Ah, it’s that time of the year again — San Diego Comic Con International (or SDCC as we like to call it) is upon us again. First time I attended SDCC was in 2007 and have gone back there every year since. It is an amazing experience — both as a fan and a creator. For the first two years my routine used to be simple — get in the convention center, locate the Virgin Comics booth, stash my bag there and then just walk around. Of course, there were the previously planned meet and greets interspersed through out the day, but what I enjoy most about SDCC is just walking around. It is still just as wonderful as it was the first time.
Now-a-days, I carry a small leather bound sketchbook with me, in case I meet an artist who’d draw me a quick sketch. ‘Twasn’t always so. The reason I carry the notebook is the Supercallifragilistically Fantastic PHIL HESTER (Firebreather, Green Arrow, Swamp Thing, Anchor, Darkness). So there I was walking around and suddenly I realize I’ve actually cut across a line of people waiting for Phil at the Top Cow booth. I swear I didn’t see the booth, I was just ever so over-awed by the whole goddamn shebang that was SDCC 2006.
Phil looks at me and says “Well?”
I’m dually flustered here from the glares of the people in line and trying to think of an appropriate response to Phil’s query. I think I muttered a meek “Hi”. Suddenly Phil burst into that 10000 megawatt avuncular smile of his and asked “Hi, I’m Phil. Want a sketch? It’s free.”
Of course I wanted a sketch. Maybe cosmic forces guided my footsteps to that Top Cow booth, just so that I could get a sketch. (Or I think I was there looking for Ron Marz, don’t remember what exactly). But at that point in time, I had no idea who Phil Hester was. I mean I didn’t know that I had already read his stuff — Green Arrow mostly. The swamped mind just didn’t make the connection (To the tune of “ah, you’re THAT Phil Hester”). But, here wasa bona fide comic book creator offering to draw me (a mook from India at his first comic-con ever) a free sketch and I’d be damned if I turned that down. I nodded vigorously.
Phil then asked “So… got a notebook?”
Ouch! I hadn’t planned on getting sketches, so (you can see where this is going, can’t you?) I didn’t have a sketchbook handy. But by providence, I had a ruled notebook that I use for jotting down notes (audio recorders don’t work so well in the SDCC din). I promptly turned that over to Phil. He gave me an amused smile and asked “So, what should I draw?”
I decided to play it safe and pretend I didn’t hear the question, lest my “coolness” be punctured. I mean, how do you tell this generous person that you have no idea what his body of work is?
Phil must’ve understood. “Well, I’ll tell you what, I’ll just name stuff I’ve done and you tell me what you want. I have drawn Green Arrow, Swamp Thing…”
Swamp Thing! Yeah, I knew that name.
“Swamp Thing, please.”
10 minutes later (a really sweet 10 minutes of watching Phil draw), I was the proud owner of an original Phil Hester Swamp Thing sketch (pictured below). As you can see, it’s a true work of art, a masterful drawing that I’ll cherish for a long long time.
But there’s something else I’ll cherish much more. When I was a kid, my father always used to tell me that the true measure of a man is how he behaves with people he doesn’t HAVE to be nice to. I mean, if someone writes your paycheck or can get you a deal on a new car, you’ve got to be nice to them out of necessity. But complete strangers, what your default behavior is to them tells of how sound your basic nature/value system is. I stood there for some time, watching Phil courteously respond to person after person as they walked up to him and he drew them sketches. He laughed and he spoke with them — a true gentleman. I realized I had just NOT ONLY seen a great artist at work, but a truly remarkable human being.
Thanks Phil — for the sketch and for being a wonderful person.