THE CON ARTIST: Segment of cover Featured

Attending a comic book convention can be an intense experience. With all the memorabilia to gaze at, comics to search through, celebrities to meet, and more, it can be overwhelming. Many may leave the convention floor feeling a mix of exhaustion, elation, thrill, and disappointment. Or one may leave the floor in a body bag. At least that might happen, according to THE CON ARTIST, the new novel from Fred Van Lente.

Ok, fine, that last one might be an overstatement. After all, THE CON ARTIST is fictional. However, Van Lente has become something of a convention expert over the years. That experience shows in the novel and persuaded us at ComicsVerse that if we were going to go to any professional to help us live through this year’s NYCC 2018, it had to be him.

Thankfully, Van Lente’s a great guy, in addition to being a great writer. He agreed straightaway and together we assembled this handy guide for us, and you, to survive a convention in style.

the con artist
The inimitable Fred Van Lente. (Courtesy of Atomic Universe)

ComicsVerse: Best snack to eat without leaving the convention floor?

Fred Van Lente: Mixed nuts, with a healthy mix of almonds, walnuts, cashews, and the ever reliable peanuts. Great mix of fat, carbs, and protein to keep your legs strong for standing in line (fans) and your wrists nimble for signing and sketching (pros).

CV: Best thing to eat for a meal if planning to immediately get back on the convention floor afterward?

FVL: Nothing! That’s right, fasting by skipping lunch (but no more than eight hours) isn’t bad for you and keeps you hungry for geek culture.

CV: Best drink to hydrate with during the convention?

FVL: Fun fact: the root of hydrate is hydro, or water. No substitute for H-2 Oh. Hail Hydration!

CV: Best drink to enjoy after the convention closes for the day?

FVL: I’m partial to red wine myself, but to reward yourself for a long hard day of pop culturing, let any and all libations flow.

CV: What’s the mandatory thing you must do at every convention regardless of size?

FVL: Find the Good Bathroom. By which I mean the cleanest and least crowded. Comic con men’s rooms are one of the few restrooms on Earth where every stall is occupied starting at 10 a.m. and remains so until security kicks everyone out at the end of the day, presumably because contact with other humans wreaks havoc with nerds’ GI tracts. The rising gender parity in comics has extended lines for the women’s rooms to criminal lengths, so the ladies need to find their Good Bathroom, too.

Fortunately, most convention centers have a Good Bathroom discoverable via Lara Croft-esque explorer skills. Frequent hiding places for the Good Bathroom are near the loading dock, behind the areas where celebrities sign, and next to the press area. That means people with pro badges can find the Good Bathroom easier, but that’s why we get paid for this shit, baby.

CV: Best way to greet a creator you like and admire?

FVL: “Hey, I love your work. Fuck ComicsGate!”

THE CON ARTIST: SDCC 2018
The floor at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. (Courtesy of San Bernadino Sun)

CV: Best way to greet a creator you don’t know that well but have heard good things about?

FVL: “Hey, I hear great things about your work. Fuck ComicsGate!”

CV: Best way to greet a tangentially related to comics celebrity who you run into in the bathroom?

FVL: “Would you like me to show you where the Good Bathroom is?”

CV: Must-have supplies (non-food or drink) to carry at a convention?

FVL: Great question. Sharpies in black and silver (for signing black endpapers) in case pros have none, a tote bag of your own in case the con doesn’t hand out swag bags big enough to smuggle small children in, and your water bottle — hydrate!

CV: Best footwear for a convention?

FVL: I’d recommend a sturdy hiking shoe. You’re going to be on your feet a lot and good support is key.

CV: Best con clothes (when not cosplaying)?

FVL: Whatever you’re most comfortable in. Judging from many conventions, most people are comfortable wearing a Deadpool or Harley Quinn outfit, though I prefer my Freelance Writer cosplay of jeans and button down shirt. T-shirt on Sundays!

THE CON ARTIST: Fowler single sketch
Art by Tom Fowler from the pages of THE CON ARTIST. (Courtesy of Fred Van Lente)

CV: Best place to sit at a panel?

FVL: As far away from the screaming fans in the Really Loud Panel next door as possible.

