Zubby Newsletter – August 2, 2003 – Gen Con

Finally recovering from Gen Con. Two conventions back-to-back kicked my immune system in the butt and I’ve been fighting off a brutal head cold. Of course, now that it’s almost gone, I’ve got a couple killer cold sores and my face aches. Oh well, I guess that’s price for traveling on such a crazy schedule.

My flight down was frustrating. After my boss Erik dropped me off at the airport at 4:30 am, all I wanted to do was get on the plane and sleep. My first little flight to Detroit was no problem but my connecting flight to Indianapolis was a nightmare. The woman sitting beside me was obviously drunk. She was disruptive to the point where she should be ejected from the plane, but she did smell and talked way too much, negating any hope of napping. In fact, over the course of the 60 minute flight she informed me bit by bit that she was: 45 years old, very drunk and needing more alcohol, growing pot on her farm, dying for a cigarette, obsessed with plane travel and the lurching feeling that you get at take-off, psychic and that I had a powerful aura, scared because she thinks she has ovarian cancer and a staunch lesbian. By the end, it was just too funny and I was just too tired…luckily she was too drunk to see the ludicrous grin on my face.

Gen Con in Indianapolis was a very different from San Diego Comic Con, but very enjoyable as well. Unlike the movies, video games and comics that dominate Comic-Con, Gen Con is all RPGs, card games and fantasy or sci-fi apparel. Gaming dominates all others there and thousands of people sign up for game demos and special sessions. At first I thought it was just a bigger version of Origins in Ohio, but I soon discovered the difference. Gen Con is the place where all the companies have their new big releases and it makes the dealer floor much more bustling and energetic. The parties are bigger and the staff for each company is out in force.

Even though I wasn’t even fully recovered from lack of sleep incurred in San Diego, I found myself out for karaoke with the staff of White Wolf on the first night of the con. The place we were at was a complete dive, with 75 cent beers and Long Island Ice Teas for $2.00. The Wolfies wasted no time in wasting themselves and eventually almost everyone took their turn singing on the stage, including me (of course). As the night rolled on, one of them won the karaoke contest that night, netting him $50, which he promptly spent all of on 75 cent beers… it gets hazy after that. There was a lot of drinking, that’s for sure. After it was over, we ended up at a dance club and grooved out until closing time.

The next morning I surprisingly woke up at a decent time and made my way back to the convention center. I was struck by how clean downtown Indianapolis was. Probably the cleanest city I’ve seen in the US so far. The hotels, shopping mall and convention center all had “skywalk” paths to each other that you could take above the roads, making it a huge air-conditioned maze over the traffic. As I got to the con and saw the insane line ups wrapping around the outside, I remembered how lucky I was for getting an exhibitor badge through my friends Jason and Denise.

I got to meet all sorts of artists and RPG developers whose names I recognized from products I used to buy as a kid. It was a cool experience just chatting with them and hanging out. At the same time, I met with Art Directors at various companies and pitched the Udon portfolio. The response was great and it looks like it’ll lead to a swack of new contracts in the fall working on titles that make me giddy.

Two of the Art Directors from White Wolf, Brian and Pauline, took me for dinner that night and we had an amazing conversation about the industry and all sorts of other stuff. I’d met Brian at San Diego Comic-Con, but now that we had a lot more time to talk, we really clicked really well. Pauline was a hoot too, and after a couple of hours it felt a lot more like hanging out with friends instead of just doing business stuff. They were both wonderfully social, entertaining and engaging. A lot of my interactions with people at Comic Con were fast conversations and it was great just taking time to get to know people a bit more while at Gen Con.

After dinner, I was surprised that they both love to dance and we hit a fun retro-80’s club to shake it out until the wee hours. With the music pounding and good people around, I fought off the desire to sleep and had a blast. I felt like I was back in college, dancing with Rez friends or even doing 80’s nights with my friends from Humber. It was a little time warp and it made me grin from ear to ear.

