(I was invited to a Comic Book Convention in the late 1990s in Madrid, Spain and had a great time. But the trip itself was an experience in itself.)
HUD’S SPANISH ADVENTURE (May 18-24, 1999)
I’m to fly out of Las Vegas at 7:30 AM to Dallas-Fort Worth where I am to catch a flight to Madrid, Spain, all expenses paid. I’ve been invited as a guest to Expocomics ’99 only a few weeks before. Since I have never been to Spain I leapt at the opportunity. I only get three hours sleep the night before. I figure that will help me sleep when I’m there because I do not sleep well in strange places until I get used to them and I did not want to be all zoned out while I am there.
So I get up at 5:30 AM, call a cab, take a quick shower and so on before he shows up. He arrives about ten minutes after I am showered, shaved and dressed. I have my two pieces of luggage ready to go. A box of comics I hope to sell and interest publisher’s with over there, and my suitcase, which is full of new clothes I have bought in the last month or so.
Everything seems to be going smoothly until I get to the airport. The place was pretty deserted. The line to check in at the American Airlines counter was really small, but the lady who looked up my ticket said my first fight was going to be two hours late so I was going to miss my connection to Madrid. She said I just missed a flight that would have got me there in time. Great.
She spends an HOUR looking for a flight to get me there on time from other airlines. Nothing’s available. All sold out. So she tries to get me a flight to Madrid from other cities. Miami, no way to get there in time, ditto Denver, she tries all the other airlines. Nope. Flights are sold out or not getting in with enough time to switch planes. So she asks me if I have any ideas. I say try New York or Chicago. She finds a Delta flight from JFK to Madrid at 6PM, and an America West flight to New York that would get me there with two hours to spare between flights. Perfect. The cool thing is, the flight to Madrid on Delta would get me there two hours earlier, so I would be there before my friend Brian Bendis, who was also going. Brian had never been outside the US, so I wanted to help him to get around without being too disoriented. It can be really strange the first time you go to another country.
The big worry we both had was we had no way of contacting the convention organizers who were flying us out there except an e-mail address. We didn’t know where we were going to stay or who was going to meet us when we arrived. This fact is important, as you will see.
So, I get on my America West flight, no problem. The plane was supposed to leave at 9AM. But the captain said they needed more fuel and they were waiting for the truck to arrive. We end up taking off 45 minutes late. The flight was smooth and so on. My only gripe was the in-flight movie is Patch Adams. It’s against my religion to watch anything that stars Robin Williams, especially if it looks lame and brother, this movie makes me wince. So we get to the New York area and the pilot says due to weather we will be in a holding pattern for a little while. I am thinking, “Great. Just great.”
We land with 30 minutes till my next flight. I’m thinking, “Hey, I should make that.” I jump up when we are pulled up to the gate and make for the door before anyone else can get up and block me, because people getting off planes can take FOREVER. I was already at the front of coach, so it was not far to the door. Only one seat was in front of me in coach. So I jump up and move and I feel someone kick me in the leg. I turn around and this 70 year old New Yorker guy is bitching at me for cutting in front of him. He hasn’t even got up yet and he’s bitching at me. “Why are you in such a hurry! You’re a rude so and so.” I said “I’m sorry, but, I got to make a plane and I’m low on time.” He says: “Sorry! Feh! That’s no excuse for you acting like an animal.” Really loudly. So I look at him and go, “Yeah? Thanks for the tip, Yoda.” A bunch of people laughed and he shut up.
So I wait for the door to open. It takes them TEN MINUTES to open the door. I am now down to like 15 minutes. I get off, run up the tunnel to the gate, ask where the Delta terminal is. She says I need to take a shuttle bus to terminal three. I am in Terminal 6. I think: “Uh oh.” I run for the bus which is pretty far away. It comes fairly quickly. I am really stressed. I get on and discover to my horror how slow this buss is.
JFK is huge and it’s in a big circle. There are nine terminals. I was at the opposite end of the run, so the bus got me there with only five minutes to spare. I run in, run up the stairs, look around for Delta. I see a counter with a bunch of people behind it. Only one customer is there, talking to an agent. The rest of the Delta people are standing in the back talking amongst themselves. I rush up and cannot get anyone to notice me. So I pound on the counter with my fist and say: “I have an emergency! My flight just got in and my connecting flight is leaving any minute!” So one of them says: “Just one minute, sir. Go wait in line and we will be with you shortly. I am really getting stressed now. So, finally one of them talks to me. Looks on the computer and says the flight just left. You have to go to American and have them get you on another flight.” Argh!
