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June 15, 2009

Ten Things I Liked About Heroes Con


Heroes Con in Charlotte is taking place this weekend. I recommend the show. I was a guest in 2008, I was invited back this year and it gave me a stomach ache for three days to have to turn it down. I had a really good time last year. It's a nice show, an old-school show, like San Diego and Chicago were when I was attending them in college. If there were a half-dozen shows like this one in various places across the country, I'd seriously think about doing a tour.

Here are a dozen things I enjoyed about last year's Heroes Con, in the hopes that you'll perhaps be convinced to head over to the show yourself.

image1. It's A True Regional Convention
Although there were plenty of people that I had known from previous shows and other professional stops in comics, all of whom I was happy to see in this new environment -- cartoonist and Wow Cool Publisher Marc Arsenault was there, and I hadn't seen him since 1997 -- a lot of the pros and certainly a lot of the attendees were from towns and states with which I've had little interaction since graduating from college. I liked the fact that people made trips, even stayed overnight, to support the show as much as to indulge in some aspect of their chosen hobby and favorite medium. It was also one of the few shows I've been to where I felt like I actually visited a different part of the country in addition to the Land Of Comics. If there were more convention experiences like it, I'd follow comics on tour.

2. It Has A Unique Drawing Culture
Everybody at this show draws. Nearly every single person with a table facing outward was drawing: commissions, sketches, front-piece drawings. I drew two sketches. Although attention to original art and sketching has seemed to me to grow at every show in North America, I've never seen it to the extent that I saw it last year at Heroes. I'm told attendees come back every year for new pieces of art from specific artists that come back every year to give them what they want. At times, walking the aisles of the show during con hours was more like visiting some strange hotel lobby late at night filled with cartoonists drawing and chatting. I like the fact that there's one show out there that embraces the fact that original art and sketches and commissions are one of the truly great things about the chance to meet comics professionals face to face.

3. Its Guests Return Year After Year
Not only is a vote of confidence in the show that many of the attendees seemed to be hardy veterans, it was clear those that had been there before had a leg up on newbies in that people remembered their previous appearances and came back for more. I found that nice.

4. The Attendees Seem To Cherish The Personal Interaction
I had great conversations with fans about the show and the ability to meet with favorite creators. A lot of the young men reminded me of myself as a young man in that they seemed to enjoy comics as a largely solitary pursuit in a way that the bonus of casual interaction with creators at Heroes Con meant a great deal to them. A lovely bonus. I talked to one guy who insisted on telling me a story about how one prominent Image creator threw him a free trade paperback because he and his brother had already spent all their cash. He spoke of it as this really nice, unexpected reward that was specifically for them because they read comics and went to this show. It was incredibly endearing.


5. I Liked The "Physical Plant" Of The Show
Heroes Con is basically three buildings and two satellite locations. The three buildings are the convention center, the hotel where everyone drinks in the bar, the hotel where nobody drinks in the bar but which has the killer health club in the same physical structure. The satellite locations are wherever they have the art auction and the Heroes Aren't Hard To Find comics shop where the final party takes place. Everything fits. Even the town works. The first night we were in town, my brother and I took a cab to Lupie's Cafe. Stuffed to the gills, we decided to work it off by walking back to the hotel. We hit the Heroes store about ten blocks down, and after walking around and staring at books and annoying the Immonens for a while shuffled the rest of the way into the city. We didn't hurry. We chatted with a couple of locals walking the same direction and bent down to meet their cairn terrier. We stopped to watch part of a baseball game. The stars were out. It felt like summer.