Getting up on Saturday morning hurt. It hurt in that “You shouldn’t be alive yet” kind of way that soaking in a hot shower can only temporarily push aside. White Wolf had a big announcement Saturday Morning and I wanted to make sure I was at the ballroom area to hear it. The first 500 people there would get a t-shirt that entitled them to free drinks at White Wolf’s party Saturday Night, but I didn’t think that I’d be able to get there in time for that. That was an understatement: people had started lining up at 2:00am, while Brian, Pauline and I were still out dancing. The line stretched around the convention halls, winding around with people sleeping, groggily standing or playing cards while they held their spot. I laughed at the craziness of it and figured I’d file in at the back and just enjoy the show.

When Justin, Chad and the rest of the White Wolf staff arrived, they pulled me in and made me “staff”, getting me to help them set up the ballroom before the announcement. It was amazing. I was just part of the crew. As people filed in and the ballroom filled up, it felt odd wearing the announcement t-shirt already and telling people to fill in the empty seats while they asked me to give them a clue about the big mystery. White Wolf’s going to be ending their major line of books (called the World of Darkness) and I got a unique perspective on the whole thing. Afterwards, there was a feeding frenzy at their booth as people bought products and asked the staff tons of questions. I couldn’t wait until the big party that night.

White Wolf rented a big glass dome-like building called the Indianapolis Arts Garden. This building sits over a major intersection, connected to the skywalks that reach to the hotel and mall. It looked awesome, especially once they lit it up bright red with a ton of lights. Mike Tinney, the president of White Wolf, told me later that he thought it was “too classy for us”, but I thought it worked out fine. Justin Achilli, head of one of their lines of books DJed and spun a fun mix of old and new music, keeping everyone on their toes.

With so many people dancing, drinking, milling around and so many now-familiar faces amongst the crowd, it was stunning. I walked up to the upper level, looked down on the party and had a wonderful personal moment. This summer’s been a dream of fun times and new things and it’s been hard to appreciate it all happening at this break neck pace. But looking down on the crowd and feeling the railing vibrate from the bass, it was wonderfully calming and somehow gave me a second to step back and enjoy it. I have no idea where all these things are going to lead, but I’m having an incredible time on the journey so far. The whole party took on a surreal quality and the fact that I didn’t end up bringing my camera to it makes the whole thing even more dream-like in retrospect.

After the White Wolf party died down, we headed to Peter Atkinson (head of Gen Con)’s personal party in a massive hotel suite. The mix of people, young and old, drunk and sober, strangely dressed or straight-laced, was truly bizarre. The surreal feeling I had at the original party gave way to an even stranger Masquerade-esque frat house like atmosphere. Peter himself had a bizarre lizard costume on and was dashing around scaring and confusing people, obviously enjoying the whole spectacle. I guess the adage about crazy poor people being nuts and crazy rich people being “eccentric” holds true. He’s a wonderful host though, never thrusting his ego around. You can talk to him for twenty minutes straight and he has the excited ramblings of a kid. You never get a sense that he’s a multi-millionaire looking down on the little people. By around 3:00am, the booze in the hotel room ran out and Peter giddily broke into a stash of expensive red wine he had. It’s not very often that you see 30-year old bottles of Merlot being passed around like some sort of hooch, being swigged by any and all nearby it. I didn’t get back to the hotel room until almost 5:00am.

Strangely enough, I didn’t wake up in as much pain as I thought I would have. Sunday morning was just a slow but steady routine of getting packed up and saying my good-byes. A lot of the White Wolf people weren’t at the booth, but that made sense given the madness of the night before. Still, I got a few more photos in and grabbed a taxi to the airport. This time, I actually did get some sleep on the flight home…

I’ve been back for several days, recovering from the beating I gave my body and the head cold that hit afterwards because of it. The contacts I made are already paying off and I’ve gotten 3 contracts since I returned all based on people I met at Gen Con. It’s wonderful and exhausting.

A day and a half ago I finished Conan and am now looking at some illustration work for Dragonlance and (of course) White Wolf. Things are a bit more sane and so I’m going to be taking the majority of the weekend to spend time with Gala and come down from the high I’ve been on. She deserves that at least, putting up with my time away and long hours plugging at these projects.

Next weekend is Chicago Comic-Con, but I don’t want to think about that right now. Recovery and relaxation is the key. Gotta build up my stamina for the challenges ahead.

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