American Wild Burger comic books

What It's Like to Get Kicked Out of Comic-Con (And an Interview with Author Matt Kadish)

Friday, September 05, 2014 Rob Samuelson

I had a plan, I swear. I slept at my parents' house on the eve of Wizard World Chicago's opening. I got all cozied up, wore some of my old jammies, ate a home cooked dinner, the works. I did this because I grew up a 15-minute drive from Rosemont's Donald E. Stephens Convention Center and I didn't feel like driving all the way there the day of the comic convention from my apartment. 

I was ready. I wrote my questions, did my research on the author, Matt Kadish, I was supposed to interview while he hung out at his booth. I got a little giddy because I hadn't been to a comic convention since I was about 12. I wanted to stroll around, get a bunch of person-on-the-street interviews with convention goers and creators alike, but mostly I wanted to pick up more collected editions of stuff like Dark Horse Comics' Mind MGMT, which makes my brain feel good.

I got lunch with my friend John, who lives in Rosemont. We ate burgers at a little joint called American Wild Burger. I got onion breath, which, coupled with the red-eyed allergy hangover I got from my parents' houseguest, my sister's newly adopted cat Rocket, I was ready to make an impression on people.

I drove to the Stephens Convention Center parking lot, got my $13 validation ticket, and scooted up to the top floor before I found a spot. The elevator was not in service, so I walked with a couple costumed teenage girls -- I think one was dressed as Harley Quinn from Batman, but I can't be sure, but hey, they were nice -- to the opening.

And there it was. I was within feet of it. I could almost touch it. 

The DeLorean. I had visions of flaming tire marks, the Cubs winning the World Series next year, and avoiding anyone who said, "Mc-FLYYYYYYY." Right there in the main lobby.

In a show of journalistic ethics, I dragged myself away from the time traveling device to check in at the press/special guest booth. I had my "backpack journalist" gear all ready: backpack, check, notebooks, check, pens, check, voice recorder, check.

But the line. Always a line to impede a guy who wants to get stuff done. Each person took several minutes, and I kept checking my phone to make sure I wouldn't miss my scheduled interview time with Kadish.

It moved like a sloth in mud. But eventually it was my turn. I introduced myself.

"Oh, just go right here," the lady said, indicating to my left, as in, the other booth where the actual press check-in was, as in, where that had been no real line. I am a fool.

A two-yard lateral hop later, I was where I needed to be. I introduced myself, full of importance. I showed them my press release email invitation to the event.

"I don't see any Wizard World pass in here," the lady said.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Doesn't look like it," she said, scanning.

This continued for 15 minutes. I was crushed. They wouldn't let me in. I didn't have the money for a fan ticket, so they calmly asked me to leave. I sulked out past the DeLorean, paid my $13 for 20 minutes of waiting to be told I couldn't go in, and went back to John's to watch hours of The Simpsons FXX marathon.

Luckily, though, Mr. Kadish was kind enough to give me an email interview. I have provided it in full Q&A detail below. Enjoy, and pick up his newest ebook, Earthman Jack Vs. The Ghost Planet, for free for a limited time. And don't forget to tell everyone you know about Halfstack because I can't afford these things.

Rob Samuelson: I see you do a lot of self-publishing.  I know this has been a burgeoning trend in recent years.  In your opinion, is this mostly a genre-specific thing (sci-fi, fantasy, etc.)?  Basically, I guess I want to know if ebooks and self-publishing have become the new paperback market for genre writing.

