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June 29, 2014


CR Sunday Feature: A Few, Random Notes About HeroesCon 2014

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By Tom Spurgeon

A few notes about the recently-concluded HeroesCon, held this year in Charlotte from June 20-22.

* this is late. I apologize. We didn't use to call one week after a show "late," but these are the times we live in. Luckily, this show has lingered a bit in the hearts of minds of many of its participants, so hopefully some folks will get something out of what follows.

* it was a really good show. I had a great time.

image* when I first went to HeroesCon in 2008, I called it the "Last Great American Comic-Con" in the report that followed. That headline seems slightly ludicrous now. 2008 was very different for conventions: maybe not a world of difference, but many continents we take for granted today had yet to slide into proper place. Some cons were surging but many were not. One major player of the last two decades, whatever company is bearing the "Wizard" name, has since the mid-2000s devolved from a #2-show-hosting, location-and-weekend bully whose toe-in-the-water concerning doing a show near Charlotte all by itself felt provocative and alarming, to a company that seems to be stringing along a bunch of barely breakeven events in the hopes that someone will buy them out, screwing up local shows from a reduction-of-margins standpoint as opposed to a "crush them, set them on fire and salt the earth" perspective.

* we also know that there are many ways to do a comics show, and that a bunch of different models can be great. I think we have more models yet to discover.

* so I don't know if HeroesCon is still the Last Great American Comic-Con, but it retains its unique position in an increasingly crowded calendar. It is an old-fashioned big-tent show, the Hernandez Brothers seated in the same room and, later, the same hotel bar, as a vast range of mainstream-comics creators. It is a show where big-time big two company stars come and draw a line for their image work. Kevin Eastman toys with an early morning honest to god press conference while artists you've never heard of before, artists whose teachers were misbehaving at this show as recently as three years ago, are raking in enough money to buy a car. It is a show where Mark Waid and Jeff Smith do a panel together. It is a show where a cutting edge alternative talent draws Spider-Man marrying Sailor Moon for a delighted fan and this seems perfectly rational.

* Heroes is fun. Their formula is a good formula. Heroes provides the opportunity for mainstream-oriented artists to be taken seriously away from the former celebrities and the big companies themselves, and it allows younger cartoonist to go to something of an old-school show of the kind that used to be more prevalent in a way that allows them to have fun, meet fans and make some cash. It is southern hospitality and regional banking center level dining. It seems to work.

* Travel. I noted in May that it took me 24-plus hours to go from my driveway in New Mexico to my hotel room in Toronto. The trip here was 15 hours, perhaps equally impressive to my recent one-day-plus odyssey given I wasn't crossing an international border or depending on a ferry at any point during my trip to Charlotte. I've whined about all the reasons for this fraying of the travel infrastructure (short version: profit-maximization quarter to quarter), but this was the first trip where more than half of the people I talked to had some sort of major difficulty making it to a show, and there were about 10 people to whom I spoke that complained about this generally with shows. Such complaints aren't news, not really -- "comics person complains could be a headline every day" -- except I think we're at a saturation point with conventions that people may start making choices to limit their exposure to sucky travel, and I think the building, unpleasant nature of air travel will have an impact.

* all of the airlines hate fat people, but Delta seems to really hate tall people, too. Or, as it was pointed out to me, "all" people.

* Heroes receives deserved kudos for its exhibitor and professional shuttle service on the day before the show. I've tried to ride it five times, but have only ever caught the shuttle once. I don't know if that's my lizard-like stupidity or if they're ducking me. The awesome thing about this flourish is that it means that the people visiting your show will have their first significant encounter with someone from Charlotte that the convention chooses, and this person will likely be super-friendly and interested in what you're up to. This is not true of a San Diego taxi driver, although god bless them.

* I always stay at the Hilton rather than the preferred, central Westin when I'm in Charlotte. I have points going at both chains, so it's not that, and the Westin is a bit nicer according to people that have done both. I just sort of like staying at a hotel at some remove from the bulk of the socializing I'll be doing. Plus they have access to a full service YMCA. It did seem they had more comics people than I remember from past shows, and they had the Drink And Draw there, which is either new or something I forgot was done.

* the best thing I saw at the Hilton is when my key card stopped working and there was a long line a woman in stewardess outfit who looked like she walked off the Mad Men set tried to jump the line and got crushed by the Hilton staff person, and sent back to the end of the line. That rarely happens.

