My time working on Comic-Con Baltics 2022 started with working on Comic-Con Baltics 2020, when I interviewed RJ Mitte to announce his attendance. Of course, then COVID hit and everything was postponed.
Then postponed again. And again.
Finally, we were rescheduled for the end of May 2022. This was good. It was at the end of the semester so wouldn’t conflict too much with regular classes and could even be a little mini-vacation for Rasa and Monki.
Then, a few months back, at the premiere of Morbius, Thomas, one of the organizers, asked me if I’d like to take a bigger role in the proceedings and reminded me that he’d like me to host the opening as well as lead a couple of panels. Naturally, I agreed.
What was I thinking?
As the event drew closer, I was in contact with several members of the team about scheduling panels and various other details, but mostly, I was talking with Paulius, who is the Marketing Manager (and the reason I was working with them at all as he brought me into the fold). Possible script ideas were sent over and sartorial choices requested (they wanted me to wear slacks instead of jeans) and finally, on Thursday, May 19, Monki, Rasa and I packed up and headed to Vilnius!
The plan was to get into town mid-afternoon, check in at the hotel, then head to the convention site to film a “welcome to the con” video. Rasa and Monki came along, Monki in her brand spanking new Captain America outfit (she had asked for one for her birthday, but I figured it would be better served as a con cosplay accessory).
It was great. Even though I was working, it was fun to have the family see what I was doing and to introduce them to everyone. Plus, they got to see the backstage workings of the con, with easy access to the photo ops. After a bit though, Monki got tired of all the attention (when you’re almost 6, cute as hell, and wearing a geeky costume, people want to talk to you) and Rasa took her to the Vilnius TV Tower (which she’d been learning about in school) and then to Vilnius Akropolis for dinner. This was ok, since I had work to do. And she did get to see a Zamboni cleaning the ice after a hockey game!
After some technical delays, we started rehearsing the opening ceremony at around 9pm. I was incredibly nervous, to be perfectly honest. But we went through it several times, and whenever I would do/say something designed to get a crowd reaction, Šarūnas, another of the main organizers, would shout “Big (d**k) Energy” and I would know I was headed in the right direction. It became Pavlovian.
By the time I made it back to the hotel, we’d gone through the whole opening of the opening (up through the introduction of the guests) a bunch of times and I was getting more comfortable. Not that it was making my nerves any better, but at least it was building a solid foundation for me to work from. At the hotel, Rasa was still up but Monki had passed out. Evidently, the fun for her, TV Tower and dinner notwithstanding, was jumping up and down on the hotel room bed. She’s definitely my kid!
Waking up on Friday, Monki had a bit of a runny nose, so we all decided that after breakfast, the girls would head back home and I would continue my work for the weekend. The hotel breakfast, though, had far-reaching consequences as Monki ate 4 hard-boiled eggs (mostly just the whites since she doesn’t like the yolks, which she calls “treasure”). Turns out, she liked this and for the next few days at home, while I was working, Rasa was making her a quartet of eggs every morning!
They dropped me off at Litexpo on their way out of town and we started work in earnest. Friday was a “school” day, designed to operate as a cultural event so school kids could get the day off and come for free, with the government picking up the tab. This is a really cool thing the Lithuanian government does for all school kids and I think it’s awesome. What a great way to get kids to experience things they might not get the chance to experience (these cultural activities also include museums and theatrical events and whatever).
For me, though, Friday meant doing a “first day of con” video, which was following quickly on the heels of my “con preview video” of the day before. Basically, the way these videos work is Paulius would give me and a videographer (this time around it was Julius, who was great!) a list of things to capture and then set us loose. My job was to find the cool things and be interesting talking about them. Not a problem!
I also got my hand set on fire for a TikTok video. Not that I have any idea what that means, but I tried my best.
