Fantagraphics is celebrating its 40th anniversary and holy crap have I interviewed a ton of their cartoonists and writers:

That last one with Woodring has the most Fanta-40th-related conversation, so check it out.

Podcast – 35 Cents & a Stamp

Virtual Memories Show: John Porcellino –
35 Cents & A Stamp

“I managed to go 43 issues before I hit the paralyzing grip of self-doubt and self-consciousness [from realizing that I had an audience]. I feel lucky that I had all those years to write comics in essentially a vacuum. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be 20 years old and trying to write comics in this world with the internet’s immediate response.”

John Porcellino on The Virtual Memories Show

John Porcellino has been publishing his King-Cat Comics & Stories mini-comics for 25 years, but I managed not to check them out until last month. BIG mistake on my part! Turns out the critics were right; John P.’s one of the best autobio cartoonists out there, as well as “a master at miniature poignance” (Entertainment Weekly). We sat down at SPX 2014 to talk about publishing his new work, The Hospital Suite, as a standalone book and developing the skill and courage to tackle longer stories, his disdain for “the culture of like”, overcoming the shame and stigma of his OCD, the process of discovering an audience for his work, the pitfalls of autobiographical comics, discovering the power of negative space, turning his life into a narrative, how comics enabled him to communicate with people, and, most importantly, being an NFL bigamist. Give it a listen!

“If things didn’t get better, I was going to be the guy wandering down an alley in my underwear with tinfoil wrapped around my arms.”

Bonus: Roger Langridge gives us a few minutes at SPX to talk about his new book, Jim Henson’s The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow!

“To me, the best cartooning is the kind that has in place what needs to be there: nothing more and nothing less.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Related conversations:

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

John Porcellino was born in Chicago in 1968, and began drawing and writing at an early age, compiling his work into handmade booklets. His acclaimed self-published zine, King-Cat Comics and Stories, begun in 1989, has found a devoted worldwide audience and is one of the most influential comics of the past 25 years. His newest book is The Hospital Suite, and he is the subject of a new documentary, Root Hog or Die. His work has been collected in several editions, including King-Cat Classix, Map of My Heart, Perfect Example, and Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man. He is also the author of Thoreau at Walden and The Next Day: A Graphic Novella.

Credits: This episode’s music is Theater is the Life of You by The Minutement (John’s a fan). The conversation was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Mr. Porcellino by me.

Podcast: The Guest List: 2013

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 32 – The Guest List: 2013

The year is over! I exceeded my podcast goal of getting a new episode out every other week! And rather than eke out one more interview for the final podcast of the year, I decided to make my life more difficult by hitting up this past year’s guests to find out the favorite books they read in 2013.

At the time, I thought this episode would make a nice companion to my Another Year, In the Books post, but now I realize it’s just another symptom of my Need To Create Giant Organization-Oriented Projects. Regardless, you get the fruits of my obsessive-compulsive labor! This year-end episode features selections from nearly 2 dozen of our recent guests! Go give it a listen! (And visit this cheat sheet if you’d like to see which guests responded and which books they picked.)

Follow The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guests

The guests who contributed their favorite book from the past year — and that’s “favorite book I read in 2013,” not “favorite book that came out in 2013” — are Charles Blackstone, Lisa Borders, Scott Edelman, Drew Friedman, Kipp Friedman, Craig Gidney, Ed Hermance, Nancy Hightower, Jonathan Hyman, Maxim Jakubowski, Ben Katchor, Ian Kelley, Roger Langridge, Philip Lopate, Hooman Majd, Zach Martin, Ron Rosenbaum, David Rothenberg, Willard Spiegelman, Peter Trachtenberg, Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, and Matt Wuerker. Check out their episodes at our archives!

Credits: This episode’s music is Ho Renomo by Cluster/Brian Eno. Most of the episode was recorded at Virtual Memories Manor on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Some segments were recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. Some segments were recorded by the guests and e-mailed in (which is to say: don’t blame me!). Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band.

