Fun times in Baltimore, 2011 edition

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bcc2011IMG 5514 Fun times in Baltimore, 2011 edition
And to think I almost didn’t go to the Baltimore Comic-Con. Like many, I was feeling pretty conned out, but in the end the idea of a short road trip to an always relaxing show — and covering the Harveys — won out, so I was off on a road trip with Ed Catto of Bonfire Agency and Captain Action fame, and Josh Frankel, founder of new publisher Zip Comics. Beginning as it did at 7:30 am, the trip down was a coffee-driven affair, as we discussed our various endeavors and ideas for improvements and prognostications for the future. While all three of us are born optimists, the current uncertainties and question marks left any real attempts at planning akin to spitting into the wind. Future cloudy; ask again later.

I was checking Twitter on the way down, and saw many reports of long lines to get into the show. When we arrived at noonish, I wasn’t surprised to see the Baltimore Convention Center was humming, and the streets right around it were practically…clogged with con-goers.

Inside, it was a madhouse! Cramped aisles and huge lines everywhere. I’ve been going to this show for nearly a decade, and I’ve always thought of it as “the relaxing show” where you could just hang around and gab. Not this time! Everyone was busy signing and (I hope) selling.

As I wrote in my official piece for Publishers Weekly, a lot of this was due to the appearance of Stan Lee. The living legend has been making quite a few convention appearances lately, but this was his first Baltimore. There was a huge, huge line for the “Froggy’s photos” booth, which went partway into a whole hall that had been set aside for the overflow. People paid $195 to get their picture taken with Stan — even more to get an autograph. Whatever of you think of the motivation for this, 88-year-old Stan’s stamina in sitting there and being “the Man” for hundreds of people is incredible. He was signing and being photographed all day; I, conversely, had to bail out of the hall after someone spilled coffee on me.

But as I also observed in the above piece, people with the Stan Lee VIP lanyards were everywhere in the hall. As often noted, Baltimore is a comics ONLY show. There are no celebrities — not even a Lou Ferrigno. No movie panels. No TV sneak peeks. It’s all comics. There was no way that all those people were there for anything but comics. (I know you could argue that Stan is a movie star, and certainly his fame has moved into the “personality” realm, but his appeal is rooted firmly in comics.)

Costumes were everywhere — I’ve noted before that Baltimore is a very family-oriented show where entire families go in costume. There were quite a few Two and a Half Avengers costume groups, but just more of everything than in past years. More girls, more people of color, more Jedi. The culture of “Comic-Con” — a mingling of costumed dreamers, lookie-loos, art collectors and creators of your favorite characters — all in one carnival. With a two-day pass only $30, and kids FREE, this was an affordable day for the whole family.

Several of the more, um, rambunctious elements of bigger, louder cons were also in evidence — a guy playing a steel drum quickly became unpopular with booths nearby, and some guys who went around shouting some kind of warrior chant did not make many friends. It was just wackier and goofier.

The line to the costume contest had to be capped — the room held 1000 people but several hundred more were lined up outside. I attended the New 52 panel in an adjoining room, which was also packed. The shouts from the costume contest kept drifting through the wall, and at one point moderator Jimmy Palmiotti got everyone in the DC room to shout “Shut up!” at once. It was all good-natured.

Baltimore is generally a more superhero focused show, but I saw big lines around AdHouse and Top Shelf, too. While I was chatting to Chris Staros, a boy of 10 or so came up with the second volume of Incredible Change-Bots, Jeffrey Brown’s loopy, charming tribute to the Transformers. His father asked how much it was. Chris explained the hardcover was $25 but the paperback was only $15. He also pointed out it was the second volume.

The boy nodded his head. It was very clear that he had the first book and loved it and wanted this one, too. Badly. The dad happily got the paperback and the kid looked like he’d just gotten a treasure. A book is a friend.

After catching up with some folks, and my annual long, delightful conversation with Carla Speed McNeill, it was back to the hotel to change for the Harveys. I went down to the cocktail reception which was a laid back affair and caught up with Jose Villarubia, Charlie Adlard, Stan Sakai and so on. Suddenly there was a little buzz in the room. Stan Lee had arrived! Although accompanied by the bodyguard and minders he always has, he was just going up to the bar and ordering his drink like a regular guy. After about 10 minutes, some fan crashers did show up, but they were handled graciously, as far as I can tell.

