Monday, August 30, 2010

Comic Con 2010

11th Annual Baltimore Comic Con
Baltimore Convention Center
August 27 & 28, 2010

MTV film crew interviewing artists at Comic Con;
we waited to field their questions, but they ignored us

I know nothing about comics, but my otaku friend David Cawley sure does and, both of us having nothing better to do, we went down to the Baltimore Convention Center on Sunday to look at comics and rub elbows with comic artists at the 11th Annual Baltimore Comic Convention. For some reason, I thought there would be more Japanese manga and graphic novels at this event but, as Dave pointed out, that audience had already been sated by the Otakon Convention held here less than a month before (July 30 - August 1, 2010), so this would be mostly American comics and merchandise.

That wasn't the only difference from Otakon, as the $15 admission price for today's event was a much better value than the $65-75 it costs to attend Otakon. Admittedly, the Comic Con organizers could have employed better logistics at their box office. Dave and I took our places in a long, serpentine line that snaked its way across the ground floor lobby, then stopped right in front of the dealer's room entrance where staff held you back to allow people with tickets through, like you were waiting for a parade to pass. In a word: idiotic!

Road to Nowhere: line logistics for tickets was an issue
(Note crossing guard in red t-shirt.)

But at least Dave got to get his picture taken with Darth Vader and some starship troopers.

Dave asks Darth if it's OK to butt in front of him in line

We also took in all the festive fans and staff dressed as "cosplay" comic book characters.

Homeless guy fools fans into thinking he's Batman nemesis The Scarecrow

And then, we were off to the comic bins...after making a crucial pit stop for Dave to get his caffeinated coffee fix, which became problematic when Dave discovered to his horror a dearth of non-dairy creamer at the condiments station. While we waited for refills, I took pics of some of the festively adorned comic book fans walking past.

Zombie Mommie (stroller not shown)

Red-faced fanboy

The Tim Burton-look Alice

Cosplay gal

Tom's makes a plea for peace with cosplay model

Along the way, we ran into a number of friends, including Kiss/Devo/Metal/Comics fanatic Tim Finnerty, Kevin Perkins (who was MC'ing that day's Costume Contest), and manga fanboy Chris Schatz and his George Harrison-lookalike buddy Sean, who rode their scooters down to make the scene. (Wait - or did they ride mopeds? I always get the two confused!) And speaking of comics and motorized cycles, Sean's cherry-orange scooter/moped was featured on the cover of that weekend's Washington Post Magazine - with comic book artist Frank Cho (and some anonymous top-heavy hottie model) sitting astride it ("Frank Cho's World," WP Magazine, August 29, 2010). You can even see Chris and Sean building the set for photographer Andrew Cutraro in the Post's "behind-the-scenes making-of" video.

Me (right) with Biker Boys Chris (left) and Sean (center)

We later ran into Stephen and Pingzheng Blickenstaff - the latter couple having a table in the Artists Gallery, where Steve was selling his zany monster and ghoul gals art and accessories (also available online at

Stevie B. and the missus, representin'

Spotting a bloody ghoul girl magnet that looked strikingly like my girlfriend Amy, who that week had cut or mangled every finger on her right hand except her little pinky (that'll teach her to attempt cutting up still-frozen salmon steaks from Trader Joe's!), I knew I had to get it to remind her of her Worst Week Ever, Digitally.

The Amy Linthicum Magnet highlighting her bloody hand

While waiting for Dave to get his coffee cream-on, I talked to Denis Kitchen of Kitchen Sink Comics. Kitchen, who was signing copies of his latest book - the career retrospective The Oddly Compelling Art of Denis Kitchen (Dark Horse Books, 2010) - was a pioneer of the underground comix scene, and his table was full of underground merchandise, including lots of my favorite underground artist, R. Crumb. We talked about Crumb for a while and I proudly told him that I had R. Crumb's "Tommy Toilet" poster hanging over my hopper - a poster that my plumber Chris Jensen always tries to steal whenever he makes a house call.

Dave finally arrived with his coffee and before we were ready to browse the comic bins, we decided to check out the celebrity artist guests on hand so I could take advantage of bringing my camera and capture precious photo ops of Dave with his cartooning idols. Almost immediately we ran into one of Dave's fave Batman artists, the man they call The Living Legend...Jerry Robinson!

Dave genuflects before his idol, Jerry Robinson

Jerry Robinson worked on Batman in the 1940s and claims to have created the Joker character based on Conrad Veidt's crazed performance in Paul Leni's 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs.

Conrad Veidt's "Man Who Laughs" begat The Joker

Curiously, in later life Robinson created an original manga series, Astra (1999) with the help of Shojin Tanaka and Ken-ichi Oishi. I didn't know this at the time, of course. I only knew this 88-year-old man was gracious and charming - and made Dave's day when he signed a Joker card for him.

