Comic‑Con Artist


by James Killough

It does pay to read your friends’ spam email blasts, otherwise I wouldn’t have known that my buddy Tristan Eaton was going to be in SoCal doing signings of his book and launching a prototype of his new toy at Comic-Con last weekend.  I’d always wanted to go to Comic-Con, so this was the perfect opportunity to pack a picnic lunch, hop in the train and take myself on an outing, as my mother would call it.

But, James, you ask, aghast.  Why on earth would a modern misanthrope like you want to throw himself into the greatest concentration of unsightly, badly dressed geeks in the galaxy, if not the universe?

Greek revival: Henry Cavill as Theseus in Tarsem Singh's forthcoming "Immortals."

You’re quite right, it was all of the above, and I should have been forewarned.  Before you savage me for being un-glamorous as well as inconsistent, it pays to remember that I’m not the only one with a geek hovering inches beneath my glossy-if-a-bit-tarnished exterior: my dear friend Mesh Chibber—and, yeah, I’m going to drop a few names in this post, so put on your steel-toed shoes—who is one of the biggest, hugest PR guys in the fashion business, guardian of none other than John Galliano’s wobbly image for many years, is a massive comic book/fantasy geek.  Much worse than I am.  His mouth actually starts watering when he talks about this stuff, spittle flying all over his Yohjis.

The magical Tristan Eaton doing the doodle-signing thing at Comic-Con.

I had dinner with Tristan and his lovely girlfriend, Sarah, and his entourage last Wednesday night at Malo on Sunset in Silverlake, which if you haven’t been means you’ve never had a spicy cucumber margarita, and that’s unfortunate.  You also haven’t had the pickle and beef taco.  It was somewhere in between bites of said tacos and cooing and washing it down with said margarita that I resolved to go down to San Diego and satisfy my irrational curiosity about Comic-Con.

I met Tristan in ’05 when I was doing the branding for a tech company.  I went through his agent in London, Central Illustration Agency (CIA), who set up a meeting in Brooklyn.  Tristan was forty-five minutes late for the meeting, but the way he breezed in and instantly charmed the client—I seem to remember he was carrying a skateboard, but I know he wasn’t; he just seemed like he was carrying a skateboard.  It was like he’d not only been on time, but we were his lifelong best friends and the most fun he’d had all month.  As we were leaving, the client, who used to be something of a player in the New York art world, said, “That guy is a going to be a superstar.  I feel like I’ve just met the new Keith Haring.”

Attack of the Giant Twin Blobs

Again, geekdom is by no means limited to nerdy Str8s who can’t get laid and for whom the real world sucks, and therefore they have to live in a perpetual pubescent fantasyland, although it has to be said they make up the far greater portion of the Comic-Con attendees.  There are actually quite a few Gheys who partake in this, as well as a healthy number of Lesbotrons; probably even slightly more than the normal ten percent of the populous we are said to make up.

It also isn’t limited to ugly people.  I am referring to you, yes, you, that tall guy dressed as Green Hornet, maybe twenty-one, walking with his Asian friend dressed as Kato into Entrance G of the San Diego Convention Center at around 1:30 PM on Friday. Consider this a missed connection posting.  My contact details are in the About Us section in the menu bar above.  Daddy needs you.

Tristan was one of the co-founders of Kid Robot, then he branched out on his own, but he’s doing a project next year for the tenth anniversary of his super-hit toy the Dunny, which means toilet/outhouse in Australian, but never mind. (Usage: “Have you seen Our Jake?” “Yeh.  He’s gone up to Kangaroo Ground to dig the dunny holes before the wedding tomorrow.”)

A devilish grim reaper Dunny, by Tristan Eaton.

“I love the costumes,” Tristan said.  “So lo tech.”

They’re fucking cheesy, is what they are, I thought.  Literally cheesy: that kid in the lime green styrofoam Incredible Hunk costume looks like he’s wearing puffy slabs of provolone.

Comic-Con is just insane.  It’s not just  a cavernous convention center jammed with row upon row of publishers of sci-fi and fantasy and comic books, with manufacturers of dolls and toys, with video-game peddlers and people testing those games, with clothing from bizarre t-shirts to full-regalia costumes.  It’s the crazy amount of people.  It’s like some souk in Morocco as imagined by George Lucas using a local eighth grade science class as the art department.  And this junky, jabbering, whirring, blaring mess is on three levels, as I discovered while trying to track down author George RR Martin.

This butch young thang apparently wasn't channeling Nancy Sinatra, he was a character from Futurama. But I've seen it and it's a cartoon.

What had increased my thirst for Comic-Con this year as opposed to others—aside from hanging out with Tristan—was reading George Martin’s Game of Thrones, which was recently turned into a smash-hit series on HBO.  I finished the first book last week.

