For almost a year now I've been working with two ladies from Atlantic City, now known as Blink of an Eye productions, but to me they've always been the Atlantic City Girls. Not a short or tongue-friendly moniker, I know. Jersey Girls maybe would have been easier. It would have been nice to see AC before the production of Crowd Control so that I could have better captured the spirit of the area and clubs for the book. They've been trying to get me to come up here for a long time. But life as a freelancer, at my level, hasn't granted me the income to travel at will. So it was arranged that I was to be a part of their booth at the Philadelphia Con.
I flew in, all by onesies, and arrived in Philly right on schedule around 10:30. Walking down the terminal I noticed the cities train was connected to the airport, a dodgy luxury. Guaranteed to be cheaper than a taxi I jumped on. It was rickety. Old. Unclean. Like a converted cargo or cattle car with tight rows of old leather benches. I really felt like I was suddenly in the Himalayas next to Nathan Drake, or some Indiana Jones reference for you cultural troglodytes. Definitely not the nearly pristine, albeit smaller, less used, and shorter reaching St Louis Metro. But whatever, I'll definitely be remember Phillies SEPTA. Yeah. Like septic.
On the approach Philly didn't strike me as anything special. Like Detroit or Chicago outskirts. Then I got off the train. The station was an underground shopping center. No recognizable franchises but options for dining, a shoe shine and a purse. They must have known I was coming.
I walked outside and was slapped the face with the wet towel of history. The city just dripped with it. Old architecture, restaurants retrofit into buildings and spaces they weren't designed for, and small, cramped, one-way, one-lane, sometimes cobblestone streets. I was getting pangs of my old lover/fling San Francisco.
I check my phone, get my bearings, established I got off at the wrong stop but was in the mood to walk and absorb more of the city. Around the next corner I was slapped so hard with the aforementioned history-towel I almost fell over. A loss of breath was certain. A tall building with multiple colors of stone and a clock face dominated the skyline. In front of it as Love Park with its nearly menacing and in hindsight possibly phallic fountain. The old marble tiles were shifting under my feet as I worked my way east through the park to the convention center.
I soon find myself under a ceiling of concrete. My Midwestern brain wants to tell me I'm under an overpass, Missouri's tallest structures, or a bridge of some kind. I later find out I'm just walking UNDER Phillies skyline. They have buildings stacked on other buildings. How sci-fi. I was also walking through the edge of Chinatown so the dim sum and wok stalls were giving me images of Blade Runner LA but in the daytime. Lots of pedestrians, lots of cars, and lots of dialog between the two of them.
I arrive at the convention center, call Brie, and was pounced on with the energy from weeks of pent up excitement and months of collaboration. She was a ball of energy. After all, I've been this mystery force bringing their stories to life, to visual reality, and here I am! I was also excited to put faces and real people to these voices and emails I've been working with all this time.
This was Brie's first con and she was rightfully very excited; using words like crazy, insane, amazing to describe her experience so far. She also mentioned something being surprised with people's kindness. I suddenly had the feeling that this might not be an accurate representation of my first real venture into the Northeast. She laughed that concept off.
The con was a t-shirt and sword replica store with purple curtains dividing and containing Patrick Stewart, Peter Mayhew, and many minor celebrities. Don't forget to remind me to tell you bout out our neighboring booth who constantly reassured us she was a celebrity. Brie got our table almost purely for it's position across from the Jedi Training Arena. I haven't known her that long but as far as I'm concerned it's the smartest decisions she's ever made. I regret not bringing my Jedi handbook. The missed poetry there. We had nearly constant entertainment from obese swordsmen and women, lazy cosplayers, and a fog of that con-sweat. You know it.
Our booth was the most impressive I've ever been a part of. Large cardboard standees of the characters I designed, props from the comic, and an impressive spread of our comic thanks to, but not without hassle from, Comixpress. As impressive as this was, and as appropriate as our OTHER neighbors house music might have been, this was a small con. This crowd was looking for The Avengers, and things attached to the word "free". Or swords. And light sabers. I saw at least three strollers stacked with six or seven boxed swords while the child it intended for was slowly wandering behind the clueless parents learning more about the naked human body and the abuses it can endure than they ever will if they make it to high school. But back to the point, this was a small con with simple patrons. Strange considering Phillies appreciation for the arts. You would expect a crowd with a wider acceptance for indie or self press comics with themes besides capes and crime crime fighting. One patron was frantically thumbing through our book as if to find the answer before we could give it to him. "So do they fight crime or something?" he said. My response was "well kinda, I mean. They're security officers." That wasn't one of our few sales.
The first night I walked eight blocks to my hotel, my pack leaving red marks on my soft, artist, yet well-defined shoulders. I stripped my filthy con/travel tainted clothes, enjoyed a fantastic shower and a clean change before venturing out into the Philly nightlife. I met with Brie and her co-workers at an Asian tapas restaurant that served excellent muscles, sea bass, a LARGE salmon filet. We hadn't eaten all day. The evening was stories of embarrassment, awkward friends, and tales from working in a casino, the basis of Crowd Control. I get it now. And these people were friendly, real, and very nice to the fifth-wheel from Missourah probably chewing with his mouth open or being genuinely unfunny. But the courtesy laughs were convincing. You wouldn't think a bouncer and three dancers from Atlantic City would have enough personality to fill a shot glass - from the description they gave of their less favorite co-workers it might be a dependable stereotype -but theirs filled the room. It was a real pleasure meeting Brie's friends and made my next trip worth the hardship.
