Evan Dorkin (evandorkin) wrote,
Evan Dorkin

National Tragedy

I had low expectations for the National Con going in, but the "event" we attended on Friday and Saturday managed to come in on the HOF charts as the worst convention I've ever had the displeasure to sit through. In a broken chair no less, with barely enough room to move.  Dull, depressing, dirty, disorganized, cheap, dingy, hot, under-attended, under-produced, a nightmare out of 1982, with the same attendees and pros, by and large, grown older, but not wiser. A listless guest list, a volunteer staff that clustered solely around the Kate Mulgrew and George Lazenby autograph area, disaster-area bathrooms that kept getting shut down for cleaning (one of the sadder quotes of the show, from a very upset Penn Plaza staffer in the men's room, "People, please flush the toilets after you use them, if you use the toilets, flush them!". Even worse, he was more than justified in losing it, and no one apparently listened to these guys all day Saturday). Toss in a broken elevator and up-escalator on Saturday, a fire trap in Artist's Alley (two backpack-bearing attendees effectively blocked the tiny aisles, and a large percentage of the esteemed clientele could jam up the "traffic" flow unadorned with anything but a gut and a dream), some of the rudest, loudest, most obnoxious con-goers I've seen since the heydey of the Greenberg shows -- and you got a poke in the eye with a rolled-up, overpriced coverless Silver Age comic. 

I mean, wow. Wow. WOW. What an absolutely terrible show. Having nothing to do with how we did at the table, because we didn't expect much, just to cover costs ($40 parking, tolls, lost brain cells) and maybe low-rent dinner out for the family, which we barely eked out. And we seemed to do better than a lot of  those around us. And not a knock on old -- very old -- school bargain bin/back wall o' expensive headlights comics, hucksteriffic cons based around want lists and sweaty palms, which can be fun in a way if, like me, you like old comics, looking at original art, and eyeballing tables heaped with flea market junk that some poor schmuck still deems worth lugging all up and down the coast hoping some other poor dumb schmuck will buy. I can stand, and enjoy, these buck-bin, desperation extravaganzas, but this one tested even my Eltingville limits. This was Eltingville writ large, bulky, real, and stinktacular. I wasn't expecting MOCCA or SPX, nor the NYCC or even a slice of the dealer's area of the congenial, enjoyable and cool Heroes World, but I wasn't expecting this freakshow trainwreck.

The coldest bucket of rusty water to the face was the fact that the show was overwhelmingly male, in every sense of the word. I hadn't been to a show like this in a long time. Maybe the fact that the last National we did was spent in the table company of the Hernandez Brothers made it far more palatable, but I also remember savvier, nicer dealers and more variety in guests, as well as more females in the room. Not so this time.

Holy Hanna, what a sweaty male armpit of a show. Average age, I'd say, at a guess, was in the late 30's, early 40's. Older, balding, grizzled, overweight, zombified manboys in t-shirts and faded old clothes, shambling, ghoulish prospectors of dead dreams and junk, panning about with their crumpled want lists and thumb oil-soaked notebooks of who to hit up for what drawing or signature or who to browbeat into a 2-out-of-3 falls Texas Submission Monologue Death Conversation Match. A lot of sports talk. Knicks, Rangers, Nets, Yankees, Mets, local talk, boy talk, men talk. And a  lot of cursing. I like cursing, but I shut it down at shows, at least I work at it, especially loud cursing. With a lack of female pheremones in the room, and far, far fewer kids at the show than any I'd seen in years, vulgarity was on the loose. And the volume was set at 11 for the majority of the boisterous contingent, which was amplified by the closeness of the surroundings and the horrible acoustics (I'm not kidding when I say Artist's Alley was a fire hazard, and I'm not talking about attendance). It was a sports bar, a 1986 comics shop, a Creation Con atmosphere. It was a vibe I haven't witnessed in ages, something I quite honestly forgot about. It was dinosaur times, and I like dinosaurs, but there's a reason the fuckers died. This was one disheartening scene, even allowing for my own inherent pessimism and cynicism.

