Detroit FanFare, which was held this past weekend, was the first show this year that I spent mostly behind a table, being a dutiful guest of the show. It was a welcome change from the usual running around and helping Ben McCool work his table meant I got to see comic-con culture from a new viewpoint. And I learned some things.
#1 is how many kids there are now. Ben didn’t have any all-ages material to sell, but if he had it would have done gangbusters, since that’s what so many adults are looking for now.
#2, is just how many people have ideas and plans. When you’re sitting behind a booth people come by to tell you their ideas and plans. In fact when I’m not behind a booth, I run around and do it to everyone else.
This was a “throwback show,” in every way. I was interested to attend since I’ve never been to Detroit, but the gloomy economy of the area seemed to hang over a lot of the sales. No one did crappy but no one did hip hip hooray, either. But there was a good sized crowd and everyone seemed to be having a good time, which is how such things are usually measured.
What do I mean by “throwback””? The event was lowkey and featured many longboxes. But there was also a mermaid and superhero parkour, and lots of cosplay because its 2013 after all. The show organizers—it’s run by retailer Dennis Barger of WonderWorlds, artist Tony Miello and longtime industry fixture Gary Reed—had if anything, jammed the show with all kinds of things, from a costume contest to a 24 hour video game room, to the aforementioned mermaid. I wouldn’t say it was the most organized event I ever went to, but it had big plans, and tried to have something for everyone, an effort which I appreciated.
But local quirks left a mark, too. The hotel, which was known as the Adoba Hotel Dearborn, was a beautiful, spacious facility, but it lost its liquor license when it converted from a Hyatt, so the hotel had no bar and everyone had to buy drink tickets. I practice this meant someone gave you drink tickets. This led to a kind of “friends and family hour” on the Friday Preview night, but I don’t think anyone was really complaining.
Anyway, despite venue snafus, I think the show was a success overall. There was a good local turnout from localish regional creators like John Ostrander, Paul Storrie and Keith Pollard, and a big artists alley of all kinds of local artists and publishers none of whom I had ever heard of. The big guests were Jeff Smith, Jeffrey Brown, Eric Powell, Jamal Igle and a bunch of voice actors like Billy West and Maurice LaMarche. A couple of Detroit Lons showed up on Saturday and caused some traffic. Tyler Mane and Renae Geerlings were hanging out much of the time, promoting heir film Compound Fracture. It was pretty cozy and friendly. I took some pictures and will insert commentary amidst them.
Detroit has a very nice airport, and the Delta terminal has a swanky tram that goes from one end of the terminal to the other. Travel to and from Laguardia couldn’t have been easier.
Cosplayer from Saturday. Not sure who it is so it must have been a video game character.
Here’s that mermaid, swimming with some regular folks. Froday nght there was a zombie Halloween type party in the pool room. As we were leaving two regular folks in bathing suits came around the corner hoping for a swim; they looked appalled. “Is her hot tub open?” one asked frantically. “If you can fight your way through the zombies you can get to it.” I noticed later, some pled up clothes by the hot tub, so I guess they were really determined to go for that hot soak.
Crossbow/Bloody Shirt Batman and Arrow.
The view from the table.
Organizers made a smart move by making Adventure Time such a big part of DFF. Adventure Time is the Simpsons/Peanuts of its era, a cross generational phenomenon that just seems to get bigger and bigger.
I wish my picture of this very energetic Red Ambush Bug hasn’t been blurry; he deserved better.
Friday night we went to Buddy’s Pizza which I am told is a local tradition. The pizza is not what I, as a New Yorker, would fully endorse—thick crust with a layer of cheese covered by sauce—but it tasted great.
The appetizer, “Buddy Bread” consisted of the constituent parts of the pizza—dough and sauce, in separate form. Despite this, the waiter’s comforting annoucnement that “The Buddy Bread is on its way!” had us all feeling more secure. The sauce was amazing and the bread had the consistency of raised donuts, without being sweet. I have to give Buddy’s Pizza Four Loosened Belt Buckles. It was delicious.
