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Two Nights In Tucson

Scattered impressions of this past weekend’s Tucson Comic Con

Tucson Comic-Con

It was very nice to be invited to the show, even if I didn’t do much more than sit behind my table for the weekend.

Behold, the Longbox Graveyard!

The show was low key and pleasant. The organizers seemed a little harried on Friday, possibly anticipating crowd issues owing to the show’s meteoric growth (jumping from 8,000 to 25,000+ attendees in just a few short years), but from my perspective everything ran smoothly. Certainly, the guest experience was superior and hassle-free — the organizers provided us with a good table location and checked in with us several times during the show, even bringing around water and donuts.

The crowd was steady on Saturday and the afternoon on Sunday, with Friday “preview night” a more relaxed affair. It was nice to see entire families in attendance — I’ve grown too used to San Diego Comic-Con, and overlooked how the demand and cost of that show has all but priced your average family of four out of attending. The attendees seemed a healthy mix of dedicated cosplayers and lookie-loos … I talked to several fans who were attending their first comic convention. The con business is one of the sectors where the comics business is growing, and this was reflected in the Tucson show attendance, near as I could tell.

NOT Tucson (yet)

NOT Tucson … yet!

The con had an old-school vibe, in that it was less about servicing fans with big panels and events than about facilitating the fan-to-fan experience. This is the “convention” part that San Diego Comic-Con is losing sight of more and more, where crowd concerns demand that fans keep moving on the con floor, rather than standing about and socializing. In this Tucson was refreshing and made me realize anew how much of a rat race San Diego can be in all its overcrowded glory. Most of the upstairs portion of the Tucson venue was given over to fan organizations — dueling tables for Justice League and Avengers Arizona fan groups, Star Wars associations, a Steampunk group, and even a Judge Dredd group that seemed in especially strong shape. If you were a new fan coming to the show trying to find your tribe, Tucson Comic Con had you covered.

My own experience was laid back and just fine, really … I expected to sell very little, and managed to sell even less (!), but mostly I viewed my table as an opportunity to sit on the convention floor and watch the crowd go by.

so it goes

I kid, I kid …

I met plenty of nice folks — including Friend-Of-The-Longbox @Regeeken — and I got a contact high watching Transformers and Deadpool fans geek out over meeting my table-mate, Billy King, who did a brisk trade in prints of his original work. It would have been nice to put on a panel, and I regret that my crazy schedule in the weeks running up to the show prevented me from doing so. Maybe next time.


Billy King makes a Transformers fan’s day!

I did learn a bit about myself, manning that table and getting so little traffic. There was a time when I would have found it a crushing experience. In my professional days, I wouldn’t have been surprised, so much, that I didn’t get attention — in my old depressive ways, I might have thought it exactly what I deserved — but it would have eaten me up that other professionals at roughly the same level of expertise were doing better, or at least seemed to be doing better. I lacked the experience to understand that sometimes you are up, and sometimes you are down, and the difference between being “hot” or not is often down to things you cannot control, like the good fortune of working on a property people recognize, or some random whim of fannish fate that makes your particular steampunk/funny animal/hot girl pastiche the Rage of the Moment. Older and wiser geek that I am now, I could just let it wash over me, realizing that of course a guy offering 30-year-old black and white comics — and promoting a website and a yet-to-be-released webcomic on the side — isn’t going to get a lot of attention. It was no problem! I enjoyed the show for what it was and kind of regarded my own presence as a kind of performance art.

Tucson show floor

This was my first trip to Tucson, and the city does seem hard-hit by the recession. The recovery has been slow, and driving around the city at night it sometimes looked like a neutron bomb had gone off. Things were orderly, but also dark and deserted. Aside from a few thriving blocks downtown and near the university campus, we wondered where all the people and associated services had gone. There were some colorful characters on the streets — I saw one fellow eating his shoe, I kid-you-not — and there was another guy who’s very convincing zombie costume looked like it served double duty for clothes the poor devil must sleep in when he sadly curls up in an alley at night. There are people out-of-doors all over the country, of course, but it was especially tough to see when contrasted with the four-color escapism going on inside the Tucson Convention Center. Hopefully the city can turn the corner, and to judge by the many Deadpools and Harley Quinns walking the show floor, there are plenty of superheroes around town to help Tucson get off the ropes and battle back!

(And the less said about the many large guys unintentionally cosplaying as Jabba the Hutt, the better!)


definitely saw a lot of guys rocking this look!

It would be a grand thing for Tucson Comic Con to lead a city-wide revival, and crazier things have happened — early San Diego Comic-Con guests will remember being advised not to leave their hotel rooms at night, but now the Gaslamp and surrounding convention environs are thriving, both during the show and the rest of the year, too. I’m pulling for you, Tucson, and I hope to visit your Comic Con again!

Billy and me!

Thanks again to Tucson Comic-Con for inviting me to the show!

Longbox Graveyard Interview: Billy King

Longbox Graveyard is firmly rooted in the past, but I do sometimes read current comics — even better, I have friends who are making current comics! My secret identity as a video game creator and comic book writer has brought me into contact with dozens of talented artists and writers through the years, and I am at loss to explain why I haven’t interviewed one before now!

To inaugurate my new, semi-irregular Longbox Graveyard “Interviews” category, I’m delighted to introduce artist Billy King. I’ve known Billy for a decade, and we worked together on video games like Darkwatch and The Bourne Conspiracy. More recently, Billy has been a frequent reader and supporter of Longbox Graveyard, and he and I have even been cooking up a special project for the blog, about which more at the end of Billy’s interview!


it’s Billy King!

