It started out like any other idea, you believe it to be good or you would have buried it into your self-conscious like the image of Kathy Baker in a thong. A road trip to Wizard World Dallas with my good friend Tone, brilliant! We could take turns driving, sharing stories, listening to the radio… he and I always had a good time when we hung out together, so why not just make it an extended trip and con weekend? What you are about to read is real; the events of November 2nd through 8th actually happened just as described below. I would change the names to protect the innocents, but in the comic industry no one is innocent.
I planned the trip out to the minute detail, where we would stop, how many miles we could go between re-fillings and even when and how long we would sit and eat. It was all based on leaving at 9 AM Pacific Time… at 9:31 there was still no sign of Tone. I had done my best to keep my trip a secret from my cat Crash. He didn't like it when I traveled, but I could tell by the look in his eye that he knew something was up. At 9:45 Tone arrived revved up and ready to go. A quick snapshot of us for posterity and we were on our way. A quick stop at the gas station to fill up the Behemoth (pic006) and we were on the road by 10 AM.
I prepared for the trip by making sure my satellite radio was all set, picking a few CDs and even getting a book on disc for the ride. Then we proceeded to spend the first six hours of the drive just talking. The conversation ranged from which of our friends had hot wives to deviant sex and just what makes it deviant. And as we passed the Wind Power Generators just outside of Palm Springs, there was a story about a certain comic writer and a cast member from a popular sci-fi series getting caught in a hotel room. We reached out first stop, Blythe California where the homeless get creative. We filled the gas tank and I made a quick stop in the men's room that I had to say was slightly less than spectacular, but they obviously cared so I took the time to tell the lady behind the counter that it need a little sprucing up.
We hopped back on the road and it was Tone's turn to drive. This leg of the journey was pretty quiet, we enjoyed a Tom Jones' CD and by the time we got to Tucson, Arizona, we knew it was time for dinner. Tone insisted on going to a Waffle House. Being a native Californian I had never been to Waffle House and found the menu a little confusing. But Tone quickly found his poison and our waitress Sa'adi got me my first ever glass of "sweet tea." Our chef Gabriel was pretty good and we got to watch him work; he only dropped the spatula on the ground twice. We did our best to convince one of the regulars to pay for our dinner, but he wasn't going for it. In the end it was good grubbing and they made Tone an honorary employee.
I took the wheel for the next leg of the trip and it was probably for the best as I knew how to handle the Behemoth better than anyone and I would need every ounce of my skill to deal with… the Demon Trucker. I was winding my way through Arizona heading towards the New Mexico boarder, the moon was just a sliver of light in the sky and the darkness clung to the sides of the highway like solid walls of blackness. I had the Behemoth up to eighty and saw a Semi in front of me. I checked my rear view mirror and saw lights in the distance, coming closer, but still far enough back that I could swing out into the passing lane and get ahead of the Semi. I did just that, then tucked back into the right lane so the faster car could pass. The driver of the truck must have felt I cut him off, if you count three car lengths ahead as cutting off, because he stepped on the gas and got up right behind me. His lights blared so brightly into the cab of the Behemoth that I could have read my copy of "Ivanhoe."
I stepped on the gas, pushing my truck up to eighty-five. The trucker matched, staying close enough to bounce his high beams off my mirrors and into my face. I coaxed the Behemoth up to ninety, then ninety-five but the demon trucker was still on my tail. I dived into the passing lane and dropped it down 10 mph, making the Semi shoot past me, but as it did I heard this sickening scrapping sound as if a large chunk of metal was dragging along the highway. The semi got in front of me and then slowed down, he began weaving back and forth between the two lanes, so I couldn't pass… and slowing down so I couldn't get far behind without actually stopping.
I noticed in my mirror that another car was coming up in the distance, I figure now was my chance to make my move. The Demon Trucker tucked in so he could pass and I dove in behind, the Behemoth's engine gave a gentle whine of protest but kicked in with enough power to shoot past the semi. The same scrapping sound could be heard as we raced by. I floored it, hitting triple digits and not stopping until his lights faded in the distance. I took a deep breath and Tone began unwrapping his fingers from the "oh-shit" bar. A few minutes and we began talking about the funny story we'd have for the show, when suddenly my mirrors were filled with lights again. The Demon Trucker had gone dark, shut down all his lights and caught up only to turn them on again once he was behind me. Tone screamed like a little girl and I just about drove the gas peddle through the floorboard. I pushed the Behemoth for all it was worth and didn't stop until we got to Deming, New Mexico.
