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∗ ∗ ∗

Writers, sadly, need not apply. But sometimes at the Con, a writer can get lucky, perhaps especially if he’s got some finished product to show. That’s how it worked out for Aaron Williams, anyway. Williams has been self-publishing his comics Nodwick and PS238 through his Do Gooder Press imprint since 2000 — the former is a gentle spoof on fantasy gaming, while the latter is set in an elementary school for children with superpowers. Doing a gamer comic gave him an in at gamer conventions as well as the usual lineup of comic gatherings (of which San Diego is the largest). “I fell in with a group called Adventure Retail,” he says. “They’re a traveling circus of sorts. They have my stuff, and stuff from a few other publishers, and also some game companies, like Atlas Games. It saves us from having to pack for every convention and pay for shipping.”

(Delightful gamer aside: while Williams chats, he stops off at the booth for Dark Horse comics to drop off cookies and a T-shirt to someone he knows. “I preordered the Ghostbusters video game,” he says, “and they gave me this free T-shirt. But it only comes in extra large, which is wrong. We refer to ‘extra large’ as ‘gamer small.’”)

Working under the Adventure Retail umbrella even makes it possible for Williams to sell his stuff at a con without actually being there to mind the store — though he wouldn’t pull that sort of stunt in San Diego. “Someone asked if I ever make a profit out here. For me, it’s really about exposure. I know some people who say that if you don’t show up to Comic-Con, others think you’re dead. It seems odd to them that you wouldn’t be here.”

Williams’s wife Cristi, who often travels with him and helps out with the whole “cheerful interaction with the public” thing, jumps in. “They think, ‘They must not be doing it anymore,’ or ‘Their business must not be flourishing.’ Not to show up is almost dangerous.”

As opposed to showing up, which is what led to Williams’s big break as the writer for WildStorm’s series North 40, which tells about what happens when the elder god Cthulhu gets one (tentacled) foot through the door into our world. Specifically, into one sleepy Midwestern county. (What happens? All hell breaks loose, of course. Plus, various people come down with various powers, and that’s when things start to get interesting.)

North 40 is my first horror title,” Williams explains. “I’d been listening to a lot of Stephen King audio books, and I realized I needed to channel it somewhere. As a writer, I love Cthulhu, because it’s open-source horror.” Anyone can take a crack at the mythos. “There were two writers — H.P. Lovecraft and the guy who wrote Doc Savage — and they kind of traded the names of demons and gods back and forth, the idea being that if people read about them in more than one place, they would think that the stuff was coming from some real mythology.” (As a result, you can get various Cthulhu-themed graphic novels at Comic-Con, as well as squid-faced Cthulhu plush dolls in pink and baby blue.)

It’s a long way from Williams’s usual, more kid-friendly work, but as editor Peterson observes, “Writers write. Someone once said that Larry Hama got stereotyped for his work on ’Nam and Punisher. But, he said, ‘Larry could have done the most kick-ass Barbie comic.’ I don’t mean that Barbie would have carried guns. She’d be Barbie — no violence, just great drama, great dialogue, great structure. Writers write, and most of the time, they can handle many different genres.”

How fortunate, then, that kid-comic writer Williams found Peterson and his “writers write” attitude at the 2006 Con. It’s one thing to make Cthulhu into a children’s toy; it’s another to unleash him on a bunch of hicks. “I took my books to Scott Peterson,” who happened to be talking to someone Williams knew at Dark Horse comics. Not long after, Peterson found himself with time on his hands and PS238 in his hands and cracked the cover.

Recalls Williams, “I saw him again two days later, when everyone was closing down. He said something to the effect of ‘I get given books every year from independent publishers, and most of them suck. Yours don’t.’ He decided he liked my pacing and writing style and said, ‘If you have any ideas to pitch to me, do it.’” Williams came up with a pitch, and Peterson came up with an artist — Fiona Staples, a young woman he’d recently hired for a horror comic based on the upcoming film Trick ’r Treat. (See, I told you there were female artists. At one point, during the Con, Staples winds up parked at the artists’ table next to Rebecca Isaacs, artist on Brian Wood’s upcoming DV8. An in-house news crew appears; cameras zoom in and microphones droop down low enough to catch the skritch skritch of the Sharpies as they work.)

Williams and Staples worked together to put out a pitch book. Says Williams, “I made it by drawing on skills I developed while working at the Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages. I did lots of layouts there.” That helped him create something that looked less like a pitch and more like a presentation — fonts and graphics and text all working together to make a package. “Scott says that really helped to sell it.” Issue one of the series’ initial six-issue run has just been released, and Peterson gleefully relates the story of how a colleague stopped into a comic shop in Hollywood and asked the clerk for “‘your three favorite books that you’re reading right now. Don’t even think, just start listing them.’ She said, ‘I gotta tell you, my favorite book right now is a brand-new book from WildStorm called North 40. I just think it’s the best thing they’ve published.’”

∗ ∗ ∗

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Comments

Visduh Aug. 5, 2010 @ 7:19 p.m.

Here we are, three weeks after the cover story was posted, and there's not a single comment posted. Reader, is there something that these stories lack? Like interest?

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Jay Allen Sanford Aug. 5, 2010 @ 8:59 p.m.

With every other news source and blog on the planet reporting about Comic-Con, I suspect this article went somewhat overlooked - AFTER the Con, everybody's sick of it and too burned out to still be chatting about it ----

I personally think there are several more newsworthy aspects of the current Comic-Con International that could and should be reported on, other than the tired old "Are they moving to Anaheim?" angle that many are harping on. But that doesn't negate the worth of Mr. Lickona's take in this article, which was an enjoyable (if mildly superficial) read, with or without reader commentaries ----

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David Dodd Aug. 5, 2010 @ 10:13 p.m.

My excuse Jay? I'm simply dumb when it comes to comics. I mean, I totally appreciate the effort that goes into them! But otherwise, I'm a fish out of water. I did read this, I read all of the cover stories. It's just that I have trouble contributing a comment when I feel so disconnected from the process. In other words, I admire from afar ;)

I like Lickona because he has the ability to write from a point of disconnect; I struggle with it. I always feel as though I'm in an inappropriate mode of ridicule when it comes to something that I have absolutely no idea about. I strongly admire people who can write within that context.

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Matthew Lickona Aug. 6, 2010 @ 3:07 p.m.

Thank you, refried.

Jay - I dunno why the story ran before the Con itself. I tried to make it a story about a local business attempting to market its product - which is what the Con is all about.

Visduh - you may well be right about the lack of interest. But Comic-Con is the largest pop culture event San Diego has, and WildStorm is a major player in the comics world and a local business to boot. Seemed like a worthwhile idea at the time.

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