PART ONE: AND SO IT BEGINS…
(The following is a rambling travelogue of my trip out to San Diego. Believe it or not, there's a couple of comic book reviews in the middle of this self-indulgent essay. There's also a lot of venting at how bad America West airlines is. They're bad. Real bad. Stay Away. More on that later.)
I'm at the airport in Las Vegas. I'm sitting at the Burger King near some of the boarding gates. Off to my left on the tarmac is the Phoenix Suns' airplane. I'm half-tempted to take a pic to share with one and all, but I think I look like enough of a tourist already.
I've tried the slots today. For the first time in my 25 years of life, I've played a real live slot machine. (Every comic convention is a new experience in a different way.) Damnedest thing about Vegas is that they gamble everywhere. You deplane and there's a grand concourse with 8 boarding gates in a circle and a whole set of video poker and slot machines set up in a starburst fashion in the middle.
Being the young and enthusiastic guy that I am, I plunked $5 into an Elvis progressive slot and came back with nothing. I just don't understand these slots. You only win if the icons align on the centerline. But you're lucky to get two lining up on the line at any time. I just gave up early. I learned my lesson: Slots are not for me.
Instead, I tried video poker. Did OK at that, but still ran through $5 in relatively short time. What I need to do is hit a real live poker or Blackjack table sometime. That might be more fun. Also, I get the idea that I wouldn't feel so bad about blowing bucks on gambling if I weren't already heading out on my way to throw money around at a comic convention.
Sitting behind me on the way out is a young assistant comic artist named Welson. He stood up to the barrage of "Oh, look at the circus clown/freak" questioning that he got from his neighbors when he offered up his final destination to the lady sitting next to him. Good for him.
When I landed in Vegas, I checked in at the phone bank, with a gentleman wearing a WIZARD denim jacket on the phone to my left. I knew I was headed in the right direction…
I'm writing this on my Targus expandable keyboard attached to my Handspring Visor. It only took five minutes before someone at a table nearby started to point this thing out to his friend. I just smiled and kept typing. The keyboard is a little small, but not any smaller than the keyboard on my laptop at work. Hey, if Warren Ellis can write a book like this, I can do a column or three.
My hands are starting to cramp from typing on this little keyboard, but I press on. Why? It's good warm-up. I'll be typing up Pipeline all weekend on this thing, so I had better get used to it now.
Things I learned on the flight out here:
There ought to be job discrimination against flight attendants whose asses are wider than the aisle they're walking through. It would only make sense that you'd want people serving drinks who don't butt people in the head while they serve.
HEARTBREAKERS - the onboard movie -- is an even better movie without the sound on. I didn't spring for the headphones and it just seemed to bring out the sterling appearance of Jennifer Love Hewitt's ass. Oh, and her breasts, too.
After 5 hours on a plane, I don't mind walking from end to end of an airport as long as I'm in no rush. I'm feeling stupid sitting down right now when I could be up walking. When you're 6' 3" tall, airplanes are a whole different kind of experience. VERY painful. My shoulders don't fit in the seat. Thankfully, I had a ten year old in the seat next to me who didn't utter more than three words the entire trip.
The Elvis progressive is up over half a million now. And the suckers keep pouring in their quarters.
I brought along Robert McKee's STORY as my reading material but only got about 60 pages into it. I just couldn't concentrate on it. I was too tired. I did find some comics to be easier to read, so long as they were done in small doses.
The first is Ed Brubaker's A COMPLETE LOWLIFE. I enjoyed it in a most uncomfortable way.
I have very little tolerance for drugs. I don't find them very funny or entertaining. The weakest part of THE BREAKFAST CLUB for me is when they all start smoking a joint. It's right up there with fart jokes so far as comedy killers go for me.
So the opening stories are interesting in that they show me a completely different lifestyle from the one I led as a teenager. I am just trying to figure out how to look Brubaker in the face next time I see him. ;-) Nah, it's not that bad, but it is much more drastic than I had imagined.
It's wonderfully introspective, and Brubaker spends a good deal of time analyzing his various personality quirks and how everything fits together. The point of any autobiography, really, should be self-examination. ("The unexamined life is one not worth living" and all…) Brubaker does an excellent job in this book looking honestly at himself from a number of different angles.
There's a terrific story in the middle of the book that's the highlight as far as I'm concerned. It's called "The Problem." It concerns Brubaker's alter-ego, Tommy, and the day he gives up on girls. There's some wonderful conversation between he and his friend and their grand thoughts on male/female relationships that, I think, hit everything on the head. They neatly summarize everything I'm thinking about right now, too. Great story.
Brubaker draws all this stuff himself. It's decent enough art. It's not going to get him next month's BATMAN duties, but it suffices for the story and is actually much more accomplished than a lot of the painful art I've seen from writers who force themselves into attempting to draw. You're not getting Will Eisner here, but I doubt you were expecting that. You're getting straight-on sequential art told in a nine-panel grid. There's lots of exposition here. Tons of the stories are told in captions. It's not a breezy read, but you won't notice the time flying by you as you go.
The other book I finished was SKY APE, from AIT/PlanetLar. Larry's been on me for months to read this and for some reason I've always hesitated. Don't you do the same. It's worth reading. It won't take that long, but you'll laugh throughout the thing. The more up you are on pop culture you are, the better off you'll be. The line that cracked me up the most dealt with an Intellivision. Like I said, knowledge of a broad spectrum of pop culture is very helpful for this one.
The art is very good. When I originally flipped through the book, it looked a little scattershot. Didn't look comfortable in black and white. But when I read it in context with the story, it all works. There's something of a Mignola quotient to it -- and let's face it, we'd all love to see Mignola drawing apes, wouldn't we?
