By Dirk Manning
At the end of 2013 I decided to complete the Herculean task of setting up for 13 consecutive comic conventions, horror conventions, and/or in-store book signings in 13 consecutive weeks. I was promoting my new/upcoming comics Love Stories to Die For (Image Comics/Shadowline), The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West (Big Dog Ink), and Tales of Mr. Rhee (Devil's Due), as well as many of my other books such as the Nightmare World trilogy (Image Comics/Shadowline) and Write or Wrong: A Writer's Guide to Creating Comics (Transfuzion).
Before the tour was done, it grew to an even bigger "15 Shows in 15 Weeks" extravaganza. You can read about (and look at photos from) the first 12 weeks of the tour in the previous three installments of the column:
Which, at last, brings us to this final "Part 4 of 3" of this coverage, which includes the last three shows on the circuit, and the lessons you can all take from the experience as you prepare for your own convention appearances, tours, and store book signing engagements…
Rupp's Comics (Fremont, Ohio; November 30, 2013)
Truth be told, this appearance was supposed to take place several weeks prior. I was originally scheduled to be at Rupp's Comics back in October for his annual "Midnight Sale," driving down there after my appearance at the Flint Horror Con earlier that day.
While I was excited about the idea of doing two shows in one day, on that nauseous October evening the fates – and a minor bout of food poisoning – sidelined that appearance, forcing me to call store owner (and swell fellow) Chris Rupp so we could bump the appearance to the end of the tour…all while I sped down the highway holding a plastic bag of my own barf.
(Always keep a spare plastic grocery bag with you – and within grabbing distance – when you're taking long road-trips, folks. Just in case.)
As Chris reminded me, I was already scheduled to appear along with another creator as part of the store's 23rd Anniversary sale (more on this in a bit), but that was independent of this tour. All I was concerned about as I spoke to him on the phone (along with not spilling the aforementioned bag on my lap) was hitting that magical "13" number and not breaking the streak.
So, yes, this was my "make up" date, and my 13th signing appearance in 13 straight weeks. Chris, again, being the awesome guy he is, even had a very apropos gift waiting at my table when I got to the store.
Given that I was going to be appearing at Rupp's again soon, this was more of a low-key event… although I was very happy to see several friends and readers come out to this appearance, especially since that 23rd Anniversary Sale I mentioned a bit ago ended up being…
Wait for it…
THE NEXT WEEK.
Two weeks in a row at the same shop? Heck, how could either of the guys in this photo say no to the other one, am I right?
Rupp's Comics (Fremont, Ohio; December 7, 2013)
Like I said, my appearance at the store the week prior was a little more low-key… but this time?
This time it was a freakin' party.
Along with being Rupp's Comics 23rd Anniversary Celebration, there was all sorts of revelry going on at this appearance.
First off, along with the gigantic sale the store was having, store-owner Chris Rupp was unveiling a copy of the first comic ever published(!) at the event, a historic event that even got coverage here Bleeding Cool.
Like I said, this event was a party. Along with the unveiling of that amazing piece of comic book history, Zenescope cover artist Chris Enhot signed prints and sketched commissions for attendees, and cosplayer extraordinaire Melody Martin swung by to help promote my four-issue arc on Big Dog Ink's The Legend of Oz: The Wicked West by dressing at the gunslingin' Dorothy Gale.
But was this photo op meant to repeat the one taken earlier in the tour when she was cosplaying to promote Mercy Sparks from Devil's Due?
The world may never know… but in a rare plug for something I'm not directly involved with, damn, Josh Blaylock and company are tearin' it up on that book, my friends. If you like my work, do yourself a favor and check out that title too…
And no, I'm not just saying that because Mr. Rhee will be making an appearance in an upcoming issue, either. That would be shameless, even by my standards.
After the all-day anniversary sale (which saw people coming in and hanging out until the doors were closed) I went with Chris and Chris (see what I did there?) along with a few others to a great local eatery called Van Ness's Time Out Sports Bar, one of those great little "hidden gem" restaurants where I make it a point to eat with Chris (the first one, at least) whenever I'm in the area.
In a sign that my love for the restaurant (and especially their amazing cook) has not gone unnoticed, I was even asked to sign the very last bottle of root beer served there, as they're now switching to "kegged" root beer.
The staff told me it would be displayed in the restaurant forever and ever among their signed memorabilia, so if any of you out there make it to the restaurant before I do, let me know…
BUT NOT YOU, CHRIS RUPP! YOU LEAVE THAT DAMN BOTTLE ALONE, YA' HEAR? IT WAS YOU THAT SUGGESTED I GET THE ROOT BEER IN THE FIRST PLACE, SO DON'T GO SNEAKIN' IN THERE TO SMASH OR STEAL IT IN A FIT OF JEALOUS RAGE OVER THE FACT THAT I GOT THE LAST BOTTLE AND YOU DIDN'T! IT WAS YOU WHO SUGGESTED I ORDER THE ROOT BEER IN THE FIRST PLACE, AFTER ALL, SO PLAY FAIR, MY FRIEND!
With 14 shows in 14 consecutive weeks under my belt and no major problems, surely my last date on the tour would go off without a hitch, right?