CV: Best way to make friends with strangers at a convention?

FVL: State an extremely unpopular opinion very loudly, and see who responds positively. These people are on your wavelength and should be excellent companions.

Here, I’ll start: “ISN’T IT A LITTLE SAD THAT STAR WARS IS A TEN-FILM FRANCHISE WITH ONLY TWO GOOD MOVIES?”

Beware: in addition to new friends, you may also find things thrown at your head.

CV: Best waiting-in-line activity to keep yourself busy?

FVL: Randomly rating things in Top Five lists can inspire hours of lively debate and fisticuffs that can make the hours fly by. It’s like your own private Buzzfeed! Here I’ll give you some example: Top Five Badass Batman Moments, Top Five Datable X-Men, Top Five C-List Superheroes, Top Five STAR WARS movies.

Oh, wait. That last one is just a Top Two… *runs*

 CV: Best book to read before, after, and during a convention?

FVL: I suspect this is a leading question, but I’m going to have to go with THE CON ARTIST, the new thriller by Fred Van Lente.

CV: Obviously you are very familiar with the con scene. Beyond familiarity what made it seem like a ripe setting for the murder mystery story THE CON ARTIST?

FVL: I like to call THE CON ARTIST a geek noir, and it has a lot of classic noir elements: a Southern California setting (San Diego Comic Con), a grizzled first-person narrator (veteran comics Artist Mike M), a terrible crime (the murder of Mike’s editor, for which he is the prime suspect), mysterious femme fatale (the one woman Mike has to re-find to prove his alibi), and a world steeped in moral and economic corruption (Have you been to a comic con? They charge twelve dollars for an overcooked hot dog!).

THE CON ARTIST: Cover for In article
The cover of THE CON ARTIST, now available in stores! (Courtesy of Quirk Books)

CV: While THE CON ARTIST has more of a central character than your previous novel TEN DEAD COMEDIANS, there is still a rich ensemble feel in it. What about having a strong ensemble appeals to you when it comes to novels? Any adjustments you had to make from a mental/writing standpoint to present a tale with a more centralized lead?

FVL: Weirdly, even though [CON ARTIST] is a geek noir, and the whole book is written from Mike’s point of view, it took until halfway through the manuscript that I realized the book should be in the first person — I ended up rewriting the whole thing so the novel takes the form of the statement he gives to the police after the action is all over. (Not a spoiler — that’s all in the first paragraph.)

The other cool thing is that Mike is a comics artist, so he doesn’t just tell you his adventures, he draws them, too. My frequent collaborator Tom Fowler — currently drawing BOOKS OF MAGIC for Vertigo — draws Mike’s sketches of the things he sees as he goes through the mystery, in his own con sketchbook.

What’s cool is that Mike’s (Tom’s) drawings aren’t just great illustrations — they contain vital clues for the reader, too.

CV: You use elements of friends’/associates’ con experiences to add a sense of realism to the proceedings in CON ARTIST. As a writer, how do you tread the line between utilizing some stories to tell a better overall narrative while still being an original story and it not being “too real” or too autobiographical?

FVL: Oh I don’t know if there is such a thing as “too real.” Most of what happens in this book has happened to me or a friend, or I heard about it secondhand or in history. But because it’s placed in this murder thriller context it’s not like it’s a documentary or anything. But if you want to know about the gossip and politics of the actual comic book industry, it’s all right there in the novel.

THE CON ARTIST: Fowler Double Sketch
Tom Fowler, drawing as THE CON ARTIST’s lead character Mark, captures the unique people one might meet at a convention. (Courtesy of Fred Van Lente)

CV: Say I’m Joe Comic Fan Who Dabbles in Books. How do you convince me to make CON ARTIST one of the novels I will absolutely read this year?

FVL: If you’re into the behind the scenes scandal and power plays of this crazy business — “Funnybook Confidential” if you will — and want to read an exciting thriller with great characters and humor to boot, THE CON ARTIST is for you.

Fred Van Lente’s newest novel THE CON ARTIST and his previous book TEN DEAD COMEDIANS are available for purchase now at your local independent bookstore. You can find him at B-23 at NYCC next week. Maybe he’ll even share the secret of the Good Bathroom with you.

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