“Hey Jeremy. How’s it going?” smiled Joe.
Seated behind his table sketching away with a full commission list, I was still amazed that I was about to discuss a collaboration with someone so experienced, and that I had admired for so long. When we first met in Seattle earlier in the year, it was under slightly different circumstances. Joe was signing with Nick Spencer at the Image Comics booth, and other than a cordial hello, I spent most of that interaction chatting with Nick. As a friendly gesture, I stopped by Joe’s table later that day to leave him prints of two pitches I was making the rounds with at ECCC: Cobble Hill and Primordial.
“I’m good, man. Thanks for reaching out to me about Art Monster. I’m excited that Riley gave us his blessing to move on it,” I said.
Riley Rossmo had approached me a year earlier with the concept, and we had spent a few months developing it before he was tapped to work on Nick Spencer’s highly anticipated series Bedlam. Not unlike dating, it really does come down to the luck of good timing to find a collaborator. More than that, it’s in the best interest of a writer to build friendships with current or potential collaborators. Just because you might not get to work together at a desirable moment, doesn’t mean to forget about them and move on with your search. The industry is constantly in flux so you never know who is working with whom. My collaboration with Riley–which led to Joe–stemmed from simply being friends with the guy. Established talent always prefer collaborating with friends first, then friends of friends.
“I have to finish up these commissions, but do you want to swing back here later?” He continued, “We can grab dinner somewhere with my friends, and maybe discuss Art Monster a bit further.”
Stationed behind the 215 Ink booth, I decided to put my nose to the grindstone and start pushing Southern Dog. With almost a decade of retail experience, I figured it would fairly easy to get people to buy Southern Dog. I mean, if I could sell Victoria’s Secret Angel credit cards like they were going out of style, this would be a cakewalk. [You read that correctly. I am a former employee of Victoria’s Secret.]
“How’s it going?” I asked a peruser, who happened to be scanning the various titles layered across our table. He couldn’t have been older than 15. He also couldn’t have looked more unsure of whether he made the right decision to stop and look at our books.
“Uh. I don’t know,” he muttered.
“Do you like werewolves?”
“How about a werewolf fighting off the KKK?” I asked as I handed him a copy of Southern Dog to thumb through.
“What’s it about?”
I got this.
“Well, it’s Teen Wolf set in the Deep South six weeks before Obama’s inauguration,” I confidently replied.
“What’s Teen Wolf?”
I don’t got this.
I paused as I wasn’t expecting this question. Before I could answer him, he gently put the comic down and walked away.
The next few hours of interactions transpired in similar fashion. I did manage to sell a few, but I wasn’t prepared to have to explain why someone should buy my book. The idea of pitching to editors instantly seemed exponentially easier.
As the show came to a close for the day, I headed back over to Joe’s table and as we walked to his hotel room so he could drop off his stuff, we started discussing characters for the project. We both agreed on the tone of the story, and even compared personal influences that we’d hope to infuse into the series. We chatted about the script that I had sent him a month ago, which I was flattered that he really liked. Dropping his stuff off, Joe then introduced me to his ridiculously talented friends Robert Wilson IV and Christian Sager, and we all went out for burgers and beers.
The next night, Joe and I met up with Tradd Moore and Justin Jordan for drinks at a nearby hotel bar where the Eisner’s ceremony were being hosted. Justin and Tradd decided to go in and attend the show, while Joe and I hung back at the bar. Having met a lot of creators over the years, there have only been a handful of people that I really connect and feel instantly comfortable with. Joe was certainly one of them. We were very excited for Art Monster, but due to his commitment to Morning Glories’ hectic monthly schedule, it would be a few months before we’d have the pitch ready to submit. For the first time ever, I was quite comfortable with waiting.Continued below
Heading to the bar to order the next round of drinks, I spotted Joshua Dysart and Robert Venditti hanging out a few tables away. I made my way over to say hi, and they both greeted me with the warmest of welcomes. I was impressed that I was able to maintain my composure as I was casually talking to two of my favorite creators. Not only that, but they actually knew who I was. Needless to say, it was a surreal moment for me.
Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore finally returned to report how long and somewhat boring the ceremony turned out to be. More waiting was in store for us that night as the bar was staffed by one person, which was insane considering there were a constant wave of patrons all losing their patience with the extremely slow service. Unable to get the bartender’s attention, I suddenly realized someone was trying to get my attention from across the bar.
“Brett! It’s nice to see you, man.”
Brett Schenker and I got acquainted almost two years ago when he was kind enough to review my first comic Death Tax for his site Graphic Policy. What I loved about Brett’s show was his focus on blending politics with comics, and providing an outlet to discuss substantial issues within the industry in a highly engaging way.
“Jeremy. Good to see you too. I thought I recognized you, didn’t know you’d be attending the show.”
“Yeah, I’m actually promoting the first issue of a comic that debuted through the small press 215 Ink.”
“Congrats! We’ll have to have you on the live radio show sometime.”
“That’d be awesome!”
Even though I was attending my first convention as a professional, it didn’t provide any noticeable advantages to my weekend of solid networking. It was business as usual, which wasn’t something I expected. Truth be told: I thought as a professional I’d have new opportunities presented before me. My big mistake was having expectations from a very specific perspective. From day one, I had the goal of landing a book at a major publisher, and I had built up certain expectations of attending a con from the other side of the table. As grateful as I was for 215 Ink providing me such an opportunity, I completely overlooked the fact that I was debuting a book through a small press publisher. The simple fact is that the level of distribution my book had access to was limiting, so going into a show expecting people to know about the book was my fault. I had erroneously mixed expectation with reality. This misstep initially wounded my confidence when sales that weekend were a challenge, and I felt like an idiot for not figuring it out sooner. Fortunately, the 215 Ink crew helped out a lot by introducing Southern Dog to the established readers that came by the booth to buy up the latest and greatest from the publisher, and managed to help me sell out of the first print run.
I had a month before New York Comic Con to reevaluate my expectations, and reached out to Andrew DelQuardo about providing signing times for creators. This would allow each of us time at the booth to pitch our work exclusively if we liked, and made it easier for people to know when to stop by to say hi. Andrew was very receptive to the idea, and set up a google document that we all had a chance to sign up for designated times over NYCC weekend. Within a day, the schedule was filled on a first come, first serve basis. I was excited.
Having attended NYCC two years in a row, I was expecting it to be crowded, but nothing could have prepared me for San Diego Comic Con attendance numbers. When I finally made my way through the sea of people, it took me a while to finally locate the 215 Ink booth. Even after re-adjusting my expectations for the show, the signing times at the booth did not go as I had hoped. It became obvious to me that most of the creators that had books through 215 Ink and were in attendance, happily camped around the booth all day. When my signing time came up, I was amidst several others trying to push their books, which more or less undermined the purpose of having a designated time at the booth alone.Continued below
I had yet again failed to manage my expectations! The reality was that the booth that was provided for us at New York Comic Con was half the size of the one at Baltimore Comic Con. In addition, we just didn’t have room to provide a clearly identifiable signing section. I couldn’t help but feel like a prize idiot and slight drama queen.
I decided to clear my head and make my way over to say hi to various friends exhibiting in Artist’s Alley. I had prepared two brand new pitches that I planned to make the rounds with. The first was Sleep Debt with artist Ariel Zucker-Brull (artist on Image’s Hatchet/Slash annual issue). This was a project that was originally entitled Sleepwalker, which when I handed it to Eric Stephenson over a year ago at FanExpo, promptly advised me to change the title as it conflicted with a Marvel property. The second was Houdini, a brand new semi-biographical action/adventure with up and comer Kevin Zeigler. Both were very well received by friends, and Justin Jordan was most impressed that I had managed to get Kevin to churn out enough pages for a pitch. Evidently they had tried to collaborate in the past, but Kevin lacked the confidence to commit.
Managing a different set of expectations, I stopped by the Image booth in an attempt to leave copies of my pitches with Sarah deLaine. Catching word through the grapevine that Eric Stephenson had somewhat retired from con floor appearances, I was prepared to discuss my projects with Sarah, whom I knew could get them back to the Image offices.
