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June 7, 2010


A Few Notes On Heroes Con 2010

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By Tom Spurgeon

* Heroes remains a very nice show. I enjoyed myself greatly. In fact, that's the sentiment I heard the most from professionals and attendees: "I'm really enjoying myself."

* there are some telling differences between the show I attended last weekend and the one I attended two years ago. The show is in a slightly bigger hall. The auction was in a slightly bigger space. There was enough going on that I lost track of people for the entire weekend. I saw Heidi MacDonald of The Beat exactly once all weekend, riding the down escalator while I was taking the up. I saw the great Carlton Hargro once at the back of the Mike Mignola panel and once at his booth. I'm told Johanna Draper Carlson was there; never saw her. I heard a lot of stories about Rob Liefeld, but I never saw him, either.

* so I'd say the show has grown past being a huge, single experience and is in the embryonic stages of becoming one of those shows that contains multiple experiences within its overall framework. That's not a good or bad thing; it's likely a necessary thing. Let me put it to you like this: Two years ago if asked to describe the show I think I could have told you what everyone I knew was doing and when and where. This year, not so much.

* it still remains at heart a regional show, and I think always will be. I thinks that's good. The value of shows like Heroes should be to serve the people in their region with a top-quality comics show, not reach out across country and kick San Diego in the nuts or whatever. Wizard -- who got their own ball-kicking from Heroes a few years back -- should take note. Since Charlotte can draw pretty easily from a stretch of country ranging from Atlanta to DC to the top of Florida, I think they can remain fairly well-ensconced in their place on the calendar.

* in the van on the way over -- Heroes shuttles a lot of comics folk to and from the airport -- I sat next to Rantz Hoseley, the editor of Comic Book Tattoo and public face for the Longbox digital effort. I screwed Rantz on an interview last year, so I was glad to arrange some time for a forthcoming feature on their final pre-1.0 launch.

* they always get great van drivers at this event, too.

* talked briefly to the artist Tony Harris and a bunch of the webcomics cartoonists in attendance on Thursday. Harris and I talked about the guild he's putting together; I hope we revisit the topic here at CR in the near future. The webcomics people are all very smart, and among the things we discussed is how the supportive nature of the community may be due in part to the fact that unlike some other community, there's very little in the way of webcomics being a zero-sum game; how poised cartoonists with a stockpile of the material might be to take advantage of the forthcoming digital device revolution; and how there is much less overlap between the audiences for various webcomics than people with a comics background might assume.

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* the same bar visit ended in my first encounter with cartoonist and Heroes Con point man Dustin Harbin, who was a socializing, problem-solving, advice-giving rock all weekend, especially for the indie- and alt-crowd in which he takes a focused interest. Thanks, Dustin.

* by the way, Harbin's indie-island strategy is paying some dividends. One thing that was different this time around is that, as expected, some of the cartoonists that have been there a few years in a row are developing repeat customers. Another thing that someone said about the Charlotte customers is that they were in a lot of cases engaged with the work more than at big shows, like this was their chance to buy indie stuff the same way that cons worked for a lot of alt-comics customers in the old days. That's not to say any of that translated into big sales across the board -- some people I'm sure got killed, others had only modest expectations at best, and I heard a few "I don't like where they put me" horror stories -- but I didn't hear near as many bottom-line complaints as last time. It's getting better in that department.

* this is still a mainstream show, though, big time, and I think it always will be. Not that that's automatically a bad thing. I sat in the back of a panel on superhero costuming that had more people than about half of the panels I moderated, although I have to admit, some of the stuff they discussed was kind of interesting.

* okay, I should probably mention it was really humid in Charlotte this year. You can get sort of not used to that. I probably shouldn't mention this was year I stabbed myself in the upper leg and lopped off the tip of my nose, but I want to be able to find this later.

* here's one great thing about going to a regional show like Heroes over a national show in Chicago, New York or southern California. As it turned out through a tiny glitch, my room wasn't reserved. So instead of dying on the spot, which is what would have happened in San Diego, as I surely would have been homeless for at least an evening, I simply ended up just reserving my own room at the same hotel right there, at 12:48 AM the first day of the show. A nice Hilton. For $109.

