Hello Ghouls and Boils,
I am going to make this introduction very brief, my wicked ones. This is a very long report on HeroesCon 2012 here in Charlotte, NC. So I don’t want to keep you waiting.
I do have one brief bit of news before we begin. We have a new addition to the staff here at SNS. Angie Bell has joined the ranks of our Minions. Her bio will be up soon. Please help us in welcoming her.
Now on with the show! Enjoy, my fiends!
Sarah L. Covert
*Note: Some of the images are linked. Just roll your mouse over them and explore!
Behind the Table: A HeroesCon Story
This was my second year attending HeroesCon. It was the 30th Anniversary and Shelton pulled out all the stops with legendary guests like Stan “The Man” Lee, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Mignola, Nick Cardy, Bill Sienkiewicz, Roy Thomas, George Perez, Neal Adams, Jaime Hernandez, Bob McLeod, Paul Levitz, Gary Friedrich, Adam Hughes, Marv Wolfman, Herb Trimpe, Michael Golden, and more. It was an exciting time, to say the least.
Before I get into my experience I want to take a few moments and talk about convention etiquette and general need-to-knows. This was the first comic convention for many people and I think that there were some snafus that could have been easily avoided.
DEALER’S ROOM/CONVENTION FLOOR ETIQUETTE
1) No sticky fingers!!! If you don’t have the money to buy a print, comic, or other goody then don’t bother visiting the dealer’s room/convention floor.
2) Do not take a picture of someone in costume without his or her permission.
3) This is my bubble, that is your bubble – there is no need to pop my bubble and hipcheck me. Conventions can be crowded. If you bump into someone a simple “I am sorry” or “Excuse me” will go a long.
4) As tempting as it may be, do not buy bootlegs. You are taking money away from the actors/artists/musicians etc. If you are unsure it is authentic, do not buy it!
5) Caveat emptor! Buyers beware… the items you purchase on the dealer floor are sold as is. Most dealers will not refund. So shop wisely!
6) If you are looking for comics and a comic is “bagged and boarded” ask before opening!!!
1) When you go to an artist’s table and are perusing their work, show respect – look the artists in the eye. Even if you don’t chitchat, acknowledging their existence is VERY important.
2) Do not EVER take a photo of an artist’s work. This is their livelihood and you are stealing.
3) Do not take a picture of an artist without their permission.
4) 50 comics for an artist to sign… sure why not??? I’ll tell you why not. Artists are usually busy during conventions working on commissions. This is their bread and butter. If you have a lot of comics for a writer/artist to sign, ask… if they have the time they most likely will do it.
5) Do your homework! If you bring something to a writer/artist to sign and it is not even their work, you have not only wasted their time but you also walk away red-faced.
6) Please be sure to handle original artwork or prints with care. Do not place your comics or swag on top of the artist’s work. Some of this work is irreplaceable. If you are new to comic conventions and are not sure how to handle artwork – ask the artist.
1) Turn off your cell phones. There is nothing more annoying than seeing someone on their phone or texting when you are giving them your time and wisdom.
2) Take notes and reserve your questions for Q&A time. Don’t interrupt the flow of the panel.
3) Unless you have a badge that says Press, reserve all flash photography until the Q&A period.
4) Try to arrive on time. Coming into a panel half way through can interrupt the flow of conversation.
5) Do not talk with your buddy during the panel. It is rude. You can either talk during the Q&A or talk afterwards between panels.
6) During the Q&A try to keep your questions on topic. It is easy to get on a tangent that has nothing to do with the theme of the panel. Save those questions for after the panel is over if the writer/artist/creator has the time.
1) Bring snacks! Food and drinks at conventions are very expensive. Pack some granola bars and energy drinks and save your money for comics!
2) Bring a fan. Convention halls get crowded and the AC doesn’t always do the trick.
3) Prepare yourself for long lines. Be patient and remember that this is the nature of the beast.
4) Arrange a meeting time/place with your children or friends. Cell phone reception can be spotty at best. Most conventions have an intercom system, but it is better to avoid that scenario.
5) If you have boxes of comics to sell/trade/get signed bring a small cart to wheel them around in or make sure you are parked near by!
6) Commute if you can! Go with friends in one car or take public transportation. Parking can be difficult to find and rates are not cheap.
Back to your regularly scheduled program…
This year was very different for me than last year; I spent most of my time behind the table working with the Inkwell Awards (I am a committee member – as our regular readers know.)
When I first arrived I did my usual “get the lay of the land” on the convention floor. (The folks at Heroes make it very easy.) Although I was distracted by all the goodies in the dealer section, I made it to artist alley pretty quickly; I found the Inkwell table and talked to Bob Almond (founder of the Inkwell Awards and talented artist) for a bit. Angie and Henry went off to check out some panels. I decided to stay behind and give Bob a hand. This was not my first time operating a table at a convention, but I never worked one at a convention this large.
