The Power of Generosity

The Power of Generosity

During the heyday of the independent comic book boom in the late 80s through the mid 90s, the Dallas Fantasy Fair (DFF) was third to only Comic-Con International in San Diego and the old Chicago Comicon. What set the DFF apart from other conventions was the support for independent creators by the person behind the show, Larry Lankford. Lankford didn’t care if you only had an ashcan preview and a dream to be published — if you made comic books on some level and you presented yourself even reasonably well, he gave you a table.

For free!

That’s a huge thing. Beyond that, though…if you made comic books and were given space, you were treated no differently than the big names bringing in guests: there was no waiting to get in, the provided space was always generous, and there was access to the pro suite, where you could chat with the people comic book geeks and pop culture fans only dreamed about paying to see at other conventions.

While rubbing elbows with one’s heroes was always cool, there was something even better about the shows…

Friendships Forged

I was fortunate to have met so many friends at the old DFF conventions; I’m still friends with many of the people I met back then. More than a handful have gone on to making a living in the industry, some now the very names people go to shows to see and meet.

The Dallas Fantasy Fair brought us all together. For many of us, the shows taught us to be serious about our dreams. While I no longer do anything with independent comic books, I carry so many lessons learned at those shows in my early 20s, all because Lankford was generous enough to let us in as guests.

Today, a good friend met at a DFF show in the early 90s told many other friends that Larry Lankford recently died. I had limited contact with Lankford, mainly just always thanking him for allowing my punk ass in for free so I could make connections and share my enthusiasm for the medium with other creators on my level and above.

The Last Show

The last DFF I attended was with my wife. We were in the process of working together on a book of our own, and while the venue had changed from Dallas Market Center to a hotel with far less room, Lankford still gave us a table. It wasn’t a table shoved off in a corner, but a spot in one of the busiest sections of the show. (It didn’t hurt that he seated us right next to Adam Hughes, one of my wife’s favorite artists.)

As the show went on, it was clear the lack of space was an issue. Lankford needed our table for a much bigger guest, and it was evident his decision to ask us to move was not an easy one for him. When the guest (Mark Waid) saw that we were leaving to give the entire table to him, he insisted on cramming the three of us behind the table. There was no way we were going to do that, even though it would have meant the chance to show Waid what we were doing. The show was tight on space, and we gladly gave up our spot, knowing how fortunate we were to be there at all.

Given a Shot

It’s easy to look back and say that Larry was ahead of others, realizing there were independent fans…so why not let independent creators in for free to draw those fans? Savvy marketers get that, now, but even today, the thought of even a well known independent creator being allowed into a large convention for free is crazy talk. It never seemed like a move to get more fans in with Lankford, though — he really seemed to take serious creating a place where all creators, regardless of where they were in their careers, had a shot.

That’s all any of us can really ask for in life: a shot. Lankford gave a shot to people like me, who never made it in comics…and he gave a shot to many who have lived the dreams we all talked about in our early 20s at Lankford’s Dallas Fantasy Fairs.

The Power of Generosity

If there’s a sad tone to this, it’s not intended. As I mentioned, I was not friends with Larry Lankford…just one of many acquaintances he gave a chance. If there’s any sense of melancholy behind all this, it’s that I’m a bit nostalgic as I think about how many great friendships and careers began at Dallas Fantasy Fairs. They were a lot of fun, a break from working in hot warehouses and believing, if only for a weekend, that something more was possible.

Most of us, on some level, have affected the lives of others in positive ways we may never know. I can name so many people who were affected by Lankford’s generosity. It was a little gesture, but I hope giving up our table when he needed it at one of his last shows was seen as the thank you it was meant to be.

We were all given a shot — and while dreams of making it writing comic books never happened for me, the friendships made because of one person’s generosity are far better than 23-year-old me could have ever imagined. More than that, I hope Lankford’s generosity — something I’m not sure many of us even realized was as big and rare as it was at the time — lives on in those he helped make their dreams a way of life.

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday. In some ways, it might be my favorite holiday. It’s a reminder, of course, to be thankful for things in life…but…I’m pretty good about doing that anyway. For me, it’s a reminder of the day, in 1999, when I decided, “I need to get in better shape or I’m going to die!”

Thanksgiving, 1999

I don’t know if I was at my heaviest that year, but I was not in good shape. Somewhere in the after-dinner walk, my heart took off racing. I was out of breath with not much distance into the walk, and I felt terrible. I was thirty years old and, at least for a moment, thought, “Great, I’m gonna die about a quarter mile into a trail with a belly full of food!”

I’ll never forget the look on my wife’s face. How could I do that to her?

I made the decision on that walk to take health more seriously.

I Am Not a Runner

I’ve never been one to run. I’ll run while playing tennis or other sports, but running and me…we are not friends.

About four years ago (around Thanksgiving, no less), after playing tennis for a couple hours, the friend I was with said, “How ’bout we go for a run?” I told him I didn’t run, and he reminded my I’d just been running for hours. He told me about how, in the Army, it was his job to train the people who failed their Physical Training test. He told me he could get me running.

