The Beautiful Charlotte North Carolina Skyline
(Just for the hell of it, throw me a bone and act like this report was posted on June 6th, 2011. I will be eternally grateful to each and every one of you for your consideration and cooperation.)
Before I jump into my coverage of the 2011 Heroes Convention, I’d like to write about the Con’s city. Charlotte, North Carolina is a beautiful place. Think the classy cleanliness of San Diego, California– Without the sparkling sea and beautiful sea breeze, of course. There is LOTS of humidity here. LOTS. That’s the first thing that slams you in the face when you hit the tarmac here– the heat and the humidity. I’m told you can sometimes almost slice the air with a knife– especially when the humidity lingers at 98 PERCENT all day because IT. JUST. WON’T. RAIN.
That said, Charlotte– like all metropolitan Southern Cities– has indeed figured out the concept of AIR CONDITIONING (and indoor plumbing)… So as long as you don’t weigh 500 pounds, the very short walk from the $10.00 parking lot to the spacious convention center is merciful. Once inside, you’re immediately met with the sweet caress of artificially cooled air… And you are fine.
The wait to purchase tickets is a little tedious though… Especially for early on a Sunday. Seems most attendees bought THREE DAY BADGES to bypass this… As there are only TWO TICKET BOOTHS OPEN: One for CASH and the other for CREDIT. If you choose to pay cash, you can literally gallop into the con in about a minute. The credit card line (the one I am in, mainly because I brought friends) takes considerably longer. In true ODDBALL comic convention fashion, the nice woman behind the ticket counter sheepishly informs me that, for some reason, their charge machine is NOT allowing MASTERCARD credit cards to be used… But it WILL take a VISA card– if I have one.
Cue collective looks of relief. My friends don’t want to pay admission. They would rather save their cash for the goodies inside. After playfully bantering with the women at the ticket counter about “Mastercard discrimation”, it is an easy escalator ride down to the main con floor.
Sadly, I immediately see something that makes me want to run straight back up the mechanical stairs in abject terror and loathing: There is NO CARPET on the convention floor! ANYWHERE!!! Many IMJ Readers tell me that this is a small, relatively minor problem– but for me, years of boxing and football make shuffling around on a bare concrete floor an EXCRUCIATING prospect for my lower spine.
Mind you, I am NO pussy– but I have to be realistic. I know, whether I like it or not, in about 60 to 90 minutes my back will literally be SCREAMING. I don’t understand how Comic Book Dealers (and some of the Pros) handle it… The idea of standing all day on an unforgiving artificial stone equivalent is my idea of CERTIFIED TORTURE. I’ve been to plenty of Cons like this– and I know. Thank god I get to walk around. At least I have the luxury of moving my legs to help keep the blood flowing.
As we are shuttled onto the floor by various ushers– I denote a distinct advantage for the retailers parked in Row 100. This is no San Diego Comic Con of course. There’s only one set of doors in and basically only a couple of different ways out.
So there we were: Row 100… And this is what we saw:
Row 100, 1st Heroes Con “Booth”
Ack! What the fuck is that? Seriously? THIS is the first thing that confronts me? As I have already stated, I am truly no stranger to Comic Cons– but the site of this reminds of… I don’t know– a flea market? I realize this also looks like a last-minute “remnant booth”… Taken over by someone because the previous occupant has already left the convention or had NEVER shown to begin with.
The “Mile High Comics” Booth Sign also throws me a little. I keep thinking that this cannot be their set-up… Can it? Then I realize that the “Mile High” booth sign is far to the right of this dealer’s main display– so it just looks as if someone is taking advantage of the empty floor space once reserved for another comic retailer. At least, I hope. (And I don’t bother to ask.)
Now’s a good a time as any to make it clear that I am NO Con Snob. As much as I enjoy a professionally designed, well executed selling space– if someone’s got cash (and they aren’t selling Child Porn)– then they deserve floor space in my book. I’m just a little shocked and surprised at the first thing I see in Row #100… As remnant space is usually allocated to the BACK of most convention halls– NOT the very front… NOT the very first thing you see as you turn down the first row.
