Friday, August 30, 2013

August Rush

As the dog days of summer fall further behind me, I almost always find myself reflecting upon thoughts, feelings, and actions at this time of the year. It's hard for me to articulate, but I get a little sad when it comes time for the inevitable change of the seasons. I won't hesitate to admit that I rather enjoy all of the hustle and bustle of the warm spring/summer weather. People go places, do things, and everything just seems to come to life. Even with the egregiously hot temperatures of late, I simply love all the energy that the summertide brings. When it all comes to (what almost always feels like) an abrupt end, I can't help but get this sinking sensation of finality for one reason or another.

With that said, it seems like it's been forever and a day since my last blog post. For those who may be wondering where I went, the vast bulk of my 2013 convention schedule was in August. I literally had one convention right after the other for three consecutive weeks (with only a handful of days between them all) so to say the least, it was very much an eventful month for your's truly. Ranging from moments of amazing fun to instances of downright tragedy, I can say that I'm glad to be home in one piece, and ready to get back in the saddle.

Of course it wouldn't be much of a convention report if I didn't go into some degree of detail. For a while I didn't even know where to begin with describing the zaniness of this month. It's taken a while for me to really let everything process in my mind (let alone decompress from all the commotion and travel) but I think I finally have my head on straight, and I'm more than ready to share my experiences with you all.


Welcome to the herd!

For those who know me this isn't a big secret, but I am what has come to be commonly known on the internet as a . "What is a brony?"some of you may be asking. Bronies are male viewers (between the age of 18-35) who enjoy the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, even though it's a product line that targets a young female demographic.

After numerous incarnations, this iteration successfully resonates with fans for good reason; it's because the show is legitimately good. Stories pulse with thoughtful messages for younger viewers, and almost every aspect of the show's writing lends a sense of accessibility, making it a great family show. Characters are interesting and funny, so it isn't hard to find oneself getting sucked into it all. Add the art direction of animation legend(creator of Foster's Home) into the mix, and you've got a series that speaks to many viewer's sensibilities.

Pinkie photo bomb!

Seeing how quickly the fandom has grown over the last few years, it's only natural that conventions dedicated to that fandom would form. The biggest and most notable of them all being . Having taken place in New York City the previous year, Bronycon literally doubled in attendance size (from 4,000 to 8,407) by moving to the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland for 2013. Since I am a Marylander by birth, and still reside in the state (and close to Baltimore city for that matter) I felt that I had little to no excuse to not attend Bronycon. Even if it was only for a day, I felt that my love for the show at least made it worth the trip.

For as weird and abnormal as the fandom is seen, I can assure those who are unfamiliar with it, that the fanbase is quite harmless. In fact, the community is a very creative/productive one, and has helped to spawn numerous talents across the web just from the fandom's support alone. Ranging anywhere from arts and crafts, to voice acting, to even aspiring animators, this community is anything but lazy. I can even say that quite a few of my closest friends are Bronies, and on several occasions we've indulged in watching episodes of the show, or discussed the finer points of the label.

If there was one thing that came out of this trip, it was that I learned how fun and endearing the Brony fandom can be. My good friend (a fellow Brony who wanted me to join him) bought my day pass for the event, and I was certainly glad that he did. The Brony community has been called many things in the past, but the best word I think I've used to describe them after going to this convention was INVITING. From the con staff, to the vendors, there was a distinct vibe of camaraderie among the crowd. At no point did I run into any rude con-goers, as pretty much everyone there came off as being approachable and friendly. In my ten years of conventioneering I can honestly say that Bronies are some of the nicest fans I've had the privilege of meeting.

Wanna party with Pinkie?

Upon arrival my first order of operations was to make my mark on the con. As a freelance artist I tend to draw/sketch quite often, so when I found out about the and its contributor's table I immediately knew what I had to do. One of my favorite characters from the show has been the ever so random, but oh so lovable Pinkie Pie. With the Equestria Girls movie still fresh in my mind, I decided to make it my mission to do a slightly sexy piece focusing on a more mature Equestria Girls version of everyone's favorite party pony.

