Geek Out Online: The 2020 Baltimore Comic-Con

When the COVID quarantine began to drag on through the summer, I made what was a real bummer of a choice–to not attend this year’s Baltimore Comic-Con. I’d already canceled two trips for the year and was holding out hope that I could at least go somewhere other than Costco, but it wasn’t looking great. But my thinking proved fortuitous when the organizers of the convention announced they were going online and were offering up a full slate of programming along with virtual experiences that were much like what you’d expect on a convention floor.

Aside from catching some panels from shows like San Diego, New York, or DragonCon on YouTube or various podcasts, I’d never experienced a comic convention–or any convention for that matter–online, but as the lineup was posted in the time leading up to this weekend, I had to check it out and I couldn’t resist also blogging about it. It’s such a great comics-centered show, but would they be able to re-create the experience of being there through streaming feeds?

Spoilers: They did.

Now, much like the live convention, it was nearly impossible for anyone to attend every single minute of every single event; much like my experience with the live convention, I wound having to pick and choose what I wanted to attend. I guess the difference this time was that I didn’t run around trying to talk to different creators and get books signed, although signature packages were offered, and there was plenty to shop for at the Artist’s Alley Page. More on that later, as I’m going to start by looking at the specific programming that I watched.

Panels

I’ve done a few panels here and there over my years at going to the con, although they tend to be the first thing I skip in favor of getting those last signatures, roaming the floor, or going to lunch. This time, I viewed panels almost exclusively, hitting three of the creator panels, one full and one partial Kids Love Comics panel, and the retailers showcase preview on Thursday night. Two of them were on Friday night, which was a huge treat for me, especially since I never have the chance to go to Friday because I’m always headed up to my in-laws’ after work. Plus, the convenience of AirPods allowed me to put my iPod down and just listen to the panel while I did the dishes.

Okay, this review is getting boring. Let’s get to the panels.

Justice League: BWAH-HA-HA!!! with J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen, and Kevin Maguire

I admit that this was my whole reason for watching on Friday night. I came into comics when this era of the Justice League was starting its third act and while I have yet to read all of it (trust me, it’s on my list), what I have read over the years has been absolutely fantastic. Plus, I’ve had the chance to meet all three of these creators over the years and have them sign my copy of the Justice League: A New Beginning trade. Keith Giffen wasn’t on the panel when I was watching it (I had to hop off to eat dinner during the second half), but what DeMatteis and Maguire had to say could have filled two panels.

And you could tell they were old hat at this, having done a number of these panels before and therefore came off as old friends reminiscing (which it essentially was). Even though I’d read and listened to quite a bit about this era of the Justice League over the years, I learned a few things, namely that they were given the characters as a result of the Legends crossover and that DeMatteis was not one of the original writers, having been given the book to help Giffen when he was in the middle of the Justice League job he’d been hired for–killing off JL Detroit.

They also talked about how the creative freedom offered to them in the 1980s allowed them to create characterizations and relationships between characters in a way that developed organically as opposed to some of the forced dynamics that comics can sometimes have, and it made me wonder if that’s something that we’ll ever get nowadays considering how many superheroes are considered more like intellectual property owned by a parent company as opposed to characters in a story. But hey, maybe me as an old-man comics reader is too narrow minded to think that this sort of lightning in a bottle is unlikely to be caught again. Then again, these guys didn’t think it would be as legendary as it has become, especially Maguire, who commented, “It’s odd what sticks” during a conversation about his artwork, especially the oft-homaged and repeated cover to Justice League #1.

Brian Michael Bendis and Gerry Conway

Whereas three old friends were getting together with a moderator (and I should mention that John Siuntres from Word Balloon did an excellent job hosting the BWAH-HA-HA!!! panel), this was a conversation between two comics legends across generations. Bendis was essentially putting a spotlight on Gerry Conway, who wrote Justice League of America #200, an issue that Bendis admits to chasing for pretty much his entire career, especially in recent Legion of Super-Heroes issues (a series that is amazing, by the way, and you should add it to your pull list yesterday). But they not only spent a lot of time talking about the various characters that Conway has worked on over the years, they talked about the creative process as well as what happens to the characters after they leave the page.

The latter is where I came in and Conway was addressing the appropriation of The Punisher by the police and those carrying out acts of aggression in way that is contrary to the actual mission of the character. Bendis shed some light on the more positive side of that particular phenomenon by talking about the success that Miles Morales has had. But for all of his frustration about the use of the Punisher, Conway seemed grateful to have a stake in the character, and feels that he has a voice in the matter.

The conversation about the creative process is something I’d see echoed in other panels later on, and I found it fascinating to hear how one can get pigeonholed as a television writer (Conway has written a lot of mystery story-based television) and appreciated how they talked about doing the work to read, research, and get a character right.