So I look to the left. Past one bona-fide Golden Age dealer, I see this:
The BUSIEST booth at the Con! (Not really.)
Whoo Hoo! NOTHING quite showcases the shitty state of this hobby like an expensive convention booth filled with 10¢ COMICS. Do the math: Maybe 250 comics per long box x 10¢ = $25.00 USD per LONG BOX. I didn’t make an official count but there was about 15 or so comic boxes on the table. Slim return for the seller indeed… And that’s if he or she sells EVERYTHING.
One of my friends– not that familiar with comics or comic conventions… But familiar enough that he’s come along for the “Hot Cosplay Women”— asks me how 10¢ Comics are even worth lugging to a convention. I guess, as best I can, that the books did NOT start out at this price… They’ve just fallen victim to the inevitable Sunday Comic Con Blowout. Apparently the only thing worse than dragging shit books to a con is having to drag all the cherry-picked, unsold SUPER SHIT leftovers back to the warehouse (or garage).
As we tread further into the con (remember, we’re only about 30 feet in so far)– I can’t help but look back at the Golden Age Dealer, wondering if I should go buy something just to help offset the stank of his neighbors… But he’s got a BIG SMILE on his face!
Hey, if he’s happy, I’m happy.
A few more feet and I finally start seeing what looks like the beginning of a “normal” Comic Book Convention. Retailer Tales of Wonder has what looks like four booths– two on each side of the aisle. And they are selling a lot of trades for 50% OFF and more. Some really good stuff too. Lots of Walking Dead Limited Edition Boxed Hardcovers, Omnibus Editions, Hardcovers and Graphic Novels. “Wow! Seems like someone overbought,” I think. “Kirkman’s definitely laughing all the way to the bank!”
Little did I know just how HEARTILY RK’s laughing. If the consistent room-wide 50% (or more) Discounts were any indication, it seemed like EVERY RETAILER in the room has purchased WAY TOO MANY Walking Dead books. They were everywhere! (At least this overstock phenomenon explains why Kirkman seems to insist on smirking in almost EVERY photo currently available on the internet…)
Regardless of the plethora of Walking Dead books (seems like the only editions left to print for this series are Pocket Digests), Tales of Wonder had tons of other cool stuff for sale– including the Limited Edition Slipcase of Rick Remender’s fantastic Strange Girl mini-series. Having bought the original trades, I had ALWAYS wanted this edition and I snagged it without a thought at $20.oo USD. ($49.99 retail)
At the halfway point in the aisle, I reached MY true destination and reason for being there: The Convention’s FAMOUS Indie Island. Almost every INDEPENDENT creator in every imaginable combo is here… Plus some BIG mainstream names (that I’ll get to… sorta).
Portrait of an Artist at Work
I rounded the corner and was glad to see JOSH ADAMS made it to the convention. He seemed so happy sketching, I almost felt bad breaking his concentration. But you know me by now IMJ Nation™– I still did it.
Josh was just like he is on Twitter– engaging, funny and approachable. He told me he’s got a JSA story coming out for DC soon AND he happily agreed to join us for an Inveterate Media Junkies Podcast! (You don’t think I just went to the Con for the FUN, did you?)
As I was talking to Josh, I noted his Dad– Neal Adams– was directly behind him at another table, happily greeting fans. As I waved at Neal, I bet myself that Josh must think it is really cool to attend Cons with his famous father.
By the next aisle, I was back on the hunt for more awesome talent. Who was next? A few booths up was a spot for another one of my all-time favorite creators, Jim Starlin. But he wasn’t there. Nowhere to be found. I resolved to come back later.
I was sorta bummed that the Heroes Costume Contest was the day before– but there was no way that I was going to brave 3 or 4 times the attendance just to snag a few Cosplay pictures. Missing out on wall-to-wall unshaven, unwashed comic geeks in 97 degree weather seemed like the smart move… And there was plenty of Sunday costume action to be had.
