And to think I almost didn’t go to the Baltimore Comic-Con. Like many, I was feeling pretty conned out, but in the end the idea of a short road trip to an always relaxing show — and covering the Harveys — won out, so I was off on a road trip with Ed Catto of Bonfire Agency and Captain Action fame, and Josh Frankel, founder of new publisher Zip Comics. Beginning as it did at 7:30 am, the trip down was a coffee-driven affair, as we discussed our various endeavors and ideas for improvements and prognostications for the future. While all three of us are born optimists, the current uncertainties and question marks left any real attempts at planning akin to spitting into the wind. Future cloudy; ask again later.
I was checking Twitter on the way down, and saw many reports of long lines to get into the show. When we arrived at noonish, I wasn’t surprised to see the Baltimore Convention Center was humming, and the streets right around it were practically…clogged with con-goers.
Inside, it was a madhouse! Cramped aisles and huge lines everywhere. I’ve been going to this show for nearly a decade, and I’ve always thought of it as “the relaxing show” where you could just hang around and gab. Not this time! Everyone was busy signing and (I hope) selling.
As I wrote in my official piece for Publishers Weekly, a lot of this was due to the appearance of Stan Lee. The living legend has been making quite a few convention appearances lately, but this was his first Baltimore. There was a huge, huge line for the “Froggy’s photos” booth, which went partway into a whole hall that had been set aside for the overflow. People paid $195 to get their picture taken with Stan — even more to get an autograph. Whatever of you think of the motivation for this, 88-year-old Stan’s stamina in sitting there and being “the Man” for hundreds of people is incredible. He was signing and being photographed all day; I, conversely, had to bail out of the hall after someone spilled coffee on me.
But as I also observed in the above piece, people with the Stan Lee VIP lanyards were everywhere in the hall. As often noted, Baltimore is a comics ONLY show. There are no celebrities — not even a Lou Ferrigno. No movie panels. No TV sneak peeks. It’s all comics. There was no way that all those people were there for anything but comics. (I know you could argue that Stan is a movie star, and certainly his fame has moved into the “personality” realm, but his appeal is rooted firmly in comics.)
Costumes were everywhere — I’ve noted before that Baltimore is a very family-oriented show where entire families go in costume. There were quite a few Two and a Half Avengers costume groups, but just more of everything than in past years. More girls, more people of color, more Jedi. The culture of “Comic-Con” — a mingling of costumed dreamers, lookie-loos, art collectors and creators of your favorite characters — all in one carnival. With a two-day pass only $30, and kids FREE, this was an affordable day for the whole family.
Several of the more, um, rambunctious elements of bigger, louder cons were also in evidence — a guy playing a steel drum quickly became unpopular with booths nearby, and some guys who went around shouting some kind of warrior chant did not make many friends. It was just wackier and goofier.
The line to the costume contest had to be capped — the room held 1000 people but several hundred more were lined up outside. I attended the New 52 panel in an adjoining room, which was also packed. The shouts from the costume contest kept drifting through the wall, and at one point moderator Jimmy Palmiotti got everyone in the DC room to shout “Shut up!” at once. It was all good-natured.
Baltimore is generally a more superhero focused show, but I saw big lines around AdHouse and Top Shelf, too. While I was chatting to Chris Staros, a boy of 10 or so came up with the second volume of Incredible Change-Bots, Jeffrey Brown’s loopy, charming tribute to the Transformers. His father asked how much it was. Chris explained the hardcover was $25 but the paperback was only $15. He also pointed out it was the second volume.
The boy nodded his head. It was very clear that he had the first book and loved it and wanted this one, too. Badly. The dad happily got the paperback and the kid looked like he’d just gotten a treasure. A book is a friend.
After catching up with some folks, and my annual long, delightful conversation with Carla Speed McNeill, it was back to the hotel to change for the Harveys. I went down to the cocktail reception which was a laid back affair and caught up with Jose Villarubia, Charlie Adlard, Stan Sakai and so on. Suddenly there was a little buzz in the room. Stan Lee had arrived! Although accompanied by the bodyguard and minders he always has, he was just going up to the bar and ordering his drink like a regular guy. After about 10 minutes, some fan crashers did show up, but they were handled graciously, as far as I can tell.