Podcast: The Show Must Go On

The Virtual Memories Show Must Go On, with Roger Langridge!

Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 24 – The Show Must Go On

“We have to decide what sort of comics industry we want before we decide what sort of books we’re going to work on.”

Roger Langridge has become the best all-ages cartoonist in the business, despite (or because of) starting out in a “mature readers” indy-comics environment. He joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about how he found that niche, his work on (and love of) The Muppets, Popeye, and Dr. Who, the responsibility of helping attract the next generation of comics readers, his lifetime love of vaudeville, his upbringing in New Zealand, how he learned to write his own stories, how he accidentally became a pioneer in webcomics, why he decided not to work with Marvel or DC anymore, and the one character from one of those companies that he’d love to work on. It’s a delightful conversation with one of the nicest guys in comics!

“I kept entering competitions to draw Popeye, and the prize was always the Robert Altman Popeye film, so I saw it about six times.”

Bonus: Here’s a piece I wrote about his amazing comic from the 1990s, Zoot!)


“I’m not capable of drawing on model to save my life. I try my best to do that, but it always comes out looking like me.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great stuff! Related episodes:

Subscribe to The Virtual Memories Show on iTunes, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and RSS!

About our Guest

Roger Langridge has been producing comics for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has written and drawn Snarked!, Popeye, The Muppet Show and Thor: The Mighty Avenger. In collaboration with his brother Andrew, he drew Zoot! and Art D’Ecco, and his great solo work is the NCS, Ignatz, Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated comic book Fred the Clown. He recently (late 2011 is recent, right?) published The Show Must Go On, a collection of 20 years of his strips. He currently lives in London with his wife Sylvie, their two children and a box of his own hair.

Credits: This episode’s music is Mahna Mahna by Piero Umiliani. The conversation was recorded at the Bethesda North Marriott during SPX 2013 on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in my home office on a Blue Yeti USB microphone. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing were done in Garage Band. Photo by me.

Weakly – May 7: Blame It on the Ame

[This is the fifth in a series of long-ass rambling posts about my travels in Chicago and Toronto from May 3-9. Part 1 is over here and part 2 is over there. Now, where did I put part 3? Oh, it’s right here! Part 4? I gotcha covered.]

I could’ve sworn the flight was 11:30. Of course, I’m also the guy who forgot where he was flying a few days earlier, so I’m not to be trusted when it comes to air travel.

I got home around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, woke up at 7 a.m. on Friday, and got to re-packing. Before heading out to BIO, I put together a short list of stuff to do before this jaunt:

  • get passports [don’t let the terrorists win!]
  • turn off water [because the pipes could burst, okay?]
  • leave dog-supplies by door [my pal Jason was to come by to pick up Rufus & Otis later in the day]
  • unplug computers/hard drives [I once came home to find that a power surge has left an external hard drive spinning for days: not good]
  • bring super-awesome present for Tom [scratched, as Tom had to cancel his trip]

No suits for this mini-trip to Toronto, although I did bring along a navy suit-jacket, anticipating cooler weather. Amy & I managed to pack two-plus days’ of clothes & toiletries into my carry-on. No laptop this trip; we’d rough it like the Amish by only using our iPhones on the hotel wi-fi.

I grabbed a selection of Roger Langridge’s comics so I could come up with some questions or observations for our panel conversation on Saturday, and we headed out around 9:45. We ran a little late, but I’d factored in enough time for the 11:30 a.m. departure.

As it turned out, I factored in just enough time for an 11 a.m. departure, which is when the flight was actually scheduled to go.

One of the few problems with flying a little airline like Porter is that, well, there are no signs at its Newark terminal as to what its gate is. Oh, and it doesn’t show up on the departures/arrivals screens. So we sorta muddled our way around the B terminal, had a too-long time in security because the TSA staff appeared never to have seen a computer print-out of a boarding pass, and got to the gate around 10:50. Two minutes later, they began boarding the plane, and we were off for the Great White North 15-20 minutes later.