Mission accomplished. She happily accepted both pitches and copies of Southern Dog and Cobble Hill. She guaranteed me that they’d make it back to the offices, but informed me to wait at least a month before following up with Eric. With a renewed sense of achievement, I was excited for the epic Multiversity Comics party that night. Partnered with Image Comics to raise money for the Hero Initiative, I had high expectations for a fun night. Specifically dressed for the occasion–blue fitted dress shirt, black skinny tie with matching black vest and slacks–I headed over to the party.
Having missed my ten year high school reunion, this strangely felt close to experiencing that, and as I walked down the steps to the basement section of the Hound’s Tooth Pub, I began scanning the room for someone that I recognized. The worst moment at any party is showing up and having no one to talk to. Then I saw him or maybe he saw me first. Dressed rather dapper and immediately recognizable by his signature red beard, Matt Meylikhov proudly approached with a big smile on his face.
“Jeremy Holt! You made it!” he exclaimed with a big friendly hug.
“I wasn’t gonna miss it, man. Great to finally meet! How’s it going?”
“This party is nuts. I had no idea so many big names were showing up tonight.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. As I waited at the bar to place my order, I surveyed the room and noticed some of the biggest names at Image Comics were in attendance. Multiversity Comics had even set up a really nice photo booth near the entrance, which everyone was enjoying. Paying for my drink, I suddenly heard my name.
“Are you Jeremy Holt?”
I turned and found myself shaking hands with a guy that I didn’t immediately recognize.
“I follow you on Twitter. I’m @Upguntha. I’m a big fan of your column and The Process podcast.”
To say I felt absolutely flattered would have been an understatement.
“I love that project you’re working on with Scott Forbes. The cover is awesome!”
Scott and I had been working on a project that he had approached me about almost half a year ago–a dream collaboration ever since I had read Forgetless and seen his jaw dropping cover art for 27. Having spotted Scott a few moments earlier, I said, “Thanks man! Why don’t you tell that to him in person,” and walked him over to make formal introductions.
In the middle of a conversation with Brandon Seifert, whom I had gotten to know quite well over the past year, I excused myself to buy us another round of drinks. Back at the bar, I was approached by another person that I didn’t immediately recognize.Continued below
“Jeremy. Ben Rankel.”
“Ben! How’s it going?! I didn’t know you were gonna be here.”
Ben had done an awesome pinup for me that went in the back of the first issue of Cobble Hill. We had been friends on Twitter for a while, but I had never seen a photo of him. It certainly was a nice surprise to finally meet him.
“You should join me over at my table later. Brian asked me to make sure he doesn’t over do it with the gin and tonics.”
I looked over and saw Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples, and some other people sitting near by.
“Absolutely,” I said.
This party was quickly turning into a legendary one, and I was thrilled when my girlfriend stopped by. Not being a comic book reader herself, I guided her on a tour around the bar as I introduced her to my friends, and pointed out who the big names were. She may not have known anyone in comics, but as a big fan of the television show Lost, I knew she’d appreciate one introduction in particular.
“Jeremy. How’s it going?”
“Really good. This is my girlfriend, Sarah. I just wanted to introduce her to the man that inspired me to write comics. She also happens to be a big fan of Lost.”
“Very cool! Nice to meet you, Sarah,” he smiled.
The rest of the night was more fun than I could have possibly hoped for, and for the first time I felt like I had finally made an impact within the industry. However small it may have been, it was nice to get feedback from people who were actually reading my work. Between Baltimore and New York, I realized that I was on the brink of a new chapter in my career. The work I was creating was no longer in solitude. With the various projects I had in the fire, and more importantly the creators I was collaborating with, my efforts were going to get noticed as more and more people were becoming familiar with my name. I was finally hitting my stride, and felt more confident than ever that it was only a matter of time before I’d achieve my goal of landing a major publication. The creative profile I had built from nothing was finally taking shape, but the foundation from which it was built on was suddenly caving in beneath me.
Unbeknownst to anyone, my life in New York: The one that gave birth to my writing career was coming to an end.
TO BE CONTINUED…