Comics, Hollywood and The Next Big Step: Neil's SDCC Report
"Calvin Reid of PW suggested Neil Kleid's new book as one that should come out of CCI with more buzz than it might actually be able to generate in these star-driven times." --- Tom Spurgeon, The Comics Reporter
As most of you know, I attended the big San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend in order to a) promote my new book, The Big Kahn, coming out next week from NBM Publishing, b) sign copies of Creepy Comics #1 for Dark Horse Comics, which hit stores last week, c) meet with editors, producers and would-be colleagues and d) get drunk and silly.
Every convention, I tell myself I'll be taking it easy — a few signing times, one or two meetings and that's it. This year, I loaded myself up with Kahn signings, one Creepy signing and only one comic book meeting... and then found myself drowning under the weight of meetings with THEM. Hollywood came calling this year, and despite my promise to keep a light schedule, within the space of a day I found every single hole during my day-to-day filled with meet and greets, pitch meetings and the like. Once again, I ran the floor from signing to panel to meeting to signing... but I still managed to see a lot of the show and have a damn good time doing it.
Thursday mostly saw me strapped to the NBM table, shilling and signing my books — this year, I came to sell Brownsville, Big Kahn and Ninety Candles and armed myself with 50 Action, Ohio stickers to give to buyers, free vinyl stickers they could slap on a mylar mag or longbox. That is, if they were planning to come. The first signing schedule was pretty light, but it was clear by the second that someone was talking up the book — moved a lot of copies in a three-hour stretch, alternatively signing both Brownsville and Kahn, each of which was flying off the table. For the first time in my life at a big show, I had fans tracking me down to tell me how much they liked my writing... and also had new readers stop by, explaining they'd seen the books online and wanted to give them a shot.
Thursday's big thrill was when I looked up to discover indie icon Ted Raimi standing at the table, interested in checking out both my books. I gave him the quick pitches for each and he was enamored with both, claiming how Kahn would make a great flick but Brownsville spoke to him as a devotee of the Jewish mafia. He bought the latter, posed with the former and I thanked him for dropping by, handed him a card and moved to the next buyer. Of course, I twittered about it: "TED RAIMI JUST BOUGHT BROWNSVILLE", and within an hour I had dozens of replies and emails congratulating me — they thought he'd bought the movie rights, rather than a copy of the book. A boy can dream, but no... Mister Raimi shelled out 13 bucks for a copy and the rights remain for grabs.
The rest of the day was a signing blur, a bit of catching up with pals and saying hello to editors. Managed to finagle a Sunday quickie meeting with a publisher I've been after for years, and then it was time to close shop and head to dinner across the street with DR. WHO writer (and con roommate) Tony Lee, LOST SQUAD team Chris Kirby and Alan Robinson, Markosia publisher Harry Markos and screenwriter Andie Briggs. I was thrilled to join them because while usually, my con fare consists of french fries and onion rings being unable to eat most restaurant food due to it not being kosher, here there was CORN. Corn on THE COB. And it was excellent. After a fun dinner, several Budweisers and an annoyingly long period of time where I had to convince them that no, Ted Raimi had not purchased my book's movie rights, we all packed off to the IDW party at the Omni. There, we hooked up with HERO HAPPY HOUR creator and my POP co-writer Dan Taylor for double fist beers and a night outside on the Omni Terrace. We ran into former Vertigo editor-now IDW editor Bob Schreck and congratulated him on his new job as he ushered his entourage past the line and into the party, and then we were in and the beer flowed through us while catching up with Dan and CHEW artist Rob Guillory. Eventually, the place got insanely packed so while everyone else hiked to the Hyatt, I took a side trip to the Archaia Publishing party where I put up my feet under the stars with the talented likes of Josh Fialkov, Phil Hester, Ande Parks, Alex Grecian, Rob Levin, Jai Nitz, Jeff Katz, Stephen Christy and more. Stories were told; shit was slung. And when I was well and lit, I headed to the Hyatt with the crowd and finished off my night talking to Shadowline's Jim Valentino & Kris Simon, Zuda's Timony Brothers and others whose faces escape me under the wash of alcohol.
