"Salinas Valley Comic Con 2017: We are not alone!"

By Allan Angel

(January 28, 2018)

I was sent this text message from Thomas Esmeralda about possibly working on The Salinas Valley Comic Con 2017. The message was very vague, but it certainly piqued my interest. Me and Thomas, met at San Jose Boxing many years ago and it came as a great surprise to hear from him again. His presence was sorely missed in our boxing classes.

Tom is an arts professor at San Jose State University and always had an easy going and cheery attitude so I had no doubt that whatever this thing turned into would be an amazing experience. Tom had worked in such movies as X-Men: The Last Stand, Superman Returns, Prince of Egypt, etc., I asked if I could bring along my friend and collaborator Chris Perguidi. We were to meet with Susan Shillinglaw at the art quad in SJSU at around 10 am. Susan is an English professor at SJSU, who was in charge of The Salinas Valley Comic Con and I think certain events pertaining to The Steinbeck Center located in Salinas.

Tom was a little late and the meeting continued with me, Chris, and Susan talking about ideas for the show. It was clear Susan wasn't too familiar with the comic book convention environment so I think she was keen to our ideas on how to go about the convention. When Tom joined in afterwards, he showed us some of the artworks the SJSU students were doing with Susan's English students and me and Chris were really impressed. At the end of the day, we were basically in charge of the event or a big part of the event.

Because it was hard for me to pick up Chris, find parking, meet with Susan, then go to my job as Mail Handler for the USPS, etc., I went to 2 or 3 more meetings with Susan alone. In these meetings, I suggested that the convention should be about spotlighting writers and artists. Susan said she had an idea of putting all the artists alley tables in front of the speakers/guests who would be heard throughout the entire floor through microphones. She couldn't understand why I thought that was an innovative idea. I thought it was brilliant! I have never seen that kind of arrangement before.

I further reiterated to Susan that I didn't want to make the show about me and Chris, I wanted it to be all inclusive as I and Chris have always been disrespected in so many ways at past shows, and I wanted to do exactly the opposite. An innovative proposition and perhaps a little naive but I talked to an artist/friend of mine about what was happening and he lectured me about doing the right thing and I listened to that.

He reiterated my own motives to do the exact opposite of what everyone in this industry does. I didn't want to make the environment even more hostile than it has become. I figured if it bombed that at least I didn't bomb as a human being. And, in that sense, I listened to no one but myself. Artists and writers were going to be spotlighted at this event which included cosplayers etc.

I also suggested that we do a Program Book. I would design the book differently from what everyone else was doing by using a lot of graphics and giving it that 'comic book' feel by using the Whizbang font, a popular font that I always use for the genre. I started doing some sketches during my breaks at work and came out with 2 posters. I also wrote the introduction.

The first poster was an ad hoc drawing I did in about 2 hours featuring the past movies of the holiday season, Thor, Justice League, and The Last Jedi. I showed the free poster I received for the Justice League ticket I purchased via Fandango to Chris and he suggested I replace the heroes with characters like Thor or Spiderman. I decided to showcase lesser known characters like Spider Woman and Batgirl instead just because I already had the well known characters on the first poster which was used as the promotional poster for the show. Susan told me that people's faces lit up when they saw it, and I saw it myself when I posted them all over town.

The Program Book was more time consuming than I thought, but the results were amazing! Through emails, I collaborated with many people like Lisa, Tara, Eric, Susan, etc. to make it the best it could possibly be given the short time we had to work on it. Behind the scenes, my computer actually died and I spent many hours retrieving the files via Chrome, the only way it was possible to do so as the mac laptop would not accept any devices through the USB or Thunderbolt ports. It died a month later.

I was sent the itinerary via email stating that Walter Ryce, arts writer for Monterey County Weekly, would interview the people behind Integrity Comics which includes Thomas Esmeralda, Chris Perguidi and me, Allan Angel. We had to clarify later on that Thomas Esmeralda was an arts professor at SJSU and that the only people at the panel of Integrity Comics was me and Chris.

Thomas and Chris still couldn't figure out what the panel would be like even though I told them that I think we will be interviewed by Walter Ryce. "Who's Walter Ryce?" Chris would often ask and I would tell him, "His an arts writer for MC Weekly." "What's MC Weekly?" Chris would then ask and I would tell him, "It's the Metro (San Jose's weekly entertainment paper) of Monterey County."

The day before the show, I loaded comic books, posters, prints, etc. to sell at the show. My plan was to give away copies of my comic book, Lost Legends, which is about 3 eight year old kids that were given super powers while dealing with their own issues like racism, child abuse, etc. But something deeply frightened me that occurred that Friday night before the convention where I thought I might have had cancer which I will detail in another article. Chris doubted the whole show. I couldn't think the entire night, but I knew this was a good thing so I kept on, even though I thought it might have been better to go see a doctor. So much work was done, I could not not go.