So, I go over to American. No line, almost no wait. The guy doesn’t understand my story. I have to explain it to him 15 times! Finally he looks and finds an American flight to London leaving in two hours with a transfer to Madrid on Iberian airlines two hours later. So instead of getting to Madrid at 9AM as was the original plan, I am now looking at getting there at 2PM. I have no way of getting this info to the people who are flying me out there because I have no number for them, so I am wondering what to do. I call Brian’s wife, Alicia, to see if she can e-mail those guys and let them know. By now it is like, 2AM in Spain. So they would probably not get it unless they checked their e-mail in the morning when they get up. But something is better than nothing.
Alicia says she’ll do it and tells me Brian is going through a similar crisis. He is going to London also with a connecting flight to Madrid after being rescheduled around. But he will leave London earlier than me. So I will miss him.
I end up talking to her for almost half an hour, then I realize I got to get my bags. They were supposed to go on the Delta flight, but there was no time for them to switch planes. So I get on that slow bus and take it back to the America West terminal. Have to wait in line for 15 minutes. I see my two hours is now closer to an hour and the American Airlines guy said check in 1/2 early because it’s an international flight. So I really have half an hour. Like before. Well, the American West people say they can’t find my luggage I have to go to their luggage office downstairs, I run down there, the woman is on the phone tells me she is too busy right now to talk. I say I am running out of time and I need to get my bags transferred to my new flight. She does a quick check and says Delta has them now. I need to talk to them.
I look at my watch. I have ten minutes to check in. I take a cab back to the terminal where American is. It cost me $7!! Plus, he takes me to the wrong terminal. I find this out too late. He has driven off. I am at the terminal next to the one I need, so I run all the way over there. I am sweating like mad. A stitch in my side. My legs ache. I run in and run up to check in and explain my story after having to wait eight minutes in line. I ask them to please try to get my bags from Delta and put them on this plane. The woman behind the counter does not understand my story. I have to explain it eight times. She says wait a minute and goes to look for her supervisor. I look at my watch. I need to be boarding now. She disappears for what seems like an eternity. Finally she comes back with some guy. I have to explain my story ALL OVER AGAIN. Three times this time. Gah! He tells me I need to go to Delta and get my bags and check them in. I say I have no time. He says, well, check with Delta when you get to London. There is a possibility the bags are on the American plane because when Delta realizes I did not board their flight, they’d look to see what flight I ended up on and transfer them over.
BUT, he says, there is no guarantee of that.
Resigned to my fate, I go to my plane, board. I get a good seat with no one beside me. So it’s not bad. No screaming babies on the plane. That’s always nice. The plane takes off TWO HOURS LATE because of the weather. Am I stressed? Oh, yeah. But I try to chill out. The movie on the flight is…you guessed it. PATCH ADAMS. I try to sleep. No can do.
It’s now Wednesday morning in London. Around 11AM. They made up some time enroute. We get in with only 1/2 hour to spare before my next flight. Sound familiar? It takes them 15 minutes to open the damn door. Then getting off the plane takes an eternity. Then, we do not get a ramp tunnel to a gate. We have to take a shuttle bus from the plane to the terminal. It takes everyone as long as possible to get on the bus, then it drives for what seems like hours to get to the terminal. I get off, run up the stairs and find out I need to take ANOTHER BUS to the Iberian airlines terminal. ARGH!!! I run to that bus, the driver disappears somewhere. The bus fills up slowly., The driver is nowhere in sight. I am really getting annoyed. Finally he shows up. It’s not as far as the last drive seemed to be. I have a mere five minutes to go before the plane leaves. I run up two flights of stairs. I am all sweaty and out of breath. There is a BIG line to get into the terminal through the metal detectors. Everyone in the line seems to be taking forever to walk through. I mean, it was almost funny if I wasn’t so pissed off.
I rush to the Iberian Airlines check in. No one is there!! The guy in the British Midlands check in desk next to them says she went on a break. I look out the window and see an Iberian airlines plane leaving the gate. I look at my watch. It’s exactly when my flight is supposed to leave. I am livid. People are staring at me. They see this huge guy all in black, sweaty as hell, red faced, looking like he wants to kill some people. I tried to calm down. She shows up ten minutes later. And was really nice. I explained my story, she says it’s OK. My plane is still here. I tell her I’m worried about my luggage. She goes and checks and says that there are NINE pieces of luggage with my name on them being put on the flight. I only had two. So I am mystified, but what the hell, at least they seem to have my bags.
But she doesn’t tell me how long I have and she is rushing around like there’s no time, and I am so stressed I forget to ask, so when I leave her I run for the gate number she tells me. I take a wrong turn and end up on a floor below, I run up more stairs, hoping I’m not going to have a coronary or something. Sweat is just streaming off of me. I am soaked. I am panting like crazy, I see my flight is at the end of a VERY LONG corridor. And the moving walkway is not running. So I rush like mad down that hall, breathing HAFF HAFF HAFF HAFF HAFF, I’m spritzing sweat like a cartoon character. People are staring at this strange man like he’s an escaped lunatic. I get to the gate. I try to tell her my story but I can barely get it out. She says relax, the flight is late. It will be another half hour. All that rushing for nothing. Oh well, at least I made it. I go to get a drink and realize I only have American money. The coke machine only takes British coins. I am dehydrated as hell. Thirsty like you would not believe. I sit down and I am SOAKED to the skin with sweat. I figure I must smell and look like crap. The plane eventually boards. There are not many people on it. They give out lots of food and it was decent. No movie. It’s a short flight.