Friday was when things got BUSY. Between two NBM signings, I was also scheduled for a 4PM Creepy signing at the Dark Horse booth and three Hollywood meetings, all of which scared the pants off me. After an annual SD breakfast with Eisner nominee Kevin Colde at Cafe 222, I started in on my NBM signings which went fine, if quiet, and met my first producer right before the second ... after that one, I pretty much lost the shaky nerves. What I've discovered is that be they comics editor, human resources interviewer, movie producer or potential father-in-law, if you just be yourself, keep your cool, stay prepared and talk with confidence there's no reason to be nervous. And besides — this guy was clearly younger than I was and if it came down to it, I'm pretty sure I could've taken him in a fair fight. But I digress. After the second NBM signing (during which — I swear to G-d — director John Landis checked out my Action stickers while I was making a sale, laughed and took off before I could hand him one. Come back, John!) I hiked over to the Omni where I was catching my second meeting at the Wired Cafe. On the way across the train tracks, I watched uber writer and internet Jesus Warren Ellis come around the corner from the Omni with what appeared to be an entourage of Malaysian assasins. I gave him a quick wave but I don't think he saw me, intent on getting to the Industry Lounge and the safety of his peers, all of whom asked him when the next issue of FELL would be out right before he cut them with a plastic spoon. I was lucky that my meeting ran quickly enough for me to swing by the Marvel booth before my Creepy signing and get a proper hello and picture with Uncle Warren:
While at the Marvel booth throughout the day, I also quickly caught up with my Marvel.com editors, checked out the Hall of Tony Stark's Discarded Underwear and managed to catch a glimpse of IRON MAN director Jon Favreau and his muse, Stan "The Man" Lee (neither of whom I could get near, natch). After that, it was off the Dark Horse booth to sign me some Creepy.
I was really impressed with the signing — there were quite a few of us, all lined up behind a series of conjoined tables, arranged in a way that we could sign and then pass along copies of the issue and special free posters created for the con. I was sandwiched between letterer Nate Peikos and co-editor/writer Dan Braun... but only three people away from legendary creator BERNIE FREAKING WRIGHTSON. I must have taken at least ten pictures of legendary creator BERNIE FREAKING WRIGHTSON as he signed, scribbled and spoke to the crowd and we had a grand old time signing those posters up good — especially when some enterprising fan presented us with the strangest thing we'd seen, copies of the first issue carefully bordered with ... masking tape? Odd, but we signed it just the same until the hour drew late and the crowds gathered for the upcoming appearance of Gerard Way, who I doubt I could take in a fair fight but might go down quickly if approached from behind with CREEPY ARCHIVES Vol. 2 while he's signing his Eisner-winning book for some 14-year-old girl.
The rest of the day was a mix of shopping (t-shirts for Laurie and Jack, a Blue Beetle action figure for me) and one more meeting in the Marriott lounge. Once the day was done, I met Rob Guillory and PUNKS artist Kody Chamberlain for dinner before heading to the Hard Rock for Jeff Katz's Wrath of Con party.