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* Shelton Drum made me laugh when I was getting my pass by taking me immediately to the window of the office above the con and asking to behold all within my power to survey. It looked 25 percent busier than the Friday from two years ago, in a much bigger hall of the convention center.

* Steve Saffel showed me some of the forthcoming Titan (I think) books, including that Kirby/Simon all-the-smaller-company-superheroes volume. He said on a recent visit, Joe Simon sat with them for five hours, which is about an hour longer than I can do at less than half the age.

* the floor of the show was never crowded and yet was always busy, one of the things Heroes Con -- both times I've been -- has done really well. I was glad to see Sammy Harkham on the way in; Sammy's one of my favorite people to talk to in comics. Sammy told me a bit about Family's recent foray into New York and last year's job editing of the Treehouse Of Horror issues of the Simpsons comic book. Bother were generally super-positive experiences.

* another thing that people mentioned a lot throughout the weekend was how great a show it is at which to shop. And it is a pretty amazing marketplace. There were a bunch of retailers with cheap comics, $.25 and up, and a fair number of trades and more expensive comics as well. It's a mighty original art show, both the kind that made for printed comic books at one point but especially sketches and pen and ink drawings. There was a lot of merchandise, too. I could drop about $2000 in an hour, easy, without any one thing costing more than $20.

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* I moderated a bunch of panels over the weekend. I always wanted to try that way of engaging a show -- the Full Evanier -- and I'll probably never do it again. But I had a great time having that many conversations one after the other. Here's a comment or two on each one.
Friday 01: Bill Willingham, Matt Kindt
Both of these guys were smart and funny. As was the case with most of the panels, most everybody stayed for the duration, which is almost never the case in San Diego. Willingham had this lovely piece of advice to young writers who wanted to establish a sense of place that a large part of that was trusting your audience to pick up on what you're doing.
Friday 02: Jill Thompson, Jim Rugg, Meredith Gran, Ed Piskor, Raina Telgemeier
This one became almost comically depressing because of the very realistic advice being doled out, although the most memorable exchange to me was Jim Rugg asking the other panelists for help in how to do less work when he finds himself compelled to work on comics all the time.
Friday 03: Brian Bolland
He and Mike Mignola were similarly gracious, smart and patient with sizable audiences. I indulged myself with questions about digital art and coloring. My guess is that the original art and sketches market are what drives him to show like this one, and he had a full docket of requested sketches all weekend.
Saturday 01: Evan Dorkin, Jill Thompson
This was a panel on collaboration, but you could probably tell more about how these two work on Beasts Of Burden from the way they interacted with one another on the panel -- very supportive and confident, as befits two established working pros. Evan made a William Bendix joke.
Saturday 02: Mike Mignola
My impression was that he was really looking forward to some extended and uninterrupted time at the drawing board. Said he would take a call about a third Hellboy movie but likely wouldn't be interested in hands-on producing.
Saturday 03: Richard Thompson
No surprise my favorite of the show. Richard was very funny. Chris Schweizer kept walking in from his own panel next to hear him. He said he was surprised to even be nominated for the recent Reuben won by Dan Piraro, and that it was the younger cartoonists that seemed more worried about the decline of newspapers.
Saturday 04: Ben Templesmith, Guy Davis
There was a cool moment in this when someone asked Guy Davis about wheelchair-accessible doors in the BPRD headquarters because it was noticed by a patient of his -- he does counseling to soldiers on being disabled, and uses BPRD for some of the apparatus used by characters in order to get by -- and Davis got to tell him he'd already started changing it, which pleased him immensely.
Sunday 01: Scott Hampton, Tim Sale
Tim Sale was very good and Scott Hampton can flat-out speak. He can be on every panel I ever do. Sale took one of those Buscema seminars back in the '70s, which I hadn't known. This was a really confident but I hop still easy to follow conversation that embraced a variety of examples, from Lorenzo Mattotti's painted comics to Steve Ditko's wash work at Warren to Blacksad. Hampton even told a funny story about the Eclipse Flood.
Sunday 02: Sammy Harkham, Jim Rugg
There was a nice back and forth on style here; both cartoonists have had good years, so were more positive than you might get from another pairing of alt-comics people. Sammy Harkham expressed some skepticism that press works in terms of putting comics out there, and some anecdotal evidence for Rugg seemed to back that up.
Sunday 03: Jeff Parker, Jonathan Hickman
Hickman had a great spin on the superhero comics audience: that they were easily more sophisticated as a collective than any writer could be, and if you relied on reveals that collective intelligence more often than not would figure them out.
Sunday 04: David Malki, Kate Beaton
Two very funny people that pulled a lot of fans to a conference area thirty minutes before the end of the show. Malki offered up a compelling line or three about assuming some of the sales of his books in order to maximize profit per unit. I always feel bad for webcartoonists because the business side is fascinating, but you have to be sympathetic to the sincere desire a lot of those artists express that they not be seen solely or primarily in those terms.
Thanks again to any participants reading and to all the volunteer staff that helped me along, particularly Andrew Mansell. Mansell's public meeting of Charlotte's local comics discussion club to chat about a book by Bill Willingham received the stamp of approval from Willingham himself. Before the panel, Willingham expressed hopes he would be used Annie Hall-style, brought out from behind a curtain to disprove someone's theory about the author's intentions.

