Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Geek Memories: Conventions, Part 4!

So, last time around, as you'll recall, I had written about going to the Mad Media V convention in Madison, Wisconsin, the first convention I'd gone to with my first wife, Barbara.

Now, these next two events are rather challenging for me to put in proper chronological order... Barbara and I went to two Mid-Ohio Cons and one Wizard World together, and I'm not sure which was first. Logic dictates the first Mid-Ohio Con was first, so I'll go with that one.

This was the first real comic book convention I'd been to since San Diego, and Barbara and I had a great time there. This was the last MOC that was held in downtown Columbus, Ohio, and while the parking sometimes was a challenge, it didn't bother us too much.

I'd been in contact with Tony Isabella quite a few times since I had moved to Wisconsin, after finding his blog and responding to a few posts there. Also, I'd started a long relationship with Twomorrows Publishing, after responding to an ad in the Jack Kirby Collector that they were looking for transcribers. For a long time, I was the primary transcriber for Comic Book Artist, edited by Jon Cooke. Also at this time I was dipping my toes into the online auction market as a seller for the first time, selling on the now-defunct Yahoo! Auctions.

A brief aside here: When I was selling on Y!A, all auctions were free. You didn't pay anything to list, and there were no final value fees. At the time, eBay seemed too expensive to list on, especially with what I was selling. I would go to smaller comic book shows as well as yard sales and swap meets, and pick up cheap comics whenever I could there, which I would read and then turn around and sell on Yahoo! Auctions, listing each book separately, and with prices starting at either a quarter or 50 cents. Sometimes, they'd sell at the starting price, and other times, the bids would climb higher. I decided to start saving the money I made from those auctions as well as transcribing to use as money for going to comics conventions, and that worked out well. I even set up a new bank account with a bank that was open seven days a week to save this money in (in those days, PayPal wasn't as popular, so I'd often receive checks for purchases, which I had to wait to clear). Shipping stuff out was never a problem, as we lived near the airport post office in Milwaukee, WI, which was open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I could easily go there before work to get stuff shipped out.

I'd heard about Mid-Ohio Con from Tony's blog, and since I'd taken up a lot of his valuable time one long weekend conducting a phone interview for an article that I'd planned to have run in Twomorrows' magazines, I really wanted to meet him in person (unfortunately, it turned out the tapes were unusable, and Tony graciously agreed to respond to the questions again via email. Sadly, only one part of the longer interview was ever published, in an issue of Comic Book Artist focusing on horror comics, and a subsequent computer crash caused the rest of the article to be lost forever).

Anyway, Mid-Ohio Con was held the weekend of Thanksgiving, and the first one we attended was as part of a weekend trip that included going to Barbara's father's house in Tennessee to spend Thanksgiving with him (a visit that proved stressful in more ways than one, but this isn't the place to talk about that). We found a cheap hotel to stay at that was about half an hour away from the hotel.

As I said, we had a great time there. I got to meet Tony in person, as well as meet Bob Ingersoll, a sometime writing partner of Tony's. Harlan Ellison was also present at this show, as well as a number of other special guests. I believe I met Don Rosa at this show for the first time, and also briefly met a few other comics artists and writers.

We went to a few panels, and I even got to be a contestant on "Super-Hero Squares," which was a geeky version of Hollywood Squares, and Harlan, Tony and Bob were all celebrities on that. Naturally, I kicked ass and won!

One great thing about this show was the bargains that were to be had. One dealer had dozens and dozens of long boxes of comics for 50 cents each, and I must've gone through his books at least five or six times, each time finding stuff I'd missed before. The back of the car was loaded with long boxes galore by the time we left, including some great Silver Age books that were to be sold to fund the next show we attended!

After this show, I'm pretty sure that we went to a Wizard World in Chicago, the first of two that I went to. Tony was one of the guests there, and the Twomorrows guys had a table there, giving us two good reasons to go. The Twomorrows guys were gracious enough to let us use their booth as sort of a base of operations, since the show was huge, and Barbara couldn't walk that far at a time. Besides, the parking lot was a long ways from the convention, and it was more convenient to stash my purchases with Twomorrows until we were ready to leave.