SkyApe is the story of a millionaire ape and his jet pack that go on adventures around the world. SkyApe doesn't know his origin. He doesn't know where he came from or who he was previously, and it's that mystery which drives him on. The answer to his questions lead to more humor and hilarity.
Phil Amara and Tim McCarney write it, with art from Richard Jenkins.
I can't wait for the follow-up Graphic Novel coming later this fall from PlanetLar. Hopefully, they'll get rid of the Whizbang lettering this time around.
They think of everything in Vegas. I just noticed a bank of slot machines in a separate glassed-off area. Yes, they even have smoking sections of gambling here at the friggin' airport. I love this place!
PART TWO: AND SO IT GOES ON AND ON
(i.e. The boring rantings and ravings of a frustrated airplane passenger. I just hope the America West lawyers aren't reading this….)
Everything went well in the air from Newark to Las Vegas to Phoenix. Yes, it went too well.
In Phoenix, everything equaled out.
The plane landed on time, but everyone was slow to deplane. They didn't get the doors opened at the front end of the plane right away, causing no end of consternation to the two senior citizens sitting next to me who had a connecting flight in 5 minutes. They showed this by practically sitting on my aisle-seated lap in a vain attempt to get out first.
Finally, the logjam ended, and people poured out.
Three of us remained on the plane to ride through to San Diego.
The next group of people finally trickled in and the plane was packed full and only about fifteen minutes late. Sure, I had a semi-screaming 2 year old in his mother's lap two seats away from me, but he was kind of cute. Heaven help me. His mother was really nice and the guy sitting next to me - whose name I unfortunately never got -- was a blast to talk to. (We spent much of the time taxiing talking about the difference between East and West Coasts. He's never really been further east than Phoenix, and my whole life has been spent in the Northeast. He painfully arrived at the conclusion that the Northeast was more liberal than the Southwest, something I had no problem whatsoever granting him. His quote of the day, "New Jersey doesn't have such a good reputation nationwide, does it?" That was putting it mildly, but it serves us right for being located next to New York City and putting our interstate highway through some of the smellier sections of the state.)
After much too long, we taxied out to the runway. Then turned around and went straight back to the boarding gate. It seems there was a mechanical issue and that rather than put our faces all on the 11 o'clock news, they decided to pull back in and figure out where to go from there.
We all deplaned.
America West didn't know what to do with us. Their only other flight to San Diego was already packed. Finally, after about an hour, another plane came in and we were promised that we'd be barding it in about 15 minutes.
But many people didn't have their boarding stub ticket anymore. They did have a printout of the passenger manifesto, though, so everyone had to go to the desk and get a boarding pass -- one of those plastic numbered things. Looked like you were going to get to seat yourself.
20 minutes later, another announcement came. The new plane had a fuel leak and rather than putting our faces on the 11 o'clock news yadda yadda yadda
They promised to fix it and give us an update in 30 minutes.
At that time, they cancelled the flight.
BUT WAIT! They had a solution. Just follow the Pied Piper of America's Worst airline to the second level, where she would be booking you on a Southwest Flight to San Diego. Complications: They couldn't accept your checked baggage, so you'd have to go claim it and recheck it. Also, you'd need to wait at the America Worst ticket desk to get your ticket transferred to Southwest.
So -- exchange your ticket at the America Worst desk on a lower level of the airport. Then go downstairs to claim your luggage on the first floor. Then go upstairs to the second floor to check in at Southwest, and then board your flight. I never found out where that would have been, but I think smart money would have been on far far away.
Oh, and the flight was leaving in about a half hour and you had 50-60 people waiting to do this.
Wasn't going to happen.
While waiting in line, they made a new announcement: GO BACK TO GATE A5 where this parade all started, because the plane is repaired. We're headed out.
(Please don't ask what happened with those who had already changed their tickets around to Southwest. It hurts my head to think about it now.)
So back we went, and back we had to go through the security checkpoint, which was particularly brutal this time. Nobody got buzzed when they boarded last time, but now they all have to take off their belts and be frisked and open their bags and -- well, it must have been a slow and boring night for the security team in Phoenix.
When the flight finally boarded, it was obvious that many of the locals had given up.
I just want to say that it was a thrill to commiserate with all those fine folk who had made the mistake of purchasing a ticket on America West airlines. To Welson-- To Albert and his family-- to that really personable and terribly cute local gal who gave up and went home instead of to San Diego-- to the two guys with their laptops behind us in line-- to the mother and her cute little 2 year old -- to the father of four (3 daughters and a son) whom I briefly had the pleasure of sitting next to on Flight 191 --
You are all like an extended family to me now. Hell, I feel like we just suffered through a long and protracted family get-together that wasn't at all necessary. Hope you all keep in touch. ;-)
I will treasure the Phoenix t-shirt depicting a bug on a motorcycle for as long as I live.
Finally, I got into San Diego about three hours late and where did I go first?
Dick's Last Resort.
Ah, it's good to be home again.
The comics community has hit Dick's, also. The menus this year are redesigned. They're now legible in Comicraft fonts. You just can't get away from Richard Starkings these days.
As I write this, it's Thursday at 4:30 a.m. East Coast time. I'm only three and a half hours away from being awake 24 hours straight. Let this all be a lesson to you:
Don't fly America West.
San Diego is the only place to be.
The con begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow. Let the fun begin! I'll be back with some less boring stories tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. See ya then.
Any dumb mistakes in this column can be blamed on typing on a tiny Handspring Visor screen.