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Heroes Con 2006: A Detailed View From The Convention's Indie Island
posted July 5, 2006
 

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Heroes Con 2006: June 29-July 2
The View From Indie Island By Robert Young


Heroes Con has long had a sparkling reputation as one of the favorite conventions of mainstream stalwarts such as George Perez, Mike Wieringo, Cully Hamner and David Mack, but with last year's implementation of an Indie Island smack in the center of the exhibition hall, the con essentially rolled out the red carpet for lesser known, more iconoclastic creators as well. This year, just the second of the Island's existence, brought in enough indie comics heroes to induce an acute case of SPX deja vu, that is until a Naruto cosplayer, or puffy Green Arrow wandered by (the closest SPX equivalent probably being Jason Little's outfit).

The Indie Island's prime beachfront was reserved for Mario, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. Los Bros were spread out at three adjacent tables, doing sketches, and in Mario's case also selling a photocopied sketchbook. At the table directly across from my own sat Peter Bagge. To my immediate left, Dash Shaw; next to him, in succession were Ben Towle, Rob Ullman, and Charles Vess. Across from Shaw stood Steven Weissman and Jordan Crane. Flown in from the West Coast, the stylish pair looked like skinny boys from some hipper-than-the-rest Brit rock band. Colleen Doran was seated directly across from the CBLDF booth manned by Charles Brownstein. On opposing sides of this rectangle of creators were the two main alternative publishers in attendance. On one side, Top Shelf's table was alternately manned by Andy Runton, Alex Robinson, and Jeffrey Brown. On the other was Chris Pitzer's AdHouse Books. Pitzer had already expressed some disappointment that star artist James Jean, whose Process Recess sketchbook was published by AdHouse, had missed two flights and wouldn't make it to the con this year. Meanwhile Paul Pope, another would-be attendee soon to be published by Pitzer, canceled after being asked to do a lecture in Sydney.

Amid steady business, Rob Ullman, creator of From The Curve and Grand Gestures, was raffling off a 12-inch plastic Sasquatch figure that he had somehow won on Free Comics Day. Recognizing its awfulness, he considered moving it around his house to torment his wife, but instead opted to pass it on to another unfortunate soul. His ultimate wish was that it would continue being passed along and perhaps even be photographed at landmarks all over the world, like the famed globetrotting garden gnome.

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Over his two days in Charlotte, Dash Shaw (Goddess Head, Love Eats Brains) demonstrated a near encyclopedic memory for obscure art house films, talked excitedly about his fascination with Vincent Gallo, and about a scene in David Lynch's Dune that almost brought him to tears. He also fretted over whether he should purchase a three DVD set of Alejandro Jodorowsky films. Of all the artists in attendance, Shaw's relentlessly idiosyncratic work seemed the most ill-fitted for this convention. And yet he said more than once that his sales at Heroes Con rivaled those of SPX and Mocca. Perhaps it was because of the coterie of cute, young, female admirers who made repeated stops by Shaw's table. When an objective distaff observer noted this to the seemingly oblivious Shaw, he remained in denial until later being the recipient of a love letter left for him while he was away from his table, tracking down the extended DVD edition of Dune.

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Perhaps a little less con-jaded than his brothers, Mario was the most engaging and ebullient of the Hernandez trio. Mario was selling a Xeroxed 40-page mini, titled !Zoof! My Own Sketchbook. Admittedly somewhat pricey, it's still the best $10 mini I've ever bought. Mario said that he would love to create an iconic character of his own, and pointed out a black female from his delightful "When the Muse is Not Amused" story in Love & Rockets #50 as being the character he wanted to develop. He nodded toward his brothers and said "These guys were always so precious with their characters like, 'Oh you can't do that with Luba.' While I was always 'You can shit on my characters, I don't care.'"

