Saturday, 17 October 2015

Baltimore Comic Convention; Postscript and review

I'm not a fan of flying so I was a little apprehensive before the start of the journey. My friend Scott (he of the driving to LSCC in 2014 infamy) and his family were heading down to London for the weekend so kindly offered to drop me at Heathrow. I arrived in plenty of time, Scott likes to be on time. I realised pretty quickly whilst in the line for check in  that very few people had bothered to adhere to the walk on baggage restrictons. I had an A3 art folder as my luggage and an actual laptop bag as my laptop bag. Crazy, how was I to know that they'll let you take suitcases on board as long as you can ram them into a locker. I decided on the folder as there was a lot of art in it that, if the airline lost my case, would really end the financial gain aspect of the trip. So I kept it with me. I cleared security with no issues, mainly because I wasn't carrying anything illegal.

I was looking forward to reading the third book in Conn Iggulden's War of the Roses trilogy on the plane. It was out last Thursday...but not at Heathrow. Still, I had some chapters of Russ Payne's part of the book (we're co-authoring a book) to go through and edit...the flight was only going to be 8 1/2 hours...

My mind was put at ease as I entered the lounge and saw Mark Buckingham and someone else I recognised from many cons but whom I'd never spoken to, he's now Henrik to me! Imran, the organiser of the great LSCC con in London turned up too.

The flight wasn't bad in the end. The food, some kind of pasta bake, bread, a mousse, other things I can't remember, was pretty good. Plenty to drink, helpful staff...I'd forgotten what it was like to travel with a real company after years of cheap flights to Europe. I ended up watching Terminator wasn't bad. I started to watch Avengers Age of Ultron but decided to watch the journey screen instead as I caught up with a little editing work. The only downside was that I spilt some orange juice all over my leg. However after two hours or so it dried out. The landing was a tad unnerving as the plane bounced and did a little skid.

Security was actually quite cool on American soil. It'd been 13 years since I'd been to the US and the new fingerprinting (both hands) and looking into a camera whilst answering questions was ace, very high tec. One bloke had his passport taken and was escorted away...

I've just realised that this hasn't had much to do with comics yet, or cons...but it will, stay with it.

I was met in Arrivals by my friend Aidan Lacy, the main man who made this trip happen and his friend Lisa, who would be driving us about a bit over the weeked and basically being there to help and guide us. As a resident of Baltimore for many a year she knew where to go. Both she and Aidan are originally from Ireland. We got to the hotel, The Hilton and got our keys. Nice place, massive lobby, different from the hotels I usually frequent.

Here's the view from the window the next morning!

After unpacking we went to an Irish bar and met up with Barry Kitson, Michael Finn (another big reason why I was there), Miki, Bryan, Ken, Michael Lieb and Michael and his wife (there were a lot of Michaels!). They were all friend of Barry's and a fun bunch...although Michael (Finn) suggested that Barry and I went on a Marvel Apes panel and I was pretty relieved when I became 100% certain it was a wind hindsight it was obviously a wind up, who cares about Marvel Apes? But in my defence I was tired.

The executive lounge where we ate breakfast the next morning was awesome. Check out the view....pity there wasn't a game on until the night I was leaving.

I'm used to eggs, beans, hash browns, that sort of stuff to eat in the morning at comic cons...I had a cranberry muffin and a bagel with Philadelphia cheese. It was pretty good, especially the muffin. Whilst still in the lounge I met John Scarpone, a man I'd emailed with for years after he bought a fair few of my covers for Marvel and DC but never had chance to meet in person. Great to finally do so!

And then it was off to the con. I got my pass quickly, it was very organised. Plenty of staff, all wearing pink and highly visible. There were two levels of staff, regular and minion. The minions were clearly marked. All of them knew stuff too and were very friendly and helpful!

