Co-writing a Comic With Don Rosa and Acting Natural With Summer Glau

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Me and Don Rosa at Minnesota Fan Fusion 2018.
Me and Don Rosa at Minnesota Fan Fusion 2018.

Conventions are stressful affairs, fraught with peril and, usually, good things. It’s getting there that’s the trick. I typically attend my local comic conventions, SpringCon and FallCon, which are very specifically comics-oriented. There’s a cosplay section and artist’s alley for people who don’t do sequential art, but it’s almost entirely comics. Bliss, for someone with my particular interests.

Naturally, my favorite writer and artist in the entire world, Don Rosa, wasn’t going to either of those: he was going to Minnesota Fan Fusion – a convention with comics, people who recreate cars and props from TV shows, panels about Szechuan Sauce, and meeting people you pay ten dollars plus the cost of popcorn to see play pretend on a big screen, all of whom should really be a lot taller than they are.

Obviously, I was going. I got my career as a writer started with an interview with him, which was published in the English reprint of The Pertwillaby Papers and later used as the basis of the Greek edition of the book’s special features. The Coin is one of the best comic book stories I’ve ever read. I bought an Artist’s Edition of his work, despite the cost, just to read and admire the linework of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck – knowing it would take two more volumes to complete the saga.

The plan was simple. I would look at the guest list, look at my trade paperback collection, find the stuff they’d done, and ask for a signature (and head sketch from artists, but we’ll get to that later). I’d leave the boxes over at my cousin’s booth, easy as pie. Christopher Priest’s run on Deadpool, even at ten issues, is superlative – the Tom Cruise storyline alone is worth the price of the omnibus. Peter David writes so much I’m not sure the man sleeps. And Don Rosa, well, I have every published piece of his work available in English at this time.

The total for the convention ended up at three cardboard boxes, each of which I found out weighed fifty pounds. I carried one for half a mile, which was the length of the trip between the car and convention center, then around the convention center to my cousin’s booth, where he graciously allowed me to store the books while I was there. With that one box, my hands were tremoring so badly that Peter David asked, with genuine concern, if I had a nerve condition. When I replied no, he said he knew something that could help with that, paused, checked to make sure I was over twenty one because I have one of those faces, and provided his sincere recommendation: beer.

The convention was three days in total – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I got there on Friday, said hi to Don Rosa, got some sketches done, did a bit of shopping, and had to leave because the convention hall was closing. I was in serious pain, shaking and unable to control my hands, but also unable to sleep. I might have skipped Saturday to recover if not for the fact that I had won tickets through the Alamo Drafthouse for Saturday specifically. Weirdly, no movie tickets were part of the prize, but a photo op with Summer Glau was.

Photo ops are incredibly awkward. You have to understand, the amount of stories of actors and actresses being treated poorly by fans is stunning and I had no idea what a photo op meant. Because this was the second day, and a day where I had not actually slept, I went in to this stuck at a level of “barely functional” with only brief moments of genuine lucidity. I was trying to figure out how to stand, how close I’d be, what to do with my hands, because there are no rules or even samples to see what a photo op might look like… which led to the experience as I remember it.

After standing in line for some 20 minutes, I walked into the curtained off area, we greeted each other, she asked how I was doing as we shook hands, I said “Nervous out of my mind” because that’s what happens when you have social anxiety and no filters. She said “Oh honey, I’m so sorry,” which is possibly the first time I have ever been called honey. When I asked in turn, she said she was doing good. We were told to stand on the mark. She then put her hand on my back for the pose, I remembered had no idea what to do with my hands, and I tried my best to look natural in front of the camera anyway, a feat which quite frankly does not happen. They took the picture, I thanked her, told her I’d watched Serenity last night again and that she was brilliant in it, and she seemed grateful for the compliment.

The whole thing took, at most, 45 seconds. Still, I got my picture taken with Summer Glau and that was pretty neat. While I’m happy to have won the contest, I don’t think I’ll be trying for photo ops like that again.

Me trying for natural. I got about 90% of the way there.
Me trying for natural. I got about 90% of the way there.

Convention halls are typically crowded, noisy and horribly disorienting. This wasn’t a particularly well-attended convention, so it was just noisy and horribly disorienting. This was the best option for me (though not the creators, who were clearly hoping for more fan attendance), because it gave me the opportunity to talk to the guests a little more at their booths. One of my best stops was with Christopher Priest, who saw my Deadpool Classic Omnibus and said, in good humor, “Look at that enormous amount of such a worthless comic! He’s a complete moron!”

Christopher Priest signs a moron.
Christopher Priest signs a moron.