In Deming we stopped for fuel and while I was working the pump, Tone visited the restroom. He returned with a sly look on his face and told me we must be in the "Land of the Giants." When I asked why he said go see the bathroom. I took my camera with me and found something odd, the urinals were a little high… like the bottom were level with the top of the sink. I'm 6'6" and these were in perfect line for me, but I could imaging someone 5'5" or less having to stand on their tippy-toes to use them. The other odd thing about this place was that the 24-hour Country Grill was closed… I asked the man at the counter: "The sign says open 24 hour?"… He says: "Yeah, but not in a row."
The rest of the evening went by uneventfully as we cranked Hair Nation on the satellite. Nothing like Poison, Kiss and Warrant to get you through the night. We were well into Texas when the sun began to rise. Tone was behind the wheel and moving the Behemoth at a quick pace. I could see the sun rising through my passenger side window, streaks of yellow and orange burning off the morning haze. As the road dipped down it made a hard right and then shot back up. A semi in front of us hit the top of the hill and locked up his brakes, the trailer dragging side to side as the driver struggled to get control. Tone looked at me and said, "This isn't good." I grabbed the "oh-shit" bar just as we reached the top of the hill… what I saw was like nothing else I had every seen. The sun appeared before us as if it sat on the highway just a few miles ahead. It seemed large enough to swallow the Behemoth whole and gave off a level of brightness that no man was ever meant to gaze upon. I could smell my retinas beginning to burn as Tone hit his brakes to slow down. The visors were useless and I scrambled for my Ray-bans, but they must have fallen between the seats. Tone used the ridges on the far side of the road to guide him, the rumbling sound being our only salvation. We could hear a series of screeches behind us as other drivers reached the top of the hill. A moment or two passed and our eyes adjusted… but they will never be the same again.
We arrived at the hotel about 10 AM local time and came across our first creator almost immediately, penciler Leon Leclaire form Kodiak Alaska. The rooms weren't quite ready yet so we waited in the lobby but someone at the front desk took mercy on our poor tired bodies and got us in a room very quickly. From our window I could see the water park outside and I could keep an eye on the Behemoth, who looked sad sitting in the parking lot alone. We slept for a few hours having been up all night, and then we got cleaned up and headed down to the bar for dinner and seeing who was there early. I ordered the "Tony Dorsett" while Tone preferred the "Emmitt Smith". We also disproved the theory that you can't be named "Bea" and be attractive.
The bar started filling up quickly and the drinks began flowing. Using my Romper Room Magic Mirror I saw newly-exclusive-to-Marvel-artist Angel Medina and former Vampirella penciler Buzz, Silent Devil alum Taki Soma and Chris Moreno, "Sonambulo" creator Raphael Navarro, inker Jeffrey LaJaunie, Mike Wellman and a man I only know as Craig. We sat around laughing and drinking until the wee hours of the morning. Except for a few moments having to help out a penciler who was having a hard time dealing with their age… the evening was a lot of fun.
The next day was Friday and the con would open up at 10 AM. I decided to walk around and get photos of some of those in artist alley. I first checked on Chris Moreno to make sure he made it from the bar all right). Then I found Angel Medina doing his best "Fonzie" imitation and Sean Shaw doing his best Angel Medina imitation. I spent some time with the Vigil brothers, Tim and Joe until I remembered the scary art they create and ran screaming. I decided to hide behind Angel's backdrop and found Kody Chamberlain ; his name card was almost billboard sized. Once I saw the coast was clear, I went by and visited with fan favorites Tommy Castillo and James O'Barr. I also got a chance to see Talent Caldwell… it's amazing that his parents knew just how talented he was going to be. I checked in with Christian Beranek, Grant Gould and Tony Moore before deciding to head back to my table.
