ComicCon 2004 Wrap-Up July 22-25, 2004
posted at Dragonmount.com
My weekend at ComicCon with Robert Jordan
It all started with that NEW SPRING comic book that's coming out. The Dabel Brothers, a comic book production company that's run by (you guessed it) the Dabel Brothers themselves, had invited Robert Jordan to ComicCon 2004 to help promote their upcoming release of the NEW SPRING graphic novel set. They've been wheel'n and deal'n with DM for a while now, and so I had asked if I could help with their booth at the convention. They were happy to have me, and so I soon found myself planning the trip down to San Diego, CA. (I live just outside of San Francisco, about a 7 hour drive to the north).
THURSDAY 22 July 2004
The convention started on a Wednesday, I think. I arrived that day but did not go to the convention center. I got into town and crashed at my Aunt and Uncle's house. The next morning I went there and met the Dabel Brothers. It turns out that we were to share a booth with Spooklight Productions, an independent film company from Arkansas. They're a great group of guys, and I suggest you check out their film, "FLIP".
Anyway, Robert Jordan was supposed to do a book signing that day around 5 PM. The signing ended up being later than expected though. About 6 PM, one of the Dabel Bros picked Robert and Harriet up from where they were staying and brought them to the convention center. I met them at the curb along with Bob Kluttz (from Encyclopedia WoT) and Nicole Dubuc (a long-time DM member). The three of us escorted RJ and Harriet up to his first panel discussion ("Kicking Serious Butt: Action and Adventure in SF and Fantasy") while Les Dabel went and parked the car.
I think Robert and Harriet were tired because of the time difference, but they still seemed happy to be there. On a side note: RJ looked great. He's lost some weight, and was telling some fans who asked about it that he's been working hard to do so.
Anyway, we made it to room 7A which was filled with about maybe a hundred people. At least one fan approached RJ right away asking to have his books signed. After signing several books for the guy, RJ found his way to the table with the other authors (among them was Raymond E. Feist and Harry Harrison). The panel began and was over about an hour later. RJ didn't speak as much that time as he did in a later panel, but maybe it had to do with jet lag. He chimed in every now and then with the other authors, but he definitely did not dominate any of the conversation.
After the panel, he was almost immediately surrounded by people asking to sign their books. Having no other assistance, I stepped in and told everyone that "Robert Jordan will be signing books outside in just a minute or two." I got him outside the room (where there was room to breathe) and made sure he and Harriet had chairs to sit down in. I got everyone in line like the people at the book stores always did, and things were much better.
RJ signed everyone's books, regardless of how many they had. (Only about 20-30 people were in line). He personalized the autographs if the person asked, and he took pictures. He answered questions too, as well. The most interesting facts learned from that session were these:
- There will be two more books in the main story sequence. Twelve will be the final number of books, not including the prequels.
- Book 11, Knife of Dreams will be published in October, 2005.
- He will finish that book in the Spring of 2005, but instead of the normal 6 week turn-around to get it on the shelves ultra-fast, he is insisting on a full editorial review. He has not done this since Lord of Chaos was published.
- He confirmed (again) that he will finish the last two novels in the series (KoD, and the untitled Book 12) before returning to write two more prequels.
- Andor was the first nation that he really developed when writing Eye of the World. He did not fully develop other nations or areas until later on. He "sketched" the other countries, while he drew Andor out more fully.
- Somebody asked what his favorite action scene in the series was. RJ replied that although it wasn't necessarily an ACTION scene, his favorite scene in the series, and the one which represents the best of his writing, is where Rand goes into Rhuidean to view the history of the Aiel through the eyes of his ancestors.
- His definition of a Hero is a person who keeps going, no matter what, despite being afraid.
When he was all done around 8 PM, he and Harriet said they would like to go back to their hotel. There were some problems getting the car back to take them home, so Dara (a faithful member of TarValon.net) and I called a cab for them. I paid the driver, and they were on their way.
FRIDAY 23 July 2004
Things went even more smoothly on Friday.
Les Dabel picked them up again and I met them at the curb. RJ was in a great mood and had a smile on his face pretty often. This time we went right to the autograph area where a table had been setup for him to sign books. The Dabel Brothers and their team were all there. There were other celebrities nearby: I think Stan Lee was over at the next table signing photos of himself.