Then there sat a VERY busy Tony Harris! I never got a chance to talk to Tony… Although I did stare as this Big Fan monopolized his attention for almost 20 minutes. The guy was so animated, I didn’t want to interrupt. (Despite my gruff and pissy internet demeanor, I try to be as polite as I can in public.) Tony was super cool about it too. His attention NEVER wavered from the man. You GOTTA love that!
Hey look! Tony (Ex Machina, Starman) Harris!
Still, I was a little bummed. Tony had MULTI-tweeted a GREAT RECIPE about two months ago and I didn’t get all the cooking instructions. I was also really hoping to double-check the ingredients list too.
Went back to look for Starlin. Still no Jim. The laid back Southern lifestyle had obviously rubbed off on the creator of Thanos and Breed. Didn’t care. I’d be back later. I always get my man or woman!
Bouncing like an errant silver ball in an old Bally pinball machine, I focused on the next cool creator who just happened NOT to be busy. (I hate standing in lines. Go to Disneyland with me sometime and I’ll show you in person just how much I hate them.)
On to meet Carla Speed McNeil– creator of the Finder series. I had just recently been introduced to Carla’s book via the newer Dark Horse collections– so it was very cool to see her! Just as cool: She had ALL the trades I needed to read the entire Finder story!
Just like everyone else at the Heroes Con, Carla was super polite and answered all my dumb questions. I then asked her something that wasn’t quite so stupid: Would she be kind enough to appear on an upcoming IMJ Podcast. She agreed (Sweet!) but warned me that she had three kids and would need me to go to great lengths to get attention. I promised to be gentle and she told me not to worry about that– with the kids being a constant attention-grabber, I would need to be as forceful as possible… So I will.
The IMJ Nation™ will NOT be denied!
Since Marvel Comics (and to a lesser extent, DC Comics) have been swiftly devouring all the Indie Darlings— enticing them with the lure of three-year exclusive contracts and promises of PAID family health care– it is getting much harder to discover popular Indie creators that haven’t already become “mainstream” names.
Frank Cho has ably navigated these treacherous waters for years– working successfully on both sides of the fence. As most of you no doubt know, his first steady work at Marvel was providing pencils that were far-too-good for the subject matter in Bendis’ New Avengers.
And for those who may be turned off by Frank’s cheesecake approach to the female form, there are an equal number of fans that love it.
(Warning: Small Rant Advisory!)
Let’s be blunt: Cheesecake in comics has been around since there have been comics… And it’s NOT going anywhere. You may choose NOT to support artists like Frank or Adam Hughes because of their styles– but I hardly think that an artist increasing Sue Richards’ cup size is the PRIMARY PROBLEM currently facing the comics industry. In fact, this issue wouldn’t even land in MY Top Twenty.
It is the MISOGYNY that can (and often does) accompany this artistic style choice that is a BIG PROBLEM for me. NOT a fan of misogyny (to put it mildly) and I especially don’t want to see women drawn “cutesy” while this shit’s going on. Thankfully, Frank and Adam don’t ever seem to touch scripts like this.
So, long live Cho (and Hughes)! Frank was super nice– and if he wants to draw “purty wimmen”– then far be it from me to try to stop or dissuade him. I will NEVER favor censorship.
As far as Cons go, Heroes Convention is always one of the “funnest”. You get to see such a groovy, eclectic group of people in a relatively easy to navigate space. The Indie Folk aren’t scattered all across hell-and-high-water either… They can ALL be found occupying space in the Indie Island section. You’d have to ask con organizers if the idea to primarily FEATURE Indie Creators at their con was their ORIGINAL intent– or if it just became a necessary fact of life since the Big Two publishers tend to shun smaller conventions. Either way, it’s a fortuitous fact for anyone living in the area (or has it in their budget to fly to Charlotte). You simply won’t find a bunch of nicer Pros at any other Con anywhere.
