Out of the Garden of Madness III.

"As above, so below." And thus, in order to clean the land, first you must clean the air above it.

Perhaps that's why the first rain of the year smells like dust.

In that spirit, then, maybe this is the right time to air some dirt. At the Calgary Expo, there were dozens of artists. There were industry professionals, like Mark Waid. Sketch artists treated it like a Farmer's Market, and laid out tables of their dragons and fairies and guitar-playing zombie spacemen. And then there were the independents, the ones who have spent years trying to hone their skills and carve out their niche, and will spend years more in that pursuit, never happy with what they've got.

And I hardly talked to a single one of them.

It wasn't a case of fanboy nerves, either (although I did get a bit flustered telling Darick Robertson how great he was): it was something else. It was like there was a magnetic field emanating from their booths, and my vision was of the same polarity -- I just couldn't lock on. Jim Zubkavich, for example, was an artist whose work I've always liked, but no matter how much I focused, my eyes would always bounce off him to a poster or a pile of business cards. I wanted to tell this guy, "Hey, thanks," but I couldn't, and it drove me nuts. At least I managed to mumble a bit of gratitude towards Tony Esteves, but he's drawn a strip I've read and loved for over five years. You'd think I'd be a bit more conversational, especially when we're at a bloody comic convention.

I have my suspicions why. Perhaps it's the incessant offers to apply for a credit card when you're in the Calgary airport. The tenacity of furniture salespersons that can't bear to leave you alone, even though there's no way you can afford so much as a footstool at this place. The skepticism that comes from having "won" a free cell phone or vacation, provided that you sign up for this plan guaranteed to save you money.

Living in the 21st century, I have become a master of being able to ignore people that want to sell me something. And as I learned to my horror this weekend: I can't turn it off.

I'm not blameless in this, of course. I worked the grocery demo table for a number of months while I staved off the unemployments. I've pushed seasoned canned tomatoes into people's hands, and it's stained my own hands with a basil sauce that never quite washes out.

Whatever the reason, it has to stop. I've got to learn to talk to strangers all over again. Not by trying to turn on the charm, but by actually trying to listen to them. Isn't that a crazy idea?

And that, my friends, is the story of how the Calgary Comic Expo taught me how to be a better person.

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Canadian explorer. Chemist by training, biologist by nature. Long-time supporter and participant in National Novel Writing Month. Known as "Aquadeo" in most Internet circles. Also known as "that guy with the pants" to people who have seen me in certain pants.