I tweeted about the Harveys ceremony at length. I was seated with Jose, Dean Haspiel, Joan Hilty, Chris Miskiewicz and an old convention pal I hadn’t had a chance to talk to in years, Todd Scott. MC Scott Kurtz had people laughing and wincing in equal measure — he doesn’t pull punches — but his ad libs were probably the best part of his act. With fewer categories and special awards, the ceremony moved along pretty briskly…I was busy tweeting the whole time though, so I had a lot to handle. There was NO Wi-Fi in the room, so I couldn’t live-blog, but I think I managed to cover a lot of it. The special award included two from The Hero Initiative — one for Mike Gold, recognizing his long service in comics and out, and in particular his efforts to raise money for to aid industry veteran John Ostrander when he needed an eye operation.

Then an award was given to Stan…I think there was a charity element but everyone knew it was really just because he was Stan. And he was hilarious. He brought the house down with a joke about inker Mark Morales, but it was really a “you had to be there” moment, so I won’t even try to describe it.

After the awards, the major snafu from last year was rectified. You may recall that after the dramatic Waid/Aragones incident, people heading to the hotel bar found it woefully unprepared for a busy evening. This year, the 15th floor bar, Pisces, had been opened up and stayed open until 2, which has the advantage of keeping the noise away from other hotel guests trying to sleep, and giving everyone a destination. For whatever reason this bar wasn’t quite maintained in the same top-notch fashion as the rest of the hotel (which features tinted blue glass accents in the bathrooms), and the service was not snappy, but it definitely got the job done as everyone was able to mingle post-Awards.

Sunday was not as crowded, but it was still busy. I checked in with road warriors Filip Sablik of Top Cow and Renee Witterstaetter and they confirmed that they had seen a lot of new faces at the show. The proliferation of first-timers was really encouraging.

We’d decided to make an earlyish exit, at 2:30, and that just happened to be when a green sky thunderstorm squall blew through. For a moment the benches outside the hall were loaded with people emptying rainwater out of their shoes after a drenching. We waited for the worst to blow over, and then hit the road so I don’t know how it affected the rest of the day.

Despite what seemed positive from the people I talked to, there was a sense that dealers didn’t do as well, as Brett Schenker reported

Even with the massive crowds, I constantly heard from those exhibiting that sales were down slightly from last year. No matter, you couldn’t help be impressed by the crowds.


I suspect that people who spent money wanted to have that face-to-face transaction and not go through longboxes.

Michel Fiffe sounds like he had an awesome show, though:

Spoke to Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (in spanish!) about licensing art and inking Trevor Von Eeden. Walt Simonson held court about an upcoming project and tested my comics history by asking who Eli Katz was (I won). Back at the table I met quite a few good folks. A great aspiring inker who was told by a DC editor that he’d have 2 monthly books to work on had it been 15 years ago. A teenage girl dressed up as Ultimate Jean Grey who was carrying around pages from her vigilante comic. A Savage Dragon reader who regretted never reading the Twisted Funnies back ups once he flipped through the collected edition. Turned a teenage kid bored with superhero comics onto Eightball and Love & Rockets. Spoke to Mr. Phil (from Indie Spinner Rack) about the the weird habit of collecting comics, getting rid of them in a flurry of purging, then hunting those very same comics again. Is that a common thing amongst us readers? That’s gotta be some sort of sickness.


We’ve all been there.

General observations:

COSTUMES: Otakon, the huge anime/manga show had been held at that same venue a few weeks before so the hardcore cosplayers were not there. While there were some spectacular costumes – girl Loki was often mentioned — there were just as many people with very clearly home made costumes that had more heart than craft. And those were great too! Also some mysteries — an older man dressed as Batman, sagging Lycra butt and all. You’ve got to either have guts or be nuts to do that, but it certainly shows passion for the character.

DIVERSITY: When I first started going to Baltimore, it was really a white guy collector show — there were very few women or kids. This year, the range of attendees was stunning. If you don’t believe that comics are for everyone, this would set you straight. The costumed folks covered all ages, races and sexes. If you wonder why the diversity issue keeps coming up its because an audience so clearly exists.

A WELL RUN SHOW: I really have to give Marc Nathan and Brad Tree, the main men behind the show, huge props. Even with the surge in attendance, the show was very well run. For a while Baltimore was famous for having a new disaster hit every year — one time it was the Beltway sniper, another it was a hurricane. But this time, everything hit on all cylinders, and it was a well-deserved success. The talk for next year is either a three-day show or a bigger hall. While exhibitors want another day to sell, I’d rather see two GREAT days instead of one big day and two quiet ones. But that’s me.