We flew Porter a year earlier, and it was just a joy. Sorta like an old-school flying experience, right down to the attractive stewardesses. This time, we were a little disappointed by the lack of meal and beer (too early), but I still reveled in the comfort of the half-empty flight. It was a nice contrast to a pair of 100% filled Continental flights during the week.

Another neat aspect of Porter is that, because the airline only flies one particular prop plane, its Newark flights get to take off via a less-used runway. We were third in line to take off, which is unheard-of on a Friday morning. I was once on a flight that was 57th for takeoff (but it felt more like 84th).

Anyway, Porter flies a Bombardier Q-400. The Q stands for “quiet,” which is an accurate descriptor unless you’re sitting in row 9, where Amy & I had our seats. In that case, you’re just in front of where the wings connect to the fuselage, and the noise is a little bad. So it was on with the Bose headphones and, for a change of pace, Lily Allen’s It’s Not Me, It’s You. An adorable track from that record shuffled up onto my iTunes a week or so earlier, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Cute, bouncy, a little preachy, fun. I’m not cut out to be a record reviewer.

The bigger question was: Am I cut out to be a comics interviewer? The main reason we chose this weekend for the Toronto trip was to visit TCAF, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. We went last year and had a great time. While it was disappointing that Comics Reporter and all-around best pal Tom Spurgeon wouldn’t be able to attend, I was still looking forward to meeting/seeing some of the invited comics luminaries, including Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring and James Sturm (whom I’d met in 1998, but hey).

Most importantly, I’d get to meet Roger Langridge, a cartoonist whose work I’d adored since I first saw an issue of Zoot! c. 1992. I’d corresponded with him online on and off over the years, but this would be our first face-to-face meeting. Originally, I was supposed to “co-moderate” a panel with Tom & Roger. Tom would handle the questions about Roger’s present-day comics, and I would ask questions about his earlier work. When Tom had to cancel, he wished me luck and zapped me some of the questions he’d worked up. He e-mailed the show organizers that this would certainly be a better-looking panel than the original setup.

So, on the hour-long flight, I listened to cutesy britpop, pored over pages of comics from Art D’Ecco, Zoot! Suite, The Muppet Show, Fred The Clown, and Fin Fang Four, and scribbled down some questions. Opening my Art D’Ecco collection, I discovered that it contained a sketch and inscription from Roger. I thought, “Did we actually meet? Am I getting Memento-like with comics?” This worried me, since comics are just about the only temporal anchor I have sometimes. I concluded that the book must’ve been a present from Tom, and that he must’ve gotten Roger to inscribe the book. I just couldn’t recall having seen the sketch before. Still: that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The flight was a little bumpy, but not worryingly so. I always feel safer when Amy’s beside me.

We landed at the Porter terminal on City Island (another great advantage to the airline is that it lands right next to downtown Toronto; landing at YYZ means you have a $60+ cab ride ahead of you), went through customs, and waited for the short ferry to the mainland. I noticed a guy ahead of us at the ferry line and whispered to Amy, “I think that’s Dan Clowes.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“The slightly stooped posture, bald pate, sad eyes and aura of self-loathing,” I didn’t tell her.

I thought of stepping over and introducing myself as a fan of his work, but decided not to. I knew he hadn’t done much press in years — he has a new book out this season, his first in a while — and didn’t want to bother the guy who once drew this panel:

© 1990, Dan Clowes

The ferry soon arrived and disembarked its passengers. One of them walked over to Clowes and shook his hand; he was clearly from the conference. I kept an eye on them as we boarded the ferry. I decided to intrude on their conversation for a moment.

“Hi, my name’s Gil Roth and I was just wondering: are you connected with TCAF? Because I’m a late addition to moderate a panel and don’t know if I need to call or check in with the organizers.”

The second guy introduced himself as Tom Devlin. Clowes less-awkwardly-than-I-expected said, “Hi, I’m Dan.”

