Comics, Conventions

Going APE, part 1

I nearly did not make it to the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco this Saturday, thanks to Birdy Nam Nam. The band was due to perform at a French music festival in LA on October 1, and I loved them enough to consider staying back for their show. Unfortunately, they ran into visa problems, and Etienne de Crecy headlined instead. The universe, it seems, really wanted me to be at APE. And since my name isn’t Scott Pilgrim, I do not fight the universe.

The universe also put me in a mild state of euphoria when I got off the BART at the UN Plaza/Civic Center station. I flipped through the last page of The Last Colony, the third book in the Old Man’s War trilogy that I was yapping about a few days ago. Random deus ex machina plot points aside, it was a very very satisfying finish, and it also helped that ‘Saadda Haq’ began playing on my earphones that exact same minute, acting like a closing coda to my week-long read sprint.

My primary agenda of the day was to meet Craig Thompson, he of Blankets and Habibi fame, and get a bunch of books signed by him. Entering the convention center, I tried to mark out the signing spots – the CBLDF booth said that they would have Thompson at 2:30 PM, which meant I could amble around at leisure until then. Which I did, studiously avoiding eye contact with the artists selling their minicomics and prints. No offence to anyone, but I’ve blown quarterly comic/art budgets in the first few hours of a con before, and the most I can do now is to learn from my previous mistakes. No contact = no caving in to temptation.

Until I got to the Lee’s Comics booth. Lee’s happens to be one of the most well-known comic-shops in the Bay Area. I had visited their Mountain View store in 2007, and my I-am-from-India spiel had earned me a hefty discount back then. I wasn’t too confident about pulling that off right now, but as I was gazing through their well-selected con collection, I happened to look more closely the guy Lee was talking to. And realized, with what a pulp fiction writer would call ‘a lurch’ – that Craig Thompson was in the house, yo. Craig caught my eye, called me over and said he recognized me from SDCC – I think it’s more likely he saw the fandom-lust on my face. He was talking to the creator of Zahra’s Paradise, I do not remember whether it was the artist or the writer. As it turned out, Craig was signing at Lee’s comics first, and I was technically first in line, so yeah, whoopee. I told him, as he signed and sketched in my books, how much I had enjoyed reading Habibi, and how it was ironic that Holy Terror and Habibi came out the same week – both centered around Islam, both after years of anticipation and with completely divergent world-views. (A separate post on Habibi and its joys will follow soon, I think)

Just for the record, he was totally nice about my getting multiple books signed. I also bought another book from Lee’s Comics, just to not be a dick and support those guys for getting Craig over. Even went back to the end of the line to not make others in the line wait too much.

Once that was done, I began walking through the other end of the hall. And then the second serendipitous/happy moment of the day – I came across Steve Oliff’s booth.

Who’s Steve Oliff? One of the most well-known colorists of the 80s, Oliff brought computer coloring to comics by working on what would arguably be the most renowned manga of the time, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. How did he do that? By creating color guides using airbrush, watercolor and acrylic, which were sent to the computer coloring team in his studio for reference. This was before Photoshop made pixel-pushing lens-flare junkies out of everyone in the industry, and the results were quite unlike anything being published in the market at that time. Otomo himself approved of the project, and Epic comics milked the hell out of it, making Akira one of the best-selling manga runs, ever. (Read this for more information)

I had met Steve in Super-con 2007, where I bought one of his color guides from him, and he introduced me to the work of Tony Salmons in course of our conversation. He had been a hard man to get hold of, since then. A good friend, on seeing my color guide, wanted to buy a few of his own, and none of Oliff’s online contact information worked. He wasn’t at San Diego this year (he was there as a guest this year, he said, and did not have a booth set up. Ugh!) and we weren’t even sure if he did cons any more. So yeah, meeting him, and seeing the pile of Akira pages in front of him, I chuckled to myself, thinking of my friend’s reaction when I told him that I met Steve at APE. I spent a pleasant hour there, looking through the Akira pages, marvelling at the lovely techniques, chatting with Steve about Otomo art, his experiences and comics in general. I got three pages from him, one of them for my friend, and Steve mentioned that he enjoyed working on that particular page a lot because it had a ‘mist’ effect on it.

It was 2 PM. And Kate Beaton was due to sign at the Drawn and Quarterly booth.