He was right. Running several times a week became a thing in my life. I ran a 5K, never slowing to a walk once — even at a water station. Running became a thing I did. And then, somewhere along the way, I stopped. I still walked, and still occasionally played tennis, but as I bounced around between several jobs after a layoff a handful of years ago, I wasn’t as active.

Weight creeped back up. Not to any dangerous level like when I was thirty, but still…

I Am Still Not a Runner (But I’m Getting There Again)

Recently, my wife told me about a virtual 5K. (The LOTR Villains Virtual Challenge.)

“What’s that — the virtual part?”

“You sign up online and you can organize people in your area, or…you can just do it by yourself. It has to be done by November 30. The money benefits RESULTS, and we don’t even have to run it — we can walk. It seems like a cool thing.”

So we signed up for the 5K as a symbolic kickoff to getting back into better shape. Since it’s kind of fantasy related, we decided to hit some trails and hike. We did the 5K about a week and a half ago; we even ended up running a fair bit. (A few photos from the day.) We had so much fun, when my wife said, “They also have a 10K,” I said, “I’m in!”

Thanksgiving, 2013

This morning we got up while it was still dark and went to the trail where, 14 years ago, I thought I was going to die. (A few photos, taken along the way.) It was in the upper 20s, with no wind — perfect weather for me (and unseasonably cool for Texas). There was no running like there was with the 5K, but we kicked off Thanksgiving this year by walking a 10K (and then some). It was perfect, a reminder that even though I’m not running regularly, it hasn’t totally slipped away.

We have our minds set on running a couple 5Ks in 2014, and I’m thankful that I’ll be ready for them. And who knows…maybe next Thanksgiving we’ll do the challenge again and actually run the 10K!

So…Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the states! And for those who follow the stuff I do online, there’s this:

The Steps of Autumn

The Steps of Autumn

It’s still over a week away from September. Then…it’s weeks more until autumn officially begins. Longer still: actual chilly weather in Texas, which rolls in sometime around November.

But it’s close.

There will be the September days over 100 degrees, but that doesn’t matter. Something changes when the calendar rolls to September. It’s the beginning of my favorite season…

It’s the beginning of my most productive season…

Each Step

Each autumn is full of steps toward better things: writing, health, and other loves. Each autumn is its own step, making up years of progress when I look back.

It’s not that I do nothing during other seasons, but there’s something triggered in me when the heat of summer falls away and I can hike without fear of dehydrating. Everything smells so crisp. The winds from the north all but demand you stop and listen.

We’re still months from seeing leaves turn color and fall from the trees in Texas, but that doesn’t matter. The moment the page of the calendar turns from August to September, the best stuff is all right there…

How To Do Something New

How To Do Something New

I recently mentioned that the weekly podcast I do with a friend reached its 25th episode. If you’ve read anything here or on The Juggling Writer, you know I write and juggle. I like photography, hiking, canoeing, and many other things as well.

And I do these things because I simply started doing them.

Don’t Begin with an Excuse

I’ve met people at jobs, at conferences — even in line at the grocery store — who are terrified to try new things. If they aren’t terrified, they still try talking themselves out of trying something new for a variety of reasons.

It’s sad that so many people begin with an excuse.

Old Tennis Balls

Juggling’s not necessarily an expensive hobby, but some of the props aren’t cheap — especially when you begin juggling many things. I’m sure I’ve spent well over $1,000 on juggling props over the years. But that spring day in 1981 then I taught myself how to juggle, it was with three used tennis balls found around tennis courts in the park behind my house.

It cost me nothing to get started doing one of the things I love most in my life.

Podcasting on the Cheap

I look forward to the day Shawn and I get better gear for the Men in Gorilla Suits podcast and we sound like a radio show, but if we went into it feeling like we needed to build a full-blown recording studio, we’d probably never have started. We record using my Zoom H2n recorder as the main sound, with Shawn’s Zoom ZH1 as backup.

Shawn’s recorder cost about 100 bucks. My recorder — about $175.

Zoom Recorders

The Exceptions

When I talk about things in this manner, people sometimes say, “Well, if you were trying to get into racing cars or yachting, you couldn’t afford it!”

If I wanted to race F1 cars or command a huge sailing yacht — true — it would be long odds that I’d see myself do either regularly. But…I know a guy who races his VW Golf on parking lot tracks made with traffic cones — and a small sailboat for one or two people isn’t out of financial reach for many people. So there are even ways around the exceptions.

Where There’s a Will…

Sure, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” is a cliché, but it’s with good reason: it’s true! If you want to do something badly enough, you find a way to do it.

I like photography, but more expensive gear is out of my budget. Thing is, I’ve taken photos good enough to sell with articles I’ve written using $100 cameras. The best camera in my bag (a Nikon Coolpix P7100) can be had for $350. I’ve seen people take photos with pinhole cameras they made out of recycled material that I liked more than images captured with cameras worth thousands.

