Salt Lake Comic Con 2014: "Wonderful, notwithstanding..."

Salt Lake Comic Con is a great show.
It has some problems, and some of them are big and painful, but the good outweighed the bad for me this time around. I still think the registration issue is something the top brass need to fall on their swords for (last I heard they were blaming subordinates rather than admitting their own egregious failings in the matter) and the convention center itself is not nearly as pleasant a place as the San Diego, Phoenix, or Indianapolis convention centers with which I'm familiar, but at the end of the show there were happy crowds, happy vendors, and I had an energized sort of exhaustion that said "this was worth it" rather than "I don't know why we do these things."
If I point out problems, it's because I want the show to be better, but I can now state with confidence that it's a really good show.
My panels were a blast, and had good crowds. The panel discussions weren't quite as erudite or deep as the panels at literary-focused genre events like LTUE, LDStorymakers, or the GenCon Writer's Symposium, but those are events for writers, and the SLCC panels were, for the most part, events for fans (some of whom are writers, but they're a small minority.) The important thing for this show is that the panels were fun--at least the ones I was involved in. I did catch a little mumbling from attendees coming out of one panel or another along the lines of "I was hoping it would be about..." or "I wish they'd covered..." but I think that's as much an issue of setting the audience's expectations as it is about delivering the goods.
Sandra had good panels as well, and that's important to me. As a micro-publisher, editor, designer, and writer, she has at least as many important things to bring to a discussion as I do, and at Salt Lake Comic Con she got to bring 'em, and she came back from her events at least as energized as I did.
Some key differences between SLCC '14 and SLCC '13:
  • The aisles got wider
  • The Expo Hall's hours got shorter
  • The Expo Hall's hours didn't get changed at the last minute
  • Security was managed professionally
This meant that the crowds flowed well, even when the show was full, and that vendors like me could have a reasonable 9-hour work day, allowing us to keep that game face on without needing to chew helpless, innocent attendees' faces off when the last layer of battered veneer of our humanity finally sloughed away. It also meant that I was able to spend time with fellow professionals after floor hours. I had a delightful dinner with fellow cartoonists, including Pat Bagley, Dave Kellett, and Jake Parker, and was able to have a decompression dinner Saturday night with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Sandra, and Brian McClellan (who was a great booth-mate.)
Oh, and we made decent money. Return-wise, the first SLCC was the worst large show I have ever done. The second barely broke even. This one, though, made twice as much for us as the first two put together. Finally I can look at the event with confidence and start planning my year around doing it regularly.
Admittedly, I don't know what the average attendee's experience was. I think most folks at the show were there to stand in line for celebrity signings or photo-ops, and that's way outside my area of interest. The fans who showed up at my booth were happy, and they were fun to talk to.
How big was it, really? Here's what it looked like empty, as seen from the Green Room:

Looking south from the Green Room
Looking west from the Green Room
These pictures obviously don't do the crowds justice. From my booth, which was in the southwest corner of the south wing, it took about 15 minutes to get to booths or events on the west end of the west wing... unless I flashed my exhibitor's badge and slipped out and back in through the loading docks.
Here are the big hurdles that Salt Lake Comic Con needs to clear for their next event:
  • Get everybody into the hall within 3 hours on Thursday. Issue badges via mail, and open the on-site registration on Tuesday and Wednesday.
  • Attendee names on badges, at least for the adults, the vendors, and the professionals.
  • Roll out carpet. This will reduce noise, reduce fatigue, and class the event up a LOT. (AFAIK, right now the Salt Palace does not own enough carpet to do this.)
  • Lock in the panel schedule 60 days in advance.
  • Print a meaningful map, and hang better signage in the Expo Hall
But the show was wonderful, notwithstanding the problems I've described. Sandra and I have already begun planning how best to exhibit and attend the "Fan Experience" version of this event in April.
(cross-posted from

Shipstar by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Last year I read Bowl of Heaven by Benford and Niven, and really enjoyed it. The book had lots going for it, and my biggest complaint was that it ended pretty much in the middle of the story. Sure, local threads got wrapped up, but the overarching crisis had not been resolved.

Shipstar resolves it nicely. 

This is science fiction like the kind I grew up loving, in which the scale of engineering evokes sense of wonder, and the setting is a critical player in the story being told. The second volume adds of detail the setting and depth to the characters, and of course it finishes the story much more satisfactorily.