We land in Spain at 4:30PM. I am seven and 1/2 hours late. I keep wondering if anyone will be waiting for me. I go to get my luggage. The belt starts. Bags come out. Everyone gets their bags.
No bags show up. I fill out a claim form, then go outside. It is now eight hours after I was supposed to be there. Hardly anyone in the airport. No one seemed to be waiting for me. I looked around and way off to the side a guy was holding up a sign with a comic book creator’s name on it. DAVE GIBBONS. I figured that was my people. It was.
His name is David Macho, believe it or not. He was my contact for the convention. David was very surprised to see me, but said all the American guests had been showing up late. I told him about my bags and that maybe Delta knew where they were, so while he waited for Dave Gibbons and Jaime Delano to show up, I went up stairs to look for the Delta counter. And guess what? They were at the absolute end of the friggin’ airport from where I was and guess what else? I walked all that way for nothing. They were closed.
So I walked back down and Dave and Jaime had arrived. I know both fairly well. For those of you who don’t know them, Dave is a famous comics artist/writer from England, Jaime is a writer, also from the U.K. We shot the breeze and had a drink while we wait for the guy with the car to show up and take us to our hotel. David Macho has to wait for a couple more people to show up, but I learn Brian made it OK. He was only four hours late.
So, the guy with the car shows up and takes us to a place on the outskirts of Madrid called Tres Cantos. It’s a bedroom community, pretty uncharacteristic. I’m set up at the Holiday Inn there. Hey, it’s free. I’m not complaining. It’s actually nicer than many of the ones in the U.S.
I get together with Brian and he tells me his story. He had similar problems with missed connections and also got rerouted to London then Madrid. When he arrived four hours late, there was no one in the airport waiting for him. He tried to call his wife but he couldn’t figure out how to make an international call. It ended up taking him half an hour to get through. He couldn’t find anyone who spoke English, so he was thinking of just getting on a plane back home. When suddenly he sees a guy with a sign that says: KURT BUSIEK and he figures it’s someone from the con. It was in fact, David and he freaks when Brian introduces myself.
“Oh my god! We called the police when you and Hudnall did not show up. We didn’t know what happened to you!”
Apparently they did not check their e-mails.
So I took a long overdue shower, but I still had to wear the same clothes, because my bags did not show up. For all I knew, I’d be wearing these duds for my whole trip. No a very thrilling concept. They had already been drenched in sweat a couple of times. I figured I might have to wash them in the sink at night and hang them up to dry in the shower.
There were two hotels for the guests. The other was practically next door. I went over there with Brian and Phil Jimenez, an American artist staying at our hotel. We got together with David Macho and the other guests. It was a pretty good time. Naturally when I tried to sleep that night I couldn’t, so at 3AM I got up and wrote most of what you just read.
So I spent my first night in Spain without getting much sleep. All I had was the clothes I wore there and my computer. I did a little internet surfing and worked.
The next day, still no word on my bags. The socks I had worn were old ones that I was planning to throw away soon. All that running around had done them in. The heels now had large holes in them. I had washed my shirt, jacket and underwear in the sink the night before and hung them up on the shower curtain rod to dry, so they were at least fresh again.
I went down to the breakfast buffet they have at all European hotels. It’s always part of the price of your stay. The selection was really good. Awesome croissants. They had these ones with pieces of dark chocolate in them that were especially tasty. There was fruit and cereal, yogurt, etc.
A chartered bus was supposed to pick us up at the other hotel at nine. I went over to Brian’s room to see if I could borrow his shaver. He uses an electric for his head and face, but the converter made it run too strong so neither he nor I used it that day.
Another American came down. Phil Jimenez, who is a great comics artist. Brian and I met him for the first time the night before and we hit if off. Also staying at our hotel was Carlos Ezquerra, a Judge Dredd artist. I also met Sanchez Abuli, the creator of Torpedo 1936, one of my favorite crime comics. Both Carlos and Sanchez were great guys. Very friendly. We all ambled over to the other hotel where all the other talent was waiting for the bus. It was a huge “coach” as they say in England.
The bus took us to Madrid, which was about 15 miles from the hotel. We got our first view of the city. It sits on a plain surrounded by snow capped peaks. The plain has a lot of woods and is very beautiful. Madrid is in the center and looks to be about the size of San Francisco.