For most people Friday (or the first day of a convention) is not a big shopping day. People spend time on the convention floor wandering around and window shopping (so to speak). So for me it was all about people watching and selling raffle tickets for a prize at the Inkwell Awards Ceremony. For those who do not know about the Inkwells here is a description:
The Inkwell Award, sometimes shortened to the Inkwell, is an award given for creative achievement in the field of inking in American comic books. It was created to focus on and show more recognition toward the inking art form and its artists, a production skill exclusive to comic books that is often misunderstood and under-appreciated and whose inkers are at times not presently credited as they were traditionally. The Inkwell Awards were partially named after the Yahoo group whose members include many in the inking community and after the personal website name of the organization founder Bob Almond, The Bob Almond Inkwell. The awards concept was created as a topic of one of his ‘Inkblots’ columns in Sketch Magazine in 2007 which saw print in 2008 after the group formation. The mission statement of the Inkwell Awards is, “To promote and educate about the art form of comic book inking and to show recognition for ink artists.”
The Inkwell Awards, Inc. is an official tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.
I was very excited about the Inkwells this year because I had a surprise for Bob Almond… but we’ll get to that later.
A very nice young man stopped by the table and spoke with Bob and I for quite a while. He was so polite, smart, and charming that Bob generously gave him a signed Spidey print for free.The young man said it was the best day of his life!
The first day flew by so quickly, but I did have a few opportunities to explore the convention room floor. It was nice to roam around because the floor was very roomy (a lot of people do Saturday and Sunday only because of work). I managed to snap a few photos and do a little window-shopping myself.
We opted out of any after-convention events because we were all exhausted. We hopped on the light rail and headed home so we could get to the Con all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for an early day. Saturday I would be dedicating my whole day to the Inkwells.
Wow! Talk about a horde! I was at HeroesCon last year and there was nowhere near as many people waiting to get in. I am sure this was due to Stan “The Man” Lee’s presence. I called Bob Almond and told him it might be a while before I got to the floor. Luckily our press badges let us get past the general masses and onto the convention floor. Oh yeah… I forgot to mention my surprise… for the first time I would be doing CosPlay, I dressed as a “goth” Ms. Inkwell! I think Bob was pretty tickled when he saw me. As soon as this year’s Ms. Inkwell model arrived he put us straight to work.
Ms. Inkwell and Ms. Goth Inkwell (aka me) wandered around the packed convention floor and talked with people about the Inkwell Awards and sold some raffle tickets (we were doing a raffle for a piece of original art from Scott Hanna – a multiple Inkwell Award winner). It was interesting how many people did not understand what an Inker does. In a room packed with supposed geeks I would say only 4 in 10 understood that an Inker does not equal a tracer.
We walked the floor until right around noon and then I headed up to the Inkwell Award Ceremony. I was pulling triple duty for this one – Inkwell Committee Member, Reporter, and Fan Girl! After setting up my camera to record the ceremony and making sure my camera was at the ready, I snuggled up to my handsome hubby – the first attendee to walk through the doors.
I could go into all the gory details, but I will just let you watch for yourselves!
Of course I had to snap plenty of photos, although many were blurry (getting used to the new camera) some turned out great!
After the ceremony was over I headed back down to the Inkwell tables and held the fort down while Bob went around collecting donations from artists. I took my tie off and relaxed a bit.
Eventually my husband joined me at the table. It was a long day for me and I was tired from lack of sleep so we left a wee bit early. Sadly we missed out on the Inkwell group dinner and we did not go to the auction, but rest was a necessity.
There were a few panels I was thinking about going to on Sunday, but I decided my time would be better served helping out at the Inkwell table. Bob, Ms. Inkwell (Haley Greenleaf), and the volunteers were all busy gathering donations from artists. My dear husband was kind enough to help out as well. While I took care of the Inkwell side of things, Henry took care of Bob Almond’s table.
Sunday was a bit more laid back than Saturday but was still pretty busy. Sadly there were more looky-loos than buyers, but many people walked away with pamphlets and business cards so I hope that means some future help for our non-profit. If you would like to make a donation or check out our auctions visit the Inkwell Awards website and our group on Facebook!
The good thing about the day being a bit slower was the chance to meet up with a few friends and to get to make new ones. I had the good fortune to get to know Louis Small Jr., whose table was right next to ours. Not only is he an extremely talented artist, he is also a truly nice guy.
I took a small break and snapped some pictures and got myself two small inexpensive trinkets – a Morticia Addams bottle cap necklace and a Daily Planet press badge. Small trinkets, but they made me smile.
When I came back to the table we did a group shot of the Inkwell team.
