When it comes to moderating a panel on comic art, let it be known that the woman behind Monica’s Tangled Web, does her homework.
In other words, thanks to much preparation, I nailed it.
I stepped up to the challenge of moderating a panel on account that the idea exhilarated me. And, once I made the decision to do it, I took the bull by the horns.
Which means, that for the week leading up to it, I visited the exhibit on comic art, I researched each cartoonist on the panel, I googled cartoon art in general, and read everything I came across, so that I could come up with thought-provoking questions, rather than the usual, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Then, I pulled out the stacks and stacks of Archie Comics I keep under my bed and read every last one of them (not that this helped, but it sure was fun doing—and as good an excuse as any to re-read).
I also renewed my subscription to Mad Magazine so I could refresh my memory on the antics of Spy vs. Spy and the movie and TV show parodies, which I’ve always loved.
I then came across an article written for the Harvard Business Review on how to moderate a panel, and memorized it. Of course, I didn’t follow all of the tips. For example, it said to sit with your panelists, and not stand at a podium. Oops.
All told, I studied and prepared day and night for two straight days, drinking gallons of coffee with an extra jolt of caffeine to keep me going.
And, when I felt informed enough on the subject matter, I decided to do one more thing:
I decided to be myself.
Which turns out, is about as easy as emptying a pool using a thimble. If you ask me, it’s practically akin to going on stage naked!
But once I psyched myself into relaxing and enjoying the evening, I was able to think of the event, not as a panel before a live audience, but as a scintillating party, where everyone was listening and participating in on a conversation that we happened to be having with five funny guys.
And boy, these fellas were so hilarious, they made my job a breeze!
No doubt, it helped that the topic was comic art, and not planning trusts, or tax codes, or some other boring stuff. After all, comic art by its nature tends to be, well, humorous. And, clearly these cartoonists love what they do and are passionate about it. Ooh la la!
It also made a difference that everyone in the audience was genuinely interested in the topic. So there was laughter amuck and plenty of questions for the panel.
Finally, here’s what we didn’t have: No booing or no heckling.
And, here’s what I learned from the evening:
Jim Whiting’s hobby is magic. Halfway through the evening he stood up and got the audience in a frenzy when he did a magic trick, enlisting the help of Jeff Keane (Family Circus) and Greg Evans (Luann).
Greg Evans’ Luann comic strip is about a teenager, and is based on the antics of Evan’s daughter. When he started the strip, Luann was 13 and is now 16. Meanwhile, Evan’s daughter is now 38. Time moves slowly, if at all, in comic-strip land.
Jeff Keane is the youngest son of Bill Keane, the man who created Family Circus. The character of Jeffy is based on Jeff’s childhood. Jeff has pretty much taken the strip over from his father and writes and draws it, using his own children for ideas.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Breen doesn’t mind when his editor suggests a topic for one of his editorial cartoons, but doesn’t like it one bit, when they suggest how to present it.
Brad Constantine, the only animator on the panel, says it takes about 100 people two years to create a video game. Wow.
As a moderator, I managed to keep the evening on schedule and end with enough time for those in attendance to explore the exhibit. So now it’s over and I’m still riding high from all the good vibes from the evening.
Best part was meeting the panelists and having Steve Breen say to me, before the program even started, that he really liked the questions I had developed.
Best best part: Having someone from the audience walk up to me afterwards and tell me I ought to have my own talk show. Plus, one of the A/V guys told me he was convinced I’d been moderating for years. I had to hug him for saying that. (And, not because he was cute!)
Best best best part: When Brad Constantine, who was doodling pictures of famous cartoon characters all night, signed and gave one to me. Aww.
In conjunction with the comic art exhibit, the museum ran a contest for high school students. I loved meeting some of the award-winning students and seeing their amazing art. You can tell, the passion for comic art already runs deep within them.
After all is said and done, would I do it again?
Now tell me, how have you risen to the occasion when given a task that is clearly outside your range?