The outskirts are your basic Euro industrial look. Lots of high rise office buildings and apartment complexes. Nothing really that impressive, except for two leaning skyscrapers that lean toward each other. We could see those in the distance. As we entered the center of the city we could see how beautiful it was. Really nice, like the best parts of Paris.
The con was at a sports stadium near the bull ring. It was built sometime in the 1960s and looked like it was never renovated, though it wasn’t run down or anything. Apparently this stadium is where Madrid’s pro basketball team plays. It seats about 20,000 to 30,000 people. The convention booths were mostly down on the floor of the stadium where the games are usually held. To get down there you had to walk down these concrete steps that were uneven.
In case you don’t know, I have a bad knee which usually doesn’t bother me. One thing aggravates it though. Going up and down lots of steps. Europe is all about lots of steps. That’s why, in my theory, people over there manage to stay slim. Anyway, I tried not to stress out my knee too much, but it did get all swollen in the morning. My calf muscles really got a work out and were aching like crazy after the first day.
Thursday was the opening day of the convention. They scheduled each of us to have one day to be at the con and we had the rest of the days off. But they wanted us all there for the con opening ceremony. It was to be at noon. The President of Madrid (which is apparently an autonomous state) was to come down and cut a ribbon for the TV cameras. The local government was paying for all this. That’s how I got an all expenses paid trip. So, hey, I was cool with doing whatever I had to.
Well, in Spain they take their sweet time to do anything. I am the kind of guy who is always early. The Spanish government guys work on a different time table. He showed up around 2PM with the media. But it was the Vice President of Madrid, not the president. He was a short, fiftyish guy with a pencil thin mustache who could pass for a Latin dictator in an Oliver Stone flick. We were asked to stand in a reception line while he moved down and shook our hands for the TV cameras. When he got to me I looked into his eyes and he did a weird double take. Don’t ask me what that was about. No comprende.
I found out after that was over that Teddy Kristiansen, one of the artists at the con, was in the bathroom before the handshake routine. He said the Vice Prez was in there too and didn’t wash his hands before coming out to shake with us. For the rest of the con we were cracking jokes about Spanish customs.
After washing our hands, we went to an outdoor cafe at Goya plaza. It was right next to the stadium. A big plaza where there is an open air art mart, lots of shops and eateries. At one end is a huge rock sculpture thing. Three stone pillars holding up a big rock. And a weird ass Piccaso statue. It’s supposed to be of his wife. What it depicts is a small breasted, one armed humanoid with a huge hole in its torso and a small penis. Some of the toes are missing on the feet. Whatever, as they say in the valley.
We kicked back at the café, drinking cokes and watching the people. This hot looking blonde with a weird kind of dominatrix vibe had these two frisky German Shepherds with her that would race at people like they were going to attack them and she would say something at the last second to stop them. We took pictures.
It seems people like dogs over there because we would see lots of people with them wherever we went. But the streets were clean of doggie doo. So that was a relief.
On the way back to the con, Brian Bendis stopped to take our picture in front of that Goya statue. You can see the convention place in the background.
The Spanish eat lunch late. We went to an Italian joint and all sat at a big table. I had black spaghetti with Shrimp. Something I never saw on a menu before. FYI: Black spaghetti is made black with squid’s ink. It was pretty good, but I hear it’s an acquired taste. I like Natto (a Japanese food involving fermented soybeans that are all slimy, you either like it or you hate it) so I guess I’ll eat anything. One thing they have at all the place we ate is bread. They bring out these big hard rolls that are soft on the inside. No butter, unless you ask. The rolls are awesome.
So we wasted a day at the con with nothing to do. I kept bugging David Macho about my luggage, asking if he heard anything, since he gave them his cell phone number. No news. We got info on how to go back early and we decided to take it. Steve Seagle (a comics writer, not the actor), Phil Jimenez, Brian, Teddy Kristiansen and I took a subway to a major bus stop. The bus stop was right next to those two leaning buildings, so we got a good look. Now, David Macho told us what bus to take, but we’re paranoid that it might not really be the right one. David is not from Madrid. None of us spoke enough Spanish to ask the bs driver and he could not understand our dialog: “Do you speaky Englishy?”
Making matters worse was the name of the main hotel. All it said on the outside was HOTEL. Helpful.
We got on the bus, wondering what was going to happen. It seemed to go in the right direction but took a detour from where we thought our hotels were. We were starting to get worried as it headed deeper and deeper into strange country. Then it came around and headed back toward downtown. You could taste our fear in the air. My comment was: “We’re on our way to Barecelona. Cool.”
Then the street suddenly looked familiar and we could see our hotels. So we got there OK. We found out later that day there was a train we could have taken to a station three blocks from the hotel. Would’ve saved a LOT of time. D’oh!