* the Hilton also opens in the back to the local transit train, and I use that when I get there to go get supplies and get out of my head a bit. For some reason, I can never find a grocery or drug store in Charlotte -- it is the least convenience store oriented city in which I've ever spent time. Anyway, if you're doing that show in future years, there are certainly a few neighborhoods you could access for a getaway dinner that aren't downtown restaurants, if you want to fool around with google a bit. I also bought a dress shirt at a store there because apparently all I packed was candy and rubbers.

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* had a quiet dinner that night with a pal at a wing joint. There's this great downtown shopping mall area of bars and restaurants that never fails to impress folks from the coasts in its modern Americana like awesomeness because you just don't have a lot of stuff like that in New York City or Seattle or San Francisco. I stopped by the Westin on the way home and did a full walk through. I only recognized two people. One was Ben McCool, holding court in loud fashion. I like McCool because he never jumps ahead in his story. The second was Evan Dorkin, talking to Stephanie Buscema and her husband. We talked for about 45 minutes before I called it a day. It was nice to see comics people, even though it had only been a month. You know what I mean.

* the next morning I had coffee at a Panera Bread location there to remind me that all of that mall culture has its dark side. I can still taste it.

* I stopped to pick up a press pass with the show already going, and caught up with Shelton Drum, who was handing out passes because as large as it is it's still a smaller, hands-on show. I don't know even know what some people that run some of the bigger cons even look like. We stood and looked down on the show through the glass. It wasn't busy yet, but the traffic was spread out. The traffic was always reasonably spread out, it seemed to me; there was never any place that was super dead, and the slower places were the far ends. And despite the lines, there were never bottlenecks. They moved into this largest hall with now partition set-up last year, and they still have a bit of growing into it to do. It wasn't light, particularly, attendance-wise -- at least not as I was told -- but it felt that way. There were large rows everywhere, and a lot of space. Indie island is in the central part of the show, which I also appreciate.

* I did a walk around. Heroes is a show with a lot of individual talent set up, from multiple generations, particularly in the character design and mainstream comic book drawing categories. This makes sense because of the show's significant art emphasis -- these would be people that could do very well at a show where people are looking for people to draw them things. But yeah, you kind of walk around and notice random like Kevin Maguire and Geof Darrow and Joe Staton and Kevin Wada and Dean Trippe. Don Rosa. Gabriel Hardman. A lot of talented people. There weren't name tags, so a lot of these encounters were friendly but without recognition of any relationship we had on-line or elsewhere. A lot of these folks were super busy. The lines that held my attention in a "who is that for" way during the weekend were Jeff Smith, Kevin Eastman, Ron Garney and the Matt Fraction/Kelly Sue DeConnick/] line. A lot of folks looked busy. One person told me the person they were looking for made an almost five-figure amount by halfway through the first day selling page and cover art. I was told by the end of the weekend of mid-four figure amounts earned by people completely unfamiliar to me.

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* the first thing that got everyone excited that first day was that Jaime Hernandez had brought for sale five copies of the first Love And Rockets -- the 'zine one that they self-published before the first Fantagraphics publication of that same issue. It was a big 'zine, with a black and white cover. That's an incredible object to just show up somewhere with, and Jaime claims to have liberated those copies from a full box. They sold out very, very quickly.

image* I mentioned Jeff Smith. I watched his table for about ten minutes when they both Jeff and Tom Gaadt had to be away from the table for a while. I hadn't worked a table since 1995, so that was kind of fun, if one defines fun as frustrating and annoying people that want things. And I do define fun that way, so mission accomplished. I think one lady believed me when I said I had bought Cartoon Books and had canceled Bone, so sorry about that, Jeff. I prefer to walk around shows, not work a table. It seems exhausting. One the other hand, you're making money.

* about halfway through the first day the convention time started to blend together for me, so I think I'm going to go to general observations about the show rather than a day by day, at least until we get to the after party.

* general impressions from 40-50 people talked to on floor each day: traffic light on Friday but a lot of buyers; decent traffic Saturday but a lot fewer buyers, Sunday featured a lot of select buyers, people that had been around and kind of swooped down and bought a specific thing they might have scouted out earlier. A few newer folks were thrown a bit by people looking at pre

* Telegraph Gallery was on-hand and made enough money so that the trip was profitable. They were at a far end of the show. They expressed a desire to return more smack dab in proximity to Indie Island. I had two creators tell me here in a way that echoed what I heard in Toronto that they're a dealer where you have to see the posters and prints to really get what they're up to. I hope that they'll be fighting off regional invites from now until they decide to leave the business.

