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September 8, 2006

Baltimore Comic-Con This Weekend

The Baltimore Comic-Con taking place tomorrow and Sunday still lacks the clear identity that distinguishes the most popular shows on the North American convention circuit. That being said, I sense that comics professionals really want the Baltimore Con to be good. In terms of location, Baltimore is an achievable short trip from New York and offers a compact, pleasant downtown with plenty of bars and restaurants and multiple side attractions to dash in and out of as time permits. In terms of timing, Marc Nathan's show comes in September and could, if it got over, serve as the last full-blown North American convention of the calendar year.

My own experiences with the city of Baltimore are less with the neighborhoods surrounding the Inner Harbor and more with the Spring's big horse race and the various small towns surrounding the larger metropolis area. But I have spent a few days and semi-lucid evenings downtown. My most vivid memory of Baltimore is seeing a first-day matinee of Rush Hour in a packed theater where the air conditioning had shut down. An employee walked up and down the aisle spraying Lysol, and as she turned at the front of the cinema declared, loudly, "I'm sorry, but y'all stink."

Here are a few tips based on more pertinent memories that may benefit you during your weekend at the show.

Baltimore Comic-Con Mini-Guide

1. If You Don't Feel Like Seafood, Try Italian
I don't think of Italian food when I think of Baltimore. To be honest, when I think of Baltimore I think of Diner and Art Donovan's haircut. But I probably should think Italian food as much as I eat it there. Near the convention center rests one of America's best Little Italys, with a number of fine storefront and homestead-ish Italian restaurants lining its streets. I had to look it up because I forgot the name, but Sabatino's is open until 3 AM on the weekends, which can be a very useful thing.

2. If You Have Seafood, Do Crabs
Forget Edgar Allen Poe, John Waters and even CR Patron Saint HL Mencken; eating with a bib is Baltimore's finest contribution to American culture. Tired of blabbing all day? Crabs, high-end sushi and Brazilian meats brought to your table on skewers are the only three meals where it's entirely cool if you just sit there eating without saying a word. (The usual warning applies that a week-long stomachache for an out-of-towner when they return home usually begins at some other city's seafood restaurant.)

3. Life On Mars
Speaking of John Waters, you walk about six blocks away from the Inner Harbor and you're probably on one of his movie sets. Nowhere else in America looks like this anymore. There are sole propietorships, five and dime stores and strange, forgotten chains that live on in Baltimore that I swear haven't existed in any other city since 1973. I bet you could buy Micronauts in a toy store there -- which probably shares retail space with a sweeper shop -- and the newsstands are likely filled with The Rook. So get out, walk around. I'd suggest walking to have lunch from one of the chowhound-friendly stands in Lexington Market, with the caveat that someone local told me the Market's not the same place it was even a few years ago.

4. Baltimore Has The Weirdest Museums Ever
Steve Geppi has one; so do Edgar Allen Poe, Black Wax Figures, Fire and Dentistry. The American Dime Museum is a classic intentionally oddball museum. All are worth a couple of hours break from the convention floor according ot your personal interests. As much as I love wax figures and gravestones, I think my favorite museum in Balitmore is one of the most buttoned-up. For looking at a lot of different art in a very short time, I don't know there's a better experience in a non-New York city than an hour at the Walters Art Museum.

5. Baltimore Con Is For Hanging Out
As for the convention itself, it has a reputation of being a friendly and intermittently busy one, which can mean a lot of one-on-one pro time and perhaps a wider than usual window for something fan-bitious like an original art commission. I'm interested to see how this coalition of webcomics cartoonists does on the floor. In terms of programming, I'd go see Paul Pope, Jerry Robinson and Howard Chaykin speak at their respective panels. And if I can make one request, please support the Harvey Awards with your presence during the ceremony; they deserve a couple of years of lighter scrutiny and solid attendance after their era of ill-will in New York.


Chris Mautner Chimes In

* If you're traveling with kids, then a visit to the Baltimore Aquarium is pretty much a must-stop. Be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time though.

* There's also a nice science museum not too far from the aquarium, which makes for another good stop for the kids. [Editor's Note: Holy crap! Norman Rockwell!]

* If you're looking for some comic-related art: On the other side of the water across from the aquarium is the Outsider Art Museum [actually the American Visionary Art Museum], which has some nice work by Joe Coleman, among others.

* If you want to go to the movies, you can't beat the Senator Theater, which has to be one of the oldest movie theaters on the east coast. Part of 12 Monkeys was filmed there.

thanks to Michael Purdy for the assist
posted 6:12 am PST | Permalink

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