Thanks to Writing Excuses I'm pretty interested in the process of creating the things that I like, and I was delighted to find afterwords by both authors. These essays by Benford and Niven were fascinating, not only for what they said (lots of cool things about designing BDOs, B-"Smart"-Os, and eon-spanning civilizations), but for what they didn't say. In particular, they made no mention to specifics in designing characters. I'm sure that's something that the authors did, but for some reason that's not what they thought would interest us in the essays.

I wish they had, because the alien characters were interesting and distinct, and the human characters got a lot deeper with the second volume. I'd love to know what went into making that happen.

At the end of Bowl of Heaven I was pretty sure I knew what Shipstar's big reveal was going to be. I got the reveal right, but it wasn't the big one. I'm quite happy to have been mostly wrong. Shipstar had a bunch of new things in it (something to shop for in a new book, obviously,) and I found the reveals very satisfactory, right down to the surprising-yet-inevitable bits.

(cross-posted from

Find me at Salt Lake Comic Con!

I'm at Salt Lake Comic Con this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday!

Schlock Mercenary merchandise will be in booth 1600, but that number is misleading. We're at the west end of Aisle 700, right across from The Pie Pizzeria booth. My full schedule is below, but the booth will be staffed the whole time the expo hall is open. 


  • 1:00pm-5:30pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600 - I'll sign and sketch in books at no charge. If it gets slow, I'll be penciling and inking strips. Come watch me work!
  • 6:00pm-6:50pm: Room 251 - Choose Your Own Apocalypse! It's an audience-participation game show type thing in which each of the panelists tries to woo the audience over to their point of view.
  • 7:00pm-8:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600 - signing, sketching, and working on the comic.


  • 10:00am-noon: Booth 1600
  • 12:00pm-12:50pm: Room 150G - XDM: Xtreme Dungeon Mastery and the Xtreme Player Codex, with Tracy and Curtis Hickman
  • 1:00pm-1:50pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 2:00pm-2:50pm: Room 255C - Inside Schlock Mercenary! All that behind-the-scenes stuff... ask me anything! 
  • 3:00pm-4:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600 
  • 5:00pm-5:50pm: Room 251a - Writing and Mental Health with Robison Wells.
  • 6:00pm-8:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 8:00pm-8:50pm: Room250a - Guardians of the Galaxy: Post-Mortem (I guess my movie reviewing makes me an expert?)


  • 10:00am-11:00am: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 11:00am-11:50am: Publishing, Marketing, and Making a Living from a Digital Comic Book
  • 12:00pm-3:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 4:00pm-4:50pm: Room 255F - Writing Humor: Learning to be Funny on the Page
  • 5:00pm-6:00pm: Expo Hall, Booth 1600
  • 7:00pm-7:50pm: Room 255F - Writing Excuses Unplugged, with Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells. 

It's going to be a very busy show for me. I'm sharing booth space with Brian McClellan, so even when I'm not on stage I'll probably be goofing off in entertaining ways. 

I probably shouldn't promise that. But come see us!

Me and Rob: Mental Health Panel at SLCC

Salt Lake Comic Con is less than a week way. I still don't know my actual booth number, mostly because Sandra handles that stuff and I wasn't paying attention, but it's not the booth I want to call your attention to.

Robison Wells and I will be doing a panel together called "Writing and Mental Health." We did this at SLCC Fan Experience in April with Peter Wacks and Bree Despain, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I did a reading from "No. I'm Fine." which was not yet publicly available.

It's publicly available now.  Whether or not you're going to be at Salt Lake Comic Con, you can find all the ebook versions right here. And if you are going to be at Salt Lake Comic Con, you should consider attending Writing and Mental Health at 5pm on Friday in room 251a.

This will be a very open discussion. The Q&A we had in April was an amazing experience--definitely the sort of thing we want to have happen again. We'd love to see you there.

(cross-posted from

Massively Parallel will be massive...

Here is a thing that we hope to have ready in time for everybody's Christmas shopping:

As indicated by the sharpie marks, this is a draft of the cover. We also have proofs of the interiors, and are *this close* to shipping the final files to our printer. Massively Parallel is going to weigh in at 256 pages, and will retail for $25. It's our longest book yet, and will probably be the longest one ever because this is about as big as we want to go with these.

We're also working on the slipcase for books 6-11. No photos for that yet.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to edit some images while Sandra nudges some names around.

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