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* I'm told that publishers as a group (that's Team Koyama, non-Annie edition, above) maybe did less well than individual creators, with an exception being companies that represent individual creators like Cartoon Books. This is a broad stab at things, but it was the subject of a lot of discussion and supposition. It seems like Heroes with its original art emphasis may be on the edge of a trend towards not using shows to buy books more generally -- you might buy a debut, and you might buy to get something signed, but you're not there to stock up on books in general: your local store or Amazon can do that for you in a way that couldn't be done 20 years ago. Plus you have to carry that stuff around. One publisher told me that he hosts creators at the show as well, and kind of defers to them in terms of their direct selling books he might sell himself were they not there representing it.

* all in all, if the words "good, not great" were a magic spell that summoned a demon, we'd all be talking about the lost, demon-run town of Charlotte, North Carolina.

* people actually eat the food at the convention center. There's food upstairs, but I also saw people just eating food from the booths along the side of the hall, people who would never do this at other convention centers.

* there was very little talk in the circles I ran in about the new harassment policy. A couple of the older people I talked to mentioned that they were surprised that Heroes hadn't even had a policy until the week preceding this year's show. There was some joking about material people were selling at the show violating potentially violating the new policy, although I know that's a concern that some artists have brought to me in a less lighthearted manner. All of this sorting itself out, I think. I am all for shows looking at what they're doing and trying to improve, and I'm not so convinced that any one strategy or policy is so overwhelmingly successful I'm willing to characterize anyone's motivations according to whether this strategy or that strategy is pursued. Whatever their assemblage of strategies it seemed to work. I know that some guests (or guests of guests) that suggested the possibility of violence towards other guests brought down specific attention and follow-ups from the show's organizers. Rico Renzi and Shelton Drum were generally around and available for that kind of thing.

* as for comics issues more generally, there hasn't been a big change in any single one of them, at least not as conversation with about two dozen people on various subjects revealed. There is some increasing impatience with low print runs from smaller publishers, and low payments for work on books that have clearly surged their way sales-wise into a hit. I do get frustrated that so much of comics rhetoric is of the scorched-earth Internet variety. It's rare to see people stake out nuances of an issue right now, it's usually more along the lines of the issue is so ludicrously obvious it doesn't need to be argued, if you're not on board you don't get it, everyone that holds a different view is a shit of a person and a terrible artist besides. I'm not sure that wins us a lot of progress, even as much as I'm a fan of uncompromised position-taking. I get it, though, If you want a win or tie and the issue before you is nettlesome, the temptation to retreat to showing that you're not what the exaggerated rhetoric claims, well, that's much, much easier than working your way through the morass whatever industry difficulty is in front of you.

* the scariest thing I saw was an apology letter received by a peer, which just didn't seem connected to how normal people tend to work out issues.

* someone did have a meltdown in the Westin bar one night, although I'm not sure that was a comics person. I heard not, initially. This was amusing only in that it seemed one of every kind of local civic authority figure showed up: one cop, one fireman, one EMT. I expected to see someone from the power company.

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* the only two times I heard people objectifying a working cartoonist was two times I heard male cartoonists talking about the same peer in admiring fashion. "I would kill for that guy's skin," said one of them.

* I did hear some complaints of the "guy being a general ass when speaking to a woman" variety, such as one guy asking after a woman's outfit choice in a semi-aggressive, ultimately harmless but definitely assholish way.

* I ran a lot of programming that weekend -- seven panels, one hour each. None of them were recorded, which I wonder now if I had to request or if that is just my station in life, that I'm doing panels of the kind that don't get recorded. I still feel like I haven't found out how to do these well, but I'm getting better. I concentrated on background visuals and foregrounded conversation distinct from the visuals, as opposed to a directed powerpoint questions line.

* there were a lot of fun ideas at those panels, though. Some of what I remember.
+ a panel about the digital effort of Jeff Smith (Boneville.com) and Mark Waid (thrillbent.com) revealed that both are working with outside marketing consultants in terms of a social media strategy. Waid said he was slightly disappointing but not discouraged by initial subscription numbers with his deluxe package at the site. Smith said that Cartoon Books had left comiXology recently. Both are distrustful of ceding more control over digital content to Amazon.com. That was a smart, lively panel -- both men are very articulate and extremely funny. One big advantage of Heroes is that there's enough space for some crossover like this in terms of different worlds of comics.

image+ a panel about doing comics despite not that being your full-time day-job feature cartoonists who all went to school for art: Keron Grant (pictured), Babs Tarr and Scott Campbell. The most interesting question was from a woman who was going through the process of deciding whether or not to send her kid to a cartooning school and trying to figure out if there were other options, including not going to school until later. The panelists were all really straight-forward about the costs and the advantages, with Grant probably being the strongest about suggesting maybe that working as an apprentice or assistant might be a better path, all things considered. Nobody treated the question or the woman's quandary with glibness.

