same thing I did: people approached with genuine interest, in contrast to the thousand-yard stare you typically see. They really wanted to talk about comics! A few of the kids seemed thrilled to realize they weren't freaks or weirdos. Some of their parents and grandparents seemed relieved as well. ("Oh, so this is a real thing that grown-ups actually get paid to do?")

I had a few minutes with comics-related friends, including Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Lex Fajardo (Kid Beowulf), Jason Whiton (, Justin Thompson (Mythtickle), Art Roche (Schulz Studio), Jessica Ruskin (Schulz Museum), and Paige and her wife Evelyn. Some personal friends showed as well (Marion and Susan!). Also, as I relate in a photo caption below, I became reacquainted with someone I haven't seen in about 35 years, which was a highlight of the day for me.

I can't speak for attendees--their experience may have been very different--but from my perspective LumaCon hit the sweet spot it was aiming for. I've never been to a con like it. The room was small but there was plenty to do. The vibe was totally positive. These small-town kids got together to put on a show in the barn, and darned if it wasn't a fine one.

A panel with (L to R) Michael Stribling, Paige Braddock, me, and moderator Nathan Libecap, a high school librarian and one of the con organizers. As we began, Paige leaned over and whispered, "We're all wearing black." I replied, "That's because we're artists."
A view of the panel audience area from the stage. That's my daughters Laura and Robin, and their friend Caitlin, at lower right. The sides of this area were open so that many more people stood off to the left and right. It doesn't look like a lot of folks, and frankly it wasn't, but I've done panels at San Diego Comic-Con that drew fewer.
Personing my half-table with my daughter Robin (photo by Laura).
In Artists' Alley with Jason Whiton and Lex Fajardo (still early, not everybody had set up yet).
A good overview of the large round room, with some sort of winged creature enchanting a Wonder Girl at left (that's Jason Whiton photobombing me at dead center, and I just noticed Art Roche peeking between the creature's wings).
The convention floor included a craft area where kids could make their own art and comics. The panel stage is behind the partitions to the right.
This is Brian Crist. When I was 13 years old, he opened a comic book store in what was then the seedy end of downtown. Many Saturdays I pedaled my bike three or four miles, bought a sandwich at a downtown deli, and went to his shop to browse through his stacks, ogle the original comic art on the wall, and buy new and back issues of "The Avengers." His store was a welcoming oasis to a kid who loved comics and didn't know anybody else who did, and I was a regular customer until I left for college--about the time, I believe, that he was priced out of his rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.  A few months ago we reconnected via a Facebook group dedicated to local history, when somebody in the group asked if anyone remembered his shop and I replied with pretty much what I just wrote. Brian saw that post and responded. Today we met for the first time in 35 or so years. I don't think he remembers "the Avengers kid" but he made a big difference in my life and it meant a lot to me to tell him so. Sometimes life gives you a chance to get it right.
What it's all about (photo by Robin).

Edited to Add: We made the local paper Sunday morning. It's a good article even though (or because) I'm not in it. One correction: Brent Anderson (Astro City) was scheduled to appear but was sick and couldn't make it. They've got some good photos, too.