One of the many, many, many cool things this weekend was simply that the discussions never stopped. After the lectures, between the panels, during meals and breaks, everybody just kept the ideas flowing. The conversations I personally had casually touched on broad topics like slabbing to more specific ones like comparing Dick Dillin's 1960s work to other contemporary comic artists. You could throw Obidiah Oldbuck into the conversation without having to explain it. You could walk into an auditorium full of people and recognize Jef Mallett on sight, casually sitting down as just another fan.
What struck me towards the end of the event was that I, like so many others there, was both exhausted yet extremely energized. Everyone seemed more than ready to dive back into whatever comics projects they'd had on their respective plates, despite running on full steam for the past three days or so. And what's particularly interesting there is that type of gathering normally wears me out. I hate the kind of aggressive "I'm an introvert and we need to be treated differently" pieces I've been seeing crop up more and more recently, but I do have a tendency to find large groups excessively draining, and I'd much rather hole up on my own little island doing my own thing. I can process the audio and visual stimulation from a large comic convention with no problems, but the sheer volume of people has a sort of ephemeral vampiric quality that makes me want to dig a moat around my house, decorate the bottom with a series of wooden spikes, and then have my lavoratories feed into it to make sure there's plenty of opportunities for anyone who survives falling on the spikes to have their wounds infected.
The Billy Ireland event was different, though. Hundreds of people -- normally more than enough to make me cringe in an emotional corner -- got me excited. Meeting new people -- another dreadful activity for me -- was ongoing throughout the whole weekend, but I felt completely at ease and had no compunctions about introducing myself to most everyone there. (I will admit, though, that having people come up and introduce themselves to me was kind of surreal. Especially since it happened repeatedly. "Wait -- you're the professional here; I'm just some schlub with a blog!") So what was different that threw my typical anxieties and introversion out the window? Why did an experience that normally sucks energy away from me suddenly become one that fed me?
There's certainly a lot to be said for the environment. Being surrounded by original Outcaults, Herrimans, McCays, etc. makes it hard not be awed. Being able to study those first hand and see, for example, that Herriman didn't use white ink to cover his mistakes but literally scratched them off the page with a razor blade is mind-blowing. But that's only part of the answer here since I wasn't able to see any of the exhibit material until late Friday night.
I'm certain it has a lot to with the type of people present. These were, as I mentioned above, a group of fantastic comics thinkers; even many of those not presenting were noted names in terms of comics research. And even if we were talking about something on the more sophomoric end of things (She-Hulk jumping rope naked, for example) there was still a level of thought and discourse far above what I normally encounter in a comic shop or on a con floor.
Furthermore, that all of these people were coming from different perspectives was wholly refreshing. Like many of you, I tend to hit the same web sites and discussion forums over and over, so I can pretty well expect how any given conversation will roll out. Since so many people were coming at comics here from a different point of origin, ones that frequently did not overlap, the conversations were more interesting and engaging. The topics were familiar but the perspectives were new.
And I think that's what was really the most energizing. That so many people were sharing so many different perspectives about a subject I've studied for so long, and that they were inadvertently suggesting new avenues that I can pursue with my own research, and that I was able to share a bit of what I'm doing to see their eyes light up with excitement... all of that positivity directed back at me was a welcome surprise, and one that overtook my usual dread of dealing with people who really couldn't seem to care less about the things I'm passionate about.