The trip home took a while, as we kept running into storms. But the mood in the car had changed. The uncertainties of the trip down had been replaced by a certainty: We love comics and we’re gong to stick around no matter what.

And now…PICTURES.

Comments

  1. tim hammond says:

    I seriously doubt that people were charged $195 for a pic with Stan Lee. “Froggy’s” usually charges $40 at the NYCC show and at Comic con for a pic with Stan. Same for autographs: it’s $50 a pop ( that’s expensive enough! ). I hope you got your facts straight on the rest of the article.

  2. Tim – It included a few other things but the Stan Lee VIP package was indeed $195 – http://www.comicspriceguide.com/blog/post/2011/06/22/VIP-Packages-and-Tickets-for-the-Baltimore-Comic-Con-Now-On-Sale!.aspx

  3. Marc Nathan and Brad Tree. Making comic book conventions about comic books, comic creators, and comic fans. ‘Nuff said!

  4. Was there for most of Saturday and Sunday. It was the best show I’ve attended in years – NYCC is fun but a little too hectic for a guy my age. I was able to get a little business in, ran into some old friends, and really had a lot of fun. A relatively stress-free show. I highly recommend it! I’m already making plans for next year. Damn if Baltimore isn’t a great town for a convention like this. Just think, in a couple of years everyone will be carrying around their iPads and having them signed [ ;) ].

    Dan
    Dewey’s Comic City
    Madison, NJ

  5. Sounds like a good time was had by all.

    “… the anti-dote to San Diego?” for East Coast Comic Cons? I thought that was supposed to be NYCC; but with the BCC’s Comics Guest List
    that replicated a bunch of the variety and scope of the attending Guests at this past SDCC
    , I guess it has a greater hold on that claim
    (barring the SDCC Special Guests Filipino Komikeros and Brit Invasion creators, BCC no-shows and cancellations, that is).Still, quite a collection of Comics creators that contrasts favorably compared to the upcoming MARVEL and DC/Superstars of the ’90s -dominated NYCC List…

    “antidote” seems to oversell the strenght of the BBC: maybe “the non-Brand Name, generic option to SDCC” is better? All the COMICS range and history found in San Diego, just w/o the damn SF/FANTASY and TV/FILMS presence there
    cluttering it up. (Though I imagine Baltimore-area fans wouldn’t have minded had there been some DOCTOR WHO… AVENGERS… and TRUE BLOOD presentations there at the Con.) And with reports of certain crowding issues, seems like ‘SDCC-esque’ line clusterfucks are just a year or two away as BCC’s success draws in more attendees next year.

    Nice report.

    (But where’s that traditional yearly SDCC wrap-up report? Been waiting for it— once again to compare my Comic-Con experience with The Beat’s—- but it seems to be missing this year. Wondering if ‘the year we all learned to DEAL WITH IT’ removed the impetus for the usual rundown of plaints and critcisms… Looking forward for the usual NYCC wrap-up, though.)

    /fun with Con anaylses

  6. If you wanted the Stan Lee V.I.P., it would cost you $195 and you would get one signature and one photo as part of the package, although you would be first in line if you wanted a second one of either.

    If you chose not to buy the V.I.P. package, you could have bought a photo from Froggy’s for $40 (which I did for me and my family) or get something signed for $55 through Desert Wind Comics, which I believe also included having your item CGC’d if it was CGC-able.

    I have no stake in either company, but just wanted to set the record straight.

  7. as i stated on another thread about the baltimore con, the crowds on saturday blew me away. it gets to the point where it gets kind of hard to navigate around them when they are standing in a line that’s going nowhere fast. here’s what i don’t get: there is a absolutely huge room with a concession stand in it, with at least half of this room cordoned off with tables and chairs for folks to eat and relax and the other half of the room being used for absolutely nothing, just a big empty space. why this space can’t be used for signings with some of the more popular creators is beyond me. other than that the show as usual was great. another perk of the stan lee VIP tickets was anybody holding a VIP pass would get into the show a half hour earlier than the rest of the attendees (considering saturday’s crowds, well worth the dough) and VIP ticket holders would be first on line for the stan lee panel (tho’ the VIPers filled less than half of the 800 seat room when seated), and dan veltre is right, baltimore is a great town to have this convention in. always something to do.

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