by KC Carlson
This Friday, June 22, my wife Johanna and I are getting up at 5 AM to pile into the car and drive to Charlotte, North Carolina. We’re attending the 30th Anniversary of HeroesCon, one of the very best comic conventions in America (and occasionally known as “America’s Favorite Convention”).
“Really?” you ask. “Better than the San Diego Comic-Con?”
Yes! At HeroesCon, you stand a much better chance of meeting your favorite comic creators without standing in a line blocks long; you can actually walk around the main room without too much problem; and it’s infinitely cheaper for hotels and food than San Diego. The one downside is that you don’t have the chance to see big Hollywood stars hawk their latest sequel — but occasionally, TV and movie people who are comics fans themselves (like folks from SNL and 30 Rock) show up at Heroes to walk the floor, or look for bargains, just like you. (If you do spot one, don’t freak out! Just walk up and mumble something like “Hey, I really like your (show, movie, shoes)!” and maybe you’ll have a nice 2 or 3 minute conversation with them, if they’re not already talking to somebody else. Be polite!)
As for this year’s show, what a guest list! Stan Lee! Neal Adams! Mark Bagley! Nick Cardy! Cliff Chiang! Becky Cloonan! Colleen Coover! Evan Dorkin! Tommy Lee Edwards! Matt Fraction! Adam Hughes! Stuart & Kathryn Immonen! Jeff Lemire! Paul Levitz! Ed McGuinness! Mike Mignola! George Perez! Ivan Reis! Tim Sale! Bill Sienkiewicz! Walt and Louise Simonson! Scott Snyder! Lee Weeks! Bernie Wrightson! Mike Zeck! And lots more! (Sorry, I ran out of exclamation marks…)
Con organizer Shelton Drum (with his family and a wonderfully organized and professional crew) has been doing this show for 30 years now — and every year it just keeps getting better and better. In addition to a huge dealer room with millions of comic books, toys, and whatnot (all of which want to be in your collection!), Heroes also has three full days of panel programming, so much that you might not have time for anything else! (Johanna is moderating three panels this weekend. Watch for them!) HeroesCon is also the home of Indie Island — a dedicated area for independent and alternative creators. Indie Island is so big, it’s almost a complete convention inside of another convention! (Wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma… You get the drill…)
The show also has one of the most amazing Art Auctions around. They set up a stage area in the big room with easels, so you can see the artists actually create — before your very eyes! — gorgeous art pieces. You can sit and watch them work while grabbing some lunch or just giving your feet a break. It’s amazing! Many of comics’ “Big Gun” artists come ready to play, as everyone tries to outdo the previous masterpiece. The pieces are then auctioned off on Saturday night, and it’s usually a Do Not Miss event!
Probably the best thing of all about HeroesCon is that it’s family friendly. Sure, there are folks walking around in costume all weekend, but if you’re dressed too skimpily, the Heroes Fashion Police might suggest that you cover up a bit. Likewise, you won’t see much adult material at the show. For me, the best part of any good comic show is seeing all the young visitors (usually in costume) with their parents. They’re tomorrow’s future comic fans!
The convention center’s food isn’t the best, but there are a number of great restaurants within walking distance. A few years ago, someone came up with the great idea to plop down a pizza joint right across the street from the Convention Center’s main entrance. It’s convenient for lunch, but there will be long lines at peak times, and you may not be able to find a seat. But if you don’t mind a short walk, there are plenty of great places to eat just a few blocks over, further into downtown Charlotte. There’s a list of recommended restaurants in the HeroesCon FAQ in the “Hotels / Travel / Restaurants / Around Town” section.
Once you’re at the show, make sure to grab the official Program Book, which is jam-packed with info and lots of cool artwork from most of the guests and has an awesome cover especially drawn for the show (and usually also made into t-shirts).
New this year is an early Saturday morning Fun Run. Which should be interesting as Heroes is frequently the hottest show around. And by that, I mean heat, as in temperature, son. So, prepare for the worst, but hope for the best! Donations benefit the Hairy Cell Leukemia Research Foundation.
