Much of the United States (and let’s not exclude nerds here because I personally know several who also happen to be basketball fans) knows of the term “March Madness” as referring to the men’s college basketball tournament that occurs every year around this time. For me, it’s more the case that we just have a lot going on in our lives this month, including several “firsts” for our Lab Reject Studios venture (the Doing-Business-As name we sell our Zombie Ranch and Art of Dawn merchandise under). Whenever I do anything for the first time, I have a certain amount of stress attached, so I’ll probably be running a bit of a fever until the month is over. Meanwhile we’re going to do our best to keep bringing you the comic every week, with the only question mark being the first week of April due to us being out of town for several days for Emerald City. If anyone has fan art they’ve been wanting to submit, now’s a great time!

Anyhow, the first of the aforementioned firsts has already come and gone, which was our presentation for the Los Angeles City College Book Club on the topic of self-publishing an online comic. It’s true that we’ve done a convention panel before on this very topic, but this was our first time stepping outside the convention format to something more akin to an actual speaking engagement.

Now this wasn’t an invitation out of the blue, my day job is actually involved with the college and I’ve been sitting in on Book Club meetings this year as a consultant of sorts. You see, every year they single out a work of fiction or non-fiction to theme a program around, and the selection this year happened to be Grant Morrison’s book Supergods. It’s important to note that this committee is mostly made up of middle-aged professors and college staff who are in no way what I would term comic book nerds. And yet, inspired by the book, they were enthusiastic on seeing just what this comics stuff was all about. I came onto their radar because a colleague of mine (who was also on the committee) was aware that I had been attending and exhibiting at comic conventions and was working on a comic of my own, so they asked me to join in as… well, I suppose an expert of sorts.

Truly, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Well, perhaps that’s unfair to both them and myself. I’m the one who suggested they try and have Scott McCloud in for a seminar, which they did and it was everything I could have hoped. There’s even thoughts of scoring Grant Morrison himself, although I have to imagine his fees would be well beyond the available budget. But in amongst all this, the committee chair turned to me and asked, “What about you, would you be interested in giving a talk?”

I’ve gotten to the point where I managed to say yes to this question, despite having Scott McCloud scheduled on one side and Adilifu Nama on the other. Of course it was on the condition Dawn accompany me, and to her credit she’s come a long way as well and no longer breaks out in immediate hives at the thought of public speaking. Our lives as creative artists seem to be eternal cycles of pride and humility, where one day I’m having Neal Stephenson nodding at what I have to say, and another day we’re so lonely and forgotten at our convention table we’re wondering why we ever bothered. We’ve learned to seize on the high water marks, no matter how fleeting, because there’ll be plenty of ebb tides waiting to drag you down. Dawn has washed her cheek since the day Amanda Conner kissed it, but she’ll always remember that it happened.

I suppose I’ve already talked about this subject of public speaking, but this was an entirely new animal than a convention. We were possibly going to be speaking to a room full of people who were not well-versed in comics. Mind you, we hoped at least some of them would be interested, considering our whole topic was how to start up and propagate your comic idea online, but beyond that I had no idea how our humble presentation and résumé were going to go over in an environment I imagined was mostly populated by guys and gals who make their living roaming the country (and even the world) and giving seminars on the subjects of their expertise. Would we be laughed out of the room if we failed to show up in formal business attire? And what of our slideshow which fails to include audio or moving pictures or any of that multimedia hoo-hah that keeps audiences awake?

Well, in the end we took the risk and dressed comfortably. The whole point, after all, was to express that we were regular folks who managed to accomplish what we’ve done on a small budget, hoping to speak to an audience of people looking for similar inspiration. The feel of the seminar itself ended up having only one huge difference from doing a convention panel, and that was the luxury of getting to speak for 90 minutes and still have time for Q&A. It’s funny, going into these things Dawn & I always worry that we won’t have enough to say. Going out of them, we always think about everything we either forgot to say or didn’t have the time for. It’s still a good thing, in my opinion, because one of my pet peeves at conventions is the panel which just starts off Q&A with no real guidance from “the podium”. Feeling like you had too much to say seems much better than the momentum killer of “Sooooo… any questions?”

Matter of fact, I did have one lull during our ending Q&A, but as soon as the crickets were warming up I was prepared. “No questions? Does anyone want to hear about copyrights & trademarks?” That perked people right up. Leading the witness may be objectionable in a courtroom, but in a seminar or panel I think it’s a great tactic, and so I whipped up a whole two pages of notes beforehand to fill in any gaps. It worked like a charm.

So that’s one down for our own version of March Madness. Next week I’ll have a report on WonderCon, on our first exhibition there and its first time at Anaheim. And hello to any of you who attended our seminar that might be reading this! I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback, but more than anything I hope what we had to say will continue to help people in their own efforts and understanding.