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Eric: Views of the Q-List: The Dumbrella Meet and Greet.

Howdy, kids. This one's long. Five thousand words long, in fact, so I've done the unthinkable and put it behind a cut. If you're on RSS/Livejournal, hit the site to read the full thing. If you're on the main page, click the "Read more" bit at the bottom.

And if someone has some convenient caffeine in patch form, I could really use it. Thanks, kids.

It's winter in New England, but winter in New England has been indecisive at best this year, so it was warm and raining. You worry, as you're driving, that the temperature would drop twenty degrees and freeze the roads solid, effectively trapping you or -- even more likely -- creating black ice that would cause your car to careen off the side of the road and into a tree, giving you a chance to test your airbags. Jon Stewart's voice was talking to me through the car stereo speakers all the way down, though, and that made me feel like I wasn't going to die. It seems like you won't get into a car accident while the cast of the Daily Show is talking to you. The tableau was all wrong.

Scoff if you like -- I'm alive this morning to type about it, aren't I?

Northampton was one hundred and fifty five miles from where I had been parked along the shores of Lake Winepausakee. If it had all been interstate, I could have cleared it in just over two hours. But most of it was highways and good old fashioned 'routes', wet as I said, with some fog and more than a few nervous driver, so it took me just over three. I have a GPS from the good people at Garmin -- it will also let me read e-books on it if I want, which is cool enough, but it's the strident voice of the directions that makes you sit up and take notice. Over the summer, I had some friends visit for the weekend, and we trawled all over New England via my GPS. We named her Frau Navistein von Garmin, or "Frau" for short. A digital dominatrix, always ready to announce that you are "Off route -- recalculating," in a tone of voice that made you think she was barely resisting adding "you stupid fuck" afterward. She took me straight to where I needed to go. Of course, then I had to circle around and find someplace to Park, which added ten minutes. But eventually, I got inside.

It's called the Haymarket Bookstore Cafe, easily recognizable by its total lack of books of any kind. It's dark, with lots of stained wood, and handwritten backlit menus up on the boards. It's on two levels as well... and the thing is, if you want coffee, you have to be on the upper floor, where the baristas are. If you want food, you have to be on the lower level where the kitchen is. If you want coffee with your food, make up your mind or haul yourself up the stairs, you lazy sack of shit. This, to me, is the sign of a good cafe. I chose to go downstairs, order a salad, and then head back up to get coffee.

The barista was maybe twenty-two, dark haired, with four visible piercings not counting ears. Two eyes, one nose, one labret. Dark ink tattoos. She was cheerful, but also looked ready to beat my head in if I looked at her crosseyed. Barista. I felt nostalgic.

A side note. I lived in Seattle during the heights of the whole Seattle coffee thing. I learned the art of care and feeding of baristas from the masters. I learned the casual disdain, the significant adorableness, the ability to beat you within an inch of your worthless life or at the very least spit in your latte if you crossed them there. Since then, I've been living in New Hampshire. There's a few nice coffee shops in New Hampshire, and I've had good coffee there, but the baristas are only baristas because they make you coffee. No one taught them the subtle, almost erotic art of pulling espresso and making your customers suffer. It was refreshing.

"What'll you have?" she asked.

"Tall nonfat vanilla," I said, trying to be smooth.

"A small?" she asked.

"A tall."

She looked at me with a weather eye. Poseur. You want to throw stupid words around, go to fucking Starbucks.

"Medium," I corrected, and she nodded. The guy next to her -- twenty one himself, eyebrow piercing and industrial on the ear, tattoos, grey tee and basic apron... the male of the barista species -- said "hey, can I ring you up?"

"Sure," I said.

"What'd you have?"

"Tall nonfat vanilla," I said, because I don't learn.

"A what?"

"He got a medium," the girl snotted. That's the only way to put it. 'Snotted.'

"Right, right," he said, and charged me. I dropped a buck in the tip jar, and he nodded. Poseurs are okay if they tip. A couple of minutes later, the girl walked over with my coffee and handed it to me.

"Hey," I said. "Is this where the Dumbrella event is supposed to be?"

"The what?" she asked.

"Dumbrella? The webcomics thing?"

She squinted, and shrugged. "Turn Your Back On Bush is having a thing tonight. But they never tell us anything."

This made me nervous. I had a sneaking suspicion I was in the wrong place, since the place we were supposed to meet was the Haymarket Bookstore Cafe, and as I said, there were no books in this place, for sale or otherwise. "Is this the only Haymarket Cafe?" I asked.

"Only one I know of," she said.

I thanked her and started back downstairs to where my salad would be waiting. I sipped.

Best damn cup of coffee I'd had in eight years. I'd marry that girl, if she even acknowledged I wasn't simian. Which of course she wouldn't. As Jeph Jacques and I said to each other later that night, you don't hit on your barista. You don't. The consequences of rejection could be dire. The least you could hope for is that she'd spit in your latte. And to be blunt, you'd drink it anyway. You'd have no choice. That is the power of the well pulled espresso.

The salad was somewhat disappointing, but the wifi was up. And that was good, because I had a good hour to wait before people started showing up. The downstairs was better lit than the upstairs, with an odd preponderance of religious art. Lots of virgins, lots of saints. No crucifixes, though. Also, a lot of vases. And yet, the music playing over the system sounded if anything Islamic, and they were mostly serving Indian food. The benches were wooden but comfortable.

