So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #087: When Did We Become Old Men?

Welcome back to my infrequently populated (yes, I know, I’m sorry!) corner of the interwebs wherein I wax poetic about all things geeky in my life. That tends to revolve around a continuously dwindling amount of things: pro-wrestling, streaming mostly (now) older shows, and my not-so-secret-second-life as a comic book author/artist/entrepreneur. PCS’s resident curmudgeon Mike Gold simplified me down to “multi-hyphenate”, and now I’m a little mad because I’ll be damned if it doesn’t fit perfectly. Grumble grumble. I forever digress.

I’ve come out from hiding, halfway through the year, to go through a few big bullet points of Unshaven Comics’ 2024 thus far. When I last wrote in, I condensed our 2023 into a fine little recap. Since that write up, we’ve ventured to Indianapolis for PopCon Indy, Traverse City, MI for Cherry Capital Con, and now most recently Charlotte, NC for Heroes Con. We also went to Las Vegas — yes, for comic book related frivolity — but I’ll get to that in another column. If you don’t see that column in the next two weeks? I owe you a coke. 

If it’s one thing I want to continue to be, it’s honest to a fault. This year has been, hands down, an absolute slog. As my current favorite pro-wrestler (Maxwell Jacob Friedman) would say… it’s been “muh-muh-muh-MID!”. 

For starters? Our appearance in Indy was merely a consolation prize. PopCon just happened to be going on the exact same weekend as C2E2, which Unshaven Comics did not get accepted to. The fact is, ReedPop (the company behind C2E2, New York Comic Con, and plenty of others) gets plenty of interest for its shows. And they’re beholden to get as many guests as they can that in turn become butts in the building. It’s fair to say, without a single tear, that Unshaven Comics doesn’t have a legion of rabid fans barreling down the doors to every convention we attend (because of us). We accept we are a table in Artist’s Alley folks come wandering by for the gimmick (our potentially trademarkable “Can I Tell You About My Comic Book?” sign), and leave happier they stopped than if they hadn’t. So, ReedPop accepts us to shows when they feel like it. This year, no dice.

For what it’s worth? Indianapolis treated us just fine! We sold nearly 60 trades of Samurnauts, and more than hit our goal. We also got to try our very first Air BnB, and it was actually very posh for hotel-adjacent money. I’d be lying though, if we didn’t have a bit of ennui seeing our social feeds flooded with compatriots all kicking ass and taking names in our home city. 

From here, Unshaven Matt Wright and myself took the trek to Michigan’s Cherry Capital, sans Kyle. Not for lack of desire for our secret weapon in sales, mind you. Alas, with C4 occurring directly after our Vegas vacation, Unshaven Kyle needed to return to being husband and father (which will always trump our escapades in pulp). Cherry Capital Con itself is a quaint show on Memorial Day weekend, tucked neatly into a very nice resort and hotel. Not to beleaguer the lead though… it’s more enjoyable for the venue and Michiganders than it’s a sales-heavy show. While a few of our neighbors proudly boasted amazing sales? I have firm belief these folks came with specific appeal, and earned fans from repeat exhibits at this particular show. And hey! More power to them. Once again, Unshaven Comics made lemonade from the lemons — we ate well, we sold enough to not have lost money, and we got to play some retro video games in our room.

Several weeks later, it was Matt’s turn to sit out, leaving Kyle and I to head out east, to North Cackalacky. Unshaven Comics attended Charlotte’s Heroes Con back in (goes to check… holy crap!) 2013. That was (does some math… good lord!) eleven years ago. Funny enough for those playing the at-home game? It was Kyle who missed that show in 2013 — having won a free trip to Italy from his day job. It took Matt, myself, and two Samurnaut models to sell 132 floppy copies of Samurnauts back then. Flash forward to now, where Kyle and I sold the equivalent of 325 floppies. I’d say the 84% improvement in sales certainly shows growth! Sales aside, Charlotte was a wonderful city. The show itself boasted one of the easiest in-and-out experiences for us. In addition to the good numbers we posted, Kyle will proudly rub it in that he got me to play three full episodes of “The Wizard, The Witch, and The Wild One” podcast during our time in the car. Knowing that I personally am not a fan of traditional DnD wizardy-type stuff, and I still got hooked will be the petard on which I’ll hoist myself.

So, what exactly has been the common thread thus far in 2024 for your Unshaven lads? The ravages of time.

It became most apparent at Heroes Con. As Kyle and I settled into our tablespace on the con floor, we did as we normally do: politely introduce ourselves to our neighbors and pre-apologize for our schtick. Heroes Con has an interesting layout — with “blocks” of artist alley tables creating both rows and columns of exhibitors. Because of this, we had one neighbor to our left (facing the same way as us), and one to our right (facing into the back row, 90 degrees rotated). As with almost all our neighbors of cons past, our admission of gimmick was met with a smile, laugh, and permission to hustle. But this time, both our aisle compatriots also asked us a ton of questions. Questions about printing, distribution, con appearances, fan interaction, and so on. With each query, we offered our best advice. Towards the end of Sunday (the last day of the show), our quarter-turned neighbor and Kyle were discussing whatever sundry issue had come up, and Kyle sat back on his heels and tossed off some pop-culture reference (I don’t recall what it was). He was met with a blank stare. Then came this exchange:

“Oh come on, you’re old enough to remember that, aren’t you?”