RJ signed books for about an hour. Again, he was able to personalize most of them, and there were few enough people where he was able to sign as many as they brought. One guy had 12 or 13 things for him to sign: all 10 WoT novels, plus the Guide, some promo items I had set out, and even some copies of Jordan's other books.
After the signing was over, Harriet and RJ had some lunch plans. I met up with them a few hours later when it was time for the second panel discussion. This one was entitled "Painting the Big Picture - Speculative Fiction on a grand scale".
During this discussion, RJ was much more talkative. He spoke quite frequently, at length at times. He cracked several jokes. He talked about many things he's talked about before: how he writes 7 days a week, sometimes misses lunch, how Harriet can tell when he's been writing Padan Fain, how when we goes fishing and they aren't biting he feels like he should still be writing instead, and how he is the OLD TESTAMENT GOD in the lives of his characters.
Afterwards, I met up with he and Harriet and escorted them over to the final book signing of the weekend. It was by far the most popular one, and so I suggested that people just have two books signed per trip through the line. (If you were somebody in line with more than two books, sorry!! That rule always bugged me whenever I went to book signings, but now I see why they do it.) In the end, everyone had time to get all of their books signed. The few people who had brought suitcases of books (yes, suitcases!) were patient enough to just wait until the end, and then RJ signed all of their stuff.
After the signing, the Dabels took them back to their hotel and I went to go watch the special RETURN OF THE KING footage from the Extended Edition DVD. :)
SATURDAY DINNER 24 July 2004
Saturday was our big day. Robert and Harriet were done with the convention. I think they spent Saturday at the San Diego Zoo. But we had more plans together.
I had invited RJ out to a nice dinner a few weeks before. Melissa Craib from TarValon.net and I decided to co-host this event. We had invited a few people from each of our sites, and also some people from some other big WoT sites. Some of those folks included Mike from Wotmania, Kathana from DM / DragonCon, Bob Kluttz from Encyclopedia WoT, and a few others.
Only a few of those people were able to attend, so our dinner party ended up being the following: myself, Melissa, Robert Jordan, Harriet, Bob Kluttz, his wife Joan, Dara (who had helped me with the cab earlier in the weekend), Brad Kane (DM and wotmania member, and Producer for my production company Dragonmount Pictures), Nicole Dubuc (DM Member), and her friend Darla who is a long-time fan of the series. (See a picture of most of us all at the end of this page)
Melissa and I had made all the arrangements, and so at 7:00 PM (exactly), a taxi pulls up to the restaurant and Harriet and RJ get out.
Before I continue, I need to inform you that what I'm posting here is only a partial account of our dinner. We discussed a lot of things with Robert and Harriet which are more personal in nature. Some things we were asked kindly not to post about, and other things are being left out on my own judgment call. But don't worry; I'm including all the really juicy stuff, especially as it relates to WoT.
Anyway, we had carefully planned out the appropriate seating arrangement, but ultimately Harriet and RJ sat elsewhere than we had predicted. They sat across from each other in the middle of the long table, but both were still able to see the awesome view of the ocean that we had. I was at RJ's right side, and Melissa was across from me. Bob was at Robert's left, and Brad was at Harriet's right.
After a few minutes of mingling at the table, I stood and gave a toast to he and Harriet, their work, and to the continued positive relationships between them and the WoT community in general. We drank to it, and then RJ stood and gave his own toast. He commented that he deeply appreciated all of the fan sites and said that he had a very, very long list of sites book marked. (So yes people, he does read your WoT website every now and then!) He commented that he had Dragonmount, TarValon, WoTmania, and SilkLantern saved in his "Frequently Visited" sub-folder. He thanked us all, and toasted to our continued success.
The dinner conversation was fantastic. There were never any awkward moments. We discussed a variety of topics including the origins of the tradition of shaking hands, clinking glasses together, and why dinner knives are rounded at the tip and kept on your right-hand side. We talked about cats, movies, and other random things before we started discussing the books.
