Dragon*Con 2014 – Part 3: Final Thoughts

I have to just state right up front. I had a blast at DragonCon. More so than any convention in recent memory and FAR more fun than I had at Wizard World this summer (a decision that I’ll always regret making over HeroesCon and a mistake I won’t make again). I had such a great time this year, that without hesitation I purchased my next year tickets the moment they were announced and booked two nights in the W (a decision I’ll explain further down) for Friday and Saturday night of NEXT year’s DragonCon.

First off, this was my first Dragon*Con. I had avoided going to the past couple of years because frankly I wasn’t convinced that Dragon*Con was my bag. If you take even a cursory look at the program it’s obviously not a comic book convention, my normal summer haunts. It’s billed as a “Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention” and there are a fair number of comic book related sessions, but it’s by no means a “Comic-Con” so you go in with the understanding that you’re a fraction of the audience, and so my expectations were that I would probably enjoy a proportional amount of the activity.

Boy was I wrong.

The sessions, the crowds, the Cosplayers, the Parade, the location, the activities, the people… it’s simply the best experience I’ve had at a convention in probably a decade. Comic-Con in Dallas, Wizard World… the only convention I think that even comes remotely close is HeroesCon in Charlotte, but that’s exclusively a Comic Book Convention so I think it’s an apples to oranges comparison. The truth is, I’m not sure there really IS anything that compares to Dragon*Con. It really is pure fandom. Much more pure and sincere in its execution than ComicCon in San Diego which is just a clusterfuck of Hollywood douchery and overcrowding. I have zero desire to attend ComicCon, but don’t take my word for it. Take a few minutes and see what Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics, one of the founders and original attendees who’s been to every one, had to say about this year’s convention. He wrote about it here, here, and here. It just sounds like a horrible experience.

But I had a blast. I mean, it was hands down one of the highlights of 2014 and was such a marvelous time that on Tuesday, when tickets went on sale, I snapped up 3 tickets for next year without so much as a moment of hesitation. I tried to get us into the host hotels for next year as well, but those hotel rooms sold out within minutes. I’ve never seen anything like it. Fortunately I was able to use my Starwood Preferred membership and snag a room at the W just before it sold out and it’s not even a host hotel!

If you like/appreciate/are a fan of Comics, Fantasy, Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Science Fiction, Comic Book movies, Tolkien, Ghostbusters, Horror, Zombies, and/or video games, and either live in the SouthEast, or have an interest in visiting Atlanta, then you owe it to yourself to attend. I promise, you won’t regret it.

See you next year!

Dragon*Con 2014 – Part 2: Collecting Sketches

For some time now, I’ve been using my time at Conventions to collect sketches from my favorite creative professionals. This has proven to be an immensely rewarding experience and I’m proud of the book I’ve been able to put together in just a year. This year’s DragonCon featured Tim Sale, George Perez, Dave Bullock, Dave Johnson, Mark Bagley, and numerous other comic artists, animators, and illustrators. I mean, we’re talking Bob Camp, legendary co-founder of Spumco Animation Studio and co-creator of Ren & Stimpy! How often do you think you get the chance to have an opportunity to engage these guys? So I spend a lot of my time at conventions collecting sketches. In fact, I basically plan my whole convention around collecting as many sketches as I can. They’re one-of-a-kind mementos of my appreciation and fandom, and taken collectively represent my love of sequential art. I use a bound, 8 1/2″ X 11″ Stillman & Birn Alpha Series Sketchbook. A terrific book with excellent paper. It takes ink very well and provides a great surface for sketches.

This year, I was lucky enough to start right off with a bang when I walked into Artists Alley and walked right past George Perez, who had a relatively small line. I jumped right into line and and asked George to sketch one of my all time favorite Perez superheroes, Firestorm the Nuclear Man. He was gracious and spent time chatting while sketching. I particularly love the use of the silver/gray sharpie for Dr. Stein. Classic stuff.

