24 May 2013

C2E2: Meeting the Statons

Two years ago, for whatever reason, I found myself perusing the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America's web store. I'm not one of those patients who feels the need to "brand" himself with ribbon-logoed apparel and to be entirely honest, I'm not all that big on the CCFA in general but that's immaterial to this post. The pertinent part is that they had produced Pete Learns All About Crohn's and Colitis, a comic book to explain the basics of diagnosis to younger patients.

Let me repeat: There was a Crohn's comic book.

I had to have it. The sheer novelty alone made it interesting. As a lifelong comic book reader and as a Crohnie, it was simply too perfect. Better still: The CCFA offered copies of the comic entirely free of charge. I ordered a bundle of ten, not really sure what I would do with nine extraneous copies but I figured along the way I'd find a use for them. I gave one to a comic book collecting friend of mine for his collection. Another friend thought it was so great that such a comic existed that I gave him one of them.

Somehow or other, I had occasion to reference Pete Learns All About Crohn's and Colitis in a comment on one of Ty Templeton's blog posts. I had managed to overlook the tiny writing and art credits, which were tucked away with the rest of the issue's small fine print on the inside cover. Mr. Templeton instantly identified it as the work of his pal Joe Staton, and hazarded a guess that its writer would be Mrs. Staton. Sure enough, on the PDF version available from the CCFA, I actually did spy said credits which had been in my print editions all along. Because I'm observant like that.

Earlier this year, I began to cobble together a handful of specific comic books I wanted to take to C2E2 on the hopes of getting them signed. Unlike the eBay sellers and truly obsessed fans, I generally restrict myself to one item per signor. I only take my personal favorite issues, rather than take along a lot of comics just because I could. Besides, I never know how cooperative my health will be and having a small group of comics is simply more practical.

In case you haven't already guessed, Mr. and Mrs. Staton were both on hand this year at C2E2. I very briefly flirted with taking Legends of the Dark Knight #66, the first of the four-part "Going Sane" which Mr. Staton had illustrated but, no. There was really only one choice to be made, and for the first time, I would violate my self-imposed, "Don't be The Guy Who Stands at a Table with Several Comics" rule. I've relied heavily on my online Crohn's support group the last several years, and I have become very close with a few of them to the point that we share very personal things with one another that have nothing to do with Crohn's. None of the three collect or read comic books, but so what?

I figured that the Statons didn't get a lot of requests to sign Pete, so I had been looking forward to their reaction. Every now and again, they told me, someone will show up with that book but by and large, yeah, it's fairly obscure. We chatted for nearly half an hour, with me sharing with them all that I've already recounted here (except, far more enthusiastically than it reads in text, I'm sure!).

They explained that one of their friends is a gastroenterologist who does some work with the CCFA in Boston, and that he had invited them to some dinner function. There, the idea of a comic book directed at young Crohnies took form. The Statons visited one of the summer camps that the CCFA organizes each year as a Crohn's-mindful alternative for younger patients. There, they developed a feel for how younger Crohnies perceived and discussed their diagnosis.

The comic book is simplistic, and the cynic in me might even call it "naive", a point that I did make to the Statons, but I also understood that its purpose was not to scare young patients. They'll find out what their personal experiences with Crohn's may or may not be on their own, but Pete is a starting point for getting a sense that life with Crohn's is different from life without Crohn's. There's a persistent optimism that may ring a little false so some of us older patients, but again, it's worth remembering that we weren't the target readers. I did discuss these concerns with the Statons, who patiently let me express my thoughts before affirming that yes, it was written to avoid presenting Crohn's as a life-destroying bogeyman.

After discussing the issue at length and so enthusiastically, they inscribed copies to myself and to three of my closest Crohnie friends. I'm sure several others will be upset with me that I didn't think of them, and I don't mean for it to be a slight of any kind. There were just only so many books and I didn't want to be That Guy, remember?

This year at C2E2, most tables in Artist Alley collected donations for The Hero Initiative, asking for cash for the charity in exchange for signing comics. The Hero Initiative works to help comic book creators hit hard by medical bills and other such financial difficulties, since most of the industry's pioneers were paid peanuts at the time they created the iconic characters that have since become multi-billion dollar properties. The old-timers were left out in the cold, until the late 1970s when prominent writers and artists like Neal Adams began to rail that the industry - particularly the two conglomerates who had reaped the benefits, DC Comics and Marvel Comics - owed them better. I tossed a fiver into the collection container at the Statons's table.

Mrs. Staton then insisted before I left their table upon getting a photo with me. We made sure to include a copy of Pete in the photo.

I passed their table a few times throughout the show, chatting briefly. They asked how I was doing each time they saw me, which was very thoughtful. I felt miserable through most of the weekend, in truth, but I admit that I found their inquiries sweet and that made me smile. I realized on Sunday that I had made one serious oversight, though. I should have brought one more comic to be inscribed to my doctor. I was only even at C2E2 because she insisted that I go, and she's done a solid job taking care of me the last few years. Mrs. Staton checked, but they hadn't brought any copies of Pete with them.

She then took my home address and they mailed me a copy, signed by the two of them to my doctor. It arrived about a week after the convention.

C2E2 2013 was the sixth comic book convention I've attended over the years. Despite my health issues and one of my two scheduled interviews falling apart, I had several really great moments at this year's show...but meeting Hilarie and Joe Staton, and finding out just how truly sweet and warm they are, was my favorite.

You can download Pete Learns All About Crohn's and Colitis from the CCFA here.

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