Monday, July 28, 2008

Ode to The ExpoMart

It was a somber day for me when my friends and I attended Steel City Con last Saturday at The Pittsburgh ExpoMart in Monroville. The ExpoMart, where many local conventions that I regularly attend have been held for years, will be converted into office space this fall.

Both Tekkoshocon, Pittsburgh's local Anime convention, and Steel City Con, aka the Pittsbugh Toy Show, have found new venues for 2009. However, The Pittsburgh Comic Con website still says that it will be held at the ExpoMart next year. Considering that the co-owner of the convention, Michael George, was convicted of murder in March, the future of that convention is unknown. I imagine that new arrangements will be made once they get that settled.

So with new venues ahead, why am I in mourning over the loss of a dusty old convention center?My friends and I have shared so many memories at The ExpoMart over the years that it's hard for me to accept this loss.

I'll never forget my first time there. I was a little kid, maybe ten years old, when I saw a commercial advertising SEGA Genesis games for $10 at this big weekend sale in Monroville. Being a slightly spoiled only child, I easily convinced my parents to go. It wasn't everything I thought it would be, but I did leave with a copy of Eternal Champions and a big grin on my face.

A few years later I attended my first Pittsburgh Comic Con at The ExpoMart. At the time I was a huge fan of Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog series and I was really excited to meet Ken Penders, now former writer and penciler for the series. I stood there in awe as he signed my comics and a print for me. He gave me and my friend Sonic the Hedgehog 3 pins and pointed us in the direction of series inker, Rich Koslowski, who I purchased an original inking draft from. I saw Ken at later Pittsburgh Comic Cons, even met his wife and kids. After a few years Ken stopped coming. I think Tracey Yardley came instead then after a few years of seeing her I lost track of my Sonic comic artists. I still have very fond memories of the good old comic con, before the entry price went up, before I started losing interest in Sonic comics, before the murder...

When Tekkoshocon came to the ExpoMart in 2005 my best friend and I took our first stab at cosplaying together. Our costumes weren't perfect, in fact mine kept falling apart and on top of that, the characters we were portraying (Axl and Sol from Guilty Gear XX) were not that popular. Still, thanks to our friends we had a great time. We watched the Guilty Gear tournament, in costume, and made a new friend, Caeser. We dodged traffic, in costume, to get to the Monroville Mall Food Court and find lunch. We had a blast and I haven't missed a Tekko since.

At Tekkoshocon 2006 my fiancee found the prefect character for him to cosplay as, Sig Curtis from Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA), so we went as husband and wife, Sig and Izumi. Sig is an obscure character that no one ever saw cosplayed before, so my fiancee was a big hit with hardcore FMA fans including the American dub voice actors who attended the con. I made stickers for Caitlin Glass, Greg Ayers, Tiffany Grant and Kyle Hubert and they all signed my FMA Art Book. We made new friends, Dani (Ed) and Bill (Alphonse), who are now our permanent con companions.

I didn't realize how big Tekkoshocon was going to be for me in 2007. I was still a huge FMA fan and Vic Mignogna, the voice actor behind the much loved main character Edward Elric, was going to be there. I had an amazing new costume that I worked really hard on. It was a huge hit! Everyone loved it, especially Vic! The lights were low and I could hardly see through the mesh of my costume when my friends guided me into a curtained off area where we knew Vic was participating in anime trivia. Instantly my friends began to whisper "He's looking right at you!" "Oh my god, you should see him smiling!" "He's waving, wave back!" I could see the flash from his camera phone when he took my photo from the stage. I didn't mean to cause such commotion but I really did make him smile, which meant a lot to me since his role in FMA really made me smile. I got so many hugs from him, but that one on the right was the best. Later I caught up with Dani. Probably the most profound moment of the con, my deepest memory of the ExpoMart, was when she and I were waiting in Artist's Alley (next to those windows in the first image) around 11PM on Saturday, before the rave. We were drinking Bawls and talking about sharing an artist table and how great it would be. We had no idea what was in store for the ExpoMart when we made the decision to sign up for an artists table in 2008. Still we knew we could do it. We attended the rave. I danced like a fool amongst all the glow sticks and my favorite Envy and Greed cosplayers until the heat became unbearable... yeah I lasted like five minutes with the head on so Kyle Hubert put it on for a bit and then we called it a night.

