A few years ago, after parting ways with the cushy security of being the President of McFarlane Toys and returning to the uphill climb of guiding Beanworld back into the marketplace, I had an interesting conversation with Neil Gaiman.
Neil made an offhand observation that really stuck me as being totally accurate. It went something like this: if you randomly choose 100 comic book fans and ask them to read a copy of Beanworld; about 90 of them will be left scratching their heads. Of the remaining ten, five will love it. And to five of those ten it will be the best thing in the world.
As time passed and I contemplated this analysis, I realized that my mission had to be not to try to convert the pre-existing members of the 90 over to the ways of Beanworld but to cast the widest of nets in constant search of new groups of ten and the five hidden within. The best tool, of course, being word-of-mouth in one-on-one conversations.
This is a story of all of those things and much, much more.
On the first day of C2E2, not long after I had whipped up the day's batch of FREE Beanworld Action Figures, a couple of guys came up to my table. Now, I'm pretty sure I wasn't remotely properly caffeinated yet, and as the folks who have worked with me over the years know, at that point in the day, it's kinda hit or miss with me if what you are saying is going to sink in on the first pass or not.
So the guys came up and starting talking very, very fast about about the-tattoo-section-of-the-con-floor-and-how-one-of-them-was-gonna-get-a-Beanish-tattoo-today-and-if-he-could-sneak-in-fast-could-I-draw-a-sketch-asap-for-the-tattoo-artist-to-follow?
Uh, yeah, sure, I mumbled.
Then at some point, the two guys started to bicker back and forth.
Well, bicker isn't the right word, but it was the sort of back and forth that goes on between really good friends and the proverbial light bulb went off over my head and I knew I totally recognized the friendly competitive banter between these two strangers in their Midwestern accents and without even thinking I asked: do you guys have a podcast?
And I'm not even sure I was looking up when I asked this, I might have been doing a drawing or something. But the answer was Yes. They sure do have a podcast and they were in amazement that I knew about 11 O'Clock Comics.
And then they were off in search of the tattoo artist.
Not long after, they were back, and the inking session was all set up and all that was needed was the sketch itself for the artist to follow.
The podcast guy, Vince Bonanvoglia aka VinceB, knew precisely what he wanted. He described the drawing as it is seen above. I think the only real contribution I made was the motion squiggles of Beanish's dance. I was a bit worried about adding extra dashed lines for Vince to endure but as you can see in the photo below, the flinty determination of Vince's mission is reflected in his eyes along with a slight smile of appreciation that he was already-this-far in his mission. I snapped Vince's pic with his bare arm and the artwork on display and off they went.
Hillary Barta and Skottie Young already knew about Vince's tattoo by the time I ran into both of them. And so did the 15-or-so people who came by my table and said "I'm giving Beanworld a try because the guys on my favorite podcast talk it up all the time. Oh, and I just saw VinceB's tattoo."
Even the tattoo artist, Brian Stringer, came around later and we chatted about Vince's tat and the podcast
The one time I heard the podcast was last winter after the link to episode 97 turned up on my daily Google report. The 11 O'Clock Comics guys are are 100% Midwestern comic book fans. No one on the east or west coast blogger folks I mentioned 11 O'Clock Comics to at C2E2 to had ever heard of the podcast.
But people in the Midwest sure know all about it.
And they are hardcore in all genres!
The 11 O'Clock Comics guys are hardcore comics fans.
Hardcore super heroes.
Hardcore indies and alternatives.
Hardcore art collectors.
Their podcast sounds like a bunch of guys hanging out. That's 'cuz it is. The sort of conversations they have remind me of the hours long talks I'd have every Saturday from 1976 'til '86 with Ross Kight and the regular customers of Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow comic book store in Rogers Park. And the kinds of conversations I'd have with Gary Colabuono, Chris Ecker, and the Moondog's Comics crew from '90 to '93.
A few words about Vince's first person narrative about the day from his POV as told on the C2E2 podcast 105. These observations will only make sense after you hear the podcast...but here goes:
What happened with Vince, Brian, and me last Friday is the sort of thing that happens to me when I say "And then Beanworld took over."
I know when I say stuff like that it can come across as flippant, calculated, or arrogant.
Vince and David, total strangers, came to my table and through spoken rhythms and cadences I recognized them. And somehow Vince got nudged into choosing Brian Stringer in Tattoo Artist Alley in a way was total instinctive...and Brian, a complete stranger, knew knew who Vince was.
Vince, who had thought long and often about it, got his Beanish tattoo and seemed to have had the exact experience he had been hoped to have. All the stars lined up.
Was it co-incidence?
Or was it Beanworld?
Did Beanworld take over?
Did Beanworld know?
That is crazy talk, of course, but that is the sort of stuff that had swirled around Beanworld for many a year.
I'm so glad it happened in Chicago.
Maybe that is the only place where something like that could happen.
Finally....getting back to Neil Gaiman's analysis...the 11 O'Clock Comics' wildly ecstatic recommendations are exactly word-of-mouth endorsements coming from one of the five an off-beat comic like Beanworld thrives upon.
Art is EVERYTHING, after all.