CATCHING UP WITH OLD FRIENDS
I haven’t been to all 30 of the Heroes shows, but I’ve probably been to about half. I started attending as a guest back in the ‘90s when I worked at DC Comics (a billion years ago now). Sadly, DC no longer has a booth presence at Heroes, but a lot of their creators and even a few staff members are usually there to helm panel presentations throughout the weekend.
These days, I just go to shows as a fan — mostly to see old friends and catch up. I love seeing what my creative friends are up to. This year, I’m especially excited to see Stuart and Kathryn Immonen at the show. They don’t always do a lot of conventions, and they haven’t been to Heroes for a few years now. Stuart recently posted a picture of me sitting at their table from back then at his website. They also mark an important passage of time for me. Not Stuart and Kathryn themselves — they’re pretty much the same except for their ever-changing hairstyles — but their son Connor was born when Stuart and I were working together on Adventures of Superman — and now he’s in college. Yipes!
Other folks I’m excited to see are Walter and Louise Simonson. I first met them within days of my arrival at DC, when Mark Waid and I traveled to their home — by bus — to select artwork for the then-upcoming Art of Walter Simonson book. Walt famously does not sell his original artwork, so DC was going to re-shoot everything from the originals for the book, and Mark and I were enlisted to help select and transport the artwork back to the DC offices. It was an amazing day of sitting in the Simonson living room, while Walt brought out pile after pile of original art for us to not drool on. “Hey, here’s some Thor pages! Want to see those?” he kept yelling from the other room. “Um… YES!” we yelled back. It was a very long and very wonderful day. When we left, I was carrying a box of what seemed like hundreds of pages of Walter’s originals. It was massively heavy, but I never once let go of it for the entire bus ride back into NYC.
Eventually, I ended up working directly with Weezie when I inherited the editorial reigns of the then five (!) Superman titles. She wrote Superman: Man of Steel — and, confusingly, Steel (which I didn’t edit.). Weezie ended up being my anchor during my oft-troubled times on the Superman books, mostly by being one of the most consistently rational of the many Superman artists and writers. As an editor, I drew much inspiration from her as one of the great editors in comics — first at Warren, starting as Archie Goodwin’s assistant and ultimately becoming Senior Editor, as well as a stint at Marvel, notably editing Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants, which she would eventually write. One of comics’ worst-kept “secrets” is that Walt and Weezie are (visually) the Power Pack kids’ parents (at least in the original series). Weezie was the co-creator and writer of that excellent, underrated comics series. I bet artist (and co-creator) June Brigman had something to do with what the parents looked like. (Editor’s note: She did. See the interview Westfield’s Roger Ash did with Weezie & June in Back Issue #38 for more.)
HEROES AFTER DARK
A lot of the best times at comic conventions are what happens at the hotel bars after the show. These are where the favorite memories happen, from Marv Wolfman holding court on working in comics in the late 60s/early 70s to Adam Hughes and our wives playing “Stump the Bartender”. I don’t remember if this was before or after Johanna told an incredulous Adam about favorite crazy old Jimmy Olsen stories, including the many transvestite ones. And the one where everyone kissed a monkey.
I usually seek out Jim Amash for multi-hour behind-the-scenes conversations about his fabulous interviews with Golden and Silver Age creators for Alter Ego. In recent years, Johanna and I have frequently kidnapped Robot 6 columnist Tim O’Shea for a night out at local indy music/video store Manifest Records and dinner (if we still have money). But I think that my favorite — and most unexpected — after-hours discussion was with legendary letterer John Workman and his wife Cathy about behind-the-scenes comic history. If you only know John as a letterer, you only know 10% of his talent and history. For starters, he was art director for Heavy Metal for many of its glory years.
