Baltimore Comic-Con: We Are Con People (Guest Column)

A guest column by Caroline Pruett and Jennifer Smith

It turns out that the two of us are Con People.

The realization snuck up on us. It wasn’t something we’d planned. But we looked at the calendar and discovered that the Baltimore Comic-Con was our third convention in six months.

This makes a basic kind of sense. We’re friends. We live pretty far from each other (Virginia and New Jersey). We love comics, and discuss them over chat and e-mail just about every day. So any con on the East Coast is a good excuse to hang out, the way we might meet up with other friends for a rock concert, a basketball game, or a Broadway show.

But there’s more to it than that. If we just wanted to see each other and share our enthusiasm for comics, we could be at one of our houses, going through long boxes or playing Marvel Scene-It. Instead, for the third time in half a year, we found ourselves in the basement of a convention center, lugging heavy bags through aisles crowded with sweaty people, scouring disorganized tables for books and toys we could find, for less money and work, on the Internet. So on Saturday night, the midway point of the con, as we sat in the Marriot bar with some friends waiting for the Harvey Awards ceremony to start, we asked the question that was weighing on our minds:

“Why are we here?” This led into some discussion of panels, signings, and people dressed up as Cobra Commander. We were doing pretty well, until a nameless person (it was totally Caroline) derailed all efforts at analytical journalism by musing, “I wonder what would happen if somebody who was already a Green Lantern accidentally became a Phoenix Host?”

The conversation then looped through a series of digressions (the genealogy of the Summers-Grey family, the logistics of cosmically-engineered character resurrections, Hal Jordan’s greatest fistfights) until a member of the group looked up and said, with a happy smile, “This is why I come to cons.” It’s not that we couldn’t have had this conversation anywhere else. It’s just that we would, more than likely, have had it in hushed tones, or in the privacy of the Internet. Cons, on the other hand, are the place to let your freak flag fly. The place where you can walk past two fans passionately defending Hank McCoy’s heterosexuality and feel like you could, and should, join in with evidence of your own. The place where you, the comic book fan, are the norm, and the non-fan is the strange and suspect outsider.

Case in point: the non-con-attending gentleman on an upper level of the Baltimore Convention Center who approached a Watchmen-reading con attendee at a bagel shop.

“Is that Watchmen?” Non Fan Guy asked.

Con Guy looked up. “Yes,” he replied, suspicious.

Non Fan Guy leaned in closer, examining the trade paperback. “Is there, like, a comic book thing going on downstairs?”

“Yes…” said Con Guy, his suspicion turning into vague bewilderment.

“Wow!” Non Fan Guy looked genuinely impressed. “And you can, like, buy a copy of Watchmen there?”

The patient con-goer nodded politely, and tried not to stare at this man who apparently had not even walked past a Borders or a Barnes & Noble in the past three months. “Yes, you could definitely buy Watchmen at the con.”

“That’s amazing!” said Non Fan Guy. And he went off to share this fantastic news with his friends, as every con-going bagel shop patron gaped after him and tried not to laugh.

Cons are places where Non Fan Guy is given the same looks that grown men dressed as Storm Troopers would be given anywhere else. At a con, fans have the knowledge, fans have the power, and fans can revel in being among thousands of others who feel the same way — who value the same minutiae, and share the same enthusiasm. At a con, you’re never the only person in a room who cares about whether or not Mockingbird will be coming back from the dead, and you’re never the only person who would immediately drop what you were doing for the chance to see a copy of Action Comics #1. If you know the number of the issue in which Captain America first fought the Armadillo, you’re regarded with respect, not derision.

This enthusiasm isn’t limited to the fans. Creators, in many ways, are just fans themselves, albeit fans who have put in all the time, effort, ambition, and luck necessary to rise to their positions. So when Mark Waid approached us in a quiet lobby of the convention center and spent several minutes guessing what issues of The Flash we were holding after a quick glance at each cover, it didn’t feel any different than it would were Waid any other fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of comic book history. (Our universal respect for Mark Waid’s long and storied reputation compels us to note that he got every answer one hundred percent correct and totally didn’t ask for a retry.)

While there’s certainly more than a fair share of hero-worshiping that goes on at cons, many of the interactions between fans and creators are as friendly and candid as the interactions between fans. Comic book creators, at least those with levels of fame below Stan Lee’s, are accessible in a way that the celebrities of other media can never be. And cons are the place where that accessibility is put on display, where the creators voluntarily sit at tables for hours on end with nothing but a sketchpad between them and the public.

Fans feel perfectly comfortable showing Amanda Conner their card tricks, or asking serious questions at panels about the future of minority characters in the Marvel Universe. We witnessed a guy confessing to Dan Slott that he’s had trouble following some aspects of The Amazing Spider-Man, and Slott responded by describing and even basically acting out some scenes from the upcoming arc. It was a sales pitch, sure, but one executed with such unmistakable enthusiasm that everyone left the table smiling. What’s surprising, given all the people there, and the easy access, is how civil everybody is. If you’ve spent enough time in certain areas of the Internet, you might imagine that every mention of Spider-Man: Brand New Day or Batman: RIP would lead to brawling in the aisles. But aside from a few scattered boos, the crowds remained remarkably respectful, full of none of the venom anonymous internet posting engenders.

