Friday, May 16, 2014

Travel Journal: Spectrum Live 2014

Forest Rogers - A talented sculptor...
and fellow admirer of Baba Yaga
Dear Reader: If you don’t know what Spectrum Live is, please check out my post about Spectrum from last year.

The Journey to Kansas City
We brought Batman with us again
It hardly seemed like a full year had passed on the evening of May 2nd, but as Kaitlin and I attended the senior showcase at the Ringling College of Art and Design it was clear that Spectrum Live was just around the corner. We observed our normal weekly routines, cleaning the house, watching Game of Thrones, and working on our respective creative projects during the late night hours seemingly unaware that we were a mere 48 hours away from an amazing cross-country road trip.

Fields of flowers
We shopped for food, packed on the evening of Tuesday, May 6th, and departed shortly after 11am the following morning. We observed the ancient traveling traditions of quietly waiting for a few moments in the doorway before departing (a tradition designed to help people remember if they forgot to pack something) and stepping on each other’s feet (we’re not really sure what this one is supposed to do, but we do it anyway) before loading up the rental, a white Ford Fusion hybrid, and departing for Kansas City, MO. With the box of semi-perishable food items like single servings of soy milk, peanut butter, honey, bread, cereal, cereal bars, pickles, nuts, and the like we felt pretty pro at traveling until we realized that we forgot to pack floss.

This is the place we got sick last year...
This year we avoided the Subway that gave us food poisoning, instead opting for Quiznos and drove without incident straight to Birmingham AL… A quick aside about the Ford Fusion: It’s a pretty awesome car with many interesting quirks that I thoroughly enjoyed for the 41+ hours of driving we endured. The colored HuD had the same color scheme as my comic book (a fairly uncommon color scheme), and the battery charging mechanic shows you how much power you’re able to store every time you apply the brake, making a little mini-game out of slowing down. All in all it was a pretty cool car and for the first time ever, Ford has impressed me.

Colorful HuD of the Ford Fusion
...and no, I didn't take the picture.
We passed wild flowers, familiar signs from the previous year, cows, rivers, farmland, the” Waffle King”, an aviation museum, an alligator farm, the rest stop we’d stopped last year to get sick, and our GPS navigated us to a Macaroni grill that was no longer in business for dinner. Perturbed we drove 2 additional miles out of our way through traffic to a Panera Bread and had a pretty awful experience there: Ultra cold air conditioning combined with soups containing scant portions of food. No meat or noodles in my chicken noodle soup and an utterly underwhelming garden vegetable soup for Kaitlin. We enjoyed the day’s drive though, listening to the No_Sleep short-story horror podcast that’s really grown on us and a Librivox rendition of Don Quixote, a story I found to be much more depressing than expected. We ended the night at around 10pm CST, in a Day’s Inn with an extremely slanted parking lot but with a very friendly staff and patrons.
The charm of the hotel was lost as we got to our room, had difficulty getting through the front door (due to a key-card issue everyone else also seemed to be experiencing too), and endured the rank stench of pot, heavy in the air.

This photo does not accurately depict just how slanted the parking lot really is.
At 8:30am the next morning we drove through a really pleasant part of Birmingham, saw a miniature statue of liberty, conducted business for work that I can’t really discuss here in a closed restaurant, and promptly drove off for O’fallon IL. We passed goats, more cows, gigantic fields of yellow and purple flowers, a giant rocket, and a number of familiar rest stops we remembered from last year. We had a wonderful little picnic at the TN welcome center & rest stop, consisting of peanut butter and honey sandwiches with pickles & chocolate soy-milk. We drove on while listening to more of the No_Sleep podcast, which is something we really enjoy when driving because the stories keep you awake and present. Around the time I took a wrong turn just north of Nashville, followed by another wrong turn, I got some insanely good news about a series of upcoming performances with my band and Video Games Live and had to stop myself from speeding while discussing the details with the man in charge. I’ll probably talk about these performances (happening this weekend) in a future blog post so I won’t go into details here.

