During last year's Comic-Con, I got a call informing me about a party at a hotel downtown. The agent from New York rattled off an A-list of stars who would be there but finished saying, "I can't let you into the party, but you're welcome to stand outside the hotel and write about the celebrities you see."I'm sorry I missed that. Nothing like standing outside of a party yelling, "Over here, Charlize!"
This year I received a call from Dean LeCrone of the Southern California Cartoonists Society. They were hosting a party with well-known cartoonists the day before Comic-Con would begin. I was invited inside this time.
The party was in a North Park warehouse that former newscaster Jack White owns. White performs magic and has his space set up with a stage and curtains for his magic shows. The walls are filled with magic posters and props, some dating back a century. There were movie posters from westerns and display cases filled with old cars, toys, and soldiers.
The smell of popcorn was in the air from an old-fashioned machine that was cranking it out. Several appetizers were set up on a countertop.
They had a contest involving the invitations sent out by LeCrone. He had drawn several cartoon characters on the invites, and you had to name them. I got excited, having flashbacks to when I won a contest naming most of the people on the Sgt. Pepper album. However, I recognized less than ten of LeCrone's characters. The guy that won named 55 of the characters.
I don't read many comics and wasn't familiar with a few of the people there -- Andrew Feinstein, who does the strip Girls and Sports, and Michael Jantze, who does a strip called The Norm. An older cartoonist named Brian Walker draws for Hi and Lois, and he is now the guy behind Beetle Bailey, which his dad created.
I knew of Greg Evans, who draws the Luanna strip. I figured he was a local resident, since he often does promotions with the San Diego Blood Bank, the one where cartoonists do caricatures for blood donors. And Jack White's wife of many years works at the blood bank, which is how, I suppose, they all tie in together.
I was telling a woman named Vikki that I'd donated over 13 gallons to the blood bank over the years. She pointed to a guy named Greg, a retired CHP, and said, "He's donated over 50 gallons."
Evans was handing out a postcard he had drawn of an American family and how they look to others...and how they think they look.
I noticed that nametags were creative when you throw a party for cartoonists. A few did self-portraits next to their names.
One kid wore a white T-shirt and had everyone draw something on it. Dean said, "He wanted tattoos, and his mom said, 'No, but you can get your shirt tattooed.'"
Another cartoonist said, "You're really scoring with all these drawings we're doing." He started a picture and realized it was hard not being able to turn the shirt around the way you can with a piece of paper.
Another guy asked the kid, "Do you have any hobbies? What sports teams do you like? Are you a Lakers fan?" The boy finally mentioned liking badminton, and that gave the artist an idea of what to draw on his shirt.
One cartoonist looked a bit like Elvis Costello, and I asked him who he was. I freaked when I found out it was Dan Piraro, who does Bizarro. I told him I loved his strip, and that I think he's funnier than Gary Larson (The Far Side). I said I thought Larson was overrated, and he replied, "I agree with you. I enjoy reading his stuff, but it just seems like a lot of it just has...mass appeal."
But Larson has millions. We don't.
Piraro got up to speak and said, "I didn't even know I was going to be a guest speaker until I saw it listed on the program." He talked about marrying his wife after only dating for three months. When I saw her arms had tattoos, I asked if Piraro drew any of them. She pointed to two that he did (one being a heart, a real heart, which looked freaky). I said, "Your parents must love the fact that you married a cartoonist." She laughed and said, "My dad is a cartoonist -- Ralph Smith, who does Through Thick and Thin. And my stepfather [Chris Browne] does Hagar the Horrible [his late father Dik Browne's creation]. I was always around people in this business, so it was no surprise I married a cartoonist."
When Piraro was drawing on the kid's shirt, I asked what the weirdest thing was he's ever drawn on. "A pregnant woman's belly."
One amateur cartoonist was asking a few of the pros for advice. I heard her get excited when she recognized one guy and said, "I finished second place in a contest back in high school. And he was the judge!"
There was a woman who was eating peanuts (not the comic strip), and she told me about putting two of the white, packaging peanuts in her eyes once to be funny. While running around for laughs she said, "I ran into a stool and fell. I still have the dent in my leg."
I responded, "If you would've died, they could've left them on your eyes...kind of like pennies."
We joked about incidents like that being the reason warning labels are on everything.
I listened as cartoonists talked to each other about their creative processes. Piraro said friends often give him ideas that he rarely uses. A few cartoonists were trading sketches with each other.
People were excited that Jeff Keane, who does The Family Circus, was there. I wasn't familiar with that strip. Nor did I know Stuart Rees, who does a law cartoon called Stews Views.