“I thought that was you in the ferry line,” I said. “I’ve enjoyed your work for 20 years.”

He sorta smiled, then asked which panel I was moderating. “The Roger Langridge one. I’m filling in for Tom Spurgeon.”

Both guys’ eyes widened. Tom D. asked, “What happened to Tom?” Clowes asked, “Is he okay?”

On his Comics Reporter website, Tom had cited “personal reasons” for having to miss TCAF. I told the guys about his mother’s illness (as related about 10,000 words ago in my May 6 writeup). I was touched by the suddenness of their concern. I don’t really have a handle on how people in the comics industry regard Tom, but both of these guys seemed genuinely worried about him. I was glad I could allay their fears.

Devlin got out a list of phone numbers, and gave me a couple of people to call or check in with at the festival. Clowes looked at the list and said, “Is that a cell phone number fo Chester Brown? Does he have a cell?”

Tom looked at it for a second and replied, “No, that’s gotta be a landline.”

I said, “It’d be even funnier if you had a cell number for Seth.” We all laughed, and Dan speculated that Seth probably has one of those hand-cranked phones with a wooden case. Then Tom added, “I used to tell people that Seth drives a PT Cruiser, but it got to the point where I couldn’t keep a straight face anymore.” Even Amy started laughing over that image. Ah, cartoonist humor . . .

The ferry arrived and I wished Tom & Dan a good show. I hit the ATM at the gate, but it was out of order. Luckily, our cabbie was just fine taking U.S. dollars, since they were nearly on a 1:1 exchange with the canuckbuck.

We got into our room at the Metropolitan, unpacked, and e-mailed our dinner-date to let him know we’d arrived.

See, TCAF was our main reason for coming to Toronto, but it wasn’t our only reason. For one thing, I’ve got family in the city, but almost as importantly, one of our favorite restaurants had recently reopened and we needed to make sure its legendary black cod was still All That. So my pal Sam & his wife Tracie made reservations for the four of us.

While Amy showered, I walked over to Eaton Centre to pick up a brush and a comb for her; I’d managed not to forget to bring anything, but only because most of my stuff was still packed from Chicago.

I figured she’d take a while in the shower, so I meandered around the mall, looking at menswear and trying to assess whether my suit-jacket and a thin sweater would be enough protection against the cold and rain, which turned out to be more severe than predicted. At one point, I discovered a fancy men’s place called Harry Rosen. I’d seen a writeup for its five-storey flagship store in the Porter in-flight magazine a few hours earlier, but this was a mall version. So, no Tom Ford on display, but there was still good stuff to be seen.

An ancient salesman decided to help me out, and pushed suit after suit on me. He declared that my 42 Long size was a lie, and that I’d be far better treated by a 40, perhaps even of Regular length. After a few fittings, I told him that I had to get back to my wife so we could head out for dinner. He gave me his card, told me that he’d be at the store on Saturday, and that if I didn’t see him there, I should “just tell one of the salespeople you’re looking for the youngest person in the store,” he said.

Back in the room, Amy sat worried with limp hair. (I just wanted to write that.)

I brought her comb and brush, then got back to reading Roger’s comics while we waited for our friends to pick us up. It was cold, raining, and the cabfare would’ve somehow turned astronomical.

Dinner was at Ame, a restaurant in the club/theater district. It used to be known as Rain, and I’d had several phenomenal meals there. When we visited Toronto last May, we were crestfallen to find that it was shut down, with plans to reopen later in the year.

The restaurant is owned by Guy Rubino, a chef with a show called Made To Order on Canada’s Food Network. My pal Sam explained that Rain was just too pricey an establishment for its neighborhood, and that the new incarnation — “ame” is Japanese for “rain” — would be more affordable. The place was certainly more hopping on this visit. I couldn’t recall seeing so many people in the restaurant in either of my previous times there (Dec. 2006 and Aug. 2007, if you’re keeping record of my dining experiences and travels).