We got freshened up. I called the airport and found out my bags were being delivered to the hotel. Whew! But we ended up going into town before they showed up. Steve, Phil, Teddy, and Brian joined me on our first train ride there. Steve is Mr. Organized and marked a route on the map of downtown that we should all take. We wanted to see the Prado museum but it was too late in the day so we just walked around sightseeing.
What a gorgeous city. I mean, it is absolutely magnificent. In the center of Madrid is a huge park called the Parque de Retiro that is like heaven on earth. Lots of trees, huge statues, lakes with people boating, arches, gardens. The works. The trees are full of songbirds. I mentioned to my friends that the song birds are great, and they gave me a look like “OK, nature boy. Don’t make any sudden moves.”
We walked into Old Madrid, past the Prado and the Palace Hotel which is the best hotel in town, we heard. On every corner was a movie poster for ENTRAPMENT, which shows Catherine Zeta Jones crouching in front of Sean Connery with the words LA TRAMPA. Funny!
We started to get hungry and talked about eating. Some Patrick MacNee looking dude in a dark three piece suit comes up to us and starts telling us about a great restaurant we must try. “You come with me. Come!” we followed him reluctantly for some reason, for blocks and blocks, back the way we came. Brian kept saying “We’re gonna die!” Steed took us to a place in some off the beaten track street and this smiling woman leaps out to greet us. We said we would come back, but we didn’t.
Back the way we came we passed a bar packed with people watching a bull fight on the TV. We also played some slots in an arcade. Then we found an outdoor café to our liking and chowed down on Calimari and some other grub. I had Gazpacho and a salad.
While we were eating we kept hearing this SEAL song over and over again. It was being played real loud in the distance. Steve is a big Seal fan so he thought they were shooting a video. We went off in the direction it was playing and came to a major street with a large crowd in front of a movie theater. Lots of paparazzi and press. Limos pulled up. We looked and saw it was the premiere for LA TRAMPA. Sean Connery showed up and then Catherine Zeta Jones. We barely could see them for all the people, but it was cool.
Next to the theater was a DUNKIN DONUTS. Steve and Brian wanted one. I got a donut, but it was stale. Blech.
By then I was pretty beat from no sleep and all the walking. We decided to go back. The last train of the night was leaving in 15 minutes. The station was many block aways. We ran for it. My legs were aching but I kept pace with the others. We finally got there and the ticket booth was closed. But a security guard helped us get our tickets out of a machine. The problem was, there was no ticket on there for TRES CANTOS so we were worried tickets we got were the wrong ones.
We got on the train and as we drew near to Tres Cantos the ticket puncher came around. He did not speak one word of English but we assumed he said everything was cool. We made it back OK. I hit the sack, but once again only got about four hours sleep.
We all went to the convention the next day. It was some of our work days. Brian and I had to work the con on Sunday, so we were free. I hung out at the con, B.S.ing with people, then headed back to hotel early on the train so I could take a nap. I got a couple hours sleep, not much. The big convention dinner was that night so I got changed and went over to the other hotel. We all waited around the bar till everyone showed. A bunch of cars took us to the place, which was nearby. It was a Spanish Restaurant that specializes in roast lamb.
The place was huge and really cool inside. Kind of medieval looking. We had a big room with the tables set up like the last supper or something. They started coming out with the entrees. In Spain they bring out a lot of starters before the big meal. First came the wine, then the bread, then plates of a cheese I never had before that I liked. It was white and tasted kind of like sharp cheddar, but it had holes in it. Then came plates of parmed ham (serrano, they call it). It’s a ham, that is dried and cut paper thin. Really good. Then came a salad which had Spanish olives, tuna and tomatoes in it. Then we got our main course which we picked earlier. I wanted the lamb. Brian wanted pork. Dave Gibbons and the Brit pack ordered Salmon.
Well, over there they serve meat in kind of a old fashioned way. If you order fish it will often come with the head and tail still on. The salmon however was a big steak, the lamb was ¼ a lamb on a big plate with one leg and ribs. It was really good. Meat falling off the bones, but some of the Americans were a little squeamish about it. Brian’s pork was a whole leg with the foot still attached. He was pretty funny about it, pretending it was still alive. He barely touched it.
The head of the convention made a speech welcoming us to the con. They wanted one of us to make one. No one seemed willing, so being the ham that I am, I volunteered. I gave a heart-warming, “Thanks for inviting us to your wonderful country, you’re all great.” Kind of speech that went over well. That made all the others want to do one to upstage me. Most were humorous. Like: “Man, you have great porn on TV here!”
It was about midnight when we were finished. I was beat. I wanted to get some sleep. I got in the first car and waited for them to take me back to the hotel. Dave Gibbons, Eddie Campbell, and Jaime Delano piled in with me. The car takes off and instead of taking us back to the hotel they took us to an all night bar.
I ended up staying there for three hours before asking to be taken back. I wanted to have fun that night, but I was too bushed. All I did was watch the girls dance and play some darts. At least I got to spend some quality time talking to Dave, Eddie, and Jamie, who are creators I admire.