Matt Kadish: It has indeed become a trend.  In fact, I'd say its become more than a trend, it's a disruption of the publishing industry on the same level that digital content had on the music industry when record companies were forced to give up on CDs and cassette tapes in favor of MP3s.  You see this with the decline of big chain bookstores.  There used to be a Borders Books & Music everywhere, and now they're completely out of business with Barnes & Noble hanging on by a thread.  This isn't limited to genre work, either.  Now that digital content is accepted by the market at large, every genre is viable in ebook format, be it niche stuff like sci-fi or other categories such as biographies, textbooks, children's literature - pretty much any category of books you can find walking the isles of the bookstores, you can find them online now available in digital format as well.  There is no restriction on what can and can't work as an ebook - in fact, there's probably even less restriction in ebook form than there is in physical form.
Paperbacks were invented after World War II by the publishing industry as a way to broaden their marketplace by offering their product at an affordable price to their customer base.  Before then, books were only available in hardback and were expensive to both produce and acquire.  The average book reader would maybe by two or three books a year for pleasure reading, but once paperback came out, that same customer could afford to buy 12-18 books a year because paperbacks were so much cheaper than hardbacks.  You're seeing the same thing happen nowadays with ebooks.  Ebooks cost very little to actually produce and cost nothing to distribute, which means the market can offer them cheaply.  You can't find paperbacks or hardbacks on sale for $0.99, but you can certainly find ebooks at that price!  And since the ability to publish is now out of the hands of the traditional gatekeepers of the industry, such as literary agents and big publishers, the reader has more choice and options with which to explore.  I always love it when I get emails from readers who talk about how they stumbled across my work and took a chance on my book and ended up becoming a fan.  I can guarantee you that if I had to go the "traditional route," that might very well not be the case.  I'd probably still be submitting my work to agents hoping one would actually bother to read my work and decide to start the long, arduous task of representing me and pitching my work to publishers.
I think the trend is especially good for genre writing because fans of certain genres are always hungry for things that are new, different, or off-beat.  Lots of romance writers have found success by offering their work digitally because romance readers are voracious.  Now, they have new things to read in-between the time when the next Danielle Steele novel comes out.  The same is true of readers who love horror, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery/thriller.  I'm a big believer that the market will always decide what it wants, and if anything, the market has proven than it wants more genre fiction from new writers, and the audience is willing to give these writers a try.  Ten years ago, the idea of writing a book and then getting it out instantly to the same audience as the big publishing houses was unheard of.  Now, Joe Average who writes books in his spare time and self-publishes has the exact same reach as Stephen King when it comes to getting their books in front of an audience.  It's an extremely exciting time to be an author because never before have authors had so much control over their own work, nor have they had such a level playing field either.

Rob Samuelson: There's a sardonic quality to your writing. It reminded me slightly of a sci-fi Christopher Moore (Bloodsucking Fiends, Lamb), but I'm usually wrong on influences. Who do you look to, both as lifetime inspiration (people you loved when young) or your current obsessions?

Matt Kadish: I pull inspiration from anywhere I can get it, but there are definitely influences that have affected me more than others.  I tend to look at people more in terms of "storytellers" as opposed to "Oh, this guy is a novelist," or "this guy is a movie writer."  To me, there's really no difference between someone who tells a story by working on a TV show or standing in front of a group of kids at a camp fire and spinning a tale doing nothing but talking to them.  The tools and techniques are always the same, it just so happens some people are better at it than others.
Growing up, I was obsessed with Speilberg movies.  I don't think Speilberg was the best storyteller there ever was, but he knew how to make things fun, exciting, and different.  His movies always had a sense of hope and wonder to them that spoke to people on a basic level.  Kids could watch his movies and get swept up in them, as could adults, because his storytelling appealed to that part of us that was sentimental and wanted to have fun.  Then you have someone like Frank Miller, the comic book artist.  I can remember reading The Dark Knight Returns for the first time and being completely blown away by how deep and layered that story was.  He took something that had been kinda campy and brushed off as being "for kids" and made it serious.  He made it adult.  And both kids and adults responded to that, because of their love of the character.  But there really is no difference between a storyteller like Speilberg and a storyteller like Miller, in the sense that they both know how to present a tale that audiences will respond to.
There's this belief in the entertainment industry that audiences are stupid, that they have short attention spans, and that they're just looking for spectacle.  I don't believe that's 100% true.  I think people like simple stories, sure.  I think you only have a short amount of time to convince your audience that they should give you a try.  And I think you do have to deliver a certain amount of what genre fans want to see.  But I also think you can take risks, make stories deep and complex, and take stories in new and exciting directions, as long as you stay true to the fundamental aspects of good storytelling and treat your audience with some respect.  My all-time favorite author is George R.R. Martin, who wrote the Game of Thrones series.  I discovered his work back in college (before it was cool) when I was looking for new fantasy to read.  I knew nothing about him or his books when I bought them, I just wanted something to give me my "elf and orc" fix.  But after I started reading his books and realized how good they were, I had the same type of feeling I got when I first read The Dark Knight Returns and when I first saw Indiana Jones or Star Wars.  I realized I was reading something special, because Martin was an excellent writer and he understood good storytelling.  He took the things I expected from the fantasy genre, and turned them on their head, and took a deeper, more realistic look at them than anyone else I'd ever read before had.
I think that, more than anything, is what has become my current obsession - finding ways to take the stories I want to tell, and twist them so that though they are familiar to genre fans and give them what they crave, they go off in new and exciting directions the audience isn't expecting, and get deep and complex in a way that is still enjoyable without getting confusing.  To me, stories are always supposed to be fun, and as long as I can deliver that feeling for fun, I can get away with doing anything else.  I look at the storytellers I know of that did that to me with their work, and I hope and pray I'm just good enough of an imitator to do the same with the people who read my stuff.