The most sought-after artists, of course, was Tim Sale. Without a doubt, one of my favorite comic artists, and high on the list of “most desirable” sketch. Tim has a method for getting sketches that requires a little effort. He has what are called “Fast Passes” that he holds starting first thing in the morning. You get there early enough, before the spots are filled up, and you can get 20 minutes of Tim’s time. His prices vary for what you want, but it’s worth the effort, as you can see below with his amazing “Daredevil Yellow” that I had commissioned. He also opens up the first and last hour of the day for quickies, and as you can see below, I was able to get him to draw me a quick Joker sketch as well. Two of my most prized sketches so far.

Below are the latest entries in my collection. Click on the first photo and use the arrow keys to navigate. Click again on the image to close.

Dragon*Con 2014 – Part 1: The Costumes

Well, of course the my FIRST post about Dragon*Con (don’t worry, there will be a couple more, I promise!) has to be about the Costumes. It’s well known that of ALL the conventions during the summer, that Dragon*Con in particular is perhaps the most well known among Cosplayers. It’s one of the main attractions of the convention, and the layout of Dragon*Con with it being spread between several inter-connected hotels and hotel lobbbies is the perfect environment to see and be seen. The below gallery of 66 images was taken by myself over the course of just two and a half days of convention. I arrived early Friday afternoon and left Sunday evening. In between, I stopped whoever looked particularly good and space (and traffic!) permitted. Always ask politely to take a picture and ALWAYS move the subject out of the main flow of traffic. If you can do these two things, you’ll score a nice treasure trove of photos of some really talented CosPlayers.

Enjoy the slideshow! Click the first image, then just use your arrow or click left or right to view the photos:

The Daddy Daughter Podcast!

Since I moved to Atlanta, I’ve been faced with a challenging new reality: the morning and afternoon commute. Make no mistake, it ain’t particularly fun. Well, let me back up. It *wasn’t* particularly fun. When I first began my morning ritual a couple of years ago, it was quite a shock going from a 10 minute drive along the ocean into work every morning to the soul-crushing shuttle back and forth between Buckhead and the suburbs of East Cobb. However, I quickly discovered that the 30-45 minutes every morning and afternoon that I spent in quiet contemplation could be augmented by listening to audio books (a favorite of mine) and something that I hadn’t really spent a great deal of time with prior to moving to Atlanta and that’s podcasts. Don’t get me wrong, I was WELL aware that geek culture thrived within the podcasting community but I had just never literally had the time to sit down and listen to 30-45 minutes of talk in one sitting. Well… until now that is.

So I quickly dove in and began devouring podcasts. Of course the first ones on my radar were the Smodcast and Nerdist properties and I quickly realized why I had been a lifelong Kevin Smith fan. I love his particular brand of humor, and I had LONG been a fan of his speaking engagements and his legendary storytelling skills (If you haven’t heard the story of “Superman and the Giant Spider” then I would suggest that you stop what you’re doing right now and go give it a listen) and it was great to hear that enthusiasm and raw energy carried over into his podcasting endeavors.

The thing that stood out though (and one of the reasons why Kevin’s such a great guy) is how sincere he is, and continues to be, about his roots and about how easy creativity is from his view. He’s always been a scrappy creative, legendarily self-funding his first creative effort, 1994’s “Clerks” and his podcasting was no different. He regularly encourages his audience to get out there and try it too by reinforcing the notion that he’s no different from anyone else, he’s just got something to say and all he needs is a platform and a microphone and he’ll tell you what he thinks. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?

I certainly was. I eventually realized that I had been bitten by the bug. I wanted to try podcasting too.

Of COURSE, I immediately began thinking of what my comic book podcast would be about. After all, what else was I going to talk about? I love comics, I can talk about comics until the cows come home, and let’s be honest, there’s not THAT many compelling podcasts about comics (trust me on this one, I’ve listened to them all). Simultaneously, at work, we had begun talking about content creation and I had naturally advocated for podcasting, and so we purchased a sort of “starter kit” of podcasting equipment: a mixer, a couple of microphones, etc. and were off to the races. Of course, like any well-meaning internal effort, it didn’t get the immediate traction I had hoped, but I still wanted to pursue it, so I grabbed all the equipment and put it in my car to take to the house to play around with.

That was when my daughter saw it.

“What’s that?”, she asked. Being an 8-year old girl who immerses herself in play that revolves around singing and being a “rock star” and “starting a band”, she was immediately drawn to the microphones. When I explained what they were for, and what a podcast was, she didn’t waste a minute. “Can we podcast?”. It was like being struck by lightening. “Of course we can! That’s a great idea!”.