Inside the Comics Studio: 1985 with Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Denys Cowan, and Bill Sienkiewicz

Now if the Bendis/Conway panel was two generations of comics men talking shop and the Justice League panel was three friends reminiscing, this panel was the equivalent of a corner table at a bar as the night wears on. And it was so much fun. The four of them, who were work mates at both Marvel and DC and in their own studio, spent an hour talking about where they were in 1985 and Dean Haspiel, did a pretty good job of keeping the conversation from going completely off the rails and even keeping it interesting despite some streaming lag and freezing on Sienkiewicz’ part. Like I said, this was like listening in on a conversation and I confess that I stopped taking notes early on just so that I could listen and laugh along.

Creator Spotlight: Terry Moore

My main draw (no pun intended) was Terry Moore, whose table I regularly visit when he’s at the Baltimore Comic-Con (I’m very close to getting all of my Strangers in Paradise trades signed) and I know that he’s got a new graphic novel coming out named Ever, which is a dark fantasy book (that I’ve already preordered, so I’m pumped). Plus, as he announced at the panel, he will be publishing Serial in 2021 starring Zoe, the fan-favorite 10-year-old serial killer from Rachel Rising.

Amy Dallen hosted and was outstanding, bringing the enthusaism of a fan of Moore’s work as well as the knowledge and professionalism of a good host, interjecting where she can but spending most of the time sitting back and listening to him talk about his career. And one thing I really appreciated was how he talked about where he gets some of the motivation for his writing and some of his themes; furthermore, he made this great point about how after the 9/11 attacks, he set out to make sure that all of his stories had some semblance of hope. That’s not something we often get in our stories these days, as our culture seems to equate intelligence with cynicism. There’s something incredibly genuine about him and it really came across in the interview.

Kids Love Comics: Jeff Kinney

My son–who is now 13 and has been reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books since he was in elementary school–and I came into this one at the end because I had been doing some lesson planning all morning and he’s turned into the type of teenager who rolls out of bed close to noon on a Saturday. Despite that, it was pretty cool to hear him talk about how amazed he is at the impact that his books have had, and I have to hand it to the convention organizers because this is the type of person I could imagine having a Todd McFarlane-sized line of kids at his table.

Kids Love Comics: Kazu Kibuishi

So if you remember the first time I had my son with me at the convention, we met Kibuishi because Brett is a huge fan of the Amulet graphic novels and I bought a couple of GNs that Kibuishi then signed. We also went to a panel where he talked about what was coming up for the books as well as his creative process. Now that it’s several years later, Brett is really interested in drawing and was excited to see him talk again.

What was also cool about the panel was that it was hosted by Jamar Nicholas, whom we met a couple of years ago when he was selling Leon: Protector of the Playground at a table in the Kids Love Comics area and we interviewed him for the show. And he’s just signed with Scholastic, which is huge, and that’s great, because you love to see that type of success for someone writing great books for kids (and who is especially nice to boot).

As for the interview, it was also very well run with each question projected onto the screen, and I could clearly see that both creators as well as the KLC coordinators knew their primary audience was because the conversation was geared toward the kids in attendance. At the same time, neither of them talked down to the audience, which I appreciated. Kibuishi talked about how he got interested in drawing, how he had support from his parents and gave some really good advice, saying that he likes to stay independent as an artist and not connect himself too much to the business side of things, even though that’s necessary. Oh, and they both joked about how they can’t–and so many others can’t seem to–draw horses.

Brett told me that he really liked the advice of not being super money hungry and that Kibuishi has things he likes to do in order to disconnect from work, take a break, and reflect–mainly mountain biking (my son likes to read and hike). Plus, he felt pretty inspired hearing that he didn’t have to have the most expensive equipment when he’s just starting out.

Retailers and Artist’s Alley

Spending a huge wad of cash at the convention is a big part of it for me, and while I was able to sate my desire for back issues by going to my LCS on Friday, I did miss the rush of flipping through bins and looking for a hidden gem. But the Artist’s Alley setup on the site that featured links to most of the exhibitors’ websites was great and I bookmarked four or five artists from whom I’ll be buying something once I get paid this week.

Also really useful was the Retailers Showcase, which was hosted by The Great Legend and Anthony Snyder and featured a number of the more high-profile retailers that exhibit at the convention. It was shown Thursday night and even though it was some retailers talking about what they sell, it was so comics-centered and so pure to the tone and purpose of the convention that it set everything up nicely. I mean, I can’t afford anything that the Heritage Auctions guy was showing us, but my jaw still dropped at the sight of a high-grade Golden Age comic. But I am looking forward to buying a comics portfolio from Fine Comics Collectibles–who would have thought of that for those of us who bring a ton of books to have signed at a convention?

Next year’s show is scheduled for the same time in October and it’s my hope that it will be live and in person because even before I saw the guest list, I was ready. Still, the convention organizers did a great job with the virtual con and I hope that this possibly means that they’ll expand the experience to include some online offerings or maybe some recorded or livestreamed panels next year. Yunno, for those of us who will be just so happy to be back on the floor flipping through those bins.

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