In Speaking into the Silence on July 31, 2008 at 11:48 am

I walked away from the Xterra, surfing through a wave of people heading toward the San Diego convention center.  I was one of thousands of people who attend the Comic-Con each year.  Everyone has varying levels of interest in comics.  I dodged the spear of a Leonidas look-alike as I passed some sauntering super-heroes.  I glanced back to see that Leonidas sported an almost complete outfit with tan speedoes and helmet, full red cape and 7 foot hair.  With a full chest of curly hair, all he was missing was 300 red capes following him (ok, I guess it would be 299).

I was not there because of my deep and abiding love for comics.  However, I do enjoy a good people watch.  One of my close friends, Ray, had expressed so much enthusiasm about the different comic stories and accompanying art.  I could not help but be interested.  When I found out that people dress up as their favorite characters.  Mostly, I was fascinated by the stories, Ray’s stories.

I pushed around walking groups, some dressed as super-heroes in spandex, others in sandals and sunburns.  I tried to work farther up the line, but it was not necessary.  The registration area was filled with computer terminals and employees feeding the crowds through.  I walked in the door to a stand that had become available.  After handing him my computer printout of a $30 registration, I was given a pin-on badge and ushered to the give-aways stand for a lanyard.

If the people watching was good outside, it only amplified when I got inside the convention center.  I waited for Ray in the center of the upper level of the convention center.  It was a large glass covered room with white supporting pillars filled with the din of crazed, comic fans taking pictures with their favorite heroes.  I watched adult fans hug such GI Joe villains as Cobra Commander and the Baroness.  I turned to see Ray walking up with a huge grin and sleek chrome messenger bag slung over his shoulder.

Ray’s stories about the comic-con had begun with conversations about his hero, Michael Turner, who had been discovered at the convention several years before.  Upon showing his work, Michael Turner was hired on the spot with Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions.  At 27, Michael Turner began his career as an artist that would lead to work with Marvel and DC.  He also created his own company called Aspen, which eventually took rights to Turner’s comic series Fathom.

Ray shared Turner’s dream.  He was 29 and came from a varied background, which did not include formal art training.  Although, Ray had signed up to attend the last year’s convention, he had not gone.  While there was hope in the prospect of being discovered, there was also fear in the possibility of rejection.  Sadly, Turner died one month prior to this year’s convention.  At best, the sketchings protected in Ray’s messenger bag would be seen by Turner’s staff.  He had landed  an informal portfolio review at 6:30 that evening.

We were also joined by my friend Adam, who works at my company’s location in Carlsbad.  For Adam, comic books are more of a guilty pleasure.  “This is my third year in a row at the Comic-con.  I can never find anybody to go with me,”  he confessed.  I spent my time back and forth between conversations with Ray and Adam in the crowded exhibit room, which was downstairs.  The room was 4-5 aisles deep and 50 rows long!  We squeezed our way through the crowds exchanging brief comments as we perused the different art booths.

Ray was there and Ray was not there.  He excused himself about 5:30pm, an hour before his portfolio review.  “I just think I would be more nervous if you were there,” he told us.  I understood.  Ray has communicated how deeply personal his art is to him.  For Ray, the very act of drawing requires ultimate vulnerability and intimacy.  I am not surprised that several of his ‘pieces’ have been given to former girlfriends.  However, that meant fewer pieces to show.

When we rendezvoued with him later, he was beaming.  I took from his smile that the encounter had been favorable.  He went on to tell us that he had actually met with one of the artists for Michael Turner’s company.  This meant a higher level of exposure for his work.  The artist looked at his pieces and told him that he was “obviously very talented.”  He told Ray that his strength was in ‘pencil’ work and suggested some specific action sequences to work on.  The artist concluded by telling Ray, “I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t come work for us in a year’s time.”

To say the least, Ray was stoked.  But, the artist’s charge brought up questions for me.  In many ways, Ray’s journey to the Comic-Con illustrates my own journey with art.  I went to support Ray, but I was also asking the question, “Do I have what it takes as an artist?”  Ray received an answer: a resounding “Yes!”  Now, he was faced with a similar challenge; a similar opportunity for sacrifice.  But, would he devote the time to the craft?


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