The Daddy Daughter Podcast was born.

After a couple of starts and stops where we had to get past the notion that you just sit down and spit out a podcast, we were becoming comfortable with the hardware and software. I spent an hour or so on Lynda.com getting an overview of Garage Band, read a couple of websites about producing podcasts, and felt like I had at least an understanding of the hardest part of the process (producing an XML feed? Cake. Syndication? Easy as pie. Engineering sound? Not so much…) and so we finally sat down to record. That first day we recorded 20 minutes of conversation and when we were done we both realized that we were hooked. We were podcasters.

The idea behind the podcast was deceptively simple. A dad and his 8-year old daughter were gonna just sit down and have a conversation. But when the conversation happened, something magical happened. We connected. We didn’t just talk to one another, we had a conversation. She talked. I listened. I talked. She listened. We shared ideas and laughed. I knew immediately I had lightning in a bottle and I wasn’t about to let it out.

The more I thought about that conversation and the potential for future conversations, the more I realized the potential of the idea. Working in advertising, I’m keenly aware of the value of insights. Understanding what motivates people and what are their likes, dislikes and passion points is the currency of my business. Outside of a focus group, where were you going to get raw, unfiltered opinions from that group? I began to wonder, what was her insight into her peer group? What could she see through? What were her thoughts about the things that she’s constantly being bombarded with at her age? Toys? Games? Books? Movies? How did these things flow through her life? I found myself becoming genuinely curious about my daughter and her world, and I was blown away beyond words at how articulate she could express those thoughts. I was stunned. I had little woman who had opinions and ideas and she was sharing them… with me.

After that first podcast, I realized this was much bigger than my plans to play around and tinker with how I was going to use *my* platform to air *my* voice. I had empowered my daughter. I had given HER a platform… and I was never going to give that up.

So give it a listen. Subscribe. We’re available on iTunes and Stitcher, as well as Soundcloud (latest episode embedded below), where the podcasts are hosted. We’re going to shoot for an episode a week and in a couple of weeks we’ll look at doing a live podcast from Dragon Con.

In the meantime, take a few minutes and listen to what it sounds like when you give an 8-year old girl a microphone and let her tell you what she thinks.

Lego Kidsfest Atlanta 2014

This past weekend, Sunday afternoon, I attended Lego Kidsfest Atlanta. It’s kinda like a Comic-Con for Legos. My daughters absolutely LOVE the Lego Friends stuff (as well as the Princess DUPLO sets) and so, naturally, they had to twist my arm to get me to attend. I’m a big fan of Mindstorms and Technics kits, so I had my own reasons for wanting to attend when I saw that there would be robotics demonstrations as well as Star Wars and Technics play areas.

The Lego Kidsfest people (brilliantly) realized that the whole room has about a 4-hour life-span. Not for the kids, of course, but for the parents attending. So they broke the three day (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) event down into “sessions” with one session on friday, and two sessions each on saturday and sunday. We attended session 2 on sunday from 3:30 to 7 and I really didn’t even get a sense that it was “the last day of the show”. The people working the event seemed just as enthusiastic as if it were Friday and the event just started.

As we wandered the event and played at various pit-stops, I found myself wondering things like, “does Lego put this on?” and, “where did all of these Legos come from?”. It’s an interesting event. It’s not really like a comic-con in that there were no “dealers” there or “booths” set up. But it also didn’t appear as if it was an official “Lego” event. It says on the website that it’s put on by LIFE Marketing & Events (yes, the LIFE is all caps… I don’t know why either, and I agree, it looks weird), and when you visit their page, it’s just a single page with rotating testimonials… so it seems to me that somebody somewhere had the great idea of selling kids $30 tickets to something that lasts 4 hours and figured out how to find the right brand to appeal to kids and draw ‘em in like Mongol Hordes. Kudos to them! For a minimal investment in toys (how much could bulk legos cost anyway?) and a spot at several high profile city event centers, you can tour the country, play with legos, and print money. Sounds like someone found their dream job…

At the end of the day, I was delighted, kids were over the moon, the people putting it on sold a boatload of tickets, and everybody walked away tired, but happy. Couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a lazy, hot Sunday.