We parked in a lot a few doors down from the building. After we were seated, I meandered over to the bar to check out The Gin Situation. Sam had already heard about my mind-blowing G&T from two nights before, and was worried that I’d make good on my threat never to drink another. Like that was gonna happen.

Among the standard high-end fare, I noticed a new-to-me gin named Victoria. The bartender confirmed that it was a recent addition and may not have made its way to the states yet. I returned to my table and considered my options.

Before ordering, or even checking out the menu, we spent a while catching up with Sam & Tracie, a chunk of which consisted of my telling Sam some of the BIO stories from earlier in the week. He couldn’t attend this year, but was happy to hear that it was dysfunctional an event as usual for our niche of the industry.

Our waitress was a petite Spanish-ish-looking girl with braces. She was so adorable that Amy pointed out that fact (and also thinks she was less Spanish than maybe black). Taking our drink orders, she spoke pretty authoritatively about the gin selection, and was intrigued by my snooty-ass Q-Tonic (the bar only served the standard stuff, which I was willing to overlook after my nirvana experience in Chicago). I opted for a Victoria and tonic (which meh) while Amy got the Gin Kim chi, a concoction containing gin, pickled ginger, pickled daikon, cilantro, kojuchang, lemon juice simple syrup. It was an awfully inventive and tasty cocktail. I would follow my G&T with an Aviation, but it was nowhere near as lovely as the one I had in Chicago two nights earlier.

After we got over lamenting the lack of a chef’s tasting menu — which the four of us ordered on our last trip here and turned out to include “Squab Three Ways,” one of which was “Squab-Claw of Death” — we rampaged through the menu (with some suggestions from our waitress), pledging to eat family style no matter the size of the dishes.

The pork belly, my late addition to the order, turned out to be a home run, but the grand slam belonged, as ever, to the miso black cod. After one bite, I had to resist my boss’ practice of immediately calling the waitress over and asking for two more orders of it. I mean, we did order a second one, but at least we waited a little while. And, of course, we used our iPhones to take pictures of the dishes and e-mail them to my boss. He really needs to find some advertisers in the Toronto area so he can make a business trip up there.

Though the venue was more crowded than in its Rain days, Ame was never loud, and so the four of us were able to chat away. Sure, Sam & I spent too much time talking business, and I may’ve spent so much time discussing the intricacies of gin that Sam’s wife thought I was an alcoholic, but that’s better than being deaf from crowd noise at the end of an evening, right?

Overall, the meal was a joy. The desserts were . . . interesting, but I scored with a fig-sorbet dish. Sam went with an off-menu special, “Strawberry 18 Bazillion Ways,” one of which was strawberry Pop Rocks. (My brother would have been in heaven. If only Pop-Tarts were involved.) Though we’d ordered a ton of dishes, none of us were in bloated tick mode. We guessed that they got prices down to club-district level by shrinking things a bit. And getting rid of the Squab Three Ways. (And don’t get me started on the loss of Lamb Three Ways, an insanely good dish on my first trip to Rain.)

The only downside to the evening was the discovery that Sam’s car was buried behind three rows of cars: the perils of an early dinner reservation. It was raining pretty heavily and there was no sign of the lot attendant. Tracie talked about taking the train back out to their neighborhood and returning in the morning to get the car. I pondered all available options and concluded that there was nothing Amy or I could do, besides catch a cab back to the Metropolitan. I felt like a heel for so rapidly deciding on that course of action, but before I could propose it, Sam found the lot attendant, and they began the Tetris-like game of extricating his car.

Back at the hotel room, I had a welcome e-mail from Chris Butcher, the TCAF organizer, and a “knock ’em dead tomorrow!” e-mail from my pal Tom. I had a warm belly, a little buzz, my darling wife, and some Muppets comics. I’d also hit Tim Horton’s on two separate occasions earlier in the day. It would be a good mini-vacation.

