The 2015 Baltimore Comic-Con Recap

A Ninjak cosplayer who was in line to meet Jimmy Palmiotti.

A Ninjak cosplayer who was in line to meet Jimmy Palmiotti.

I can’t tell if after four straight years of attending, I can consider myself a “seasoned veteran” of the Baltimore Comic-Con. But I certainly have enough experience to evaluate it. I attended on Saturday, September 25 and was there prior to rope drop until around 5:00. I’ll have a much longer look at the con in episode 56 of the podcast a few weeks from now, but for now I wanted to offer my quick take on what I thought were its five most notable aspects.

1. Logistics. It seems silly to start out a review of a comic convention talking about the way the con is put together or handled, but I am sure that I’m not the only person who takes notice of these things and will criticize (sometimes loudly) when they’re not done well. Fortunately, I’m not going to criticize much here. If anything, things have improved during the last two years since the convention was moved to the larger hall on the corner of Pratt and Howard Streets. Much of the line is contained indoors (and conveniently near a restroom) and one featured added this year for those of us who are “commuting” the con and not booking a hotel room is that the convention planners have partnered with an app called Parking Panda, something which allowed me to find and pay online parking for the entire day for the incredibly reasonable rate of $15. Granted, I’m sure that I could have done my research and arrived early enough to snag this by myself but the convenience of having this done for me and ahead of time made even getting to the convention a pleasure (the less said about traffic on I-95 in the Washington, D.C. area the better).

The crowds at the con have gotten larger in the last few years and it has expanded to three days and the convention planners are obviously taking all of this into consideration and doing their best to plan around it. Personally, I’m curious as to what goes into it. I have an extremely limited amount of event planning experience (I once worked a trade show booth), but I think that an inside look at what goes into the planning of something as large as a three-day comic convention would be fascinating. A great podcast episode topic, perhaps? Not that I’m fishing for someone to contact me and make me that offer …

2. Kids Love Comics. Next year, if he’s still into superheroes, Star Wars, and the same books he’s been reading, I am going to take my son Brett along with me for that Saturday because I think he’ll be old enough to handle the crowd (he’ll be nine and will have had two Disney World trips under his belt), and he’ll be able to take full advantage of the Kids Love Comics section of the con. I hovered around the area and picked up a few things for him this year and noticed that it has expanded in the last couple of years to not only include activities and contests as well as chances to meet the creators of various all-ages comics, but it also has expanded to include young people who create comics. My very first year at the convention, I saw a young woman named Mary Jane DeCarlo, who was selling copies of her comic “Just Fly.” She was probably the youngest person behind a table there. This year, I noticed an entire row of tables with teenagers and kids who were producing and selling comics. This included John, Will, and Jack Gallagher from whom I bought a copy of E.P.I.C. Bros. for Brett to read.

Back toward the beginning of the year, I was a guest on episode 50 of The Quarter Bin podcast and one of the topics that we discussed was how the comics industry is going to survive in its current climate. One of the points that I made was that the Big Two in the comics industry needs to shore up their lines of all-ages comics. The Irredemable Shag, in the companion episode of Relatively Geeky Presents, added to that point by saying not only should they shore up their all-ages lines but look at distributing them where the kids shop as well as allow those all-ages comics to be a loss leader. Additionally, they need to look at what is being done here, which is not only encouraging kids to come to a comic convention, dress up (there is a kids’ costume contest), and meet people who produce some of their favorite comics (props to Kaboom!, whose booth is always excellent), but also learn how to create their own. Here’s just a sample of what was available during the weekend:

  • Haiku 101: learn how to write your very own cat-themed haiku poem
  • Pixel Portraits: a digital storytelling workshop
  • Create Your Own Superhero Symbol
  • Superhero University (create your own character, cape, and mask)

If you want to cultivate another generation of comics fans, this is how you do it. I’m actually looking forward to taking Brett next year because it’ll be his first ever convention and I’ll be able to experience this is in a completely different way.


From left to right: Deathstroke, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, and Catwoman.