Make no mistake: we love what the Internet does for comics fans. We spent a good part of the con connected to our Twitter accounts in order to keep up with creators and other fans, including the iFanboy crew. But at the end of the day, Internet communication only works if you remember that there are real faces behind the screen names. This goes for creators as well as fans. Those of us who were lucky enough to witness the now-infamous Bendis-Kirkman debate firsthand may not remember everything that was said. But we won’t forget that the panel ended with Kirkman grabbing Bendis in a bear hug, and literally lifting him off the floor. That’s never going to happen on a message board.

We’re back in the real world now. When those urgent questions about Green Lantern mythology surface in the middle of the workday, we’ll have to keep them to ourselves, or toss them out on the waves of the Internet. Right now, we’re a little sorer from lugging around all those books, and a little sicker from mingling with those out-of-town germs. (Caroline’s physician continues to insist that “con plague” is not an actual medical condition, a clear sign that he’s a Non Fan Guy). A few months will pass before we think about trying this again. It’s a lot of energy to put into loving comic books. Every once in a while, though, stepping out from behind our screen names is worth it.

 


Caroline Pruett and Jennifer Smith are half the team behind Fantastic Fangirls: Comics and Culture. Ash Crowe provided the pictures.

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for letting us contribute, iFanboys — we had a lot of fun putting this together.  It was great meeting Ron and Conor (and Paul!) at the con, too.

  2. Cool piece. Enjoying the blog too BTW. Can’t wait for Heroes Con!

  3. PymSlap (@alaska_nebraska) says:

    That was a great article. I’d really like to make it to Baltimore next year for the Con’s 10th b-day.

    AND I wouldn’t know what to expect if the Phoenix Force infiltrated the GL Corp. Wide-spread panic and cool new X-Men uniforms? 

  4. That was wonderful, kudos to you girls! You did a fantastic job at capturing the essence of conventions. That question about a Green Lantern becoming a Phoenix host…that nearly sent my brains out the back of my skull. I haven’t thought about comics like that in a long time. Good stuff. 

    Cons are the best. I am looking forward to Windy City at the end of this month.

  5. You’re doctor’s a quack – I’ve been on my ass for the last 4 days due to con plague. I believe the Latin is fanboya nowashi handsa. As much as I hate to say it, one of the creators may have been Patient Zero – Darwyn Cooke had a nasty case of the flu. But he was a trooper – signed my New Frontier Absolute. Had to boil it, though. Now the pages are all fluffy. 

    Great piece – nice meeting both of you at the show and hope you’ll be able to make it again next year.

    Aside from Rags Morales hanging out with Baroness on Sunday, my favorite con story was waiting in line to get Chaykin’s autograph. The lady in front of me – who I will assume was there more for her husband than herself since he handled the books and bags – struck up a conversation with Chaykin about musical theater. Not Broadway, but like regional theater. Like regional theater your neighbor may perform in. Like regional theater, one step below cruise ship entertainment, but one step above assistant birthday clown. And this discussion went on, I swear, for like 10 minutes. All I wanted was a signature in my American Flagg hardcover. "I just saw this play," "Oh, how was it?" "Great, but not as good when Timmy’s Dinner Theater did it last year," "I saw that when my Theater in the Park did it. Good play." It wasn’t so much that they were having this long of a conversation – it was the fact that this was Howard Chaykin – American Flagg, Bite Club, Black Kiss, The Shadow – talking musical theater. Regional musical theater. It was surreal to say the least. I have to say he was apologetic to me when he did interrupt his conversation to sign my book. But I was just floored to think his idea of a good night out is taking in a performance of Guys and Dolls, very likely starring his gardner.

    I also got to witness the first in-person meeting of Bendis and Immonen. Brian insisted on giving him a hug – it was touching.

    All in all, it was a great time. A lot of great first-time creators at the show. I’d say I’m a con person, but I don’t think I could do more than one, maybe two, of these a year.

  6. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Aw, awesome.  Glad to have met you on Saturday.  

    I’m still getting my convention legs.  Next year i’m shifting focus from sketches to original art.  I’d like one or two pages to frame and put over my desk.  

  7. Thanks for the kind words, guys.  I’ll leave the GL/Phoenix theories for Caroline, as she’s the one with the huge investment in that question.  But I will say that, given the Phoenix’s preoccupation with redheads, Guy Gardner probably has the best chances of filling that role.

    @Dan That Chaykin story is pretty incredible.  Yet more evidence for my pet theory that comic books and musical theatre are somehow intimately connected as fandom.  It was great meeting you, too, and I’m sorry about your con plague!

  8. great article!  I am not so much a con person so I’m glad you two are.  I can live vicariously thanks to this.  What’s next for the dynamic duo?

  9. Thanks so much for the nice comments, and to the guys for giving us a chance to contribute this!

    I just got done with a busy few days so I’m just getting a chance to look at this post and it takes me back to all the fun from last weekend.

    Paul, I know how you feel about con legs. . .it’s been an evolutionary process for me, and one of my reasons for talking about how much I enjoy it is that I never would have thought I was one of ‘those’ people.  I’ve done writers’ conferences and such over the years, along with a few fan cons, and they usually stress me out.  But something about the comic-cons I’ve been to, whether it’s the balance of creators and fans, or just finding the right people to go with, has turned it into a really fun thing.

    Dan, it was great to meet you (seriously, I’m glad you introduced yourself — were you there when Waid came by or did you just miss him?)  The Chaykin story is great; and I had no idea Bendis and Immomen hadn’t met before — that’s really cool!

    @kimbo & MrMister — Throughthebrush and I are most definitely going to Heroes next year.  Probably something will come up before then, too.

    And in conclusion, yeah.  I think about Phoenixes and Green Lanterns a lot.  That’s my big crossover pitch. . .one day!!