+ I hadn't seen Terry Moore in 15 years for more than a few seconds when I had him on a panel with Jeff Smith, about having a career defined by a big, first hit -- I appreciated that construction as a way to shape the conversation. Both told great stories about how they knew that their first projects were going to be a lifetime-defining thing. Smith told a funny story about people suggesting that a couple of Bones show up up in RASL, and seemed more directly involved time-wise with the stewardship of that first project. Moore is further into his third project than Smith is with his third, and Smith was hopeful that what Moore described as an audience more willing to kind of follow the artist once they were a full project removed from the thing they loved would be true of his own work. Those two are clearly good pals, and you could tell they very much admire and enjoy one another.

+ Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez focused our talk on Love And Rockets: New Stories, which was my idea rather than the cons. It just struck me that they had talked a lot about their entire careers recently and that if any other pair of talents had released a book that strong and nothing else their entire career we'd be freaking out about them. They talked a bit about the practical issues involved with finding a way to get new L&R material into the bookstores where a lot of their fans were more likely to shop, even older fans as their lives and the shopping landscape had changed. Jaime admitted to a lot of difficulties adjusting to the 50-page allotment, and said he redid the "Ti-Girls" second half extensively for the collection, adding something like 20 pages because of miscalculations on his part. Gilbert went on an interesting tangent where he talked about the Killer in Palomar material as a reflection of his own relationship to Palomar. She doesn't quite fit in there, and he doesn't, either, not anymore. He also talked about having no problem with people that feel the early Palomar stories have something the later ones lack, because he feels those stories are really good, and exist in a continuity with the bulk of his work. About 10 of the 35 people on hand sought me out to tell me they really liked that one, so a fear the three of us had that it was a little wonky was slightly diminished.

image+ the humor panel was fun. A lot of Evan Dorkin, who was mixing it up with some fans in the front row. He's a very strong panel presence. All four gentlemen -- the others were Roger Langridge, Tim Rickard and Ryan Browne were articulate and thoughtful and funny, which is necessary for a panel like that. There were a couple of time where the panelists used the art intended as a visual accompaniment to make a specific point, like when Evan held up for praise a secondary gag in a Brewster Rockit Sunday. Roger Langridge said the only joke he's done that was scorned for the nature of its content involved one about overweight people. Ryan Browne, who is shifting into full-time comics making even as we speak, spoke about how specific some of the work can be -- like adjusting written material while lettering for the way it is spatially presented.

+ Sunday noonish was a Kitchen Sink Press panel with Tom Heintjes, Mark Schultz and Denis Kitchen. I leaned so heavily on Kitchen in terms of my curiosity about his company that he hoped out loud that I'd eventually ask someone else to help him. I got really fun answers from him on his relationship to his printer (a republican with free-speech values) and his small-p political role in the underground scene; I also had some curiosity satiated in terms of the transition from being an underground publisher and serving that market and being a Direct Market publisher and serving comics stores (it was apparently gradual and organic). It was Will Eisner that pulled Kitchen into the world of real contracts and presented to him a way of thinking about them where they protect both publisher and talent. There was a lot of discussion about how Schultz's Xenozoic Tales -- maybe the biggest comic of that kind that no one discusses anymore -- was discovered and became a hit. Tom Heintjes got Kitchen to talk about Comix Book and working with Stan Lee. Kitchen described the phone call from Kevin Eastman that took his company in its final general direction and his decision in the distributor wars to back Capital City (he felt they were a better company). Good conversation.