We saw more interesting sights and when we arrived in O’Fallon at about 7pm we were treated to a delicious dinner by friends, and introduced to a show called River Monsters while playing Munchkin and chatting about the horrors of retail work until the late hour of 11pm, CST.

Early Morning in O'Fallon is brighter than expected
The following morning at about 8am we departed for more business related activities in the St. Louis area that concluded at around 11am. From there, we passed the familiar old buildings of St. Louis, the comically well intentioned ‘Jesus Saves’ billboard next to Larry Flynn’s, and stopped for gas at an old style general store in Missouri that sold food, clothes, guns, gas, and antiques, all in the same building! The dog outside of the store really sold us on the idea that it was perhaps an old general store from the 1900’s or earlier that had simply adapted over the years to stay in business. It was pretty cool and we both regretted not spending more time/money there on arrow heads, boots, shotguns, and fresh fruit.

Yep... We're tourists...
Within Kansas City itself we stopped at Café Gratitude for a quick lunch and in addition to the meal, we learned far too much about the people sitting on either side of us. The food was great though! We checked into the Aladdin Hotel (which, despite being slightly less classy than the Hyatt is a lot more convenient to get in and out of), and eagerly walked to Spectrum!

Spectrum Fantastic Arts Live III

We arrived at Spectrum just past 3pm and checked in. A number of Spectrum attendees had remarked on their own blogs last year that it was good to actually speak with the people that they worked with regularly (via computer) in person and I found myself mirroring their thoughts as I caught up with the artist I’d met last year and have been working with since: Eirich Olson.

Darlene Nelson creates fantastic creatures out of sticks, stones, and bones!
[If anyone can find her website or Fb page let me know so I can put a link here]
It’s sort of difficult to put this into words but our experience from one year to the next has really shifted our perspective of the event. Last year we were outsiders experiencing a strange new world. This year we frequently found ourselves speaking with artists we’d met last year, gotten business cards from, had purchased books by, read books by, or interviewed. We could also visually see what some of them had worked on over the last 12 months or how they had grown or changed their style. While we noticed the absence of certain artists we had enjoyed meeting last year, there were also many new faces, both of artists and attendees alike. Attendance seemed to have grown as well. We walked row by row, each booth brimming with talent, and it seemed like there was hardly enough time to see even half of the exhibit hall before the doors closed at 6pm… Because there wasn’t.

Colin Nitta paints a woman
About 30 minutes later we took part in the artist meet and greet, being social and chatting with the people who stood nearby. To our right was one of the designers for the upcoming game Lichdom Battlemage, and to our left were a few concept artists who work for Red Storm Entertainment (This is a big deal for me as I used to be on the top 1000 on the R6V & R6V2 leaderboards and am generally a huge fan of Tom Clancy games). To clarify: These were just regular folks with the “attendee” badges that I was able to freely chat with, who I probably would have waited in a line at any other festival/convention to watch give a panel. The environment of Spectrum Live is pretty magical like that and you never know who you might be talking with. Later the same evening I seemed to further prove this point to myself by chatting with Frank Cho about traveling to Spectrum before realizing who he was (admittedly on the following day).

Many friendly faces at the Meet and Greet
We got back to the hotel around 8pm, ate an extremely light dinner in the room, and decided that we would take a short nap before returning to the evening’s events, which started up again at 10pm... Instead, we wound up sleeping through all 3 alarms and woke up the next morning at about 8am. We had a quick breakfast and arrived at Spectrum a full hour before the exhibit hall opened, primarily due to my watch still being on Eastern Standard Time. I recognized Cathy Fenner, who we got to chat with for a few moments, and who was kind enough to offer an official statement for MF magazine.

