The third weekend of the month I was a guest of Tortured Earth at Greater Austin Comic Con. Tortured Earth had a double booth on a corner, and Kenneth Kidder, the principal, offered me space at the end, facing the cut-through. Ken and I met at ConDFW in February, and he has talked up Dvarsh ever since. The arrangement put Stikmantica on display without a booth fee (I did insist on paying a commission on sales), and gave Ken and his assistant, Owen, another hand when the crowd along the main aisle pressed.
Only a tiny fraction of paid attendees were prospective buyers of the Stikmantic line, but a tiny fraction of thousands can keep a jawbone working, especially the jawbone of an ass. More than from attendees, though, Dvarsh drew attention from other vendors. Think about the population inside the booths at a comic convention—artists of every kind, publishers, game developers, minor celebrities, costumers, niche retailers, authors, encyclopedic subculture junkies and the like. It’s a subset in which the geek/non-geek ratio skews heavily toward interesting. By mid-afternoon Saturday, lulls in the crowd brought visiting exhibitors (as we were termed) who reached for Dvarsh, An Introduction saying, “Okay, tell me about this.” Most of my buyers over both days were from this group. Happily, it was a prosperous show. All the vendor purchases were hardbacks.
Conversations with vendors are special, because they are always stolen moments. When away from your booth, you do not move merchandise. It was among the public, wristbands instead of exhibitor badges, that I met people who had come to talk. Some of those had also come to listen, and encounters with them were delightful. Most charming were two young teen genius best friend girls and their dads spending Father’s Day together at the con. The girls got Dvarsh instantly, but they had little interest in Dvarsh, An Introduction. When I told them the conceit of the workbook was basic grammar and vocabulary for travelers, they were on it. What they heard when I said that was, “The workbook has everything you need to share a secret language with each other.”
Those two brilliances got bearings in the glossary, checked the pages of useful phrases, flipped through the grammar lessons, asked a few questions, and started constructing a conversation in Dvarsh. Before my very eyes. The two of them, no one else admitted, except me, on sufferance just that time as the maker. I’m not much of a stoic, but thankfully one of the dad’s provided cover by asking about another title while I made change. Walking away, both dads grinned and the daughters had their heads in my workbook. It felt like a meeting all five of us would remember.
A classically trained singer asked the source of the consonants and, after I described them and demonstrated the vowels, nailed the pronunciation. Music of the repertoire, he pointed out, comes in many languages, and I supplied what he needed to place (h)rash, bveta and ktho. He also wanted to know what keys I consider typical of Dvarsh music, as he said he is going to think about that. I told him the drones I play in Gm and Dm have a Dvarsh feel—for me.
A man who identified himself as a retired linguist for the NSA knew who I am, but declined to buy a book. (You called it, Terry Mixon.) He did have grace to laugh when I answered a question about the basis for Dvarsh with, “Geekish and Nerdese.” When I mentioned a detail marking Dvarsh as a non-human language is a regular verb, “to be,” he observed, “There you are.”
The most perplexing conversation started when two young men approached, one asking, “What do you have here?”
I was no further into the patter than, “I have created a language,” when I stopped because the guy looked genuinely shocked.
I asked if he was okay.
He jabbed a finger at the book and said, “Dvarsh. Stikmanz. You have to excuse me. I’m having a moment. I’ve heard about you. I’ve heard about what you’ve done. And here you are!”
He stuck out a hand to shake, announcing, “Congratulations!”
At this point, his friend, who had been browsing Rose Moon, asked, “What’s up?”
The first man said, “This is Stikmanz. This is the guy who made the language.”
“No sh*t?” his friend responded, also sticking out a hand and also announcing, “Congratulations!”
It’s a reaction that always puzzles me. What is being congratulated? It feels premature, like sending roses for a performance the night before it opens. In any case, I pointed out that both the primary reference and the workbook were available right where they stood, and I was on hand to sign them.
“Sorry,” the first guy said, holding up a plastic sleeve of purchases, “I already spent all my money on art and comics. But I’m taking one of your cards.”
His friend held up a similar haul, and also took a card. Then, before I could ask any of my questions, or even their names, they were gone, back into the crowd. I’ve wondered since whom they heard talk about Dvarsh. Or Stikmanz.