Next: Cheers Judas

May 3: Bloodshot Eye of the Tiger

May 4: Skokie, the Germans, and the Lost Ugandan

May 5: “Jumpin’ with my boy Sid in the city”

May 6: The Miracle and the Wrigley Killing Field

Weakly – May 6: The Miracle and the Wrigley Killing Field

[This is the fourth in a series of long-ass rambling posts about my travels in Chicago and Toronto from May 3-9. Part 1 is over here and part 2 is over there. Now, where did I put part 3? Oh, it’s right here!]

Where were we? Oh, yeah: I had gone to bed at midnight, head pounding, anticipating a hangover to rival Informex in Las Vegas 2004. That time, my publisher, a sales-pal of his, and I started drinking sangria around 4 p.m. when the show ended, and kept going until around 11. That was the time I discovered you could be hungover while still drinking. The cab-ride to the airport the next morning was no doubleplusungood. However, the early-morning flight back to Newark was filled with TV executives, and they were all coke-burnouts, so my omnipresent sunglasses and greenish pallor went unremarked.

This time around? Sure, I’d taken the ibuprofen & Gatorade combo that served me in pretty good stead back in grad school, but I didn’t have high hopes.

And then I opened my eyes at 6 a.m. and felt perfectly fine. I was puzzled. I immediately ran my hangover-diagnostic, rolling my eyes up, down, left and right, waiting for the brain-crippling pain to strike. But it never came. I cautiously got out of bed, expecting to find that

  1. I was still drunk and couldn’t stand up straight,
  2. I was dead and that a bright white light was going to stream through the door of the hotel room and take me to that great mall in the sky, or
  3. I’d crapped the bed.

Astonishingly, it turned out to be none of the above. A miracle had transpired, right there in my overpriced hotel room in Chicago! I’ve long sworn by the notion high-end gins as being less damaging to one’s health than a Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, but the two Hendrick’s at dinner were pretty sizable and (for me) quickly consumed. I didn’t recall pacing the North Shore & tonic over any appreciable length of time. And I’d neglected to mention the beers earlier at the conference, a couple of Sam Adams bottles courtesy of the nearby Massachusetts pavilion, because I didn’t want you to think ill of me.

With relative vigor, I strode into the bathroom and peed for about five minutes straight, during which time I checked my iPhone, which I’d left charging on the counter. It was there that I’d received the bad news to counter my awesome start to the day.

My pal Tom, who was planning to join us in Toronto for the weekend, had to cancel his trip. His mom (and travel partner for this junket) had taken ill the night before the flight to Canada, and he could neither compel her to risk her life on a plane or abandon her, what with it being Mother’s Day weekend and him being a decent human being. Beyond my worries about his mom’s health, this bummed me out because I was hoping to spend some time shooting the breeze with Tom during the trip. Also, he was supposed to moderate an all-star panel of cartoonists at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival during the weekend, and I knew how much he was looking forward to that. And then there was the panel we were supposed to moderate together . . .

He’d e-mailed 40 minutes earlier with the bad news and asked me to call. It was 4 a.m. local time for him, but I followed his orders. He told me that his mom had been able to rest once Tom had convinced her that she wasn’t “ruining everything” by getting sick. I’m sure the anxiety over a canceled trip exacerbated the health problems she was having. Tom was sad about having to miss TCAF, as well as dining & conversation with me and Amy.

A week earlier, he asked me if I’d be interested in co-moderating a panel with him during the festival. It would consist of the two of us interviewing one of my favorite cartoonists, Roger Langridge. Tom figured that I could focus on Roger’s earlier “alternative” work, while he would tackle Roger’s most recent project, an ongoing comics adaptation of The Muppet Show. I was thrilled to have been invited, but by the end of our conversation this morning, I had volunteered to conduct the interview solo. It’s funny how these things happen. Once we were off the phone, I wrote down in my notebook, “Pick up Langridge books!” I was only going to be home for about 10 hours between flights, and would likely forget something important; I’d need to read through some of Roger’s comics to put together some good questions for him.

