Sunday, November 18, 2012


In the early days of the San Diego Comic Convention aka SDCC aka Comic Con International, you could walk down artist alley and see the likes of Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, John Romita Sr., Neal Adams, Jim Steranko and on and on. It was smaller and in a more intimate venue than the expansive San Diego Convention Center. Media promotion was rare and the biggest movies to debut were films such as Howard the Duck and Return of the Living Dead. Over the years SDCC has changed quite a bit. It’s now a media frenzy where big Hollywood deals are made and blockbuster films are promoted and debut. Areas where you would once see fans sitting and reading the comics they had purchased along with the ocean view are now blocked off to make room for E Channel and Entertainment Weekly to interview movie stars posing for photo ops. Table space at SDCC can potentially cost thousands. Saying that SDCC has become a monster is putting it mildly.

Unfortunately, this monster is no longer all that friendly to the small comic book retailers or to new, Indy comic creators who are just starting out. More and more these comic book creators new and old, fans and retailers alike are heading to comic conventions that have a less hectic and claustrophobic atmosphere, little to no media attention and more laid back and family friendly. Conventions such as Heroes Con in Charlotte, Wondercon in Anaheim, Baltimore Comic Con, Dragon Con in Atlanta and so on have become the new hot spots for fans, creators and retailers. These conventions have quickly become the new fishing holes whose secret location has been revealed. One of the newest comic book conventions to throw it’s hat into the ring is the North Carolina Comic Convention or NCCOMICON.

The historic "Tobacco District" in the heart of Downtown Durham.

Started in 2010 by Alan Gill and Eric Hoover, the first venue was an outlet mall in Morrisville, just a short drive south of Durham. This year the show has been moved to Downtown Durham, at the Durham Convention Center. Located in the heart of the trendy Historic Tobacco District of renovated, brick tobacco warehouses that now house art galleries, pricey condos and restaurants that would put San Diego‘s gas lamp district to shame. It is also just up the street from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and is right next door to the historic Carolina Theater, home to the North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. A much larger and appealing location for the young convention although you wouldn’t know it from the crowds of people that were packed in on Saturday. At one point on Saturday, the crowd became so huge that the exhibit all had to be closed due to having gone over capacity. It is a young convention and there are still many organizational issues and bugs to work out but this is nothing new to comic conventions.

Durham Convention Center
The hallway of the convention center was full of men and women, boys and girls, people of all ages and nationalities. On Sunday they had the costume contest. There were so many fans in all sorts of amazing costumes just lined up to register for the event, never mind the crowd of people there to watch them, that the location of the event had to be moved out of the small panel room to the more spacious hallways. Convention goers were lined up along the wall like sardines with cameras snapping away as fans dressed as their favorite heroes or in costumes of their own design filed down the center of the hallway, posing for fans and photographers. One young woman wore a rather spectacular Iron Man costume. There was a terrific looking Shadow. A fun spirited “Carrie Kelly Robin”, a sexy Black Cat, an imposing Ghost Rider and an adorable little blond girl dressed as Thor. Not to mention Green Lanterns, a pretty cool Havoc a few lady Boba Fetts, classic Princess Leia, Stormtroopers, Jedi’s and other various Star Wars characters. They even had the classic Batmobile from the Adam West TV show, the Back to the Future Delorean and the “Mystery Machine” from Scooby Doo!