+ really fun panel mid-day with a decent-sized crowd for a Sunday featuring Jim Rugg, Tom Scioli, Katie Skelly and Ben Marra talking about influences generally and specifically period influences -- things they had to go out and engage with and bring into their work as opposed to things they might simply encounter in the general course of their lives. All of them were really good, particularly as they settled in about 20 minutes along. Tom Scioli made the best observation of the day when he noted a distinction between himself and Skelly, who pursued exemplar of specific styles, and Marra/Rugg, whom he thought (with their agreement) looked to a kind of general style, or a middle-of-the-run expression of a style as the thing on which they would riff. A lot of the cartoonists in that 28 to 35 year old space are really good at presenting and talking about their work, I think because there's a tremendous opportunity to do so a bunch of times. That was the panel I most wish provided me with a transcript -- I'd run it on the site for sure.
* I also got to sit on a late afternoon Sunday panel about comics industry journalism. Tom Heintjes was the moderator, which is appropriate because in many ways he was the first devoted industry journalist comics ever hard. Tom -- known these days for Hogan's Alley did a lot of the initial TCJ muckracking in news story form, like the Kirby Art Return fiasco. I was on the panel with Chris Sims, who works as a writer of reviews, humor and issues-punditry for ComicsAlliance and Heidi MacDonald over at The Beat. I don't remember too much of what was said. I talked about some of the frustrations I have here. Heidi announced a forthcoming Patreon campaign to support The Beat. Sims noted that he was in a position to write and that was what he wanted to do -- he wasn't interested in the editorial side of things at all. I liked what he said about writing for his editor as opposed to writing for the readers. I think industry journalism is kind of a mess right now, but I can't articulate exactly why and I'm not sure what if anything I can do about it, so these kinds of panels are tough for me right now. I was surprised people were nice enough to show up. One nice person from Multiversity tracked me down after the panel and we had a talk about some of the issues raised that was very enervating -- thanks, Greg.

* I did enough programming that I spent the rest of my time on the floor. I heard the censorship panel was really good, and that the Sex Criminals panel was the one that seemed closest to an event.

* are you still with me? This was a very nerdy weekend, I apologize for the lack of fun stuff and sweeping generalizations about the art form and industry. I'll get to some quick hits and observations, I swear.

* here's something practical. I ate well. HeroesCon is a good eating con, and I encourage anyone that goes to get at least one potentially superior meal in. My best meals were at Roosters and The King's Kitchen. I heard the usual praise for Mert's -- which is a great value restaurant, too -- and for Bernardin's. The King's Kitchen was interesting to me because I snagged it for a small group because they took reservation and the line at Mert's freaked me out, and I was impressed by the general age of the staff. I thought it might be an old family place but it was really one of those non-profits that trains people to re-enter the workforce. It was really, really good.

* on all the nights except the Rooster's I had maybe one more beverage at dinner than I would have San Diego because of Charlotte prices. That's another advantage of that show.

* the evening at Rooster's was driven by a giant conversation about best/worst/first concerts. That was fun. Jaime's first was T. Rex. Also, Maris Wicks apparently played the trombone in a ska band. I like typing that sentence. Good sentence. The comics part of that conversation did make us wonder why there weren't more comics set in music scenes -- that was instigated by the fact that the upcoming Bumperhead is Gilbert's take on the music scene part of his youth that he's left to Jaime to describe for the most part.

* Gilbert Hernandez did try to talk about Pink at one point, if you had that on your alt-comics culture bingo card. Jaime tried to talk him out of it. It's convention season.

* Dustin Harbin told the poor waitress I was Stan Lee. Damn it, Dusty. Although I hope Marvel doesn't mind that I charged everything I did at the show from that point forward to their corporate account. It's always good to see Harbin at a show he helped midwife into its current form. Harbin is between projects in terms of having something significant out there but seemed to do pretty well -- he usually does. He was proud to see the Indie Island part of the show continue to thrive after his departure a few years back. He was glowing because Mark Schultz came by and praised his dinosaurs, which is lofty praise, indeed.

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* ran into a happy-looking Josh Latta, who has relocated to the Baltimore area. That's a sign of a show for which people hold a lot of affection that people will just show up and attend if they can, touch base and see people, check out who and what is new.

* Noah Van Sciver was selling ridiculously cheap and quite nice little pieces of art. Both he and Box Brown laughed that Van Sciver's were more elaborate, priced for far cheaper and yet Brown was doing just fine with his collection of images. The belle of the cheap art ball was Patrick Dean who was selling $10 pieces of original monster art that could have easily gone for five or ten times that. I never buy art at shows like that -- I hate carrying stuff around, and I feel bad I might cost someone a sale and I can order something from home -- and I bought one of those.

* Rich Tommaso had a new Patrick Dean comic out -- his first with Recoil featuring another artist -- and did okay for the weekend. He kept laughing that he was essentially doing mini-comics again after a long career working his way through various publishing partners like Fantagraphics and Dark Horse. He mentioned to me that Clover Honey is nearing its 20th anniversary and we'll likely see that one again in some for for that publication. That was his female hit man comic, an early stand-alone ogn for Fantagraphics and one of the early alt-comics in the '90s to score a development deal if I'm remembering that correctly. Rich was sporting a thick and manly beard.

