By Devon Sanders
I wish I could remember just how many Baltimore Comic-Cons I’ve attended. I know it’s been quite a few. DC area had its share of comics shops but had very few conventions to support the hobby. Sure, the occasional con would pop up, announced on plain white handbills left behind on comics counters and held in high school gymnasiums still heavy with the smells of the previous day’s sports-ing.
In those days, the allure of door prizes (whatever they were) and all the Charlton comics you didn’t pay attention to at first were the thing used to draw you in. Big name comics guests just never happened until Baltimore. Baltimore Comic-Con was first started in 2000 in a Towson, Maryland hotel ballroom and soon, grew big enough to be housed in the Baltimore Convention Center. Baltimore was accessible from DC by train. It was doable. Add that and the fact that soon, it was adding the likes of George Perez, Jim Lee and Adam Hughes and BCC was soon, the con I most looked forward to attending.
You’d walk in and tons of vendors would be displaying long boxes galore. It was where you could say “Hello” to one of the nicest humans alive, Cliff Chiang and talk to him while he sketched. It was where you could duck into a panel and listen to your favorite creators break down their creative process. It was where you could look around and see Golden Age greats talking to Silver Age greats while Bronze Age vets signed multiple copies of whatever 80’s/90’s output was put before them. Baltimore was where I went to look finally put faces to the names. It was my yearly archaeology trip deep into the heart of the hobby. Baltimore was and always will be, my fanboy convention home.
That said, this year, Baltimore Comic-Con seems to be in transition.
On the attendee front, its stalwart attendees such as Cully Hamner, Cliff Chiang, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti have become more selective of their appearances and have come less, not having appeared in years.
As that’s happened, Baltimore has been around long enough that sadly, many of its former Golden Age guests have passed on.
Marvel and DC panels were non-existent this year. Marvel has had no specific presence there for years and for the first time in a while, DC had no official presence, to my knowledge. The panels that were previously composed of Big Two creatives, were becoming increasingly irrelevant because no one could really say anything. Big event book? Ask a question. Someone glances down at editor, answering, “Editor will kill me. Can’t say, read issue blah-blah.” Comic book publisher spoils it to Entertainment Weekly or something like it Monday. Repeat.
These sorts of panels were becoming less informative as the years went on so I can’t really say that I mis them.
Heavier spotlights for publishers such as Valiant and new publisher Ahoy! Comics were given great spots to showcase in which their wares. Panels on diversity, mental health and #MeToo in comics were given prized Saturday spots this year. These are incredibly valid and necessary conversations people have been having for years and I’m very happy Baltimore is giving them space. Hopefully, as DC and Marvel continue to throw crumbs to its core comics audience, cons like Baltimore will continue programming that feeds souls.
This year saw the addition Brian Azzarello, author of the most talked about comic in years, Batman: Damned. Most talked about because someone drew a penis. It’s an unprecedented dick. A fellow con-goer asked me if I’d managed to get a copy of the sold-out issue. I had but left mine at home upon the realization that this man was going to spend a weekend signing Batman’s dick.
I got my copy of Wednesday Comics signed for $5. If your path to fortune was getting a Batman story featuring a moment of vulnerability (dick, to most) signed, it was going to cost you $50 per signature. Can’t be mad at him, really.
It was great to see Baltimore add Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, talents more known for their lauded and successful small press work being added to their mix. My sincere hope for BCC is for them to continue looking for talent that’ll help them build into the future.
If you need an example of the pluses of Baltimore Comic-Con, look no further than Brian Stelfreeze. His care and enthusiasm for the medium of comics and for his fans. I watched as he charmed three little girls (and some of us olds) with his explanation of the color wheel and much-requested drawings of “ultimate giant sloths.” It was genuinely, what the con was about. Later, I overheard him say that he had two choices for cons, Baltimore or New York and he chose Baltimore because he could have moments like the ones he’d just had.
These three young ladies were given a wonderful opportunity to connect. As I saw them declare to their parents that they weren’t leaving Brian Stelfreeze’s table until he was done, he asked them to draw for him. As I watched these young ladies fearlessly draw, I realized they were the future. They were making comics. They could be Baltimore Comic Con’s future special guests. It is what I hope Baltimore Comic-Con continues to strive for.