FREAKS of the INDUSTRY: Two Days in the UnCanny Valley of New York Comic Con

Since I’m returning to the hallowed halls of NY Comic Con for the first time since 2009, I figured it was a good time to revisit this essay from The Inner Swine that dealt with my previous experience.

MY NAME is Jeff Somers and I’m a writer. I’ve written a lot of things you almost certainly have never ever heard of but currently I’m most known for the Avery Cates series published by Orbit Books. People think that being a published author is a glamorous life filled with champagne and solid gold toilets but let me set you straight: I spend my days with four cats wandering my house in a tattered bathrobe clutching a bottle of booze to my chest and muttering.

Since the Avery Cates books are Science Fiction novels and are by the way the greatest novels ever written in the English language and if you don’t buy copies IMMEDIATELY you will suffer from cultural illiteracy and be mocked at parties, it was decided that I should attend this year’s New York Comic Con as a Literary Guest, where I would attempt to charm and bamboozle the good, pious fans of the Earth into paying some small attention to me. So I gathered my courage, put on some pants, and with my wife The Duchess in tow and we headed off to Two Days in the Uncanny Valley of the Javits Convention Center in New York.

The thing about Comi Con is, it’s frickin big. The sheer number of people in front of you as you enter the place is mind-boggling, and fighting your way through it all is something like living in a zombie movie: A lot of slow-moving, odd-smelling people shuffling about while you fight the urge to hack away at them with whatever weapon may be at hand. In the end, just like in the movies, the zombies win and you have to adjust your pace to something close to a dead elephant and just sort of be carried along.


The plan for our first day was simple enough: Somehow locate and present ourselves at the publisher’s booth at 3pm where I would sign books and make friends with everyone on earth in a vain attempt to sell scads of books. Deceptively simple plans like this never seem to take into account the most powerful force in the universe, a force that has destroyed corporations and individuals the world over: MY INCOMPETENCE. More on this later.

Somehow despite the crush of babes dressed as Princess Leia and the Stormtroopers who always seemed to have innocents on their knees while the cruel crowds stood around grinning, we did indeed manage to show up on time, and a signing commenced, which went really, really well, with a lot of people and very few awkward moments. So well in fact that I knew FATE would need to restore balance to the universe with something really humiliating for me, but I’m haunted by this conviction on a regular basis and have come to live with it.

After the signing my wife and I opted to wander the floor a bit instead of making any sort of rational plan for Day Two, like where we were supposed to be or any rubbish like that, preferring to allow my aforementioned incompetence to take me by the nipples and drag me wherever it wished, but more on that later too. At one point my wife left me by myself to go look for more things to buy with the promise of being back in a jiffy and proceeded to leave me standing by myself for what seemed like six or seven HOURS. The thing about being left alone like this at Comic Con is that it’s like having a slight flesh wound in the Amazon River: you get swarmed and eventually consumed by marketing drones who want to hand you cards, free comics, live eels—whatever their corporate masters are trying to sell. By the time The Duchess returned I was weeping softly inside a trashcan.


The plan for Day Two was also simple: Show up for a panel at 1:30, then do an hour at the autograph area from 3pm to 4pm, then go out an drink in celebration. Again, none of this planning took into account MY INCOMPETENCE, which saw us arrive at the Javits center at approximately 1:25pm, spend an eternity fighting our way to the publisher’s booth, only to learn that the only person who had actually taken the time to find out where in bloody hell the panel was being held had already left to attend the panel and was now sitting there, miles away, chewing his fingernails and wondering today was the day the prophecy came true and I single-handedly destroyed Orbit Books. With nothing else for it, it was decided that I would run for the panel room—approximately as far away from us at that moment as Mars is from the Earth—and hope I could make it.


Now I am not what you might charitably call in shape; to be perfectly blunt I have spent the last few years drinking whiskey and speculating what exercise might be like if I ever one day tried some so sprinting through the zombie-like crowd at Comic Con was doomed from the get go, though I made the best of it. The saving grace of it all was the fact that everyone else was so tightly packed in that I could push, shove, and curse everyone freely and no one had the ability to extricate themselves from the crowd quickly enough to punish me. Sweaty and panting, I burst into the panel room a good ten minutes late, looking, as usual, like a jackass.

As a final kick in the ass, when you arrive to a panel late, you get the last available seat at the table, directly behind the monitor so no one can see. The good news is you can hide your trembling as your body rebels against the first good run it’s had in years. The bad news is that after the panel is over no one ever knows you were there although when you spent the whole panel sweating and trembling this may not be such a bad thing.


The autographing went rather better as we had a half an hour to fight our way back and I am much better at sitting in one place making chit chat than I am at sprinting through crowds requiring Olympian levels of coordination and speed. As I shook hands, posed for photos, and signed all manner of books presented to me, the only glitch was that we were right next to Lou Ferrigno, also known as the Incredible Frickin’ HULK and still quite alarmingly huge, who defended his territory fiercely and twice growled at my wife to stay off his spot, making me tremble all over again at the thought of making the news as the famous sci-fi author pummeled by an enraged Lou Ferrigno. Though Lou and I were wearing the same shoes, which pleased me in an obscure way I don’t have to explain to you.


Finally, we were done, and it was off to a bar to celebrate my triumph. And it was indeed a triumph: I got to meet some fans I’d only previously known through my blog and such, I met a lot of new people and I think I convinced at least some of the suspicious strangers I met to at least read my book, especially as they were given away free. As people bought me drinks and my heart rate returned to normal, I realized that the thrill of Comic Con is being in one place with so many people who feel just like you do about Sci-Fi in general, not to mention the fact that I now know the one thing I have been missing in all of my public appearances is a cape. You simply have to take men in capes seriously.

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