At about ten to nine, I saw Jon Rosenberg. He and Jeph Jacques were the two I figured I had even odds of picking out in a police lineup even though I'd never met them. He glanced at me a couple of times. I glanced at him a couple of times. Neither one of us were really ready to walk over and say "hey, do I actually know you." Not without one of the two of us being female and cute, anyway, and I think Rosenberg's significant other might have something to say about that. I waited until someone else tested the water. Girls, two of them, hip, in black pea-coats. Chatting it up with Rosenberg and a powerful looking blond man, his hair in a pony tail. Phillip Karlsson, I thought to myself. And I realized that Rosenberg and Karlsson look exactly like their cartoon counterparts. Oh, they don't have the disproportionate eyes, and Jon actually currently has facial hair, but still. If you saw them standing next to comedic life sized cutouts of the comic strip, you'd know instantly it was then. Karlsson's hair was even pulled back into the pony tail.

One thing -- Karlsson is a powerful looking man in person. I have no doubt but that he could scoop up a chair and take out a malefactor at a moment's notice. He also wore a "Do Not Eat This T-Shirt T-Shirt" implied in this strip and on sale in their store. It's now displaced the Pirate Monkey Robot tee shirt as the one I have to own next, as soon as I'm comfortable it'll be in my size.

Finally, having let the girls break the ice ahead, and seeing Karlsson set out a number of freebies on the table they were next to (the likelihood that these were some random other people who happened to look just like Jon and Phillip from the comic strip, one of whom was wearing a tee shirt from the strip, and who happened to be carrying around Goats buttons, bumper stickers, comics and the like seemed negligible), I swallowed my fear along with the rest of my second cup of coffee (this one a decaf vanilla latte, and large) and walked over, nodding.

"Hey," Karlsson said. "Are you Eric Burns?"

"Yeah," I said. Because, after all, I was.

"Cool." He leaned over to Rosenberg. "Yeah, that's Eric Burns," he said.

We shook hands all around. "Good to see you," I said. Rosenberg smiled, looking around almost furtively. "People are actually showing up," he said.

"Well yeah," I said. "You're a rock star."

Rosenberg dismissed that with a snort, then shook his head a bit. "I'm always surprised when they show up," he said, and had a sip of a beverage that can only be described as 'adult.' Like I said, rockstar.

Rosenberg pointed out his compatriots, all of whom were there and none of whom I recognized. I didn't approach any of them at that point, because they were all speaking to fans, and as weird as it sounds, said fans had more right to access than I did. I was there, if anything, as the press. And while everything I learned about journalism I learned from old Lou Grant episodes, one thing I knew was the reporter didn't inject himself into the story.

Jeffrey Rowland I didn't instantly recognize, but I should have. I could see the spiritual kinship between him and his avatar in Overcompensating. He had also set out some books and the like, and drawing gear, and as he chatted with people he sketched in their books, or in his sketchbook. That's something I recognized almost immediately. Rowland sketches. All the time. Or at least, all the time he was there. He was personable and conversational and clearly enjoyed talking with his fans, but while he did so his pen was always working.

R. Stevens I also didn't recognize, but I had a feeling he was one of the group when I saw him. (Though my first guess had been John Allison.) He was active and frenetic, chatting people up and performing, almost. Friendly and uninhibited. A cool guy to know. He didn't look like anyone in his comic in particular, but then given the pixilated element in his comic, it'd probably be surprising if he did. And that made me think about that comparison, briefly. You find yourself expecting artists to look like they'd fit in their comic strip -- probably because that way, you can convince yourself that the strips are real, even if they have satanic chickens or poison potatoes or mack daddy robots or nefarious Portuguese Man'o'Wars in them. Which is just plain pathetic, if you think about it.

John Allison wasn't what I expected. I'm not sure what I did suspect -- going back to the whole "comic strip as life" thing, maybe I expected him to look like Ryan, bursting in on a vespa scooter with his own soundtrack. Physically, he probably looked most like Rich Tweedy from the Bobbins cast, though he's not red haired. And yet, looking at him, you think artist. He gives off a vibe not unlike you imagine T. S. Eliot would. Quiet, analytical, seeing things you don't see. Seeing potential.

Truth be told, Allison's the one I barely spoke to all night. He was in a corner with a coterie, several of whom were female and pretty. And that's cool for all involved. So I won't mention him much in the rest of the narrative, but he seemed perfectly pleasant and cool. Just for the record.

The event spun up quickly enough. There was no organization to it, mind. It was just happening, but people began showing up. More and more of them. Right next to them were two people that seemed like the people who wanted to be there early. One was a bit heavier than I currently am, wearing a purple shirt and tie, and next to him was a rail thin friend. I've seen their type at every con I've been to, and so have you. And they had a sketchbook with them. Idiot, I thought. You should have brought a sketchbook so people could draw in it. Then, I realized I wouldn't actually have given it to any of the artists in residence, because as I've said before, that seems like hubris to me. But then, I'm weird.

I ended up standing off to one side, and watching as the crowd came in. Pretty girls, hip guys, college crowd mostly. They all handled it a bit differently. Karlsson and Rosenberg did lots of chatting and passing of freebies out. For Rowland, it was like a traditional signing -- a line formed to meet him, to give him things or buy things and let him sign and sketch, and he cheerfully obliged. For Stevens, it was an event. For Allison... well, no clue. But he seemed to be having fun with his coterie.