We decided not to go to the convention this day. We slept in, but believe it or not I STILL didn’t get hardly any sleep! Maybe four hours at best.
So I was tired and my legs all stiff when we went into town to see the Prado. It was kind of hot, too. We were all tired and kind of testy. So we spilt up in the museum. It’s an incredible place. Full of the best Spanish, Flemish and Dutch Painters. I especially liked the Goya and Velaquez work they had. But this place had lots of stairs and the slowest elevators in the world. I saw everything in a hurry and got tired of walking around (my feet ached badly because I have flat feet and walking around all the time was getting to them). I went outside and statue near the garden for awhile. I got back with the others around 1.
Nearby was the main train station where Steve wanted to get a ticket to France. His girlfriend was coming in the next day and they were going to take a trip after the con. We had lunch at a Spanish place that specialized in seafood skillets with rice. I got something else.
They were going to the Picasso museum were all the more modern art was. I was too tired and took a train back to the hotel by myself. I took a shower and hit the bed. I woke up with sunlight streaming through the windows. I had no idea what day it was. I looked at the clock and it said 9:30. I panicked for a second. The bus picked us up and 9:00 and Sunday was my day to work. I missed the bus!
But it was only 9:30 at night. The sun was still up. So I got dressed and headed over to other hotel, had dinner with everyone and compared notes on the day. Brian showed up and said the Picasso museum was great but he was also tired. That night was the Awards ceremony. They held it at midnight in a local disco. Those Spaniards really like to stay up late and Party.
Kurt Busiek won most of the awards for Astro City. The place was full of young girls who all seemed 14. The drinking age in Spain is 16. The awards ceremony went fast with the last award going to this 80 year old Spanish artist who hobbled up to the stage led my his daughter. As he approached the stage two drag queens on HUGE platform shoes like stilts appeared with a blonde in a black bikini. As soon as the old man got his award a smoke bomb goes off and the music and laser show started. People hit the dance floor. The drag queens and the blonde took to the stage and started boogieing. The DJ mostly played 70s disco tunes and even a Tom Jones song from the 60s. Everyone got out to dance except some of the pros. Even though I was tired, I danced a little. It was fun to hear some of the music I remember from High School. Around 3 AM I walked back to my hotel with a bunch of others. My legs were really tired, and so was I. My feet hurt bad. But what the hell, I was in Spain for free. Who’s complaining?
It’s my last day at the Spanish Con. I got some sleep, but not enough. Still, the nap I took the day before added to my sleep tally, so I felt better. My feet, however were swollen. The shoes I have need new lifts inside. The ones inside are thrashed. Being flat footed, I need the arch support, so all that walking really stressed them out. Walking was kind of painful. And my knees were bothering me some. No problem. Live and learn. I went over with not a lot of money because I was between paydays, the trip was offered only two weeks before and my TV money from Harsh Realm hasn’t started kicking in yet. Next time I go over, I will be better prepared. I’d been planning for months to join the local Gold’s Gym. This trip made me realize how much I needed it. But actually, all that exercise I had gotten the days before was starting to make me feel good, despite the aches. I saw it as a wake up call to get to the gym as soon as I had the bucks to join.
Anyhow, I ate breakfast and waited for Brian and Phil to get ready so we could catch the bus. They always came down about 15 minutes before we needed to leave and grabbed a quick bowl or cereal or a croissant.
Brian tells me I was wise to drop out of the Picasso visit, even though it was even better than the Prado. He was bone tired from all the running around.
I was hoping this day I would finally meet Art Brooks and Rafa Fontierz, two creators whom I had been communicating with before coming over. Art is a writer and a fellow lover of ancient history. Rafa is a tremendous artist I am planning to work with. I was looking for them every day of the con, and now it was the last day. Apparently, according to David Macho, they came in on Saturday, when I was out.
So it was now our day to work the con, and they had a day full of interesting stuff. First Brian and I were to do a panel about alternative comics and what made them different from mainstream comics. It was held in a larger room with a pretty good speaker system. We went in and no one was there. Brian went looking for Hugo, our translator. I sat alone in the room for what seemed like ten minutes and started singing Sinatra songs in the PA system. Fly me to the moon, Night and Day, etc. People would come by and stick their head in the door to see what was going on. Then leave.
The clock ticked. Then Hugo showed up with Brian. Only one or two people came in. So Hugo went out and made an announcement on the P.A. system. A guy comes in and introduces himself. It’s Art Brooks! Finally, we meet. We shoot the breeze while people slowly come in. Art is to be my translator while Hugo is Brian’s.
