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August 23, 2011

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Attending My First Comic-Con

Posted by on Aug 23, 2011

My own nerdiness is generally focused on fantasy and sci-fi books, music, some TV shows and movies, and every now then a mainstream video game.  You will notice that I did not say comics.  However, after attending the Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend, my enormous backlog of “books you absolutely have to read, dude” has just about doubled with the addition of Graphic Novels; both those purchased at the Baltimore Con and those lent from the libraries of Third, Wade, and Chris.  If only Tom didn’t live on the west coast, I would raid his extensive collection as well. But I digress.

To be completely honest, I was nervous about attending a comic convention.  I was nervous about appearing to be ignorant about the material, nervous about the crazy-weird people I would see there, and nervous that I would get swindled into buying things I did not want.  But come sundown on Sunday Funday, those apprehensions were gone, and I was happy as a clam, albeit exhausted.

Rather than give a detailed account of every minute this weekend,  I will focus on a few stand-out moments, and hopefully give all of you comic con virgins (saw a girl with a ‘comic con virgin’ shirt on – awesome) a taste of what to expect, and why you should totally go to NYCC.

Artists

30-year-supply of the same fountain pen used in creating Usagi Yojimbo - Stan Sakai is a legend

If you have an affinity towards art, you will enjoy a comic-con. Many non-comic readers discount the artwork in comic books and graphic novels as being juvenile and simple.  They are 100% wrong.  The artistry and talent that was in that convention hall was truly astounding.  These guys and gals displayed their talent by constantly inking in their sketchpads for all to see.  Not only was the precision and detail of their work impressive, but the sheer speed at which they worked was amazing.  We watched Stan Sakai (Usagi Yojimbo) start and finish inking a full panel in front of us while describing how he had traveled to LA to buy 30 years worth of this specific fountain pen. The panel was finished in 4 minutes.  We watched in awe as another artist added finishing touches to a scene of the Joker holding Batman’s mask by literally flicking drops of ink off the tip of his fountain pen.  No big deal.  Just hanging at a con, chewing the fat with fans, flicking ink.  I now have such an appreciation for comic artists, and will never look at the art in comic books the same way again.

Stan Lee

Comic conventions have featured speakers, just like any other convention you may have been to. BCC had Stan Lee. If you know very little about comic books, you might be like, ‘Stanly who?’ You are forgiven just this once, as I was when I asked the same question a few months ago. Stan ‘The Man’ Lee is the writer and father of most of the Marvel superheroes that you have heard of – Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, to name a few.  So, not surprisingly, everyone was pretty amped to get a seat in his panel.  At 88 years old, he was spry, hilarious, and just about as witty as they come.  As he responded to people asking him questions and thanking him for changing their lives, Stan was able to tell some stories of his experiences in writing, producing, and film involvement.

One thing that I found fascinating was his account of how, at comic cons 30 years ago, attendees were mostly kids and the few parents who grudgingly could not get a baby sitter.  Now, comic cons are mostly adults, with a few kids who could grudgingly not be left at home.  He used this to illustrate how far the genre has come, and how, especially with the Hollywood film versions of so many comics coming out in recent years, people are finally taking comics seriously.  No longer do comic producers force their writers to ‘use only two syllable words,’ employ ‘no character development,’ and almost exclusively depict ‘fight scenes and lots of guns.’  Thanks to Stan and his colleagues, comics are the real deal – and this was seen in the genuine gratitude and admiration shown by the audience for comics’ own 88-year-old super-hero.

People and Costumes

Without a doubt this was the part that I was the most nervous AND the most excited about.  Besides the amazing costumes – namely storm troopers, a terrifying Two-Face, and a ginormous Zombie Hulk – I had a few favorites, and some were not necessarily wearing costumes.  These included a Yoda backpack, a 2.5 foot long chin goatee (not a costume – mad respect to that guy), and this girl who was wearing contact lenses that made her eyes look all crazy like Storm.  My favorite for the day, though, was a weirdly shaped overweight man of about 50, wearing tan hiked up socks, tan shorts, a tan shirt, thick glasses, and was holding a sketchpad.  Now, that get-up is not necessarily too strange at a comic con.  But somehow, he was able to cut 400 people in the line into Stan Lee by just standing around, appearing to be oblivious.  Who would ever expect this guy to be the world’s best line cutter?  Not me, that’s for sure.  I was planning on getting in touch with my friend at the DOD to recruit him to be a spy, but he was gone before I could snap a pic.  Well played, good sir. Well played.

Also, if you are not going to dress up in a costume for your next comic con, you should pick out your own get-up carefully.  It is of course fine to wear your typical daily attire, which in some cases might become a source of amusement for others.  All 3 of us wore nerdy t-shirts, and hands down mine (pictured right) won the award for ‘most comments on its awesomeness.’  I received 8 comments from strangers on my shirt over the course of our presence at the con.  Also, if nothing else, a nerdy t-shirt can be a good conversation starter to talk to some of the most interesting people I have ever met.

Buying & Bargaining

When you go to a comic con, you should have cash on you.  Yes, there will be an ATM.  Yes the line will be long.  Also, plan on dropping some money before you even see any merch (that’s merchandise for all you noobs, jeez).  That way, you will not spend all your time worrying about whether or not it is worth it to buy anything, but rather you can focus your energy on picking out the best stuff.  I made that mistake, and ended up with two questionable comic books as opposed to some other things I should have purchased.  Here is the short story of how I was (comic) conned into purchasing things:

We had just left Stan Lee, it was 4 pm, and there were 45 minutes left before the big security guards and the Zombie Hulk began forcing people to leave.  AKA – prime time to buy.   These vendors didn’t want to bring 8 million boxes full of comics back to their cars, and as a result bargains were flying around like TIE fighters (“stay on target!”).  I stopped at one table and picked up a comic that displayed a Medieval-looking dude wielding a huge sword on the front cover, looking all mean and Ned Stark-y. As I flipped through it, the vendor began talking a-mile-a-minute about how I NEEDED to buy the comic.  “Why? Because it’s awesome.  And, see – it’s normally $12.99.  Right now?  5 bucks.  Toss in this one, too? Ten bucks total!  I’ll tell you why you want this other one.  See, at the end of the first chapter, this chick totally slices open a giant fat guy, and jumps inside in order to go to another dimension! How cool is that?! Fat guy portal to other dimensions!”  So for ten bucks, I had two graphic novels.  I will post their titles and a brief review once I have read them both, and let you know whether they were worth the ten bones. Also, Chris was able to get Echoes, normally $30, for $20 by comparing prices between the artist and the writer, who were located at different booths.  It was not his first con.

To make a long story short: wait to buy until the last day, and if you are going to be swindled into buying something questionable, make sure you do so when the price is at least 50% off.

SO, I experienced my first con.  We saw so many other incredibly awesome and fun things, heard some great writers talk about comics going digital and digital censorship, saw Stan Lee, and had some of the best people watching I’ve ever enjoyed.  I avoided the Zombie Hulk, bought 2 questionable graphic novels, saw some incredible art and, most importantly, I gained an entirely new appreciation for comics.    BCC will not be my last comic con.