3. A Focus on Comics. And I should add a subtitle here, which is: “despite the absence of the big two.” Talk to just about anyone on the convention who has been there for a few years running (and I ran into at least a few people that I’ve seen a number of times) and one of the biggest items of praise they will give the convention is that it’s still focused on comics. The Baltimore Comic-Con started back in 1999 and I believe it was first held at the Sheraton in Towson (the hotel where my parents used to stay when they visited me at Loyola and where my friend’s wedding reception was held) and since that first year has attracted some serious talent for signings and panels. This year, Mark waid was the guest of honor (and I had great timing in that I was able to get to his table when he was actually there) but there was also a spotlight on Jules Feiffer, and artists and writers like Neal Adams, Marv Wolfman, Jim Starlin, Mike Grell, Ethan Van Sciver, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Walt and Louise Simonson, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (praised be his name) to name a few were there to sign and sketch. I’ve never personally done the New York or San Diego Comic-Cons, but I have heard that the major complaint about New York is that it doesn’t handle the crowds very well and that San Diego seems to be shoving aside the comics in favor of it being an entertainment industry expo. Here, you’ve got people who are both experienced and new in the comics field and they are mostly front and center. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve had the chance to get a bunch of comics signed. I’m saying it because it does seem to satisfy a lot of comics fans. Furthermore, many of those creators appear on part of the Hero Initiative and the CBLDF has a big presence. Which leads me to …

4. Celebrity Guests. Though there is a presence of comics, the last two years have featured celebrity guests. Kevin Smith had special programming a few years ago and last year, Peter Mayhew made an appearance but this year there were five: Paul Blackthorne and Katie cassidy from Arrow; Raphael Sbarge from Once Upon a Time; and Edward James Olmos and Ming-Na Wen from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (among many other movies and television series). They’re all obviously comics or sci-fi/fantasy focused but the autographs and photo ops came at a pretty steep cost (about $50-$60), something I wasn’t exactly prepared to pay. Additionally, the area with the celebrity guests was completely separate from the rest of the floor, which definitely helped with the flow of the room and didn’t make it feel too crowded, but I couldn’t tell how successful this endeavor was. If it wasn’t, perhaps the convention will continue to limit the number of media guests; if it was, will it expand and by how much? Do hardcore comic book fans start worrying that this is the beginning of Baltimore becoming more of an entertainment convention like San Diego has become or is it just an added feature?

Cobra Commander 2016!

Cobra Commander 2016!

Danaerys Targaryen cosplay.

Danaerys Targaryen cosplay.

5. Programming. There’s a lot of cosplay at the Baltimore Comic-Con. Especially Deadpool and Harley Quinn (seriously … I think you could go next door to Oriole Park and have all of the Deadpool players play the Harley Quinn cosplayers). There are panels about cosplay, even for kids. Beyond that, there are creator spotlights and panels that discuss comics as well as issues in comics or put the spotlight on comics companies. I’ve been to a few over the years and they’re put on very well, but I’d personally love to see more nostalgia-focused panels. This year, there was one about the New Mutants, The Spirit, ads in comics, the Silver Age, and action figures, but perhaps the con could add some more with either creators or fans running panels about specific eras of comic books or comic book characters, or taking a look back a much-loved comic or toy line from the past.

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to panels from other shows run by podcasters such as Scott Gardner and Michael Bailey that covered Marvel’s Star Wars, 1980s Batman comics, Transformers, and G.I. Joe, among other topics, and they have always been as entertaining as their podcasts. In fact, with all of the “how-to” panels, perhaps a panel on comics podcasting could be added to the programming. I think that this is the area in which the convention has the greatest potential to add and diversify.

You’ll hear more from me about the Baltimore Comic-Con in a few weeks when I dig deeper into my coverage on episode 56 of Pop Culture Affidavit. In addition, I have posted my pictures to the Pop Culture Affidavit Facebook page. And finally, look for a clip from Jimmy Palmiotti in an upcoming episode of In Country, my podcast covering Marvel’s The ‘Nam.