We get about 12 people in the room and start. Brian starts to talk about stuff when this comics journalist guy wants to know all about our Image deal and if Image is stable and all that noise. Personally, I am sick of questions about Image. So I was bored with the whole subject. Brian kept going on and I was starting to get impatient because Brian wold be talking about the Image founders, and why Liefeld and Lee left, and what the company was now like under Larry Marder, and then Hugo would translate. I felt we should be talking about our work and what separated it from mainstream comics, so I nudged Brian and suggested we change the subject.
When I finally got to talk I was basically saying in a dramatic tone that mainstream comics (super-heroes) were the past and the kinds of comics Brian and I did were the future because they deal more with subjects people can relate to, whereas super-heroes don’t speak to the average person. Only to comics fans. This sent a huge wave through the audience. Some people were kind of shocked by such talk. A lot of comics fans in Spain dig super-heroes. So do I, but I am pragmatic.
I also talked about internet comics and other stuff, but this one critic guy wanted to talk about why I think super-heroes are bad. I was going to explain that I didn’t think they were bad, just that they don’t appeal to the average non-comics reading person and that’s who we need to get as readers when he jumps up and leaves the room. So I thought it was something I said. (He got a message, apparently and had to go).
After that we all went to the Goya Plaza café for some cokes under the sun and watched the people walk their dogs. I met Rafa and got to talk to Art some more. An artist named Kano and his girlfriend, a talented colorist named Elsken joined us and started passing around their portfolios. Rafa had some amazing stuff to show also.
I discuss a little of my new project with Rafa. We’re to get started on it very soon so we worked out the details. Rafa speaks no English so Art translated.
As soon as we got back we were all gathered together for a big lunch. All the creators at the con. We walked to a nearby restaurant, a Spanish joint, and sat down in a private room with a very long table. It seemed like they weren’t ready for us. But we eventually all got seated. They started bringing out plate after plate of starters, cheese, jamon serrano (that thinly sliced dried ham I was talking about earlier), smoked ham slices, calamari, salad, bread, bottles of wine, mineral water, coke, thinly sliced dried sausage, to the point where we couldn’t figure out where to stack the plates. Then we got our main courses. We could choose fish or steak. I got the steak, which came with fries. It was great! It was dusted with rock salt which somehow made it really tasty. But before I could finish my meal David said Kyle Baker, Sanchez Abuli, Brian, and I had to leave and do a signing.
We went back to the stadium and were half way up the steps, on a flat area where they set up some tables. I put some books I brought to sell and waited for customers. A bunch of Spanish fans brought me copies of The Psycho to sign, which had been printed in Spain years ago. I signed a couple Lex Luthor Bios also. Some bought copies of Espers or The Age of Heroes. But I didn’t sell many because they were in English.
I had a couple people tell me how good a writer I am, which is always nice. Especially when it’s from people in a country you never expect to be read in. Brian seemed to do a lot better than me. He seems to have made a good impression over there even though his book has not been translated yet. He even sold some art. Being an artist is a plus at comics cons. Us plain writers are seen in a lesser light by some fans.
My lack of sleep was catching up with me so I went to sit down in one of the stadium seats when my signing was over. People kept coming up to me telling me not to feel so bad that I didn’t have a lot of fans here. I didn’t have much translated yet. I looked at them, wondering why they kept saying that. They said I looked unhappy. The truth was I was unhappy that it was my last day, because I wanted to see more of the place, but I honestly had no expectations as far as fans went, and was pleased with what I got. As it is, I think I did pretty well.
Anyway, we had our press conference in another enclosed room somewhere in the bowels of the stadium. A TV camera crew was set up to interview Brian and I about our work for a CD rom. I kept being distracted by the interviewer who was a gorgeous brunette. She was mighty fine. But I think I did OK. Brian and I were speaking a little stilted because they were speaking to us in broken English. Ah, well.
The con was on till 9PM and I was dead tired. I wanted to go back to the hotel, but ended up staying to the end. As soon as the bus appeared I was on it. The first one on. Everyone else hug about outside talking for half an hour later, which was a drag because I was really tired and wanted to get back. Anyway, when they piled on the bus it didn’t have enough seats, so some had to stand.
We made it back to the hotel and everyone decided to have dinner shortly thereafter, so I decide to put off my rest until later. I walked over to the hotel with and as we want into the hotel restaurant there was this guy who invited me over to talk. Carlos Pacheco, who is a great comics artist working for Marvel. He wasn’t at the con, but he lives in Spain. And was there to see Kurt Busiek whom he was currently working with on Avengers Forever. Kurt hadn’t shown up yet, so Carlos and I traded compliments on each others work. I looked over to see where Brian was sitting and his table was full. So was Dave Gibbon’s and Kyle Baker’s. So I was going to be seated with Carlos. Not a problem, except I had a feeling Kurt would want to talk business with him and I would be a fifth wheel. Sure enough, Kurt showed up with his wife and kinda gave me the fish eye, like “why are you talking to my artist, interloper!?”. He sat down and like I wasn’t there got into serious comics geek dialog with Carlos about the Avengers. Like why the inker of one silver age issue wasn’t right for the penciller and why the letterer of another messed up the gestalt and what the meaning of panel 3 on page 7 of another issue meant in terms of unfulfilled story arcs. On and on they went. I didn’t have much to say because I couldn’t care less. Besides, I was tired as hell anyway, so I ate my meal quickly and left. I said goodbye to everyone first, and went back to my room and watched a little Spanish TV then crashed.
