So I did something this past weekend that I haven’t done in maybe 15 years: I packed a bag and attended Heroes Con in Charlotte, North Carolina.
If you’re not familiar with it, Heroes is the last of a dying breed: a comic book convention that’s actually devoted to comic books rather than general pop culture. You won’t find movie and TV stars slumming it at Heroes Con. Instead, you’ll find table after table of funnybook people, doing sketches, hawking their wares, and chatting with fans. About funnybooks! Astounding!
This, of course, makes it a perfect con for a funnybook purist like myself. I don’t think I appreciated that when I stopped going. I mean, I only stopped because the guys I was going with stopped, and it just didn’t seem like it would be as much fun without them. But now I’m older and more appreciative, and steeped that much deeper in the culture of comics. And I can’t imagine a better way to spend a weekend than to just lie back and soak in that culture, floating along on the river of dork.
I spent most of my time at the show in panels, listening to various comics industry people talk about what they do. Lots of highlights there. The biggest thrill was probably getting to watch the great Jose Luis Garcia Lopez draw in real time. Lee Weeks and Paul Pelletier were also drawing, but Garcia Lopez’s paper was under a camera, being projected onto a screen, and it was mesmerizing to watch him work. The panel was also taking questions as they went, and though Garcia Lopez was often distracted by the drawing, his answers were inspiring. He struck me as a man of passion and humility, as honest about his shortcomings as he was about his talents. On a more fannish level, I was also psyched to hear that he loved drawing Jonah Hex, and that the only artwork of his own that he’s kept were the covers to a personal favorite of mine: Twilight, the sci-fi book he did with Howard Chaykin. And, since I didn’t take any pictures at the panel, I figure I can at least show you those:
Another great panel moment came from Sergio Aragones, during the otherwise-droll Groo panel. Someone had asked him about his favorite memories of working in comics, and he talked about the time Bill Gaines had taken the entire Mad Magazine crew on a Mexican vacation, and let Sergio (a Mexican native) plan it. He described all the jokey cartoons he drew of the trip, but then he told us about taking them to visit his mother, who cooked for them all, and how he remembered seeing Jack Davis holding an umbrella over her when it started raining. It was his two families coming together as one, and the memory of it choked him up as he was telling the story. It was a genuinely touching moment, and one that made me like Sergio Aragones even more than I already did.
Less emotional, but still fascinating to me as a fan, was the Superman panel. Hosted by Mark Evanier, the panel featured people who’d worked on the character at various points: Jerry Ordway, Tom Grummett, Steve Epting… and Matt Fraction. Who’s never written a Superman story in his life, but who is currently writing a new Jimmy Olsen comic. The irony of this wasn’t lost on Fraction, who seemed a bit uncomfortable being there, coming off a little like Jimmy next to Evanier’s Superman-like composure.
Fraction held his own, though, at one point saying one of the wisest things about Superman that I’ve ever heard anyone say: When asked how he heard Superman’s voice in his head when he was writing dialogue for him, Fraction replied that he heard his own voice. Or… NOT his own voice, but his own voice as he wishes it sounded. The ideal of himself that he strives for, with a voice that’s rich and deep and calm and friendly. Which, holy crap, says pretty much everything that needs to be said about Superman and why he endures: he’s what we aspire to be.
Another real highlight of the panels for me, personally, was seeing Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg, the guys behind Cartoonist Kayfabe.
I’m a big fan of their You Tube show, and they did it live at Heroes Con this year with four different panels, my favorite of which was their interview with Bill Sienkiewicz. He rambled on at length about everything they asked him, but I was entertained by it, especially their discussions of technique and philosophy. My favorite Sienkiewicz story, though, was one he told about how Jim Shooter would routinely call him into his office after he took on his more abstract style, to read him all the hate mail it was getting. Shooter seemed to be trying to convince him to reign it in, but it only made Sienkiewicz want to take it further.
That’s the kind of personal creativity Piskor and Rugg champion the most, though, and it’s also the kind of comics work I care the most about. So I feel a great sense of simpatico with them. I probably should have taken a minute to tell them that when I visited their table on the convention floor, but I am far less verbose in person than I am in print. And besides, I was too distracted figuring out which of their books I wanted to buy.
Which brings me to the other great thing about going to a funnybook convention: The Con Haul!
Yeah, I picked up a lot of stuff. Got some good deals on the books and comics, though, so I don’t feel too bad about the money I laid out. I haven’t had time to read most of it yet, mind you. But I’m on vacation this week, so that will come. For now, though, I thought I’d cover a few highlights, starting with that big black and white print on the right:
This was a freebie, given out with your ticket to the con. I wasn’t really prepared to carry something that big (I had, by design, brought only a smallish messenger bag to carry stuff), but it was so beautiful that I couldn’t leave it behind. It’s by Tom Grindberg, in homage to pulp sci-fi covers, and Wally Wood’s EC Comics space scenes in particular. Grindberg was in attendance at the show, and was reportedly a little annoyed: he had commissions to do, and couldn’t make any headway on them because he was constantly being interrupted to sign the give-away print. It’s a gorgeous thing, though. My picture doesn’t do it justice.
