San Diego Comic-Con is upon us! The Del Rey team has packed their bags filled with convention swag and greeting fans. If you haven’t seen the surprises they have in store for fans of the Star Wars books, then hop over to their Facebook page. I’m not sure if I’m more excited about the X-Wing: Mercy Kill retro iron-on or the Scoundrels collectible bookmarks. In addition to swag, there’s the requisite stash of Sharpies for the authors to wield at their book-signings. Last week, Ryder Windham and Jason Fry shared some of the fun they’ve had meeting their fans. Today, John Jackson Miller tells us about a time the fans had a little fun at his expense.
I don’t cosplay. Nothing against it, but I know my limitations. It’s the same reason I never appeared in a play after seventh grade. I’m suited for putting words in characters’ mouths, not speaking someone else’s words while wearing a toga/three-piece-suit/lizard outfit. To each their own.
Well, to be honest, I did dress up for a convention just once: my very first convention as a teenager in Memphis in nineteen-cough-cough. I was on a serious Indiana Jones kick at the time, and thought that a khaki shirt, dark pants, a fedora and a toy gun equaled a recognizable costume. My friend, Ken, had put more effort into his outfit, crafting a sheet of rubber into a chest guard befitting (or so he thought) a security guard from a dystopian future.
Neither of us had a lot of success. “Who are you two supposed to be?”
Ken responded, helpfully. “John is an armed accountant.”
“That’s absolutely right,” I said. “And Ken here is the floor mat from a 1972 Dodge Dart.”
So while that was the first of many conventions, it was the last time I ever dressed up. Costuming took craftsmanship I didn’t have, and a willingness to play-act a role that I wasn’t willing to commit. I would go on to spend the next umpteen years in dealer rooms hunched beneath tables, rifling through old long-boxes of comics. It’s very hard to do that and stay in character if you’re trying to portray a Dark Lord of the Sith.
Years later, I began attending conventions as a professional — first as editor for a line of magazines including Comics Buyer’s Guide and Scrye, and later as a comics and fiction writer promoting my work on Iron Man, Star Wars, Mass Effect, and Indiana Jones. (Thankfully no one in Indy-Land had heard about the armed accountant episode.) Since I hadn’t been a costumer, it was an easy transition from my normal convention attire to “work clothes” — there was no Starfleet uniform to retire as I started my Star Wars signings.
Now, I’ve mentioned several times before on my blog that one of the coolest parts of my job is seeing other people dressing up as characters I had a hand in creating; I loved seeing the first Jaraels at Star Wars Celebration IV, and appearing alongside Kerra Holt and Zayne Carrick at Celebration V. It is, again, remarkable how much work people put into these outfits.
But it’s not something that comes naturally to me — as I explained to the Memphis FanForce members who wanted me to dress up as one of my characters for Midsouthcon one year. Tim Brown and friends offered to create a costume for any of my characters the following year on the condition that I’d wear it. Dodging, I figured a way out. “I’d only dress up as Gryph,” I said, referring to Marn Hierogryph, the greedy rapscallion from the Knights of the Old Republic comics. “But the costume’s got to be 100% accurate.”
This, I figured, got me out of the bet — because Gryph is only three feet tall. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wouldn’t be able to get me into clothes of Gryph’s size. Problem solved.
My mistake, of course, was ever doubting the ingenuity of the fans. The following year, when the local group took me to dinner to induct me as an honorary member of their club, I had a companion waiting: Gryph. Tim had fashioned a posable, life-sized Muppet of the little reprobate — and, to keep my part of the deal, I’d need to walk around the convention with Gryphie for the whole weekend.
Which I mostly did. And, as it turns out, it was a bit more to my liking than costuming. Gryph, people knew — and if I needed to role-play a character, I could simply imagine myself as Chuck Campbell, Jay Johnson’s deranged ventriloquist from Soap. “Plainclothes Crazy” I can do.
At a panel, I did a reading of “Labor Pains,” a StarWars.com story (now no longer available) which was written in Gryph’s voice; I read the story as Gryph as puppeteer Kevin Williams worked the character. Halfway through, the 501st showed up; there to arrest Gryph, we joked. It was actually the Rancor Raiders, there to induct me and artist Dean Zachary into the group. (Gryph had to watch from custody.)
After the convention, Gryph made the ride home in the booster seat in the back of my car, where he made quite the impression at the drive-through window a couple of times. “That’s a really ugly child,” said the girl at the Abner’s. I replied, “As long as you give me correct change, he doesn’t care.”
Gryph now lives quite happily with my comics collection, where he can no longer scare my eight-year-old daughter. I may need to ask the Fanforce to make a tighter belt for him — his pants keep falling off, and while Gryph is far from modest about most things, this is ridiculous. But that would involve getting him back to Memphis. I wonder if Snivvians pay full fare?
Next stop for me convention-wise this year is Comic-Con International: San Diego. Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith – The Collected Stories releases soon after the convention, and Del Rey will be doing a drawing for advance copies. Meanwhile, it’s a busy week for my Star Wars: Knight Errant series. The Del Rey novel is one of five finalists for the Scribe Award for Best Science-Fiction Tie-in Novel of 2011, being presented Friday afternoon at the show — and the first issue of my new comics series, Star Wars: Knight Errant – Escape, will be available in a variant edition produced exclusively for the convention by Diamond Comic Distributors.
And I’ll be attending Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, where the Lost Tribe of the Sith – The Collected Stories book will be out — as will the first issue of the sequel comics series from Dark Horse, Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith – Spiral. Check publisher booths, my website, and my Twitter for appearance times as they’re scheduled.
So I hope to see you then. If you do see me at a convention, I likely won’t be the one in costume — but I create any more characters I can physically carry, you never know. I might be carrying cargo!
Thanks, John, for sharing, and good luck with the award in San Diego.
John Jackson Miller will be signing copies of his new book, Star Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith: The Collected Stories, at the Del Rey Star Wars booth, #2913D, on Saturday, July 14, from 4:00-5:00. Free copies of the book will be available, while supplies last. John’s blog has the full list of his other appearances at Comic-Con, including his signings at the Dark Horse booth.
Up next time, editors Shelly Shapiro and Erich Schoeneweiss meet a Hollywood star who reads Star Wars books.
Tricia Barr writes about Star Wars, storytelling, and fandom at FANgirl Blog. Her interview with Aaron Allston in Star Wars Insider # 135 hits shelves on July 24, 2012. She is currently finishing her first original novel, Wynde.