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* speaking of facial hair, Chris Schweizer and his mustache were set up there in a giant booth featuring his ability to recast properties and ideas into his own distinctive style. He always seemed busy; he's one of the cartoonists I think of when I think of that how. Like many cartoonists I talked to, he's planning to move home -- I don't know what's up with that. With his Abrams science fiction project and the Crogan material -- both of which showed me, both of which look very fun -- Schweizer's one of those cartoonists with an all but full dance card for the next few years. The Nate Powell fraternity.

* ran into Tim O'Shea down there; a very nice man. He was so excited about the pin-up art that convention first-timer Katie Skelly was making that he sent me an e-mail at an ungodly hour asking me to go look for it saying it was "Skottie Young level." He was right; it was very distinct and attractive. Skelly told me she sold a lot of art, and was commissioned right there for a few pieces that she completed during the weekend -- a typical construction for longtime convention-goers, but more than solid for a first-timer. She also sold a big chunk of the books she brought. Skelly's perspective was interesting because the show will hopefully continue to attract first time congoers with the hope that there's at least a possibility they will do well. Because of the family nature of the show, and its friendliness, you get a lot of people through there that have relationships to artists they see year after year, which can make it intimidating for a first timer.

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* met Kate Leth for the first time at Heroes, too. I believe she was another first-timer. I didn't see her at all the entire weekend but at her booth where this photo was taken. She told me she did extremely well, and that the people that sought her out did so from a variety of perspective -- general fans of her stuff on-line, fans of the ComicsAlliance cartoons specifically, etc.

* some folks didn't do well. It's tough with comics shows because it takes a couple of years to figure out how to use them and then the show may shift away from that kind of thing -- for example, San Diego has a different crowd going in terms of its orientation towards art comics than it did ten years ago. Even when you're on top of things, there's always a period of adjustment. The flip side of having repeat customers is if one or two people have something else to do that weekend, you may be out of some hoped-for sales. One of the theories that I heard from a lot of people was that the show is loaded with talent now, and that it's possible, say, for an alternative comics fan that might dump a bunch of money with J. Chris Campbell and his table (that's it up top) could simply be waylaid on their walk over by a murder's row of Los Bros, Jeff Smith, Charles Vess and Terry Moore. I know if I had brought money and had seen those pre-Fanta L&R #1's being sold, my money would have gone there instead. I bring up Campbell because he did fine, incidentally. He's a rock for that show.

* Jaime Hernandez sold quickly on Friday and kicked himself for not having more pre-prepared material.

* the flip side to being old and sometimes left by a younger person eager to talk to a same-age peer is that some of the students and very young cartoonists are super-excited to be there, and that can be a fun energy to encounter even if you worry about how they might eventually be dashed to the rocks, perhaps even by the conclusion of the weekend.

* I did not see nor did I hear about the art auction, which is a slam dunk usually in terms of at least going pretty well. I know some of the cartoonists on hand were confused by the requests for art auction material, but I think everyone's on board with what they do there, or at least I haven't heard anyone breaking away.

image* I can't believe I got down here before I mentioned the Team Cul De Sac material. Richard Thompson was a guest and an attendee, and the work done in the cartoonist's name has a home there. Chris Sparks and his family had a table; I got to meet to his wife and beautiful child. They had a lot of signed material on hand, and as it's unknown how long someone with Richard's condition can continue to sign, that material drew a lot of interest. They had the three Pearls Before Swine original on display that will eventually be auctioned through Todd Hignite at Heritage Auctions for Parkinson's research. They also threw a very crowded Drink and Draw event in the Hilton Hotel lobby on Friday night -- most of the people I knew stopped by and contributed something. Overall they raised well over $10K for The Michael J. Fox Foundation. It is one of comics' best stories, the work being done there. Lot of Richard Thompson stories here and there over the weekend.

* Chris was next door to Don Rosa, the great cartoonist whose work is being packaged by Fantagraphics for publication soon. I look forward to those books. A few people complained that Rosa wasn't signing books, or was marking them in addition to signing them, where he had a dispute with the publisher. That's a tough situation, as some of the time these books are presented to Rosa by fans that are kids. Evan Dorkin made his complaint public via his twitter feed.

image* saw Alex Cox for the first time since his child was born. He was a funny, acerbic presence all weekend. I think he wouldn't mind me sharing that the explosion of shows of interest presents a particular operational quandary for the Fund -- as it takes money to raise money in the fashion of setting up a booth on successive weekends, and they have to be careful to pick and choose wisely. It should be interesting to see what their schedule eventually looks like. Cox is always interesting to watch network because if he doesn't know someone from the Fund he's likely to know them from carrying their book in his store back when he owned Rocketship. It was good to see him. We talked a lot about the free speech implications of many ongoing industry issues, many of which are very treacherous to negotiate.