Henry and I had to leave a bit before close because we were taking a bus home and wanted to beat the coming storm. So after some great big hugs and sad goodbyes we headed out. This year was bittersweet for me. I loved the family feel of HeroesCon 2011 and this year did not have the same kind of intimacy – what with the hordes of Stan Lee fans. I am also a bit disappointed I didn’t get to meet him or see him speak. But it was awesome to get to know some of the Inkwell family more. All in all I would have to say I had a wonderful time. I look forward to next year. I would rate this year’s convention a 4.5 out of 5 tentacles (4 for the convention itself and an extra half for Stan “The Man” Lee).
Sarah L. Covert - Creator/Editor/Reviewer/Columnist/Reporter/Monthly Movie Tweet-a-thon Co-host
Three Decades With HeroesCon
Things were a lot different for me this year at HeroesCon (held annually in Charlotte, NC at the Charlotte Convention Center). There was a lot less shopping (not that I could afford much last year), more coverage for SNS (though less on panels), and my first major stints minding a table in the dealers’ room. I’ll attempt to share my more interesting experiences.
The dealers’ room was amazing – too amazing really, as I had to turn a blind eye to all the goodies I desperately wanted, from art prints and original art pages to toys to comic book back issues and action figures. I really wanted some 70s black and white magazines and a treasury edition, but searching out things like that would have entailed swimming through the ocean of dealers, and my temperament and health that weekend precluded my embarking on such an odyssey. Bottom line: I was too financially challenged, and so many tempting items would only depress me had I lingered on them. The mantra “maybe next year” chimed in my head.
As far as panels go, Friday and Saturday were the days I homed in on. Arriving too late for panels on “hot” properties such as The New Teen Titans, Fables, and Neal Adams’ First X-Men (which even I, who gave up hope on the X-titles post-Jemas, was curious about), my first Friday panel, began at 2:30 pm. This was the BPRD Roundtable, moderated by Seth Peagler, the panel featuring BPRD and Hellboy creator/ writer (and frequent artist) Mike Mignola, as well as BPRD writer Jason Latour, and BPRD artists Paul Azaceta and James Harren. This was a laid back, sparsely attended, and thoroughly enjoyable panel.
Mignola held court with ease, navigating through future plans for the BPRD and Hellboy and providing insight as to his approach to world-building. Mignola proudly states that his work, being creator-owned, can go in any direction he sees fit and is not limited to the editorial mandates of Marvel or DC. Mignola says of the difference in approach to their characters, “The major publishers can never really change. Well, we can.” This was a great affirmation for creators who can’t necessarily make it with the ‘The Big Two’ and yearn to tell ongoing stories with real change – no constant company wide crossover events. And, this writer hopes, no “sliding timescale”.
Mignola mentioned returning to art chores on books in Hellboy’s “universe”himself and dropped hints about the current “Hell on Earth” story arcs. Each arc can be stand-alone if but taken as a whole create a larger mosaic (many comics storytellers plot out their work this way). At this point, any Hellboy readers avert your gaze as this is a possible spoiler: Hellboy will be remaining in Hell indefinitely.
Each of the guests were asked to describe their approach. Jason Latour explained his process and saw it as more “abstract” than “real world stuff”. Latour says he appreciates readers who “get it” and that he doesn’t have to lay out every single detail for. Mignola said that he won’t write anything that he knows he can’t easily draw. He credits Azatera and Herron with being able to render things he would never attempt, and former Hellboy artist Guy Davis is given credit for inspiration.
When this panel adjourned, my next stop was a brief rendezvous with a gorgeous lady (my wife; astute readers are likely familiar with her work). It was then that I met in person Bob Almond, founder of the Inkwell Awards, formed to better recognize and reward excellence in comic book inking.
Afterwards, I headed to the Team Cul de Sac panel, to which I was, embarrassingly, slightly late. This panel I had a special interest in, because Team Cul de Sac is a charitable organization devoted to raising funds for, and awareness of, Parkinson’s Disease. My own mother died from Parkinson’s in 2009. So I was intrigued by just what this team was all about. The panel was held in a small room, nearly full, moderated by Craig Fischer, and led by Chris Sparks. Sparks is the architect of Cul de Sac, which has thus far yielded a beautiful hardcover tome that included a plethora of comics creators from across the spectrum of skill and style. This book celebrates the work of cartoonist Richard Thompson who suffers from Parkinson’s, and includes the work of panelists Danielle Corsetto, Shannon Gallant, Nick Galifianakis, and Roger Langridge, among many other talents.
The seeds for the book were planted in 2008 when Chris was introduced by Dustin Harbin to Richard Thompson. Chris loved Richard’s work and the idea quickly came together to do a book. Suffice to say, the money to publish the book came together and Richard Thompson nobly coped with his illness. Craig Fischer asked artists what about Thompson’s style motivated them to contribute to the book. Shannon proffered that Thompson’s work could be enjoyed across the board and has a broad appeal. Chris explained that Richard’s work can communicate any idea, the simplest thing, and draw humour even from non-action.