And my picture REALLY doesn’t do justice to the other print I picked up at the con: an Ed Piskor X-Men piece depicting every line-up in the first 300 issues of the book.
I hesitated to even post that picture, because a lot of the fine detail drops out of it, like the four-color benday dot pattern that gives it the proper retro feel. You can still get the overall flavor of the thing, though, especially if you CLICK TO EMBIGGEN, so I decided to go ahead and put it up. If you get the chance to see one in person, though, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s nice work.
The photos do a better job of capturing the stuff I bought off Jim Rugg. He had a variety of sketchbooks and zines for sale, including a new printing of his Rambo 3.5 mini-comic (a parody of the Bush administration post-9/11), and a new Wrestling Zine, featuring a collection of his pro wrestling drawings. Here’s the wrap-around cover:
This thing is near and dear to my wrestling-loving heart, capturing the feel of old school territory wrestling in a series of portraits, poster mock-ups, and other work Rugg’s done over the years. I seriously love pretty much every page of this thing, and I’m really having to restrain myself from posting too many images from it. Here’s three portraits of wrestlers that loomed large in my childhood, though, just to show you the skill on display here.
That’s Abdullah the Butcher, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes (in full CRIMSON MASK!) and of course the Nature Boy Ric Flair (the greatest world champion of all time). I love all three of those drawings, but the Abdullah is especially nice. Rugg’s done a lot of these ballpoint-pen-on-notebook-paper drawings, but this one really blows me away.
I also picked up Rugg’s Work, another sketchbook zine largely featuring his Afrodesiac character. The cover to that one, however, features a really quite nice drawing of Al Swearengen from David Milch’s Deadwood.
But now I’m sharing entirely too much Jim Rugg, so let’s move on.
Another personal favorite of mine, Matt Kindt, was also at the show. I finally got by his table on the last day of the con to discover that he had a few copies of the Mind MGMT book and record set he produced via Kickstarter last year. I missed that, so I was thrilled to get my hands on one now. The set included the book & record, plus a Mind MGMT “Chick Tract.” And Kindt was nice enough to toss in a free post card, on the back of which he did a quick pencil sketch, mostly using the flat of the pencil. Lots of fun to watch him draw that.
Inside, there’s a complete new Mind MGMT story, designed to be read alongside the record, which I’m told tells a slightly different version of the story. Whether the strange circular comic printed on the record sleeve gives you any insight into which one’s the truth, I don’t know.
I can’t wait to sit down with this one, but first (since I don’t have a functioning turntable) I’m going to have to download the mp3 of the record…
There’s plenty of other interesting stuff to talk about, too, like the crazy bootleg Lego super heroes I picked up…
…posed here atop the first issue of my friend Gregory Dickens’ Outskirts comic. I make it a point not to review the work of friends (conflict of interest and all that), but if it looks interesting to you, it’s available digitally on Comixology, or in print from https://www.robotwonderboy.com/.
(Reviews are out. Shameless plugs, however, are totally in…)
And here’s a close-up on that graphic novel stack from the Con Haul picture:
Tons of good reading in there, much of it bought at bargain-basement prices. I’m especially excited to sink my teeth into Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book, as well as that collection of Don Simpson’s Border Worlds (a great forgotten sci-fi comic from the 80s black and white boom). I was also pretty excited to find those two Doug Wildey Rio volumes (gorgeous Western comics from the creator of Jonny Quest), and the Michael Moorcock / Howard Chaykin collaboration The Swords of Heaven, the Flowers of Hell (which I didn’t even know existed until I saw it).
I also snagged issues two and three of Comix Book, the Marvel Comics attempt at an Underground comic, a couple of early Love and Rockets issues that I got for two bucks apiece, and a short stack of super hero comics from the 60s and 70s that I snagged for three, including a beat up copy of Sub-Mariner #9, Phantom Eagle, and a couple of the weirder Atlas titles (the first issues of both Tarantula and Grim Ghost).
Far more expensive were the two original art books I picked up: Charles Vess’ Book of Ballads, reproducing original art boards at full size from his Ballads and Sagas series…
…and Jack Kirby: Pencils and Inks, which reproduces original Kirby pencils alongside Mike Royer’s inks of those same pages. I picked the latter up from the Jack Kirby Museum, who’d had it signed by Royer (who was also at the show). Both books were pricey, but so beautiful that the process junkie in me couldn’t leave them behind.
Even better than that, though, were the Kirby Museum’s giant reproductions of several Kirby comics from the 70s, featuring pencils, inks, and final colored pages, blown up even bigger than the original art. Those were for display only, unfortunately, but I found myself poring over them for long minutes, shaking my head at the beauty of not just Kirby’s pencil work, but Mike Royer’s interpretation of those pencils into production art whose effectiveness was often muted by the colors.
I looked up at one point to find the guy running the Museum’s booth kind of watching me looking at the art. Sensing a kindred spirit, he came over and discussed the books with me a bit, pointing out especially the places where Marvel editorial had meddled with Kirby’s writing, making arbitrary changes to his (admittedly idiosyncratic) punctuation, and in at least one place changing his phrasing to something much less effective.
So, yeah! Fun! I’m thinking I’ll have to do it again next year. But for now, I’m out of time, and I’ve got tons of reading to do, besides. So let me get to that…