Tekkoshocon 2008 was not at the ExpoMart, but we debuted our art table anyway and made it work. The con did not live up to our expectations this year and I still regret that we will never have our art table in the big open hallway of the ExpoMart.

Steel City Con occurs several times a year and is kinda like our convention filler or fix when Tekkoshocon is over. It doesn't matter if I buy anything or not, it's never a let down. I'm sure the new venue will work just fine for it. I'll never forget the time I found that UK Sonic the Hedgehog Burger King toy that I added to my collection for a dollar or the time the Gene Simmons look alike was there messing with people.

These were all good times. I know the good times won't end, even if the venue changes. It's just hard to say goodbye. Still, I must. Goodbye ExpoMart and thank you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Geek Hierarchy

A few years ago I stumbled across The Brunching Shuttlecocks website and their ever amusing Geek Hierarchy Chart. As any good geek would do, I quickly analyzed the chart to see where I stood. I then printed a copy out to share with my friends and we all had a good laugh.

Any good geek should be able to take a joke, even at their own expense. It's true that the nature of being a geek comes along with the joy of being picked on. Being picked on is not a laughing matter these days, what with bullying leading to major acts of violence, still I like to think that most geeks evolve with a sense of humor and ability to get over being teased.

That aside, the social hierarchies are nothing new, nor are they strictly related to geek culture. "Considering yourself less geeky than..." simply translates to "Considering yourself better than..." in other social groups. It's an unavoidable ugly side of human nature. Even the nicest people in the world will catch themselves thinking they are better than someone else in some way, shape or form.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Artist's Block

For five issues Dr. James S. Payne has been writing about Writer's Block on Writing is an art, so Artist's Block and Writer's Block go hand in hand. Artists of every medium get stuck from time to time and often for the same reason.

Most people who draw "get rusty" from not drawing often enough. We get "stuck" or "uninspired" when we can't think of what to draw. We often say we're "in a rut" when we can't seem to produce anything for an extended period of time. These are all excuses we use when we can't get around the block.

So what is the Block, anyway? I think Dr. Payne explains it best in his second article on Writer's Block:
"When an author experiences writers block, he or she is imagining failure. The more one imagines failure, the greater the anxiety..."
As artists we put pressure on ourselves to perform. Every piece that we produce is a reflection of us, so we want them all to be something great and the fear that the next piece won't be great can be devastating. I can't tell you how many pages of my sketchbook I've torn out and thrown away over the years because I didn't like what I was producing and I didn't want anyone else to see it. Embarrassment, or the anxiety and fear of being criticized for or embarrassed over one's artwork, is the basis of Artist's Block.

So how do you get over it? I think one of my professor's said it best, or maybe it was passed on from one of his professors:
"You have a lot of bad drawings in you, it's best to get them out now..."
Not every piece you produce is going to be a winner and that's true for every artist no matter what their skill level. Artists suffering from the Block need to accept this. It's okay to "fail" but artists should not look at bad drawings or bad criticism as failures. Learn from a bad gesture and start over. It's okay to throw away that sketchbook page as long as you try again. If you get bad criticism, even if it's nasty, try to take something positive from it. If you feel "burnt out" take a break and it's okay to pick up a crayon, magic marker or pen and doodle something silly. This can be a great way to relax and have fun! FUN! Remember? Drawing is suppose to be fun! So put down that professional piece and scribble out some fan art with your little sibling's jumbo crayons!

You can read Dr. Payne's articles here. He is one of my favorite columnists on and the author of the PeopleWise series which was published by SterlingHouse.