The Curse of Mere Mortals Meeting the Gods of the Earth…

Every November I go to the Thought Bubble festival in Leeds. It’s the UK’s prime comics convention and it’s getting bigger – both in terms of scale and prestige – every year. In total it’s a great big geekout where all the cool kids from across the realm come together to enthusiastically celebrate pop culture, hawk their wares, buy other people’s creations, get stuff signed by stars and cosplay. Thought Bubble – because of its excited atmosphere and mix of major industry and indie artistry – is ultimately a fun experience. At least it’s a great experience if you embrace it openly and resign yourself to the fact that you’re guaranteed to fritter away lots of money and embarrass yourself in front of hip personalities. (The humiliation is the key theme of this post as you will find below.)

Yesterday I followed a link to the latest update from the TB team on the latest additions to this autumn’s stellar guest list. Whoa. ‘Twas good (is good), friends. They’re gathering some great artists and writers and, even as someone who hasn’t been fully on the pulse and deeply immersed in the comics world recently, I was excited. And then I saw one name and had a tremendous geekout moment. I’d say it was a “squee” moment except I don’t “squee” ’cause squee sounds twee to me and, actually, kind of unpleasant. I have “geekouts” – geeky freakouts – and they don’t involve squeaking or bodily fluids (“squee” feels like it should have those). If you wish to see what my geeking out looks like, feel free to get in touch and we’ll make arrangements. (Geekout moments are a daily occurrence. I’m easily impressed and emotionally shallow.)

Regardless, I saw that Matt Fraction – a man I am in awe of – on the guest list and exclaimed aloud. That was the geekout moment. The person I rate as one of the most fantastic minds in the entertainment industry and the writer of some of my favourite graphic works (Casanova and The Immortal Iron Fist) will be at Leeds. The sad thing though is that my first thought after the geekout was “Well James, you’re not going to Thought Bubble this year“.

My internal monologue, apparently, doesn’t want me to do nice things or have nice experiences like meeting my idols. This is tremendously upsetting. It’s sad to get a reminder that deep down within you there’s a cruel killjoy that wants to crank up doubt and denial. Why can’t I go to Thought Bubble? Because I can’t risk being in close proximity to someone I consider to be one of the coolest chaps on the planet because I will lose my shit – that’s the official technical term – and embarrass myself. It’ll be hideous and I will have to do ten years dungeon. You are not worthy. Avoid.

I’ve got form a history of cringeworthy social encounters with high-calibre creative personalities across a range of fields. I’ve done some uncomfortable interviews with rock bands for radio. At last year’s Thought Bubble I got starstruck when confronted with Jason Aaron’s beard and could only manage an awkward “The Other Side really moved me!” (which was an abridged version of what I wanted to tell him about how it was milestone book in my life as a comic reader). Most heinous of all was the time I went to a Neil Gaiman book reading, grabbed a copy of his new novel (The Graveyard Book) and stood in line to get it signed. What do you say to Neil Gaiman – the man responsible for Sandman comics, Neverwhere, American Gods and so much more? I said: “Thanks Neil,” then turned and nodded towards the masses and masses of people behind me all waiting for a signature and brief chat with the contemporary literary legend. “Enjoy the queue“. Arsehole. You told Neil Gaiman to enjoy his queue. Good grief.

It’s the shame of star encounters like these that fuels the immediate knee jerk response of “Thou shalt not go before the living gods! Thou art unclean and pathetic!” It’s tragic. For a start it conveniently ignores all the times I’ve met ‘famous’ folk and everything and everyone has been cool. Even more unnerving is confronting that inner critic who’s all caught up on self-loathing and disgust – a NegaJames of nasty fear. NegaJames is a bitch. Everyone’s Nega-persona is a bitch. In your inner mind, dropkick that cruel bitch tormentor and take great cathartic pleasure in the pre-dropkick beating you deliver to its Nega-body.

Last night I dreamed I was walking around an empty convention centre decked out in Star Trek memorabilia (I fell asleep reading the J.J. Abrams issue of Empire magazine which probably explains the Trek-stylings). I was all alone just wandering up and down the aisles repeating “How do I approach this? How do I approach this?” over and over. A swift inexpert analysis of this dream suggests that, yes, anxiety about embarrassing myself at an event in the autumn has irked me and is playing upon my mind.

I take several things from this silly episode and one is “be wary when you browse the internet at night before going to sleep”. The other is this: self-doubt and shame are damn, erm, shameful. If you worry about being beholden to people – now matter how awesome, awe-inspiring and exalted they are – and approach life through I mindset of I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy! I’m scum!” you will only end up loathing yourself even more, sabotaging cool things and crushing what little self-respect and self-esteem you have.

In conclusion, I’m okay and am laughing at Past James that told Neil Gaiman to enjoy his queue. I’m also laughing at the hole in the wall through which I just dropkicked NegaJames. I’m also laughing at the prospect that I might be going to Leeds this November to shake hands with a comic book writer who I think is appallingly brilliant. I may even have a gushy fanboy geekout and start getting all excitable in front of high class comics creators and cosplayers but, hey, if that happens so be it. We’re all just people – awkward idiots who are a whole hot mess of emotions, neuroses, insecurities and bodily fluids. The gods are the same. Forget humiliation, hold on to that heartwarming truth and let’s be sociable and geekout without doubt…

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