Most of us aren’t planning to buy our own LearJet and learn to fly; most of us want to do something that’s within our reach on some level. It may not be the ideal start due to budget or time restraints, but it’s not impossible unless you believe it is.

Still not convinced? Watch this:

You Don’t Have to Have an Opinion (About Everything)

You Don’t Have to Have an Opinion (About Everything)

I once worked with someone who was asked what they thought about a particular news story at the time. Their answer was simple and direct:

“I don’t care about that.”

It was a topic deemed important by most of the people in the room — myself included. It would be fair to say we were taken aback by the reply. Some of us commented on how clueless the person was, and others said it was sad that the person had nothing to say about the topic. Yes, we judged this person for not having an opinion about this news story — and some others. Sure, make the argument that an adult should know certain things…make whatever argument you want, but the fact still stands: we were assholes.

As adults, like it or not, we get to call our own shots. Want to play video games all day? Your call. Want to juggle, take photos, watch movies, whatever — instead of tracking what’s happening in Syria…who am I to tell you that you shouldn’t?

I can now see that there’s something to be said for the honesty in saying, “I don’t care about that…”

A Matter of Priority

That moment at work was the first time I remember thinking, “What if this news story the rest of us deem important — maybe even vital — really means nothing?”

When I really think about it, I can think of only a handful of things deemed “important” that actually affected my life. Not to sound like it’s all about me…I believe it’s important to be informed of what’s going on in the world, if for no other reason than to keep a sense of compassion for others. So even though I make a conscious effort to not watch the news, I’m  informed.

Still…

Why I Refuse to Let You Steal My Time!

I don’t post anything political on my social media sites. Not because I’m not interested, but because it’s such a time suck. (That, and I respect friends with other viewpoints and don’t want to upset them, even though it’s “my right!” It’s also their right to drop me from their feed if I’m an asshole.) For me, it’s really a matter of priority: hours spent “debating” online becomes hours I could have spent writing. Hours spent watching 24-hour “news” stations is time I could have spent with my wife. Hours spent arguing in person is time I could have spent in the company of someone I really like, talking about the things that matter most to us.

When I look at it that way, I have an odd respect for the person who proclaimed, “I don’t care about that…”

This Weekend

It’s almost the weekend, and I have some ideas for things I plan to do. I will enjoy my time — even any time spent online because these days, I don’t feel the need to chime in with my opinion on things (or even drop a carpet bombing of facts when necessary to show how I came to my conclusion). I’m so much happier not feeling the need to be able to talk about everything just because it’s expected of us. Why be a jack of all chats and talk about everything when you can talk about the things that really matter to you and those around you?

I look at it like this: Sunday night, how do I want to remember my weekend…going out and doing things I enjoyed and relaxing, or spending time online arguing? Unless I truly loved throwing my opinion online for hours, choosing the latter option is a waste of time.

At the end of my weekend…at the end of my life…I want to remember the productive and happy moments — not the moments arguing with someone I respect, someone I once respected, or even worse: some asshole for whom I have no respect at all…

I don’t care about that!

The Mountaintop at Home

The Mountaintop at Home

I’ve been fortunate to see some cool places. America is a big space, and I’ve been to each side of the country and seen much of what’s in between. Living in Texas, there are coastlines and forests — hills, mountains, and even the second largest canyon in the United States. Big places with scenery that can change a person.

It can be easy to crave open places like that…to the point that I know people who are not happy unless they are going somewhere big to make their everyday lives not feel so small…

Hell, I’ve been that very person…

Reading on a Mountaintop

I read a great piece written by Jack Cheng about feeling like you have to do certain things in certain places. You must feel a certain way or do certain things, based on where you are at the moment. The gist of the piece for those who skip it is that we feel things like mountaintops must be devoted to making the place somehow matter more than other places in our minds. Cheng just wanted to read a book at the top of the Sandia range in New Mexico, but felt he was somehow wasting the moment by not rushing around to take it all in.

It’s an idea that fascinates me because there have been things I’ve seen that I truly believed would be a level of incredible I could only imagine that, instead, turned out to be a bust. Then, something as simple as driving to work on Monday, with the way the sun came through the clouds and lit up the hills on the back way I go in to avoid traffic…it’s the kind of scenery people pay to see.

And it’s minutes from my home!

My Home is a Mountain

When I think of some of my favorite moments in my entire life, sure — juggling at the rim of the Grand Canyon was cool. Canoeing rivers, hiking in the Pacific Northwest, and camping trips into nowhere are way up there. Road trips and other adventures will linger in my memory until my memories are no more. But the memories I really hold dear are evenings when I’ve cooked for friends, right here at home. Afternoons sitting on the couch and talking with my wife can be just as magical as the kinds of places people seek to satisfy that need for something more.

There is so much more out there I want to see, but many times — maybe even most times — all I need is right here at home.

Pasture in Roanoke, Texas

Coffee and Notes

Big sky and clouds

Beer

Fiddle

Tornado forming in the distance

Martini makings

Foggy Walk

Christopher Gronlund and CF Griffith in the snow