When the event closed for the day, we once again did a few run-throughs of the opening, with volunteers standing in for the guests. The way the opening was planned, I would talk to the crowd for a few minutes, extolling the virtues of the con, talking about some future plans, mentioning the sponsors and some of the big events, and then introduce the main guests, who were broken down into two groups: comic creators and actors. Once the guests were on stage, I would sit behind a desk and, like a late-night talk show host, spend a few minutes interviewing them, getting the crowd excited for the weekend.
Paulius and I went into the dealer’s room and found a good mug (a large, 3D affair from the video game Fallout – a nice tie-in to the fact we were now partnered up with Game-On) to sit on the desk and we were ready – except for one thing. We needed some questions to ask the guests.
It was a balancing act. The key was to come up with good, fun questions which skirted the basics and got the crowd excited about going to see the guests in their individual, longer-form panels. Paulius was going to come up with some, as was Šarūnas, but in the end, they were both busy (Paulius did come and join in later) leaving it up to me, Saulė, and Diana. Saulė and Diana were in charge of the panels and had created the Meet Lithuanian Film Industry program (#MeetLithuanianFilmIndustry) where Lithuanian film professionals, who worked on Hollywood films, would talk about what they did. A really great idea and really well executed.
And boy, did the three of us have fun coming up with questions for the guests. They were funny and not too shallow, allowing for a variety of different responses and interplay for me and the guests. This was the last piece we needed. Now, even if I wasn’t 100% ready, I was as prepared as I could possibly be. And with that, I went back to the hotel to get some sleep before the big day.
Saturday morning, wearing the requisite slacks, I met up with some of the cartoonists at the hotel during breakfast. It was a great way to break the ice and start the weekend off right before heading off to the con.
Arriving at Litexpo, I took care of a few things before heading over to the green room and meeting up with the rest of the guests, introducing myself and double-checking some of the jokes and comments we had come up with the night before. For example, we knew RJ Mitte had come in with his family and wanted to maybe mention his mom, so needed to clear that with him. Absolutely did not want to tick off a guest first thing. But nope, he was all good with everything and everyone else was game for whatever was going to happen.
At ten minutes to 12, I took my seat behind the desk, sitting in the chair and swiveled so the audience couldn’t see me. I felt like the stuttering character played by Mark Williams in Shakespeare in Love. Nervous that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. At noon on the dot, the video cycled from the countdown it had been displaying to a CCB promo and when it was done, it was my turn. And like that William’s character, I took a deep breath, and just went for it.
Could it have gone better? It could always go better. But it could have gone much worse, too. I quickly got into the groove and got the crowd going. There was a lot of cheering and excitement and when I got to introduce the guests, everyone was doing great.
The interviews went off perfectly (special shout out to Tomska, whom we surprised with a video clip, but is an incredibly smart and media-savvy dude and played the fine line of resigned surprise and righteous excitement like he was born to it) and when we were done 20 minutes later, I wrapped it up and could feel the relief washing over me.
And just for fun, here it is:
After I came off stage and caught up with Šarūnas, I got the good word: “Big. D**k. Energy!!” had been achieved! But I didn’t have time to bask in the afterglow. I was off to a panel I was hosting where I would interview Ben Brucato and Jeff Zannini, the live appearance agents of two of our performer guests.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what we were going to talk about. I had spoken to both of them over zoom but this was a convention panel about being an agent. Who was interested in that? Turns out a few people were. And while it was a slow start, it actually turned into an interesting panel, with some good questions and the small audience was engaged and interested so yay us!
I had a second panel that afternoon, hosting the comic creators Sarah Anderson, Cassandra Calin, and Reza Farazmand, and honestly, a nicer, more insightful group of folks you’ll never find. Of course, considering they all write comics based on their own experiences, being insightful is a bit of a work hazard. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I wrote an article featuring Sarah a few years back for David Magazine and I interviewed both women via Zoom when we announced their impending arrival to Con.