Meanwhile, I still had another day of BIO ahead of me! The only appointment on my calendar had fortunately rescheduled from an 8 a.m. breakfast conversation to a 1 p.m. stop at my booth. Hungover or not, I was happy not to have a conversation about bio-manufacturing market issues before I’d metabolized my morning coffee.

Also, it’d give my skin time to settle down. Between the harsh soap of hotel sheets and pillowcases, and the need to shave every morning (I usually go 2 days between shaves), my face can get pretty scratchy and irritated in the morning. There are many little aspects of business travel that make it a pain.

So I packed, cleaned up, put on “final day” clothes — suit-jacket, dress shirt and tie and khakis, rather than a full suit — and headed out for the show. The stop for the shuttle-bus was gone, as our corner of E. Illinois St. was blocked off for some sort of Top Chef competition and taping. A cardboard cutout of Padma Lakshmi leaned against a production truck. I wondered if I could get it onto the airplane that evening. The new stop turned out to be around the block, and I shared the trip with another pal from the same Belfast-based company. His accent is easier for me to understand than Philip’s, but he’s a quiet-talker, so I was back at square one.

For some reason, the conference organizers had decided that the final day of BIO should run a full 9:00-5:00 schedule, a bizarre move considering that

  1. shows always have shorter hours on the final day, because that day is slower than molasses and it’s ridiculous to make exhibitors stand around with no one to see for 8 hours, and
  2. this would result in hundreds — if not thousands — of people streaming out to cabs and airport shuttles during Chicago rush hour.

My flight home was 7:15, and I already anticipated that I would have to get out of a traffic-stranded cab, grab my suitcase, and start running down the highway to get to O’Hare in time. Fortunately, my boss realized that it was a little unfair to have me on setup and teardown duty with my mini-vacation schedule. He paid the show organizers to take down the pop-up, pack it, and ship it back to us. This meant I could bolt by 3:30 or 4:00. I was relieved.

“It’s a pity you didn’t come to dinner with us last night,” my boss said. We nicknamed him Captain Zagat because of his devotion to finding great restaurants wherever we go.

“Where’d you eat?”

“We went for Italian,” he said. I looked puzzled; what with him being a goombah from NJ and all, I didn’t think he’d bother with Italian anywhere but home. “Yeah, yeah, I know. This is probably the first Italian restaurant I’ve gone to west of New York. But it was amazing! The only problem happened at the end. . .”

The dinner party was just my boss, my sales director, and my associate editor. The latter two headed off for the ladies’ room while Cap’n Z. settled the bill. The owner came by the table to talk to him, and he told her how this was one of the finest Italian meals he’d ever had. She chatted with him for a second, then suddenly ran away from the table.

He wondered what he’d said to cause that reaction. Then she came running back, carrying a glass of water from a nearby table. Apparently, when my sales director had gotten up, she’d tossed her cloth napkin on the table and it landed on a candle. The owner was able to douse it before the fire spread, but my team was pretty embarrassed.

I was glad I went with My Dinner With Sid instead.

As is my wont, I meandered around the exhibit hall on and off throughout the day. Most of my advertiser pals were happy to shoot the breeze, since most attendees had already blown town. I was trading travel plans with a pal of mine. He was headed back to the Pacific Northwest the next day, so I gave him the location of the lounge I hit the night before, along with the name of that amazing gin.

I told him, “At some point, I thought it was smart to get a flight home that lands at 10:30 p.m., then get a flight at 11 a.m. the next morning for Toronto.”

“You’re dumber than you look,” he remarked.

His new CEO, a smooth businessman near my age, was in earshot, and asked, “Why are you visiting Toronto?”

I thought for a moment about how to answer this. I could’ve just gone with, “I have family and friends up there, and my wife loves the restaurants.” After all, this guy represented one of our major advertisers, and I didn’t know him well enough to judge how he’d react to finding out the editor of one of the major pharma B2B magazines is also an indie-comic geek.