Enjoy the Gallery. Click on the image to close:

The First Annual Southern Fried Gameroom Expo 2014

Oh my gosh. Where to begin? This past weekend I attended the First Annual Southern Fried Gameroom Expo at the Marriott Century Center.

It. Was. Amazing.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever attended anything so awesome in recent memory. They had completely taken over the Marriott, and when I say, “completely taken over”, I mean “COMPLETELY TAKEN OVER”. I’ve been to that Marriott at least half a dozen times in the last couple of years for the quarterly single-day Atlanta Comic Book Convention (which is a great convention, by the way!) and it’s not even remotely been this packed. They had every ballroom in the place and every conference room open to convention-goers and packed with Pinball, Coin-op Arcade Video Games, Home Video consoles, retro/oldschool game systems, as well as various vendors stationed throughout the expo. It was great. Even if you walked up to the door, day of the show, it was only $20 admission for unlimited gaming, all the expo events, movie screenings, panels, and tournaments. Advance tickets were actually half that much! Note to self, when that thing comes around next year, make sure and buy advanced three day tickets.

I got there a little early on Saturday to participate in the Swap Meet. I’ve been dying to find an arcade cabinet for a while for a MAME project, and I got some business cards and talked to some people who can definitely help me when the time’s right. I am SO going to build a MAME cabinet with an oldschool controller setup. I saw some great examples of them there, and I think the cabinet might very well wind up being the most expensive part of the project. I also spent some time in the vintage home video system room playing Atari, Virtualboy, Intellivision, and my favorite vintage home video system of all time: Coleco Vision. What a great system.

Enjoy the photo gallery. I tried to upload some of the best pics I snapped while I was there. It was a fun time. If you heard about it this year and for some reason didn’t get to make it, by all means, don’t make that mistake next year. Here’s looking forward to the second annual one in 2015!

Click the images to enlarge, click the image again to close/exit:

Speaking on UX and Creative Technology at Digital Summit Atlanta 2014

digitalsummit Atlanta 2014

Speaking on UX and Creative Technology at “digitalsummit Atlanta 2014″.

This week I participated in a workshop at Digital Summit Atlanta 2014 with our Lead UX Designer on the intersection of User Experience and Creative Technology. We were thrown together in a bit of a last minute way, and immediately had this terrific idea that sprang from a conversation we were having about how many ways Creative Technology and User Experience can work together throughout a project and how impactful that working relationship can be. Chris Downs, our lead UX guy and I worked together on the United States Marine Corps YouTube Brand Channel, which was a really successful project and was really our first time working together, so we both tended to look back on it fondly, and could easily fill 50 minutes talking about all the ways User Experience and Creative Technology can work together to deliver amazing results. So the resulting presentation and session was terrific, I really enjoyed it and had a great time presenting with Chris.

We broke the relationship between user experience and innovative uses of creative technology by presenting the idea within the context of best in class examples of technology and innovation that are largely driven by the successful relationship between CT and UX. We chose Flip, Nest, Nike Fuelband, Evernote, Gmail, and Amazon. In each case we began by looking at the challenge(s) they faced, how UX & CT could work together to solve the issue, and what those processes could look like. We discussed examples of card sorting, customer experience audits, working scenarios, etc. I had a blast putting it together and enjoyed tremendously the opportunity to present it at Digital Summit Atlanta. The crowd was terrific, asked great questions, and several people came up afterward for extended conversations.

The presentation was so well received that we’re repurposing it for an internal audience and plan on giving it at an upcoming “What’s Hot” presentation on Monday mornings.

Pennzoil Mario Karting Reimagined

One of the greatest things you can do as a Creative Technology force within an agency is to be able to help shape a new experience. Something nobody has done before, or attempted to do maybe on a nice scale. The opportunity to marry technology know-how with strategic, creative excellence is what you live for.

Pennzoil wanted to launch a new product and gain the attention of younger, more technically savvy audience with a new take on Motor Oil. It’s Motor Oil Reimagined, and what better way to reimagine a product launch than to take a decades old brand and place them squarely in the middle of the most innovative place on earth, SXSW. Not only that, but tell the story of their new Synthetic Motor Oil, born from gas and developed using all new technology… all the while being relevant and exciting.