That’s not to intimate that Mainstream Creators are all assholes. They aren’t. But an Independent Creator has more on the line… Whether they can feed themselves and their families truly DOES depend upon your response and opinions to their work. They don’t have the SAFETY NET of a guaranteed corporation check behind them. Yet, they seem nowhere near as jaded as their Big Two counterparts and tend to truly appreciate the kind words of a knowledgeable fan.
And make no mistake– these creators UNDERSTAND that comic publishing is a BUSINESS. They may lead a life filled with artistic freedom– but it is also accompanied by a LARGE dose of IRONY. Most Indie Artists & Writers know that unless they crack through pop culture with a Walking Dead of their own– that their fortunes will sink or swim MUCH MORE VIOLENTLY on the vagaries of the market… And whether they like it or not– their popularity often relies on whether the Big Two publishers can retain– or, as of lately– woo readers, collectors and hobbyists BACK INTO comic shops.
As I write this, Jim Lee has just tweeted that the repatriation and appearances of such Vertigo Comics stalwarts as John Constantine and the Swamp Thing in the “regular” DC Universe does NOT mean that the venerable Mature Readers imprint is going Bye-Bye. In fact, he tweets that DC’s Vertigo line will be as strong as ever.
I hope so… If only so we can continue to see Chrissie Zullo’s outstanding cover work in a more artistic– and less formulaic– setting. I don’t know if you are a fan of Fables or the Fables version of Super-Spy Cinderella (and if you aren’t, WHY not?) but Chrissie is Vertigo’s top artistic find of the last two years. And just like all art phenoms– she seems to have appeared “out of nowhere” with a fully developed attitude and style. (Don’t worry, I know that isn’t how this business works… It is just how it SEEMS to work,)
I hardly ever say something gushy like this– but Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love (and it’s current sequel) are worth buying JUST for the covers alone. (It doesn’t hurt that one of my favorite people [and artists], Shawn McManus, draws the interiors for both series either.)
Chrissie was an absolute delight to speak with and promised to talk with Jose and I on a podcast soon. How totally cool is that?!
Next up: Todd Dezago of Perhapanauts and Tellos fame (plus Young Justice, Impulse, Sensational Spider-man, etc, etc, etc). I wanted/had to speak with Todd for several reasons: First and foremost for his work– to tell him how much I have enjoyed Perhapanauts… And because he wrote (in the comprehensive Perhapanauts: Dark Days collection published by Image Comics) how upset he and artist Craig Rousseau were at basically getting the BIG IGNORE from Dark Horse Comics and their marketing department.
It was a ballsy piece of writing that completely (and surprisingly) TOTALLY LACKED immaturity, bitterness or malice. It was just a straight-forward, awe-inspiring critique/account of how they felt they– and their creation– had been treated by their former publisher. At times hilarious and freakishly close to some of the same things I have experienced in this business– this Trade Paperback Foreword should be ASSIGNED READING for EVERY aspiring comic book writer and artist on the planet. (Just so you know what you’re getting yourself into.)
Meeting Todd for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised to see he talks like he writes: Fun and professional… And he doesn’t like to look at camera head-on when you take his photo. He likes to look busy (or at least bemused– as he does above). It’s this kinda quirk that accompanies almost EVERY talented individual.
I was already endeared to Todd through his work… And his cool, calm demeanor sealed the deal. I was also very psyched to hear that new Perhapanauts will be coming from Image… Just appearing MUCH LATER than I would like. I was extremely surprised (and dead chuffed) to hear that more TELLOS (the fantastic action fantasy series Todd co-created with the late, great Mike Wieringo) was also on tap.
I was equally intrigued when Todd related his genuine excitement about working with a NEW COMPANY that was,”… making Motion Comics done right.” That I desperately HAVE to see… Since I have never watched a Motion Comic that I didn’t think SUCKED BALLS.
We got so caught up discussing motion comics, I never got around to thanking him for that tough Trade Paperback piece. But Todd DID agree to appear on an upcoming IMJ Podcast… So I’ll definitely discuss it with him during the taping… Promise.