“Uhh, how old do you think I am?”

“34? 35?”

“Dude, I’m 27.” 

It’s at this point, our other neighbor turned to me, laughing along. “Yeah, I mean, I hope to be doing this when I’m in my 40’s too, guys.”

A couple hours later, with the minivan all packed up, Kyle and I sat in our hotel room — indulgent KFC meals in front of us. “Are… are we too old to be doing this?” 

The knee-jerk response we both felt in our bones was a loud and booming NO, but we also couldn’t deny the facts laid bare. Our neighbors — one proudly selling his first comic book, amongst an entire tablescape of poster prints and collectible pins, the other being a horror writer happily hocking his first collected edition of single strips — were in their mid-to-late twenties. They were early in their con exhibiting journeys, and were mining us for the same answers we were seeking… over ten years ago. Finding a printer? Selecting which shows to attend? How to best sell in your space? We had long anecdotes at the ready. And we shared them with the zeal of giddy teens sharing secrets we found scrawled on the bathroom stall… except these secrets were earned across thousands of miles of road traveled to over 75 shows in that time. 

And there it was. Our japes and jibes to one another about the amount of “salt” in the salt-and-pepper beards was becoming less funny by the minute. The fact that my compatriot and I came out to North Carolina with a veritable pharmacy in tow as precautionary measure had been missed for the siren song of middle age it was. Hell, I could barely contain my giggle of shame when prior to our KFC dinner, Kyle and I had to go to the local Walmart to pick up gifts for our kids — purchased there in part because the con itself wasn’t very toy-heavy, and this was a better deal. Where’s AARP when you need it?!

Let’s be clear and honest: the artist alley has absolutely no age limit, and plenty of exhibitors are our age or older. Comic books, by and large, are a shared space with a wide range of fans — from today’s children raised in the age of Marvel’s cinematic universe to the aging Gen X and yes, boomers, who recall the now 35 years young Batman movie as the end-all be-all of its day. It’s not that the space itself is agist, nor uninviting. But it is something to suddenly realize you’d aged out of that fresh-faced batch… and you did that years ago without recognizing it. Maybe we could blame it on the pandemic? Yeah… that’s the ticket.

The rest of 2024 will see Unshaven Comics headed to Baltimore, MD for Baltimore Comic Con in mid(ish) September. We’ve applied and are awaiting a thumbs up for Colossalcon North in Wisconsin in late November. Neither show is anticipated at breaking sales records for us — nor were they selected because of it. We’re returning to Baltimore as it’s one of my personal favorites. It, alongside Heroes Con and Dragon Con, are still free from massive corporate overlords, and tend to be more focused on COMIC BOOKS and their fans. The show in Wisconsin will likely be akin to our showing in Michigan; it’s a niche show, late enough in the year it’s likely to be attended by folks doing late holiday shopping for their family’s biggest nerds. For Unshaven Comics? It’ll be a show to spend our car time planning for 2025, and shoring up on any sundry topics left over from 2024.

Do I have a grandiose denouement that can transmogrify ennui into sober acceptance? Even utilizing every ten dollar word I know… no, I don’t. Getting old sucks, because you can’t outwit a feeling. Unshaven Comics hasn’t become what we intended it to be in the beginning. If we stare into the mirror long enough and look back at the reflection? Yeah, we do ask where the time goes?

The fact is the old adage is well earned: Time flies when you’re having fun. The last fifteen years I’ve spent with my two best friends slinging comic books and art have seen 4 interstate moves, 3 weddings, 8 births, and 16 job changes (66% of those are mine, so, act accordingly). We’ve traveled to 15 states and 2 provinces. We’ve rubbed elbows with editors, traded wit with writers, and swapped anecdotes with artists alike. 

To think we’re too old to continue to participate is silly. We’re not too old. At 42, we still walk through the toy aisle for ourselves as much as our kids. We still find farts and burps appropriately hilarious. And when we table at a con? We still outsell our neighbors and compatriots alike. We’ve not lost a single step to our hustle, nor our passion for our projects. Making comics is very much in our blood now, even if we’re thinning it with doctor-suggested aspirin. That we are mindful to remember some melatonin for the hotel sleeping, and refrain from too much dairy in the evening is just the petty price to pay. And to whatever end the new crop of whippersnappers coming up care to come to us for advice? Well we’ve learned from some of the best:

We tell them they’re lucky to have ever found love, give them all the advice they can handle, and make them buy us dinner.