The Cul de Sac book has been critically acclaimed and, especially gratifying, was praised by Michael J. Fox, one of the more famous Parkinson’s victims. The team recently raised $1300 to donate to the Michael J Fox Foundation. After the panel discussion, I was able to see the book, and it is beautiful. I introduced myself to Craig Fischer and Chris Sparks and told Craig why this panel had piqued my interest. I snapped some photos and was off for another meeting with the Overlord of She Never Slept. After a spin around the dealers’ room, we touched base with my fellow minion Angie Bell, with whom we made our exit. Thus ended Day 1 for me.
Day 2 began with a brisk solo cab ride to the Convention Center at noon and on to a dash upstairs, where the Inkwell Awards’ ceremony was due to begin at 12:30 pm. I was the very first person to arrive for the ceremony, though fellow SNS minion Trevor Curtis, who we had seen briefly on Friday, showed up shortly after me. We soon met up with the Inkwells’ official Techno Queen (and my better half), Sarah L. Covert (full disclosure: I’m a contributer/ ‘chronicler’ for the Inkwells’ website). She was busy setting up a camera to shoot the event. Gradually everyone trickled in, until a disappointingly sparse but highly enthused audience congealed. In the meantime, Trevor and I enjoyed a repartee spanning the comic Fables to the band ANTiSEEN.
This was the sole panel I attended on Day 2 but it was was a no-brainer for several reasons; the involvement of myself and my wife with the Inkwells; my own and to show support for Bob Almond, who deserves it for all the hard work he does keeping a non-profit organization like this afloat. And I wanted to hear the winners announced, of course. Bob presided over a panel including veteran inker Bob McLeod, who was this year’s Keynote Speaker; Guest Speakers Bob Shaw and Dan Panosian; and Spokesmodel and Hostess “Ms. Inkwell”, embodied this year by Haley Greenleaf. Artist Ethan van Sciver was slated to be this year’s award presenter, but his mysterious disappearance forced Marc Deering into the role, and he did fine, much to the relief of Bob Almond and everyone there. I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation (bias aside as much as possible), and was thrilled and proud to hear Bob read aloud my name as one of the Inkwell Awards’ contributors, and to single out Sarah for her indispensable work for the Inkwells.
After the ceremonies, I went solo for a time, looking for certain writers and artists and coming up with little to show for my efforts. I could not find Bill Sienkiewicz, who I talked to for hours at the 2006 HeroesCon. One of my favourite artists, Nick Cardy, who I covered in last year’s convention report, had stepped away for awhile, and Roy Thomas, who I make it a point to talk to each year, wasn’t yet back at his table. Herb Trimpe, Micah Harris (a personal buddy), Paul Levitz, and others eluded me as I kept getting lost. I didn’t really get the hang of the room layout til Saturday. An announcement was made to begin lining up for special passes to get autographs from or photos with this year’s very special guest star Stan “The Man”Lee. It couldn’t get any more special unless they resurrected Jack “King” Kirby – or William Gaines perhaps.
The Stan Lee event, slated for 5:00 pm, seemed a no-go given time standing line and finances. I still kind of regret the opportunity though. Stan turns 90 at the end of the year, and this may’ve been my only chance to shake hands with a childhood hero. Regardless, as the day waned, I shielded my eyes from the loot I couldn’t afford, and navigated my past game-playing trolls who hadn’t mastered the simple art of being mature and polite at the very least. Through this tiring path,I made my way to the oasis of the Inkwell Awards’ table, situated between the tables of Bob Almond and artist Louis Small Jr.
Things continued to look up, as I spied Roy Thomas returning to his table, which, in a twist of fate, just happened to be directly across from the seat I commandeered whenever I was behind the tables. Despite a short line, I was determined to give my annual salutations to “Rascally Roy”. He was frantically signing his wonderful run on Tarzan for Marvel for a very enthused middle-aged Edgar Rice Burroughs aficionado. After a very brief catch up with Roy, I headed to the dealer room’s overpriced concession area for a late lunch for Sarah and myself. Afterwards, Bob Almond allowed me to help Sarah mind his and the Inkwell’ tables.
During my short time at the tables, I had a fantastic time. Bob, as noted earlier, is the founder of the Inkwell Awards, and a veteran inker on The Black Panther, JSA, Bloodshot, and a lengthy list of other achievements. He’s also a great guy, filled with generosity and enthusiasm. Where some in the comics industry shun their friends on their way up, Bob can’t help but make friends with his passion, resolve, and positive energy (which I wish I had a fraction of). In a flurry of activity, Bob plowed through the dealers’ room to receive signed artwork donated by convention guests for the Inkwells. While Bob was buzzing about, I had my first opportunity to join Sarah in minding his and the Inkwell Awards’ tables.
