I start each year at Charlotte's Heroes Con the same way: I give money to "Warriors for Hospice," a North Carolina Star Trek club that spends its weekend collecting charitable donations. The same people staff the booth every year, including a quiet guy in a red Next Generation shirt and a woman dressed as a Klingon, bumpy forehead makeup and all. (That's her picture at the beginning of the post, from the Heroesonline Flickr stream.) When I plunk my money into their jar, the woman always says "Qapla!" (which, according to Wikipedia, means "success" in Klingon) and something like "You are a noble warrior, may your children be strong!" Maybe she recognizes me now, because this year we got more intimate: she grabbed my forearm and performed an official Klingon handshake with me, and then we talked for a while. When I asked her how much "Warriors for Hospice" raised last year, she told me $1800 (which is pretty damned impressive), but then she said, "I'm worried about this year...this might be an off year."
Economic doom-'n'-gloom is everywhere, but she might've been referring specifically to the state of Heroes Con 2009. Last year, several factors--the outpouring of support for Heroes in the wake of the Wizard World Atlanta scheduling fiasco, the attempt by con organizer Dustin Harbin to turn the Indie Island section of the con into a mini-MoCCA--gave Heroes 2008 a nationwide publicity buzz. This buzz was absent from this year's event, however, as were alternative publishers like Buenaventura Press and PictureBox, whose low sales in 2008 didn't warrant a return to Indie Island. I was sorry that Heroes 2009 had less to offer indie snobs like me, and it did seem like attendance was down this year, but I still had a great time.
Sure, I spent away my children's college education (scroll down for the obligatory What-I-Bought list), but I also attended several interesting panels. On Friday, Dustin moderated a discussion between Bone superstar Jeff Smith and self-publisher Alec Longstreth that was a charming mutual admiration society. Longstreth told a hilarious story about buying the last issue of Bone, running to a nearby public library to read it, and breaking out in tears when he got to the last page. (Apparently a library security guard came over and asked Longstreth if he was OK.) Smith raved about Longstreth's comics, particularly the in-progress Basewood, and Longstreth promised to have the next chapter at SPX. Longstreth and Smith are BFF, and Smith was eager to be on a panel where he could recommend that Bone fans pick up Longstreth's Phase 7. I recommend Phase 7 myself.
Incidentally, there were Scarlet Witches and Green Lanterns walking the Heroes Con floor, but Longstreth wins the fashion award for 2009. He's refused to shave his facial hair until Basewood is finished, and currently his beard is almost down to the middle of his chest. He looks like he belongs on a Smith Brothers Cough Drop box. (Longstreth is refusing to shave so that people who don't understand how long it takes to create his graphic novel can see the effort measured out on his face.) He also continues to wear horn-rim glasses without any lenses. Why? No man can say.
On Saturday, I went to a lively, SRO panel on Charlton Comics in the 1950s and '60s, featuring Roy Thomas, Dick Giordano and Steve Skeates. Horror stories abounded. When asked about the mechanical lettering--usually credited to "A. Machine"--in many of the Charlton books, Giordano revealed that his wife was "A. Machine" (please, no blue jokes) and she would wind up the original art into a giant typewriter to hammer on the letters, a process that curled the art up into a cylinder. Giordano also talked about helping to clean up the Charlton facility after a terrible flood in 1955, until the uber-cheap management made it clear that they weren't going to pay anyone to put on waders and shovel reams of wet paper. (Giordano then stayed away for the next couple of months, until the clean-up was finished.) Roy Thomas recalled the three-and-a-half stories he wrote for Charlton, before his two-week employment at DC and years-long stint at Marvel; Roy was in the middle of a romance tale when he hit writer's block (Roy Thomas with writer's block?!?) and passed the script off to Denny O'Neil. I only wish Steve Skeates had spoken more; he was very quiet, even though his recent interview in Alter Ego proved that he has plenty of dishy stuff to say about both Charlton and DC.
Giordano and Thomas were also terrific on the Steve Ditko panel that Ben Towle and I hosted on Saturday afternoon, as was Chris Schweizer, who did a great close reading of the visual flow of a Spider-Man #10 page. Thanks to all these folks for their participation. I'll let others comment on the event, and I'll post my own presentation ("Nervous Hands: Ditko, Anxiety and Repression") on Thought Balloonists later this week.