Admittedly I'm not the quickest artist, so for the first two hours of the con, I was sitting in the museum hall doodling away at my piece. My hat goes off to Rob for being incredibly patient by waiting for me to finish the picture. An entire convention was going on around him and he stuck it out with me the whole time, taking photos and making jokes. I had a good deal of fun drawing the piece, with many onlookers liking the concept of what I was doing. Plenty of compliments were thrown my way, all of which were very much appreciated, with the coup de gras being the museum's curator gawking at my piece and giving it a silent "DAYUM!"

(The material used for the piece was the following: , , and a .)

From there we went to the merchant's hall where vendor and artist alike sat side by side to sell their products. I met with many talented artists (thanks to Rob) and I even managed to get a commission of my character Rashida from . My friends , , andhad a table in the hall, where they pulled in a good deal of notoriety during the event. Josh had decided to debut his fanart series ofimages, and they were very much well received with con-goers. I can't begin to describe how happy I was to see his work go over so well with the fans.

Derpy Hooves as done by Andy Price.

As Rob and I continued cavorting about in the hall we had the honor of meeting up with some of the convention guests. Talking with the creators of the(artist , writer , and colorist ) was pretty damn awesome. Offering their autographs, their time, and plenty of good conversation, this was one of the biggest highlights of the con for me. Since the comic's debut in November of 2012, I've immensely enjoyed reading their work, and relished in every moment that I had to speak with them.

Even though it did take some time to meet Andy (as the line to meet him was substantially longer than everyone else's line) I was super stoked at having a chance to chat it up with the team responsible for such great tales that have been more than worthy of the franchise. While I'm sure they were exhausted as could be, these guys were still very friendly, providing a great deal of small talk about the comic and even some of their own personal projects.

As a special mention, when I did finally get to talk with Andy, he was kind enough to do a quick drawling of (fan favorite background pony) Derpy for me. Even though he had been drawling for hours on end, he still had the generosity to take the time to draw a picture just for little ol' me. I am also a big fan of Katie Cook's webcomic , so when I had an opportunity to acquire a physical autographed copy of Gronk Vol. 1 and 2, I took it. If by some chance this blog post reaches these guys, I want them to know that they rocked at Bronycon! Brohoof from me big time!

Mixermike really pulls off the fluffy pink look.

Other notable moments included running into(creator of the ) having a long hilarious discussion with the beautiful Pinkie Pie cosplayer , and hanging out with (creator of the ) I also got to meet (creator of the ) who graciously referred to my artwork as being "god-like." I'd also like to take a moment to shout out to , , and , you guys were totally awesome! Dhui gives the best hugs in the world by the way!

Even though my presence at the convention was brief, I had an amazing time hanging out and taking in all the fandom had to offer. The herd made me feel welcome at every turn, and for that I'll always be grateful. I can honestly declare without a shadow of a doubt that I will definitely make it a point to attend Bronycon next year!


If there was one thing I've taken away from this year's it was that a lot can change in ten years. In 2003 I was eighteen years old, and I had never been to any kind of convention before in my life. That all changed when I attended my very first anime convention; Otakon. When I took those first fateful steps into the Baltimore Convention Center's halls and saw all those legions of fans, I knew then that I was sharing in something special. With my artwork in tow, I set forth to make my mark and I've rarely taken the time to look back on it all.

Otakon celebrates 20 years with style.

Until now.

Back in 2003 I was just a young adult with an almost literal trash bag full of dreams. I didn't have the equipment then that I do now, so when I went to Otakon all I had to carry my artwork in was a garbage bag. Regardless of what I had at my disposal, I still went into the convention with my chin up, and the hope of landing some kind of an art related job. That maybe someone would look at my work and would be willing to give me a chance. I remember seeing all the booths in the Dealer's Row and the tables at Artist Alley, thinking to myself how much I wanted to be like those guys. The ones responsible for the fans, telling the cool stories, and (most importantly) doing what they loved.

Since that time I've been in front of, and behind the table. I've sold my art, worked (briefly) on a webcomic, and have even been published a couple of times. I've made a plethora of business connections over the years, and (most amazingly of all) made an unexpected number of new friends. I've traveled to places I never thought I'd be, all so that I could attend a new convention that friends of mine were going to be at. If I had to go back and do it all over again I wouldn't change a thing. Going to Otakon changed my life for the better in so many ways. It's for that reason I've remained loyal to Otakon all these years, and made it a point to continue attending.