Our friend Angie Bell was going to attempt to get into the Stan Lee event, but, rather than join her we stayed with Bob and crew. There were tentative plans for the Inkwells gang present at the table to head over to Fuel Pizza, the only eateries remotely close and affordable. Sarah and I were both rather spent, especially Sarah, who went to the con earlier than I did that day to prep the awards ceremony. So, as the dealers’ room began breaking down for the day we opted out of dinner at Fuel and headed home. We did not attend the art auction that began at 8:00pm. Thus ends Day 2.
Day 3, the final day, was a Sunday. Our odyssey began with a bus ride to the Convention Center around noon. It seems our services would be needed by Bob for the entire day. Other than a few bathroom breaks and getting up to take a look around the dealers’ room, Sarah and I were behind the table in Artists’ Alley all day Sunday – I got to man Bob’s chair and Sarah dutifully greeting everyone that strolled by the table. So for a few hours I got be Bob Almond and Sarah got be Ms. Inkwell (actually we did have a Ms. Inkwell but Sarah cosplayed the character for the awards ceremony Saturday).
Things were frenetic for Bob on Sunday, but he did obtain some great donations from his fellow artists. We helped out as much as we could, and also spent some quality time getting to know Bob and Louis Small Jr., whose table was next to the Inkwells’ table. I think I can proudly count both men as friends and not just pros who were friendly to us. We may even do some creative collaborations with Louis, who was a terrific artist and a great guy.
We only obtained four items this year, but they were gorgeous prints signed by the artists, Bob and Louis. Sarah got a groovy Marvin the Martian and Gossamer piece that Bob inked and pencilled, as well as a Xena piece by Louis. I picked up two prints by Bob, both with Sal Velluto on pencils. One was of the Justice Society of America (my favorite superhero team), and the other a giant mosaic of the Black Panther and his huge supporting cast (which comes with a guide to who’s who on the print).
I was surprised to hear that Stan Lee’s solo panel at 5:00 pm scheduled for and held on Saturday got an encore on Sunday. I wasn’t able to attend either Stan Lee appearance at the con. I suppose it just wasn’t meant to be. The con ended with the close of Stan’s talk, but we had already packed up and exchanged warm goodbyes with everyone at our tables. We left just in time for bus, narrowly avoiding a rainstorm.
While I regret not meeting Stan in person, and saddened that we could make few purchases (mainly the bank-breaking food and drink) this year, I had a great time this year. Shelton Drum should be most pleased that his 30th anniversary HeroesCon was a fantastic experience, with great guests, great panels, and great exhibitors. I’m proud to report that I’ve managed to attend (if I recall correctly) 23 out of the 30 HeroesCons, and will strive to attend the next 30.
I give this year’s HeroesCon a 4.5 on the tentacular scale. (I would have given the Con a full 5 were it not for my inability to see Stan Lee.)
Henry Covert – Minion (Reviewer/Columnist/Reporter)
Heroescon 2012 Report:Growing Pains
If there were any great cultural story for the new century for the city of Charlotte, NC, it would be its growing pains. This is a city where literally almost everyone here is from somewhere else. The collapse of the Midwest manufacturing base in the last decades of the 1900′s led to a reversal of the post-war diasporas to the auto mills of the north. In short, this is a city that has grown very big, and almost too fast.
In a way, Heroescon in 2012 is itself a reflection of these growing pains. As one of those northern ex-pats, I’ve only attended the last six years of Heroescon, and this may be the year that people will look back on, and say, that was the beginning of another change.
Heroescon has always billed itself as the comic lover’s comic convention. Outside of small press shows, I’ve never seen another con with such a relaxed atmosphere. Yes, it’s a fairly large con, but it’s never really lost its sense of intimacy and fellowship. Its run by a truly great comic shop, Heroes aren’t Hard to Find, and has been for thirty years. Con staff are some of the nicest you’ll ever meet, even when dealing with cranky fanboys who haven’t showered since 2010.
So what was the big change this year? Two Words: Stan Lee. If you don’t know who that is, why the frack are you reading this website and comic convention report? Go Google him, then come back. Yes, in honor of Heroescon’s 30th anniversary, they had wrangled the Dean of superhero(TM) comics himself. And with a guest of that stature, comes all the horrors of modern day big con going, most of which this reporter frankly loathes. Special Line Passes. Fifty dollar photo fees. And lines going out the back of the convention hall. All for one man.
DO I think badly of Shelton and the Heroes staff for getting Stan. Absolutely not. For all the smack talking that fanboys have sometimes done about the con, it shows that Heroescon is a force to be reckoned with, which can play with the big boys like San Diego and DragonCon. For all my bemoaning the massive lines, Heroescon staff handled everything with calm professionalism. Which is more than I can say about some big conventions. Yes, I’m looking at you, GenCon.
