Convention Report | Heroes Con 2006

A special Panel Discussion dispatch from Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC.

 Founded in 1982, Heroes Convention in Charlotte, NC, is one of the country’s longest running and most beloved comic conventions, a place where comics creators, retailers, and fans can gather in a laid back atmosphere without the bombardment of sci-fi, Hollywood, and video game publicity that plagues San Diego’s Comic Con International or the various Wizard-run conventions. The con, run by Shelton Drum and the staff at his Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find comic shop in Charlotte, ran into trouble with Wizard, the 500-lb. gorilla of comic convention companies, announced that they would be holding a competing convention in nearby Atlanta the same weekend. Could the South handle two comic cons in one week?

The outcry against Wizard’s bullying tactics was immediate, with creators coming out of the woodwork to announce their intention to attend Heroes Con and not Wizard World Atlanta, ultimately causing Wizard to cancel the Atlanta convention entirely. Meanwhile, the con’s 25th year saw one of the most amazing creator lineups ever assembled, including British creators like Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch who rarely cross the Big Pond but did so to show their support to the cause.

Could Heroes Con handle the increased attention and attendance? PLAYBACK:stl sent Comics Editor Jason Green and photographer Justin Crouse to find out.

One of the biggest differences between Heroes Con and most other conventions is that it is creator-driven, not company-driven. The Big Two’s presence was definitely felt: DC had the crowd buzzing over the then just-released Superman Returns movie, while Marvel packed in high profile creators like Warren Ellis (Nextwave), J. Michael Straczynski (Amazing Spider-Man), and Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada.

On the first day of the con, Quesada (pictured above with Newsarama’s Matt Brady) held a live version of his popular "New Joe Fridays" question and answer sessions. Much of the discussion centered around the massive Civil War crossover and the unmasking of Spider-Man. Quesada also stressed the importance of the often overlooked "Planet Hulk" storyline in the context of Civil War, noting "It's an incredibly defining story for the Hulk and for the Marvel heroes." He also offered a tauntingly vague response to the future of Spider-Girl, playing close to his chest the announcement of the upcoming relaunch as Amazing Spider-Girl that was announced a few weeks later.

Though Marvel and DC had a notable presence in terms of signings and panels, they did not in terms of floor space, as neither company had their own booth set up on the convention floor. Image Comics was the only major publisher with a booth, packed with popular creators such as Fear Agent and Walking Dead artist Tony Moore, Girls creators the Luna Brothers, Casanova writer Matt Fraction, and Image publisher Erik Larsen, who spent much of the weekend signing his book Savage Dragon and critiquing portfolios by the many hopeful future artists in attendance.

Smaller publishers such as Top Shelf Productions, Two Morrows Publishing, and Abstract Studios also had their own booths, but much of the con floor was taken up by individual artists selling their own books and sketches to the enthusiastic crowd.

With the many independent and self-publishers competing amongst each other, it was sometimes difficult for any individual booth to draw attention to itself. One of the more ingenious marketing ideas came from Silent Devil Productions, creators of the comic Super Frat, who were giving away free preview comics if you were willing to pledge to Lambda Sigma Rho, the Super Frat. Attendees by the fistful took the pledge, including PLAYBACK’s own intrepid reporters (see above). The complete rush class of Heroes Con ’06 can be seen at http://www.thefixsite.com/SuperFrat/Heroes06A.html.

Famed British comic scribe Warren Ellis was one of the biggest guests on the bill, and he was kind enough to host a late night chat at a neighboring hotel, chain smoking and downing Southern Comfort as he regaled the crowd with stories. Some short excerpts:

On magic:

"Well, I've not gotten to the point where I've dug myself my own cave under my house the way Alan [Moore] has, and I never got to the point where I was trying to use it to get girlfriends the way Grant [Morrison] did…I messed around a lot with magic in my late-teens, early-twenties, and 99% of it is people just fucking pretending. Alan had this experience, one of his spoken word performances was intended as his ‘coming out party,' if you like, to the occult community in London, and he came away horribly disappointed. He said he was expecting genuine scholars of the arts, and people who were trying to do interesting things and he said it was just a bunch of people playing pretend.

