Baltimore Comic-Con Grows Every Year

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Baltimore isn’t normally thought of as a haven for the fanboy class. It’s a place where people love the Orioles, crabs and goin’ down the ocean, hon. It’s that kind of town. Recently, though, it had a chance to fly the comic banner high. I found myself back in Maryland visiting friends (Hi John! Hi Greg!) and talked a few of them – Greg, Valerie and Will – into visiting the Baltimore Comic-con on Sunday.

Fred Hembeck, on right, famous for creating the Dateline @!!?# comic strip in the 70s, poses with GiN Publisher Nate Wooley.
Fred Hembeck, on right, famous for creating the Dateline @!!?# comic strip in the 70s, poses with GiN Publisher Nate Wooley.

Located at the Baltimore Convention Center, this is a comicon that’s flown under the radar for a while. Nowhere near as famous as San Diego Comicon nor even Atlanta’s Dragoncon or New York Comicon, it’s been growing over the years until it’s just the right size for a day visit.

Now, get me, you can do all the normal stuff in Baltimore. You can attend panels. You can do the cosplay thing and leave people guessing where you’re trying to go. But you should really go for the comic culture. Baltimore Comicon gets its visitors right up close and personal with the people who make comics great.

Now, I just recently bought a house outside of Charleston, SC (you can be jealous if you’d like)(you will come winter when I’m still at the beach). So I went with a plan…more a dream, really. I’d decided that it was time to begin decorating the walls of my new home with comic art. Not the autographed prints one can buy at cons, but rather original comic art. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it right. Right place, right time, right wallet…I knew this wasn’t going to be cheap.

Still, as Val and Greg followed me around, I went looking for the not-even-trying-to-be-elusive prize. And it paid off in spades. The first piece I picked up is a page from Eric Powell’s ‘The Goon.’ Here I was rescued by Val and Greg as they just started carrying my purchases around like bemused and bewildered man-and woman-servants to my elderly, slightly crazed collector of antiquities.

My entourage following me I managed to meet several people whose work I’ve followed for many, many years (thought not GiN’s own James Maddox, there with his Broken Icon comic company. He dodged me.) I got to meet Frank Cho – of Liberty Meadows and Jungle Girl fame – and got him to sign a book of sketches for me. I made the mistake of asking if Frank had any original art and friend Greg had to pick me up off the floor. Even I can’t afford any page at a $2,500 per piece rate!

Still, better luck elsewhere as I got to meet a true alternative comic pioneer in Denis Kitchen of Kitchen Sink Press. Kitchen Sink – one-time publisher of Omaha the Cat Dancer (don’t Google it if you’re at work), Xenozoic Tales and endless classic comic strip reprints – might have gone down in 1999, but Kitchen himself is still doing his thing. He was selling various books, including some by comic giant Will Eisner, and he was selling some original artwork by Eisner…I got a slightly risque cartoon that Eisner had drawn back in the 1970s. What a prize!

Gerhard, one of the artists for the classic 'Cerebus the Aardvark.'
Gerhard, one of the artists for the classic ‘Cerebus the Aardvark.’

Later I got to meet Mark Buckingham and talk to him about Fables…and get an original page from the comic and Matt Wagner, who was gracious enough to autograph the two pages – one from Trinity and one from Mage – that I bought. I also got an original drawing by Ohio’s own Thom Zahler – he creates Love and Capes and you should read it – featuring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in his hometown of Cleveland.

Still, the crowning glory for me was meeting a true idol, Fred Hembeck. Many of you will be too young to know Fred – and he calls me a young man – but he’s best known for creating a strip, Dateline @!!?#, in which he would parody superhero comics by conducting interviews with characters from Marvel and DC. These would run in the Comic Buyer’s Guide and occasionally elsewhere and I loved it to death when I was 13 or so. Meeting Fred was the tops for the day.

I’m not sure it could have been better had I bumped into Stan Lee (whom I’ve met, thank you very much).

Baltimore may not be famous for its Comicon, but it should be and will be in the future. If you get a chance, get to it next year. You never know what you might find. And you can take me next year, I’ll still be paying for this year’s trip!

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