The answer of course, is Mario Karting… reimagined!

The fun part for me was being a part of a great spontaneous conversation that could easily be walked from brilliant idea, to technically feasible, to fully fleshed out project that was able to be sold and put together in the most inspirationally tight timeline possible. I was able to create a technical roadmap, identify & vet technologies, and work with several different teams to help put together a solution that was an amazing experience for all involved. All this in addition to leading the team that provided a fantastic job of supporting the launch and Mario Kart experience with a tightly integrated, multi-platform, responsive website that successfully leveraged the look and feel of both Pennzoil Platinum and Nintendo’s Mario Kart 8 while living inside the current Pennzoil design. Once again, my team crushed it and I couldn’t be happier.

Welcome to SXSW!

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For the second year in a row, I’m back in Austin attending SXSW. Below are some thoughts. I attended some cool stuff, saw some cool things, met cool people, had a lot of cool encounters and even cooler conversations.

First day in Austin. Landed this morning, straight to the Palmer Center to work on the Mario Kart experience we’ve been putting together since late last year. It’s nice to see all the hard work and big ideas come to life. It’s the most rewarding part of the job, by far. Make sure you check out the accompanying website that my team in Dallas put together. I’m really proud of the work they did.

 

WPP Maestro Executive Leadership Experience

A few weeks ago, I attended WPP’s Executive Leadership course, “Maestro”. I was selected to attend Maestro late last year by the JWT Leadership Committee, made up of our COO, CCO, CFO, and our Head of Talent (that’s a lot of C’s!). I was proud to be selected and looking forward to the opportunity to grow as a leader within both the company, and the network. The experience took place in Norwalk, Connecticut at a retreat nestled back in the woods of Fairfield County in the southern part of the state down by New York City. It’s one of the last stops out of Penn Station and beautiful place. I hadn’t visited the area before so it was a treat.

I don’t wanna bore with all the sordid details of what went on, but I can confirm that there were no secret handshakes or mystic rituals. We spent several days working in small groups on different scenarios, each designed to move us further down the path to becoming a valuable contributor to the process of bringing agency value and trust to the forefront. Here’s a pretty apt description of the experience:

Maestro aims to strengthen the ability of WPP’s best client practitioners to be trusted senior advisors and partners in innovation who are able to build and lead increasingly large, complex relationships. The program enhances problem-solving, fact-based decision making, relationship and people/team leadership skills.

The team they’ve assembled is World Class and the process you go through is transformative. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to identify precisely the moment when you feel as though, “this is it, this is something special” and this was definitely one of those times. I’m certain everyone in the program was of sufficient caliber, but I felt like fate had put me in the presence of some of the nicest, smartest, sharpest people I’ve ever been privileged enough to work with. I met, and partnered with, some truly rock-star network advertising talent.

I’ve participated in leadership training before, most notably the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Leadership Grand Strand” Program. This was similar in content but much more focused and direct in practice. Maestro’s sole focus is on increasing value in the client relationship by demonstrating your ability to build trust and partner. As a person who is increasingly working directly with clients (and accounts!) through more visible efforts on larger projects, I’ve got a responsibility to ensure I’m successfully building that trust and strengthening that relationship and this was the perfect “boot camp” to get it done.

I don’t mean to imply that it was confrontational in its approach, but that it was an honest, professional, at times tough, process. Working through confrontation, managing expectations, establishing rapport, and being empathetic are just facts of life and the sooner you can learn to harness that, the more you’re bringing to the table. I appreciate tremendously the opportunity to get into and explore that headspace.

I could go on and on about how much personal growth you can cram into a week, but suffice to say, I can’t think of a time when I’ve been so personally and professionally challenged to push myself in new (and sometimes uncomfortable) ways. But man, do you come out the other side a better person…

Just like my experience with Leadership Grand Strand, the people I met and became friends with are going to wind up being lifelong friends. We’ve already got a standing Skype meeting every month to catch up and I find myself keenly into what all my fellow Maestros are up to.

Here it is the beginning of February and I’ve already had an experience that I think is going to be difficult to top!