It was enormous compared to the comic cons I've experienced before in the UK. And it was pretty much all comics based stuff, unusual over here. There was one store selling t-shirts and it was floor to ceiling. There were thousands of designs. There were comic dealers selling stuff from Batman #1 to the latest variants. I didn;t check anything out, Aidan and I spent all the pre convention opening time looking for the table. I was seated between Barry Kitson and Andrew Pepoy. I'd never met Andrew before, really nice guy and a great artist. Always good to meet a fellow Bob Oksner fan and as Andrew knew him, well that was cool. We both picked up some romance comics we were after (I finally got Secret Hearts #143, Alex Toth art coloured by Neal Adams!)

I'm usually pretty nervous before the start of cons until I get a couple of sketches under my belt. No idea why, I've just always been that way. I was extra nervous on this occasion. Also, I'm used to immense heat at comic cons and dressed accordingly. America does air conditioning. It was pretty chilly by the end of the day! I usually sketch for free (number of reasons, probably the biggest being that I don't rate my stuff very highly and would feel awful if I did a sketch that was really bad and a fan had paid for it!) but I was sketching for charity this time. More precisely for the Ringo Scholarship Fund. The scholarship helps pay the tuition for a artists each year at the South Carolina School of Art and Design, AKA SCAD and was set up by Matt Wieringo in memory of his brother, the artist Mike Wieringo. I was asking for $20 a sketch but most people gave more. Thanks for everyone who contributed over the weekend! And it was really good chatting with Matt!

The other thing that was vastly different from the UK was that the con was 3 days and it got busy quickly. The sketches I did were varied, from the familiar, Hawkgirl, The Vision, to the obscure, Razorback and a piece inside a DC colouring book!

Barry Kitson sketching at the con

After the con Aidan and I headed out with the Barry and his friends. A couple of additions to the group from Thursday night were David Donovan and Bruce. I'm usually happy to eat at Subway but this con was very different. We headed out in the warm evening to a Chinese restaurant. I'm not usually a fan but with Michael Finn as a guide (a vegetarian like myself) I had an excellent spiced tofu meal. I got speaking wth David Donovan about Curt Swan, comic strips and then the topic turned to the NFL. I'm a massive Eagles fan. Turns out that David was the General Counsel for the Washington Redskins for several years! One thing I found different in the US was that I expected to have a varied choice of NFL and baseball merchandise to buy as gifts. In the UK most sports stores stock the majority, or at least half of, the top leagues replica jerseys and many from across the world. Baltimore...well, they sell the Ravens, Orioles and a couple of Washington items...

We headed back to Barry's hotel, the Hyatt. We milled around the bar for a couple of minutes. I went to the loo and Barry had gone to his room. We decided to head back to our hotel and so Aidan, Miki and I left. The next morning I found out that Barry had come back down to say bye and ended up hanging out with Tony Harris, who he knows well, all night. Apparently that was my fault.

Back at the hotel Aidan and Miki showed me some choice pages of Legion of Superheroes original art they'd brought along to let me check out. It was great to see so many classic pages and covers. I'd never seen a page of original Steve Lightle art before and it didn't disappoint! There was a lot of stuff I'd never seen before, the Chris Sprouse designs for the Legionnaires team for example.

Saturday, more of the same at the con, sketching, meeting people I'd emailed back and forth with through Comic Art Fans, taking the odd five minutes to quickly scoot around the con. 

As Barry only made it for the Mark waid panel and had a ton of sketches to catch up with he suggested we order in some pizza and eat it in his room. That way he could get some work done too. There was an indoor walkway that connected the convention centre to the Hilton. As we wandered through it I noticed there were a lot of people wearing Bengals polo shirts and carrying clipboards. Turns out the team was staying at the hotel. Upon arriving at the Hyatt I realised that the Ravens were staying at that hotel! 

The pizza arrived pretty quickly. But they didn't send the plates. I, being slightly ucouth, would have been happy to eat off my hand but a phonecall was made to reception. The pizzas sat in their boxes waiting too. Another'd been half an hour and whilst Barry's stories about being an English teacher were very entertaining I was hungry and tired. We caved, Bryan, a recently retired Baltimore homicide detective, produced a knife and sliced the box lids into pieces to use as makeshift plates. As soon as he'd finished the plates turned up!