Wizard World was much different from MOC, as you can imagine. It was already at least the size of the one San Diego Comic Con I'd attended, and really, if you have a hard time being on your feet for very long, it's not a good show to go to! I did manage to pick up a bunch of good deals at this show, I recall getting a number of Jimmy Olsen issues on the cheap.

This show was a one-day deal, and fortunately was a few hours' drive from where we lived. One day was really all Barbara could handle, so it worked out.

The following Thanksgiving, we went to Mid-Ohio Con again, but with a difference: I'd talked John Morrow into letting us set up a booth for them at the show, and in exchange, he paid for our hotel room at the convention. A challenge there was that Barbara's health was not doing so great, so we had to rent a wheelchair for her to use at the convention. We spent most of our time at the booth, with occasional forays out to talk to guys like Tony, John Byrne, Mark Waid, Yvonne Craig (TV's Batgirl), and others, plus taking pictures of various costumed attendees, including a great group of X-Men!

A special treat at this show was meeting a few people I'd been in contact with from the Silver Age Reviews Yahoo group, including Hoy Murphy. It was a lot easier to meet up with people when you've got a booth for them to find!

Because of running the booth, I wasn't able to do as much comics buying as I usually do, and didn't attend a single panel. While it was great to represent Twomorrows, it just took away from time to enjoy the show.

After this show, things started going bad for Barbara. She became sick, and shortly after the first of the year was hospitalized for a serious subdermal necrosis that, in combination with recently being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, as well as being overweight and having other health problems, led to her passing away later that year.

Barbara dying threw me for a loop, as you can imagine. I decided to give Wisconsin one more year after she passed away, and then my plan was to return home to Washington State.

I attended my last Wizard World Chicago about a month after Barbara died. I needed something to boost my spirits, and while I enjoyed the show, it did prove to be less enjoyable than the previous one. Perhaps it was too soon after Barbara's passing for me to really get much out of it.

The following Thanksgiving weekend, I made a plan to drive to New York to spend the holiday with my youngest brother, Karl, and his family, and from there headed back to Columbus for Mid-Ohio Con, the last one of those I was able to attend. This proved to be much better for me than Wizard World had been, and I was able to get my mind off of the loss of Barbara for a few days. It was a long drive by myself, but I had good music to listen to on the way out and back, and my car arrived back in Wisconsin full of good stuff to read.

The rest of my last year in Wisconsin didn't have me going to any comic shows at all that I recall. I started selling off all of the collectibles that Barbara had accumulated over the years to save up the money for the move back to Washington, as well as to give me a cushion of funds to last while I looked for work. By this time, Yahoo! Auctions had tried to start charging fees, and the whole thing went belly up in no time, it seemed. I switched my selling to eBay, which I would've done anyway given what I was starting to sell (which included vintage records, Pepe Le Pew items from the Warner Brothers Studio Store that I'd bought for her as gifts over the years, and a lot of press kits and photos she'd saved from previous jobs she'd had).

Even after moving back to Washington, I didn't go to any comic book shows for a while. I made the mistake of getting involved with someone who was toxic for me, and by the time I broke things off with her, I'd let my job search slide to the point where I went from having a comfortable cushion of money saved up to barely making ends meet. My eBay account got suspended due to lack of ability to pay my fees, and I went from selling online to selling in person at area swap meets. Some weekends, I would do well, while other weekends I was lucky to make enough in sales to cover my costs plus buy food for a few days.

What started to turn things around for me was getting hired to work at the Olympia newspaper as a graphic designer (although I was still selling at the swap meet for a few weekends after that), and then that July, meeting the woman who became my second wife, Jessi. Together, we went to the first comic book show I attended since that last Mid-Ohio Con, and it would eventually lead to a number of things...

...but that's for next time, in what may be the concluding chapter!

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