Spencer: Sitting in a prominent position on my desk is a copy of Saves the Day’s self-titled album, signed by all four members of the band. It’s one of my most cherished possessions, not because “oh man, it’s my favorite band’s autograph!,” but because it’s a physical reminder of my first meeting them, of my role in getting that album created, and of some of the best shows of my life. I think that’s the true power of autographs (or selfies with celebrities, which are quickly replacing them); they’re more than just scribbles on paper, they’re a permanent reminder of celebrity encounters and of all the reasons why those encounters mean so much to us in the first place.
I had a lot of time to ponder the significance of autographs while at Baltimore ComicCon this past Sunday, mainly because I got a lot of them. Baltimore ComicCon is an intensely creator-focused con, to the point where I couldn’t even fit all the comics I wanted to get signed into one bag, and had to skip a few creators because I just couldn’t carry any more books. I’m not complaining, though: every one of these autographs will remind me of cherished memories for years to come.
Seriously though, it can’t be understated how big a contrast there is between Baltimore ComicCon and my typical stomping grounds of Wizard World Philadelphia. Wizard World is more of a pop culture convention than a ComicCon, with an overriding focus on celebrity photographs and panels, and a celebrity meet-and-greet queue that takes up half the floor. Instead, Baltimore features a massive Artists Alley and rows and rows of professional comic creators scattered throughout various aisles. It’s clear where Baltimore ComicCon’s priorities lie, and while there’s a place for pop culture and expensive meet-and-greets, it really was refreshing to go to a Con that cares so much about artists and creators of all levels.
Keeping with that same aesthetic, Baltimore ComicCon sometimes feels like the low-fi, punk version of a Con. There’s more rows of booths packed into the floor, with what feels like smaller aisles between them, but for whatever disadvantages that causes, it also leads to an embarrassment of riches. In the past I’ve sometimes struggled to find actual comics (or, at least, actual comics by indie creators) for sale in Artists Alley, but here nearly every other booth had some sort of original comic for sale, and most of the bigger-name creators had new books to promote as well. It truly was an abundance of riches.
B. Clay Moore
I walked past B. Clay Moore a few times before recognizing him as the author of Aloha, Hawaiian Dick. We discussed the final issue and our review of it a bit (he’s a fan of our work!), and I bought the trade of the first volume, Byrd of Paradise, which Moore is still quite enthusiastic about. My one regret here: I didn’t think to ask him when/how we can expect the next volume of Dick.
David Gallagher and Steve Ellis
Next I ran across David Gallaher — whose work on Convergence: Green Lantern Corps was one of the better entries in that event, and whose Twitter I’ve enjoyed since — and picked up a copy of his and Steve Ellis’ all-ages adventure comic The Only Living Boy, which I’ve been meaning to check out for a while. Not only does it look like a lot of fun, but Ellis included a little sketch of the main character, Erik, along with his autograph!
Watching Ellis sketch that out was a really cool surprise.
We Can Never Go Home
What may end up being my best — and most unexpected — find of the Con, though, is the first volume of We Can Never Go Home from Black Mask Studios (by Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, Josh Hood, and Brian Level, among others). I’ll admit, I very nearly picked it up for Michael Walsh’s extraordinary cover alone.
The premise, though, immediately piqued my interest — two superpowered misfits on the run, trying to survive with nobody to trust but each other — and the twenty or so pages I’ve read so far have been fantastic. The two leads have strong, distinctive voices and immediate chemistry, and the art and colors are gorgeous. There’s even a twenty-five panel page in this baby that actually works, and works well! I’m looking forward to getting to finish this one, and I hope it lives up to its early promise.
I spoke with Greg Pak about Amadeus Cho and Superman for a while (I told him how much I liked his take on Superman but how frustrated I was by his runs being constantly interrupted by crossovers. He nodded and replied, “Yeah, it’s just a part of comics.”), but he was eager to show off his new series from Dark Horse, Kingsway West.
The series chronicles an alternate America where the existence of a mineral that grants magical abilities has sparked a war between China, Mexico, and New York for control of the Wild West. Pak and artist Mirako Colak pack the first issue with crisp action and creative monster designs, and Pak grounds the conflict in character. Kingsway, our protagonist, reminds me a lot of Old Man Logan; he’s a legendary soldier who has grown weary of violence and manipulative governments, and just wants to be left alone. It’s an engrossing read so far.
Charles Soule, likewise, was promoting his upcoming Image series Curse Words with advance copies so “advanced” that they weren’t even colored yet.
The main plot involves a wizard from another universe falling in love with Earth (the series slogan is even M.M.P.P. — “Magic Makes People Pals!”). Ryan Browne’s art is exquisitely detailed even in black-and-white, and Soule fills the series with a dark irreverence that seems a bit uncharacteristic of much of his work, but it totally works — I had a few good laughs in the first couple of pages alone!