It was nice, too, that after all my anxiety and nervousness of the opening ceremony, everyone had a great time and congratulated me for a job well done. I mean, I’m confident in my abilities to conduct interviews and talk to people, but doing it in front of several thousand folks, when other people are depending on you to do a good job and set the tone for all that’s to follow, that can be a bit intimidating. So it was nice to get the affirmation that I did an okay job of it.
Saturday night, though, Saturday night was the moment we were all waiting for. Since our Con is only (really) two days, Saturday night is the best time for all of the workers to get together with the guests and have a nice, fun evening out. Back in 2019, the last time Con was held, it was interesting in that there was some awkwardness between guests and panel hosts on the first day. Then, after the evening out, Sunday was a lot more relaxed. Spending casual time with people, getting to know them outside the confines of a professional setting, makes a marked difference.
This year, everyone was already getting along (maybe I helped with that?) and so Saturday night was just a letting loose of the day’s tensions and anxiety. Not being a big drinker in general, this is pretty much the one night a year I have a few.
The brew pub/restaurant we go to for this event is a nice little place with local atmosphere. It’s in the old town and we get a private room for our people, who are then served local dishes like šaltibarščiai and cepelinai (which went over very well!) and many litres of beer brewed on the premises. It was so much fun actually getting to have some real conversations with new friends (and talk possible real estate deals!).
I was part of the contingent closing the place down, leaving at 2:30am. Of course, this meant getting up in time for Sunday’s Con duties was a bit more difficult, but it was certainly worth it.
On Sunday, we did a “day 2 at the Con” and a wrap-up video and I was able to catch the guests to get their thoughts on the con. Then it was off to my last two panel moderation gigs. The first was with Anne Bjørnstadt, the creator of Beforeigners, an interesting time travel cop show out of Norway. The show also shot its first season here in Lithuania so that was a nice connection as well. It was a tough panel, technically, since it was just me and her and she was coming in remotely from her home in Oslo. But we made it work and I got some nice feedback from some of the few people who actually attended.
Just before this panel, though, I had a chance to do something cool for Monki. There’s a Lithuanian pop singer named Vaidas Baumila who is a friend of the Con. Last summer, during the lockdown, he had a hit with a song called “Kunigunda” (no, I don’t know what it means, either). Monki heard it on the radio and fell in love with it. It’s one of her favorite songs. So I asked if he would give her a quick video call and he agreed. There is just something about seeing the face of your almost 6yo when she gets to sing her favorite song along with the progenitor of the piece. She was also personally invited to his concert this summer. As a dad, I love being in a position to do this kind of thing for her. Fills me with warm fuzzies!
My last panel was once again with Reza, this time joined by Thomas “Tomska” Ridgewell. Thom and I had talked the day before about doing something different with this panel and used it as a forum to talk about longer format works and how to structure comics. It was interesting for me, even if the audience primarily wanted to talk about the strips.
With those duties done, all that was left was the cosplay awards and the 2022 Comic Con Baltics was a wrap. As things were closing down, all of the staff gathered for a last group picture.
That night, a few of the volunteers and the acting guests. Enrique Arce had left to get back to a film shoot but having the chance to just chat with Rob Wiethoff (who voiced the main character on Red Dead Redemption) without worrying about anything Con related was a treat. And then there was RJ Mitte. More so that RJ, though, was his traveling contingent – His mom, grandma, sister and girlfriend, all of whom are so amazing I spent most of my night talking with them (and even got a great picture with grandma!).
I was exhausted after dinner and so declined to join the crew for a nightcap, leaving them to explore Vilnius city center while I headed back to the hotel for a relatively early night.
From there, it was just a matter of waking up early on Monday morning, waiting for a ride to the train station and jumping on to the Kaunas bound train just minutes before it took off (special thanks to Ugnė for driving like a safe madwoman to get me to the station on time!).
And so it ends for another year. Comic Con Baltics will be back in 2023 and I’ll be ready for it. I’m just grateful to be a part of this great event, bringing geek culture to the region. And hey, I even signed a few autographs and was asked for a few pictures so you know, I can deal with fame for a couple of hours a year.