* Richard Thompson dropped a piece of publishing news at his panel that I totally missed when it happened: he put his Richard's Poor Almanac on hiatus about six months ago, to better concentrate on his strip work after his diagnosis last summer of Parkinson's. Jim Rugg mentioned that Afrodisiac was headed into a second printing and either has already sold out or will soon sell out of an initial print run of around 3000.

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* there was a superhero art gallery/bar exhibit up on Friday night that a bunch of folks went to see. The belles of the ball for me were a two-page Steve Ditko sequence and an early Jack Kirby Fantastic Four page. The Ditko sequence was that one where Baron Mordo and Doctor Strange fight around the globe in astral form, so you get these boss little Ditko reductions of various locations around the world and those fantastic character designs fighting it out above them. It was quite crisp and beautiful-looking. The Adam Hughes -- I think it was an Adam Hughes -- popped for me as well. I couldn't tell much about the other pieces of art, although everything was generally superhero-handsome. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and they sold several pieces early in the month, which is never a guarantee with a gallery show.

* the crowds at the con were bigger over the weekend, but on the floor it was hard to tell, either because I spent all my time in artist's alley or because the floor was immaculately spaced out. Where you could tell was in places like the Starbucks or the stand alone cash machines and the escalators.

* the only two celebrities I saw were Mick Foley (he looked like a man with back problems. also? huge) and Scott Adsit, who seemed very gracious in terms of giving his time to people that accosted him. He also helped with the auction Saturday night, working the mic for a time.

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* by "auction" I'm referencing the fact they have an art auction every year, I believe to allay the more severe costs of the show, although I could be wrong about that. If I'm right, it's sort of the original Kickstarter. That was quite the scene: super-packed, and even as the show was going on there was a stream of folks behind the auctioneers taking a gander at the art.

image* a funny thing that happened late in at the auction -- and the auction ran pretty late -- is that Evan Dorkin yelled at the audience to bid higher for his contribution. One nice thing is that while some of the pieces went for a thousands of dollar, it's not like the bottom dropped out on the other pieces. A Roger Langridge contribution, for example (see bottom of post), went for $400 or so.

* here's a nice thing: they moved Richard Thompson to a better location on Sunday, just to potentially increase his foot traffic. That's good con organizing, just kind of looking after individual people that way without opening a kind of table-to-table leap-frogging. Richard's originals are beautiful, and if you ever get the chance you should consider buying one, but you need to look at them.

* ran into Roger Langridge the night before the auction, actually. After Heroes, he's off to the Michigan con aimed at kids, the name of which I forget as I'm filing this. He said you have to stack the trips to America when you live overseas, and I'm not going to argue with him. That guy's like the Gary Player of North American alt-comics. He stopped by and sat with a group of alternative comics cartoonists on Friday night right before dinner, where they got to ask questions about his forthcoming all-ages Thor comic. This was highly amusing. "What kind of hair does Thor have?" By the way, I didn't know that gig was with Chris Samnee. That could be terrific-looking.

