This weekend, it was the Baltimore Comic-Con, celebrating its 20th edition. It had been a few years since I had attended, due to scheduling, but the timing two weeks after NYCC couldn’t have been more ideal, at least from my vantage point and that of many of the pros I spoke with.
As one attendee put it: “This show is like the morning after a wedding – everyone is hungover but happy.”
Indeed, after the epic struggles of NYCC, stepping on to the floor of the Baltimore Convention Center was like a return to more pleasant, simpler times. You could stand and talk to people for 10-15 minutes without being jostled. You could get to panels without fighting giant lines. You could go to the bathroom whenever you wanted. Paradise.
Baltimore Comic Con is truly a throwback con, but it has a guest list second to none, including legends like Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Walt and Weezie Simonson, Juanjo Guarnido, Marv Wolfman, and Jim Steranko. And tons of contemporary creators as well, from Amy Chu to Brian K. Vaughan.
Perhaps most impressively of all, all the lines were for comics folks (no slebs or giveaways!) – some folks had brought entire wagons filled with books to be signed – a bit over-enthusiastic perhaps – but there was a brisk business being done at almost every booth. Just because there was time to chat didn’t mean no one was busy.
The laid back vibe was just what many were looking for. “This is the perfect size con,” one happy creator told me. “It’s like Thanksgiving for comics,” said another of the family-like atmosphere.
While the timing might have been great for road warriors like me who wanted a chance to hang out and catch up with friends after the brutal schedules of the mega cons from ECCC on – I hope it was right for the con itself. BCC weekend coincided with the Baltimore Marathon and the street closures on Saturday may have dinged attendance a bit. A brutal all-day rain on Sunday was a similar dampener. Still, there were always crowds and lots of costumes.
My own con started on Friday morning with an important lesson learned:
Unlike other cities where Megabus drops you off downtown, the Baltimore stop is 18 miles away from downtown, meaning a 20-30 minute $30 Lyft ride or a ONE HOUR public transport ride. Unacceptable! (The NYC drop off spot is actually right on my street, although a few long city blocks to the west.) This caused some anxiety on Sunday after the show, when a friend dropped me off at a barren, isolated bus stop in the middle of a downpour – luckily we had timed it right and the bus arrived one minute later. Still, not pleasant! If you need to take public transport take Bolt Bus or book Amtrak early enough to get a cheap fare!
Friday night, a typical con rabble found food at a new ramen place a few feet from our hotel. Inner Harbor food is decent but touristy, but this place was excellent. I expect it to be closed or utterly overrun by next year but we timed our wait fairly well this time.
Evening activities were moved to the Sheraton because the Hyatt had been taken over by the marathon. This meant the bar was actually a room meant for breakfast buffets, but, hey comics people can hang out just about anywhere and the camaraderie was not lessened.
Later, I attended the Ringo Awards, the program that sprang up after the Harvey Awards moved to NYCC. The Ringos follow the shape of the old Harveys, with a slate of awards, some voted on by pros, some by fans, and a banquet format. The elements that made the last few Harveys in Baltimore a bit of a slog – questionable nominees and an overly long format – have been stripped away making this a very pleasant evening to spend with colleagues. The 2019 edition included special awards for Jose Luis Garcia Lopez and Louise Simonson, and I can honestly say there are no two people in the industry who deserve to be feted more. Personally speaking, I couldn’t have been more gratified to be able to stand and give these two geniuses the ovation they so richly deserve.
A story – evidently well known but not to me – about Garcia-Lopez was told in which Moebius, the great French artist was looking at some of JLGL’s art in an editor’s office (probably Andy Helfer.)
Does he use models? Moebius asked. Told no, he replied “Son of a bitch!”
Garcia-Lopez is truly an artist’s artists, his model sheets for the DC characters – now nearly 40 years old – as fresh and perfect as the day he first drew them.
As for Weezie – as her husband pointed out, she was in the middle of every comics “event” that defined the genre and her writing makes her true Hall of Famer.
Since I hadn’t been to the Ringos before, I also realized how fitting it was that the award was named after the late artist Mike Wieringo, and so many presenters spoke about how he had touched their lives. ‘Ringo was immensely talented, but even more immensely loved, basically a hard-working, talented cartoonist who tried to treat people the right away. In a way, that’s the kind of person that the whole camaraderie of con culture recognize. People can be “ordinary” in many ways and yet still have an extraordinary impact on those around them. Through comics culture, I’ve met an amazing number of amazing people…and that’s why I keep coming back.
Along those lines, one member of the comics tribe had his wallet and phone stolen outside the con – a disaster at any time, but maybe a con was the best place for it to happen. He told me that everyone had offered him rides, loans, and whatever else he needed. I know the comics industry can be a very shitty place, but sometimes Team Comics does the right thing, as well.
Sunday morning I was a panelist on Amy Chu’s “Coffee and Comics” panel which includes caffeine for those who need it (all of us basically) and general chat with the audience. Once again, this was such a pleasant way to wrap up my year in travel. Fellow panelists Dan Parent and Paul Storrie told stories about coffee, and answered some excellent fan questions. A lot of them were about Archie, due to Chu and Parent’s work on various titles, and it was fun to hear Parent especially talk about the many variations on Riverdale’s endlessly modifiable cast. One question from the audience was about writers’ weirdest pitches and Parent’s was about a mini-series where the Riverdale teachers turn in to superheroes. I’m not enough of an Archie buff to remember that one but yes, weird. Chu talked about how hard it was to write the Betty & Veronica & Vampirella & Red Sonja crossover – it’s indeed a strange bunch to meld together, but the results have been popular with fans.
Storrie mentioned that Gotham Girls, a mini-series from the early part of the century, will finally be reprinted as Harley Quinn & the Gotham Girls. I’m old enough to remember when this came out and how controversial it was to have a book that focused on DC’s female characters for younger readers.
How times have changed.
That was mostly my experience at Baltimore Comic Con. For those who want the authentic old school experience and not a frantic endurance race against time, it’s a good getaway con, and despite its problems, Baltimore is still a wonderful city, full of proud citizens. As a bonus for me, it turned out two of my cousins were in town to run the marathon, and I even got to squeeze in some family time! Team Comics FTW!
(This article first ran in The Beat’s weekly newsletter.)