Sure, there were some folks having fun, there are folks who can have fun anywhere. And I'm sure there were attendees happy to be there, getting what theyw anted, seeing friends. But somewhere angels were losing their wings and baby animals were being put to death every time one of those Cliff Clavin-types harangued a trapped professional with lousy, off-color jokes that only the teller laughed at, or every time an unkempt mass with a camera shoved his lens into a girl's face (we had a very uncomfortable incident at our table with someone who took a picture of Sarah. "Do you really want your picture taken with your hands in front of your face", he asked, because he didn't give her time to do anything but defensively react like a deer in headlights, whereas I wanted to tell him to take a fucking hike for being rude). Or a slob dealer of tattered old junkbooks in boxes wrapped with more tape than the ribs of an inept boxer regaled whoever would listen with his opinions on the economy and the health care system or US history.

Bonus feature! People I didn't like: The dealer who got in your way and barked, "Excuse me, but I've got a trivia question for you!". The art dealer I overheard loudly and insultingly taking a guy to task over the original art he was trying to sell:  "Take another look at your pages,  then come back and ask  me again how much you want for them."  He actually laughed in the guy's face. The guy at the booth with the plush toys strewn about the place like a kid's bedroom who had no listed prices so he could jack them up if interest was shown in anything. Emily was interested in a small Wonder Woman beanbag toy but because it was "from the WB Store" he had to start a sales pitch spiel on it, with, of course, a boosted price for the piece of junk (Sarah knew it was worthless, because we threw a bunch of them out a while back because no one wanted them and they were worth jack turd on e-bay. The folks who didn't realize they were scaring our daughter by trying too hard to talk to her. The people asking creators for sketches while said creators were standing in the aisle talking to their friends. Those two yelling  jagoffs in the bathroom.  The creepy guy with his sketchbook full of his characters, talking about nude versus clothed con sketches he was getting people to do ("Just make it sexy, you know, innovate!". Ugh.) Myself for being there and forcing my child to endure some stuff Dante cut out of his book for being too "uncomfy". All the bastards who seemed unaware that other people exist in the world, cannot hear the words "excuse me" or "watch your back, please", and think backpacks are force fields that keep them safe from annoying people who dare to try to walk through an aisle. The Stormtroopers, who more and more have grown a sense of some sort of entitlement at these things to be in the way, walk in front of people, block not only aisles but the goddamned street outside the hotel, what do they think they are, security? They're idiots in hard-plastic adult Underoos, fer chrissakes. Oh, and, finally  --


BTW, This was also the A-number-1 bootleg merchandise leader of any con I've been to in ages. I didn't think anyone allowed this to go on, at least not as open and aggressively, as this show allowed. DVDs a-plenty, cripes. Just adding to the seediness. This was a dealers room show in every sense of the word, and really not in a fun way. It wasn't even flea market quality, it was tick market.

There were exceptions, sure, always nice to see Scott Eder and his original art set-up (He had a Woodring painting, oy), the guy who had the run of oversized Raw issues was super-nice, there were several back-issue and art dealers who were just plain folks, and I had a nice conversation with some people at the Albert Moy booth about Gray Morrow and a few other geek subjects...but there was such a preponderance of the loud, stingy, complaining, shifty, off-putting types, I now know to a tee how Josh and Bill from the Eltingville Club will look and turn out, and how they will act, and so I am writing this trip off on my taxes as a research gig.

