by Hannah Means-Shannon
The lines wound around the block, disappeared and reappeared again against the concrete of the convention center in the steamy, bright weather, but once they started moving it was orderly and brisk. The incoming flood lasted for at least an hour without sign of slowing, but the capacity was generous inside and even a crowded floor was manageable. A newcomer to the Baltimore Con flipping open the guide would immediately notice a unique feature in comparison to the New York Comic Con or Wizard World Philadelphia: artist’s alley occupied at least forty percent of the floor, more if you added in the range of side-tables along the walls also designated for artists. This didn’t mean that the convention was weak on the shopping fare that comics fans demand and expect, or the deals they are looking for on that one book missing from their collection, but it did create an interesting dynamic of two worlds in synergy, each working together for the event.The focus on artists brought out the comics all-stars, who came in for a weekend to shoot the breeze with fans, and to all appearances, with each other. From British artists Brian Bolland, Mark Buckingham, and Frank Quitely to New York’s own Larry Hama, Dean Haspiel, and Jamal Ingle, fans could easily have spent the entire con hoarding up signatures. Comics writers like Scott Snyder, and publishers like Dan Didio also held court, not to mention inkers and letterers. That makes Baltimore Comic Con a comic-signing dream for completist collectors, many of whom brought rolling crates full of immaculately bagged books. Maybe that’s part of what created the generally upbeat attitude on the floor, or it could have been the unusually high proportion of diy-proud cosplayers, about 1 in 5 compared to the 1 in 7-10 typical of some bigger cons. Some of the stress created by a difficulty getting around the floor in crowded, larger cons was absent, and with only minor lines to get into the impressive array of fan-focused panels.
A “Meet the Co-Publisher” panel with DC Entertainment’s Dan Didio, moderated by Bob Wayne, also played host Jeff Lemire, Scott Snyder, and Greg Capullo in a discussion of things past and things to come for the “New 52” a year in. Scott Snyder was particularly vocal in expressing his commitment to the new continuity, seeing it as a massive opportunity for him to go into his comics writing “no holds barred”. Snyder feels that the “New 52” is a “bigger stage” on which he has more “freedom”, and part of that freedom includes the ability to take greater risks. Snyder and Greg Capullo confided that one of their goals is to make Batman scary again, someone you’d be “afraid” of if you “met that guy on the wrong side of the fence”. From Jeff Lemire’s perspective, the relaunch offered him the opportunity to “reinvent” himself as a writer and get to the core of characters that interest him. Didio’s final goal this year, he said, is to “fill in the blanks from the past and set up mysteries for the future” to bring the best possible reading experience to fans. The energy, personal motivation, and sense of team interaction on the DC panel was impressive, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.
The “Marvel Now!” panel with SVP/executive editor Tom Brevoort and longtime Marvel writer Mark Waid engaged candidly with the issues Marvel, too, has faced with shake-ups in their numbering and marketing. They opened with fan questions, and some of the nitty gritty of their changeover to new creative team-ups led them to reveal that editors on specific lines are likely to remain the same despite team changes. They emphasized the weight they place on remaining accountable to fans as they plied the audience with slides of cover art for upcoming works, including UNCANNY AVENGERS, INDESTRUCTABLE HULK, IRON MAN, THOR, and more spanning release dates from October to November 2012. To the pointed audience question “Did it have to be renumbered again”, which provoked both agreement and laughter from the crowd, Brevoort explained his reasoning in the following way: years of “bad continuity” in various types of comics have “trained” fans to shy away from long runs if they are new readers. By “planting the flag” for new readers and saying “this is a good jumping on point”, Brevoort hopes to truly open that door for new fans. He has high hopes for this “clear, clean starting point” and if audience reaction is any indication, the new creative teams that “Marvel Now!” is bringing together are indeed highly anticipated.
Stan Lee’s presence at the Baltimore Comic Con at times created an atmosphere of awe, but at no time more dynamically than in his virtually unprecedented panel with John Romita Sr. Waid moderated to a packed convention room as fans began to chant Stan’s name. Romita Sr., laughing, tried to subdue the ruckus, until Lee finally made his entrance in his signature black-lensed aviator glasses, announcing “Let the good times roll!”. The panel was built upon substantial historical and personal reflection between Romita Sr. and Lee, but laced with sudden asides into humorous commentary. Stan broke the fourth wall vigorously and often, addressing the audience directly, particularly to praise Romita Sr. “This man is responsible for the Marvel Age of Comics” he explained, a nod to the fact that Romita often gets less recognition than he deserves for his immense output, skill, and ingenuity.
The break down of incidents that led to Romita Sr. leaving Marvel, and then, finally, being let go from DC, only to return to Marvel, was particularly moving for the audience to hear. This was presumably exactly the kind of discussion fans were hoping to experience when witnessing two denizens of the Marvel Age chat about the past. Romita emphasized Lee’s pivotal role in bringing him back to Marvel at a time when he felt that the “artist’s block” he faced as a freelancer working at home was the death-knell to future creative work. Lee insistently hosted Romita Sr. to a lavish lunch and gave him a three-hour speech about the benefits of being a “big fish in a small pond” with comics. Lee offered him a substantial salary, free access to an office at Marvel, and total freedom in his work. Romita Sr. accepted, on the condition he could return as inker rather than penciller, but, of course, Lee soon cajoled him into taking bigger leaps to successfully overcome his “artist’s block”.
Questions from the floor were a little predictable, but elicited some entertaining responses from Lee and Romita Sr., particularly regarding the build up to the introduction of Mary Jane in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the origin of Lee’s signature motto “Excelsior”, and lastly, Lee’s relationship with Jack Kirby. Lee continued to bring the conversation back around to Romita’s virtuoso skills as an artist, both in comic books and in comic strips such as the Spider-Man strip launched in 1977. It’s no secret that Lee and Romita Sr. still get along, but it’s a rare treat for “true believers” to see them sit down together and to observe the way in which they interact. The panel didn’t disappoint; there was, in fact, a definite frisson in the way they conversed, correcting and reminding each other of details, building on each other’s jokes. It was a portrait of collaborative relationship still in tact, built upon years of creative successes together.
Because the convention added an extra hour to its schedule, many fans used this time to hunt down their favorite artists finishing up commissions and discussing the upcoming Harvey Awards ceremony. It was the perfect time to chat to your favorite penciller or just watch commissions in progress at a leisurely pace. Anticipating the ceremony created a pleasant buzz in artist’s alley and the general consensus seemed to be that it was a good day to be into comics for fans and creators alike.