Modern Diner

1:43 a.m.
(Conversation on a Diner Napkin)

Rain falls to the sidewalk
beside a lonely crowded roadside diner,
where I’m wondering what it was about her
that could have stopped the world for so long.

The exact handwriting, shape of numbers–
lines a paper napkin
with her phone number
in faded gray pencil and that smudge
always a backdrop for conversation.

And smiling.

I remember smiling
and she did the same
even though the music stopped
and the words were erased
by the rain ticking off my umbrella
into the night.

I wrote that poem for a creative writing class. in the fall of 1997.  It’s not a particularly great poem, nor is it based on anything that actually happened or anyone I know.  I am pretty sure that the inspiration was more along the lines of an imaginary idea, a fictional story where two people enter a diner and one leaves heartbroken, the only thing left to show for it is something scribbled on a napkin–notes, a phone number, maybe something much deeper.  It didn’t matter.

But the geographical inspiration was very real.  Sitting on Main Street not too far from the intersection with Greene Avenue, the Sayville Modern Diner was just about everything you would expect from a restaurant with the word “diner” in its name–a greasy spoon filled with vinyl-covered booths, the sounds of silverware clanking on thick earthenware dishes, and the smells of a grill that had seen countless omelets and cheeseburgers.  It was not haute cuisine by any means and even though the menu was pretty extensive, any time I was in there, I ordered one of two things:  some sort of omelet with a toasted bagel, orange juice, and coffee; or a cheeseburger deluxe.  Well, that’s not 100% accurate because there were those times when I was feeling extra fancy and got a hot open turkey sandwich, but really it was those two items, which are diner standards.

The Sayville Modern Diner circa 1996.  Taken from a 1997 calendar.  Photo by Pat Link.

The Sayville Modern Diner circa 1996. Taken from a 1997 calendar. Photo by Pat Link.

While breakfast after midnight is something you can get in quite a number of places outside Long Island (I have a number of memories involving late-night runs to Denny’s outside of Baltimore), I have to say that there are few if any places without the word “diner” in their name that really know what a cheeseburger deluxe is.  And yes, there are better hamburgers out there, burgers with higher quality ingredients and all sorts of creative sauces.  I love those places, don’t get me wrong, but there is something about the simple perfection of a single patty on a bun served with fries, onion rings, and a pickle (with the option of topping it with lettuce, tomato, and onions).  You don’t need anything else.

Of course, the food at a place like the Modern Diner is not the reason you go to a place like the Modern Diner.  I’ve noticed that diner culture has been fetishized over the last few years because of the culinary hate crime that is Guy Fieri, but turn away from his shtick and walk into a diner and you find something incredibly genuine that cannot be mass-produced.  Oh, it’s been tried–I’m sure there are still a few Silver Diner restaurants left at local shopping malls, but that place felt more like bad theme park kitsch as opposed to an actual diner.

That’s because a real diner feels worn in.  It’s the type of place where you can go in, get a booth, and aside from getting food and refills, you can be ignored.  You can allow yourself to disappear into that booth as long as possible.  The Modern Diner, when I was a kid, had this brown and gold decor that clearly came from the 1970s and at some point in the Eighties, they remodeled with the same dull magenta color you’d find in your average doctor’s office waiting room.  I’m trying to remember if they remodeled one more time and for some reason keep picturing a seafoam green motif, but I’m not sure.  Decor aside, if I was with my friends, those booths were the entire world for an hour or two.

Sometimes, the conversations were memorable; most of the time they were complete mundane.  Looking back, I feel that time spent there was our part of a ritual that had existed since time immemorial.  You’d make plans to go out and no matter what you did that night, you’d wind up at the diner.  Billy Joel put Brenda and Eddie there.  Garry Marshall had The Fonz set up shop in the bathroom.  George Lucas had Steve Bolander drown his sorrows in a vinyl-cushioned booth.  Barry Levinson wrote an entire movie called Diner that remains one of the all-time great friendship films.  Even when I (badly) wrote teenage characters, I’d have them hang out at the greasy spoon, giving them a moment of pause in a hectic plot or providing a place where moments of truth were had.  They are moments of importance, or in the case of the poem above, moments that are fleeting.  It’s something that is easy to recognize yet tough to capture in exactly the right way.

