Living in California, I’ve been to many cons in the western US, but had never been to an east coast convention before, and I had heard nothing but good things about Baltimore and Heroes Con from east coast friends. My job had me, in a pleasant coincidence, working in Annapolis, MD on the Monday thru Thursday right before the Baltimore con this year, so I thought: “I’m in the neighborhood, I should stick around for a couple of extra days and check out this convention!” and I’m certainly glad I did. I’m going to describe my experiences, all positive, along with a few cautionary notes and suggestions to the people running the con in this Blog.
Comics still take a very visible front row seat at this convention, which is a rarity at “comics” conventions nowadays. Many cons spend much more energy and devote much more panel and floor space to things that are Hollywood related or general pop culture, because those are things that draw in bigger audiences than the comics themselves. Walking around and overhearing snippets of conversation over the course of several days, I got the feeling that there are definitely more “pure comics” fans, by percentage, than at other cons I have attended. I heard a number of people talking about print comics; about issues and stories they had read and enjoyed, past and present, as well as their desires to “buy comics”. One person I overheard was very focused on this, saying he only came to this show to buy comics, and WOW! There were lots of comics dealers at this show to sate this individuals desire for comics.
On the flipside of that, there were also plenty of people whose conversations focused more on the media gusts and other pop culture topics, with little focus or interest in comics. This is certainly not a bad thing, but the cautionary note is this:
I have been attending the San Diego Comic Con since 1990. That con used to be focused on comics. Over time, they shifted in public perception because Hollywood, video games, etc. took up more and more of a visible role, to the point that now to those on the outside looking in, SDCC is no longer a comics oriented show. On the inside, for those who love comics, this can be seen to not be the case. There are just as many comics dealers at SDCC (if not more) than at Baltimore, it’s just that they only take up a fraction of the show floor as the other stuff has taken on a life of its own. The number of pure comics-related panel content at SDCC dwarfs what is available in Baltimore, there are 10x the number of comics panels at SDCC. But even with all this content, people still say SDCC is “not about comics”. This is the trap you fall into as a convention organizer when you start ramping up the number of Hollywood celebrities. It’s the best way to grow attendance and it is ALSO (unfortunately) the best way to shift the focus of your convention away from comics. This is not a knock on Baltimore Comic Con, but a warning as they spend a lot of energy promoting actors like Sean Astin, Candice Patton, Hayley Atwell, and “the guy who played Hodor on Game of Thrones”. San Diego was once right where you are, and they let this get away from them. If you genuinely want to be the “comic lover’s comic con”, don’t let this get away from you too.
Baltimore does a superb job promoting comics artists. The most creative way of doing this is their yearbook with lots of attending artists contributing an illustration focusing on the theme of the year, which was Archie comics this year. They still had the books available from previous years, so I purchased them back to 2012, and each one is a fabulous artifact. The creativity then gets taken up a notch by their concept of a scavenger hunt for artist’s signatures. If you get 20 signatures in the book, you get 2 of 5 prints of images that didn’t make it into the book. If you collect 40 or more signatures you get all 5 prints.
Always up to a challenge, I collected 43 signatures and got the full set of prints. The good part is that those people participating in the scavenger hunt have to talk to a lot of artists. I spent hours completing the task because I chatted with most of the artists. Sometimes if they were deeply involved in a conversation with someone else I’d get the signature and move along, but for the most part I talked to most of the artists. I had great conversations with Carla Speed McNeil, Ramona Fradon, Howard Chaykin (I learned he used to have a home a few exits up the freeway from where I live!), John K. Snyder II, David Peterson, Barry Kitson, Mark Wheatley, Mark Waid (who told a great story about going back to the visit the house he grew up in only to be asked if he was a “revenuer”) and more! I ended up getting sketches or other artwork from a number of them:
“5 minute sketch” by Barry Kitson
I have no doubt that I’d not have had the same interactions with as many artists had I not been doing the scavenger hunt. When I got to Barry Kitson’s line he was doing free “5 minute” sketches, where he’d have a clock running. He was also doing $60 head/torso and $130 full body sketches which were awesome with not only full inks, but also full color! While in line I watched him do a fabulous Judge Dredd as well as an awesome Star Sapphire. He spent 30-40 minutes on each paid sketch. I would have gotten a paid one, had I not felt sorry for all the people waiting in line, making them wait an extra 30 minutes or more, so instead I bought some of the preliminary artwork Kitson had for sale while contenting myself with a 5 minute sketch of Cap (see above). If I go to another con that Kitson is at, I’ll make a point of going to his table straightaway to get a full blown sketch. Another cool thing (for me) was being recognized by another person in line: “Are you in that video on YouTube for having the World’s Biggest Comic Collection?”; which provided a topic for conversation for quite a while as people around me in line asked questions about comics storage, organization, and interfacing with the folks at Guinness. Only the 3rd time I’ve been recognized by someone for this, so it’s still a novelty for me.
Similarly, when I was at the Valiant booth, complimenting Fred Van Lente on his latest series Generation Zero, Valiant’s Director of Sales pointed out to Fred that I was the world record holder and given I’ve read about 100,000 comics in my lifetime, I have some legitimate context when declaring a comic among the best that I’ve read. A Valiant fan standing nearby got very excited hearing this and wanted to take a picture with me…you can see that he’s inordinately excited to meet me.
In addition to my interactions with artists and other fans, I dove into what Baltimore seems to excel in…diving through the bins of back issues at numerous dealers. Even with a limited back issue budget that prevented me shopping for any of the key issues I was lacking, I was still able to score quite a few nice books to fill in gaps in my silver age DC collection for very reasonable prices.
I also picked up one of the X-Men issues I was missing (the last new issue before the title switched to reprints) as well as an EC comic that I got for $9… and I couldn’t pass it up at that price.
…finally, I found some wonky books in a $3 box. The only one of these I had seen before was the 1st issue of The Peacemaker, which is frequently featured in Scott Shaw’s “Oddball Comics panel at the San Diego Comic-Con. Peter the Pest is a Marvel humor reprint title that I had never even heard of, and I loved the guy playing with action figures of Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, and others on the cover of Charlton Premiere #3.
Baltimore Comic Con is a great show for people who love comics, with offerings for people into general pop culture as well, though I hope that stays at the current level and does not rise up and turn this show into a clone of many other cons that have grown by including Hollywood celebrity at the expense of comics content. If you like old comics there are plenty of back issues to buy. If you’re a fan of comics art, there are LOTS of artists to meet, talk to and buy prints, sketches, comics, etc. from. If you enjoy trying new things Baltimore has one of the most comprehensive Artist’s Alley sections I’ve ever seen with a lot of up-and-coming creators who have all kinds of new and different works for sale.
If you’re a comic lover anywhere near Baltimore this show is well worth your time.
Bob Bretall: firstname.lastname@example.org
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