I don’t believe that the third time is the charm. I don’t believe that four leaf clovers are lucky. And I don’t believe in saving the best for last. So for this, the first in a series of semi-regular pieces for Fanboy Planet, I’m going to tackle head on the question most often asked to me by comic book readers when they stop at my table at a convention and try to figure out where they might possibly have seen my name before. For those of you that have never spoken to me at a convention before, the conversation usually goes something like this:
ME: Hi. How are you? Enjoying the show? (I have books and artwork I want to sell any unsuspecting passerby so as often as possible, I try to establish that personal connection and let them know I genuinely care how their day is going.)
THEM: Oh, it’s great! Say…where have I seen your name before? Keith Champagne …hmmmm… it looks familiar, do people ever call you Bubbles?
ME: Ha ha, I’ve never actually heard THAT one before, ha ha. (Believe it or not, throughout my life several very imaginative people have called me Bubbles because, y’know, Champagne has bubbles in it.)
THEM: Ha ha. Oh wait, did you ever work on Aztek: The Ultimate Man?
ME: I did, yeah, I loved that book. It was canceled way too soon.
THEM: Yeah, that was a good one. I almost bought that one but Superman was blue and electric at the time and I couldn’t afford both.
ME: You definitely made the right choice…although I always preferred Superman Red.
They walk off, offended that I would dare favor Superman Red, and I proceed to have pretty much that same conversation ten or fifteen more times (although sometimes, it’s Dom Perignon instead of Bubbles and Batman instead of Superman) until, lo and behold, an actual reader of my work stumbles across my table.
I can usually tell because they’re armed with a stack of books I’ve inked or written (and once or twice, penciled) over the course of my career. And if you’re curious, it’s genuinely very flattering when someone digs through their longboxes of comics to find stuff I’ve worked, pack it in their car and carry it around a convention to get it signed.
And if you’re even more curious, here’s the stuff I’ve noticed that I’m most often asked to sign:
JSA, thanks mainly to Geoff Johns for keeping the book so popular.
GREEN LANTERN, thanks mainly to Doug Mahnke and Geoff Johns for keeping the book so popular.
AZTEK, thanks mainly to Grant Morrison and Mark Millar who made it a cult hit.
STARMAN, which I’d probably see even more of except most people have forgotten I spent a year working on it.
A story arc that I wrote for GREEN LANTERN CORPS which Pat Gleason knocked out of the park.
THE MIGHTY, especially since it’s now lined up to be a movie.
And if you’re the extra curious type of reader, how about stuff I wish I was asked to sign more of:
Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.
The issue of Legion I wrote for Steve Lightle.
I also get some guilty pleasures like YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE (I’m always pleasantly surprised to realize what a loyal fan base YHIL still has which is a testament to the great story and character work Dan Raspler and Dev Madan produced) and forgotten treasures that I don’t even recall I’ve worked on until they’re presented for my signature. I’ve been lucky to work on a lot of books over the years.
Anyway, before I digressed I had just encountered someone who actually reads my work and from there, the conversation is magically delicious. I regale my adoring public with behind-the-scenes tales of my travails in comics; stories where I’m always the hero, overcoming crushing deadlines through sheer force of will and rugged, handsome, all-American know how.
After I’ve told those two stories, conversation will sometimes turn to general comics chatter ( I met Grant Morrison briefly once and he had no idea who I was even though I was working on his book at the time. Mark Millar pretended to know me though.) I love talking about comics in general, especially obscure 80’s Marvel (my Kubert school teacher Mike Chen drew Starriors!) much more than my own work, and I’m always happy to chat with someone who can keep up (In particular, Brian Cunningham at DC is an encyclopedia of trivia. Test him sometime, he won’t let you down.)
By Crom, I’m fun to talk to at a convention—especially if the person I’m talking to has taken a shower in the past several days (not to be mean but a lot of people I meet at conventions are hygienically challenged which is why –trade secret spoiler alert –most industry professionals have a bottle of Purel at their table ).
I’m honest about the industry. I review portfolios (which I, along with every other artist in the world hates doing), I make the kids smile, give tons of advice about working in comics, and I sometimes can even get people to talk to Tom Nguyen.
And if the reader wants to buy something from me, so much the better! I’ve got kids to put through college.
But then usually, because whoever I’m talking to doesn’t really want to buy anything from me, they’ll feel bad and ask about whatever happened to The Corpse, the black ops faction of Green Lanterns Pat Gleason and I created for Peter Tomasi a few years ago.
If you recall, it was a pretty popular storyline featuring Guy Gardner and a couple of other Green Lanterns and, more than anything, got industry people to take me seriously as a writer. The arc proved to be so well-liked that Tomasi even commissioned me to write six more issues to either run bi-weekly or be packaged as a miniseries.
It was pretty exciting stuff and I was living the dream, writing my own stories for DC, when a little book called WORLD WAR III dropped in my lap and I…wait, look at the time. Have I really been writing this for nineteen hours straight?!? I’d better finish this story up in my next installment.
Thanks for reading!
Keith Champagne is the creator of DEATH VALLEY, ARMOR X and (with Peter Tomasi) THE MIGHTY. He’s an excellent convention guest and has worked on more comics, most of them DC, over the past 18 years than he can remember.