From Krypton with Love: Comic-Con culture’s popularity is on a rising trajectory that, even, high-flying Superman would envy
Sep 15, 2015 09:51AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
There’s a community for everyone.
As proof, Baltimore’s annual Comic-Con gets bigger every year. Starting modestly in 2000, Maryland’s premier comic book convention is now, with attendance around 20,000, not only one of the country’s largest comic-centric events, but also one of the most well regarded by fans and professionals. So much so, that for the last seven years, the Baltimore Comic-Con has hosted the industry’s prestigious Harvey Awards ceremony, named for comic book trailblazer Harvey Kurtzman.
In other words, the Baltimore Comic-Con is a big deal.
“On the floor” is where most of the action takes place: aisle after aisle of vendors display every type of pop culture memorabilia and merchandise in every price range. Related businesses, from on-site framing to regional amusement parks are represented, as are an impressive number of non-profit organizations. Artist Alley is where fans can meet the creators behind the characters that populated their childhoods or comics’ Next Big Thing. The art for sale is eye-popping, as is the costume attire of many co-attendees roaming the floor. The wow moments never stop. The hours pass like The Flash.
The 2012 Baltimore Comic-Con was Randy Morris’s first. A 29-year-old contract negotiator, Morris has been a comics fan “since I was about nine, when the X-Men cartoon came on Saturday mornings. I knew about the traditional superheroes like Batman and Superman, who had enemies, but were mostly loved by the public they protected. But the mutant X-Men were feared and hated for just being who they were. That really spoke to me. That,” Morris says grinning, “and the fact they kicked major butt!”
A Marvel Comics loyalist through and through, Morris’s primary reason for attending Comic-Con was the presence of Stan Lee. Stan Lee co-created Spiderman and the Avengers, among hundreds of other characters, including the original X-Men. Stan’s the man. Morris paid extra to meet the comic book galaxy’s shiniest star.
“Stan Lee is one of my heroes,’” Morris says. “He seemed like a genuinely nice guy who really cares for his fans. Hearing him talk to his team you could tell he really appreciated them all. Meeting Stan Lee and getting my picture taken with him was one of my life’s greatest moments,” says Morris. “I was perfectly happy.”
While Randy Morris was having his one-on-one time with a real-life comic book legend, Artists Alley was the place to encounter a multitude of talented up-and-comers.
Paige Pumphrey, aka Paigey, is a “Baltimore bred, Brooklyn based” illustrator best known for her promotional artwork for band gigs and roller derby bouts. Paigey grew up in Glen Burnie, was influenced by comics, animation, tattoos, and hot rod pin-ups, and “never wanted to do anything but art.”
Paigey’s family was always supportive, even when she grew disenchanted with her childhood dream of becoming a Disney animator. At Glen Burnie High, she created her own comic and fell in love with how “You could do the whole thing yourself.” After graduating, Paigey attended New Jersey’s famed Kubrick School of cartooning and graphic art, and worked any job that allowed her to “maintain being myself,” including the Annapolis Mall’s Hot Topic boutique and the now-extinct Tower Records at Harbour Center.
That retail and customer service experience paid off after she moved to New York to get her career off the ground and started attending comic conventions as a vendor. “Artist Alley is retail presentation,” Paigey says. “I think of my table as a storefront.” Out of the many conventions she attends each year, Paige Pumphrey’s hometown con is one of her favorites. “The people here are great,” she says. “The organizers make it as easy for everybody as they can, and the fans are sweet. It’s also one of my most financially rewarding. How can you not love it?”
At about that moment, a cosplayer, in his 50s or 60s, strolls past wearing nothing but flip-flops, eyeglasses, and Tarzan’s loincloth.
Costume role playing, or cosplay, is one of the most visible components of any comic-con, a sort of performance art wish fulfillment for player and observer alike. Comic books are well represented, of course, but so are characters from manga and anime, gaming, movies, and television. Baltimore Comic-Con’s costume contest is one of the event’s hottest tickets and lasts for hours.