image6. Art Comics Were Welcome
I'll be honest with you: this is a mainstream American comics comics show, and the art comics people on hand in 2008 did haphazard business. Those with customers that remembered them from previous years seemed to do well to extremely well, hardcore arts and punk comics publishers and those who hadn't exhibited before seemed to do much less well. But everyone felt welcome, I think, if they weren't too stressed about breaking even for the trip. For the attendee who likes such comics, you not only have a fine guest list of folks that work your favorite area, but ample opportunity for interaction, both informal and formal. There was an inordinate amount of alt-industry and focus-on-arts programming. I got to talk to Richard Thompson (he's returning) and all of the eight people in attendance at the panel got to ask questions until they were physically exhausted. I got to talk to Evan Dorkin and Jaime Hernandez in a room with 20 other people in it and both of them were charming and funny. These are great memories for me, at least, and I think made for quality programming overall. They'll keep trying to keep the arts comics flame alive, and any arts comics fan will continue to benefit by their doing so. Here's Shannon Smith's guide to that element of the show.

7. It's Always Going To Be Its Own Thing
There's a quality to the show that difficult for me to communicate, but let me try. I got the sense that there wasn't a grander scheme involved, that the organizers would be perfectly happy running better iterations of what they were already doing from now until they stopped doing it. There was a confidence that what they were doing had value, which you sometimes don't get out of a not-huge show, and that what was valuable was inclusive -- it could be a good time for the pros and for the fans in attendance, not one or the other. Anyway, after attending shows with grand and sometimes callow ambitions, it was nice to be at a show that seemed startled at its own success. Talking to the Heroes Con shop personnel and the core volunteers felt like sneaking in a conversation with a host near the end of a really good party, in the kitchen, with jackets off and ties loosened.

image8. It Was A Good Cheap Comics-Buying Show
If there was one thing I could have done over in 2008 that wasn't having my brother take more hilarious pictures of Tim Hodler, it was that I didn't bring enough money to spend on comics. It was a killer show for 1970s and 1980s junk, in particular, the kinds of books that many folks won't take to a national show because of limited appeal. My art comics friends kept leaving their tables and coming back with more deliciously obtuse mainstream comics material, beaming as they showed off their treasure. I did manage to buy some late 1960s Marvel books starring Ka-Zar and The Inhumans -- just not enough. I don't know if the same opportunities will always be there, but it'd be fun to find out. When I go back, I'm budgeting more cash.

9. It's The Same Weekend As The Dub Show Tour
I have no comment except that last year the interactions between comics fans and attendees of the dub tour were among the most hilarious I've ever experienced at a convention. That is two vastly, vastly different fanbases.

image10. The Hosts And Volunteers Are Extremely Nice
This includes Shelton Drumm and Dustin Harbin and the other con organizers, all of whom seemed in a constant state of wanting to charge off to take care of some problem but also wanting to slow down and spend the next two hours talking to you about everything under the sun. Nice people. It also includes people like Andrew Mansell, who was really helpful to me personally (and it's not like I'm the sort of guest that should qualify for a lot of attention). Heck, even the people that drove the van from the airport were nice, and answered dumb questions about their city of choice, and generally enthused over the previous occupants of the shuttle. Even if you didn't like the show, I can't imagine not liking the people at the show.

So there it is. I hope maybe you go.

If you do, here's my con advice: eat at places that aren't good for you like Lupie's and Mert's, visit the main Heroes store (I thought it even better than its more-than-solid reputation), if you stay at the hotel with access to the YMCA use it because nothing beats working on your post moves before heading to a funnybook show, have cocktails at the Westin, take money to buy comics, watch Dustin Harbin perform at the Art Auction, go to all the programming that interests you (including the Ditko programming advertised below), take your sketchbook or your looking-for-commissions list and, perhaps most importantly, give yourself enough time to get through the most absurd lines in the history of absurd regional airport lines at the airport flying out or you could miss your flight. Mostly, though, get in a good year of Heroes Con-going and I'll meet you back there in 2010.




all photos by Whit Spurgeon. in case you have the ads turned off, Heroes Con is an advertiser, and there's always the chance that the above is biased nonsense that came about solely because of that relationship

posted 8:30 am PST | Permalink

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