The Monday before this post went live, the Sayville Modern Diner served its last meal.  The owner, a former classmate of mine, apparently decided to sell, leaving the diner to be turned into a sushi/Asian fusion restaurant.  While I hadn’t been there in nearly a decade, I can definitely say I will miss it, even though there are other diners in town and other diners on Long Island, meaning that the idea of the diner will continue even though this one has closed its doors.

Pop Culture Affidavit Episode 53: The Softacular

Episode 53 Website CoverRemember all of the awesome music we used to jam to growing up in the ’80s and ’90s?  Remember all of the important bands that you heard just as they came out and before they became huge?  Well, in this episode I’m going to take you on a nostalgic musical journey that has absolutely NONE OF THAT!  No, it’s time for an honest look at our formative years with 16 memorable soft rock and pop hits from the 1970s and 1980s, the same hits I was forced to endure while sitting the back of my parents’ car on the way to my grandparents’ house.  So buckle up … it’s time for The Softacular.

Here’s the direct link to the episode.

Here’s a link to the Pop Culture Affidavit iTunes feed.

Here is the Two True Freaks Pop Culture Affidavit webpage.

And for your viewing pleasure, here are the videos I could find to accompany everything used in the episode.  I made every effort to find either an official music video or a live performance from the time when the song was popular (after the cut) …


In Country: Marvel Comics’ “The ‘Nam” — Episode 52

IC 52 Website CoverWe are back to our usual business this time around and back to Vietnam with a little detour into the Korean War along the way as Martini and Daniels find a soldier’s diary and we see his life in the army as told over the course of nearly 20 years. It’s The ‘Nam #45, “Looking Out for Number One” by Doug Murray, Wayne Vansant and Tony DeZuniga.

As always, in addition to the summary and review of the issue I’ll be taking a look at the historical context, letters and ads. Plus, I have a special announcement concerning the show’s format as well as listener feedback!

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen directly at the Two True Freaks website

Two True Freaks Presents: In Country iTunes feed

In Country Episode 52 direct link

The Blonde Leading the Blonde

There is a scene toward the end of Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion where Toby (Camryn Manheim) tells Heather (Janeane Garofalo) that Heather’s constantly telling her to “fuck off” throughout high school really hurt her feelings.  Heather, who at that point had come to the realization that Romy and Michele–whom she claims made her life hell in high school–went through hell because of the actions of the “A Crowd,” realizes that she made Toby’s life hell and says, “Tremendous!”  While Garofalo plays Heather as the bitter and cynical one at the reunion, it’s a scene that is a lot more funny and perfect than the way I just described it.  She’s just realized the truth about how bullying works within the high school social hierarchy:  the kids on top picked on someone below them and that person found someone below them to torture and that person found someone below them, and so on.

It’s one of a few darker points made throughout a movie that is best known for its two ditzy main characters.  Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow) are living in Los Angeles ten years after graduating from high school and leaving behind their lives in Tucson.  While they clearly have fun, neither is particularly successful–Michelle is unemployed and Romy works the counter at a Jaguar dealership (where she is constantly hit on by Ramon in the service department)–and after Romy runs into Heather at the dealership (Heather got rich after inventing a quick burning paper that eventually was used in a special kind of cigarette), the two prepare for their high school reunion by flipping through their yearbook and it goes from happy and funny to a realization that they spent the better part of four years getting shit on by the “A Crowd,” which was led by Christy Masters (Jessica Campbell).  Seeing that they’ve basically amounted to nothing and that they have to show up Christy and the A Crowd, they borrow a Jaguar from Ramon at the dealership, buy sophisticated-looking business suits and flip phones, and come up with a backstory about their having invented Post-Its.

