October 1, 2012

That time I went to a comic convention that was all about comics

It's a rare thing when conventions with the name comic in the title focus on comics. San Diego Comic-Con has a big comics presence, but they put more emphasis on pop culture - the latest Hollywood offerings are usually the main draw. New York Comic Con is definitely more about comics than SDCC but there are lots of shinies to distract from comics. I'm not saying the variety is bad. I like being able to see a panel about upcoming comics and another one featuring a favorite television show. And I get that it's probably easier to sell tickets to a more multi-purpose event. All that said, going to a convention that focused on comics was refreshing - yep, I had a fantastic time at Baltimore Comic-Con.

When I say all about comics, I mean it. There is not a Hollywood presence. They don't have media guests.* There aren't any gaming companies doing demos. What you will find are rows and rows of comic book dealers, toy and clothing vendors, handmade products like nerdy amigurumi, and dozens of artists and creators. Artist Alley is not small either. The panels - yeah, you're getting the picture - are about comics, too. They've got spotlights on certain creators, how-tos about digital comics and Kickstarter, and some news on upcoming releases. The people sitting on those panels are artists, writers, letterers, editors - people who get their hands dirty making comics every day.

I know. It's awesome.

And holy heck did people show up in droves. This was my first year attending, but I heard exhibitors remarking on the fact that Saturday at least seemed much busier than last year. The floor was definitely crowded, and there were only a few periods on Sunday when it felt slow. Many people lugged around boxes full of comics to get signed, and they stood in long lines for the likes of Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Garth Ennis, and so many more. I spotted several people with checklists going through long boxes trying to complete their collections, and I noticed there were always plenty of attendees winding through Artist Alley.

I have to comment on a few cool things in particular. One is that the convention takes place in a pretty area of Baltimore (uh, though I wouldn't walk around alone at night) and that there is plenty of food, beverages, and coffee within walking distance. It's definitely the kind of convention that you can step away from and escape for drinks with friends - unlike say, San Diego. The convention hosts the Harvey Awards, and it was very fun for me to attend. I got in with someone who was presenting, but I believe the general public can purchase tickets to the dinner and the awards.

Finally, the convention goes out of its way to support its guests. They want the creators they invite to do well. They started what will hopefully be a new tradition this year: a yearbook that focuses on a creator owned property (it was Frank Cho's Liberty Meadows this time). Attending artists contribute a piece to the hardcover yearbook, and their original art goes in an auction at the convention. The convention splits the proceeds of the original art sales with the artist. Additionally, people who bought the yearbook were encouraged to collect signatures from participating artists at the show to get a free print. That scavenger hunt drove traffic to all those artist's tables. Brilliant.

I find it interesting that more comics publishers don't attend. No DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Image, Oni, Archaia, etc - they didn't have a presence. IDW Publishing had a panel, but they didn't have a booth. Creators that work on titles from those companies were around, and a lot of them had tables but it was weird to me that publishers aren't taking advantage of exhibiting at a show that aims for the same target demographic. Then again, I don't know how much they'd take away from the independent artists and self-publishers there.

I was impressed with everything about Baltimore Comic-Con, and it's moved near the top of my list of favorite conventions. I'm already looking forward to next year!

*Phil LaMarr was there this year because he hosted the Harvey Awards.

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