And me? I stood off and watched. Letting the crowd come in. There were a couple of people with Goats tee shirts, some Questionable Content paraphernalia -- hey, where was Jeph Jacques, anyway? -- and a good amount of Wigu shirts.

One of the kitchen staff guys swung through. "Hey," he said, not too loudly but with some annoyance. "I need to get back into that closet." Clearly, he wasn't too happy about the crowd. I moved out of the way -- said closet was right next to the Rowland line, so for the most part people weren't going to get out of the worker's way. Needless to say, he didn't take a bumper sticker.

Karlsson came over after a bit, and we chatted. "These things stun me," he said. "People showing up to see... you know, us."

"Why? You know how many people read you every day," I said.

"Yeah, but still. We didn't get into this because we wanted crowds of people. We just wanted to do it." He shrugged. "Back then, there weren't very many comic strips on the web. If we started today, no one'd ever know who we are. But now, we're like... Q-List Celebrities, and that's weird."

I could tell how he felt. If he and the Dumbrella folks were the Q-List, I was at best the R-List, but sometimes even that freaks me out. Once, I was sitting in Panera Bread in Portsmouth, and after a few moments I realized that the people at the next table were bitching about online comics, and Websnark came up. That was a moment of profound strangeness for me. How much more is it when you have ten times the traffic, when people have been reading your comic strip for years and years?

Rock stars I'd called them. The Q-List, but at a Q-List event, there were still crowds. People into it.

Rosenberg and I chatted about the same thing a few minutes later. "Yeah, we never expected there to be... you know, fanbases. People willing to come out to see us. It kind of amazes me, still."

I nodded to Rowland. "Some folks settle into it pretty well."

Rosenberg grinned. "Well, Jeff draws. All the time. John Allison too. They always have sketchbooks out. They'll be up, late at night, drawing. Me, I'm more a writer. But then, you look at early Goats, and I didn't know how to draw at all. I only got away with it because there wasn't any competition back then."

"Well, you know me," I said. "If the writing keeps me coming back, I'm willing to give the art a bye."

Rosenberg laughed. "Well, it's not fair for me to say this, since I know what my art was like back then... but I just don't have enough time to read strips, so I'm pretty much going to stick with strips where the art and writing are both really good. I just don't have the time."

"I can understand that," I answered. "Still, if someone's drawing every day, day in and day out, they're going to get better by default."

"Absolutely," Rosenberg said. "That's very, very true."

"And if the art's beautiful but the writing isn't there--"

"Yeah. The writing's what brings you back. That's what makes these guys so incredible," he said, nodding to the rest of the group. "The writing and the art -- it's just there."

"Well, you're the proof of all this," a fan who'd been listening chimed in. "I mean, no offense, but when you started you were horrible. And now your art's incredibly beautiful."

Rosenberg grinned -- a little embarrassed, but also happy, I think, and shook his hand.

Jeph Jacques got in about then. Naturally, as the guy with the least distance to travel, he was the one who arrived last. And, as reports have indicated, he is very tall. Very tall. He reminded me of my friend and Superguy compatriot Gary Olson, who used to describe himself as having a "+2 Bonus Loom Attack." Now, here was someone who could have stepped outside his comic strip -- the same with Cristi, who should be familiar to readers of the Questionable Content livejournal. The Haymarket clearly has had influence on Jacques's settings, and the Northampton street it's on appears in the strip in different forms all the time too. In fact, looking at the patrons and baristas of the Haymarket and Cristi herself -- and Jacques himself, for that matter -- I think the next person who tries to accuse Jacques of drawing unrealistic women better watch out. They're all right there. We shook hands briefly and then he went in to visit with friends.

Stevens and I said a fast hello. "I'm a huge fan," I said. Which was true, and also dorky. He thanked me, grinning. And then smiled to the absolutely gorgeous girl also sitting at his table. "Eric here's being a journalist tonight," he said. "He's totally popping his Journalism cherry, right in front of us."

"Really?" the girl said, looking up and giving me a smile that caused parts of my bone structure to melt into cartilage. "You're a journalist?"

Now, I know what I should say in that situation. "Yes," I should say. "I'm with Websnark--" stated with authority, like of course she should have heard of it. "Have you known Rich Stevens long?"

What I actually said was "eh. I'm a guy with a website."

She kept smiling, looked me up and down, and said "Oh." And turned back to Stevens.

Presentation is everything, kids.

The other notable woman I met was waiting in the Rowland line. She had long, brown hair with a purple strip running down the front in the forelock position -- and was one of the first to make it look really good, in my experience. Of course she has a purple streak in her hair, you think. "You're missing a few holes to get ahead in line," I said.

"I know," she said. "But... I don't know. I'm not sure I deserve to meet them. I'm not a big enough fan, maybe. You know?"

I arched an eyebrow. "You came out in the rain to see them."

"Yeah, but I'm local."

I gave her a look. "You came out in the rain to see them. You're a big enough fan."

She grinned, sheepishly. "Okay. And I did leave a show to see them. I should get back soon, too."

"Especially if you're supposed to be on stage?" She laughed, and we moved on.

"Excuse me," one of the two guys sitting nearby -- the two I mentioned before. The ones with the sketchbook -- asked me. "What's going on?"

I blinked. "You're not here to see the Dumbrella artists?"

"The what?"

"Webcomics? Goats? Wigu? Diesel Sweeties?"

"Oh. I'm just beginning to get into those. I just read... he paused, looking away. Sheepish, it looked like. Like he was suddenly unsure he should mention names like Sluggy Freelance or Penny Arcade at some other collective's event. Proof positive that you shouldn't make assumptions, I suppose.