At dinner, as we did many times, we talked of the local scene. I asked about Detroit, it’s long mostly sad recent history turning from the city that gave us both Motown and Techno, and the automobile, the proud Motor City, one of the most architecturally grand cities of its day, now a mostly abandoned residential Osgiliath where people shoot pictures of “ruin porn.”
But there was a lot of pride as well, of course, and some people who are trying to make things better. I hope the city can rise again.
Saturday we joined the Cartoon Books crew for schwarma at El Pita, another local institution. Dearborn is known for it’s incredible Middle Eastern food, and I understand some of the locals have their own favorites, but if El Pita is just average I can’t imagine how good the other stuff is!
We had fried kibbie, fool and grape leaves stuffed with lamb. The fool was a big bowl of hot white bean dip redolent of lemon and served with hot pita. YES YUM. I was too busy eating to take a picture, but as Jeff Smith put it, when the menu claimed everything was “grilled to perfection” they were not kidding. I should mention great company at the dinner, including Jeff, Kathleen Glosan, Tom Gaadt and a fellow named Art whose last name I didn’t catch. It was his first ever comic con — and he had a great time.
On Saturday before dinner I check out the 24 hour video game room and it was a startling sight. A cirular “Rotunda” with a fantastic view of the cold rainy skies and the twinkling Osgiliath in the distance, had been converted to a video game parlor where kids of all ages battled across imaginary landscapes, oblivious— perhaps purposefully so—of the world around them.
The 24 Hour Video Game Rotunda was worth the trip all by itself!
A better shot of the PIxie who won the Saturday night costume contest. She beat a Catwoman and a Governor from The Walking Dead. She has a tumblr here—she also made a pretty good Ramona Flowers.
On Sunday, Jeffrey Brown did a “Draw 100 Star Wars Characters in 60 Minutes” panel but he only made 60, but then he gave away the drawings. I scored the Snowtrooper you see above. Brown has two more Jedi Academy books coming and one more in his Star Wars cartoon series. After this I wandered around and took pictures. Talent Caldwell was one of our table mates. I’m not sure I ever met a person who loves the Dallas Cowboys as much as this guy.
Our other table mate was Dan Daugherty, who does the comic strip Beardo. He has a new thriller out called Touching Evil that looks really great. Dan is a great guy, getting to know him was a highlight of the show. (Yes, a throwback show where you make NEW FRIENDS.) His other helpers were also great, but I don’t remember their names. =( Say hi in the comments!)
One of Daugherty’s Beardo masks.
Bronze Age mainstay Keith Pollard. He was selling art pages with the lettering on them, just like the olden days.
Jeff Smith signing.
Eric Powell. The Goon is Going Strong!
Allison Steljau of Regular Show comics fame at the Boom! booth. I see long lines in front of Allison at every show nowadays, and suddenly I realized I first met her when I spoke at her class at SVA! It’s nice to see one of the “Kids” make good.
Jeremy Bastian, hard at work on another issue of Cursed Pirate Girl. I met Jeremy’s wife Emily and she is super duper nice, just like Jeremy.
I did not take this picture! The Lions’ Israel Idonije of Athleta Comics fame showed up for a talk and signing and brought controversial all-pro Ndamukong Suh along with him. Suh is known for his agressive play but everything staye dpeaceful, although some aisles were blocked.
I did not take this picture either — it’s the newspaper photo of some of the cosplayers. As I mentioned above, I talked to several folks who were at their first comic con, and they all seemed to enjoy it and have a very good time. This was probably a good “starter” con for folks with its simpler, throwback vibe.
When all is said and done Detroit FanFare is still a very enthusiastic but local show, but I met some new friends, had some excellent food, and saw a whole new part of the country so I rate the entre experience as a thumbs up.
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.