After Friday night’s pub crawl, I was afraid I was going to be too exhausted (i.e. hungover) to get up early, but due to the excitement for the Weekend and lots of water, I was awake, out of the hotel, and driving over to the event before any panels had started. Once I arrived at the Eastworks building where the gathering was taking place, and I moved beyond registration at the front doors, I was amazed at just how many fans, readers, writers and artists had all converged on this remote location to celebrate webcomics.

The hallway of the first floor was lined with tables, behind which several of my favorite webcomic creators were selling books and doing sketches for fans. Lar deSouza and Ryan Sohmer of Least I Could Do, Bill Barnes of Unshelved, David Willis of Shortpacked!, Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots and the Halfpixel guys, among others, were all there. I have to hand it to Lar and Ryan, since they had arranged for nice, big, LICD bags to be given to everybody at the event, and they also had the first table you could see from the entrance. The two of them were also giving away free books, which I saw people reading throughout the day, and Sohmer was involved in one of the panels. Basically, if you didn’t know LICD before Webcomics Weekend, there was no way you left there without having a big impression of it. Something to remember and kudos to them.

Once I moved past the tables I decided to hit the panels, the best part of which was to see the personalities behind the webcomics I’ve been reading for years. My favorite panel was probably the live taping of the Webcomics Weekly podcast, with Scott Kurtz (PvP), Kris Straub (Starslip, F Chords, chainsawsuit), Dave Kellett (Sheldon) and Brad Guigar (Evil Inc). There was an exciting energy throughout the room during the recording, and for a brief moment in time, the potential of Webcomics Weekend to be the “Webstock” people in online forums and Twitter had anointed it, was realized. It also helped that those guys have a great chemistry together and were all hilarious. Another cool panel was the first one of the day, “Print vs. Web vs. A Bear” which discussed the panelists’ (Chris Hastings with cone-wearing dog, Jon Rosenberg, and Steven Cloud) experiences with print, either as syndicated in newspapers or book deals and how those experiences differed on the web and yes, on bears. It was a good talk and I really enjoyed seeing Chris speak, as he was particularly witty and funny. Great start to the day. Another good panel was “Designing Memorable Webcomics T-Shirts,” which was entertaining for the banter and stories between the artists, R. Stevens (Diesel Sweeties), Jeph Jacques (Questionable Content), Chris Hastings (The Adventures of Dr. McNinja), and Ryan North (Dinosaur Comics). Really made me think about doing shirts outside of the “JEFbot” branding.

 The most surreal yet most exhilarating part of the trip for me was when someone would come up and say how much they read and enjoyed my strip. This happened several times throughout the weekend, and not in a vague, “I’ve heard of it” sort of way, but in a, “My favorite character is…” and “My favorite storyline is…” Very, very trippy and was an astounding surprise that kept a smile on my face throughout the event. I’d always try to have a conversation with these people and would give them a JEFbot pin or a sketch in their sketchbooks or on the sketchcards I had brought. Awesome. A couple of the most interesting: a sketchbook of ankylosaur-only sketches and another whose theme was “two jewish cats in a house.” I wasn’t terribly happy with my sketches throughout the day, but it’s something that I’ll get better at through practice and as I start doing conventions once my book comes out.

As the first day of the event came to a close, I made my way to the tables and talked to a bunch of creators, including Paul Southworth of Ugly Hill, David Willis of Shortpacked! and Lar of LICD. Also got to talk a bit with the amazingly talented Danielle Corsetto, who sketched a little Jamie (my favorite character from the strip) in my Girls With Slingshots Volume 2 book. I then wandered over to the Halfpixel table and bought Volume 2 of Starslip Crisis from Kris Straub, who is really just one of the coolest, funniest guys in webcomics. My mind was blown when he knew not only of the JEFbot strip, but me, and said, “I’ve seen your strip – you’re the actor, right?” I also talked to Dave Kellett a bit, and told him how I wrote to him back when I was first starting JEFbot (I think I had like, three strips in my archive) and he had written me back with some constructive criticism and encouragement for my strip. Such a nice, genuine guy. I’d have bought something from him but I already have signed editions of his Sheldon books.

the dirty truth tapsBy this time, I was completely exhausted, and made my way out of Eastworks as they were shutting the doors. I drove back to my hotel thinking of two things: food and sleep. Well, and how truly amazing the day had been. As I was digging the day’s loot out of my trunk, I heard someone call, “JEFbot!” from across the hotel’s parking lot. It was Zeke, a cool guy I had met and done a sketch for at the con, and a couple of his friends. Zeke invited me to play some Wii, and as exhausted as I was, it’s really not in my nature to say “no” to videogames, especially with cool webcomics readers. Anyway, it wasn’t to be, as they were as exhausted as I was and never got the Wii jam going. Which was fine, since I was content to just pass out on my bed. Until, of course, Lindsay, who I had met the night before, called to tell me she was going out drinking at The Tunnel with a couple of friends. So, after a 15 minute nap and a splash of water on my face, I drove over to The Tunnel and had a rum and coke with her, Steven and a couple of their friends. The Tunnel’s a weird place – it’s a bar built into an actual stone tunnel with branching paths, so the atmosphere is really cool and almost WWII bunker-like, but kind of claustrophic and alarming if I thought about it too much. Anyway, after last call, we all lumbered back to The Dirty Truth from the night before, where I had a Godfather beer (pretty good) and a Jack London ale (very good) before they closed.

It was a great day. I didn’t learn a whole lot from the seminars, but seeing all the different ways the webcomic writers and artists on the panels carried themselves and interacted with their fans was a huge lesson in itself. And meeting JEFbot fans face-to-face and doing sketches on-the-spot was an amazing learning experience, too. I understood the webcomics community – creators and fans – a lot more after experiencing this day, and it showed me where I need to go with JEFbot in the future.

It’s going to be a long, long journey.

Webcomics Weekend, Day 3, will be posted soon, where I wrap my experiences with this whole shindig up!