About half of magic, once you strip away all the bullshit frippery and funny hats, is some genuinely interesting thinking that you've really got to fucking dig, and you have to give up a huge amount of your life to it; it's not a thing you can dabble in. Magic is all or nothing, which is why the great magician writers in comics like Grant and Alan write specifically about magic or approach their writing in a magical way. They bring the work into the magical workings so that it's all part of the same thing. Plus, Grant just really likes to be able to masturbate over his comics. [crowd laughs]"

On Lost Girls:

"Rich Johnston kept on asking me if I had read it yet because there was some kind of pedophiliac element, supposedly, later in the book."

On CSI: Dying in the Gutters:

"They kept on saying ‘Can we write you into this CSI: comic where Rich Johnston gets killed?' I really didn't want any part of it, it just sounded beyond cheesy, and I said, ‘I've done it once with the Bendis thing, I think I've been in comics quite enough, thank you very much."

To raise money for the Heroes Con Hospitality Fund (which helps defray the cost of housing the con’s guests of honor), the convention held an auction featuring dozens of pieces of original art, including several pieces drawn at the convention. Some of the artwork up for auction is shown above (click on the thumbnails for a full size image): a Spider-Woman by Jonathan Luna, Black Cat by Casey Jones, the Fantastic Four by Mike Wieringo, and the Thing by Charlotte resident and Cavewoman creator Budd Root.

Several of the finer pieces broke the four-digit mark, including Brian Stelfreeze’s Supergirl and Batgirl sketch ($1100), an Art Adams Supergirl ($1550), and the opportunity for a sketch of your choice from good girl artist Adam Hughes ($1050), but it was Phil Noto’s fully-painted portrait of Superman and Lois Lane that went for a whopping $4400, causing Karl Story and Cully Hamner to hoist Noto and run him for a lap around the auction room.

The auction was hosted by Rosario Dawson, the actress best known to comic geeks for her roles in Sin City and Clerks II. What most people didn’t know, however, is that Dawson was also a bit of a fangirl herself. Dawson, there to promote her new comic OCT: Occult Crimes Taskforce, even got in on the bidding herself, buying a drawing artist Travis Charest had drawn on his Artist’s Alley tablecloth for $550 and the original art for a Superman comic strip from 1979 for $100. Many a fan was seen stumbling away from her booth red-faced and smiling.

One of the big draws of a comic con is the chance to meet your favorite writers and artists and get their autograph, but this pair of fans took the opportunity to an all-new extreme. When it proved difficult to get the creators to leave the convention to go to their car, they simply removed the hood and carried it around the convention center getting, as you can see, dozens of signatures from the many big name writers and artists at the convention.

Another draw beyond the signatures is, of course, sketches: the chance to get a unique piece of art from a comics professional. One of the biggest draws was Andy Lee, a little known artist whose expressive brush style and expressive sketches caught the eye of many a passerby. At left, you can see Lee as he sketches a panda, flinging his brush, soaked in red watercolor paint, across the page to create streams of blood dripping from the creature’s claws.

One of the few ways in that the bigger conventions have it over smaller ones like Heroes Con is in the sketch department. At the bigger conventions, many of the more popular artists are there as an employee of a big company, and thus do their sketches for free. Since the artists at Heroes Con are there representing themselves, it is understandable that they want to charge for sketches to recoup the price of their table, airfare, hotel, etc. But the mistake that so many artists made was in only doing full finished pieces of art for $50-100. These time-consuming sketches meant not only that collecting a lot of sketches was out of most fans’ price range, but that many of the popular artists had their entire sketching schedule for the weekend full within the first few hours of the con on Friday, leaving many fans frustrated. Note to these artists: the real benefit of doing sketches at conventions is the face time you get with your customers, who then become more endeared to your work and are likely to buy anything with your name on it. This works better if you do a quick sketch for anyone and everyone for $10 than if you only do 10 sketches and charge $100 for them, getting you 10 grateful fans and hundreds of frustrated ones.

Overall, Heroes Con was an incredible success. The crowd was much larger than in years past, yet the hall was never so overcrowded that it made for an uncomfortable experience. Retailers everywhere were bragging that they made enough sales to pay for their booth the first day of the convention, leaving the cons second and third days as pure profit, while creators everywhere enthusiastically praised the con for its more subdued, comic-centric attitude. Though some spirits were dimmed by the announcement that Wizard had clearly not learned their lesson and would be holding the struggling Wizard World Philadelphia show the same weekend as Heroes Con 2007, June 15-17th. Would history repeat itself next year? Given the overwhelmingly positive response to this year’s edition, the answer can only be a resounding yes.

 

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