Okay: let's set the stage... rooftop party, yes? Celebrities, yes? Walk in with two pals (AUTHORITY writers-elect Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman) and BOOM. You've got a beer in your hand and Daughtry is starting their set. Yes, THAT Daughtry. It's fairly surreal to hear a rock star shout out comic book artists from stage, but after the first "Where's Jim Lee?" I let the surreality flow around me. There were comic folk everywhere — from Top Cow big chiefs Matt Hawkins and Filip Sablik to most of the Marvel staff including C.B. Cebulski, Ryan Penagos, Frank Tieri, Joe Quesada and more. Over there? CHUCK's Zach Levi is about to get into the wrestling ring (did I forget to tell you there was a ring?) with director Zack Snyder to announce the night's bout. Next to you? There's Ted Raimi again, bellying up to the bar behind UNDERWORLD's Kevin Grievoux with whom you get to shoot the shit. The capper? Remember last year's EW party, where you asked HEROES star Masi Oka to call your then pregnant wife at 2AM NY time to say hi? Well, Masi's standing in front of you on the beer line so why not tap him on the shoulder, reintroduce yourself and get closure to the story by telling him you had a healthy baby boy, 10 months old now, and thanks again for making that call? Masi will smile, nod and turn away. You'll get two more beers and spend the rest of the night talking comics and industry gossip with newly minted Image Comics writer Ben McCool over the roar of the crowd before giving in and returning to the Hyatt. Before you do, you'll have Adam Freeman send a picture of Daughtry rocking out, the night sky behind him, mike clutched in both hands, to your wife via email. It's comics and Hollyweird, obscenely interwined, and you know this might be the closest you get for a while so enjoy it and move on. Enjoy it and head down, back to the Hyatt and into the waiting arms of Comix, where they know you and buy you drinks before you head on off to bed.
Saturday is always a weird day at the con for me, as most of my friends and colleagues greet me with "are you even supposed to be here?" I had no signings on Saturday — only meetings — and three of them would turn out to be no shows, something that made me think G-d pulled a whammy on me for taking them on the Sabbath. But three others do show, two Hollywood and one comics. The former were with younger creatives like me, one of whom put me in the mind of Adam Brody's character in THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. They were both happy to meet with me, the meetings go swimmingly and I walked out feeling positive. I felt same way after my 3PM comics meeting, a follow up with an editor I've been talking to all year. if this one works out, I could be steps away from writing a character I've been hunting since I first got into comics — the four color whale to my sequential Ahab, if you will — and a second, impromptu pitch lit up the editor's eyes and we promised to connect over the next few weeks. After that, I was free and clear to check out the con floor and catch up with pals but I really wanted to go to the American Original panel at 530PM... until I discovered I needed to meet with someone at the NBM table at 6PM. Someone important. I passed on the panel, which turned out to be another of G-d's ways of informing me he didn't like how I was spending my day; the meeting never showed, I missed the panel and headed out of the con sorta pissed that day.
Saturday night, I hooked up with my crew — the drinking buddies who watch my back, who brainstorm, bitch and banter with me about comics, the industry, general goings on. Tony Lee, Kody Chamberlain, Chris Kirby, Rob Guillory and I grabbed Alan Robinson, Harry Markos and Dracula expert Leslie Klinger and settled in for a nice meal at Croce's before heading back to the Hyatt for one last night of blowing the roof off the joint. At the Hyatt, I circulated and chatted up IDW EIC Chris Ryall and editor Tom Waltz; BEEKEEPER and ZION collaborator Chris Mitten and family; BLACK METAL scribe Rick Spears; the collected Zuda experience that is Kevin Colden, the Timonys and HIGH MOON creators David Gallaher and Steve Ellis — the latter of whom I was happy to spend some time discussing comics, art and agents... I never get to see Steve and it was good to catch up. Outside, I introduced Kody to Bob Schreck who was emotionally effusive and it was awesome to see him so happy, and I had to restrain myself from approaching a very drunk Dan Didio to pitch him my new idea, MONDAY COMICS, comics that get you through your Monday morning (Solomon Grundy is reborh each week, The Justice League checks in for monitor duty after their awesome weekend, and of course, a Garfield strip). I had an early Sunday meeting with a producing powerhouse, and he texted me to see if I would meet him at his hotel instead of the con, to which I agree. Drunk and happy, I stumbled on home.
