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.
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?
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.