One odd thing that RJ shared with us was his advice to men. He said that men were like fish that had been removed from the tank placed on the ground. The idea was that a cat (a woman) watches the fish and often has no interest if the fish does not struggle enough before dying. The cats enjoy watching the fish flounder and flap around. But if the fish stopped, the cat loses interest. So Robert looked seriously at Brad and Bob and I (the only men present) and said: "Keep flopping and they won't lose interest. Always keep flapping!"
It was a little silly of course, but it sounded as if it came right out of the books. One of Thom's sayings, maybe.
We asked about folk songs in The Wheel of Time. Robert said that he always has a tune in mind for each song. We immediately asked about Jak o' the Shadows.
According to RJ, "Jak o' the Shadows" should be sung to the Garryowen, which is the official march of the US 7th Cavalry. [ Download MP3 (2 MB) | history of the tune ]
Here are the lyrics:
- Jak o' the Shadows (Band of the Red Hand version)
- We'll drink the wine till the cup is dry, and kiss the girls so they'll not cry, and toss the dice until we fly to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
- We'll dance all night while the moon runs free, and dandle the lasses upon our knee, and then you'll ride along with me, to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
- We'll sing all night, and drink all day, and on the girls we'll spend our pay, and when it's gone, then we'll away, to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
- There're some delight in ale and wine, and some in girls with ankles fine but my delight, yes, always mine, is to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
- We'll toss the dice however they fall, and snuggle the girls be they short or tall, then follow young Mat whenever he calls, to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
Although he didn't sing Jak o' the Shadows for us (not that we didn't try to get him to do it), he did belt out some "Heartbreak Hotel" for us when we asked. We laughed. Harriet applauded. The waiter filled his wine glass again. The evening was just starting. A question was asked about whether or not a non-channeler could go and become Enlightened through meditation and be able to sense the True Source, or even channel it. RJ replied that there were indeed people in his world that sought Enlightenment in such ways, but no, that channeling was related to genetics. He went onto say that he estimates that the Age of Legends had about 2-3% of the population able to channel in one way or another, while in the modern world that number is down to about 1-2%.
Update: Robert Jordan sent me an email correcting this statement:
- I went back to look at the article again and check something I thought I recalled. If I said the current population has about 1% to 2% who can learn to channel, then I misspoke, because I have set that figure at about 1%.
We talked about the Forsaken and how they know how to speak the current language. He said that if you can speak the Old Tongue, learning to understand and speak the new "Vulgar" tongue is not that difficult. When the Forsaken are together having their meetings, they speak in the Old Tongue. (RJ: "But I translate it for you guys.") Another very interesting note: Modern-day Sharans speak a form of the Old Tongue in their everyday speech. The exact analogy he used was a Roman landing in modern day Italy and having to figure out Italian from Latin. For someone extremely bright and well-educated like the FS it wouldn't be that hard. This is also consistent with information in the books. The Old Tongue is more complex, so learning the Vulgar from Old Tongue is much easier than vice versa. It also gibes with Graendal's thought while she is writing a letter that the modern script was so easy to learn and duplicate.
He also went on at length about his thoughts on language drift and the impact of the printing press on continuity.
One unique subject discussed over dinner was the metaphysical basis for the underlying spiritual topography of the WoT. Specifically, one member of the dinner party asked RJ whether he had intentionally woven core elements of the world's various spiritual/mystical traditions into his work, or whether those ideas were in fact manifesting THROUGH him as pure art. His answer was a description of his bookshelf at home, which begins at the left side with the Christian Bible, continues into more Judeo-Christian texts, then picks up with the Qoran, with books on Hindusim (I got the sense he was referring to the Bhagavad-Gita, but would need to check with him to be sure), Buddhist texts, and then what he called various "discourses" on world religion and spiritual philosophy.
In short -- RJ is a student of world relgion, which explains much of the religious diversity of his work, not just in terms of the many cultures of his world but in terms of the underlying metaphysical structure of his universe.
By the way, Robert Jordan also sent me an email recently further describing his book collection.