I ended up telling maybe ten people what was going on, all told. Regular patrons. It sort of made sense -- I was standing off to the side, not getting into the heart of the event. I must have looked like an event coordinator or a manager or something. My favorite was a couple of guys who came in. College hipster clothes and beards. "What is all this," the one guy asked.

"It's a webcomics event," I said. "The Dumbrella artists are meeting their fans."

He looked at the freebee table. "Republicans for Voldemort?" he asked. "These guys are Republicans?"

"Er... no," I said. "It's a 'greater of two evils thing. You know. Voldemort."

No, he didn't know. Harry Potter had apparently passed right by him. So I steered him away from the bumper sticker and tried to explain... well, what a webcomic was, in ten words or less.

"Great," he said, and pulled out a copy of Socialist Worker. It was a newspaper, the masthead in good old Soviet Red. "This is a great newspaper," he said. "For just a dollar, you get great opinion and fact you won't see anywhere else."

I opened my mouth, closed it, and smiled. "Not tonight," I said.

"Good enough," he answered, and they moved on, to track down others ready to take up the cause of revolution.

I didn't talk as long as I'd like to Jeff Rowland. But we chatted for a bit. When I told him I liked his stuff, he said "you used to. I don't do it now, remember?"

"You do Overcompensating," I said, and he kind of waved it off. "Monday," he said. "The new one starts Monday. I have it in my head. I'm excited." He kind of looked off for a moment. "Three years. It seems to be three years that these things last."

"That's one of the things I like about you," I said, then tried to figure out how to phrase it. "You don't cling to things you don't think are working, and you let popular strips that you've finished in your head end, and move on--

"Fun," he interrupted. "I do them while they're fun. When they're not fun, I do something else."

Maybe that's the difference between webcartoonists and print. In print, you either keep doing what you've been doing because you're under contract, or you do the Dan Cowles thing and publish new issues when you've got a new issue's worth of stuff, regardless of how long it's been since the last Eightball. On the web, if you stop enjoying yourself, you close up shop and start something new.

"Hey," a fan said to Rowland. "Show us the spider bite."

Rowland grinned, and rolled up his pant leg, showing a large red scar. It reminded me of the surgical scar from an infected abscess, I had two Summers ago. The "spider bite" was from last year, when a Brown Recluse tried its level best to take Jeff Rowland down.

"Wow," the fan said. "It still looks like that?"

"That's permanent," Rowland said, still grinning. He sat back down and went back to sketching.

After a while, the staff of the Haymarket let the artists know that they were closing in a few minutes. "Ten o'clock close time," Rosenberg said. "Yeah, we planned this well."

"I don't think they expected there to be this much of a crowd," I said.

"They didn't know we were coming," he said. "We just decided to go out for coffee, then someone put it on their site, and the next thing we know..." he looked around. "This just amazes me."

Just before we went out, I took time to shake Allison's hand and tell him that I like his work. He thanked me, quietly but graciously. I didn't mention Websnark to him. I'm not certain he'd know what it was if I did. I got a few pictures of people -- sooner or later, I'll post them up here, though not today -- and then we piled out onto the street, where we stood around and talked. This is where I got most of my chance to talk with Jacques and Cristi, along with Karlsson and Rosenberg and various fans of various strips. It was, if anything, a better venue than the coffeehouse had been. We talked about the weirdass turrets on the town hall, across the street.

"It was to protect against the Indians," Jacques said.

"From the architecture, it was to protect against the French," a fan said.

I snorted. If we went by the architecture, it looked like they were trying to protect against Six Flags.

Jacques and Karlsson were discussing tee shirts. Jacques mentioned that the new "Teh" shirts were selling well. "I believe it," Rosenberg said. "The minute I saw that, I knew it'd be a shirt and it'd sell."

"Thanks," Jacques said. "I didn't know you read my stuff."

"Yeah, I do," Rosenberg said. "I got into it. You do good work."

"Thanks. I read yours, too. But then, you probably guessed that."

Rosenberg laughed. I realized then that... well, in a way, it's not just me, amazed at the kind of subculture that's grown around these webcomics sites. The fanbase. Jacques liked the Dumbrella guys on general principle, and certainly he has a popular strip, but there was still an element in him of "Jon Rosenberg reads my webcomic?" I have to wonder if that's true of all artists... if there's always some sense of amazement that someone you've enjoyed and followed for years is reading your book. I know it always surprises me. It surprised me when Stevens mentioned the journalist thing -- that had meant that not only did he read Websnark (I'm always stunned at that), but that he'd read it that same day.

The conversation was growing mellow, and the hour was getting late. Some folks were tired. Others didn't feel so well. So we began to break up. There were handshakes and hugs. More than one artist mentioned that they'd like to live in Northampton. I can see that. I sort of want to live there too, now, though I think I'm too old. There's nothing so pathetic as a guy my age trying to be indy. Not that I made any attempt at all, in a rugby shirt and L.L. Bean windbreaker. I was the polar opposite of indy. Jacques and Cristi talked Scrabble with me -- they apparently have an ultra-super Scrabble board, with quad word scores and everything. I could get into that. I got buttons from another local -- an artist from Viking Squid Studios, which is a cool thing -- and then it was over.

I climbed back into the car. The fog was rolling in thicker. Traveling back ended up taking nearly four and a half hours. Jon Stewart having run out, I now listened to This American Life, hitting the road. The Q-List Celebrity event behind me.