I walked home the same eight blocks in the rain. A near downpour. The first three blocks I was scooting from shelter to shelter. Trying to save my dignity and keep my phone from shorting out. The let five blocks I resigned myself to the situation, slowed my pace, and found my way back on intuition and memory.
The rest of the con was rather unremarkable, Brie and I kept each other thoroughly entertained with banter, puns, and stereotypes fueled by an endless show of people made of funny shapes, exposed, dimpled and stained flesh, and the occasional fit person worthy of praise. I did get a solid contact and a possible promise of work from Zenescope and a good good conversation and tips from the current Deadpool artist Carlo Barberi.
Saturday night was a fairly odd trounce through Atlantic City. It started with Brie taking me to her parents house to meet the other half of Blink of an Eye, her mother Dawn. Pronounced d'ohwahn if your from Jersey. Her father Sterling was a writer with a sailing hobby and a candor somewhere between Robert Duvall and Tom Skerritt. It was a warm introduction and I was generously treated to Primo's Pizza and a sack full of Tasty Kakes.
We then took a trip to the Blink of an Eye offices in Ocean City. It was this leg of the trip that made me feel a bit like a traveling business man, which is a welcome feeling. But it came with a little resistance. I don't ask for a lot of favors and being guided around by near-strangers was like not having a say in the matter. It's a scenario I see a lot on the travel shows I like to watch but experiencing it was a little intense. Nt my company, mind you! They were very charming and easy to be around.
The office doubled as Brie's apartment; which felt weird to be in without her. But the offices were quaint and had large prints of all the of the projects they have created. Two of which were mine. Dawn and Sterling then took me to the Ocean City Pier so i could briefly walk to the ocean. There was a fairly big lit-up ferris wheel and a number of rides and shops that I didn't desire to peruse. The boardwalk looked exactly like the one in Big. It looked so much like it, it looked fake. Amusingly. However, the sound of the ocean hit me like suppressed memory. It always does. Some of my fondest memories were growing up near the ocean and being landlocked has sealed that joy from me. Emotions rolled over me. The scene was beautiful and soothing to my spirit. My joy was brief as Brie's parents were waiting for me back in the car.
They drove me into Atlantic City mext. I was impressed. It was a very pretty skyline. For some reason it didn't strike me as gawdy or a Mini Vegas. Just nice. They dropped me off at my hotel, we shook hands and parted ways.
Walking down Pacific Avenue (wasn't I closer to the Atlantic?) I strolled through drunkards, locals, bachelor parties, prostitutes, and hoarse-voiced girls who sounded like Joan Rivers yelling profanities out of their SUVs. Strolling past Trump Plaza and into the maze that is Caesars I met Sonny, who was named Friday in real life, and talked to a guy I drew and characterized for 24 pages. What a strange experience. I was treated to two drinks and rowdy house music in a small, cramped, low-ceiling night club full of the hottest women I have ever seen. I stayed an hour and continued my journey to Brie's place of employ.
Hailing a cab I take a $13 trip to the Borgata. A neon fin of light piercing the night sky north of the rest of AC. This was another experience of witnessing a place I've been drawing as if I willed it into existence. A few trips around the casino floor of familiar images and I find my way into Mixx. Must be extra awesome with that extra x. This club was bigger, louder, busier, and had dancers on platforms. And it had Lil Jon. Yeah. Brie introduces me to the bartender that would be treating me to more free drinks and I try to act like I'm not feeling a little pathetic clubbing by myself as Brie bounces off to work and on stage.
I find and hang with Haz, a guy I met at dinner the night prior. He showed me around the club, the VIP rooms and the other floors, slapped me on the back, and swiftly went back to his job. Crowd Control of course.
While trying not to watch Brie dance I was entertained by the bros, Pauly wannabees, and the finely sculpted nightlife of AC. After greeting her after her shift I headed out, grabbed another taxi, and fell asleep almost instantly when I returned.
Sunday was fun but sad. Brie and I were getting along well and could have easily endured another day or two of laughs and eye-candy.
On our way to the airport we passed right through the South Philly Bar district. I was locked in. I'm coming back. Cobblestone streets and at least 30 bars, one with a big Chimay Belgian on the front. A Chimay Pub. Amazing. Sadly we didn't stop. We should have. My flight was delayed. And, upon entering the terminal and finding a seat, murmurs started to circulate. Not from the staff mind you, but from fellow travelers. The flight was cancelled. I wasn't ready to come home, but this isn't how I wanted to stay.
US Airways lost my business. They were rude and completely unwilling to help. They said all other flights were booked and no other airlines had a flight until the next evening at 4 o'clock. I was also told that a refund for my fight would take four weeks. Preposterous. I told him that sounded like something he was supposed to say to keep me from refunding ticket. The man just stared at me as if I didn't have a choice and I resigned myself to the choices he laid before me. So I got online and ordered a $150 ticket from Southwest for a 7am flight; which was 12 hours from then but nine hours sooner than what was offered to me. I then called US Airways' 800 number and got a refund for my cancelled flight in 7-10 days. All in 15 minutes. I think I handled it better than most of the people in line. However, saw a lot of familiar faces on the fight home.
The next 12 hours were filled with uncomfortable sleep, Kevin Smith standup, and some light reading material from the con. At five a.m. I woke, put on my shoes and clumsily staggered down the terminal to Southwest territory and McDonalds. I only eat the Mac when I fly two or three times a year. I earned it dammit.
Now I'm on my way home. With memories of great people, con weirdos, new friends, and helpfully new business partners. It was a trip worth the money and late-term hardship. thank you Brown family for your hospitality. I hope our future will cross again soon.