Shelf Life: The Kindness of Strangers

Thu, September 19th, 2013 at 2:58pm PDT | Updated: September 19th, 2013 at 2:58pm

Comic Books
Ron Marz, Columnist
0

The Kindness of Strangers

Some of the gifts that fans have been kind enough to give Ron over the years

The business of comic conventions is obviously booming. There's a sizable one, somewhere, every weekend. More often than not, there's two or more on a given weekend. Wizard World just announced seven more venues for next year. I'm getting invitations to shows earlier and earlier. I'm already committed to four out-of-state or out-of-country shows for 2014.

Obviously not all shows are comic-centric. There are plenty of retired wrestlers, C-list TV stars and 1980s centerfolds. But conventions remain an integral part of comics, even if comics are not as integral to every convention.

One of my first columns was about the con experience from the creator side of the table. I've also written about the sense of a "con family" that develops, as well as my strangest con experience thanks to a socially-awkward fan. But I've been feeling remiss that I haven't written more about the most rewarding aspect of conventions: the chance to interact face to face with the audience. The travel, being "on" when you're at the table, and the expected lack of sleep, all add up to an exhausting experience. But cons are also creatively energizing thanks to being around your peers, and especially one-on-one time with the people who read your work.

Having someone tell you that your work has touched them in some way, or even simply entertained them, is wonderfully strange and strangely wonderful. I've been overwhelmed by the gratitude expressed, and the gifts I've been given. It's entirely humbling when someone wants to present you with a token of their appreciation.

The three bone pendants carved by Maori artist Dane Kingi, given to Ron on his visit to New Zealand

I've been given coffee beans, bottles of liquor, six packs of beer, cookies, artwork, T-shirts, baseball caps, Top Pot donuts in Seattle, a bread basket from Sweetwater Tavern. A friend from Hawaii brings me chocolate-covered macadamia nuts every year in San Diego. Years ago at a con in Philadelphia, a Baltimore police officer gave me a Baltimore Police uniform patch.

At a convention in Essen, Germany, Bart Sears and I were given bottles of the local beer from nearby Koln, Reissdorf Kolsch. The fans from Koln told us that their beer was much better than the local Essen brew, because they drink the beer in Koln, relieve themselves into the river, and then the river flows down to Essen, where they use the river water to make their beer. We brought home the bottles as keepsakes.

A gentleman named Karlton Hahn creates amazing, etched wine bottles featuring comic art. He made a set of bottles featuring characters from "The Path" series I wrote at CrossGen, and each member of the creative team got to pick a bottle. I picked the one with the Viking character, Wulf, and the bottle still resides on my office shelf.

"The Path" also yielded another of my favorite gifts, a statue of the warlord Todosi, sculpted by Rocco Tartamella, who delivered on a promise made when he visited the CrossGen offices, and sent me the original sculpt. Rocco based the statue on a spread from the Prequel issue, complete with severed head.

Portrait of Maori carver Dane Kingi, as illustrated by artist Abhishek Malsuni.

My work for Dark Horse's "Star Wars" line led me to being made an honorary member of the "Star Wars" organization 501st Legion, Garrison Excelsior, with a plaque and nametag and patches. For a "Star Wars" geek like me, it doesn't get any more awesome.

On my trip to New Zealand, I was given a Maori pendant carved of bone. The artist, an impressively and traditionally tattooed man named Dane Kingi, chose specific designs for each guest, matching the design to the guest's personality. He chose a traditional Maori warclub called a patu for me. Artist Dave Johnson was on the trip as well, and we got to share lunch and a few beers with Dane. I asked if he had other pendants he'd be willing to sell, so I could bring home pieces for my wife and daughter. He demurred, saying he doesn't sell work that was created as a gift. However, Dane offered to trade with me, "My art for your art, yeah?" he said. So I swapped him a stack of comics I'd written for two pendants he'd carved; intertwined hearts for my wife, and a whale for my daughter. Pretty sure I got the better end of the deal.

My time on "Green Lantern," and the creation of Kyle Rayner, seems to resonate more than anything else I've done. I've been graced everything from cookies in the shape of Kyle Rayner's Green Lantern symbol (with white, black and green frosting) to numerous Kyle action figures. One year in Chicago, someone gave me a Green Lantern "light sculpture" that was sold only at the now-defunct Warner Bros. Studio Stores.

At this year's ComiConn in Connecticut, a kind gentleman named Brian Cross handed me "Green Lantern" #275, bagged and boarded. I was... perplexed... because "Green Lantern" #275 is not a thing that actually exists. But Brian explained that the cover was created from a commission piece by my GL collaborator Darryl Banks (colored by Tom Chu), with trade dress added to make a cover for an issue that never was, pondering what might be if Darryl and I were still creating Kyle stories.

Darryl Banks cover to "Green Lantern" #275, an issue that exists only in the imagination of one of Ron's fans.

Searching my office (and my memory) yielded more gifts: a Phil Simms New York Giants jersey; a Darryl Strawberry rookie baseball card, buttons with Chibi-style artwork of Witchblade and the Darkness; a 1946 New York Giants roster card; a cloisonne pin from Kodiak, Alaska; a Panama hat that actually came from Panama; a great Witchblade sketch by an artist named Julie Douglas. Someone brought back a full-size (and sharp!) samurai sword from Japan and sent it to me. I'm flattered by every gift. But more than that, I'm grateful that my work has allowed me to have a connection with those people.

At Baltimore Comic Con a few weeks ago, a guy came up the table and said, "I'm sure you don't remember, but I'm a police officer in Baltimore and I met you years ago in Philadelphia..."

I said, "You gave me a Baltimore Police patch, right? I still have that in my desk drawer."

He seemed pretty stunned that I remembered, and that I still had the patch. We talked some more, and he told me that he's now a homicide detective in Baltimore. "A homicide detective?" said the writer of "Witchblade," which has been known to have a few police procedural aspects.

We exchanged business cards. If I get something right in "Witchblade," all credit goes to Detective Bryan England of the Baltimore Police Department. If I get something wrong, it's my fault. Thanks for the patch, Bryan.

I've got a run of convention appearances in the next couple of months. On Sept. 28 and 29, I'll be at Granite State Comicon in Manchester, NH. I'll be at New York Comic Con on Oct. 11-14, though I'm not completely certain which days I'll at the show. On Oct. 19, I'll be at Cleveland Comic Con. And on Nov. 9 and 10, I'll be at North Carolina Comicon in Durham, NC. You don't have to bring me gifts. But I'll remember it if you do.

Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts" and "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athleta Comics and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.

This Baltimore Police patch that Detective Bryan England handed Ron years ago still resides in his desk drawer.

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