So the question is, was it worth it? Seven and a half hours in a car for an hour of being abused by a barista and drinking excellent coffee, followed by an hour and a half of light conversation and watching popular artists meet some of their fans?

Yeah. Yeah it was. It was an experience. And I even had a very brief R-Level Celebrity moment myself. Milligan -- who comments on Websnark -- had come down from Albany and shook my hand. We didn't speak long, but I got the feeling I was something of a draw for him, as well as the actual, you know, artists. I had an excellent time, besides. I'll gladly hang with Jacques and Rosenberg and Karlsson any day they want -- I still owe Rosenberg scotch -- and I'd love to get to know Rowland and Stevens better (and Allison... er, at all). So yeah, it was very worthy.

And if I take off the "journalist" cap no one is really sure fits me anyway, and put on the "writer" cap I'm comfortable with, it was very worth it. Like I said, it was an experience. And I learned things. I learned that pretty girls will go out in the rain to meet artists. I learned that Enzed/Swede New Yorkers are funny as Hell. I learned that R. Stevens can draw ladies like flies to honey.

And, I learned that socialists don't read either Jeffery Rowland or J.K. Rowling. You can't put a price tag on knowledge like that.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at January 14, 2005 10:36 AM

Comments

Comment from: Tangent posted at January 14, 2005 3:05 PM

That sounds like it was a lot of fun. It kind of reminds me of ComicCon 2002, when I got to meet various artists, both great and small (though I did miss being there when Pete Abrams came over to meet Maritza Campos. Pity, that, the CRfH Boardies joked that there were small earthquakes caused by the concentrated evil in that one place).

The funny thing is... I wish I'd gone to the Haymarket get-together, even though I've not read any of those web-comics, and Tangents has been defunct for over two years (and yet I keep muttering to myself "someday I'll restart it, someday..."). I'm not sure why... is it the ultimate in fanboyness? Or is it just a social thing, where you go to these things just because groups of like-minded people get together to chat?

Ah well. Maybe in the future when the weather is better and I'm not housesitting... I'm glad you enjoyed yourself... and that you told us about it. Take care. :)

Robert A. Howard, aka Tangent

Comment from: Surlyben posted at January 14, 2005 3:13 PM

I think that a tall is called a twelve ounce everywhere but Seattle and Starbucks. I know that if I go to Portland (Oregon) and try to order a "tall" the baristas all give me that blank look. Or they sneer like I'm some kind of Starbucks corporate tool.

Sounds like a lot of fun. I'd drive 150 miles to see a group of webcomickers. And then I'd gush like the fanboy I am.

Comment from: Johnny Assay posted at January 14, 2005 3:21 PM

I once went into my local bakery wearing my "Republicans for Voldemort" t-shirt. (I live in Hyde Park, which is perhaps one of the "bluest" neighbourhoods in Chicago.) The guy at the counter looked at me kind of funny, and said, in a you've-got-a-lot-of-nerve-coming-in-here voice, "You're a Republican, huh?"

I explained it to him, and he said he "had never seen the movies", but he's still seemed a little leery of me since. Ah well, you can't win 'em all.

Comment from: Greg Dean posted at January 14, 2005 3:21 PM

That tears it. You HAVE to come to Comic-Con this year. You simply owe it to yourself. And I am buying you a beer. If we webcomic artists are Q-list celebrities, you're a P-list celebrity. Think about it this way - we do the comics, but we look to YOU to see what you think of them. You just gotta interject yourself into the conversation, and you're all set. Just cause you're being a journalist doesn't mean you can't make a few friends. :D

But yeah... I've met everyone that was there except Jacques. They're an awesome bunch of people. Generally at Comic-Con, we try to arrange some kind of a mass dinner at the Rock Bottom Brewery on the last day of the con, and they've been there the past few years. John Allison's a great guy to talk with, too. He's always energetic, and he's got that awesome english accent to boot. :D And R. Stevens gave me t-shirt advice. The man's a freaking GENIUS when it comes to that kind of stuff. I felt bad, though, because I don't generally read Rowland's or Rosenberg's comics... I SHOULD.. there's just so much there to read that it's daunting to get into.

But yeah. You're COMING to Comic-Con this year, if we have to drag you there. We'll set up donations or something. :D

Comment from: the_iron_troll posted at January 14, 2005 3:28 PM

It is rare that I find writing of this high quality anywhere, let alone on the internet. Not to seem too fanboyish, but I have spent the last several days reading your stuff like mad. You produce quality in great abundance.

While I have not yet read any of the strips written by the above authors (although I'm sure I'll enjoy Questionable Content) I too would greatly enjoy some sort of Con/Meet-and-Greet/coffee thing. There is something about the current developments in webcomics which makes one remember the tales of a Global Village, in which we all live only fractions of 'c' apart, a few electrons away. I feel like I know some of these people, and their comics are a real part of my life. My knowledge of current gaming developments is gained almost excusively from Tycho and his magnificent writing, for example.

Comment from: Darth Paradox posted at January 14, 2005 3:33 PM

Wow. I wish I'd been there. But I don't know if the 13-hour drive each way would have been worth it.

Incidentally, the "other notable woman" with a purple stripe in her hair? She's a friend of mine from high school. I'd just read on her LiveJournal how she'd gone to see everyone at the cafe... "I met one dude who drove down from somewhere near Wolfeboro, NH. That's up near Winnipesaukee, near where my mom lives (like 3.5 hours away)! Holy crap. Dedication." My thoughts, meanwhile: "Huh. I'll be damned. Could it be...?" and then I realized you'd probably have your record of the night up, and sure enough.