Not only did he want to have a contest to name his would-be iconic character, (nixing my suggestion of "Sylvain Plantain"), he also wished that he could find a penciller to work over his layouts, and who he could then ink over. He said that he had tried to get younger artists to work with him but each time they would realize they were working on spec and ditch the project. I suggested that a post on a comics message board would probably net him a number of young artists eager to work with a Brother.

imageWhen told that just days prior one of his meticulously drawn preliminary pages for Hate, was spotted up for auction on Ebay, Peter Bagge responded, "Oh I've got reams of those things. I used to lug them along to cons, but the pencils get all smudged when I handle them, so I stopped." For anyone interested, Bagge said he would be more than happy to unload them "for cheap." Later Bagge presided over an immensely entertaining panel conversation with all three Brothers Hernandez. One highlight included Bagge's own hilarious digression about the time tempestuous rocker Richard Hell literally stomped all over his artwork. Also Gilbert Hernandez talked of how Gary Groth and Co. would rib Los Bros for often submitting fan art along the lines of Sub-Mariner shaking hands with Aquaman, in the early days of The Comics Journal. His response: TCJ was devoting entire issues "to Magneto" at the time. Bagge then affectionately dismissed both Groth and Kim Thompson as "twats." But the biggest laugh of the 90-minute conversation came when, just as Gilbert was launching into an amusing rant about Marvel, in walked a poor fellow wearing the saggiest Spider-Man costume anyone had ever seen. Everything stopped cold and Bagge tried to resume but admitted that he had lost his train of thought and wouldn't get it back until a "certain someone has a seat." This drew even more laughter and after a few minutes the deflated Spider-Man left the room. Later he was spotted thumbing through back issues at a dealer's table, and actually being heckled loudly by a pitiless retailer.

Making his first appearance at an American convention in almost a decade, Warren Ellis proved a voluminous and charming presence. Over the course of two separate panels, one a Q&A hosted by Heidi MacDonald, the other a casual rap session between Ellis and frequent collaborator Bryan Hitch, Ellis delivered numerous funny anecdotes. But none funnier than the gentle digs at his friend Alan Moore. Ellis jokingly suggested that he and Moore's friendship was never again the same after he phoned an already forlorn Moore to reveal that he had read the LOEG movie would include Dorian Gray as a playboy/assassin. He also said that Moore had remodeled the basement of his Northampton, England home into a "magician's cave." Upon completion, Moore told Ellis "You know Warren, now I can never leave." When asked how this Con differed from Comic-Con International, Ellis responded, "For one thing there aren't 900 Klingons walking about." In fact the lone Klingon spotted was a woman sitting at a booth for a Hospice Care charity.

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None of this is to suggest that Heroes Con doesn't have many of the less appealing aspects of any other convention of this nature: the bad cheesecake art, the pseudo-indy publishers pushing horrid genre concepts, the occasional unhygienic fanboy, and grizzled retailers hawking their dusty wares. But show organizer Shelton Drum, right-hand man Dustin Harbin, and everyone else even tenuously associated with it, demonstrate the sort of passion for comics and genuine amicability that make Heroes Con a refreshingly anomalous blast in the face of crass, soulless Wizard World's everywhere.

Near the end of the three day con, Rob Ullman had successfully unloaded his hideous Sasquatch; Dash Shaw had finally buckled and purchased Jodorowsky's Holy Trinity; and I walked away with the original cover art from Shaw's Love Eats Brains for a criminal price that barely defrayed the cost of his latest DVD purchase. Fatigued smiles all around.

If in coming years Heroes Con can maintain the significant momentum gathered in 2006, it may graduate from pleasant summer diversion, to an event as relevant and welcoming to the indie comics crowd as it always has been to those in the mainstream. Here's to evolution. -- Robert Young

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Robert Young is the editor and driving force behind The Comics Interpreter. Please explore his site in detail. You could start with his podcast, Pyrrhic Victories.

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art: Subby Meets Aquaman is from original art owned by Eric Reynolds; all other images provided by Mr. Young
the usual caveat: Heroes Con advertised on this site in the two months leading up to the show