By Chris Gumprich. (Originally posted July 4, 2005)

Yeah, the idea of attending my first comic convention was pretty nerve-wracking, but it was nothing compared to steeling myself for the plane flight from Winnipeg to Minneapolis to San Francisco. See, I'm not what you would call a comfortable flier. I'm better described as a gibbering flier. So when the plane touched down in San Francisco Friday afternoon, I knew that nothing that weekend would shatter my nerves. The worst part was over.

My good friend Peter met me at the airport, and after a convoluted transit trip back to his place to drop off my bags, we set out on a pre-dinner tour of the city. (Important Point: Nob Hill is every bit as steep and long as you think it is. Wear running shoes. I didn't, and my feet hurt all damn weekend. Still, it beat standing in line for the cable car.)

Evening came, and with it my first visit to the Isotope (on Noriega, now known as the "old location"). Peter and I were meeting somebody for dinner, and we agreed that the 'Tope would be the ideal place to get together beforehand. Peter lived in the West Portal area, which meant a short bus ride and few blocks walk. I walked quickly, anxious and excited - would the Isotope live up to my inflated expectations? Would this be a dream or a disappointment? My question was answered from two blocks away - I saw a couple of guys talking on the sidewalk, one of whom clad in a snappy red suit with hair up to here.

It's difficult to describe that first visit, other than to say that I was completely blown away. James Sime, Isotope proprietor, treated me like I was a long-lost friend. Hell, I was impressed that he recognized my name, considering we had maybe three emails exchanged. He offered us beer while we browsed the impressive selection, and I repaid him by purchasing a copy of Eagle Vol. 4 that I had been looking for. Already the trip was paying off.

Just as we were leaving, Larry Young drove up on his scooter, dropping off additional copies of The Couriers. I introduced myself, and to my surprise he also recognized my name, and was genuinely pleased to meet me. For a newcomer like myself, with all of one mini-comic to his credit, the friendly welcome was overwhelming. Not for the last time, I wished that I lived in San Francisco, just so I could be a part of the local comics community.

However, even after all that, the highlight of the evening had nothing to do with comics - it was having absolutely kick-ass sushi at Noriega Teriyaki. As a sushi fan, nothing locally has been able to compare to San Francisco sushi.

So far, my story sounds like a fanboy's travelogue - and that's a pretty accurate description. The convention hadn't even started, and already I was having the most unique experience of my life. All of the self-publishing-induced stress was forgotten. Right at that moment, it was all worth it.

The next day I was awake at a ridiculously early hour, still being on Central Time. I got up, put on my Evening Shift t-shirt, and went out for a leisurely breakfast. Because I hadn't rented a table at the convention, I didn't have to worry about arriving early to set up. Of course, I could have done without boarding the wrong bus and ending up at the abandoned naval yards instead of the convention center. one hour later, Peter and I finally arrived at APE and proceeded to wander the floor.

Regular readers of this column will know that my self-publishing journey has been fraught with missteps, but giving myself the freedom to wander the floor was not one of them. After dropping some of my postcards on the freebie table, I went from booth to booth, meeting online friends, and learning about some cool new comics. Having the freedom to wander allowed me to indulge my fanboy side - including collecting sketches from people like Rafer (Plastic Farm) Roberts, Rob (Teenagers From Mars) G, Michael (The Norm) Jantze, and the aforementioned Larry Young. Having a predetermined list of people I wanted to meet made it easier for me to warm up to pushing my book on them - as best I could.

Unfortunately, despite the warm reception from damn near everyone, I was not able to completely shake off my shyness. It was one thing to give some postcards to cover artist Brian Wood (while gushing profusely over the job he did - maybe a little too profusely), it's quite another to randomly stop people and say, "Hi, here's a postcard. Have a nice day." In retrospect, I was doing things backwards. The people that I was approaching were other artists, other publishers. people who had gone to the convention in order to sell things. They were all very polite to me, and I was very careful to observe proper etiquette, but in the end I was a customer. They'd be more interested in me giving them money than the other way around. This explains the chilly reception I received from Chris Oliveros, from whom I bought nothing (although Peter picked up the Louis Riel hardcover), while Brett Warnock was only too pleased to accept a postcard along with my payment for the second Pistolwhip book. Important Point: fun though a con may be, it is first and foremost work.

Another tip: the con guests all wear name badges. Read them. Even now I'm still embarrassed that I didn't recognize Rafael Navarro when he offered to sign my copy of Masks of Sonambulo. (I swear, I thought he had short hair!)

Despite the great time I was having, the best was still to come. That night was the main reason I had made the trip - the Isotope's APE Aftermath Party, and the presentation of the Mini-Comic Of The Year Award. It was such an experience that it deserves a column of its own.