So where does that leave us, the regular HeroesCon goer? Well, it did make the aisles a little more crowded, but in a slumping economy, hopefully it meant more revenue for vendors and artists. I have to say the panels were at their usual level of attendance, which was more than a little disappointing. Surely some of those Stan fans could have explored a little more of what the con was about. But I have a feeling that most of the Stan horde were going to hit the cheap comic boxes for their kids, the t-shirt places, and then get out. Which is a shame for some of my favorite guests this year, like Danielle Corsetto (of Girls with Slingshots) and Monica Richards (singer, cool chick and maker of the graphic novel Anafae).
I had limited time this year, due to work obligations, but the three panels I did attend were worth the price. The Fables panel with Bill Willingham saw the early announcement of the first ever FablesCon, to be held next year in Rochester,MN. I will be going, and hopefully covering it for this website. The War Rocket Ajax live podcast was good fun, but a little muted due to co-host Chris Sim’s encounter with some evil food. The Inkwell Awards was a first for me, and very touching. Inking comics has gotten a bum’s rush in the age of digital tools, but like a lot of things, there’s something to be said for something done well and by hand. If you think inking isn’t important, that it’s just tracing, go on your comp and download some of the new Marvel comics that have all the stages of the art on them, from pencils to finished product. You’ll be surprised at how much it does count. Now if someone at the Eisners would only get a clue on the matter.
The end, this Heroescon can mark a turning page for the con. Do they make the cash grab and book more big name media guests, in hopes of getting the cash needed for the other stuff? Or do they look at this as a simple hurray for 30 years of surviving as a comic convention, and go back to doing what they do best. Only time will tell, and I’m honestly hoping the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Maybe next year Neil Gaiman and Robert Downey Jr.? I give this year’s HeroesCon a 4 out 5 tentacles.
Trevor Curtis - Minion (Reviewer/Columnist/Reporter)
Heroes Con!! Where Can I Find a Good Hero??
As I rode the light rail up to the Charlotte Convention Center on Friday, I was filled with anticipation. This would be my first comic convention and I had no idea what to expect.
This year, all the biggest hype was over Stan Lee’s appearance, which I hoped to see, even if only from a distance. The Heroes Convention is a place for comic artists and fans to meet, network, and show off. As a person who only recently became interested in comics, I wondered whether I’d enjoy myself and hoped I wouldn’t get too lost among all the co-players.
The vast dealer room blew me away from the moment I first saw it. In disbelief, I strode down isle after isle perusing through comics sold by various dealers. Merchandise commonly sold at conventions, all part of a geek’s paradise/clutter at home, were plastered everywhere – accompanied by bright signs. I walked slowly with hoards of con goers and glanced at table after table of friendly comic artists selling their wares. In one corner of the room there was an astronomically long line, where you could wait to get Stan Lee’s autograph…as long as you also paid a pretty penny or two.
I went to many, many panels and learned a lot about the processes involved in becoming a comic artist of one sort or another. I also gained new knowledge about many old favorite stories of mine that have been made into comics, such as Frankenstein and the Muppets.
On Friday, the first panel I went to was “Henson Properties”. Panelists were: Roger Langridge, Amy Mebberson, James Silvani and Ramon Perez. Langridge is the author and illustrator for The Muppet Show Comic Book: Meet The Muppets. Two works Mebberson has produced are BOOM! Studos’ Muppet Peter Pan comic book and The Muppet Show Comic Book: Family Reunion. All panelists produced various stories with Muppet characters in comic form. They all stated that they try to keep their comics respectful of Jim Henson’s original Muppets. Silvani recalled watching the Muppets on Saturday Night Live’s first season. Mebberson commented on how the old television series The Muppet Show had sketchy comedy, at times laced with dark elements. The writers got away with a lot more in those days than can be done in modern children’s entertainment. One of the panelists commented that a joke proposed to be in one of the comics involving Ms. Piggy and bacon wasn’t allowed because the publishers thought it might offend Jewish people. A possible upcoming project that was revealed is: Muppets of the Carribean, with Gonzo as Captain Jack.
Next on Friday afternoon I went to the Coloring Presentation panel done by Laura Martin and moderated by Val Staples. Martin graduated in 1998 in Florida with a degree in graphic design. I asked her if you need to have a degree to do this kind of work and her opinion is that it isn’t necessary. Staples described himself as a “self-made color man”; he has done a lot of freelance. Both discussed how it’s impossible to get colors to match in print exactly as it looks on screen. Colorists get scanned copies of inked drawings that they then color. The first step of the process is “flattening”, where colors are split up. Step two involves filling in color, which Martin does with the bucket tool in Photoshop, the primary software she uses. The types of color chosen at this step depend on what’s going on in the panel scene. For example, a fight sequence will need “grittier” colors. Step three involves rendering, or creating highlight and shadow for depth. In step four special effects are added. Then the final step is to send out a low-resolution jpg to the editor, penciler and inker. Martin says she produces an average of 3-5 pages daily. Martin at one point was asked to re-work some Rocketeer illustrations, which she did very carefully as she tried to envision what Dave Stevens, original artist of Rocketeer, would have done if he’d had access to the colors of today.