And there were certainly other nice folks behind and in front of the tables. It wasn't just one endless freak parade by any means, but the monsters did tend to obscure the fauns and woodlings. Whatever the fuck that means. A backhanded way of saying thanks to the non-nutjobs who stopped by to say hi, we certainly appreciated the breath of fresh air and humanity and the brief staving off of thoughts of suicide or career change. And there was, as always, poor, harried Alan Ronsenberg, who I don't wish this show on. Alan used to help put on the charming Ramapo High School shows, and I wish there was a better show that he could pitch in for. Best to you, Alan. And of course, Walt Simonson, who could make hell bearable, and almost did. And anyone else I forgot, I hope they got the last chopper out, and avoided Sunday, and instead spent the day resting, reflecting, and washing off the leftover stink of the National Con.

Enough semi-nice talk. Now back to the intrinsic horrors:

The "Celebrity Guests" were a sad, motley bunch, and even they didn't do a ton of beeswax. Kate Mulgrew and some Star Trek trivia question answers, the marginal Bond George Lazenby amd some marginal James Bond-related folks to tie into the Quantum of Solace opening (sort of the only clever thing the promotion did, but, well, not really), some former Playmates with former good looks bolstered by surgery and greasepaint-like makeup, an example of internet masturbatory fodder, a coupla indy wrestling folks, all mostly looking bored and wonderign where it all went wrong, checking their phones a lot, talking to their handlers and hoping the weather would let up so their flights would leave on time. I think one guy actually grew moss on his ankles before th show ended Saturday, and had to be taken to the hospital, all the while being chided by two dealers who thought he had the "worst Swamp Thing costume ever".

Equally depressing was the state of the comic book guests and professionals, or former professionals. Maybe it was the room, the gloomy weather, the heat, the lack of crowds, the utter joylessness and perfuctory mercantile, table-selling dealer's room attitude of the entire affair, but  seeing ex-Marvel staffers long removed from the Bullpen Bulletins pages hawking comic-related books or Golden Age comics just bummed me out. One-time Rascally Ones, Jazzy Ones, and Sizzlin' Ones looking bored and nonplussed at their rickety tables, I've never seen people like Carmine Infantino spend so much time doing nothing in my conventioning life. I started making notes of what guests were doing to pass the time: reading comics, eating, tapping their pens, arranging and re-arranging books, staring at the ceiling, praying for death. Lines that did form were small, guests were forced into long conversations with blowhards with opinions on how everything in comics should ahve been handled, along with reflections and opinions on the economy, the election, and sports. Not much on personal hygiene, interpersonal relationships, or the evils of massive backpacks.

Have I been unkind? Am I making a Man Mountain Marko out of a Moleman-hole? I don't care. I'm not going back, I have zero respect for this show, for the Penn Plaza Pavillion, the people I didn't like, for this kind of show run this kind of way (did I mention there were no floor plans or guides for the exhibitors, either for the public or the dealers or the guests themselves --? Classy!). They don't need me, I'm not saying I'm the bee's knees and put asses in seats at most shows, but in my not-so-humble opinion nobody with an ounce of self-respect needs them. We've done worse at shows monetarily, but I've never come away from a show so depressed about not only a certain corner of the comics field, but about a certain segment of humankind and the neediness and seediness of certain folks and endeavors. This is just not for me, I'd rather attend my own funeral than another National show. I think this is the only show I ever went to that gave me nightmares. I'm not kidding.

On the one hand, though, I haven't ranted in quite some time to this degree, and for that, I guess, I have to thank this god-forsaken convention. But, anyway, what did any of you think, if you attended this thing? Am I crazy? Exaggerating far too much? Just being a dick?  Was this a barrel o' fun? Are you unable to sleep because it's a year away from the next one? Or are you at this very moment seeking therapy after a day or two of squeezing through the soul-deadening habitrails of a show that invites folks like David Lloyd and Bryan Talbot and leaves them high and dry on the Isle of Blight? I almost always leave a show feeling good about comics, wanting to make comics as soon as I get some sleep and recover. This time around, I wanted to go get a job in a deli.

May the corpse of Phil Seuling come back from the dead and choke this horrid thing out forever.
Tags: conventions, feeling dead inside, time i'll never get back

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