On a whim, I said, “There’s a comics and cartooning festival going on up there, and I’m moderating a panel.”

He brightened. “Really? There’s a fantastic comic store in Toronto that you have to visit!” he exclaimed.

I was flabbergasted, but was able to say, “You mean The Beguiling?”

“No, no! That’s good, too, but you have to get to The Silver Snail! It’s on Queen Street! It’s amazing!”

I told him I’d check it out, depending on how much time I had. He was heading out from the show, shook my hand, and left.

My pal stared at me, and said, “I don’t believe that just happened.”

“Neither do I! He likes comics?”

“Dude. That’s so bizarre.” He gathered up a few coworkers to tell them about the exchange, and all of them were incredulous. Between that and the discovery that my pal Sid went to college with my future sister-in-law, this trip sure kept me on my toes.

My 1:00 p.m. appointment rescheduled for 3:00 and, while it went well, we were often interrupted by the noise of people tearing velcro displays down, or sealing boxes with packing tape.

Around 3:30 the marketing director asked, “What time are you heading out?”

“As soon as we’re done talking,” I told her.

“Oh, my gosh!” said the VP of business development. “Why don’t you head out? We’ll talk more once we’re back in the office!” We traded cards and they left for their booth.

Here are the two biggest lessons I’ve learned in my <gasp!> 15 years covering trade shows for business magazines:

  1. wear comfortable shoes
  2. keep outgoing cards in one pocket, incoming cards in the other

The first is pretty obvious: you’re spending hours and hours walking through a lightly carpeted convention center hall. The second? Think of how dopey you look when you hand someone your card and then realize it’s another person’s card. You end up fumbling through a stack of jumbled cards, trying to find one of yours. It’s unprofessional and easily preventable: just keep your cards in one pocket, other people’s cards in the other. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

(Note: you could go with a fancy-looking card holder, but nobody trusts someone who uses one of those.)

Around 3:45, I closed up the booth, putting the remaining magazines out on the table, and headed for the cab stand. There was no line, which worried me. As it turned out, that was because every single person at BIO was already in a cab on the way to O’Hare. Seriously, the traffic was insane. I marveled at the idiocy of stretching the last day to 5:00 p.m., and was thankful that I wasn’t going to be there for it.

The 20-mile drive to O’Hare took more than hour. I put on my iPod, listened to The National, in anticipation of their new record, and watched the scenery, such as it was. The only noteworthy sight (well, the only thing I can recall) was a strange billboard for the Chicago Cubs:

It’s not opening day.

It’s opening year.


Year One? Eek! Apparently Pinella was overthrown by Pol Pot, the Cubbies are playing at Wrigley Killing Field and Carl Zambrano’s stint “in the bullpen” is just another version of the re-education camps. I can’t imagine what they’d do to Steve Bartman.

Anyway, the airport was uneventful. When I checked in at an e-kiosk, I was offered $200 to defer my flight till next morning. For a split-second, I thought, “I could change tomorrow’s ticket on Porter to a Midway-to-Toronto, and Amy could drive herself to Newark in the morning.” Then I thought, “Only if they add a zero or two to that offer.” They didn’t, so i spent some time in the Red Carpet Club (United’s version of the President’s Club), saw the news about some wild stock market gyrations, read some of that Mitchum biography, continued to marvel over my lack of a hangover, and chose not to tempt fate by having a Hendrick’s & tonic at the club bar.

I got in to EWR safe and sound, hit the ground running (well, relaxedly strolling) and walked in the door at home at 11:30 p.m., greeted by wife and tail-wagging, face-licking doggies, the latter of whom had no idea I was going to be out the door 10 hours later.

Next: Ame and Squalor Victoria

May 3: Bloodshot Eye of the Tiger

May 4: Skokie, the Germans, and the Lost Ugandan

May 5: “Jumpin’ with my boy Sid in the city”