At the end of the day on Friday I checked out the “Comics Canon” panel discussion. I thought it might be interesting to see what comics would be picked as valuable enough in comic history to be part of a “comics canon”…if such a thing could ever exist. The panelists couldn’t reach a decision. The assumption the idea of a canon makes is that it’s comprised of universal perfect models for the rest of the genre to follow. That can’t be done with comics because, like all other forms of art, personal aesthetic is always relevant and that can’t be made universal.
A few other panels I attended on Friday: SCAD inking tools presented by Professor John Lowe , a cartooning crash course and a Vertigo panel. During the Vertigo panel Scott Snyder, author of American Vampire, quipped that the sure path to being a comic star is to fail at writing a novel. He started his career out having to write a novel that ended up being dictated to him by publishers and so he grew to hate it.
On Saturday I attended Heroes Con dressed as Death, a character from The Sandman comic series. I got many complements on my costume and some people took pictures of me as well. I saw a few other girls wearing my same outfit!
My first panel of the day was a discussion on Oz with Skottie Young, who is both writer and illustrator for The Wonderful World of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz. He works exclusively for Marvel and has illustrated works such as New X-Men and Human Torch. In answer to a question from the audience about his St. Bernard, Young admitted that he modeled his version of the cowardly lion after his dog. His advice to aspiring artists is not to fall prey to perfectionism, that a handful of good pieces are better than one perfect piece. Someone asked about a presence of steam punk aesthetic in his Oz stories. He admitted that there is a steam punk influence, partly due to Oz being originally based on the World’s Fair of Chicago. I asked him whether he’s had any difficulty with establishing the look of any of the Oz characters in his stories. His response was that artists just have to get their heads straight and decide what look they’re going for in each scenario. For you Oz fans out there, Young mentioned a couple Oz movies that are coming out soon: Origins of the Wizard and Oz, the Great and Powerful, which will be a prequel to the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.
My second Saturday panel, “Story: Visualized-The Artist as Author”. Storytellers who embody the rare quality of being talented as both author and artist hosted it. Panelists Nathan Fox, Benjamin Morrow, Chris Spitzer, and Becky Cloonan talked about their sources of inspiration. The first question for the panel was: “in one word, why are you a storyteller?” A couple responses were: compulsion and design. When asked why they’ve chosen comics as their medium, all agreed that books are a lot more involved and can be tougher to design.
On Saturday at the end of the day I waited in line for one hour and got to see Stan Lee. I didn’t pay anything, so I sat in the back of the huge room the panel was hosted in – where he appeared to be only two inches tall.
The first question was along the lines of: “what has driven you to keep going”? He responded, “greed!! They were paying me, you nut!!” When asked what his thought process is with a character coming out of his head, he replied that he asks himself: “what would I like to read?” He said his publisher originally hated the idea of Spiderman and said that that would be a ridiculous name for a hero. He gave some good advice to writers in the audience, which is “First rule: write what you want to read because you’re not that different from many other people.” When asked what he would pick as a super power if he could have one, he said luck because everything falls into place and nothing bad ever happens. But then he mused that it would be difficult to figure out what a “Luck” superhero would wear as a costume. Even if my view of Stan was far off, I quite enjoyed the last hour of my Saturday at the Con.
I also attended the Inkwell Awards on Saturday and a panel called “Happy Birthday Rocketeer”. During the Inkwell Awards, panel host Bob Almond, who is the founder of the non-profit Inkwell Awards and a part of the inkers community for many years, pointed out that inking doesn’t get the same attention that it used to. Since the “Best Inker” category was removed from the Eisner Awards years ago, Almond presented a petition to bring back this category.
On Sunday I started out the day with the “Frankenstein Alive, Alive!!” panel. The Frankenstein Alive comic is illustrated by Bernie Wrightson and written by Steve Niles.
I was drawn to this panel because Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was one of my childhood favorites. The twisted creation of Dr. Frankenstein, always referred to as “monster” or “fiend” in Frankenstein stories, is the real victim in the book, as Wrightson and Niles justly pointed out. Victor Frankenstein, who committed a heinous, blasphemous act in creating life from pieces of other human beings, always gets bailed out in the stories. One of panelists thought it’d be cool to see the monster and Victor portrayed in their true colors.
