Wow, did I double up on the strange references for this blog title or what? Mostly it’s a quote from the classic movie version of Wizard of Oz, as the “Wizard” is discovered to be just a small, mortal man operating the large, scary fake head and special effects the heroes were in awed terror of on their first meeting. I’ll have to explain the other part even further, for anyone who didn’t grow up in Southern California. Or the Cold War era.

*ahem* You see, back before the Berlin Wall was torn down and the breakup of the Soviet Union, there was a more figurative “wall” between Western and Eastern Europe that the free world referred to as the Iron Curtain. It was a border not just difficult to cross physically but ideologically as well, and its dissolution was one of the better things to happen in the last few decades, in my damned opinion. I mean, for one thing I know we have some fans out there in Poland and Hungary who might not be reading Zombie Ranch otherwise!

So California has its own snarky reference to the Iron Curtain  which gets applied to the border between Los Angeles County and Orange County, because Orange County is a traditionally very conservative bastion in what might otherwise be considered a very left-wing state. This is, of course, vastly simplifying the make-up of California regional politics, but regardless, tell a fellow Angeleno you’re headed into someplace like, say, Anaheim, and they’ll chuckle and remark, “Going behind the Orange Curtain, eh?”

Well, this past weekend we braved the Orange Curtain and headed into Anaheim, off to see the Wizard. Wizard World, that is. And you know what? It was pretty great! Sunday was slow, but Friday evening was surprisingly busy, especially since the hall was open for the odd hours of 5 to 9 pm. This was obviously keyed to the idea of drawing people in after they were done with work, and it seems to have been a good decision. On our part, we weren’t going to complain when it allowed us to not have to get up at the crack of dawn to head down there. Dawn and I got to be guests of the convention, along with several other independent artists, so it was a wonderful opportunity to combine a free exhibit space with a big crowd. A few highlights:

- Meeting Ethan Nicolle, the co-creator and artist of Axe Cop. He was unfortunately fighting a bad cold, but Dawn and I really appreciated that he pushed through it and made it out to the convention, even if it was rough for him to talk too much.

- Had a great talk with James Andrew Clark, the writer of The Guns of Shadow Valley. I haven’t really written about this webcomic before and I really should get around to it, because it’s extremely well done (hey, it was even nominated for an Eisner!). The artist has been busy with a paid gig lately that put them into almost-hiatus, but James was hopeful that they’d be back in the saddle within the next couple of months. TGoSV is another story deftly mixing Western sensibilities and the supernatural, and if you read my Next Town Over review you know how I feel about those.

- Familiar at all with the cartoon Adventure Time? Well, regardless, your humble proprietors both just love the show, and on Saturday we happened to be sitting next to both the former lead character designer and the current one: Phil Rynda and Andy Ristaino. They did a combined Finn and Jake sketch for us and took time out for a group photo as well.

I talked with many other great, talented folk, such as Wes Huffor, Lance Sawyer, James “Riot” Godfrey, and Kirk Kushin (and others I’m surely and sadly forgetting), but I need to give special consideration to one man that I had decided to seek out before the convention had even started…

Nat Gertler may not be a name you’re familiar with, but if you’re a budding writer of comics, then I’m here to say you should be. In an industry of Gaimans and Bendises and Ellises and Moores and Willinghams and all those other famous scribes, Gertler is a comics writer who took the time and effort to put together something of unique (and so far as I know, somewhat unsung) value. Remember back when I was giving my insights into my scripting process and said how I grasped around for an embarrassingly long time until I finally realized comic scripts had no set format? If I’d just known about this damn book, it would have told me that flat out right in Nat Gertler’s introduction:

I can’t emphasize enough how great this book is, even if you’ve already figured out “the secret”. You get an inside look at how over half a dozen greats of the business work their magic, and each example is both wildly different and completely legitimate as a process, from Gaiman’s detailed, almost poetic panel-by-panel breakdowns to Jeff Smith’s “script” which is presented as a rough drawn comic in itself. The important thing here is it will open your eyes to all the different ways the pros work, and somewhere in their styles (or between them) you’re going to find something that works for you.

Also, as evidenced by his gift to me of an old issue of his comic “The Factor”, Gertler is no slouch as a writer, himself. But his work in getting all this together and published must have been Herculean, and I think well worth the effort. Panel One is available for purchase on Amazon.com, and as I had him sign my copy and gushed my appreciation to him personally, he grinned and pulled out something now out-of-print that I didn’t know existed: the sequel, Panel Two. It wasn’t a planned purchase, but I had to buy it. Nat (may I call him Nat?) is a guy I can tell who’s not just interested in writing comics, but in the process of writing them, and in helping new folks wrap their brains around the whole wonderful mess.

Plus, he signed Panel Two with the dedication, “To help Clint write MORE great comics!” The man knows how to make friends — or at least make a relative newbie feel good. If he happens to be the man behind the curtain, well, I’m not going to ignore him: he’s handing out brains, hearts, and courage, and I’m glad to have gotten the chance to shake his hand.