* it's strange to see a Top Shelf team at a con that doesn't include Chris Staros or Brett Warnock. If I understand it right, Robert Venditti is local and the weekend becomes a variation on those old college weekends where you go and visit a friend's hometown. They even had a cooler of food from Venditti's parents behind the table.

* I heard almost a half-dozen younger cartoonists independently reference the recent murder of animation and comics writer Steve Perry as an object lesson, something that really chilled them in terms of their potential career outcomes.

* talked to a group of cartoonists including Josh Latta, J. Chris Campbell and Rob Ullman (I don't remember the other guy's name!) on Saturday night, passing around comic books, drinking beer. One of the items discussed was whether or not Atlanta had a cohesive comics scene, which was a discussion I'd had earlier in the evening with another cartoonist who had the exact opposite take on the state of things.

image* Vito Delsante, Alec Longstreth (pictured, right), Erika Moen, Joe Lambert and Shannon Smith were among the cartoonists that slipped me review copies. The Shannon Smith comic was a new of Shiot Crock, the official contributors magazine of The Comics Journal Message Board. I had no idea this was still being published. It was smaller than it used to -- I think the TCJ board is, too -- and much more official-looking.

* Drew Weing's Fantagraphics book Set To Sea looks beautiful art-direction wise and should be out by mid-summer at latest. I've enjoyed the story in its on-line iteration, which will wrap up about the time of the book's drop date.

* Ming Doyle was recommended to me by cartoonists as the cartoonist to go see by a factor of about 5-1 over the next person most highly recommended, Joseph Lambert.

* I got a chance to speak to Snow Wildsmith, a person with whom I sat at the 2009 Eisners, and I loved hearing about her show favorites because they were from a perspective with which I'm not always familiar.

* this was the strangest recommendation of a book.

* I enjoyed talking to the duo with whom Devlin Thompson sent a button depicting the 1960s Sub-Mariner is his terrible-looking crown. "He looks so sad," said one person who noticed it on my shirt.

* one of the most beautiful things I saw was a sketchbook of drawings from cartoonists that Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer were collecting for their daughter. The neat thing about theirs is that are having the drawings done in a series of white-page Little Golden books. Some of the art is fairly exquisite-looking. They'll even have the covers painted at some point.

* at one point I imagined that we're about three years away from people routinely downloading comics from people at panels as they speak. It's possible now, but I don't think the habits are there yet.

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* one thing about the Charlotte Convention Center I didn't learn until the show was almost over is that they have respectable outside food vendors -- Starbucks, of course, but also a couple of salad/bread places and a chicken establishment that I believe is regionally famous for their biscuits. I don't know, it just struck me as interesting there was food on the property that people would actually eat. The lines weren't awful, either.

* I didn't make it to the store party following the show, but I'm told it was nice. I like the Heroes headquarters. I had a homeless guy ask me why I was in Charlotte and he said he used to live right next to the store. I honestly couldn't tell if he meant under a roof or not but it's not like I was going to ask.

* and that's about it. Like I said up top, it remains a very nice show done by enthusiastic volunteers in a cool, laid-back downtown city location. It should be and is a favorite of scores of pros. There are a lot of people with a lot of art in their homes this morning, and a lot of people flying back home with small and vibrant piles of Gold Key comics stuffed into their suitcases. Similar to WonderCon and with many of the same strengths (and many, many uniquely its own) I could do it every year. I may add some more detail later for my own benefit and should get to more links when I'm on a better computer, but mostly... it was a comics show. A very pleasant comics show. Long may they reign.

For me this convention year has been about the renewed realization that cons are a lot of fun for a lot of people, and trying to figure out why that is. That sounds banal, I know. But I don't think I've ever stopped analyzing the news of a show to consider just how pleasurable they can be in a certain way, at least not until this year. I think Heroes Con is going to be around in this iteration for a while, and suspect an appreciative regional audience wouldn't have it any other way. There are a hundred ways to get to comics, and this is one of the best.

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