Don’t mistake me – I’m autistic as can be, but even I could tell he was being boisterous and funny. We talked about his run, and I mentioned my affection for the character – the first Marvel comic I ever read, in fact – and proceeded to talk with me about how he did his run on Deadpool, and getting into a groove when he felt comfortable making Wade the object of ridicule. He was fired, according to Priest, because the editor thought he wasn’t writing funny for the character. He seemed alright with it though, comparing comics to being manager of the Yankees. “Sooner or later, everybody gets fired.” My girlfriend, a lifelong Red Sox fan even though she now lives in DC, explained to me that this is a very funny joke.

Priest had a great deal of affection for the creative teams to come, mentioning Jimmy Palmiotti and Gail Simone, and was incredibly gracious about my appreciation for what he did – and my admitted preference for the totality of that first volume of Deadpool above all others, which was in fact my very first Marvel comic. When we got talking about the Titans, he was surprised I knew George Perez as an artist. I was too young, he said. I had to laugh, as Perez is one of my top three favorite artists of all time (Amanda Conner and Don Rosa, I’m looking at you).

We also talked about his run on Deathstroke – he had two trades on his table, Volume 3 and Titans: The Lazarus Contract. I agreed to buy them both (and donate some additional money to the Hero Initiative, which I’d planned to do anyway) having never read either comic, on the condition that he write the number for Titans on the spine so I knew where it went and could put it in reading order under Deathstroke. I explained why, because he had the look on his face that I’ve learned means “Wait, really?”: I love comics, but can’t stand doing homework to read them if I don’t have to. He laughed pretty hard at the idea of calling that aspect of collecting homework, and asked me to hang out at the booth just to chat when I liked. I did stop over a few times, telling him about the Epic Collections Marvel had been putting out (he was intrigued, and said he’d be looking those up later), and asking him whether he’d seen the 2003 Teen Titans series (he hadn’t, but asked where you could watch it). He’s a genuinely nice guy, and if you ever get the chance to see him, I couldn’t recommend it more.

Christopher Priest - Letterer
Christopher Priest – Letterer

Now, I’m going to give you a convention tip that didn’t make it into the article I wrote with Kay Tilden Frost last time: try not to spend money prior to the convention. Like my picking up Deathstroke, you’ll never know what you’ll be able to find when you start looking at the various booths, whether it’s creators or comic vendors. I found volume 1 of Deathstroke, bought it at retail price no less, just to ask Christopher Priest to sign it. But I was also able to pick up Superman: The Exile and Other Stories from Dan Jurgens, an omnibus priced that retails for $125 dollars, for $50. I asked for a head sketch along with his autograph, and he graciously gave one.

Dan Jurgens' Superman
Dan Jurgens’ Superman

It also meant that I had the opportunity to buy art prints from Don Rosa, which I love (I have a great collection of work from the first [and only] time I’d met him, but I was happy to get more), could give as gifts to K and the girls, and only seemed right after all he’d done. But since I haven’t told you all he did yet, let me tell you about the very best part of the convention… co-writing a comic with Don Rosa.

I’ve got another convention tip for you, which is about asking art requests. If you’re asking for a drawing, don’t ask an artist to draw whatever they feel like. This is something you’re keeping, but for them, it’s only in their hands so long as you’re at their table. It also puts more work on the artist for something that you ultimately might not like. Don Rosa has been incredibly clear about that in particular. I spent a ridiculously long time, using the rules he has at conventions (one head sketch per sit-down, you go to the back of the line once you’re done, if there’s no line just stand up and sit down again), to write out each and every drawing I wanted in the twelve books I asked him to sign. I made sure to have it on my phone so I didn’t screw it up, especially since I had dialogue.

Now, when I say I did co-writing, I have to give you a bit of backstory. His first comic, The Pertwillaby Papers, has no ending. When I first interviewed him back in 2012, I asked how the comic was intended to end, to which he replied:

“The ending to “Knighttime” WAS used as a Duck adventure! At the end of the story, the Black Knight (Merlin) would die when a rug was pulled out from under his feet and he fell to the center of the earth (a demise I softened for Arpin Lusene in the Duck version), then when the heroes tried to transport back to the present, Lance was to have succeeded in sending everyone back using the power of the machine, but he was a microsecond SLOW in sending HIMSELF back, and he materialized at the edge of outer space, the Earth having moved slightly in its orbit during transfer. But, by gravity, he would then fall to Earth protected (slightly) by the space suit you see him wearing in the story for other reasons. This ending was used as the ending for “The Duck Who Fell to Earth” story with $crooge and Donald.” – originally published on Review Or Die