Significantly smaller than the Baltimore extravaganza, but operating with equal enthusiasm and a more intimate charm, the Annapolis Comic–Con is an annual summer highlight. At a recent Annapolis Comic-Con, Ali Dash is Wonder Woman.
Dash is an Anne Arundel County native, a model and an actress, but at the Annapolis Comic-Con, she’s been hired to help promote a comic book blog. It’s her first comic book convention in costume, though she’s always been a fan. “Spiderman was always one of my favorites,” says Dash, “and now my husband and I are huge fans of comics like The Walking Dead.” Many dedicated viewers of AMC’s hit show might not know The Walking Dead has been available in comic book form for a decade.
Dash says costuming adds a fun twist on her modeling work. “It’s so much fun, something you don’t get to do every day, be a superhero. You meet so many different people and they couldn’t be nicer. The most fun is seeing everybody else in costume. I think,” Dash says. “I’m going to be Catwoman next.”
Steve Anderson, owner of Third Eye Comics in Annapolis with his wife Trish Rabbitt, is a co-founder of Awesome Conventions, the organizers behind the Annapolis Comic-Con. Along with partner Ben Penrod, Anderson’s vision was to “tap into the strong local comics community, to raise awareness of the hobby.” As a kid growing up in Bowie, Steve “fell in love with comics.” Writer/artist Frank Miller’s groundbreaking 1986 Batman saga, The Dark Knight Returns “was the coolest thing ever,” he says. “It was like somebody took punk rock and poured it on a page. It was so visceral, vibrant. I love comics and I want to introduce and encourage that love of the medium in others.”
“What’s great about comics,” says Scott King, creator of the epic coming-of-age fantasy Holiday Wars, an ongoing web comic, the first volume of which has been published by Ocean City’s Th3rd World Studios, “is that they’re a unique visual storytelling medium, a movie in book form where you can present big budget ideas with minimum expense and tell all kinds of stories.”
King, who counts Jeff Smith’s groundbreaking Bone comic as an influence, says comics hold power. “It’s impressive all that comics can do: romance, horror, westerns, sports, all-ages, educational. Comics accomplish much more than they’re often given credit for, but that is changing, I think.”
And it is perhaps because of that widening appeal, comics have Hulk-sized footprints all over the popular culture. The Big Bang Theory, a TV show about brilliant, but awkward comic book fans is a ratings giant, while three of the all-time top ten grossing films are comic books movies, a list rounded out by such fan-driven properties as Harry Potter, Transformers, James Bond, and Tolkien’s Middle-earth, which all share fantasy aspects that appeal to comic book readers. Yet, at the same time, comics also offer a thriving independent spirit that attracts creators and fans alike through non-traditional possibilities. Independent comics, published outside the mainstream, represent a dizzying spectrum of Do-It-Yourself outsider media brilliance.
Fandom touches everything. A comic book convention can be a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What brings this community together is a passion, in some way, shape, or form for comics. Steve Anderson loves how the cons have become such a relevant and inclusive “thing” in the shared popular culture. Anderson says, “Comic fans are a diverse group. Women, couples, families, all kinds of people read comics. The stereotype is obsolete. Every year the diversity of convention attendees increases and I love seeing so many people from all walks of life enjoying the hobby”
“Everybody needs something that makes them happy,” Anderson says. “For a lot of people comics do that, and it’s nice to know there are other people who feel the same.”
Brent Lewis is a comics fan and has been known, on occasion, to wear a cape. His books Remembering Kent Island: Stories of the Chesapeake and A History of the Kent Island Volunteer Fire Department are available online and in stores.
Save the DateWhat: Baltimore Comic-Con
When: September 25th–27th; // Friday 1–7 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; // and Sunday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Where: The Baltimore Convention Center; enter the Pratt and Howard Streets Lobby
Tickets: Single day admission, $25–30; Three day passes, $55; VIP admission package, $149;
The 28th Annual Harvey Awards Dinner is Saturday, September 26th; Reception at 7 p.m., dinner at 8 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency, Baltimore. Tickets are $125 per person.
Visit Baltimorecomiccon.com for complete details.