Rob Samuelson:  It's been a long time since I've been to Wizard World Chicago.  I'm 25 now, and I was probably 12 the last time.  From afar, it looked like there was a ton more multimedia stuff, movies (the Back to the Future DeLorean was in the lobby), prose books like your stuff, et al.  It was mostly a comics-specific thing then.  Is this a product of the San Diego Comic Con becoming a giant movie showcase?  What do you think the reasons for the changes are?

Matt Kadish: I was actually surprised at how many comic books were actually present at Wizard World, because things like San Diego Comic Con have pretty much marginalized the comic book aspect of it in favor of movies and pop culture.  Chicago had lots of comic book vendors and a huge artist alley.  I do think, however, that there is this trend in comic conventions, which was started in San Diego, towards more of the "celebrity" aspect of geek culture, where people come to these shows looking to meet a particular actor and get their picture taken with them and maybe an autograph or two, and then get a sneak peek of upcoming movies and TV shows.  I don't think there's anything wrong with that, but honestly, I feel that type of thing shouldn't be at a comic con.  Let it be at a TV, movie, or pop culture specific convention, and let the comic cons be about comic books.  One thing I've noticed is that these conventions used to be just about the fans, and now they're more about the celebrities.  You don't get that feeling of excitement as you walk down the aisles and find a rare comic book or a cool new artist anymore.  Now, it's all about standing in line to meet an actor, and if you have any money left after you get his picture or autograph, then you make your way to the show floor and see what you can find.
It's kind of sad, because the actors do bring in the big crowds, but I see lots of people walking around these conventions who have never read a comic book, aren't into science fiction or fantasy, and really aren't fans of the medium, and they're just there because they want access to a visiting celebrity.  To me, I feel that sort of thing would be better suited to a film festival or something.  Comic books are about the merging of art and storytelling.  I've been to a few pure comic cons where the big celebrities were actually the artists, and people showed up because they loved comics.  They're not as big as something like Wizard World Chicago or San Diego Comic Con, but the fandom is way more pure.  You can run into someone in the hotel lobby and get into a two hour conversation about who would win in a fight - Batman or Superman.  At the bigger conventions, its more about who's going to play Batman or Superman in the movie, and you're lucky to talk to someone who's exposure to those characters goes beyond simply having seen previous movies starring them.
I think the big reason for this shift away from the core material and toward the celebrity aspect is simply a financial one.  Show organizers can get way bigger crowds and make way more money by appealing to the celebrity aspect of geek culture.  They get more from ticket sales, they get a cut from the sales of photo ops and autographs, and they are able to sell more floor space if they can boast about bigger crowds.  It don't think its a bad trend, necessarily, but I can't help but lament that the thing that started it all - comic books - is slowly being marginalized and will eventually be phased out of the experience all together.

Rob Samuelson:  Anything you want to add?

Matt Kadish: I'd just like to add that I think it's fantastic that people are willing to adopt new technologies and give new artists support for their endeavors.  People who read ebooks, watch Youtube videos, and download MP3s are allowing artists to innovate and support themselves through their work, and I think that's incredible.  When I go to comic conventions to promote my book Earthman Jack vs. The Ghost Planet, I love getting the opportunity to expose my work to people who otherwise would never have heard of it.  And when they take a look at the book, and their eyes light up and they say "Wow, this actually looks really good," that's the type of thing that inspires me to continue working at it, even though it's difficult.  And every time someone goes to and buys a copy of my book, and then leaves a review or emails me about how much they enjoyed it, it inspires me to want to do more and more.  After a book is published, it ceases to by the author's and belongs to the fans.  I'm experiencing that right now, and it is truly wonderful.  I just hope more and more people are able to give Earthman Jack a try and discover whether or not its for them.

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