Saturday, September 3, 2011

Baltimore Comic-Con

This year was the first year in a while that I missed going to the Baltimore Comic-Con.  It was held the same weekend we had to pack Olivia up and off to school.  Here's a piece I wrote last year, following what turned out to be my and Olivia's last trip to Baltimore for a while:

"Unlike its more famous cousin, the San Diego Comic-Con (which has largely been taken over by Hollywood) the Baltimore Comic-Con really is an old-school, by-God comics convention.  No movies or television programs are previewed, and the only "stars" in attendance are stars in the field of comic art.  Stars like Ramona Fradon, one of the first women professionals in comics who at the age of 84 is still drawing.  Her work on Metamorpho, the Element Man for DC Comics in the 1960's has made her a fan-favorite artist.  Stars like Jim Starlin, whose stories about the mad god Thanos have provided a major framework for stories in the Marvel Comics universe.   And stars like Sergio Aragones, who has been drawing those brilliant little gag comics in the borders of the pages of Mad Magazine for decades.

"I had the honor and privilege of meeting these folks and many others at the Baltimore Comic-Con.  Like I said, Baltimore Comic-Con is all about the comics, much as San Diego was, back when it started years ago and before it became "the" place to debut anything related to science fiction, video games, or action entertainment.

"It really was a treat to get my geek on and see so many of the people whose work in comics (or if I want to get hifalutin', "sequential art") has given me so much pleasure over the years.  The list includes Bernie Wrightson (probably the finest horror artist of the modern generation), Jimmy Gownley (his Amelia Rules! is rewriting the book on comics for young people), Ian Sattler (story editor at DC Comics), Jim Shooter (his revival of the old Gold Key Comics characters like Magnus, Robot Fighter and Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom is just brilliant, making these characters from the 1960's relevant again a full half century later) and many, many more.

"To an individual, these are the nicest, most approachable, kindest people who can claim celebrity status in their field.  I can think of no other setting in which one can just walk up to someone and begin a conversation based on our shared love for the medium of comics and our appreciation for their work.  It was a rare treat.

"To be sure, there were dealers and hucksters and shameless self-promoters; wanna-bes and has-beens along with the cream of the comics industry.  But even these folks were just as polite and pleasant as one could possibly hope.  My daughter spent four hours in the company of artist/writer Howard Chaykin and inker/writer Klaus Janson and learned more about artistic storytelling and page layout in that time than most people get in an entire semester of classes.  They critiqued her comics work, and were brutally honest and yet completely fair.  She loved every second.  Howard Chaykin in particular was a real treat for her.  She draws manga-style comics, and Howard is pretty much the polar opposite in style, but after he frankly and honestly critiqued both her work and his own limitations regarding that style, he pointed out to the audience that it took "real balls" to come forward in public and let strangers see and criticize one's work.  He was a real class act.

"And while she was in her class, I got to use the dealer's floor as a kind of hands-on museum, seeing some of the comics that I knew when I was a kid all up close and personal again.  I can't begin to describe the pleasurable nostalgia I felt seeing for the first time the second issue ever of Green Lantern ...  and holding the first appearance of Spider-Man (Amazing Fantasy #15!) in my hands.  Yes, it was old and clearly well-read, but still in great shape over 50 years later, and I can think of no other venue in which I would be allowed to handle it.  I even got to see a copy of the very first comic book that I ever read, Green Lantern #4.  Back in the day, I picked it up for a dime at Carlino's Drug Store (yes, I'm that old; comics were still a dime when I started reading them) and ever since, I have loved and collected both comic books in general and the character of Green Lantern in particular.

"Oh, yeah.  We had a great time."

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