After asking many pointy-eared, red-nosed booth denizens in the publishing section where I might procure the second and third books, I was sent over to Mysterious Galaxy Books, where I found that all copies had been, “moved upstairs for The Signing.”  This felt like a moment out of the book itself.  (Usage: “The king has sequestered himself in the throne room of the Tower of the Winter Sun with his lords bannermen for the Great Signing, and will brook no interruption.”)

I ventured forth upstairs and it was just more great hoards and madness, and my inner soundtrack began to heave, thudding with heartbeats and shallow breaths, interlaced with strains from Vertigo.  There was more garish styrofoam, and wanton acne, and fake swords, and ghastly wench cleavage, and people in anacondas of lines crisscrossing the hall like a European hub airport for some cut-rate airline like easyJet in mid-summer, all waiting for book signings, or to enter panel discussions about the something like the new Spider-man reboot in halls with a capacity for 6,500.

I girded myself, wrapped my great cloak lined in direwolf fur around me, held fast to the mighty Sword of Gheystroke strapped to my back, and plunged into the churn of geekdom in search of the books, all copies of which the author himself had somehow had the magical power to move upstairs with him.

Just a portion of the Great Hoards, and this just the autograph section on the third floor.

I chanced upon a seemingly friendly Info Lesbo at the Autographs Information Center, and inquired of this very homely, snaggletoothed maiden as to how I might obtain the tomes I required, and maybe even have them signed by George RR Martin the Venerable while I was at it.

“You got a ticket?” she asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t,” I replied.

The Info Lesbo snickered as if there was nothing so pathetic, indeed geeky, as a Comic-Con newbie who didn’t know how these things work.  “It’s sold out.  You will never get near him.”

“Oh.  Well, can I get a picture of him for my superblog?”

She looked at my Blackberry with even more soured disdain.  “Not unless you have a really long lens,” she replied in a way that almost made me doubt she was a Lesbotron.

Emilia Clarke in HBO's "Game of Thrones." She ends up giving birth to dragons. Awesome.

Indeed, it almost seemed as if most of the maidens at Comic-Con were Lesbotrons of some variety.  On the train back to LA, I heard a riff between two Lesbogresses about the difference between furry and smooth elves, which then dovetailed into how awesome Jeff Bridges was in a panel discussion one of them attended.  The whole thing was a masterpiece of free association.

But perhaps I overstate.  The obese middle-aged serving wenches wearing leather bodices over recklessly tattered red skirts were not of the lesbian persuasion, methinks. Nor were the pair of anorexic sisters, one painted yellow, the other green, with identical jutting Hapsburg underbites, who were clad in Star Trek-ish sculpted latex bikinis.  Everyone posed for pictures.

On my way out, I saw a building entirely wrapped with an ad for my friend Tarsem’s forthcoming film Immortals.  What must that be like?  I mean, the film itself looks awesome; I saw the 3D version of the trailer the other night in front of Harry Potter and I believe I stopped chewing my popcorn for a few moments.  But to have a gleaming skyscraper wrapped with your work? Friend or not, I am a total geek for Tarsem and his extraordinary vision.

Tarsem Singh eyeing a future more brilliant than his past.

Ten years or so ago, when Tarsem’s The Cell was just about to come out, I called Radical Media, the production company representing him in LA.  I said to the receptionist: “Please write this message down exactly as I word it and spell it.  I have a script for Tarsem that is a version of Hamlet set in a court in early 19th century Rajasthan just as the British Raj is taking over.  And it stars Hrithik Roshan,” who was the hottest young Bollywood star at that moment.  Tarsem called me back within the hour.

A couple of months later, we were sitting in the back of a car being driven to Heathrow airport.  I’d flown to London to talk to him about our film, and to attend the premiere of The Cell, after which Jennifer Lopez danced on the sofa of the VIP section at China White.  All I could think was how Jennifer and I clearly weren’t raised by the same mother.

As we approached Heathrow, Tarsem said, “Listen, I think your script it good.  Frankly, I don’t care that Hrithik is attached.  What impresses me most is that I don’t know who the fuck you are and yet here you are sitting in the back of a car with me.  So, yes, I’ll do your film.”

Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan. Note how he has two thumbs on his right hand. He doesn't care; loves them. Imagine a Hollywood star keeping that.

The film never happened, but the story did, and that’s fine, too.

As I stood there beneath the tower wrapped with Tarsem’s opus, I thought about texting him to ask if he was around.  Then I imagined that if he was, he’d be sucked into some vortex of an autograph signing panel under a mash of fanatics dressed in styrofoam provolone ancient Greek outfits.  Then he would be whisked away to a waiting private jet to return to Montreal to finish shooting Snow White with Julia Roberts.

With that likely scenario in mind, I put away my phone, shouldered my backpack and walked the mile and a half back to the train station so I could save on cab fare.

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