The other kind of paneling.
Unless you’re new to this blog, you’re probably well aware that I am… wordy. Locquacious. Trending towards maximum verbosity. Don’t worry about looking all those up, it’s just different ways of saying that for better or worse I tend to assault you with walls of text in making my points. Unless I try really hard, I seem genetically incapable of keeping things short and concise. The 140 character limit on Twitter is, along with my continuing lack of a smartphone, precisely why I don’t use Twitter much. I like my words.
Now am I coherent? Probably not as much as I’d like to be, but it beats the hell out of when I’m speaking out loud, where I feel a near constant level of embarrassment over my mealy mouthed mumblings and stumblings and statements that sounded way better in my head than they do now that I’ve said them and oh god why doesn’t my brain work fast enough to edit properly before I open my yap? How does that saying (supposedly courtesy of Abraham Lincoln) go? “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”
I reckon there’s a great majority of the population who feel the same way. But for communication to occur, someone has to take that risk. If Honest Abe had hewn strictly to his own advice, one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history would never have been heard. And on a more topical front, panel programming at comic conventions would be little more than a handful of people at a table twiddling their thumbs while a bunch of other people stared at them in ever increasing boredom. Though at San Diego they might just be thankful enough to get off of their feet for awhile.
To paraphrase The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, there are two kinds of paneling in the comics world: the ones you use to make sequential art, and the ones you might eventually be part of where you have to keep the interest of a room full of strangers for 45 minutes. If you’re terrified of the latter, you’re not alone, but I’m here to tell you that that fear is natural. It is, in fact, good. How can I say this? If you’d rather hurl yourself off a roof than do public speaking, then how about this exchange from an interview with veteran movie stuntman Bob Fisher:
Being a stuntman for so long do you readily jump off building[sic] or get catapulted into cars without hesitation? Or is there a certain fear that you must consciously conquer?
A good friend of mine recently said, ”If I lose that feeling (fear/butterflies) I need to quit doing stunts.” He meant that having fear is a good thing in that it keeps us in check, or from just jumping without thinking. And I agree. I like to think that I have a healthy respect of fear. I try and use it to focus and concentrate on the stunt. I still get excited whenever I get to do any stunt work, big or small.
I do not classify myself as an extravert. At a party full of strangers, I’ll often find a quiet corner to hide in. Yet this past Saturday, at the invitation of organizer (and The Other Grey Meat writer) James Maillet, I spent about seven hours’ worth of my time in live audio chat on various comics topics for his online convention (recordings are available here). I loved it. I love the panels I’ve done at “normal” conventions as well. Is it scary? Do I feel foolish at times, especially after the fact? Of course. When I flew out to be part of CombatCon it was particularly terrifying, seeing as I was surrounded by people I considered actual professionals.
But there’s that weird thing I discovered when I pushed through the fear. People were listening to what I had to say. Complete strangers were nodding thoughtfully at my blather and taking notes. Even fellow panelists, like the famous guy whose book I thought was one of the coolest things ever when I read it in college, seemed to value my input despite my questionable pedigree.
I hope any of you in the creative fields have the chance to experience the same sort of exhilaration. No matter how unqualified or unpolished you think you are, chances are there is an audience out there that’s even less further along the path, and they’re eager to hear your experiences. You may find you know a lot more than you think, even if it’s just reciting a litany of mistakes you’ve made and want to help others avoid.
It may take some promotion on your part, since the most surefire way to get on a panel is to propose one yourself. Many conventions are hungry for programming and it’s just a matter of exchanging email or proposal forms with the organizers. The worst that happens is a “no”. Why bother? Well, it’s an excellent way to stand out from the exhibit hall crowd, since you’ll inevitably have people coming by to check out your booth afterwards (so long as you leave them a way to find you!). Unless you’re a big name you’re probably better off not theming the panel around your creation(s), but heck, I’m sure plenty of us have ideas on “what makes a good villain?” that could make for interesting discussion, and if you have interesting things to say people will remember you. That includes your fellow panelists. Exchange some contact info from them, and when they’re putting together a panel of their own down the road they might just extend you an invitation.
Of course, it’s no crime to avoid doing panels, especially if you’ve already got a lot on your plate. I can’t say I’ve gotten to the point where I try to put one together every time I go to a convention, especially if it’s my first time at that convention (and I’m still going through a lot of “firsts”). But if you do get the opportunity I highly recommend it. You might feel like the biggest nerd ever, but remember that your audience is most likely going to be a bunch of nerds as well, many of whom are probably impressed already that you had the courage to speak when they didn’t. Keep the fear, because as Bob Fisher said, the fear keeps you humble and keeps you thinking. Use it to focus, and contribute what you can. Maybe you can even do so in a much more efficient manner than I usually do… but hey, at least I can fill up those 45 minutes pretty well.