Small, strange world.

Comment from: Tangent posted at January 14, 2005 3:54 PM

*sigh* Wish someone would drag me to ComicCon... but unfortunately I've not returned since 2002 because of a lack of job/finances. :/ A shame, really, as since I've had a taste of it, I'd know to go to little bits like seminars for LotR or Battlestar Galactica, some of the RPG and tabletop wargamming events, and so forth.

Ah well. Maybe if by some odd fluke I get published between now and then (yeah, like THAT would happen with the novel still in editing) I could afford it...

Robert A. Howard

Comment from: Shaenon posted at January 14, 2005 4:13 PM

Man, now I want to meet Eric so he can describe me in clipped tough-guy language that makes me sound really cool and badass, instead of like a nerd who draws comic strips on the Internet.

On the other end of the spectrum, "having a +2 loom factor" is the single geekiest way a man can describe himself. The gamer terminology, the slightly arcane word choice on "loom"... there's just no way to improve on that.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 14, 2005 4:23 PM

Shaenon -- well, I will be in the Bay Area at the end of May....

(Of course, that also gives you five months to come up with an excuse to avoid creepy stalker guy. So it's win/win!)

Comment from: Sam posted at January 14, 2005 5:24 PM

Write a book. Please? The library is full of mediocre works and to find a book by one who can actually Write would turn me into a quivering cubeshaped peice of jelly that is very very happy.

Comment from: Tangent posted at January 14, 2005 5:36 PM

Pshah. Anyone can *write*. All it takes is a fundamental knowledge of spelling, grammar, and style. After that, you need to *read* a lot so that you not only know sentence structure and the like, but have an ingrained idea of how stories are put together.

The problem is that quite a few people don't bother to *read* before they start trying to write. They also think that they can write something and get it published the first time, when it's more like being a webcartoonist. It takes practice to get good. You have to keep up at writing.

The only reason I'm a good writer is that I do a lot of reading, and have done a bit of writing (mostly fanfics, but several entirely of my own creation, which includes the work I'm currently editing). Even then, that won't guarantee that I get published - quite a few writers who get stuff you might consider trash published got that chance because they had connections that gave them an "in" on the publishing scene: this is why getting an agent is so important, as they tend to have those inside contacts that are needed.

Note: This is also why Eric is such a good writer. He does daily commentaries on web-comics and other things that catch his interest, and the longer he goes at it, the better he's becoming.

Robert A. Howard

Comment from: Sam Logan posted at January 14, 2005 5:41 PM

Man, this article has gotten me even more pumped (PUMPED!) for Comic-Con than I already was. It's going to be so great to finally meet in person some of the webcartooning madmen that I've gotten to know online over the last couple of years.

Greg's right, Eric... you really should try to come to the con this summer. You KNOW you'd love it, man. Besides, you're a writer! After you got back, you could try pitching an article to some publication -- any publication -- about the webcartoonist presence as comicon. POOF! The whole trip is a tax-deductable business expense.

Comment from: Dragonshark posted at January 14, 2005 5:47 PM

Just a random yahoo's thoughts on websnark and reading it.===

Every morning, people look into what's interesting to them. Sports page for the troglojocks, op ed in the paper for the political loons, maybe good morning america or the today show for the sheep...I mean masses.==

But Websnark is great, even when covering an event where none of the webcomics I read are involved, it's still interesting, vibrant, informative, excellent (can I use 'kickasss'? nah, I'll save it for another great job Eric will do in the future).== (OMG, I may actually go and read Goats, great, yet another webcomic, curse you Burns)==

I hope to be able to read Eric's stuff for a looong time to come.

Comment from: PatMan posted at January 14, 2005 6:18 PM

I knew that was you all along Eric. I was just to shy to say hello. And I am not rail thin, I'm 15 pounds overweight! :)

And what type am I? I wasn't aware I had a type.

Comment from: Reinder Dijkhuis posted at January 14, 2005 7:03 PM

"He gives off a vibe not unlike you imagine T. S. Eliot would. Quiet, analytical, seeing things you don't see. Seeing potential."

Uhm, T.S. Eliot was one of the first people to wear corpsepaint in public. Did John A wear corpsepaint? Enquiring minds want to know.

Comment from: mckenzee posted at January 14, 2005 8:12 PM

Very cool. I'm hoping ot have something similiarly lowkey at momocon.

Any chance there will be bowling shirts by the end of March? I'd like to wear mine to the Con.

Comment from: Joshua Holbrook posted at January 14, 2005 8:25 PM

I think I'd honestly rather meet Mr. Burns than a web cartoonist. See, if we met, we'd be more like mutual fans of the same web comics (and that'd be nice), but I think I'd be nervous to meet one of the web cartoonists because they ARE what I'm fans of, and what I look at as heroes... Maybe it'd be better to meet one without knowing it, only hearing afterward that I was talking to so-and-so (That was Jeffrey Rowland? Whoa.). Maybe I'm insane. In fact, I probably am. Oh, well.

As far as good books go (some comment further up), there are LOTS of good books at the library--one just has to look for them.

Comment from: Daniel Scarnecchia posted at January 14, 2005 8:50 PM

Speaking of celebrity, I have finally "arrived" as a webcomic fan, being quoted in an Eric Burns' piece as an anonymous fan.