930 the next morning, I met with the producer for breakfast, successfully interested him in a project and then raced back to the con for a 1030 signing time at NBM. Today would prove to be...odd. From the minute I sat down, people approached me stating that they tracked me down for a copy of Kahn because someone told them they needed to read it. A trio of Chabad wives bought one of each book, inviting me to join them for Friday night Shabbat service and dinner next year. USA Today POPCANDY blogger Whitney Matheson came by and bought a copy. Comics Reporter blogger Tom Spurgeon approached me as I was browsing the Fantagraphics books, informing me that Publisher's Weekly editor Calvin Reid told him Kahn was the one book he hadn't heard of he needed to buy. Tom Spurgeon NEVER approaches me. Something was happening here, and it looked like I had a buzz book on my hands. By the time I was done signing that day, we'd moved a decent number of books and the interest had me excited:
Two out of three of my pals support The Big Kahn
Once the signings were done, I was free to be a fan... and let me tell you — there's something about walking the floor, checking out the sights and scenes and waiting in line for books you're excited about. I headed to the Top Shelf booth and bought an Owly plush, graphic novel and t-shirt for my wife and kid along with Jeff Lemire's COLLECTED ESSEX COUNTY. Then it was time to grab the jewel of the show: JLA:NEW FRONTIER creator Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of Donald Westlake's THE HUNTER at the IDW Publishing booth.
There's something ABOUT Darwyn Cooke that makes me want to talk about mugs and fists and gams... he embodies a tough-talking time that clearly invests his books, especially THE HUNTER which I gotta tell you... DAMN. I was thrilled to hand him my copy and tell him how much I dug his story about being inspired to paint in his standalone issue of DC's SOLO anthology. We got to talking about comics and I mentioned I was a cartoonist too, handing him a complimentary copy of Ninety Candles. I laid out the concept of the book —each panel another year in a cartoonist's life, from birth to death — and he stopped, exclaiming (and I quote):
"I don't mind telling ya, this is the one of the most brilliant ideas for a book I've seen in a long time"
Yeah, after that the con was merely wrap up. Scored a keen Kermit the Frog sketch from Roger Langridge, thanked DC editor Mike Carlin for essentially starting my comics career with Joe Quesada back in '01, had my second comics meeting which might bear sweet, sweet graphic novel fruit, and then checked out the middle of the con floor, the area I almost never venture, perhaps because it might be where John Wayne Gacy Firestorm disappeared to:
Cleansed my palate with a trip into Artist's Alley, mainly to catch up with pal and WHITEOUT artist Steve Lieber and score a copy of the UNDERGROUND ashcan, a preview of the Image book he's doing with other pal and former lover Jeff Parker:
Steve and I discussed our upcoming books and also about the fact that he was the original artist of my Creepy story until he had to bail for a previously engaged project. He also spoke candidly about the upcoming WHITEOUT movie:
And just like that, my con was over. I left the floor early to go pack for my 10 PM flight... a flight I intended to catch after my usual post-con dinner/drink with pal Tony Lee. Oh, scratch that — FATHER Tony Lee.
Tony was coming from performing a wedding (a REAL wedding, yes) on the center's back stairs and after he ignored my idea that I dress as a rabbi and we walk into a few local bars, he changed and we met Harry Markos and Bram Stoker's great grand nephew Dacre Stoker for drinks at the Marriott and a quick dinner before I headed home.
Overall, great con – but I also think it's a decent turning point for me, as well. Seriously... Kahn is garnering some decent buzz and the round of Hollywood meetings, while usually turning out to be nothing, marked a new step in the career I'm forging for myself. People SEEK ME OUT now and stop by on their way down the con floor to simply tell me how much they dug my books. This yeat, I'll be shutting up and strapping myself to the workbench to finish not one, but TWO graphic novels. The first, American Caesar, is my third book for NBM and a departure for the Judaic themes I've been exploring throughout my career. The second, Migdal David, is a book long time in coming — I'm writing AND drawing it, it has a publisher and it's going to be the book that raises my game, levitates me to the next level and may very well change everything for me creatively. I've also got some smaller projects I'm developing, other pitches in the fire and if everything comes together I could find my next SDCC an even stranger experience than this year's, and when I mean strange I mean good and I mean MORE.
And you all want more, yes?
Let's get started.