* here's a random memory. One of the best thing about Heroes is the volunteers that work there year after year, including Andrew Mansell, a fast-walking bull of a man, with a head that sits on his broad shoulders like a bag of groceries. I love seeing that guy. I would seriously consider flying in just to see that guy. Anyway, he shows up before the humor panel doing one of the George Wendt/Robert Smigel Chicago guys, with the loud accent and mustache, and Dorkin looks like a terrorist showed up in the room with bombs strapped to him, he has literally no idea what Mansell is up to. He's not scared but alarmed. For some reason this was extremely funny. Mansell's impersonation wasn't bad at all.

* Cartoon Books sold out of all but one and a half boxes of material, a small van's worth of books and other items.

* what else...? people are still intimidated by meeting the Hernandez Brothers. Latest person to physically run away when I tried to introduce them: Chip Zdarsky of Sex Criminals. I get it, I worked in comics starting in 1994, for their publisher, and my first conversation with them came in 2003. Don't get me wrong: they still have it amongst their younger peers. I came across a few conversations that were simply young cartoonists asking other young cartoonists what they talked to Jaime and Gilbert about. There was a lot of nice inter-generational feeling there, more than you'd think. I wonder if it's that a lot of the younger cartoonists are working in areas like webcomics that are slightly out of step with the avenues pursued by the older cartoonists. Or it could be that everyone realizes that someone else's good fortune doesn't mean bad fortune for you.

* that's another thing. I barely saw Zdarsky that whole weekend. Once when he was running away, and once outside of Mert's where I got to thank him for being genuinely funny and making me laugh. That's the only time I saw Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick closer than 35 feet away. They all seem to be doing really well, and with the way that Image books work, I'm guessing that Sex Criminals may be an outright career-changer for both Zdarsky (a first hit) and Fraction (a partly emancipating one? that's a hunch) ahead of what one might guess. I like all of those people, though, and from conversations I had so do most of those in attendance. The lines were certainly impressive.

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* I got out to the big post-convention party at Heroes Aren't Hard To Find, Drum's retail establishment and its nearby parking lot. It was a big to-do with a band and food trucks and tents. I walked over to clear my head, past bars shaking with the thrill of the US/Portugal World Cup match. The food and beer was good, and it was free, which made it super-good. Gilbert Hernandez checked out the nearby video store. I got to meet Ben Towle briefly. A bunch of folks including Jeff Smith and Jim Rugg and Katie Skelly, got a brief tour of the warehouse behind the store. Tom Scioli opened up the door for us, and the visual of Tom standing in white light and air condition surrounded by longboxes makes me think that's what it is like to visit Tom at his house in Pittsburgh. The academic Craig Fischer scored a copy of Rubber Blanket #2 and some material for an Eddie Campbell thing he's working on. I went into the main store and bought bags and boards, mostly because I wanted my friends to make fun of me the rest of the evening. I like bags and boards. Sue me. If you ever had a cat that liked to knock over glasses of water, you'd like them, too.

* the party skewed young.

* the free shuttle van back to the hotel was driven by Shelton Drum's wife Linda d'Olivat, who said that Shelton didn't know she was driving.

* I ended up in the Westin bar one more time with a small group of cartoonists talking about industry assholes. Later in the evening Evan Dorkin sat down and it was like the greatest long reliever in the history of baseball showing up -- I think he did 50 minutes at one point, working his way around the industry and people that weren't liked for whatever reason, justified or not. It was fun to listen to the younger cartoonists -- Noah Van Sciver and Katie Skelly were there -- try to come up with disliked younger people, at least ones they knew about, not particularly people they disliked. I know this sounds from the outside like a horrible conversation, but it was actually pretty fun, and not meant in a mean way. Every industry has people thought of as jerks. Eric Powell came over and sat for a bit and was very quiet. I actually fell asleep at the table and Dorkin yelled at me until I said my goodbyes and went back to the Hilton.

* I was witness to some interpersonal stuff reflecting an almost 30 year old industry disagreement. For some reason I love the fact that there are memories that long, even as I hope I have nothing similar on my plate beginning ten years from now.