Soule and I also got to discuss She-Hulk and how much I miss that series (Soule agrees, though he says Daredevil is scratching his attorney itch — he also hinted that this current arc of Daredevil that just begun will be very big and very important, so keep an eye on it). What I noticed the most about Soule’s booth, though, is that every fan who approached him wanted to discuss a different series. I suppose that’s no surprise for such a prolific writer, but it still hit me funny (the fan behind me in line complimented Soule on Death of Wolverine, to which Soule replied, “I loved killing Wolverine. If they brought him back to life I’d gladly do it again!”).
I caught Hope Larson deep in conversation with a few other creators eager to swap experiences, but she was eventually more than happy to sign and talk about her new run on Batgirl. I complimented her on the book’s handling of language and how it reflects character, and she told me about how much thought went into deciding how to depict language, and even into deciding what languages Barbara could speak (she eventually just decided on all of them, because of course Barbara Gordon can speak whatever language she needs to).
At her booth a tiny red book caught my eye; it was Solo, book 1, written and illustrated by Larson.
I devoured Solo while guarding a car for my Dad on Labor Day (don’t ask), and it’s an exquisite piece of storytelling. Larson’s tale tackles themes of loss, isolation, and starting over in a way that’s intimate and familiar — the characters, their emotions, and the town they’re stuck in are all deftly sketched, creating a story that slowly draws the reader further and further into its world. I didn’t notice how engrossed I’d become by the story until I reached the cliffhanger and realized how desperately I wanted to read the next volume right that second.
Larson also shows off some mighty fine cartooning chops; her deceptively simple faces are incredibly expressive, and she uses cartoony effects, the color black, and some off-beat paneling to great effect. I’m over the moon about a scene where the protagonist, Leah, listens to a song on her phone — the progression of the song on the phone’s screen is also used as panel borders, thus moving the scene along in two separate, yet similar ways.
I’ll be paying Larson’s online shop a visit sooner rather than later, that’s for sure.
Outside of Dan Jurgens, who had a consistently long line the entire day, there wasn’t much of a wait to meet most of the creators present. The one creator on my list for the day who really drew a crowd, though, was rising comics superstar Tom King.
King was easily the most gregarious creator I spoke to all day, greeting each fan with a firm and friendly “Hey, I’m Tom!” He actually got a little flustered while talking to me because his Sharpies kept smearing (he even swore at one point and then looked embarrassed, which I thought was fantastic); it seemed clear that it had been a long weekend and he was tired, but even more clear that he was very concerned about giving every fan he spoke to a great experience.
As he was signing my books, I mentioned how the Futures End tie-in was my favorite issue of Grayson, and King was a little taken aback. He told me that the Futures End one-shot was the first comic he ever wrote, and that DC actually thought it was a little too complicated and was thinking of nixing it altogether. His Grayson co-writer, Tim Seeley, thought it was fantastic though, and convinced DC to keep the issue. And that, according to King, is the story of how Tim Seeley saved his career in comics.
James Tynion IV
At the booth directly next to King was the creator I was perhaps most excited to meet, James Tynion IV.
Something about Tynion’s books just really click with me; we have very similar taste when it comes to the characters and themes we love, which is why books like The Woods and even his current run on Detective Comics appeal to me so much. I remember first reading the scene in Talon 6 where Sarah explains Pokemon to Sebastian and thinking, “okay, this Tynion guy and I are on the same wavelength.”
I mentioned that to him, and he chuckled, citing that scene as one of the first moments when Talon really opened up to him and started becoming the book he wanted it to be. He went on to talk about how important those kind of downtime moments, the scenes and issues that highlight a character’s personal lives, are when fleshing out a series.
What I noticed more than anything while talking to Tynion is how grateful — and awed, even still — he is to be writing comics and working with characters who not only mean so much to him, but to the world at large. Tynion spoke of how writing licensed characters — and especially icons like Batman or the TMNT — is an entirely different beast than writing creator owned, because you can’t just do your own thing with the characters; they have a history and fans and a meaning that must be respected and upheld, and doing so is a responsibility Tynion takes quite seriously.
And I think that brings us back around to the point about autographs that I made at the beginning of this piece — that they’re more than just scribbles on paper, that they represent the connection between creators and fans. Really, that’s what ComicCon is all about. It always chokes me up a bit to see memories being made all around me at a Con, be it fans meeting up with creators who mean the world to them, or little kids getting introduced to characters and ideas that might just change their lives for the first time.
Celebrating the power of art and stories; I literally can’t think of anything better.
Okay, I’m getting sappy. Let’s end this thing on a lighter note with some of my favorite cosplays of the day!