Driving north on Vancouver Island’s Island Highway is always a nostalgic experience for me — I’ve had so many wonderful adventures in the places along it over the last — oh let me see — nearly thirty years since I first came to the island!
This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to be an invited guest at a gaming convention in Courtenay called InCON. Courtenay is a few hours drive from my home in Victoria, through the small glacier-sculpted mountains of The Malahat and alongside the Salish Sea, through farms and towns, past highway-side trails lined with bright pink ornamental plum trees. and bigger mountains still topped with snow. My neighbour rode up with me as far as Parksville, so I had some lovely company for the first part of the drive, and it made the time in the hour-long traffic jam on the “fast” inland highway pass more pleasantly! After dropping her off, I meandered up the old seaside highway (very nostalgic!), forgetting how far it really was from Parksville to Courtenay when you take “the pretty way”…
… So instead of arriving around 4, as planned, I got there at 5:30, which was enough time to unload before the opening ceremonies, and then head to the stage, where I was interviewed alongside the inimitable Ken Steacy, Famous Comics Artist and co-creator of the Camosun College Comics and Graphic Novels Program, from which I graduated five years ago. Courtney, the organizer, so deftly guided all of us guests into describing our parts on the programming that I wished I had a clone to both sit at a table see everyone else’s presentations!
After the ceremony, Ken and I walked around looking for dinner, and we found Sushi Jo’s, where he introduced me to — ta-da! — sushi pizza!!! I don’t usually post food pictures, but this was a work of art, besides being incredibly tasty.
After dinner, I checked into my hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express — and I have nothing but good things to say about it. Friendly staff, comfy beds, LOTS of cushy pillows, quiet room, breakfast in the morning. It was good to put my feet up and relax after a long day. I’m re-reading some of Terry Pratchett’s books currently, and was happy to lose myself in Discworld, visiting Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles. And if you’ve never read any of the Discworld novels, find out about them here.
The next morning, I hit the hotel breakfast room early, then was off to set up my table before my first presentation, which was at 10, when the con opened. I was giving a workshop on Drawing Animal Characters for Comics, which was described thusly: “In comics, animals can walk and talk like humans. Learn how to create convincing animal characters based on real ones, and create expressive faces and movement”.
I arrived to find a lot of very eager small children, with parents, and a few older ones — apparently drawing animals is perceived as an activity mostly suitable for children, which puzzles me greatly. Fortunately I had only a loose outline planned, so I simply adapted it for the younger ones; they were a surprisingly attentive audience and drew enthusiastically along with me (although some of them regarded it as a race as to who could draw the fastest!).
Then it was back to the table in the Native Sons hall, a really cool building made of lots and lots of logs:
It was a really nice sized event. It wasn’t really very busy for most of the time, so I was able to get out and look around at the other vendors’ work, and even get a few goodies to bring home. There were lots of nice people to chat with, both behind the tables and attendees. By 6 pm, though, I was ready to go back to the hotel and put my feet up, read my book, and take a hot steamy bath. I was so tired I didn’t even want to go out to eat, so I made myself some chicken soup with canned chicken, a bouillon cube, some ramen noodles, and a small bunch of Shanghai bok choi — hurrah for hotel microwaves for the tired traveller!
The next day I hung out at my table until it was time for the comics jam that Ken and I were doing together. We both have done lots of comic jams over the years, and I’ve written up a little instruction sheet for it (see below). Ken, ever the teacher, managed to cram a whole comics course into one hour, and the participants (all ages) turned out one page apiece between all of them. I wish I had gotten photos of all of them, but we had to clear out for the next panel. However, here are two pages that Ken and I traded back and forth, partly as a demo, and partly to give as a thank you to Courtney for all her hard work:
Here’s how you do a comic jam:
What’s a comic jam? Can you put it on toast? Can you dam up a river? Well, maybe, but for certain, you can have a lot of fun.
A comic jam is a cooperative activity in which several people have fun riffing off of each others work in telling a story visually, comics-style. It’s kind of like musicians do when jamming, passing around the leads but always keeping in mind the structure of the song.
How do you do it? One person will start a panel a the top of a page (we have drawn these out for you). Then the next person picks up the story elements and characters and moves the story along a bit in the next panel, passes it along to the next person, and so forth. The person with the last panel on the page gets to decide how to end it.
How do I start a story? Since you don’t know what other people are going to do with the story, you have complete freedom here! Make up a character, a prop or two, and an action. You can also choose a location and draw in a background. Keep the characters and location simple so that other people can easily adapt them for their panels. The idea is storytelling, rather than an art masterpiece.
How do I continue a story? Most of the time, a first panel will suggest something to you immediately. Go with it. Don’t try to overthink it! If you’re stuck, draw something similar to the first panel, moving the action along slightly, leaving room for words. More than likely, something will occur to you to write after you draw the panel. Try to keep the characters from previous panels recognizable for the sake of continuity.
How do I end a story? This can be the most challenging, and the most fun because you get to have the final say! Look at the elements that have gone before, and try to wrap some or all of them into a logical conclusion Or take those elements and put in a twist. Sometimes you can wrap it up with a conclusion that brings everything back to a question or dilemma that was posed in the first panel.
Come 4pm, I wanted to get home before dark, as I don’t like driving at night these days, so I packed up in record time and hit the road, scooping up my friend on the way through Parksville, and we whizzed home to the sweet swing sounds of Katz-n-Jammers and Mose Scarlett. It was a great weekend and I had a lovely time! Ah, but… there’s no place like home. And I didn’t even need ruby slippers to get here.