Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Nerdy Saturday Morning at the Grand Rapids Toy and Comic Expo

Usually March 30 is a day which passes without any more recognition or notice than any other day, at least for me. This particular 3/30, though, was one for which I had been waiting and hoping and fostering a rising excitement. It was the day of the Grand Rapids Toy and Comic Expo, an event which has been operating for many, many years, and an event at which I premiered my first self-published comic book. So, the thirtieth day of the March of the year 2013 became something kind of special for this wordy nerdy fellow.

I started the day early, far earlier than usual. Running about in the morning, I prepared to attend the expo and to spend this Saturday reveling in the joy and majesty of comic book fandom and childhood remembrance. My "Issues Needed" list was prepped, my drawing bag was ready just in case, and my mind was furiously guessing throughout the AM rituals at what I might encounter this time around.

The Grand Rapids Toy and Comic Expo, formerly just the Grand Rapids Toy Expo, is a show which has been in existence since long before I moved to Grand Rapids (and I've been here easily over fifteen years!). Back in the late 90s my uncle took my cousins and me to the event where we geeked out over all the Star Wars toys, comic character figures, and items of the childhoods of others long past. It was great, and it even ended in me getting a free toy collector magazine. What a time!

For some reason we never made it a regular trip, even though it continued annually. I forgot about the expo and went on with growing up and doing whatever it was I was doing. Then, in my adulthood I was reminded of the show when I spotted a flyer for it at one of my local comic peddling haunts. I went, naturally, and had a great time finding deals and acquiring new and fascinating collector's items of special importance to me and my specific interests. I made a point of going back afterward, returning to the event whenever it was scheduled until it officially became the Grand Rapids Toy and Comic Expo.

The addition of comics to the event stood out for me in a loud, wild way, as I'm sure it did for many other local fans of the medium. It meant that we were perhaps one step closer to having a comic con for our town. I'd been toying with the notion of organizing one myself before, something I'm sure many have also turned over in their hyper-hopeful fan-person (how P.C.!) minds. I had been attending smaller pseudo-comic conventions throughout town in the years prior, each diminishing in awesomeness and increasing in disappointment, and so my hopes were high for this event which possessed an apparent longevity and an established following.

In my excitement for the addition of comics to the event I set my sights on self-publishing specifically for release at the expo. I figured, why not commemorate an important personal effort by introducing it to the public at a show which had historically meant something, especially when that show was finally honoring my favorite medium? So, I set in on my comic work, paid for my space at the show, published my book on my home printer, and rushed to take up my place, late and literally last minute, amongst the other vendors and artists of Grand Rapids and its surrounding areas.

It was a hectic experience, mostly because of my inability to adequately prepare, but there were some aspects of the show, its operation, and how I was treated (more accurately, ignored) which left a bad taste in my mouth. I left that December day in 2011 feeling like I never wanted to go back. I did, though, in March of 2012, and I found that the folks and issues which had disappointed me were still present and weighing down the once light and bright spirit of the expo. I didn't bother with the December show in 2012, even though I would have previously been ecstatic over the idea of two such shows in a year's time.

Today, though, this March 30, I chose to forget about the negatives and make my way there as a nerdly consumer, hoping to find neat finds and have a great day. I chose to think back on the positive memories and to hope to make new ones in spite of any possible dimness. I arrived at the 9am opening, paid to enter the event, and began marching the aisles, surveying the wares. The poorer elements behind the show's operation were apparently gone, something for which I was greatly relieved, and it immediately began to feel like the expo I encountered years before. There was a healthy flow of fan-types wandering about, and the merchants seemed to have more and better offerings this time around. I was excited, even though there was to be a moment of conflict during an interaction with a certain peddler of geekery.

One fellow, let's refer to him as the "U-Haul Comic Box Guy," seemed like he didn't want to be present, event though he'd apparently lugged quite a store of comic books to the show. I approached his booth after spotting a flimsy poster, with familiar inkjet imagery and word processor-generated signage, which boasted, "Comics!" He was accompanied by his wife - a kind, though not too personable woman who was the only positive in his nebula of negative - who greeted me as I approached. She asked if she could be of any assistance, and I responded with a request for anything which might feature the work of the artist Moebius. Her husband, whose common name hung limply in large lettering from the cheap signage littering the tables upon which his poorly kept collection rested, turned to me with a squinting glare, hand clutching a can of some beverage in a foam rubber cozy. "Moebius WHAT?!" he grunted.

I locked eyes with the man - a mistake of the short-tempered novice who should always, instead, remain detached during interactions with the simple minded, or so I hear - and clearly restated that I hoped to find some books which featured the artwork of Moebius. I even added a brief explanation of who Moebius was since I was getting the impression that neither he nor his wife knew of whom I was referring. He responded by treating me like I was an idiot who believed him to organize his poorly arranged books by artist. I told him that I understood that that wouldn't be the case, but I assumed that he had a familiarity with his stock. This worsened his attitude. His response essentially told me that he didn't care about the specifics of his stock since he had an impressive collection of a whole 4,500 books. Knowing comic shop owners who had many times more in their stock and a close to intimate knowledge of their books, I just said never mind and thank you. He wouldn't let me escape without a final rudeness, though. As I walked away he shouted at me, "Well, we have other artists here which are just as good, you know!" I continued walking.

After that crude encounter I'm happy to report that the rest of the event went well. I met up with some familiar local dealers who were happy to see me. The gentleman in charge of one booth (one I was anxiously hoping to encounter at the event) even offered me a chance to bring my comic work to his store for the upcoming 2013 Free Comic Book Day. As a way of displaying my gratitude toward his unexpected kindness, and because I had an "Issues Needed" list which required some attention, I bought up a bunch of Captain America and The Falcon books from his stock along with a few issues from my standby title, The Amazing Spider-Man.

I also had the opportunity to have a great discussion with the show's guest artist, Uko Smith. We talked about the portfolio review process for comic artists, the current trends in the visual style of comics, and what it takes to make it into the industry. Top that off with a couple of surprise comic book finds from various merchants soon after and I'd call the entire venture a success.

The show I knew and enjoyed was back! So what if a few people were less than decent? Overall, looking back on the day now, I'm glad that I chose to attend.

To smooth over any minor lumps left by the less than decent attitudes of a few disgruntled comic book hustlers, my wife and I finished the afternoon with a drive out toward the lake, a visit to a beloved comic book store (one owned by the great fellow who offered me the FCBD opportunity, in fact), and lunch at the region's best Chinese restaurant (no exaggerating).

Saturdays, even the golden ones which stand out clearly whenever I gaze back with my mind's eye on my youth, don't get much better than today. Comics, good people, comics, time with my wife, delicious Chinese food, and more comics make for an incredible time. It's not the filling of the ever-present consumer void, a grim aspect of being a nerd/geek of any kind, which makes it for me. It's the connections made unintentionally with the younger me as I do things and interact with items from times long past which seem now like the best times of my life. Being a nerd and celebrating it with the events of a day like today are the closest I have to a religious-like rite to appropriately honor and appease the specter of my eternal inner-child. I hope he's as happy about today as I am.

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