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A couple of weeks ago I did a series of interviews with a few people who were heading off to Comic-Con International in San Diego. The first was with writer Neil Kleid, who was heading there to support his new book from NBM, The Big Kahn, as well as to meet with various comics and movie folks about possible future projects.
Neil survived his trip to Southern California, so I emailed him a few questions about his experiences there.
JK: Looking back at what you had planned for the con, you mentioned the main reason you were at the big con was to promote The Big Kahn. So how did the book do?
Neil: Really, really well. It’s weird — this was the first convention where I had folks (unknown folks, not pals and past readers) track me down to tell me they’d heard about the book, been told to find it and could they please buy a copy now please?
I’m not sure, numbers wise, how we did but I do know that I was signing pretty regularly, talking about the book and moving copies out the door. The greatest bit was when I was browsing around the Fantagraphics booth looking for new books and comics critic Tom Spurgeon approached me to congratulate me; he’d heard from Publishers Weekly editor Calvin Reid that Big Khan was the one book he needed to read he hadn’t heard of, that buzz was growing.
Okay, so first of all — Tom Spurgeon NEVER approaches me, so I was already thrown. Secondly, the buzz book nobody’d heard of? Man, I must be doing something wrong marketing wise. But secretly, I’m thrilled. I had fans, creators, critics AND celebrities track me down to buy copies of my books this weekend, and I guess after almost 10 years making comics, I’m doing something right with a book people want to read.
I hope it doesn’t suck, you know?
JK: You also mentioned having some meetings set up with both comics and movie folks. Let’s start with the comics side — how did they go?
Neil: My comics meetings went great, actually. You know how it is, man — you can’t really talk about anything until it’s official but I’d only scheduled ONE comic book meeting this weekend and added a second when I arrived at the show. The previously scheduled one was kind of a follow up with a New York editor I’d met at SDCC last year (his line: “We both live in New York, so naturally let’s fly across the country to have our meeting”). I’d pitched him a character I’ve been hunting since I got into comics and this weekend got me a tiny bit closer, a tiny bit nearer to my Holy Grail. The second meeting was with a publisher I’ve been friendly with for years, but they’re set to blow up big time and when their new director of development cheerfully asks when I’ll be pitching them a graphic novel, well, how can any man turn that down? I quickly pitched two idea, both of which they liked, and now it’s down to me finding the right artist.
What was annoying, I’ll be honest, is that both meetings got hijacked by other creators. This wasn’t the fault of the folks I was meeting with —both of whom seemed pretty taken aback at the sudden arrival of a new face— but it really riled me up. I doubt those creators would have wanted me to barge into THEIR meetings. Have a little respect, you know? Wait until the editor or publisher you want to talk to is finished with their conversation before striking up one of your own. Is it because I’m not a name? Not famous enough to garner the decency of finishing my previously set meeting with the editor or publisher in question? Bullshit. You want to be treated with respect, then treat others the same way. I happen to know one of the two creators that edged me out and it’ll be hard to read that person’s work from here on in without thinking of that encounter.
JK: And now the Hollywood side. How did those meetings go?
Neil: There truly is no business like show business, man. Wild. Good and wild. I don’t want to give away details because you know, you can never tell who’s reading this thing, but the folks I met with ranged from perfectly pleasant, instant rapport, professionally direct all the way to casually insulting. But every one of those meetings ended with me sparking interest in one of my many, many projects so here’s hoping something pans out. But it’s all smoke up your portfolio until a check comes in, you know?
JK: Did you get a chance to walk around the floor? What did you see or buy, or who did you meet?
Neil: Yeah, I had some time on Friday and Sunday to walk the floor, pick up some stuff and see the sights. I grabbed copies of Cooke’s The Hunter, Lemire’s Collected Essex County and an Owly graphic novel for my son. I also got him a plush Owly and two Marvel T-shirts, my wife a ‘Saved by the Bell’ Bayside Tigers shirt and an Owly shirt, and me a Blue Beetle action figure. I saw it all, man — from the Tony Stark Hall of Discarded Skivvies in the Marvel booth to the glorious Creepy/Eerie mural plastering the side of the Dark Horse booth. I saw Warren Ellis, flanked by a team of Malaysian assassins, regally stride from the Omni to the con and then caught up with him an hour later for a smile and a wave in the Marvel booth. I saw Ted Raimi and USA Today’s Whitney Matheson both buy copies of my graphic novels and director John Landis smile at my “With Great Fiction Comes Great Responsibility” Action, Ohio stickers. I saw Daughtry rock the Hard Rock roof and Matt Fraction flash me the Spidey-horns at the end of a signing. I saw a little girl, dressed as Supergirl, shyly approach a girl dressed like Wonder Woman to see if they could take a photo together and I also saw retailer James Sime plant a wet one one his newly signed, newly minted copy of The Hunter.
I saw Comic-Con, my friend. From the highs to the lows, the insane to the mundane. And next year, I’m going back for more.
JK: What was the highlight of the con for you, from a personal perspective?
Neil: Sunday afternoon, signings are done, and now it’s time to be a fanboy. Second stop of the day is the IDW Publishing booth so’s I can stand in line and have Darwyn Cooke sign my copy of The Hunter, a prettier book you’ll never find. Didn’t wait long, and Darwyn is always entertaining to listen to because you’re waiting for him to say something with the words “mush,” “gam” or “fist” in his I-don’t-give-a-crap-its-just-comics manner and then he flourishes his blue marker over the bookplate of the guy before me and there I am.
Tongue-tied, I hand him my copy and stammer how much I enjoyed the first story in his issue of DC Comics’ Solo, the story of about how a trip with his dad inspired him to paint. I dig personal stories like that, my roots steeped in autobio, and Darwyn thanks me, mentioning how he wished his dad could’ve seen it. As he signs the book, I snap a picture and decide to admit that I, too, am a cartoonist and understand. Nervous, I hand him my first book, Ninety Candles, and tell him I’d be honored if he kept the copy.
Darwyn flips through the book, telling me he likes the art, and I explain the premise — each panel in the book is another year in the character’s life, a cartoonist who takes us from birth to death, through comics, life, legacy and loss. Darwyn stops flipping. He looks me in the eye, and with sincerity in his voice says:
“I don’t mind telling ya, this is the one of the most brilliant ideas for a book I’ve seen in a long time.”