Then Todd did something REALLY weird: He wrote down my info and promised to contact ME as soon as he got home… And then he DID! Of course, in typical Ian fashion, I didn’t write him back yet… But only because I was so ashamed that I have taken so long to produce this LONG OVERDUE Con Report. (Sorry about that, Todd! As soon as I hit the PUBLISH button on this piece, I promise to email you FIRST!)
Me and the gang kept walking around. Traffic was still light, so I took the opportunity to capture a few random Con pics for posterity:
GOT BLANK CON SKETCH VARIANTS?
By now, however, my bad back had appeared on schedule and my flat footsies were getting tired. Still, I decided to run by Jim Starlin’s table again… In hopes of catching the elusive maestro of some of my favorite books. No luck.
What you may NOT know: Once I finally decided to sit down, there were ZERO CHAIRS available to con-goers on the con floor. ZERO!
Instead, your bad backs and aching feet got this LESS THAN CLASSY option:
I was NOT sitting on that floor. There was NO WAY.
Instead, I took a painkiller and did some stretches. Then I walked around some more– and bought some books from the Top Shelf booth in Indie Island. A very nice gentleman asked if I needed any help. I shook my head and said “Nope!”
Realizing how curt that sounded, I then said something amazingly stupid.
Quickly scanning dozens of books laid out on two tables, I pompously proclaimed, “I only don’t need any help because I actually ALREADY own ALL the books you’re selling!” Greeted by two somewhat incredulous looks from the gentlemen manning the booth, I furiously scanned the books again and then triumphantly pointed at one book in the middle of the table and proclaimed, “Except THIS one!”
Incredulity turned to vindication as one of the men said, “You really MUST own everything!” Why?” I asked (a little surprised that I did).
“Because that one hasn’t even been released yet!” The slightly amazed voice belonged to the actual CREATOR/WRITER of The Homeland Directive, Robert Venditti. Since it WAS the only Top Shelf book I didn’t own, I had to buy it. I then asked Robert if he would be on a podcast. He agreed just as I realized that Mike Huddleston (currently drawing the Image smash Butcher, Baker, Righteous Maker) was also the book’s artist. Oooh, I thought. We’ve got to get Mike to come on too!
The Top Shelf staff further impressed me when I was allowed to pay for my purchases (I bought two other books as gifts) with plastic that was swiped through an attachment on an iPhone. I had heard of this device but it was both amazing and scary at the same time. (Now I know one of the methods unscrupulous waitresses are using to steal my credit card numbers). About five seconds after I “signed” the phone, I got a text message from MY cell alerting me that I had just received a receipt for my purchase from Top Shelf. (Like I said: Crazy!)
Then I ran into someone I didn’t even know was at the con” Terry Moore!
Who doesn’t love Terry Moore? I know I do! (And if for some reason you don’t adore the creator of Strangers in Paradise and Echo– then please try to remember what your Mother drilled into you when you were a kid and keep those NASTY thoughts to yourself, Mr./Ms. Negativity-Pants!)
Painkiller now in full effect (I spent a lot of time jawing at the Top Shelf booth), I then told Terry how much I loved Strangers in Paradise, how much I loved Echo, how impressed I was with EVERYTHING he had ever written… How wonderful I thought he was… And he still said he would be happy to Guest on an IMJ Podcast!
Despite acting completely like a STALKER, I was firing on all cylinders that day!
Speaking of stalking, I had been at the Con for over three hours and still had NO LEAD on Jim Starlin. My feet aching, my back breaking (pain meds don’t last long for me!)– I decided to make one last effort to find the man who killed Captain Marvel… And there he was!
As you can see from the above photo, Jim was all about his Breed comic at Heroes Con… But he graciously listened to me ramble on about everything but that book– and even agreed to be on an IMJ Podcast! SCORE! Now, after looking at this photo– I cannot believe I totally missed the great BREED T-SHIRT he was selling!
Oh well, maybe next year.