Friday, October 21, 2016

It's Like A Whole Nother Country

Guess what? I'm going to have a table at my first comic con next month. What prestigious, world-famous convention am I going to be attending, you ask? Well, I'll tell you: it's the second annual Big Bend Comic Con, held in the bustling (pop. 5905) town of Alpine, Texas, where the tumbleweeds roll right through downtown and the university has its own cattle brand.

Alpine. One of my many pictures of run-down buildings.
From their Facebook page:
The Big Bend Mini Comic Con will promote literacy of comics and graphic novels and provide a sense of community with the cities across the Big Bend Region.
Okay, so it's a mini con, but you have to start somewhere. My writing and art are so highly in demand out there, they practically begged to me to come. (Actually, I work for the university hosting the con, and they can't keep me away.)

The university and town, an image from the school website.
Statistically speaking, it's pretty unlikely that any of my readers reside in the area. The Big Bend region, of which Alpine is the metropolitan hub, covers 12,000 square miles and encompasses approximately 12,000 people, setting the population density (if I'm doing the math correctly) at 1 human being per square mile. Plenty of elbow room. But, if you happen to be one of those 12,000 fortunate people – a resident of, say, Marathon, or Marfa, or Terlingua, or Presidio, or Fort Davis, or Balmorhea – I hope you'll come on over and say hello. I'll have a stack of my books to sell at a discounted price; I'll even autograph 'em for you.

Downtown Alpine. Did you think I was joking about the tumbleweeds?
Despite working for the university, I only visit the main campus once a year or so these days – I'm a circuit-rider, as my bio says – but my familiarity with the area goes back to when I was a kid, camping at the state and national parks and spending Thanksgivings at Indian Lodge. To me it's just about the most beautiful region on earth, especially in the fall.

In the nearby Davis Mountains, looking from the state park toward
McDonald Observatory.
And you could spend a week just seeing everything: McDonald Observatory, the Fort Davis NHS, the Chihuahuan Desert Visitor Center, the Museum of the Big Bend, the Marfa lights, Davis Mountains State Park, San Solomon Springs at Balmorhea State Park; and we haven't even gotten to Big Bend National Park and all there is to do down there. Alpine itself is a mighty fine town, with a good used bookstore that carries a number of Arkham House editions in excellent condition, and plenty of art galleries.

Note the beaming visage of Hoss Cartwright, an alumnus of our fine university.
Still, I reckon I'm more at home where I live, down on the border, in the humid subtropical Winter Garden region, amid cabbage fields and onion fields and vast tracts of guajillo savanna, where the bees make honey as clear as water.

Speaking of guajillo (spelled variously; pronounced wah-HEE-yah), my sword-and-santeria story, set in and around the site of the aforementioned Bee Capital of Texas, is slated to come out in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly next February. I'm really excited to be appearing in HFQ, given its staying power and the quality of the stories it's featured. This is a branching-out for me, and I hope it's the beginning of more good things to come. 
HUAJILLA. This is a very important honey-plant, or tree, rather, in Texas, for the dry arid portions where there is little or no irrigation, and where nothing, in fact, grows except mesquite, catclaw, sage-brush, and other desert plants. The fact that it does not depend on irrigation, and needs only a scanty amount of rain early in the season, makes it most valuable to the bee-keeper in those regions where it grows and yields large quantities of beautiful water clear honey. Indeed, it is the finest produced in Texas, and is so nearly water white as to be almost as clear as pure water. It is at its very best in the region of Uvalde, Texas. The leaves look like a small delicate fern, and partake somewhat of the nature of the sensitive plant, for when touched they immediately close. [The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, A. I. Root & E. R. Root, 1910]
Since we're on the topic of local things, let me hasten to point out that my residence in Uvalde is not the only brush the town has had with fame and glory. Jerome-Napoleon Bonaparte II, the grandnephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, a graduate of West Point, resided here in the 1850s, when he was stationed at the fort that then guarded the San Antonio - El Paso Road. In the 1890s, Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy the Kid, settled here with his family, becoming friends with John Nance Garner, who went on to become vice president under Franklin Roosevelt. Ashmun Upson, the ghostwriter of Garrett's book, The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, is buried here.

(Can you tell I've been researching local history lately?)

Vice President Garner retired to Uvalde after leaving office, and his home is now the site of a museum; Harry S Truman once spent the night at the house next door to mine, which was then owned by the Briscoe family, most famous for Texas governor Dolph Briscoe. Dale Evans, the western singer/actress and wife of Roy Rogers, was a Uvalde native, and we're also the home of Los Palominos, a Grammy award-winning Tejano band.

The Bottle 'n Bag, Uvalde's one-stop shop. [source]
The first sight that greets you on the way into town.
Last but not least, we have Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey, whom you may remember from such films as Dazed and Confused and Angels in the Outfield. Mr. McConaughey apparently visits town incognito from time to time. Last year his disguise was blown when the ladies in the Chamber of Commerce building saw him taking pictures across the street. They begged him to come in, which he agreed to do, provided they lower the blinds and keep mum on social media until after his getaway. Of course it was front page news that Sunday. The event was touted as the crowning glory of the Chamber at the banquet last spring, which I happened to attend, competing with the keynote address by the amazing Bob Philips of Texas Country Reporter fame.

Well, maybe Mr. Philips will read this and do an episode about me.


  1. Balmorhea? sounds like a Robert E. Howard city!

    1. You know, it does. He might've even passed through it on his trip out west...