Shirt, Helmet, Garanos

Wow.  What a weekend.

I spent last weekend (the 24th-26th) in Okoboji, Iowa at the Toon Award Exhibition.  My mom and I drove from Toledo, Ohio, which took us about 12.5 hours on Thursday.  I’m really glad we did it the day before and not overnight (which is how I usually drive to Connecticut every year) because then we got a good night’s sleep and were all refreshed for Friday.  (I’m now reevaluating my driving plan for my next trip out to ConnectiCon.)

Wind Turbines We did a little bit of sightseeing and drove around Okoboji early Friday afternoon.  We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant called Los Agaves, which was up the street from our hotel, the Arrowwood Resort.  I actually saw some of those wind turbine generators, which was cool.  I’d seen them 11 years ago when I went on vacation to Germany, but I’d never seen them in the US before.  They have a slightly eerie look to them when they’re spinning, at least to me.

The opening reception started at 5 PM.  I was worried about parking, so I insisted we get there early in case the PLAC parking lot got too full.  The show was hosted at the Pearson Lakes Art Center, which was less than a quarter-mile from the hotel.  We were the first to arrive.

The show was divvied up into two exhibitions:  the proffessional exhibition upstairs and on the stair landing, and the student exhibition in a gallery down the hall on the lower level.  The proffessionals’ work was amazing, and full of both original artwork and color prints.  About 1/3 to 1/2 of the artwork in the pro gallery was tagged to be raffled off after the awards dinner the following evening, so my mom bought a bunch of raffle tickets.

We were looking at some Jim Allen cartoons when this older gentleman wandered up to us and asked my mom what she thought of them.  She liked the cartoons, but didn’t know who the artist was offhand,  so then he revealed himself to be Jim Allen himself!  I introduced myself, and Jim was the first new cartoonist to sign my shirt!

Me with Chris Browne Shortly after that, I got to meet Chris Browne of Hagar the Horrible.  I have to say that he is one of the most outgoing and personable people I’ve ever met!  He was really excited to meet me, as he’d been one of the judges of the student exhibition, and really loved my work.  (The Shepherd, in particular!)  Then he seriously sat down and talked to my mom and I for at least half an hour.  (The mind, it boggles!)

The rest of the opening seemed to pass in a bit of a blur, since I literally spent the entire time talking to the cartoonists, showing them my work (I’d taken my entire box of comic books with me for this very purpose) and listening to their stories.  To sum it up, I met and talked with Paul Fell, Dave Carpenter, Ed Baker, Tom Richmond, Ken Alvine, and Buck Jones.  My mom was working the room all the while, and every now and then she’d bring someone new over to talk to me!  It was pretty convenient, since all the cartoonists came to me!

The t-shirt seriously just took a level in badass.  There’s very little room left on the front; after the sleeves are filled up, I’ll have to flip over to the back.

I didn’t get to go downstairs and see the gallery where my work was at all, so I would have to wait until Saturday.  The cartoonists invited me to come have coffee and donuts with them the next morning, so that’s what I did first thing on Saturday morning!  I also got upgraded to a nametag!

Nametag Upgrade

From about 10 AM and on, the cartoonists were just hanging out for a Meet the Cartoonists sort of deal, so the PLAC folks had set them up a table with a ream of paper for drawings.  When I realized there was really nobody really coming, I pulled my chair up to the table and started drawing as well, since I’d been sitting off to the side.  Throughout the day, I drew caricatures of all the guys who would sit still long enough:

Caricatures Caricatures for the dudes

That’s Tom Richmond, Chris Browne, Buck Jones, and Joe Engesser, who I met later that afternoon.  I also drew Jim Allen and Paul Fell, but apparently I didn’t take a picture of the drawings before I gave them to them.

Around noon, everyone decided it was time for lunch, so I tagged along!  We went to the Mineral City Mill & Grill, and I was seated between Chris and Buck.  Chris is such a story teller!  The poor guy barely got to eat any of his lunch, since he was talking and telling stories so much.  He then proclaimed that he’s on the Conversation Diet.

After getting back to the PLAC, I realized a new cartoonist had shown up;  or as it occurred to me in my head, there was a guy with a nametag who I hadn’t talked to yet.  That turned out to be Joe Engesser, a magazine cartoonist from Minnesota.  He brought a really cool magazine called Stay Tooned with him, since Paul Fell had an article in it and Joe wanted to get it autographed.

There were workshops scheduled for the afternoon, but I was having too much fun hanging out with the cartoonists in the lobby to sit in on any of them, so that’s how I spent the afternoon leading up to the awards dinner.  I also got lots more pictures of the professional and student exhibits.

It's so delicious and moist

The dinner was nice and relaxed, and Paul Fell gave a short talk.  Then came the awards ceremony.  To make a short story shorter, I won second place in the Illustration category!  While I was up there getting my award, Dave Carpenter then said that since I came such a long way, he wanted me to go upstairs and pick one of his original Reader’s Digest cartoons, and then they’d send it to me after the show is over!  Isn’t that awesome?  We took some group photos of all the judges and winners:

Exhibiting Students

From left:  Me (2nd place, Illustration), Katy Elder (1st place, Animation), Roman Serebryakov (1st Place, Animation and Illustration), Eric Lee Johnson (Best of Show).

Each of us were also allowed to go over to the big table of other raffle prizes and pick something for ourselves.  My mom had seen a Mad Magazine there earlier, and had hoped to get that for Tom Richmond to sign, so I darted over there and snatched it up!

The raffle drawing was next.  Mom and I won yet another Dave Carpenter original!  Joe Engesser, who was sitting with us, also won the first three issues of Stay Tooned, but since he already had them all (and had won several other prizes) he gave them to me!  Thanks again, Joe!

The dinner was supposed to go until about 8, but of course when you get a bunch of cartoonists together, there’s a LOT of talking and chatting.  I went around getting my picture taken with everyone, and my mom and I even sneaked in some pictures with Chris Browne’s Hagar the Horrible helmet.

Viking Mutti Viking Alex

Here I am with the cartoonists!

Me, Joe, and Paul! Me with Tom Richmond Me with Dave Carpenter Me with Buck Jones Me with Jim Allen Me with Ken Alvine Me with Paul Fell

Overall, I was surprised that I was really the only student who had been hanging out and talking to the guys as much as I did.  I talked to all of them at length, showed them my work (apart from it being in the gallery), chilled out with them all day, and really got a lot of face time.  And as someone said to me Saturday night before everyone parted ways, all these established and respected cartoonists left that weekend knowing who I am and the work I do, which is crucial in an industry where who you know is most important.

It was a truly incredible weekend.  I’m so glad that I went.  The networking I did is literally invaluable, as is the career advice I got from these guys.  And Ken Alvine, one of the coordinators, told me about three times throughout the evening that he really wanted me to be involved in the planning and such for next year, which is an incredible privilege.  I really look forward to seeing what develops after this weekend!

Last but not least, my Toon Award!

2009 Toon Award

Check out my Flickr photos!