Carrie Kelly Robin with slingshot
There was definitely a fun family vibe at the convention. Everyone seemed to be smiling or intently interested in the various comics, toys and other merchandise. Cosplayers and fans searched through long boxes trying to find that elusive comic book or “books” for their collection. Nearly half of the exhibit hall table space was set aside for creators, artists and writers to display and sell their comics or art. I saw some talented new faces as I roamed the aisles and some familiar and established ones as well such as Liberty Meadows creator and prolific comic book artist Frank Cho who was featured in a panel discussion of his career late Saturday afternoon. Cho talked about his influences, his early work, his career at Marvel, why he doesn’t’ work for DC (“Marvel pays more”) and his affinity for drawing the female form, or as Cho put it “I like big asses”. The male audience members seemed to find the discussion of female objectification in comics more amusing than some of the female audience members who delivered more than a couple eye rolls. At one point a woman in the audience spoke up and asked Cho why he doesn’t draw more naked men. Cho stammered for a second and then mentioned his work on Tarzan. Cho defended his work by saying that he loves the female form and always tries to draw his women empowered if at times scantily clad. He also talked about wanting to draw Conan and how he was not a fan of Barry Windsor Smith‘s work on the original series, citing what he felt as Smiths lack of understanding of anatomy. Also at the con was Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden who was part of a very entertaining discussion on self publishing and making Indy comics. He was joined by Jeremy Bastion (Cursed Pirate Girl) and Firetower Studios creators Jason Strutz and Jeremy Whitley (Order of the Dagonet).

Sunday traffic at the NC Comic Con
Also at the convention was writer Ben McCool who was promoting several books, one of which was “PIGS” by McCool, Nate Cosby, Breno Tamura and Will Sliney. PIGS is the story of Russian agents in Cuba in 1962 whose offspring are trained from birth to be just as ruthless as their parents. In 2011 the children of the Russian spies are activated and sent to destroy the United States. It’s a fun, fast paced, violent spy romp. I bought the trade of the first four issues “PIGS: Hello Cruel World” which features cover art by Amanda Conner and Becky Cloonan and had Mr. McCool sign it, naturally. At the same table as McCool was the high priestess of comics journalism herself, Heidi McDonald of TheBeat. I had the privilege of speaking with McCool and McDonald at length about everything from horror comics to NC politics to Durham area Bars. This was probably the highlight of NCCC for me as I am a longtime fan of McDonalds work going back to her days on Amazing Heroes.
Also at the con was BOOM! Studios where I purchased the first two issues of Hypernaturals by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Another highlight was getting to speak to John Morrow from TwoMorrows, the publishers of Alter Ego and Back Issue magazines respectively as well as The Kirby Collector and the Modern Masters series. Morrow spoke with me about many things including his over 20 years as publisher at TwoMorrows, the good, the bad and the ugly of selling at Conventions, the endless energy of Roy Thomas, the transition of Alter Ego and Back Issue from black and white to color. It was a very fun chat and definitely another highlight for me as I’ve been a fan of Back Issue magazine since their debut issue.

The Batmobile at NCCC

Who knows what evil lurks at NCCC? The Shadow knows!
I also wanted to add my two cents about the recent internet kerfuffle about “fake nerd girls/Cosplayers” who need to prove themselves. I had the pleasure of meeting several terrific women and children at NCCC, many who were dressed as their favorite characters from comics, video games, Star Wars and anime. I’m here to tell you folks, these terrific girls and ladies are definitely not poseurs or fakers or whatever it is they’re being labeled. I saw many women at NCCC doing everything from engaging in discussions about the history of Green Lantern to flipping through long boxes with the laser focused intensity of the Queens Guards. I also saw young fans, many of them young girls with their parents and many who were at a convention for the first time.

I envied them that experience and it made me recall my own fond memories of my first few conventions and the friendly people I met who welcomed me into the world of comics. It was heartening to see so many young fans of both genders and of all races showing an interest in comics and gaming and art and cosplay. This hobby is filled with old men(like me) and it is in desperate need of younger blood if the comic culture is to survive in the long term. We have to be inclusive and welcoming to these new fans, young and old. If anyone has to prove anything it’s the longtime fans who need to prove that this is an awesome hobby that welcomes any and all who would show interest. Another factor in the survival of the comic book culture is a fun, energetic, welcoming, friendly convention. The North Carolina Comic Con certainly meets that description. I look forward to 2013.

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