- "The bookshelf I spoke of is one bookcase that holds my books on religion. There are a couple of others for mythology, and a great many covering nonfiction and fiction. At present, the total collection is around thirteen thousand volumes in my study. That's the carriage house behind what is colloquially called "the big house" in Charleston, the main dwelling, whether it is all that big or not; books in the big house aren't part of this total since most of them are Harriet's, and she doesn't catalog her books. I'm trying to pare that number down because I don't have enough room. Unfortunately, as fast as I can give books away, I buy more. Oh, well."
Earlier that weekend, Melissa had been amazed when Brad and I told her what the "warm" ter'angreal really was. If you don't know what I'm talking about...go look around on the Internet. If you're over 18 that is. Anyway, Melissa was so shocked by this that she asked RJ flat out if it was true. (*Smacks forehead* So much for being dignified with our VIP guests!) I was sitting right next to RJ and I saw his tiny smile behind his beard. He just said "Read and Find Out". In my mind that translates to: "Go do a search on one of those WoT sites and they'll tell ya".
Another question was about why he chose, out of all of his ideas, to write the story of the savior of a world. While he didn't go into great depth as to why he chose it, he did discuss how the story originally formed. Some of you reading may probably know that originally Rand and Tam were basically the same character. This character came home to Emond's Field (which was not yet then called Emond's Field) after having fought in many wars. He was not the prophesized savior, but the guy who was-- wasn't up for the job and was unable to do it. RJ said that he still would like to maybe tell that story someday (presumably in another world, not his WoT world), and said he may write it some day.
At one point RJ gave a cryptic message to us about Knife of Dreams. A lot of you will consider it a spoiler, so scroll down to read it.
- RJ Said:
- "Something that has previously happened in the series is going to be revealed to have a terrible cost." He added, "When you read it your reaction will be, 'Gasp. How horrible!'"
Scroll down further for some of my initial guesses:
- Could it be we'll learn what really happned with the Bowl of the Winds?
- Or what happened after the taint was cleansed?
Although this could be anything, his tone implied that it was significant.
Later on, Melissa made a joking comment about Rand and his three girlfriends. Robert Jordan's reply was not what we expected. He explained that at one point in his younger life he had two girlfriends at once. They knew about each other, and they arranged dates for him so they could both be there. They were fine with it, and young Jim Rigney just went along with it. (Wouldn't you?) He figured that if he could have two girlfriends at once, then a guy like Rand could definitely do three.
I guess it's true that we all find inspiration from our everyday lives!
Although I was planning to not mention the name "Asmodean" at dinner, the subject did come up. Dara asked about some significant traits of the palace servants right before Asmodean was "taken". RJ replied that the servants were just servants and were in no way connected to the murder.
During the course of the meal, we eventually got on the topic of his time in Vietnam. What he revealed to us was deeply personal, disturbing, and moving. Although I will not comment on the specifics (it's his story to tell, not mine), I can say that it was the first time ever that I truly saw and felt the very essence of his books before me. In the days to come Melissa and Brad and I would talk about how it was during these stories that we saw Perrin, and Mat, and Rand in his eyes. We understood where their sad reluctance for war comes from. Their sense of duty.
A few years ago, Robert Jordan talked about some of these same topics in an interview that he did with DM and wotmania. Go here to read it. The part about Vietnam is about halfway down. It's one thing to read it and a whole other thing to hear him tell it. I think war in general is like that. I wouldn't know, because I have never served time in the military. But I have the deepest respect for those who do.
At last, dinner wound to an end. Neither RJ or Harriet cared for desert, but they polished off their third (I think) glasses of wine. I took care of the bill (we all chipped in for Robert and Harriet's dinner). While we waited for the Taxi to arrive, we took pictures and they both had a glass of brandy.
Melissa and I escorted Harriet and Robert out to their car, thanked them a million times over, and said that we'd love to do it again. Both of them thanked us and said that they would also enjoy getting together again next time they're out. Realistically I know it will depend on their traveling schedule and availability. But it was a very cool feeling to know that these two people cared about the websites and communities that we've built around their books. I think that our little dinner party represented all of WoT fandom in a positive way. Next time we do this, maybe we'll open the invitations up to a broader group. Perhaps a raffle contest?
Overall, this was a really special night for all of us. After they left, Brad, Melissa, and I talked for hours about everything we had heard. I don't think we got to sleep until really late that night. I bet you can understand why.