This obviously falls apart, mostly due to Heather, who is unaware of the cover story and blows it right in front of Christy, who then take the opportunity to ridicule Romy and Michele for their lie in front of the entire class.  It leads to Romy and Michele going back to their car, putting on custom-made dresses, and then marching back into the reunion where Romy walks right up to Christie and says:

What the hell is your problem, Christie? Why the hell are you always such a nasty bitch? I mean, okay, so Michele and I did make up some stupid lie! We only did it because we wanted you to treat us like human beings. But you know what I realized? I don’t care if you like us, ’cause we don’t like you. You’re a bad person with an ugly heart, and we don’t give a flying fuck what you think!

Christie and her minions laugh it off, making fun of their outfits, but Lisa Luder (Elaine Hendrix), who was once one of the A Group but lost touch with them over the years as she worked her way up the ladder at Vogue, compliments the outfits, to which Christie replies, “You’re just jealous. Because unlike a certain ball-busting dried up career woman, I might mention, we’re all HAPPILY MARRIED!”

“That’s right, Christie,” Lisa says “Keep telling yourself that.”

It’s one of my favorite exchanges throughout the entire movie because in a way it fulfills a fantasy that I’m sure quite a number of people who weren’t on top of the pecking order have had at least once.  In fact, what writer Robin Schiff (who also wrote the play the film is based on, Ladies Room) and director David Mirkin (who was a longtime Simpsons writer and had worked on, among other series, the Chris Elliott show Get a Life) do is explore several scenarios that you’d expect from a movie that’s about a high school reunion:

  • The popular crowd still wants to act as if it’s on top
  • You want to see if your high school crush is still like you remember
  • There’s one-upsmanship to see who’s the most successful
  • You feel secure or insecure as to how his or her life has turned out
  • You come to realization that high school is not as important to your overall life as it seemed when you were there

There are all elements that could be taken seriously and even used for a drama, but Schiff and Mirkin turn what could be a middle-of-the-road movie into a weird, even crazy at times farce that is more of a “best friends” movie (I hesitate to use the word “chick flick”), and that’s what puts it above any run-of-the mill comedy of the time.  It also capitalizes on what was then a growing nostalgia for the Eighties (The Wedding Singer would be released about 10 months later) with flashbacks to 1987 and a soundtrack that included Wang Chung, The Go-Go’s, Kenny Loggins, Belinda Carlisle, and Cyndi Lauper–in fact, what’s probably the most famous scene in the movie is a choreographed dance the ladies have with Alan Cumming to “Time After Time”:

Funny enough, nearly twenty years after Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion came out, it’s now a great movie to watch for Nineties nostalgia.  The entire look of the movie just screams Nineties and I have to wonder if it was one of the things that the producers of Hindsight watched when they were planning their Nineties flashback series.  And while I’ve skipped over quite a bit of the movie in favor of a couple of the themes it explores, it’s easily one of the best films about a high school reunion ever made.

Since You’ve Been Gone

Back when there were video stores, there were always moves that you rented because nothing else looked good.  When I was in junior high, these were often produced by a studio like Cannon, but as I got older, and my film taste diversified from random ass, often crappy action movies to random-asse crappy comedies (I never said my taste improved as I got older).  One of those movies was Since You’ve Been Gone.  This one sat on a shelf at the Blockbuster in Bayport for what seemed like eons in 1999, staring at me, begging me to rent it, only to be disappointed when I decided that watching Jawbreaker was a better idea.

But one day, when I happened upon the film again, I picked up the box and read what seemed to be a good equation for the type of movie I could spend some time with on a Saturday night:  Lara Flynn Boyle + David Schwimmer + Teri Hatcher + High School Reunion = Decent Time.  Hey, picking up a video on an off chance worked for Clerks, so why not go for this?

Believe it or not, while Since You’ve Been Gone is not Clerks, it’s still an entertaining little flick that is worth it when you are scrolling through Netflix looking for something to watch.  The most interesting piece of trivia about it is that it was directed by David Schwimmer, who at the time was at the high point of his Friends fame and it also has a fairly decent number of walk-ons and cameos by famous actors (or at least people that I can spot).  While  it is an ensemble, it basically follows three sets of friends through their high school reunion at a hotel in downtown Chicago (and props to the film’s writers for not setting the reunion at the actual high school).

