Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Here's a novella about my Spectrum live feelings!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="376" caption="Spectrum Live!"][/caption]

So aside from my day job, which is basically the coolest job I can think of (yet describe in the most boring way possible, and will not talk about in this space, probably), I have been working on Spectrum Fantastic Art Live for the last few years.

What is it? It's an art show with a focus on fantasy and science fiction. It includes concept art, three-dimensional art, oil paintings, sketches, digital art, bronzes,'s a long list. If it can be imagined, it's probably represented.

Basically it's a spotlight on art and artists, and a way to bring these artists and their art to the public. If you're a nerd like me, you'll love it. Trust me.

It all started at a Dead Dog Party at San Diego Comic Con in, oh, probably 2009 or 2010. I was talking to Arnie and Cathy Fenner, and they floated the idea of a convention centered specifically around artists. If you've been to SDCC in the last ten years, you know that there are MANY areas of focus, and some (Hollywood, video games, television shows) are taking over more and more attention and floor space. The Fenners thought that an art-focused show would be great for fans and artists alike, and I thought it was a great idea.

If you aren't familiar with the Fenners, they publish an art annual called "Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art," and they have been doing this for the last 20 years. 2013 is the 20th anniversary of the book, and it's an amazing publication. If you've never seen one, go to a bookstore or comic shop and find one (and buy it). It's an amazing collection of art. I was lucky enough to be a judge for Spectrum 18, and it was both an amazing experience and quite an education into the kind of work that's being produced. Amazing. Fantastic! (if you find a copy of Spectrum 18, you'll see my photo in the jury section, wearing my Carrie Donovanest glasses.)

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="409" caption="It's this one!"][/caption]

Anyway, they know their stuff, and they've been focused on this art for a long time. A year or so after our SDCC conversation, they asked if I would be interested in being involved in making this theoretical show happen, and I said yes. Of course.

We had to put together a show from scratch - getting the word out to potential exhibitors, figuring out the floor plan, scheduling programming, everything...not to mention the logistics of finding a venue, figuring out all of the little details (insurance! security! how money works!) that add up to a show. We thought it would be hard, and we were totally right! It was super hard! We had weekly meetings for more than a year leading up to the inaugural event, which was May 18-20, 2012, in the Grand Ballroom of Bartle Hall in Kansas City.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="408" caption="The scene of the convention...pre, you know, *convention*."][/caption]

We also put together a number of events around the show. We had a special screening of "Better Things: The Life and Choices of Jeffery Catherine Jones," by Maria Paz Cabardo. It was inspiring and bittersweet and just remarkable. If you ever have a chance to see this film, do it. We also had a late-night live drawing session at the top of one of the convention hotels, which drew a great crowd, and I missed because 1. I don't draw 2. I was soooo tired.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="376" caption="This was obviously staged, but I WAS very tired."][/caption]

I did, however, make it to the first ever Spectrum Awards.

Each volume of the Spectrum book includes category winners, and the winners have always been announced in a press release. Because we had a physical event, we decided that it would be a great opportunity to finally have an awards show to celebrate the winners of these categories. We booked the Midland Theater, planned even MORE stuff (Quixotic performed! My favorite thing about this was that when they were announced, the crowd was kind of "I have no idea who this is because I am not from the KC area, but okay, polite applause," and when they finished, the applause was deafening. Way to go, Quixotic. Way to be awesome!) and all these amazing artists, art directors and other people involved in art community managed to tear themselves away from KC's famous BBQ to give speeches, accept awards, and have a great time.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Phaedroid also performed. Amazing."][/caption]

So we did this amazing show, we had over 250 exhibitors from all around the world, art directors from every discipline (comic books, video games, board games, movie studios, AND MORE!) and people like me! Fans. Well, I was technically the "special guest wrangler" which sounds a little weird, but I got to have walkie-talkie conversations that went like this "Does anybody have eyes on Mignola?" "Yes, I see him...3 o'clock...where's his panel?" etc. Best guest-wrangling experience was being told that the Shifletts hadn't showed up for their panel yet, and finding Jarrod watching Iain McCaig's presentation. Artists are fans of each other! It's so obvious, yet also so wonderful to see in action.

Looking over that "from every discipline" bit reminds me of an article that ran in my college newspaper back in the day. I lived in the scholarship halls at KU, which was kind of like the Greek system, without the money and the social skills. And nerdier. The newspaper would sometimes run profiles of rooms, and they ran one of a room in Battenfeld, which was the schol hall next to mine (Watkins!). The money quote was one of these young men saying "We have over 200 pounds of books, and we have everything from science fiction to fantasy."

(200 pounds of books is not that much, dudes. come on.)

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="324" caption="Imagine that I'm also holding "The Complete Calvin and Hobbes" and "The Complete Far Side" and that's 200 pounds of me, cats and comics. Not that impressive."][/caption]

This is so rambly...I'm so sorry. I'm just trying really hard to not let it turn into marketing text. It's like finding religion, or drugs, or being on fire, or having an experience that you want to share with everyone but you just know you won't be able to explain it sufficiently. I want, so badly, to convey how important, wonderful, energizing, amazing this show was, and I know that nothing I can type here is going to make you feel the way I felt at the show.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="430" caption="Just like how nothing I post can make you understand just how fuzzy James' belly really is. Language has failed me even more thoroughly than T9 predictive texting when it was pretty sure I spent all my time playing "videohands.""][/caption]

Sunday night, everybody hung out in one of the hotel bars to drink and talk and decompress. This was the first SFAL ever, and no one had known what to expect. I went around and asked for feedback, and I honestly expected a mix of good and bad. What I heard was overwhelmingly positive (and some constructive criticism which I did write down and we took to heart for 2013). I had been really tired, and I thought about just going home, but all I could think was that this was happening in MY CITY. And I helped make it happen. And there was no way I was going to miss out on the last night with all of these amazing people.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Paul Tobin! If I remember correctly, we were talking about Frank Lloyd Wright, and I was probably talking about how he never made livable spaces and was a huge jerk in his personal life. Because those are the kinds of conversations I insist on having with talented artists from around the world."][/caption]

I was overwhelmed by how amazing the show was, and how uplifted I felt during and after the event. I was seriously dazed for a month after, because I couldn't believe it had really happened, and it had gone so well. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, for me, it was a life-changing experience.

I'm one of the organizers for Spectrum Live because sometimes, the only way to go to the kind of show you want to attend is to build it yourself.

We have a Facebook page.
And a website where you can buy tickets to the show and book hotel rooms if you're coming from out of town.

The show this year is May 17-19.
I really can't wait.


  1. Great article :)
    It gives you perspective on what goes on from the other side .
    The wrangler bit is funny , you are so right ! Cat s belly fuzziness is undescribable !

    Love the pics too :)

  2. It was such an emotionally intense, awe inspiring event. It's so hard to come up with the words to retell it and not like, sob. Thanks so much for creating something we'll never forget.
    : )