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Comic-Con Confessional

August 05, 2011: The Comic-Con memoirs of Mark Russell, who was there to promote his upcoming book about the Bible.

This year, I went to Comic-Con in San Diego for the first time. I went primarily to promote my upcoming book, God Is Disappointed in You. My book collaborator, Shannon Wheeler (cartoonist for the New Yorker and creator of Too Much Coffee Man) goes to Comic-con every year. This year, in addition to his Too Much Coffee Man books, he sold the sampler zine we created to promote our book, which will be released next year on Top Shelf Press. The book is basically a highly condensed version of the Bible, but retold in a funny, modern way with cartoons and text.

But I also had a lot of non-Bible related fun at Comic-Con. I watched panels for The Venture Brothers and Robot Chicken and was in the background when they shot a scene for an upcoming episode of NTSF: SD: SUV (National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sports Utility Vehicle). I also attended the Eisner Awards, (the Oscars of comic books, for lack of a better analogy.) Shannon was nominated for an Eisner for his book, I Thought You Would Be Funnier. They hold the Eisner Awards at Comic-Con in a big ballroom, again, like the Oscars, except with Stan Lee and Sergio Aragones instead of Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. Which is fine with me. I'd take one Sergio Aragones over ten Tom Cruises.

I tend to think of awards shows to be flatulent, self-indulgent affairs. Bloated and formal industry promotions masquerading as entertainment. It's different when you're actually there, though. You get swept up in it. Harvey Pekar's widow made an impassioned speech about Harvey's legacy and broached the possibility of erecting a statue of him in Cleveland (how cool would that be?) and even when they were giving an award for something stupid like Best Capital Letters, I found myself drawn into the high drama of five struggling, middle-aged artists holding their breath while they opened the envelope.

But, of course, the absolute high point of the evening was when Shannon won the Eisner for Best Humor Publication. Even though I had absolutely nothing to do with his book, it made me feel like a winner. It made me feel like running a victory lap around the banquet hall while holding a sword in the air.

Shannon accepting the Eisner Award

During the days, I periodically floated around the convention hall, visiting vendor booths selling things like steam punk accessories (those people really like monocles), Japanese animated porn and, oh yes, comic books. Periodically, I would fill in at Shannon's booth to help sell the samplers.

I don't really like dressing up in costumes, but I figured "when in Rome" and brought along a generic Biblical costume to help me sell the sampler zine. It didn't occur to me until later that maybe taking public transportation past a US naval base dressed up like an Arab in an obviously fake beard maybe wasn't such a hot idea. Nonetheless, I made it to Comic-Con unmolested.

You'd be surprised what doors wearing a robe and a fake beard can open for you. If you've never worked a fair vendor table, the experience usually involves a lot of polite nodding at people who intentionally avoid your gaze. You feel sort of like a political signature gatherer or a porn star in church. This time was different, though. Everyone wanted to come up and talk to the guy dressed like Moses, take my picture, talk about my book. At one point, I walked by the Christian Comic Artists' booth, and they went ape shit. They all wanted to have their picture taken with me, and then photograph me in a series of religious action poses: the Raising of the Klingons, the multiplying of the corn dogs and other Comic-Con miracles.

Everyone wants their picture taken with you when you're wearing a fake beard.

HBO was at the Convention and when they saw me walking around in my Biblical costume, they pulled me over and interviewed me, though not about my book.

"So what's YOUR superpower?" the guy asked me.

"Parting the Red Sea and an enormous tolerance for alcohol," I replied.

Other interactions don't go as well. But when you're rewriting the Bible, you have to be prepared for that.

At one point, some weird fifty-year old man in a Thundercats t-shirt came over and started berating me, mostly for the cover of the zine, which depicts God's right hand descending from Heaven to flick away a shepherd who's bent over to tie his sandal.

"God wouldn't flick people away! He'd never do that! You'd better make sure you're doing right by God," he told me. "I don't know about you, but I want somewhere to go when my meat suit fails!"

My meat suit, on the other hand, was getting hungry, so I left the convention to get some lunch. I could have eaten at one of their concession stands, but as a matter of principle, I'm generally opposed to paying five bucks for a frozen pretzel. The farther I wandered from the Convention into the non-comic themed streets of San Diego, the less receptive people were to my costume. As I wandered aimlessly in search of a grocery store or a Quizno's, I could feel uneasy stares boring through my robe. I could hear a couple of uneasy whispers as I walked past. "Osama bin Laden." 

"As Salam Amaykum!" One intrepid middle-aged man in shorts greeted me, smiling.

Religious perception is a powerfully evocative force in this country. I wasn't really trying to say anything with my generic Bible character costume, it was just a gimmick to help me sell my book. But it's so fundamental to many people's sense of identity, that they can't help but try to find a role for you in their imaginary battle between good and evil. Which is sort of why I'm writing the book in the first place. As I say in the Introduction, the Bible is a sort of religious hot dog. People eat it on faith, not really knowing what it's made of. But if you're going to base your worldview, your politics and your major life decisions based on what it says, then you owe it to yourself to at least know what's in the hot dog.