* I heard a rumor that Tom Scioli actually got some work done after midnight, Monday early AM.

* I had several more-expensive-than-they-should-be hotel breakfasts, one of my favorite vices.

* on the way home, I went to Columbus -- aka Comics City USA -- on a personal matter and got to see a whole crew of comics people: Jeff again, Vijaya Iyer, Jenny Robb, Caitlin McGurk, Lucy Caswell, a visiting Dan and Carrie Wright (Dan is my dear childhood friend, and a stellar cartoonist), and an on-their-way-to-the-grandparents-house Montreal crew of Tom Devlin, Peggy Burns, Gigi and Woody. That was fun, too, but a story for another time. A few things. One, I think I may be too old to stack comics visits. Two, Caitlin McGurk very much needs to clean her car. Three, Tom Devlin did the full tour of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library And Museum and had stuff pulled -- I saw his cart later -- and declared the museum better than he even imagined.

* I learned from Robert Loss at CCAD that they're bringing in Marjane Satrapi this Fall. That should be fun.

* a bunch of us got to hang out with Jaime Hernandez, in town on a family thing, over eggs and toast for an hour or so on Wednesday. That was fun.

image* Dan Wright, largely unfamiliar with Richard Thompson's work, laughed his way through the Thompson exhibit -- he was blown away by the Cul De Sac as a fantasy setting drawing, which I also love -- and at one moment pointed directly at a picture of Petey Otterloop. Noting that Bill Watterson's work was in the next room, Wright said of Petey, "Tell me that guy right there isn't post-9/11 Calvin."

* the thing that struck me about the Watterson this time was how well he spaced things. Dan Wright said that Watterson is the best cartoonist ever at making white space feel like air, which is totally true, but I think what impresses on a deep level might be more than that -- he was just in a groove for a long, long, long time about where to put things in that space to make them flow and to suggest relationships and to control timing. I saw three or four jokes I loved -- the "rewards of teaching" joke is better than I remember -- but it seemed like I saw something in every visual that made me appreciate his work a little bit more. I could stare at those comics at that size for hours, and look forward to the catalog. The Clowes I hadn't seen yet, and that, too, was super-impressive, everything you could hope for in a spotlight show like that one. Go if you can.

* my travel back from Columbus was uneventful. I was tired enough having gone seven days with less than four hours of sleep per day that they could have duct taped me to the side of the plane and I wouldn't have cared. Maybe they did, I don't remember. It was Delta again, so I'm pretty sure my knees were hurt.

* he'll never read this, but David Howard of Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a good man, and I wish him a safe and happy life.

* HeroesCon 2014 was a feel-good show on a ton of levels, so much so that people seemed to feel churlish to express they didn't do as well as they expected, or didn't have the weekend they hoped. "It's the only show where I buy enough stuff to fill a box or two going the other way," one publisher told me. Some told me a week later they were still feelling its friendly buzz.

* this year's Heroes was a transitional show in terms of the space involved -- they need to fill it out or back off a bit, I think; it feels a bit frayed on the ends. Like comics in general, I think they could use more people. Big room or not, it felt light, and for some comics pros it was a bit lighter than they had hoped in terms of number of people and number of people with a potential interest in what they have to offer. As we saw with SPX 2013, the measure of exhibitors to audience to space is a form of alchemy; it's very difficult to get it just right. I trust they'll tinker. It may be that we're beginning to see the end of exhibiting books you can easily get elsewhere, which sound ludicrous, but that's a big part of what convention exhibiting has always been about.

* as far as Heroes being able to handle more people, what's interesting about that to me beyond the obvious is that it's not just this con or cons in general but that it's comics that could always use more people. I don't mean that just in terms of diversity, although certainly that, too, but more people of every kind, more people to spill over and try new things, more people on hand to buy and enjoy and help celebrate the art form, enough people to meet the artists at the point of creation.

* so that's it for the first first half of the 2014 convention season -- there are a few other shows including a big one in Florida, but for the most part we're done. Up next as a big, big deal is San Diego -- always the eye of the annual convention storm -- and then onto Fall. Conventions seems like a reasonably healthy sector of the industry right now, but there are signs that some of the shows are operating at peak interest in terms of attendees, or just below that with little hope for a surge over the top. I'm not sure how much growth is left without a lot of work. We'll see.

* Shelton Drum told me they wanted me back next year, too. Maybe I'm one of the Heroes people now.

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