I was feeling a bit more confident in the hardiness of my tummy come Wednesday, so I decided to start my day with a fry-up breakfast: sausages, omelettes, and toast with jam. Getting through that without my stomach lurching gave me a bit more confidence for the day ahead. Now, I neglected to mention this on my previous blogs, but up until this point, the weather in New York had been absolutely stunning. On both Monday and Tuesday, it was hotter in New York City, in October, than it had been in Glasgow in July. I got to spend the previous day walking around in jeans and T-shirt, no jacket required. But on Wednesday the weather finally broke, with some mild showers and generally overcast skies. Still a pleasant enough temperature, though. Still, I got some use for the hooded leather jacket I had dragged with me across the Atlantic, at least. And I needed to be ready for the outdoors, because today my destination was Central Park.
Central Park was a big part of NYC that I barely scratched the surface of in my first visit back in 2004. We literally just took a few paces into the park from off the street, then took a photo next to the first tree we found to say we’d “been in Central Park.” This time round, I was determined to do it more justice. I set out early morning – making only a brief detour to pick up the week’s new comics from Midtown Comics – and spent over three hours in Central Park this time. But even so, I barely covered half the ground held within the massive park’s boundaries.
It’s so unusual: right in the middle of this urban metropolis, a massive slab of greenery the size of many a small town. But after the hectic sprawl of Times Square the day before, it was quite serene and peaceful walking through the park, even though there was never a point when the skyscrapers just beyond the park’s threshold didn’t seem to hang ominously over everything.
My first goal was to visit the famous Central Park Zoo. Having been already to the OTHER world-famous American zoo in San Diego, I thought it would be interesting to see how this one compared. Finding it seemed like it would be straightforward enough: just walk in a straight line for a while. But somehow, I managed to get hopelessly lost, walking around in circles, or thinking I was retracing my steps only to find myself somewhere entirely different. It was baffling, how this apparent big open space could also act as a kind of labyrinth. And yeah, I know it’s supposed to be all about getting in touch with nature and all that, but would it kill them to put more of those little roadside maps with the “YOU ARE HERE” signs on them around the grounds? I found exactly two: one at the entrance to the park, and one near the Old Dairy information center. And more than once, I got lost trying to track down the Old Dairy map.
But eventually, I found the zoo. How did it compare to San Diego? Obviously, in terms of size and the diversity of animals available to see, it wasn’t going to compare. But it was A LOT cheaper, which worked in its favor, because how much can you really justify spending to go stare at animals? And while San Diego was all about careful health and safety and keeping folks at a sensible distance from the animals, here it was only my common sense stopping me from reaching out and touching a sea lion, and when you go into the rainforest exhibit the tropical birds are just hopping around uncaged, flying over your head or dropping down in front of your path, with the workers telling the kids walking around to not touch the birds because they don’t like it. Observing the various droppings splattered on the floor around me, I was mostly worried about a bird shitting on my head.
Other highlights included seeing a polar bear up relatively close. They are such big, powerful creatures, but looking at this guy – his fur all dirty, his teeth yellow, just bouncing his little ball around and trying to swim backstroke but quickly running out of space – it felt a little bit sad. I also got a really close look at a snow leopard, which jumped right up to the glass wall and gave me the evil eye for a bit.
After exiting the zoo, I wandered around Central Park some more, taking a stroll down the Mall, passing through Literary Walk. This was one of my favorite areas of the park, with statues of the likes of William Shakespeare and Robert Burns adorning the long pathway. And as the autumn leaves fell from the overhanging trees all around me like rain, it was one of those moments where you just have to stop and appreciate this little moment in the world around you.
But the downside to all this exploration was that, before I knew it, we were well into the afternoon, and I was pretty damn hungry. The only eatery I could spot within the park itself sold ridiculously overpriced seafood, so I knew I’d have to venture outside the park for a good lunch. And then I got lost again, this time just trying to get out of the damn place! I eventually found the exit, but I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I had arrived at the entrance to Central Park – all the way up on West 60th Street – via subway, having bought a round trip ticket. However, upon attempting to make my return journey, I swiped my ticket, only to find the door had jammed and wouldn’t open. But when I tried to then go through another door, it turned out I had still been charged for my previous swipe, and that had counted as my return journey. Now, out of principle, I refused to pay for another ticket after this outrage (there’s the Scotsman in me!), so I decided to walk all the way back to West 36th Street.
First things first, though: lunch. I was so starving by this point that all thought of finding a classy eatery had gone out of the window, and I settled for a Wendy’s. As far as greasy fast-food joints go, though, Wendy’s was actually pretty damn good. I got a double bacon cheeseburger called the Baconater, and it was actually pretty ace. Or maybe it was just because I was insanely hungry. Anyway, after eating, I took the scenic walk back to my hotel, making stops at Rockafeller Plaza, NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall, among other places.