The original Swamp Thing was also discussed in the Frankenstein panel. In the 50′s, the official comic code of censorship was too strict. The word “horror” couldn’t be used in association with comics at one point. Apparently, at first, the publishers of Swamp Thing made a stink over the fact that the swamp creature was “undraped”. The artist pointed out that, in full figure shots, the creature was always strategically covered in shadow in all the right places. The publishers had to be convinced that he wasn’t trying to corrupt the youth of America. Their suggestion had been to put purple pants on the creature.
In the mid-afternoon on my last day I attended my favorite Heroes Con panel: “Pitching a Graphic Novel”, which was very informative. As the host Chris Schweizer, author of The Crogan Adventures, sped through valuable instructions on how to get a graphic novel published, the audience listened very attentively. His first piece of wisdom – in order to get anywhere with publishing graphic novels, one must become very familiar with comics. He recommended a couple books for aspiring comic artists: Understanding and Making Comics by Scott McCloud and All You Need to Know by Tom Cheredar. He recommended any published comics with Eisner or “best graphic novel” awards. After learning good quality, the key is to mimic those comic illustration and writing styles that are successful. Schweizer then got down to the brass tacks of how comic publishing gets done.
Schweizer made it clear that, in pitching a graphic novel, there’s definitely a very involved process requiring a lot of work and dedication. I’ll relay a brief, nutshell version of his recommended process. As an artist wanting to be published, you must decide which company is right for you. On a side note: to get noticed by the “big guys”, Marvel and DC, you must already have an established relationship with them. Each publisher, among the small comic market, has its own demographic. Look at which publishers have produced projects similar to yours. Few publishing companies accept unsolicited submissions, which is work that they didn’t commission. Here are the best avenues to go through to get your work seen by a publisher: email, mail, or meeting at a convention. He suggested making a mini-comic with a really solid short story, about 5-10 pages in length. Emails should be sent with a link to a blog or website, where the story is on display. With snail mail, a cover letter should be included that addresses a specific editor, who is currently working for the company, explaining that this is merely a gift and it requires no obligation. If you meet the publisher at a convention, introduce yourself, buy some merchandise and show them your mini-comic at a time when their table has minimal crowds. Schweizer pointed out that there’s no negative stigma in self-publishing. You get respected as a professional in this scenario, and it’s easier to network. You’ll probably have to go through this “getting noticed” process many times before being asked to present a pitch. If your dreams come true and you one day get asked by a publisher to present a pitch, include: a cover letter, summary, reasons for the project and logistics (time-table, book length, color or black-and-white, etc..). Include about three sample panels, along with a synopsis of the story. After all that, you may eventually hear from the editor if your project makes it’s up the food chain at the company.
At my last panel on Sunday, “Manga Inspired Cartoonists”, I really enjoyed hearing the comic artists discussing their styles. Manga is one of my favorite types of art. There’s a lot of animation out there, especially in the U.S., which tries to play itself off as Japanese animation, such as Ben 10. Since Japanese anime has become more popular in recent years, American publishers are now very interested in such mimicry because the artwork seems authentic enough. According to panelists Ben Caldwell, Becky Cloonan and Sanford Green, however, you can’t make it in the long run as a Japanese-style manga artist unless you’re actually Japanese or live in Japan. You can maintain a manga-inspired influence as long as you bring something else to the table.
Cloonan, who has worked for Tokyo Pop, discussed the many differences in Japan’s publishing emphasis compared to the U.S. The market over in Japan is vastly different. Over there, they have weekly and monthly serial publications. Creative teams work together to complete drawings for weekly issues. In America, the emphasis is on the art of the individual. Less art is produced, but it’s at a more fine-tuned level. Several of the panelists expressed love for Rumiko Takahashi, my favorite Japanese manga artist. I asked them if the process of getting started and being published in America is any different for a manga-inspired artist and they said that it’s not, as long as you remain in the U.S. In America, it’s often thought that manga is for kids. To prove an ironic point, one can then compare typical manga art to U.S. comics, where men fly around saving the world in blue and white underwear.
To wrap it up, I’d say I had a really great time at Heroes Con 2012. I learned about the processes and various techniques involved in creating a comic and how to get your foot in the door of the publishing world. I was able to catch a little glimpse of what lurks in the minds of the artists that came to the convention, whose work we love and admire. Kids and adults saw their dream heroes in co-splay form.
My favorite panel was “Pitching a Graphic Novel” because the information that was covered seems very helpful to aspiring comic artists. My least favorite panel was “Happy Birthday Rocketeer ” because the panel brought the least excitement to the table for me. The thick crowds were out of this world, especially on Saturday! The proper equipment was not provided in a few panels. Overall, however, Heroes Con was extremely well organized. I would rate Heroes Con a 4 out of 5 tentacles. As a newbie in the world of comics, I now have a better idea of why so many fans participate in the addictive hobby of comic book collecting.
Angie Bell – Minion (Reviewer/Reporter)