LBG: Give us your thumbnail history, Billy!

BILLY: I have been a Visual Development/Concept Artist for the last fourteen years, working in the video game industry exclusively. I was the former Concept Lead for High Moon Studios under Activision on their last two projects: Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Marvel’s Deadpool.

Deadpool concept art by Billy King


Billy’s concept art for recent Deadpool video game

Currently, I am a freelance visual development artist, illustrator and graphic designer for several clients. Since this is a comics blog, I suppose it’s most interesting that I am the cover artist on Airwolf for Lion Forge Comics.

LBG: How did you first get into comics?

BILLY: My first comic I ever read was Web of Spiderman #8. I was eight years old and just moved to Boston from a small town in New York. On a bonding trip, my Step-Dad brought me to a comic store in Cambridge around 1988. He told me I could pick anything in the store and, of course, pointed to the 50 cent bin. I went straight for the black-suit Spiderman taped to the front of the longbox. I got bit by my own radioactive ‘comic bug’ that day. However, until I read Uncanny X-Men #234 (the brood story line with Marc Silvestri), I was all over the place with collecting. X-Men became my comic of choice and where I started collecting comics as a serious hobby. Thank goodness for lunch money … sorry Mom.

LBG: Did any of those comics influence your own development as an artist?

BILLY: I’m a product of late ‘80s-‘90s comics, so I was all about the art. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would go back and read Alan Moore, Frank Miller, etc. to really appreciate the writers and the medium as a whole. Some artists that inspired me at the time were Marc Silvestri, Jim Lee, John Byrne; during the Image days J. Scott Campbell, Joe Mad, Greg Capullo, and Todd McFarlane snuck in as influences. As I got older, though, Dave Cockrum and Neil Adams as well as Bernie Wrightson and countless other greats (Charles Vess and Frank Miller) moved to the top of the lists … but I’m still a huge fan of Marc Silvestri and Greg Capullo.


 Airwolf by Billy King!

LBG: Let’s talk a bit about your comics work. How do you go about creating a cover?

BILLY: On Airwolf, I receive an email from my editor with what the story line is for that book or arc. Sometimes he gives me the whole comic, but even when that isn’t possible, I can usually break down from his synopsis what’s important for a cool cover. It’s usually Airwolf running away from or attacking a baddie aircraft, which is an awesome challenge. In recent issues, I have been looking at paintings of WWII planes and battles to get inspired. I’m now trying to get that kind of feel into the covers.

Airwolf Action!

Next I will do some quick layouts (either on paper or right in Photoshop) and mail them off to my editor, Shannon Denton. Once they are approved, I’ll take the thumbnail and blow it up and start drawing/painting right over it using Photoshop.

I start differently on each cover though. Sometimes I draw the whole thing out — sometimes I just start painting with color and big strokes. Sometimes the foreground aircraft goes first, sometimes I start with the background. Shannon gives me a lot of room to explore, which I appreciate. I’m still perfecting the most productive and efficient process. It’s definitely different than the studio work I’ve done over the last ten-plus years.

LBG: Any special challenges in working on a digital-only comic?

BILLY: Airwolf is (at the moment) a Kindle only digital-comic.  The challenge was making a Kindle spec’d composition also work with a standard comic size (for the Amazon thumbnail and potential print). I didn’t want to have key elements cropped out of the Kindle version (which was the important section of the cover).

Wolf's Reign Color Comp

A potential pitfall would be missiles and gun fire coming from off screen. Which is what happened on Airwolf #1 (below). The bottom half of the image looks like a solid composed piece but the top added looks like an after thought and disjointed. My Bad.

Wolf's Reign Preliminary Sketches

I decided to keep designing the covers to primarily work for the Kindle, of course. I’d use the Kindle section as the center for the full image and just extend the ‘plate’ up and down. To fill in the space, I’d add interesting yet superfluous extras to either the top or the bottom of the piece. They could be cropped to the Kindle specs without hurting the standard-comic composition. Easy, right? Took me four issues to figure it out! (See above).

Wolf's Reign Final

LBG: What’s coming up for you next?

My time is pretty jammed packed at the moment with all sorts of work that I can’t get into right now (like some games concept work) — lots of cool stuff. I look forward to scratching my comic itch with Airwolf covers for the foreseeable future. Shannon Denton, my editor, is awesome and I enjoy working with him.

Speaking of Shannon, he also has his own imprint called Actionopolis, and I’ve done a couple covers for him over there as well. The most recent one is for a book named Battery: The Arrival. I had a lot of fun on this one and, of course, he gave me a lot of room to play.


I’m also working on an experimental web-comic called WarChief for … (drumroll) … Longbox Graveyard! The editor for that one though … huge pain. I take six months to paint nine panels and he’s supper supportive? How dare he. We thought it would be fun to start some creator-owned web comics under the Longbox Graveyard header. Apparently, I take forever … but it is coming! I have one panel finished and the rest laid out!


WarChief sneak preview, by Billy King and Paul O’Connor!

LBG: I’m sure it will be worth the wait, Billy! And I’d never expect you to work on our little experiment when paying work is demanding your time. That you’ve been too busy for WarChief is a happy problem to have!

Thanks to Billy for his candid answers and awesome art! For more of Billy’s work, be sure to check his site, and follow his Twitter and Instagram feeds, too … and in the fullness of time, you’ll see the fruit of his WarChief labors on this very blog!


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