I was right at home with Otakon, as it was also held at the BCC. My good friends(creator of ) and Jason "Riftwalker" Cumberledge had a table, and were kind enough to share their space with me. While it meant I wasn't able to explore the con as I much as I'd like, it was worth it to sit at a table and do what I love.

The Spinny family.

I still had a great experience nonetheless. I got to talk with plenty of new artists, as well as catch up with some old friends I hadn't seen in years. I produced a good deal of artwork, and felt a major surge to my inspiration. Our table was stationed pretty close to (creator of the webcomic ) and his loving wife Songbird. These two were a hoot to talk to, and I absolutely love their webcomic. In fact I love it so much that I recently contributed some guest art to their site. Go check it out if you want to read a great super hero parody.

Our neighbors in the alley were none other than the crew from , and let me tell you, these guys were hilarious. If I ever find myself with a table again, I can only hope that these guys are next to me. I've been known to do a pretty good Christopher Walken impression from time to time, and for the first time in my life, I got to have a "Walken Off!" We sat behind those tables for the better part of thirty minutes doing Chris Walken impressions, trying to determine who did the best one. A decision as to who's was best was never truly reached, but it was a moment in my life that I know I'll never forget. Major kudos to you guys! You were totally awesome!

The Saturday of Otakon was especially historic, as a large group of my friends I hit Baltimore's Inner Harbor to get some food. Our Otakon tradition, has been that we eat at the local Hard Rock Cafe, and even though we had to wait almost an hour and a half to get seated, we totally had a blast. Once our dinner was done we spent the next hour rocking out to a live band in front of the Hard Rock building, making fools of ourselves all the while. It was truly a night to remember.

Even Laura Croft came out for Otakon!

Sadly, the dinner conflicted with my initial plans for watching the debut of The Wolf Children's English dub. As it has been made known on this blog before, I am a huge fan of The Wolf Children, and I was a little bummed out that I didn't get to witness it on the big screen. Thankfully the dinner was extraordinary, and more than made up for missing the film. Another bummer was that Otakon announced that come 2017 it will be moving from its home in Baltimore to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C. As nice as it was to hear that Otakon was moving to a bigger venue (as Otakon was estimated to have close to 100,000 attendees this year) a part of me was sad to know it will leave the city that it has shared so many great stories with. For example, the meme was born at Otakon, and so many other tales of the convention have been intrinsically tied to Baltimore. It's a little tough to say goodbye to all that.

As this year marked Otakon's twentieth anniversary, all the stops were pulled out to bring in plenty of major industry guests. Yoko Kanno (composer to the scores of Cowboy Bebop and Vision of Escaflowne) Hiroyuki Kanbe (episode director to Wolf's Rain and Chrono Crusade) Tetsuya Kawakami (character designer to Sword Art Online and Oreimo) and many more all showed up to help Otakon celebrate twenty years of Japanese pop culture. Most notably though, one of those guests was none other than Shinichiro Watanabe. For those who don't know, he is the director to such legendary anime titles like Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, and Samurai Champloo. I've always considered Mr. Watanabe to be a major influence on my work, and getting to shake hands with him was one of the coolest moments of my entire life. Showing him my artwork and hearing him say that he liked what he saw made my soul explode.

The only other thing that was nearly as cool for me was hearing Peter S. Beagle (writer/creator of The Last Unicorn) call out my name while I was searching the dealer's room for cool things to purchase. I had the privilege of talking to Mr. Beagle last year at New York Comic Con, and it blew my mind that he remembered me, let alone my name. Talking with him again gave another boost to my confidence as a storyteller, and frankly I'm constantly impressed by Mr. Beagle's passion for storytelling. Even after all these years, and enduring hardship after hardship, Peter S. Beagle never stops writing. Truly inspiring words come from this man every time we meet.

I would like to extend shout outs to Squid, Cindy, , , Eirik Blackwolf (creator/writer of the ) , and . It's because of you guys that I have reason to go to conventions. It's because of you guys that I feel like Otakon is the best reunion ever each year. Had it not been for all of you, I might be a different person today. We've all managed to make it this far, so raise a glass! Here's to us and the ten years we've shared! Here's hoping to an awesome ten more!