When people don't understand exactly what would take place, then participation isn't necessarily engendered and so it was left up to me to work on the Powerpoint in Google docs. The day of the show we found out that it was real and the artist alley was just as expected- the discussion panel where speakers would be situated was on a raised platform against one side of the wall surrounded by artists tables lining the walls and rows of beautiful seats in the center. That folks, is magic! It's like Xanadu, but we weren't roller skating.

The first panel was a Spotlight on Integrity Comics. Chris was now enthusiastic and had his whole speech ready. Tom was late and said he'd join us soon, meanwhile, the panel was underway and Walter Ryce and everyone were busy reworking the Powerpoint I started in Google docs. Walter Ryce was asking many questions about Integrity Comics beforehand, and I found out he did a lot of research, which somewhat made me curious. Tom said something brilliant that sticks with me whenever I'm in a down mood, "Just smile. Even when things are going wrong, just smile--"

Unfortunately, no pictures were taken during the panel, because I was part of the panel and I, usually, did all the photo shoots, video work, etc. We introduced ourselves and what we did and Chris suggested we move on along to questions. One of the questions Walter asked was how the name Integrity Comics came to be, which kind of surprised me because that went over people's heads so many times that nobody ever thought of its implications. Walter understood it. I was the only one who could answer that question because I founded it and asked if he wanted an "honest" answer. I kind of took a big breath and said something like this--

"The reason why I named my company Integrity Comics," I replied, "was really against what Image Comics stood for, which was what the outside of a person looked like (the colors, the art, etc.). Integrity Comics was about what was in the inside. It's about what's inside your soul." And I made a gesture of putting my hands on my heart and moving it towards the audience at which point I think people began to pay attention. I tend to speak a lot with my hands like New Yorkers as a teacher of mine once said of me.

Walter Ryce was one of the most intelligent interviewer I have ever met and he said to some effect how Image Comics was the comic book company that allowed artists and writers to own their own characters at which point Chris retorted with how Image started to act like Marvel and DC when they reached their level of success. I was floored, because right then I knew why I brought Chris with me, this is what we do all the time- debate, talk constantly. Needless to say, I was so proud of this group.

I think someone asked what they could do to improve on their art and I was the first one to say, "You're doing yourself a disservice if skill is the only thing you concentrate on when making art. The Simpsons when it first started in The Tracy Ullman Show wasn't drawn well and it's been one of the most successful shows ever. I mean look at Peanuts… Just tell your story. It's not up to you if something is successful or not. Just tell your story." at which point Chris had to interrupt me because some audience members may have been insulted by that comment about Peanuts and added, "In the early stages. He meant in the early stages, Peanuts wasn't drawn well." He would then give a whole history of Peanuts and how its art evolved.

Chris would then say how "The best comic books are the ones you create yourself," I think this was part of the speech he thought he was going to do at the panel and posted on Facebook.

Walter then asks about the website and how it's very political and asked if politics should be incorporated into comic books or something of that nature. I answered with, "I don't think it's anything new. George Perez and Marv Wolfman with their book The New Teen Titans talked about issues like--" I stopped myself and realized that the convention were geared towards families. I turned to Chris and asked, "Should I--? It's a kid's show right?"

I went into another example, "If you look at the Star Wars movies, there's a lot of politics in them. For instance, the way the color red in The Last Jedi is used. It represents-- Evil (slowly emphasizing the word evil) and blue represents good." Me and Chris sensed someone in the audience really or probably upset by the comment and he goes on to say, "Now me and Allan, we're sort of in the opposite ends of the political spectrum and--" In short, he helped me dodge a bullet.

I didn't realize it, but almost all my characters have featured super heroes of African American descent, Blast of Lost Legends, Erika America of Herotown, Superhood, The Baby Warriors, etc. which most likely compelled Walter to ask the question, Is it a good idea to have minorities or everyone be represented in comic books(or something to that effect)?

I replied, "I didn't know Spawn was black until I looked at the inside pages. So I decided when I would have a comic book company and I had a black character that I would put that character and show him, you know, what he really looks like, for everyone to see right there in front of your face. I mean, you know, why hide it. I just didn't understand that. I think that I just do it, because it's new. It's (a) new (concept). I like to always be the first to do stuff." Chris would clarify that Spawn was always wearing a mask on the covers and you never really got to see what he looked liked.

Again, the panel was just incredible. Thomas said so many amazing things, Chris would say amazing things, I'd say amazing things. It was such a magical experience. At the end of the panel, people were telling me how good I was. I think part of the reason I did well was the thought that I might be dying of cancer, so I decided I would go bravely and honestly and represent my views as honestly as I could while I'm alive. It was amazing.

People came to take pictures with me and Chris afterwards and we have never felt more appreciated than in that moment. All our hard work was really an expression of ourselves and our hope and to be validated like that was awesome. Susan once remarked how engaged the audience were, and we were just being ourselves. And I think that was our whole point, "The best comic book you can write is the one you write yourself." Thank you Tom, Susan, Chris, Lisa, Tara, Eric, the people at The Steinbeck Center, the attendees, the artists, the poets, the dreamers for this once in a lifetime opportunity to express ourselves!