As we advance into 2013, I’m considering what I’ve done in the past to see whether I can do better in the future. I was going to call this exercise “Seize the Day”—but then figured we all do that already. When we go to a comics shop or attend a convention, we’ve already grabbed the opportunity.
But maybe we can get more out of that opportunity. “Squeezing the Day” seems an appropriate approach. (I’m not the first to morph the saying this way; a Google search comes up with a variety of interpretations. In this discussion, I’m using the term to explore ways to get even more than usual out of adventures in our pop culture world.)
The French have a term for what so many of us have experienced: l’ésprit d’escalier (“The spirit of the stairs”) is the response that hits us long after something we should have said. It’s what occurs to us as we’re going down the steps, leaving the party, instead of coming up with it as a brilliant response in the course of conversation at the party. A good preparatory goal, then, consists of considering who will be where we’re going and what we might want to communicate to him, her, or them.
Obviously, countless columnists (including me) have pontificated about how best to attend conventions. Comic-Con International itself has a tradition of providing guidelines. (Editor’s note: We will have more stuff along these lines as we get closer to the show. Stay tuned to Toucan!) Let’s consider a plethora of comics-oriented activities that will let us squeeze those days (not just con trips).
If you’re going to the comics shop, do you have your want list with you? Do you have a question to ask, a piece of news you’re looking for, a specific person you hope to meet?
If you’re going to a small show, have you figured out how much money you can afford to spend? Can you be flexible? Is there an advertised creator whose work you may have heard of but haven’t fully investigated?
If you’re going to Comic-Con, have you set aside preparation time to familiarize yourself with (a) the schedule and (b) the scheduled guests? Given that, are you after information, an autograph, a photo—or something more?
I should mention something that hadn’t occurred to me until now (and that occurs to me now only because my son experienced a house break-in in 2012). Do you have (and carry with you) a list of serial numbers of the electronics (including cameras) you intend to take? (Digressing here for a moment: While you’re at it, have you maintained a list of serial numbers of your household electronics?) Such items are often being recovered these days, when the owner has available a record of the information.
If you’re in the midst of works in progress (including the flash memory card in your camera and electronic documents on your iPad): Have you backed up whatever’s on your portable devices before you leave? (A memory card I was using went berserk at a show and destroyed hundreds of photos that will never be seen again. And, yes, I did pay a restoration service to try to recover them. “Berserk” in this case meant “berserk.”)
Here’s where the whole “squeeze the day” attitude comes in. You’ve already seized the day, because you’ve left home to get where you are. You may have prepared carefully—or you may have stopped by the event on a whim. In any case, the idea here is to get the most you can from where you are and what you’re doing.
Activate your peripheral attention. At a Chicago Comicon in the 1980s, someone complained to Don and me that Frank Miller had been advertised as a guest but that he was nowhere to be found. We suggested that the fan check out the central courtyard by the swimming pool, where Frank had been sitting for most of the day. Keep your eyes open; more than once at Comic-Con, I’ve seen Stan Lee without an entourage, just cheerily hanging out at a hotel near the show.
Once you’ve spotted someone you want to approach (especially a well-known professional), what works? What will give you a happy memory instead of a cringing desire to forget? I repeat what I’ve written many times before: When you have nothing more to say than a compliment, that’s sufficient, but the conversation ends with “You’re welcome.”
If you admire a creator, chances are that you have a question about something that he or she has produced; if you have the opportunity, do say, “Thank you,” but follow that with your question. You might just get an answer.
(Despite my own sage advice, mind you, I’ve more than once found myself simply babbling in admiration. I told Joss Whedon I loved his work. I told Frank Frazetta he was great. I told Jim Dale I’d enjoyed his performances as far back as the “Carry On” movies—to which he responded, “How old are you?” After nearly 60 years of con-going, I also have to realize there will be times I don’t take my own advice.)
By the way, realize that, especially for actors, a convention appearance is part of the job, and their being nice doesn’t mean the person is your new best friend. And sometimes celebrities are stuck with being in public while they’re just trying to get on with life. It’s a bad idea to intrude at inappropriate times.
