By the time you read this, I’ll have been back from Heroes Con in Charlotte for a day or two, but at the moment I write this I’m still in the wind-down process. How did it go? It’s no secret that Heroes is pretty much my favorite comics convention (SPX being the other contender for the top spot for me) and this year didn’t disappoint. All of the things that make Heroes such a positive experience–detailed nicely a few days ago by ComicsReporter’s Tom Spurgeon–were in full-effect this past weekend. I caught up with folks I’ve not seen in a while, met some new fans and creators, and sold a few books to boot. But, you may be wondering, how did Heroes fare mid-recession, and what of Indie Island a year after some of the low-grade brouhaha/fallout from last year? Well, here are some observations about the show, rambling and in no particular order:
It’s hard to get much of a handle on attendance at this year’s show because it’s in a different location in the convention center than in years previous. The new space is apparently larger than the old one, so the same amount of crowd would appear visually to be less “packed” in this new space. The show ran the usual daily waves: Friday was the quiet day and a good day to attend if you’re a fan who wants to meet and really talk to your favorite artist, Saturday was the busiest day, with Sunday just about in between attendance-wise. If I had to do a gut assessment, I’d say that if there was a down-tick in attendance because of the economy, it was likely a fairly minor one. I’d certainly wager, though, that the “Warren Ellis year” (’07 maybe?) was the high water mark for attendance at Heroes Con and this year certainly doesn’t put that in contention. (It probably doesn’t help that the douches at Wizard World seem to make a point of scheduling a con on top of Heroes whenever they can get away with it.)
Obviously my assessment of the sales situation is wholly anecdotal, but from what I could glean, the general consensus was that attendees this year were spending far less-freely on books than in years past, but that sales of artwork and sketches were really strong and if you were able to take advantage of that you could certainly make up the lost book sales with artwork sales.
As for me personally… well, as I mentioned pre-convention, I didn’t have anything new to sell as far as books went, so I wasn’t expecting to have a gangbusters year sale-wise. Really, though, I don’t go to Heroes to generate money; I go to see other cartoonists I only see there, to meet and interact with fans, and generally just to have a good time–so this wasn’t anything that I really fretted about too much. I was pleasantly surprised, though, about my sales at the show. I sold about 25 books total (Midnight Sun, Farewell Georgia, Snooker), a hand-full of mini-comics, and a ton of art.
As Tom Spurgeon noted in his pre-Heroes write-up I linked to above, Heroes is notable for its emphasis on drawing. There’s no other comics event I’ve been to where the attendees really appreciate art like the folks that attend Heroes–not the San Diego Comic-Con, not SPX, not anywhere–and if you’re an artist you’ve got to love that. Art-wise, here’s what I had going on at Heroes:
A few weeks before the con, I did a pinup of the Marvel character Razorback for the program guide, thinking I’d bring it to the show and sell it, but between doing the pinup and the show itself, someone contacted me and bought the piece.
At the show, I got three small commissions, all in the five to twenty dollar range–a caricature, a superhero pinup, and a drawing of The Rocketeer. I also got a commission to do something post-show, so hopefully that’ll pan out as well.
I sold a page from Midnight Sun. I sell pages from my books pretty cheap at conventions because I don’t have to deal with packing and mailing… and just ’cause it’s more fun to sell pages to someone who can see them in person. I’m glad this one found a good home.
Best of all, though, an idea borne out of inactivity: Fridays at Heroes are good days to go to the show because they’re a little slow, what with everyone being at work, and you can actually meet and talk to even big-name artists. Being a not-so-big-name artist, though, I decided to do some drawing on Friday. Cheap Joe’s had a booth at the con and they had some of these oddly-shaped “comic strip size” Strathmore bristol pads (5″ by 17″, maybe?) and I bought one for about four dollars. By cutting each piece in half you can get a nice, index card-sized piece of bristol. I then went over to the booth of local Winston-Salem comics shop Ssalefish and bought a handful of Marvel superhero comics from their “three for a dollar” bins and used these as reference to do some quick drawings on that bristol of various superheroes, done in brush pen and gray marker. Over the course of the convention, I sold maybe ten or twelve of these for five dollars each. Interestingly, I found that drawings of MODOK would sell pretty much as fast as I could execute them and put them on my table for sale. I sold, I think, at least five such MODOK drawings.
For some reason, of late there always seems to be some person of note in the non-comics world wandering around comics shows. I think I heard “Ginger” from Gilligan’s Island was at a recent MoCCA, for example. At Heroes this year, it was Scott Adsit from the TV show “30 Rock.” I’m not a big TV watcher (in fact, I guess with the recent digital conversion, I’m not a TV watcher at all) so I was mainly interested in the guy’s sketchbook. It looked like he’d maybe just started it at this show, but he had about half a dozen really spectacular drawings done by various artists at Heroes, all themed around The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Chris Schweizer, who was seated next to me, though, is a big “30 Rock” fan and flagged Adsit down and chatted with him for a bit. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and it’s a testament to the friendly, low-key attitude at Heroes that a well-known TV star like Adsit could wander around comfortably, “geeking out” as he said, without being pestered to death by people.