Throughout the day various artists traded off their work on 1 of 3 sculptures
As the doors to the exhibit hall opened we interviewed three really interesting artists (the interviews will be posted here at a later date), and caught two panels: one on being a female artist, one on figuring out how to price the pieces of art you’re selling. I often watch panels at other conventions to be amused or in the hopes that I might learn a single tid-bit of information that might be relevant, and found the panels at Spectrum to be significantly more informative. The panel speakers were extremely knowledgeable industry professionals, freely telling it like it is and answering questions from the audience. You can also freely approach them after the panel is over if you have any additional questions free of formalities. It doesn’t get much better than this.

From artist to art director, each person above
offered a unique perspective on being a woman in the art industry
The rest of the day was spent trying to see all of the remaining booths in the exhibit hall, purchasing some great art pieces, and chatting with the people we met. I really can’t stress just how incredible it was to be able to speak with the artists themselves about their works. The best example from the weekend was when we passed a series of sculptures I didn’t really understand or have an appreciation of at first glance. I causally asked the artist what they sculpts meant to her, how she’d made them, and the answers she gave me, the passion with which she spoke, and the subtle details which I’d completely missed really gave me an appreciation for her work. I wasn’t hearing someone’s interpretation of what they thought the artist was trying to accomplish in the work, I was getting a very personal account of exactly what she was thinking when she made them, and also picked up that one shouldn’t just look at a sculpture in the same way you’d look at a painting (a misconception I’m admittedly guilty of), but instead observing it from many angles and perspectives. While she didn’t outright say this it was something I picked up based on her making some of her sculpts appear as if they are different creatures when observed from different angles.

This is the same sculpt visible on the far right of the other picture...
Later the same day
On a fairly personal note I bumped into someone who works at my favorite comic book publishing company, who offered some extremely valuable advice on how to go about submitting my comic book. I also talked with a seasoned veteran of the comic book industry who also offered some really fantastic advice that changed my entire release strategy… It was the sort of detailed information you can only really learn by doing yourself or talking with someone who has.

Dan Chudzinski - Easily one of the most interesting people I've ever met
It took us until 5pm to finish all of the above. We departed and caught a quick meal at Café Gratitude’s bar. Again, the food was fantastic and after we noticed that the person sitting next to us was wearing a Spectrum Live badge, we wound up talking with an aspiring young artist with a lot of talent, passion, and an impressive portfolio.

Downtown Kansas City, MO
A few hours later we found ourselves at the Midland Center for the Saturday award ceremony. Last year we sat there alone, not really knowing anyone, and quietly observed the events unfolded as outsiders. This year we saw a number of familiar faces from this year and the previous one, talked with a few of them, and were genuinely rooting for people we’d met or talked to as the awards were announced. In short, it feels like we’re slowly becoming a part of the Spectrum community and it’s pretty awesome. Notably, during the nominations for the “Unpublished” category we recognized a piece we’d seen the previous week at the Ringling Showcase! We stayed a little bit after the ceremony, said our goodbyes, and promptly went to sleep. Due to the sudden shift in events for the next week we would be forced to depart Spectrum Live a full day early.

The historic Midland Center... A truly massive and impressive place
We left the Aladdin Hotel by 7am because we had at least 20.5 hours of driving ahead of us. It’s funny how you can watch your GPS change its estimated time of arrival with each MPH you speed up or slow down on long trips like that… The drive itself was fairly uneventful, save for Siri navigating us again to a restaurant that didn’t exist. Highlights included goats, cows, discovering how to use cruise control, the No_Sleep podcast, random sing along sessions with our iPods, and passing through eastern Tennessee around dusk, which was so beautiful that the phrase “purple mountains’ majesty” would have been an appropriate descriptive phrase. We sadly passed I-75's scenic RockFalls, vowing to return as tourists one day, accidentally explored the pleasant architecture of Chattanooga while looking for a Moe’s South-West Grill, and stopped for the night just south of Macon in a very nice hotel. We arrived home the following day at around 2pm. And then, before we knew it, Spectrum Live III was over. However, the creative effects it had on us were only just beginning to take form.

No comments:

Post a Comment