I'm left at an exsistential impasse. Where do I go from here? I'm not exactly the most fanboy-ish person, being a rather quiet person, so I think this might be the pinnacle of that particular endeavour.

Perhaps it is time to start investing in the new Businessman Kuala idea.

Comment from: Kate Sith posted at January 14, 2005 10:20 PM

Man, this reminds me of Katsucon '04. Stammered my way through brief convos with Ian and Matt, randomly ran into a reader of our webcomic (by complete and utter random chance), and shared an extremely, *extremely* awkward elevator ride with Piro and Sera (there's a story behind it).

Webcomic celebrity is a very odd thing.

(I've tried to elaborate on that statement about three times now but I have gone all braintarded. So I shall leave it at that for now.)

Comment from: Alexander Danner posted at January 14, 2005 10:50 PM

So, Eric, now that you're a mobile journalist, any chance you'll be coming down to Boston for Arisia? It's far from dedicated to webcomics (it's a sci-fi con), but there will be at least one panel on webcomics (I believe there are others, but I only know for sure about the one I'm speaking on.) And I know there will be a bunch of cool webcomics folk in attendance, including Kelly Cooper, Bryant Paul Johnson, Chris Shadoian, and Steven Withrow. Among others, I'm sure.

It has the disadvantage of costing money, of course, but here's the site, if your interested: http://www.arisia.org/.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 14, 2005 11:05 PM

I already have a room reservation, Alexander. I missed out being a guest this year (I thought I wouldn't be able to attend, and when it was clear I could, I was past deadline) but I've been a guest there before, and it's one of my two favorite conventions.

Check the Comixpedia story about your and Kelly's panels. I've already volunteered to pitch in anywhere you guys might like. Plus, I think there's got to be at least one round of drinks shared amongst ourselves, don't you?

Comment from: kumquat posted at January 14, 2005 11:41 PM

Thanks, Darth. :P I sound like the pinnacle of maturity. Of course, it is LJ... and I'd ingested a ridiculous amount of caffeine by the time I wrote that entry...

Mr. Burns probably is a good writer. He managed to make even me sound vaguely mature.

Comment from: Alexander Danner posted at January 14, 2005 11:54 PM

Excellent, Eric! I've just sent you an e-mail, but in short, I would love to have you join the panel. But if you're to be listed in the program, I need all your info *tonight*. More details in the e-mail.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 14, 2005 11:59 PM

It's been sent to you, Alex. Fortunately, I had it put together for when I queried them for being a late addition myself. ;)

Comment from: Salmonrunning posted at January 15, 2005 12:16 AM

Wow. Thank you so much for conveying the evening with such detail and humor. As another silent, faceless fan of the artists at the event, I would have killed to have been able to go and... mull around shyly. Hell, I probably got more out of reading this report than I would've had I gone.



Throw in my requests with the others for more Eric Burns comic convention journalism!

Comment from: SoulTorn posted at January 15, 2005 12:56 AM

Sounded like fun. A bit too far from Montreal for my tastes, though. :P

Excellent writing, Mister Burns.

Hrm. Livejournal's down. Fortunately, kumquats has some tres cool deviantART. Yay.

-Chris, (im)patiently waiting for coffee

Comment from: Shaenon posted at January 15, 2005 5:07 PM

"Shaenon -- well, I will be in the Bay Area at the end of May..."

Go for it, dude.

Comment from: tem2 posted at January 15, 2005 5:17 PM

I've always been bothered by the smallest size at Starbucks being a tall, and the looks you get when you order a medium or large. I just can't bring myself to ask for venti coffee...it sounds like it's been dripped through a heating grate.

Is it totally wrong if I read through all that and then just comment on the coffee section?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 15, 2005 6:25 PM

Back in Seattle, the sizes were "Short," "Tall" and "Grande." Starbucks dropped the Short, made Tall the smallest size, and added "Venti" because it's pretentious.

Of course, "Small, medium and large" works just as well.

Comment from: Surlyben posted at January 15, 2005 7:12 PM

It used to be just short and tall. I always feel like a philistine ordering a Grande. And I've never had a Venti... That would be like, a giant glass of milk with some espresso in. Does a Venti get 4 shots? My mind boggles, and I'm not even a coffee snob.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 15, 2005 7:32 PM

Yes. A Venti gets four shots.

See, the system evolved because it was fast. Quick monosyllables for a barista to hear when a crowd of people wanted coffee. "Short vanilla nonfat latte" describes a pretty distinctive drink very quickly.

"Grande" broke that by using multiple syllables. Venti breaks it further. It's all style now, with the substance stripped away.

Comment from: Alexander Danner posted at January 15, 2005 7:42 PM

Venti gets four shots?! Here in Boston, a venti gets *two* shots, and if you want more than that, it's an extra $0.50 per shot. And anything less than three really is just a glass of milk with some coffee in it.

And yeah, I never actually use the word "venti" in the store. I just refuse.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 15, 2005 7:48 PM

Here's how it's supposed to work, from the original theory:

Short and Tall: One Shot. Tall is for people who like a milder espresso flavor in their milk.

Grande: Two Shots, because one shot is just drowned out. So for the cost of a Grande, you both get more milk and a 'free' double-espresso.

Venti: Four shots, because it's somewhat larger than a Grande and was also developed because some Americans believe their penises are shown to better distinction by the absurd and dangerous things they're willing to drink, and those are the people who would order such an absurd drink.