Game On! Comics and Games (Vienna, Virginia; December 14, 2013)
For this last date of the tour, I accompanied Big Dog Ink publisher (and uber-talented head writer) Tom Hutchinson as he drove to an in-store signing event a Game On! Comics and Games in Vienna, Virginia, located less than a half an hour from Washington, D.C., marking my first ever signing appearance in Virginia.
The important thing to keep in mind here, though, is that he drove. Remember that fun fact, later.
Given that we were making the drive (literally) in the middle of December, some inclement weather was to be expected… but I don't think either of us expected to be driving through an ice storm that would blanket the East Coast.
But we did, and we stayed on the road well into the wee hours of the night before getting some much needed sleep in preparation for a day of meeting readers, signing comics, then getting back on the road again the following evening.
Because that's what you do when you go out on the road to spread the word about your work, even if it's one comic shop or convention at a time.
After a successful day of signing, which included both of us introducing a lot of new people to our work (the store generously bought a lot of stock from us for their shelves and for readers who couldn't bring themselves to brave the elements – no, not even to see US), Tom and I got back on the road again (noticing a theme here yet?)… only to soon find ourselves driving into the worst of the ice storm as it pounded Pennsylvania.
And that, my friends, is when we got a flat tire.
In the middle of rural Pennsylvania.
In the middle of the night.
In the middle of an ice storm.
And that, my friends, is why you should have your AAA membership before doing stuff like that, hence minimizing the time you will need to huddle for warmth with one of your publishers on the side of the road while waiting for a tow-truck, like this:
Luckily for both of us, Tom and I are good friends, or that would have been awkward.
So, yeah, it may have cost us an extra night on the road…
But time ain't nuthin' between real friends.
Having survived this insane stunt – and again, need I not remind you, all the while working a full-time day job on top of being a professional comic writer– what wisdom (or at least advice) can I impart to all you comic book writers out there reading this?
In short, it's that your journey is not just as important as your destination… but even more so.
A lot of people dream about writing comics because they want to write the continuing adventures of their favorite characters from the Marvel and DC libraries.
Of that huge crowd of people who talk the talk, a very small percentage of them actually start writing their own scripts and doing what's necessary to connect with artists and create comics of their own. Hopefully you, reading this, are among that very small percentage of people who will indeed put your money (and time and effort) where your mouth (and passion) is.
Furthermore, I hope that, in doing so, you enjoy every damn moment of it, including the road trips and the in-store signings and the convention appearances, whether they are huge successes or part of the "earning your dues" process when you're first getting started (and still occasionally revisit here and there even in the later stages of your career).
I say this because, statistically speaking, most of you – most of us – will never get a chance to write any of the major titles for Marvel or DC.
Upon reading that last line, some of you out there just thought to yourselves "That's OK, because what I really want to do is write/revitalize [insert D-List character here]," to which I will respond by reminding you of the Dr. Strange paradox: If everyone who wanted to write a Dr. Strange comic bought the Dr. Strange comics when they came out, Dr. Strange would be one of the top selling comics in the industry.
Point being, trying to "sneak in the back door" of Marvel or DC by writing a D-List character ain't gonna work, folks, because it's the same shortcut that everyone talks about when they don't want to pay their dues by making their own comics and going out on the road to establish themselves.
Emphasis on the "talks about," because, again, it never, ever works.
This is why it's important to enjoy your journey (and, as it applies, to enjoy paying your dues just as much – if not more – than the destination you have in mind.
By all means, my friends, set goals – and make them lofty ones – but as you're out there making comics and busting your ass, take the time to make friends with your fellow creators (like by main man Victor Dandridge…)
And the store owners kind enough to support you and your efforts (such as Tony Barry of Super-Fly)…
And go to really cool places (like the Big Fun toy store in Columbus)…
And eat great food…
And meet some of your favorite creators (like Eric Powell)…
And maybe even become friends with some of them (like Jimmie Robinson)…
And spend a night here or there sharing drinks with some of your favorite people who, sadly, you only get to see on the road (like podcaster extraordinaire Amber Love).
(Drink responsibly, though, because this is still a job, after all!)
If you're doing everything right, creating comics will prove to be the best job of your life, regardless of where the road takes you, and how tired you are at the end of each night… or shift… or tour.
NEXT MONTH: After four columns in four weeks, I'm taking a few weeks off before returning to a strong monthly schedule for this column… and we'll be getting into some writing process stuff again starting in late February. See you then, if not on the road sooner, of course…
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of the Nightmare World trilogy of graphic novels and the Love Stories (To Die For) (all from Image Comics/Shadowline), Tales of Mr. Rhee (debuting from Devil's Due Publishing next month), several comics Big Dog Ink, and of course Write or Wrong: A Writer's Guide to Creating Comics (from Transfuzion Publishing and available exclusively through Amazon.com either in print of as a Kindle e-book). Details on all his work, upcoming appearance, and more can be found at www.DirkManning.com. Dirk lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook and Twitter on a fairly regular basis… when he's not busy writing or touring, of course. Feel free to follow him at one or all such locations if you're into that sort of thing. Cthulhu is his homeboy.