By the time I returned to my hotel, I was utterly exhausted, and my feet were throbbing. I don’t think I’ve walked so much in a single day in my life! In Central Park, there were joggers and cyclists everywhere you looked, but surely all you really need to do for exercise is get lost and walk around a bit. The weight just dropped off me with all that walking, though unfortunately all the trash I ate piled it all back on again.
After taking it easy for a bit, and reading some of my new comics, I headed out to meet up with Joe Mulvey, writer/artist of Scam and a fellow ComixTribe creator who would be joining Tyler and I at the NYCC booth. I was happy to be meeting up with anyone at this stage, and was especially glad once I met Joe and discovered he was such a fun, likeable guy. He’s one of those people I’m quite jealous of, that can seemingly adapt effortlessly to any social situation, and who can talk to strangers with such warmth and conviction that you’d be within reason to assume he was talking to an old friend: a skill that served him well when it came to selling at the booth in the days that followed. In a funny moment, we walked through the city, chatting away while looking for an Irish pub Joe knew, only to eventually discover we had walked in a perfect circle and ended up at the point where we first met, and that the pub we were looking for was right across the road from us.
After some drinks and comics chat, we headed over to the pre-NYCC signing event at Jim Hanley’s Comic Universe. Jim Hanley’s is a neat little store, not quite packing the deep back catalogue of a Midtown Comics or a Forbidden Planet, but offering a diverse range of more offbeat fare, and boasting a scenic location, situated pretty much directly across the road from the Empire State Building. Tyler James had told Joe to inform me that he knew the manager of the shop, and that he might be able to swing me joining the roster of creators to take part in the signing, giving me an additional chance to promote The Standard before New York Comic Con. So, I talked to the manager, said I knew Tyler and I’d brought some copies of my comic with me, and in quite a surreal moment, he happily set up a little table for me, and all of a sudden I was doing my first ever signing at a comic book store!
As they had done with all the other creators that had arrived, the folks at the counter shouted over the tanoy, “Now sitting at his table… John Lees!” And I got an applause and a cheer from the crowd in the shop. I like to think they were whispering to each other, “Who the fuck is John Lees?” It was me and a bunch of Image creators: I really felt like I had sneaked in the back door. Indeed, there was one occasion where a guy talked to me for about 10 minutes before realising I wasn’t part of the Image roster. I only sold a handful of books this night, but it was still great fun, and a good experience.
Once I had wrapped up my signing, I tried to mingle a little bit. Joe had got to chat to a bunch of people for much of the night while I remained stuck at my table, able only to talk to the people who approached me. So I didn’t get to chat to many professionals, though I did get chatting to a couple of very nice fans, including a guy called Steve who picked up a copy of The Standard #1, and who I’d bump into several times over the course of the week. But just before leaving, I spotted a familiar face talking to somebody near the back of the store: Rich Johnston, of Bleeding Cool fame.
I decided to say hello, introducing myself as the person at the centre of an awkward social networking faux pas, where I had been dissing Bleeding Cool’s anti-DC bias to my friend over Twitter, only for Rich Johnston – obviously doing a Twitter search on Bleeding Cool – to tersely reply defending the objectivity of his website. Joe had a more positive connection, as Scam had just been featured on the site as a comic to watch at New York Comic Con. We chatted briefly, and I gave Rich copies of The Standard #1 and #2. I know I’ve heard of many indy books for the first time via Bleeding Cool, so I figured it would definitely be worth a shot trying to get the books into his hands to see if he liked them.
You would be forgiven for thinking, based on his online reputation, that Rich Johnston would be a Machiavellian evil genius, but when you meet him he’s actually a warm, personable guy (OR MAYBE THAT’S HOW HE GETS YOU!!!!?!?!!), and it was nice to meet him. He even invited Joe and I to a party later in the night where a lot of British comics creators would be hanging out. I didn’t catch the name of the bar or the street, but Joe seemed to be nodding confidently in response, so I figured he’d picked it up and nodded confidently likewise. Once we’d left Jim Hanley’s, Joe turns and says, “So, did you pick up the name of that bar? I didn’t, but you looked like you’d got it, so I just played along with you.” Oh well. So, instead of mingling with comics pros on Wednesday night, Joe and I went to Pronto Pizza for dinner (yes, the same place as yesterday), then said our goodbyes, knowing we had a big day ahead of us.
Wednesday was another great day in New York City, and with the night-time events, I began to feel a shift from being in tourist mode to entering convention mode. Thursday promised to complete that transformation…
NEXT: New York Comic Con begins!