The Starbuckianing of America made the Short go away, the Tall become the only single, the Grande the double with more milk, and the Venti the Oh Christ drink.

Only then it got more popular, so it gradually shifted so that Talls and Grandes were both singles, and Ventis were a double.

In other words... Talls are now Shorts only more diluted. Grandes are now Talls, only weaker, and Ventis are now Grandes.

Got it?

(Needless to say, most coffee shops wouldn't know a Breve, a Caramello or even an Americano if you begged them.)

Comment from: Surlyben posted at January 15, 2005 8:24 PM

Makes me happy I live in seattle. Although now you tell me I'm a philistine for getting a double tall... Oh well. Mostly I get Americanos anyway.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 15, 2005 8:30 PM

Hardly a philistine. ;) There's nothing wrong with ordering doubles.

Comment from: Aeire posted at January 15, 2005 8:40 PM

...I don't bother with figuring out what word means what size. When they ask I just say 'really fucking big.' Gets the point across.

Also, yes, you should come out for ComicCon, Eric. If nothing else it's one hell of an experience.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at January 15, 2005 8:59 PM

I must be the only person who consistently asks for venti because, dude, if you want something that makes your heart explode, Starbucks tastes better than crack, and if you don't want your heart to explode, what the hell are you doing buying coffee?

Comment from: Darth Paradox posted at January 15, 2005 9:16 PM

Yeah, I refuse to use the stupid names for drinks on the rare occasion I step into a Starbucks... luckily, I don't drink coffee, and rarely need to deal with it, except when I'm accompanying my friends to a cafe and order a hot chocolate or something.

Does "Venti" actually *mean* anything? I mean, the other drinks at least have some connotations, even if they are misleading. "Venti" sounds like it'd be Italian for "windy" or something. (Of course, "vent" is French for wind, French being the only Romance language I have any ability in. Eh.)

Comment from: Wednesday posted at January 15, 2005 9:23 PM

"Twenty," apparently, which makes sense to me based on French "vingt" and the ur-Sesame Street counting in Spanish.

Except the frappucinos/iced drinks are purpotedly 24floz, not 20. Eh.

Comment from: Kate Sith posted at January 15, 2005 10:23 PM

See, ours (at Panera) are tall, grande, and largo. Which is still kinda pretentious but at least "largo" looks like "large" and you can kinda figure it out.

Then again, we have our own "miche, loaf, demi" trinity to worry about.

The whole discussion kinda reminds me of the time a friend and I were joking about opening the world's most obnoxious internet-themed restaurant chain where the sizes would be "LOL," "OMG," "WTF," and "OMGWTF".

(Oh, and I've had to make an Americano once, but I can't quite remember how it goes... isn't it just watered-down coffee?)

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at January 15, 2005 10:28 PM

Not quite. It's espresso made with steamed water instead of steamed milk. See, most baristas at carts in Seattle don't have the equipment to make drip coffee, in part because no one was ordering drip coffee anyway. But there was always that one guy who just wanted "a damn cup of coffee. Is that too much to fucking ask?"

So they created the "Americano," which dilutes the potent espresso with water, in thoughts that it will approximate the strength and taste of french roast drip coffee.

It fails, miserably.

Restaurants, of course, have drip coffee they serve in Seattle, in addition to espresso. (Even the McDonalds in Seattle have Espresso.)

It typically sucks.

Needless to say, returning to the East Coast also meant returning to the glories of really good drip coffee.

Comment from: JackSlack posted at January 16, 2005 12:09 AM

I continue to be delighted by the fact that, while they tried, Starbucks completely failed to gain traction in Australia. Gloria Jeans made a stronger go at it, mind you, and in Sydney are the dominant coffee chain. In Adelaide, there's two or three chains that wrestle for supremacy. (Cibo and Hudsons are the two that spring to mind, but I could swear there's a third.) I have no clue about Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth.

Comment from: Daniel Scarnecchia posted at January 16, 2005 12:30 AM

"Venti" is indeed Italian for "twenty"

Comment from: Tangent posted at January 16, 2005 3:21 PM

Why am I reminded of the movie "So I Married an Axe Murderer"? :D Especially at the beginning when we're following a soupbowl of coffee through a coffee shop and end at our hero who starts making quips at the size of the coffee (which was enough to caffinate a small impovershed nation)...

Damn, I have to find that movie and watch it again. *chuckle* Meantime, I think I'll have a black *tea* and not bother with this pretention burnt bean stuff. ;)

Robert A. Howard

Comment from: Robotech_Master posted at January 17, 2005 9:47 PM

The odd thing is, the first time I met Gary in person, in Michigan, we got together with a friend of mine from another writing circle who happened to live in that area, Martin "PCHammer" Rose—who is six foot six if he's an inch, and he's definitely an inch. (And he says he's the midget of his family.) So you could say that Gary's +2 Loom Attack was overpowered by a +4 Loom Attack with crits on 18-20. :)

Oh, Eric, on the extremely unlikely chance that you're ever in the Springfield, MO area, we should hit up the Mudhouse, a great little coffeehouse that serves all sorts of espresso/latte mixes. Yum.

Comment from: coldcut posted at February 1, 2005 9:03 PM

So as I only recently was able to figure out how to sign in with True Type, this comment is about a week and a half late. Anyways, I just wanted to mention that while reading this I found it impossible to separate the events described from the events taking place in 'Questionable Content'. Especially the part with the barista.

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