Don’t take it personally if a celebrity can’t schmooze. At Comics Buyer’s Guide, we made it a point to edit out complaints from letters writers who griped that some pro or other was unfriendly. It’s true that pros come to a convention for a variety of reasons, including self-promotion—but complicating factors may impinge on public relations. An artist may have the flu or conflicting appointments or any number of other impediments. Look at the entire situation. Is the pro trying to get to the restroom? Recalling another Frank Miller experience: At one Comic-Con, Frank had made it a point to attend despite the fact that he had just had a death in his family. Having promised to attend, he had kept to his commitment—but, because of emotional overload, he also had to limit the number of events in which he could participate.
Getting out and about is always preferable to withdrawing from activities. At the end of a Comic-Con years ago, Don and I were exhausted and talked about winding up the show by crashing in our hotel room and ordering room service. But, hey, we might miss something—so we opted to go to the hotel restaurant for its Sunday-night meal. Only one other couple was in the restaurant. “Were you here for the convention?” they asked. We said we had been. So they asked us to join them, and we had a lovely evening with Don and Norma Martin.
At another convention, I’d gone out to dinner with Kurt and Ann Busiek, and when we returned to the hotel we met Nick Cardy in the lobby. He asked whether we’d had dinner—and, though I didn’t need more food, it was an opportunity not to be missed. So My Dinner #2 was with Nick: the first time we’d met, a thrill I still remember, and the beginning of yet another wonderful friendship.
Always be ready to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. Among the attractions of the 2003 Dragon*Con in Atlanta was the appearance of many members of the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The setting for cast signings was, unfortunately, not sufficient for the number of attendees who yearned for an individual moment with the admired performers. The signing area was in the dealers’ room, and the dealers’ room itself had to be closed at one point because of the crowd. I’d have loved to have my own one-on-one moment with the stars, but I also had little desire to contend with the crush, so I gave up and went on to enjoy the (many) other entertainments.
The last day of the show featured a final (delightful) Buffy panel for questions from the audience, and following that, the con was winding down. As I drifted through the dealers’ room one last time, a crowd handler pointed at me and said, “You’re the last in line.”
And there I was: the last in a relatively short line of people who were grabbing those final moments to talk with performers who had entertained us. However, the handler also announced that James Marsters had no photos left, so we should provide our own autograph material. I had nothing, so I pulled out my spiral-bound notebook. After all, I was paying for the opportunity to ask him about the Dark Horse comic book he’d written—not really for his autograph. But the woman sitting next to him looked up at me, as Marsters talked to the person in front of me. “You want him to sign your notebook?” “I don’t have anything else,” I said. She smiled. “How about your membership badge?”
Think on your feet, folks! I was able to ask him about his comic book work—and get that autograph!
We are lucky folks. We get to go to events that let us interact with people we admire, collect things that we treasure, and share those things with others!
Keep that peripheral vision active. Let me share an anecdote from the 2011 Friends of Old Time Radio convention. U.S. Handball Association Hall of Famer Stuffy Singer attended the convention as one of a number of former Old Time Radio professionals. (As a young voice artist, he was heard in entertainments as varied as The Jack Benny Program and Walt Disney’s Peter Pan.) On one of the FOTR panels, he spoke of an experience he’d had while dining with three other men at New York City’s Carnegie Deli in 1971. The four had been brought together because of the Frazier-Ali boxing bout, but the other three were friends who didn’t know or pay much attention to Singer.
As they were eating, another man in the restaurant approached Singer. “Snapping his fingers, he goes, ‘I know you!’ and he’s pointing at me, and he says, ‘Stuffy . . . you came through [Akron] and you put on a clinic and an exhibition. If I could get your autograph and take it to these guys . . . ’ He said Akron would just come apart. And there’s dead silence from the other three.”
Singer signed the autograph, and the man turned around and left, never noticing the other three sitting at the table. They were Alan King, Burt Lancaster, and Frank Sinatra. “Sinatra,” concluded Singer, “looks at the other two and he says, ‘Well, I guess that’s what happens when you’re famous.’”
There’s my final tip: Squeeze the day by paying attention to as much as you can. You may come across a treat that others are missing.
Maggie's World appears the first Tuesday of every month on Toucan!