Toni "Lady Thor" Darling demoing Kanzume Goddess.

My month of conventions finally wrapped up with . Essentially standing as the tabletop gaming industry's equivalent to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (49,058 attendees this year) you'd love being here if you've ever considered yourself to be a tabletop gamer. All of the games to come get announced, displayed, and demoed at Gencon. While this was only my third year attending, it quickly rose up to become one of my most anticipated and absolute favorite events of the year. Even with the ten hour long ride out to Indianapolis, seeing all the sights made the trek not feel nearly as arduous. Having good friends come along helped in that matter too as nerds have the funniest road trips.

As cool as it would be to sell artwork at Gencon, I don't know if I could ever do it. I want to be a part of all those cool games going on gosh darn it! With products ranging from independent productions, all the way to heavy hitters like and , there is a ton of stuff to participate in. Much like my last two Gencons, I spent a good deal of my time gallivanting about, pretty much just demoing all the new games. Even with four days to play games, it just doesn't feel like enough time.

Seriously, the list of games that I played at Gencon this year alone was mind boggling. I played/demoed such games as: from , , , and from , from , Pass the Pigs from , Firefly the Game from ,and Super Dungeon Explore from , and from , from , Red Horizon (part of the UFS card game) from , and many many more.

This would be the coolest crossover ever!

Tragically we were robbed during our stay at a local hotel. The thieves did a straight up smash and grab, to my friend Rob's car, and made off with quite a bit of stuff. My best friend got hit the hardest by the theft, with him losing most of his dice, several game books he had just purchased, and even his clip board filled with his art. Needless to say, the whole situation put a major damper on our Gencon experience.

Almost like a group super heroes responding to a plea for help, the gamers of Gencon responded to our plight the moment word got out. Folks like Jolly Blackburn (creator of ) Charles Walton, Mike Leonard, and Kevin Siembieda (of the Palladium crew) Jim Zub and Andrew Huerta (the writer and artist to the ) Jeff "Freakin" Combos, Sechen Tower, and Mel (of Exile Games) and Dave Mattingly (of ) were incredibly gracious to us. They provided whatever assistance they could to help lift our spirits and make the situation right. Of course my friends , Nestor Rodriguez, Grady, and were all there to help too. which I am forever grateful for.

The Force is strong with Scotty's Brewhouse!

Special mention though goes to the workers over at . Every time my friends and I have gone out to Gencon, we've stopped at Scotty's to have drinks and discuss the day's events. Over the course of these last three years, we've come to know the management there (Corey, Alex, and ) and frankly they're awesome people. In all of my years of going to conventions, I've never gotten the kind of service I get at Scotty's Brewhouse at any other restaurants. These guys go all out every year to make the place as fun and accommodating as possible for the Gencon crowds. From theme menus, to decked out walls, these guys do it all. One of the coolest things they offer, has been their own custom dice. When these guys caught wind of what transpired, they cranked their service up to eleven! I'm not a celebrity by any stretch, but the workers over at Scotty's certainly knew how to make me feel like one. The servers we had each night that we went there treated us with the utmost respect and courtesy. I don't think we ever waited to more than twenty minutes to get seated, and our food always came out in a timely manner. It's with good reason that now and forever Scotty's will be my place to go eat every day that I'm at Gencon.

I think Matt may have said it best when the con finally came to a close. "Never underestimate the power of gamers in large numbers." When things got bad, Gencon and the kind people of Indianapolis opened up their hearts to us. They took what could have been one of the worst convention experiences I ever had, and turned it into one of the most touching experiences of my life. In all honesty, I did shed a few tears when everyone just started being so kind, asking for nothing in return, and smiling the entire time. Their charity only served to reinforce in me the notion that while even with terrible people in the world who commit terrible acts, good people will always answer the call for help. All of us nerds/fans/people are in on this together. A connection binds us all, no matter how thin, that truly represents something. That something in my eyes is the triumph of the human spirit. To all who helped us out at Gencon, whether is was just some consoling words, offering a hug, or giving us stuff, thank you all from the bottom of my heart. THIS IS THE REASON WHY I LOVE GOING TO CONVENTIONS!
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