I hope he learned something.
With our appearance at A-KON recently completed, Garth going to HeroesCon this weekend, and ConnectiCon just about one month away, I have conventions on the brain. That said, I want to share an experience I had a few years ago at Oni-Con, a very friendly show in Texas. It’s one of my more memorable tales from the convention circuit.
The summer of that year I had just gone through a major breakup with my girlfriend of nearly four years. I had moved to Texas to be with her, but things did not work out and I moved back home with my parents for a few months. Depression set in and I was a mess. Around that same time, a blogger wrote a cartoonishly awful, lengthy, and hateful review of my work, going so far as to assume it was the reason my girlfriend left me (it was a mutual breakup), claiming I was a terrible human being, and wishing me a lonely, painful death because the world would be better off without me. In hindsight, that level of hatred over a webcomic is comical and petty, but I was in a bad place at the time, so it cut me pretty deeply.
Fast-forward a few months to my upcoming appearance at Oni-Con. I was looking forward to it, as it was filled with friends I’d made during my time in Texas. The trip did not go well. Thanks to the now-out-of-business Northwest airlines, I missed my connecting flight to Houston and was stranded in Detroit for seventeen hours. No help, no hotel room, no nothing. I slept in the airport. My rescheduled flights kept getting delayed. I was going to miss most of the first day of Oni-Con, and I was miserable. They upgraded me to first class, and for the first (and hopefully only) time in my life, I had scotch for breakfast.
I arrived at Oni-Con going on very little sleep and airline food (plus some scotch) in my stomach. I was fatigued and stressed, but ready to greet my friends and meet new readers with a genuine smile. One of the very first attendees to speak to me leaned over my table, looked me right in the eyes, and said, “I read that blog about you, and I agree with every single thing that was written about you.”
This guy was looking for a fight. He was looking for an epic argument. He was looking for me to show my true colors as an awful human being. At least that’s what I assume he was after, because rather than a drive-by “you suck” where he said a nasty thing and kept moving, he stayed right there waiting for my response. I can only speculate on what he thought I was going to say, but I can claim with confidence that he was not expecting the answer I gave him.
I want to say I was a class-act and calmly explained to him why that blog was so wrong and hateful, but after being stranded for seventeen hours, missing most of a day of business, and overcome with stress, fatigue, and some lingering depression from my summer (not to mention breakfast scotch), it was anything but that. What he got was me almost breaking down into tears, my voice cracking and crumbling, as I said, “O-oh my god, that was one of t-the meanest things ever written about me. I can’t believe you think I… I mean, I’m s-sorry you don’t l-like my work, b-but I… I…” and I just couldn’t finish the sentence.
I’m never going to forget the look in his eyes. It was a dawning realization that he actually hurt my feelings. He was clearly taken aback by my reaction. The confrontational confidence with which he approached me had vanished. He awkwardly nodded, mumbled a “well, yeah” and moved on.
When I related the story to my friends a few moments later, they vowed to use their staff connections to get him thrown out of the show. I told them not to bother, though I appreciated the show of solidarity.
I don’t know whatever happened to that guy. I didn’t see him for the rest of the weekend. He may have only been temporarily affected by my honest, hurt reaction. For all I know he went to his buddies, either online or in-person, and bragged that he almost made me cry. I don’t know. I’ll likely never know. But I do know he was caught off-guard by what he did to me, and in my heart I like to imagine that he was genuinely changed by it. That he realized people who put their creations online are not targets worthy of assault, but fellow human beings with feelings who can be deeply affected by hurtful words. That was genuinely sorry for what he said. At the very least, I hope he went from making insults to offering constructive criticism.
I can hope.