There was some unpleasantness in Boston this week — you might have heard. Friday afternoon, mere hours before the FBI and police captured suspected Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Hynes Convention Center sent word down: Boston Comic Con was off. It was an everyone-loses situation: the con organizers are almost certainly out a lot of money for nothing, the guests are out potential income (especially those who were taking a weekend off from steady gigs), the fans are out their con experience, the cosplayers are out their costume contest, and the retailers were out a big source of revenue. This was such an eleventh-hour move by the Hynes that the retailers had their merch packed up and ready to go, just waiting for the all-clear to start hauling it into the convention center.
As soon as the curtain came down on Boston Comic Con, these retailers were thinking on their feet. It’s a testament to the craftiness and adaptability of successful comics retailers: suddenly, on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, stores were announcing guerrilla gatherings with guests who either didn’t or couldn’t turn tail as soon as the con turned south. (Those who didn’t have events generally held weekend sales. The Tick publisher New England Comics‘ eight stores happened to be holding a blowout sale anyway.) Boston’s Comicopia hosted Nowhere Men artist (and Mass native) Nate Bellegarde on Saturday, and Adventure Time creators Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb on Sunday. Comicazi in Somerville brought out local artists Ming Doyle and Erica Henderson, Hack/Slash creator Tim Seeley, living legends David Mack, Tim Sale, and Bill Willingham, and a few others to hold a “not-a-con” in the store. Newbury Comics carried on with Record Store Day.
Larry Doherty, of Larry’s Comics, was at the forefront of it all. In Lowell, twenty-five miles northwest of Boston, Larry’s Comics took its modest (and mostly empty) warehouse space and turned it into a full-fledged mini-con. Retailers who had traveled with their wares were able to set up tables. Artists showed up: Journeyman big-two artist Mike Choi and Punk Rock Jesus creator Sean Gordon Murphy, among others. On Sunday, the show continued, as a massive in-store signing with many of the remaining name-value artists still kicking around the area, like Seeley, Sale, Mack, Wolverine and the X-Men penciler Nick Bradshaw and inker Norman Lee, and more besides.
For my own part, I ended up in Bellingham, which judging by my drive was approximately nine thousand hours southwest of Boston, at Friendly Neighborhood Comics. Friendly Neighborhood is run by Ernie Pelletier, who for the past few years tapped his mind-bogglingly deep rolodex — “I have a lot of friends,” he modestly told me — to hold signing events on the Friday nights before the Boston con. (I went last year, when the More Great Art agency’s artists came in. I think four people showed up, including me, and I was there for Jason Pearson, who’d missed his flight anyway. Ernie acknowledged that the pre-con nights got “mixed” results. He didn’t even schedule one for 2013.) On the Saturday of the big show, may it rest in peace, Ernie brought in artists Chrissie Zullo, Sara Richard, Chris Uminga, Matt Fletcher, Craig Rosseau, Kelly Yates, and an up-and-coming new kid named Carlos Pacheco for a signing.
Friendly Neighborhood’s layout is pretty much a moderate rectangle, with a little room off to the side (where local artist Ian Nichols and some friends held court next to the bagged back issue sets, carrying on spirited discussions about whether cats could be zombies). You, reading this article, have been in a comic book store, so it’s probably easy to visualize: racks of games and kids’ comics on the walls as you walk in, and as the walls stretch down the store, recent offerings from the various companies leading to the back-end where the trade shelves rest. In the center, a few tables were set up for the artists to sit and work and talk and eat. On some of the high shelves, Ernie cleared off space and put up eight or nine of his own Carlos Pacheco art pages (“I’ve got maybe fifteen more”), showing off work from titles like Avengers Forever and JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice.
Pacheco himself sat in the back of the store at his own table, and between him and the rest, Rhode Island creator Jim Savard had a little space to debut his book Hellion. Savard hadn’t even planned to go to the con as a retailer — just as a fan. But when the show was off, Ernie Pelletier gave him a buzz and asked if he’d like to debut the book at his event. Pelletier’s enthusiasm can’t be understated; when I mentioned that some friends and I were putting together a mini-comic mostly to amuse ourselves, he all but invited me to come by and do a signing when it gets finished.
Granted, with all this stuff set up, in addition to the store’s usual gear… there wasn’t that much room to move around. Someone stopping to admire, say, Kelly Yates’s portfolio of Dr. Who originals often meant some creative twisting of oneself to get by. Clumps of little kids were underfoot at times, but they mostly stayed close to the friend of the store who’d come dressed up as Spider-Man. (At one point, Spidey fretted to one of the store staffers, in an uncharacteristically thick Boston accent: “I have to remember how I signed my name before, so that it’s consistent…”) Staffers in “KEEP CALM AND FIND A LAZARUS PIT” t-shirts milled about too, tending to customers and taking creators’ lunch orders.
The small space and big turnout meant that the store had an atmosphere more like a social mixer than a comic book convention (although I’m told that in the days long past, when dinosaurs walked the earth, this is what conventions were like anyway). I moved around from table to table without much rhyme or reason, and every guest seemed happy to be there and talk while doing sketches for people. I talked original art collecting with the store’s owner, Dr. Who with Kelly Yates, Mike Wieringo with Craig Rousseau, world traveling and the Las Vegas Unicon scam with Sara Richard and Chrissie Zullo, Texas Chainsaw 3D with Matt Fletcher and Chris Uminga… and wherever I was, I could overhear conversations from all around me, friends catching up, artist guests sharing tips, mothers introducing their kids with “she wants to be an artist, and…” Whereas Boston Comic Con often has a lot of silent browsing and line-waiting (and even more struggling to get around the con floor, on Saturday), this was a friendlier, more intimate thing, that felt a lot less focused on commerce despite being held in an actual store.
From his perch in the back of the store, Carlos Pacheco did sketches for early comers and was happy to talk with whoever dared speak — I use the word “dared” because at any given moment, there was a line of 2 or 3 people, watching him as he worked on some picture or another, not wanting to “interrupt him.” Still, when people did talk to him, he was warm, well-spoken, and funny (and confirmed that his next project was “a Marvel Now! title,” but no more than that). On the length it takes to produce work these days: “In the old days, if a script said an airport, you could just draw a building with a road, some cars and people, a plane in the background… now, the writers ask for specific things and it has to look very real.” He broke down the process of working with editors for someone who asked, and did a portfolio review for a graduate of the last Kubert School class that Joe Kubert himself had taught. He also showed off his nerd bona fides, as he and I went into a discussion of inkers that veered as far into obscure references as Syd Shores‘s work on Daredevil.
Around 3:30 PM, more people showed up: Nick Bradshaw, Eric “e.bas” Basaldua, and Ale Garza. The lack of room meant that the back issues section had to be covered up with a tabletop (meant for gaming, I think) for the three to sit at. Throughout the day, I’d noticed that e.bas in particular was a draw for the crowd. One woman dressed halfway like a catgirl was roaming around with a sign addressed to e.bas on her ass (her tail blocked me actually reading it without staring), and I overheard one guy dispiritedly saying he was going to leave and come back when e.bas showed up.
I left around four, having gotten tired of walking in circles around the small space of the store, and I imagined the party was not long for this world regardless. I probably had more fun than I would have at the Hynes, though, and I came away far, far less exhausted. Until the drive home, anyway.
LTZ sells comic books for a living, or something like one. He maintains his own web presence at www.nowherenoformats.com, which he never updates, ever. He can also be found on Twitter at @less_than_zero, where he mostly just sits around, retweeting stuff from @intelligentHAL.