On Sunday, I saw the world premiere of the documentary The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone, and the Changing Face of Comics. The screening was introduced by Smith, who stayed for the screening--which, as he mentioned, was awkward for him, since the film is a hagiography full of talking heads that compare Smith to Degas. (Jim Kammerud, who co-founded the Character Builders animation studio with Smith, spoke so earnestly about Bone, and with such pregnant pauses, that my wife and I waited for him to start crying, just like Longstreth in the library.) I found the film itself professional, but about a half-hour too long; quotes from interviews with Paul Pope and Lucy Caswell, for instance, are repeated twice, and I would edit out this repetition. Also, the story told is that of a plucky self-publisher who worked hard to make good--which is true, but which isn't the whole truth. The Cartoonist is too polite: events such as Smith's disastrous attempt to make a Bone movie with Nickelodeon Films and his falling-out with Dave Sim are left out. The film would be considerably livened up by an interview with Dave Sim...
When I wasn't attending panels, I was buying goodies like this:
A batch of beautiful self-pubs from students at the Center for Cartoon Studies, including Sean Ford's Only Skin #1, Chuck Forsman's Snake Oil #1 (2008), Joe Lambert's I Will Bite You! (2008) and Untitled (Caveman Story, see above), and Melissa Mendes' Freddy.
Three comics my buddy Jordan Mooney fished out of a 10-cent (!) longbox for me: two issues of Treasure Chest from 1967, and the first issue of Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart's Manhattan Guardian Seven Soldiers series;
Popeye and Marketing and Distribution Careers, a must-read for anyone trying to succeed in the current economic climate, and apparently part of a series on "Popeye and Careers" (another of which, Popeye and Personal Service Careers, is included in Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury's Holy Sh*t! The World's Weirdest Comic Books; Comics that fill in my Kirby-in-the-'70s gaps: Kamandi #31, Eternals Annual #1, 2001: A Space Odyssey #7 and Machine Man #5; Crogan's Vengeance, complete with a beautiful book sketch by Chris Schweizer (thank you, Chris!); The Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate Collection, a big lump of the first thirteen issues, by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, and a steal--and a perfect gift for a kid in my life--at five bucks; Peculia by Richard Sala (another great 5-buck book); A walk down Shady Lane with Steve Ditko's Shade the Changing Man #1 and 2; The Gemstone EC Archives: Two-Fisted Tales Volume 1, which I found for the obscenely low price of $10.
Popeye and Marketing and Distribution Careers, a must-read for anyone trying to succeed in the current economic climate, and apparently part of a series on "Popeye and Careers" (another of which, Popeye and Personal Service Careers, is included in Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury's Holy Sh*t! The World's Weirdest Comic Books;
Comics that fill in my Kirby-in-the-'70s gaps: Kamandi #31, Eternals Annual #1, 2001: A Space Odyssey #7 and Machine Man #5;
Crogan's Vengeance, complete with a beautiful book sketch by Chris Schweizer (thank you, Chris!);
The Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate Collection, a big lump of the first thirteen issues, by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, and a steal--and a perfect gift for a kid in my life--at five bucks;
Peculia by Richard Sala (another great 5-buck book);
A walk down Shady Lane with Steve Ditko's Shade the Changing Man #1 and 2;
The Gemstone EC Archives: Two-Fisted Tales Volume 1, which I found for the obscenely low price of $10.
So was Heroes Con 2009 an off year, as the Klingon priestess prophesized? Not for me. I bought a load of great books, went to cool panels and, most importantly, hung out with friends like Jordan, Ben, Roger Langridge and Tim O'Shea at the show and the bar of the Westin Hotel on Saturday night. (Prime him with a few beers, and Roger reveals that he knows that Frank Springer and Vince Colletta drew the early issues of Dazzler.) On Sunday, I visited Jim Ottaviani's table and slapped down money to buy T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, the excellent new book by Jim, Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon, but Jim didn't hand me my book right away. Instead, he opened to a page and began scribbling with a blue coloring pencil. He explained that his publisher, Simon and Schuster, wouldn't pay for the color that he wanted on a few pages of the book, so he was adding color by hand to a picture of the moon on a splash page near the end of T-Minus. Jim's blue moon is beautiful. Moments like these keep me coming back to Heroes Con year after year.