THE DESIGNATED WALKER AFFAIR
My most interesting after hours HeroesCon escapade was the night that I had to become the “designated walker” for six of the bigger names in comics. I was “lucky” enough to be at last call at a bar at the other end of downtown Charlotte from the convention hotels, where a very successful private party was held. My six friends (and a local girl, who was obviously interested in at least one of them) had overindulged, and it quickly became apparent that it was going to be my job (since I don’t drink) to get them safely back to their hotels. Since this was a comic convention, none of us had cars. Thinking that this was going to be relatively easy — it was six long blocks in a straight line back to the hotel — we started off walking.
The first problem was that even though it was 2 AM, there was still plenty of traffic in downtown Charlotte. These guys were too far gone to worry about stopping at the corner before crossing the street. So my first job was to grab everybody by the arm (or collar) at every corner until it was safe to cross. As you can guess, this wasn’t much fun, but it quickly got worse, as soon, one or more of them decided at each corner that “The hotel’s this way!” and turned a corner to walk away from the real route. At one point, a couple of them got completely turned around at a corner and started walking back towards the now-closed bar. It was like herding cats. Big, drunken cats. What was supposed to be a 15-20-minute walk was now approaching an hour due to the unexpected course changes.
It got worse. We walked by an office building with a fountain in front, and the girl wanted to go wading. Next thing I know, she and five of the guys were in the fountain in various states of undress (thankfully, nobody naked). The sixth guy sat with me on the steps, slurring “You don’t seeeem to be having any fun… You sssshould go wwwading. I’ll hold your wwwallet.” Uh huh…
As if on cue, a police car pulled up, and I walked over to talk to the officer. Luckily, he was a nice guy. He realized that I was sober and actually trusted that I had things (sorta) under control and would get us all back to the hotel. I told him we were all from out of town. He gave me his card in case there were problems and told me to make sure that everybody got tetanus shots within a couple of days. Good man. He drove by again after we got going to check up on us.
I finally got everybody back to the hotel. Most had begun to sober up, probably from the wading. It was now almost 4 AM. I got everybody into the hotel elevator, where everybody pushed the button for their floor — and I hoped they were correct. I noticed that the local girl was still with us and didn’t press a button. Obviously, she had decided who she was going to stay with, although she had been flirting hard with at least two of the guys. So even this stupid elevator was filled with suspense. Who would she choose?
The first four guys got off the elevator on low floors without incident, so this was going to the wire. We were down to the two guys the girl had been flirting with, the girl, and me, the chaperone. We got to the next selected floor, and one of the guys got out, stopped, and turned around to see what would happen next. The girl hadn’t moved, and time had stopped for everybody. It was the most pregnant of pauses. The other guy in the elevator broke into a huge smile, thinking he had “won”.
Suddenly, as the elevator doors started to close, the girl jumped out of the elevator, the doors slammed shut, and we started going up. The jilted guy, who was a good friend, just melted into the floor, drunkenly moaning “why?… why?…” When the elevator got to his floor, I helped him to his room, basically poured him into bed, sat with him for a bit, and left when it looked like he had drifted off.
I went back to my room. It was almost 5. I was understandably all wound up and couldn’t sleep. Johanna, who had left earlier at a sensible hour, woke up around 6, asking “how was your night?” and eventually regretted asking. (Actually, she was greatly amused, because she knew whom I was with. Obviously, the identities of these people must remain my secret.) I finally got a couple hours sleep before the Con opened that morning.
All six of the guys were eventually back on the floor of the Con, no worse for wear. Some of them remembered a few things, some nothing (not even that I was there), and I left it that way, not saying much. Eventually, I saw the two guys who were “competing” for the girl hugging each other on the Con floor. The girl was long gone. A strange end to a strange evening.
If you’re reading this and are attending the con, please stop and chat. I don’t have a table, but I’ll probably be hanging out with the Simonsons or the Immonens part of the time or just walking around. On Saturday morning, I’m volunteering for the Con, so I’ll probably be somewhere around Registration or the Con office. I’ll also be wearing a brand-new Kansas City Royals baseball cap that Roger bought me when he was recently visiting K.C. I’m not particularily a big fan of the team, but their hats conveniently display my name! How cool is that!
Hope to see you at the show!
KC CARLSON: I can relate to Layla Miller — It’s fun to know stuff!