I returned to find Buzz taking a lunch break and Tone hard at work on someone's sketchbook. Our neighbors across the way had settled in as well. I met Thom Zahler a few years back at San Diego, so it was good to see him again. And with Peter David directly across, this had almost become the IDW booth for the show. I stayed at the table for the rest of the day, which turned out to be a very good thing. This woman was at the con last year and spent a lot of time at our table… well she was on the phone telling her friend "remember those really cool guys we met at the con last year, well there here again." I could use many more fans like this. Also my buddy Marat Mychaels came by to say hi and catch me up on what he's been working on. And finally this young lady appeared to give us coupons for free appetizers at a local restaurant… which pretty much guaranteed where we would be going that night.
With our little coupons, ten of us got together to go to dinner at the Texas Land and Cattle Company. Among those joining Tone and I were Angel Medina, Terry Moore and his wife Robin. Our waiter's name was Anthony and he did his best to take care of us… except somehow half of our order got lost. So the side of the table that Angel and I were on got our dinners and had time to finish them while Tone and Terry's side got nothing. The manager came out to apologize and said he was going to comp the meals that were delayed… but I pushed him, I had to know why. It turns out that the head chef had an "incident"… perhaps a psychotic episode… grabbed a handful of the order tickets and went running out the backdoor never to return. The manager then offered us all free desserts and invited us back another time so he could show us how we should have been treated. As we were leaving, we stopped for one last picture and then headed back to the bar for another evening of creator carousing. Most of the patrons were the same, but I got a chance to catch up with writers Paul Benjamin and Alan Porter.
There are no photos to go with the next story, but the artist in question swears this happened. I won't say his name, but we'll call him "Dave." Well, Dave had spent quite a bit of time drinking at the bar and then found himself back in his hotel room. As he looked around the room, he found a large number of Jack In The Box wrappers and boxes. Dave can't drive and isn't even sure where the Jack In The Box is at. He has no recollection of going to the place or eating anything; yet here was his room full of empty containers. What solidified the story for me was as he was unpacking his supplies the next morning and telling me his story; we were both shocked to find a box of chicken strips sitting inside his art case. Had the Jack In The Box fairy appeared to this hungry artist in the middle of the night? We may never know.
Another interesting event on Saturday involved WWF/WWE wrestling star Virgil and a young man named Chet. Chet stood next to my table and began to tell me about a dog tag he had just bought for $18. I figured he meant the Christopher Reeves/Superman tag that Wizard had; I bought one myself. But mine only cost $10 so I asked him why it was so expensive. He smiled and said, "$18 isn't expensive, he wanted $50, but I told him all I had was $18 so he let me have it for that." Obviously we weren't talking about the same thing, so when he offered to let me see the tag in question, I said "please." Chet then pulled out a small jewelry type box and handed it to me. I lifted the lid and found a solid dog tag with a laser cut image of Virgil on it. I was awed by the technology, yet stunned by the shirtless visage it portrayed. The best comment I could come up with was, "if you're a fan of Virgil's, this would be awesome." A moment later, Tone returned from the panel he did and Chet showed him the dog tag… after a few moments of silence Tone looked up and said, "Wow, this is really nice… if you're a Virgil fan."
Saturday night's dinner was another trip to the Texas Land and Cattle Company. We walked in and immediately asked for the manager from the night before, since he had invited us back. Sure enough, he went out of his way to make our dinner excellent. Eating with us this time were the guys from the band Court Jester, James Azrael and Dan Boehne. Also with them was Dan's girlfriend Michelle who can do the most amazing Allison Hannigan imitation you will ever see. The dinner went much better and Tone really got into the Rock n Roll feel of the night while I seemed to really hit it off with Dan.
Sunday was pretty calm, the wind-down of the show. I did have two different people representing Batman come by… you can be the judge of which is your favorite. Most everyone headed off home after the show, but a handful of stragglers remained and hit the bar one last time. All of us want to thank Veronica for taking such good care of us… even the guy who ended up dry humping the bar door at closing time. As the evening wore on, the numbers began to dwindle until finally we all left. Tone and I caught a few hours sleep and headed out at 7 AM the next morning for the drive home. Other than trying to out race Dale Earnharst's trucks across country, the ride home was pretty uneventful and I was able to climb into my own bed just after 2 AM.