It was time to go home. I got up at 7AM, packed. Got some breakfast, then took my bags downstairs to check out. The guy at the counter looked on the computer and asked how I was going to pay for my extra room charges. I asked how much they were. He said, or I thought he said, 40,000 pesetas. I was going SAY WHAT?! It turned out he said 14,000 pesetas, but his accent got in the way. 14,000 pesetas are like $125. All I did was get on the Internet a couple of times, for no more than ten minutes. I had to call the states to go online because I had no local Internet account. $125 is rape. But what could I do? I didn’t have a credit card and I was short by about $20. So I had to give him all my money and borrowed $20 from Brian. That meant I had no cab fare when I got home. I figured I probably had $20 in the bank, so I would hit an ATM when I got back.
Brian, Teddy and Phil called a cab to the airport so I went with them. Hugo, the translator, was supposed to take me but he was running late. I didn’t want to take any chances and repeat the last trip so I went early with Brian’s crew.
We all said our farewells at the airport and went to our separate flights. I checked in and everything went smoothly. The flight took off schedule. It was to land in Miami, then I had an hour to catch a flight to Dallas-Ft Worth, then I had a three hour lay over before I caught my last flight to Vegas. I was ready to go home.
The flight to Miami was smooth but BORING. Two little kids (about three and four years old) were making a hell of a lot of noise in the seats next to mine, one aisle over, and their parents never asked them to quiet down. When the plane was taking off the little girl was singing badly and loudly: WERE TAKING OFF, WERE FLYING, WERE TAKING OFF, WERE FLYING. Thank you, Celine Dion.
The in-flight MOVIES were AT FIRST SIGHT and MEET JOE BLACK. MEET JOE BLACK is three hours long! The flight was NINE FREAKING HOURS. Torture. I was really tired but I couldn’t sleep more than a few minutes at a time. Aside from the kids making noise, I was crammed in those tiny seats. I didn’t bother listening to the movies, but they looked pretty lame. Both movies featured the leading man standing one inch from the love interest while she talked to him, looking like she wanted to be kissed, but he never did it. This went on forever! Every time I looked up at the screen, it seemed like nothing changed. I was beginning to wonder if the VCR was on pause. MEET JOE BLACK was directed by “Alan Smithee.” That’s means the director was unhappy and wanted his name taken off. Can’t blame him.
After that they showed some lame CBS shows. The worst being TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. Just looking at that show makes me watch to do a Patch Adams marathon. Della Reese looks like James Earl Jones in drag. And that other chick’s cancer inducing sweetness really makes my skin crawl. Brrrr!!! I didn’t hear what was being said, but the script was so sappy I could tell what was being said anyway.
The two kids were running up and down the aisles making too much noise and stepping on my foot which was outstretched to one side of the aisle. So sleep was out. I kept looking at my watch every five minutes.
Finally, the plane lands. The father of the two kids told them they were good during the flight. Now I know how those Littleton teens got started.
I had to get my bags and go through customs, then put them on the belt again to be loaded on my next flight. That went smooth. The flight to Dallas was OK. Once again, I had a seat free next to me. In fact, on that flight I had a whole row to myself. But I didn’t lay down. It was only 2 ½ hours.
When I got to Dallas I had some time to kill. But no money except a few quarters. I bought a root beer and found a phone where I could go online with my laptop. I checked my e-mail and sent out a few. Read the news and so on.
I called my friend Jim Brocius and asked if he could give me a ride home. His comics store is not far from the airport and he often works late. He said no problem.
The last flight was ½ hour late getting in. It was a small plane, but I had a nice Texas gal sitting next to me and we talked business and politics. Her family was very well off, but all she could get was this coach seat to Vegas that night. She was meeting her husband who was out here on business.
I got in around 11:30PM Vegas time, so all in all I was up a straight 23 hours. Needless to say I was tired. As soon as I got home I threw my clothes in the washer, checked my mail and phone messages then hit the sack. I slept 10 hours.
And that was my trip.
To sum it all up, I would say I had a wonderful time despite all the drama detailed in here. Spain is a beautiful country, the people are great, the women are a vision, the food is fantastic. And I was able to make new friends and spend quality time with some old ones.
If they asked me to go to another one next week I’d pack my bags. Only this time I’d take better shoes and be more cool at the airport. Don’t let the little things ruin your enjoyment of the big ones.