This interview was mentioned in the introduction to talk about what happened after the cliffhanger of Episode 141, and I’m quite proud of that. Having a bit of fun, and hoping beyond hope he wouldn’t be offended, I wrote out a short, two-panel story for a fictitious Episode 143 that detailed what would happen after the unwritten Episode 142. When I explained what I’d done, and asked if this was an acceptable request, he seemed amused and agreed. His only concern was that after decades of drawing Ducks, he wasn’t sure he was going to be able to draw humans anymore! When we looked it over, he had some thoughts on the initial dialogue to match the characters’ voices a little better (and in the process removing what in hindsight is a hackneyed joke), and here it is. Two full-page drawings that serve as panels in a piece of sequential art. Scott McCloud himself would have to agree that this is a comic.

There was a small issue, but it meant he contributed something completely on his own to the work. I’d asked him to write “Episode 143”, but he ended up adding a colon afterwards. I said, then, that it only made sense for it to have a title (despite Episode 141 having no title, I couldn’t leave the colon undone). Since I’d had no title in mind, he ended up choosing “Forty Years After”, a play on the sequel to The Three Musketeers titled Twenty Years After, and referencing the passage of time since he’d stopped his work on The Pertwillaby Papers. I’m saying this to you now – I own, as of this writing, 878 trade paperbacks, many of them rare. There is none I treasure the way I do my copy of The Pertwillaby Papers.

Feather Fluff – A literal work in progress.

I also asked him to do a little epilogue to his newspaper strip Captain Kentucky, which he was flipping through as I was sitting at his table.

Yes, this is absolutely my homage to the Silver Age Superman endings I used to read.

The only reason he could flip through them at all was because I met him at an American convention rather than a European one, where he had the opportunity to be incredibly gracious with his time, rather than the 8-10 hour non-stop signings he does in Europe. Don Rosa is particularly harsh on his own work, but as he looked through his old comics, he started smiling and laughing at jokes he’d written thirty years ago, pointing out strips he liked or remembered fondly. Not only that, they were some of my favorites too. He said he’d like to go back and read his old comics, something he hadn’t done in a long time.

One he pointed out as something he was particularly proud of, and something I'd point out as a reminder that artists crave feedback.
One he pointed out as something he was particularly proud of, and something I’d point out as a reminder that artists crave feedback.

Of course, the Disney work he did was remarkable, some of my favorite comics in the world. He took the time to do a sketch for each of the nine released volumes of the Don Rosa Library (it kills me that Volume 10 isn’t out yet, I would have asked for Glittering Goldie in reference to The Prisoner of White Agony Creek, my favorite comic book story of all time) and the Don Rosa Artist’s Edition Volume 1. He even included some color on the Artist’s Edition because of how special the book is. Check them out below:

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Artist's Edition - Where it all began
The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck Artist’s Edition – Where it all began

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While I spent most of my time on comics (and trying not to freak out with Summer Glau), there were a few non-comics high points. I got to see my cousin Brian at the show. He runs Dusty’s Prop House, where he restored and remodeled a 1967 Chevy Impala to match Supernatural, down to the army man stuck in the ashtray. The story of how they got to that point is a long one, involving his work as a mechanic, he and his wife’s love of Supernatural, and someone explaining to him that people would absolutely love to get their picture taken in the Winchester’s Impala.

As shown here.

They also created a TARDIS that looks bigger on the inside, the Jurassic Park jeep, the control console from The Doctor’s Wife, and are currently working on a second Impala for shows farther away from Minnesota. The guy is incredible, and his family’s work showcasing this is a treat.

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And, of course, cosplay. I am terrible at flagging down cosplayers. It’s nerve-wracking, but Kay’s two little girls are watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with us for the very first time, and I saw a Green Ranger costume that looked better than any version I’d ever seen, including the one on the show, traveling with a stunning Ninja Pink. I figured they’d never forgive me if I didn’t get my picture taken with them, thus, a selfie with the Green and Pink Rangers (and an explanation of what cosplay was to the utterly distraught kids, because they thought I had met Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank and hadn’t asked them to take off their helmets).

Shattered Grid is the only explanation for this.
Shattered Grid is the only explanation for this.
Ready to fight.
Ready to fight.

At the end of my time at the convention, I was exhausted, my hands were shaking, I had spent roughly 36 hours terrified of making an idiot of myself in front of people whose work was either formative to me, literally responsible for my career, or just outright brilliant, but I came away mostly unscathed and with some amazing works to put on my shelves. I’ll call that a win.

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