I tweeted about the Harveys ceremony at length. I was seated with Jose, Dean Haspiel, Joan Hilty, Chris Miskiewicz and an old convention pal I hadn’t had a chance to talk to in years, Todd Scott. MC Scott Kurtz had people laughing and wincing in equal measure — he doesn’t pull punches — but his ad libs were probably the best part of his act. With fewer categories and special awards, the ceremony moved along pretty briskly…I was busy tweeting the whole time though, so I had a lot to handle. There was NO Wi-Fi in the room, so I couldn’t live-blog, but I think I managed to cover a lot of it. The special award included two from The Hero Initiative — one for Mike Gold, recognizing his long service in comics and out, and in particular his efforts to raise money for to aid industry veteran John Ostrander when he needed an eye operation.
Then an award was given to Stan…I think there was a charity element but everyone knew it was really just because he was Stan. And he was hilarious. He brought the house down with a joke about inker Mark Morales, but it was really a “you had to be there” moment, so I won’t even try to describe it.
After the awards, the major snafu from last year was rectified. You may recall that after the dramatic Waid/Aragones incident, people heading to the hotel bar found it woefully unprepared for a busy evening. This year, the 15th floor bar, Pisces, had been opened up and stayed open until 2, which has the advantage of keeping the noise away from other hotel guests trying to sleep, and giving everyone a destination. For whatever reason this bar wasn’t quite maintained in the same top-notch fashion as the rest of the hotel (which features tinted blue glass accents in the bathrooms), and the service was not snappy, but it definitely got the job done as everyone was able to mingle post-Awards.
Sunday was not as crowded, but it was still busy. I checked in with road warriors Filip Sablik of Top Cow and Renee Witterstaetter and they confirmed that they had seen a lot of new faces at the show. The proliferation of first-timers was really encouraging.
We’d decided to make an earlyish exit, at 2:30, and that just happened to be when a green sky thunderstorm squall blew through. For a moment the benches outside the hall were loaded with people emptying rainwater out of their shoes after a drenching. We waited for the worst to blow over, and then hit the road so I don’t know how it affected the rest of the day.
Despite what seemed positive from the people I talked to, there was a sense that dealers didn’t do as well, as Brett Schenker reported
Even with the massive crowds, I constantly heard from those exhibiting that sales were down slightly from last year. No matter, you couldn’t help be impressed by the crowds.
I suspect that people who spent money wanted to have that face-to-face transaction and not go through longboxes.
Michel Fiffe sounds like he had an awesome show, though:
Spoke to Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (in spanish!) about licensing art and inking Trevor Von Eeden. Walt Simonson held court about an upcoming project and tested my comics history by asking who Eli Katz was (I won). Back at the table I met quite a few good folks. A great aspiring inker who was told by a DC editor that he’d have 2 monthly books to work on had it been 15 years ago. A teenage girl dressed up as Ultimate Jean Grey who was carrying around pages from her vigilante comic. A Savage Dragon reader who regretted never reading the Twisted Funnies back ups once he flipped through the collected edition. Turned a teenage kid bored with superhero comics onto Eightball and Love & Rockets. Spoke to Mr. Phil (from Indie Spinner Rack) about the the weird habit of collecting comics, getting rid of them in a flurry of purging, then hunting those very same comics again. Is that a common thing amongst us readers? That’s gotta be some sort of sickness.
We’ve all been there.
COSTUMES: Otakon, the huge anime/manga show had been held at that same venue a few weeks before so the hardcore cosplayers were not there. While there were some spectacular costumes – girl Loki was often mentioned — there were just as many people with very clearly home made costumes that had more heart than craft. And those were great too! Also some mysteries — an older man dressed as Batman, sagging Lycra butt and all. You’ve got to either have guts or be nuts to do that, but it certainly shows passion for the character.
DIVERSITY: When I first started going to Baltimore, it was really a white guy collector show — there were very few women or kids. This year, the range of attendees was stunning. If you don’t believe that comics are for everyone, this would set you straight. The costumed folks covered all ages, races and sexes. If you wonder why the diversity issue keeps coming up its because an audience so clearly exists.
A WELL RUN SHOW: I really have to give Marc Nathan and Brad Tree, the main men behind the show, huge props. Even with the surge in attendance, the show was very well run. For a while Baltimore was famous for having a new disaster hit every year — one time it was the Beltway sniper, another it was a hurricane. But this time, everything hit on all cylinders, and it was a well-deserved success. The talk for next year is either a three-day show or a bigger hall. While exhibitors want another day to sell, I’d rather see two GREAT days instead of one big day and two quiet ones. But that’s me.
The trip home took a while, as we kept running into storms. But the mood in the car had changed. The uncertainties of the trip down had been replaced by a certainty: We love comics and we’re gong to stick around no matter what.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.