By Roger Ash
A few weeks back, I wrote about how much I like going to comic conventions. I got to indulge in that pleasure the weekend of August 28 & 29 when I attended the 11th annual Baltimore Comic-Con. I love going to the Baltimore Comic-Con because it is one of the few shows that focuses specifically on comics. It’s also a unique show for me as I’ve been part of the convention staff for the past two years. I met convention organizer Marc Nathan a number of years back at a DC Comics function, and we hit it off and quickly became friends. Last year, Marc asked if I’d program the panels for him. I agreed. I guess I did OK as he asked me to do it again this year.
I always realized that putting together a convention was a lot of work, but until I became involved with the folks at Baltimore, I had no idea how much work. And honestly, that is really as it should be. If the folks behind the scenes do their jobs, as a convention guest, you shouldn’t even notice us. But if not for the work of people like Marc & Shelly Nathan, Brad Tree, Andie Trahan, Randy Tischler, Chris McClelland, Steve Conley, and hoards of volunteers, the convention wouldn’t happen and these folks deserve to be recognized. I was excited to learn of a new member to the convention staff this year in Reese Aaron Nathan, Marc & Shelly’s son who was born a mere two weeks before the convention. And he was around all weekend to keep us in line. This being my second year, I was more calm than last year and didn’t freak out when things didn’t go as expected. And trust me, things will not always go as expected. What’s important is how you deal with it. That’s a good thing to keep in mind whether you’re working at a convention or just living your life.
My personal theory on panels for conventions is to try to get something for everyone. Want to hear what your favorite publisher has to say? There were Marvel, DC, and IDW panels. Want to get some how-to advice? There was a digital art panel and Bob Schreck and Paul Pope talked about the editor/creator relationship. Want to hear your favorite creator talk about their work? There were spotlights on creators ranging from Terry Moore to Todd McFarlane to Denis Kitchen. Got your kids with you and want something they can go to? Mad artist Sergio Aragones is a good bet. Into comics history? There’s a spotlight on comics from the 80s and a look at Marvel’s Thor. No matter what your tastes in comics are, there will hopefully be a panel that appeals to you. That’s the way I always liked the programming when I first started attending conventions and so far that thought process has served me well.
My convention weekend began Friday afternoon when my flight arrived in Baltimore. After a short shuttle ride to the convention center, it was hugs and handshakes all ‘round as I met the rest of the convention staff, many of whom I hadn’t seen since the previous Baltimore convention. Then it was off to meet with the guys handling the set up for the panel rooms. I checked things out and all seemed to be in order and I learned pretty much everything I needed to know to make things go as smoothly as possible in the panel rooms. The rest of the day was spent helping out where I could, meeting with my more than able staff for the weekend (Tim, Dustin & Kevin) and making sure things were ready for the convention Saturday, saying hi to my roomie for the weekend (Matt Fox),and wandering the convention floor and saying hi to friends. The evening, as with any convention, was spent in the hotel bar meeting old friends, making new ones, and gabbing until the wee hours of the morning as beverages flow liberally.
Saturday morning came quickly, but I needed to be at the convention center early to make sure all was ready. As we all worked to get things set up, we saw the line to get in grow longer and longer. It looked to be a big day, and the big draw of the day was Todd McFarlane, who made his first ever appearance at Baltimore and was only there for Saturday. The line for his signing was huge and his spotlight panel was packed. But that wasn’t all that was going on Saturday with DC and Marvel doing their big panels, spotlights on folks like Terry Moore, Denis Kitchen, and Michael Allred, a class with artists Howard Chaykin and Klaus Janson, and lots, lots more. If you’re a fan of Allred’s Madman, be on the lookout for a 20th Anniversary special that he mentioned at his panel. It will include 20 single page stories featuring work by creators such as the Hernandez Brothers and Darwyn Cooke.
Saturday night were the Harvey Awards, which are named for classic creator Harvey Kurtzman and voted on by creators for creators. The Harvey’s are always a nice time with most people dressed to the nines and excellent food. You may have read about the awards elsewhere online, and you can see all the winners here. But I want to focus on a couple moments that will stick with me. First, this was the inaugural year for the Hero Initiative’s Dick Giordano Humanitarian of the Year award, which, accord to their web site “will recognize one person in comics each year who has demonstrated the generosity and integrity Dick brought to the charity and to the comic book community at large.” This being the first year for the award, they went with two recipients, Tim Sale and Jerry Robinson. Robinson’s acceptance speech was very moving and filled with accounts of how he has helped cartoonists around the world. Comic fans may know him as the creator of the Joker, but after listening to him speak, I could tell he felt that the work he did for others was his greatest accomplishment.
The moment that put the widest smile on my face was seeing Walter Simonson receive the Hero Initiative’s Lifetime Achievement Award. I’ve heard numerous stories about how Walter and his wife Louise, better known as Weezie, have helped others. They don’t do it for recognition, they do it because it’s how they are. I even have my own story about this. Walter agreed to let me to interview him for a Modern Masters volume even though he really didn’t know me aside from that I had interviewed him for Westfield. But he must have sensed I wasn’t some nut and would do my job well. Walter played a large part in me having my first book published. I’ll never forget that kindness and am proud to call him and Weezie friends. He certainly deserves this award and I’m so happy to have been there to see him receive it.
One look at the line waiting to get into the convention on Sunday and you knew that it was the day of the costume contest. The costume contest was started last year and was wildly popular. This year, it was amazingly even more so. You could clearly see the time and care most people put into their costumes. It was really pretty damn impressive. My personal favorite was the lady who was dressed as Cammy from Street Fighter. You can see her, and many others, in this nice montage someone posted of the costume contest on YouTube.
But there were other things people could participate in on Sunday as well including a spotlight on Sergio Aragones; an 80s comics panel with Walter & Louise Simonson, John Workman, Marv Wolfman, Matt Wagner, Timothy Truman, and moderator Mark Waid (how’s that for an impressive lineup of talent?); Paul Pope and Bob Schreck talked about the creator/editor relationship; a fantastic art auction; and more.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about the convention floor and that’s simply because working the panels didn’t allow me tons of time on the floor, although I did get some and had a great time while I was there. A few highlights for me included getting to meet artist’s artist, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. Ask most any artist working in comics and they’ll tell you how amazing Garcia-Lopez’s work is. But he’s never had a long run on a big book, so he has never been as widely recognized among comic fans. However, I was pleased to see a line at his table all weekend long. It was great to see him get the recognition he so richly deserves. I also got some time to talk with creator Timothy Truman. I asked him to do a sketch of his creation Scout for which, which he really went to town on. It’s fantastic! I also got to meet letterer/editor John Workman. If you’ve read Walter Simonson’s run on Thor, you’ve seen his lettering and sound effects there. I had interviewed John in the past but never actually met him. It was a pleasure to do so and he has some fascinating stories about comics history, because he lived them. I also got an old Dell Yogi Bear comic I needed, so I even added to my collection.
Looking back at the weekend, I had a fantastic time. I personally think this was my favorite Baltimore Comic-Con yet. The crowds both days were great and everyone I talked to said they had a wonderful weekend as well. I’m really looking forward to going back next year, and I hope some of you will join me there. If you do, I’m betting you’ll enjoy yourself.
Now, go read a comic!