Our first group is made up of Kevin (Philip Rayburn Smith), Molly (Joy Gregory), and Zane (Joey Slotnick), who are basically, I would say, the most ordinary of the entire cast.  Kevin, a pediatrician, is the snarky cynic; Molly, his wife, is the outsider (she didn’t go to high school with Kevin); and Zane is their friend who achieved some marginal fame as a musician (although his most famous song is one that another artist sings).  Kevin’s time at the reunion is an exploration of that cynicism–confronting an old rival, seeing an old flame, and receiving bad new from work make him increasingly bitter.

The second group is that of Holly (Heidi Stillman), Electra (Laura Eason), and Maria (Teri Hatcher).  Holly survived a plane crash and is now a motivational speaker, while Electra is a walking calamity.  Maria–whom they haven’t seen in years–is living in Europe and has become a “worldly” type, peppering her speech with snooty-sounding European phrases.  So their plot is about the bullshit they create for themselves, although Electra’s is one of having more and more terrible things happening to her over the course of the night, including chipping her tooth on a nail that someone put in her slad and having her ass glued to a toilet seat.

David Schwimmer, who directed the film, as Rob, the douchebag class president.

Finally, there’s Duncan and Clay.  Clay (Thom Cox) is and has been “crazy” and self-destructive and Duncan (David Catlin) is his best friend and de facto caretaker.  Duncan is also the guy who is constantly shit upon by class president Rob, who is played by David Schwimmer in the douchiest way possible.  Duncan, it’s discovered by the end of the film, is great at networking with people and Clay winds up hooking up with Grace (Lara Flynn Boyle), who is just as destructive as he is and spends the entire night playing brutal practical jokes on her former classmates.

Honestly, while the plots of the film are solid enough to carry the whole movie, the most memorable stuff is found int he various one-off jokes and random cameos (Jon Stewart, Jennifer Grey, and Molly Ringwald as “Claire,” to name a few).  Years ago, I reviewed Since You’ve Been Gone for Bad Movie Night and noted that the film feels like it is the reunion of the graduating class that we see in Can’t Hardly Wait (which Since You’ve Been Gone actually predates by two months) and even though that review is more than a decade old, I still think that makes sense.  Can’t Hardly Wait is very much like this–random characters with separate storylines that all exist within the same setting (Can’t Hardly Wait takes place at a massive graduation party).  And while there are certainly better high school reunion movies than this one (Grosse Pointe Blank comes to mind), Since You’ve Been Gone is quite possibly one of the most realistic in its premise.  After all, an event like a high school reunion doesn’t have a through storyline, and everyone brings their own lives–and often their own baggage–with them.

Schwimmer and writer Jeff Steinberg play that for laughs and serious where it needs to be but with the exception of Zane singing his song at the reunion (after Grace has destroyed all of the band’s instruments through a massive feedback), which provides background for a montage, they do a competent job of not laying any emotion on too thickly. Like I did a number of years ago, you’d probably only ever watch this if you happened to be browsing through Netflix and it caught your eye (it’s been available for streaming for years and I don’t think it’ll be gone anytime soon).  But at least, I suspect, you’ll find it’s worth it.

In Country: Marvel Comics’ “The ‘Nam” — Episode 51

IC 51 Website CoverJust after my extra-sized episode 50 comes another special episode. This time, I am talking about The ‘Nam but instead of covering a specific issue, I have a special guest, ‘Nam creator and writer Doug Murray! He and I sat down to talk about his experience in the war, his comics career, his time on the book, and the work he is currently doing as a novelist.

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen directly at the Two True Freaks website

Two True Freaks Presents: In Country iTunes feed

In Country Episode 51 direct link

If you’re interested in reading more of what Doug Murray writes, here is a link to his page:

Doug Murray at Amazon