Waiting for Kaluta

Baltimore Comicon was great fun, though for me it was the fun of a tourist and sometime comics reader, not an aficianado or collector. I expected a bit more in the way of costumed attendees, but the only one I managed to get a picture of was this guy, who I’m pretty sure is meant to be Green Lantern. He was walking around in a completely different and somewhat more disturbing Green Lantern costume later on in the Con, too.

Not being someone who has a reason to browse bins of used comics, I spent my time on the other side of the floor, where the artists were hanging out, signing comics and often doing sketches. It struck me that the artists, much more than the writers, tend to be the icons of comics fandom. Part of that must be convention-driven, in the sense that an artist can do a sketch and sell his or her artwork, whereas a writer could sign stuff and chat but probably couldn’t, say, churn out a quick snatch of dialogue on spec. But it clearly goes beyond that. In a mental tally of Big Names in Comics I’m familiar with, the cause celebre artists easily outnumber the writers. Historically, this is as it should be – it’s not like Golden and Silver age comics distinguished themselves with rich, original plots and nuanced characterizations. But as someone who is far more sensitive to subtleties in the writing than in the drawing, I would have liked to see Brian Michael Bendis there in the booth alongside Michael Avon Oeming. (It would also be nice to see them spin off their pretentious third names and give someone named Michael Avon a shot at fame, but that’s a different issue.)

By far the best time spent at the Con was the long hour waiting in line with my dear friends Joe and Julia so Joe could get Michael Kaluta to sign a couple books and do a sketch. Everything I know about Kaluta I learned in that hour, but I quickly got the picture – here was one of the old greats, a superlative artist who had been working for decades, but far from being jaded, was still a great sport at the cons. It was (to Joe’s mind and, consequently, to mine) a travesty that only a handful of folks were waiting to see him while the line for Jim Lee (young punk!) snaked on and on and on.

It was tremendous fun watching Kaluta (here’s what he looks like) turn out sketch after sketch for the people in front of us. He’d take fifteen minutes or so for each one, all the while chatting amicably with the people in line. The casual, almost careless way he turned out the sketches belied their grace and precision.

For the most part I kept my mouth shut, because, though I am by no means shy, I suck when it comes to making chitchat with strangers – especially strangers you’re a fan of, which I was by the time we got around to the front of the line. Here’s me trying to make small talk with Michael Kaluta:

NB: (blurting at an inopportune moment) Hey, uh, we met your brother – oh, uh, I mean, we were talking to Steve Conley and how he met your brother at this coffee shop in Arlington. Common Grounds. You’re, uh, from Arlington, right?
MK: (smiling politely) Yeah, I heard about that.

(awkward silence)

Now here’s Joe (I’m replacing actual names and terms that I didn’t jot down with comparable stand-ins):

JP: You know, I’ve always felt that the art of Varn Flarn was influenced by Tringo Wiskbasket in a way that reminds me of your work in the Book of Foo MgGoo.
MK: Yes, yes, absolutely!
JP: In light of that, what do you think about the future of Quantam Colorific ZingZang in the work of Quaffle, Biddy, and Wort?
MK: Well, it seems to me that . . . (talks for ten minutes about all sorts of interesting stuff that goes way over my head.)

I didn’t know who impressed me more – Kaluta for the amazing Galadriel sketch he turned out while talking a blue streak, or Joe for always having something insightful and relevant to say or ask to keep Kaluta talking. By the end I was snapping a picture of Joe, Julia, and Kaluta looking for all the world like lifelong friends.

I had been aware of the existence of a librarian action figure from the news, but took little interest. My sole purchase of the day, however, was a librarian action figure on a whole ‘nother level.

Coming some time this week: actual video footage of the legendary Steve Conley being funny!