Sunday was real busy at the con also, even after lunchtime. Usually as a rule the attendance at cons dies out pretty rapidly after lunchtime but it wasn't the case in Baltimore. Lisa bought me the heaviest sandwich/wrap that I'd ever held. It was from Chipolte. It was great but took several sittings to devour. I also signed a lot of different books I'd worked on in the past including a Battle of the Planets trading card I did about 15 years ago! I do regret not looking at more comics and getting to meet all the artists and writers I intended to. But that's always the case! I also got to finally meet Mark Waid, really nice man. As I've said before, his Flash stories (drawn by Ringo) were what got me back into reading and drawing comics back in the 90's after a hiatus of several years. 

If you're into comics, comic art and sketches then I'd highly recommend the Baltimore Comic Con. I've found that so many comic cons today are more film and tv based (and whilst there were a couple of guests from the Arrow TV series there, it is a comic based TV series, no third Stormtrooper from the left here) and have little or no actual comic artists or writers there. Baltimore had guests such as Mark Waid, Neal Adams and Darwyn Cooke, mega creators, tons of other guests from the industry but also a massive number of small press and independent creators too. It would take the whole weekend jsut to get aroud them all. The number of comic book sellers was impressive and as I've mentioned previously, there was a wide range of stuff available. I picked up some great Silver Age issues for a couple of dollars each, cheaper than a new title is now. I never did find the stall Aidan mentioned that had loads of boxes of comics for 10 cents each! The staff were polite and helpful (something that unfortunately isn't often the case with bigger cons). A special thanks goes to the food fairy, entertainment alongside food delivery. There were also a fair number of publishers there as well. I had a great time and all the fans I met did too!

The meal after the con was quickly organised, the restaurant next to the Hyatt. It wasn;;t until we were seated that I realised it was a steakhouse. The waiter informed me that there was nothing vegetarian on the starter list...but I had a great baked potato and spinach as a main. Darwyn Cooke is a very entertaining man. In fact I sat laughing for most of the meal listening to Darwyn, Barry, Cully Hamner and Frank Tieri!

Free smells and serious delivery. Great!

Afterwards we returned to the bar at the Hyatt. Mike Grell was there. I'd met him briefly at the LSCC a couple of years ago and it was truly awesome to sit and chat with him about the Legion, Warlord, Sable and many other topics until the early hours. As a kid I never imagined I'd ever get to do that. It was pretty cool!

Me and Mike Grell. 

The next day was spent searching for presents for the family. I had specific orders from two of my kids, a fluffy unicorn from Despicable Me and Shopkins. My kids are pretty specific, I kinda like that, I was no different, I'm still not really! The day started in a proper, non-chain diner. I tried grits as I had no idea what they were. I still don't. Lisa drove Aidan and me around Baltimore showing us the landmarks and places of interest. It really is a city of extremes. She was very patient with my specific requests! As there was no Eagles gear I got myself an Orioles t shirt. Aidan bought Subways for the three of us. Looked and tasted no different from the Subway in Cleveleys where I live. Consistent! 

Authentic American diner breakfast

Grits...still no idea

I managed to ram everything I'd bought into my case and then it was off to the airport. Bit of a disaster, Lisa's car had been towed. She'd parked it next to the stadium but it wasn't on any markings, it was fine. But they'd cordoned off the streets for the Orioles, Blue Jays game that evening. It was a sad end to the weekend. 

Many thanks to Aidan for getting me out to the con and also to Lisa for all she did too. And to everyone else involved!

Took me a week to recover, turns out I can't sleep on planes! 

1 comment:

  1. It was SO much fun having you there. Hopefully Charlotte in 2015 might be the next Chapter. Lisa got her car back that night but I felt so guilty that we had indirectly played a part in it been towed , that her charitymission programme in Kenya got double the planned donation.Thank you for a much needed fun weekend, some very cool art and for not stating on your blog that I snore like a 31st Century Earthquake Beast