by Hannah Means-Shannon
In the wake of the Harvey Awards, and a late night for many of the invited guests of the convention, Sunday morning was mellow compared to Saturday’s hustle. Fans still brought the energy onto the floor, many of them taking advantage of what they knew would be a less hectic time frame for ordering commissions. The slower pace prompted more conversation between booths, with plenty of artists hopping between tables when they had a spare moment to reconnect with old friends. Often at larger cons, artist’s alley feels, in its darker moment, like a chain gang where prisoners keep their morale up as best they can through the churning crowds and recognize that they are all in this together. In Baltimore, it was more like the atmosphere on the last day of school, with the barely suppressed sense that the kids are taking over.
It was a good time to look up some more independent comics creators after all the panels devoted to mainstream superhero publishing on Saturday. The Hero Initiative, who had played such a significant role at the Harvey Awards, also maintained a prominent booth near artist’s alley selling a wide variety of special project books they’ve published in the past as well as signed books to benefit the cause. They fielded a reassuring level of traffic and sold inexpensive tickets to their benefit panel to be hosted by Marvel editor Tom Breevort on the topic of editing the Marvel way.
Dennis Kitchen, who had accepted several Harvey Awards on behalf of absent recipients the night before, well represented the indie occupation of Baltimore Comic Con with his neatly displayed booth arranged with comics history books, his own sketchbooks, and original Will Eisner art for sale by the Eisner estate. He brought some sophistication to the con, as well as a reminder of aspiration and credibility in the comics medium.
A small New York posse of independent comics folk included Dean Haspiel, Seth Kushner, Joe Infurnari, and Reilly Brown who each brought newly released work to the show. Haspiel brought a first time ever landscape-printed copy of his web comic BILLY DOGMA: THE LAST ROMANTIC ANTI-HERO, Kushner brought his first comics print publication, a mini from his webseries SCHMUCK DIARIES, Infurnari brought his highly successful web series TIME FUCKER in its first print dayglo covers, and Brown, an artist who has worked in and out of the mainstream, sold a newly printed sketchbook. Of the group, all but Brown feature on the multimedia collective website TRIP CITY and their movement between print and digital formats suggests a certain elasticity in the future format of comics.
Panels running on Sunday spotlighted specific creators, the role of comics in education, and the relationship between fans, aspiring creators, and the industry. Tom Brevoort’s “Marvel Boot Camp Seminar” for the Hero Initiative took in the finer points of editing, often with an irreverent undercurrent for any rules of thumb that violated common sense. In a talk he had never before presented outside of Marvel training, Brevoort covered his “philosophy of editing”, answered the question “What is a Marvel story?”, and fielded audience queries. There’s not a lot out there for the interested professional about the process or duties of comics editing, and so Brevoort’s talk provided valuable insight.
Brevoort’s helpful lapses into conversational language and metaphors translated information geared toward professionals into a format con-goers could grasp. “We like to break the toys in a way that is responsible and makes sense” he explained, concerning big changes in character lines. Brevoort’s references to working with De Falco and Gruenwald were a treat for followers of Marvel publication history, though Brevoort also commented somewhat wistfully that he is now the last of his generation still working for Marvel.
It was clear that the kind of wisdom that the editor was passing on was gleaned from hands-on day to day struggle and experience, formulated as “what not to do” as often as “what to do”. What shouldn’t an editor do according to Marvel? They shouldn’t neglect the basic duties that make life livable for their team, including submitting vouchers for on-time payment, and “shielding them” from interference from Marvel when it’s unwarranted. He commented on the changing challenges an editor faces, for instance the constant tide of e-mails sent and received carrying images and layouts, and suggested strategies for keeping up good communication despite all.
His most honest but perhaps least helpful statement about learning to be an effective editor was that, in truth is “no rule book, no guide book” and that editing is based “almost entirely on instinct honed by experience”. If he had stopped there, the audience might have been tempted to throw their notebooks at him, but he explained further that instinct is most important when “casting a book” and hiring teams to work together. When judging what makes a good “Marvel story”, however, the editor should remember a house rule, that Marvel stories should be more about the “person in the costume” than the costume and powers themselves. Stan Lee’s emphasis on the soap-operatic drama is still going strong at Marvel, it seems, but as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Two hours of Brevoort’s detailed and speedy instructions did indeed make the audience feel they had experienced Marvel “boot camp”, and gotten some insider knowledge on many of the “tricks of the trade”.
While Saturday had its Harvey Awards to generate excitement, Sunday boasted the costume contest. While the hoards gathered upstairs to enter the largest conference hall, even the non-costumed hung around to gawk. Dr. Who had plenty of attention from a Doctor and Tardis couple to an impressive full-scale Dalek. Bane was probably the second most ubiquitous figure after the Doctor, however, there was plenty of creativity in his manifestations, from “pimp Bane”, to Bane of the gulag. Some of the most impressive costumes were to be seen later on as the con was closing up shop. The Crow in semi-professional make-up loitered with scantily clad companions and posed grimly. No smiles there.
Because the Baltimore Comic Con is “comics only” and doesn’t focus on other forms of pop culture, the comics vending at the con was particularly strong. The trades available for discount prices were much more likely to include masterwork editions, gold and silver age reprints, and indie hardbacks. The collector’s books were equally fan-specific, with a striking number of books from the early days of comics in every genre, though particularly representative of super heroes. If you stayed long enough to see the artist’s alley exodus, you were in for yet another kind of spectacle as comics greats stood around in small groups bidding their farewells with a general sense of “It’s been fun” at BCC rather than the “Well, we survived” that you might find at NYCC or SDCC.
For fans in town for the con, there was also still plenty to see and do in Baltimore if so inclined. Two easy-access activities included walking around the inner harbor with its restaurants, shop, and aquarium, and visiting the Geppi’s Entertainment Museum located just across the street from the convention center in Camden Yards. The museum’s stately turn of the century galleries and lavishly endowed historical collections are artfully arranged to educate the public about pop culture in period by period presentation. Geppi’s has one of the most impressive collections of comics on display in the world. If you want to see the first appearance of any particular character on a mint-condition book, this is the place to go. Its culture-wide presentation of material places comics within context of film, radio, and ephemera in a way that’s bound to increase appreciation of the part comics have played in the evolution of pop sensibilities today.
[Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and WordPress.]
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.