Digital/Multi media stuff
This is the first year at Heroes that I’ve really noted a ton of talk about digital media for comics. First off, I met IDW’s Jeff Webber at the Westin bar one afternoon. He’s apparently their director of ePublishing and has been getting a lot of their stuff set up for cell phone viewing. In a similar arena, there was someone from Comixology walking the floor showing off a pretty impressive iPhone app for buying and reading comics. Plenty of buzz surrounded the Rantz Hoseley’s panel on “Longbox.” Not much info about it had been released before the panel, and I know a few folks who were somewhat disappointed that Longbox turned out to be an application, not a physical device. It was billing itself as the oft-sought-after “iTunes for comics,” but as far as I could tell neither the Comixology thing nor Longbox have really addressed the main feature of iTunes that made it such a success: having a majority of the major players on-board. The fellow from Comixology mentioned having maybe Robert Kirkman and some Image folks onboard, and I think I heard that BOOM had signed on with Longbox, but there’s really no “iTunes for comics” until you can get a critical mass of big publishers on-board. I’d love to see it happen, though. The Comixology app was really nicely-done, and Longbox looks sharp and well-thought out in the busniess plan sense as well as in the user interface sense.
Indie island was considerably smaller than it was last year. For Heroes ’08 it seemed like Dustin really went for broke with Indie Island, to some mixed results. Given that–plus the general state of the economy–it wasn’t surprising to see the Island dialed back a bit. The usual gang were of course there (Top Shelf, Adhouse, CCS, SCAD, Rob Ullman, Brad McGinty, Josh Latta, Duane Ballinger, J. Chris Campbell, Chris Schweizer) plus some more recent additions like Alec Longstreth, Drew Weing, Liz Bailey, Carla Speed McNeil and Joey Weiser. The “big names” this year, though, were Jeff Smith and Roger Langridge.
I managed to miss most of the Jeff Smith stuff, mainly just because he wasn’t seated near to me and because I wasn’t able to make any of his panels. Roger Langridge, though, was another story.
There’s a long tradition of people (including me) bemoaning Roger Langridge’s status as an under-appreciated “cartoonist’s cartoonist.” I’m happy to announce now, officially, that we can all stop doing that. With his recent spectacular success on the Muppets book and his occasional Fin Fang Four books for Marvel, Roger was the full-on star of Indie Island. He was seated one table over from me and was doing drawings almost literally from the moment he sat down on Friday morning until the show closed Sunday evening. He said on Saturday night that he was just going to have to stop accepting commissions because he’d be starting Sunday morning with twenty already lined up from the previous day. Yay, Roger!
There seemed to be fewer comics press people than years previous, but I may be conflating last year’s Heroes and SPX in my brain. I saw no one from PW or ComicsWorthReading, and Tom Spurgeon didn’t make it this year. On the other hand, Tim O’Shea from CBR was there as were a number of folks who write for Newsarama. Several podcasters were in attendance including Mr. Phil from Indie Spinner Rack and the gang from The Dollar Bin. I imagine articles and panel recordings will begin surfacing later this week.
As usual, I didn’t get to many panels since I was trapped behind my table for most of the show. I can report, though, that our Ditko panel was very well-attended–I’d guess between 75 and 100 people for the documentary showing and the Roy Thomas/Dick Giordano talk, then dwindling down to maybe 25-30 for the page analysis portions. I predict that, once it’s released via podcast recording or textually over at ThoughtBalloonists, the final segment of the program, by Craig Fischer, will make some waves in Ditko fandom. I’ll say no more here, but I will post links to any of that stuff that appears online. There was no controversy, though, about the Mr. A cake, which was deemed delicious by all.
I also participated in a panel on historical comics along with Matt Kindt, Jason Lutes, Jim Ottaviani and moderator Andy Mansell. There were maybe fifteen people in the crowd which, given the fairly specific topic at hand, I thought was pretty good. No cake, though.
One of the really fun aspects of Heroes Con is that pretty much everyone goes to the same spot post-show: the bar at the Westin. This time was no exception and the place was pretty busy on Friday night and a complete zoo on Saturday. I also had a pretty fun experience at a party/viewing in one of the rooms of the hotel where Brad McGinty’s animated post-apocalyptic barbarian send-up, Mandar, was being projected on the room’s window screen. This made for a pretty hilarious sight from outside the hotel, where passers-by could see the episodes clearly projected on the large glass window of the room. Mandar is really, really funny and we were laughing so heartily and loudly at it that we were reprimanded by hotel security and told to hush up.
The art auction this year thankfully returned to the Westin ballroom–and it was packed. (Last year it was held at a far too-small local bar/restaurant.) If there’s a recession on, the folks buying stuff in the art auction apparently missed the memo. I foolishly thought I might be able to capture a cool Robbi Rodriguez illustration of some Hayao Miyazaki characters, but things got too rich for my blood by about three bids in. There were several pieces that went for figures in the thousands, notably some Frank Cho paintings–one of the Scarlet Witch and another of some kind of “sexy Medusa” woman–both of which I think went for between four and five thousand dollars.
What’d I get?
I didn’t manage to make the rounds until almost the end of the show, so I probably missed some stuff that I should have purchased, but here’s a few items:
In the left column, top to bottom, is Brad McGinty’s Tobey Maguire Comics and Stories, Josh Latta’s newest Rashy Rabbit book, and the afore-mentioned Mandar. In the right column is Joseph Lambert’s beautiful new (full color!) book Food/Fall, and the new Phase 7 from Alec Longstreth (alas, no new Basewood, but some interesting-looking autobio stuff).
Here’s looking forward to next year!