Next, Dave paid homage to Ramona Fradon, one of the few women working in the comics medium and best known for her work on Brenda Starr and Aquaman. She also co-created Aqualad and Metamorpho. Her husband is New Yorker cartoonist Dana Fradon.

Dave and Ramona Fradon

Then Dave was starstruck by the larger-than-life (literally - the guy's like 6-4!) "straight-shootin'" Jim Shooter, who ran Marvel Comics in the 1970s.

Dave and Tom flank big Jim "Straight" Shooter

Jim Shooter said the only other comics industry person as tall as him was Bob Schreck, who was taking part in that day's panel discussion with Paul Pope. "When I met Bob," Shooter explained, "I told him, 'Finally, someone I can look up to!'"

Yessir, the 3 most beautiful schnozzes @ Comic Con!

OK, so much for the celebrities...time to let our fingers do the walking and our orbs the absorbing as we checked out the comics on offer!

Now besides being able to identify virtually any artist by looking at just one panel (an amazing ability, admittedly), Dave is also one of the most fiscally conservative (pronounced "cheap") people I know, so he mostly confined himself to the $1 and $2 comic bins on this day.

Bargain Bin Boy Dave Cawley, researching

I followed his lead. One pit stop in particular was a favorite. Right around the corner from a way-overpriced vendor table (where I spotted a much-coveted Sam Hill detective comic - although only seven issues were ever published of this 1950 series, $16 for Sam Hill #6 was still too much for my financial reserves!), we found a 2-for-$1 bin that had such treasures as Little Lulu, Andy Panda, Killdozer (later scored by an elated Tim Finnerty!), and even the ultra-rare Gold Key comic Mr. and Mrs. J. Evil Scientist (happily scored by Dave!). I was jealous of Dave's Mr. and Mrs. J. Evil Scientist score because, like Sam Hill, this was a limited run comic - Gold Key only published four issues of this Addams Family rip-off that was based on the arguably the most obscure Hanna-Barbara TV cartoon series of the 1960s.

But I got over it as soon as Dave handed me a dog-eared copy of King Leonardo and His Short Subjects - my score of the day!

King Leonardo and Odie Cologne go mod on a scooter

I loved King Leonardo and His Short Subjects! I had the game! I had the toys! (I even had a doll of King Leonardo's trusted skunk companion who spoke with a Ronald Coleman accent, Odie Cologne!) I had the cherished childhoohood memories! This comic from 1962 was based on the popular TV show (created by a company called Total TV), which debuted in 1960 and ran until 1963, with Leonardo's friends "Tooter Turtle" and "The Hunter" later being being incorporated into other Total TV shows like Tennessee Tuxedo and His Friends and Underdog. King Leonardo ruled over a land called Bongo Congo whose main export was bongos that were sold to beatniks in America; besides his trusty assistant Odie, he had a flea-ridden evil brother named Itchy, who was always plotting with villain Biggie Rat to take over the throne.

Anyway, I liked this issue even more when I discovered that it included a strip called "The Case of the Empty Bookcase," in which The Hunter solves a case about stolen library books. (See, I work at a library - so stupid things like this actually thrill me.)

The same issue had a Tootle Turtle adventure. Tooter Turtle would always ask for help from his pal Mr. Wizard, who would bring him back from his time-traveling adventures by reciting the incantation "Drizzle drazzle druzzle drone, time for this one to come home" - a line famously name-checked in The Replacements song "Hold My Life" (Tim, Sire Records, 1985).

I also picked up an issue of the DC comic The Adventures of Jerry Lewis (full disclosure: I used to love DC's "comics about comics" - y'know, tie-ins with out-of-favor Old School comedians, from The Adventures of Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis to the Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen comics that featured "Goody" Rickles - Don Rickles' cartoon alter ego!)...

Jerry, Bob & Don: comics' comics

...and a copy of the Catholic Church's parochial school-distributed series Treasure Chest (1946-1972) because...well, because I have no taste.

Of the latter, I couldn't resist a publication that attempted to entertain (and further indoctrinate) kids with such "exciting" comic adventures as "Saul, Why Dost Thou Persecute Me?" and "Acts of the Apostles: The Conversion of St. Paul" (especially thrilling to me, a graduate of St. Paul's School for Boys), as well as an advice page entitled "Talking It Over with Father John." Even the ads were pious; instead of ads for plastic soldiers or other toys, Treasure Chest offered a set of posters for "The Seven Sorrows of Our Blessed Mother" (free with a subscription during the 1959-60 school year!).

It's hard to imagine that Dave doesn't have a particular comic in his massive archives, but apparently Gorgo was one such title that had eluded him over the years, so he was overjoyed to find five or six Gorgo comics for a buck each at one vendor's table. I think these comics, based on the British monster movie Gorgo (1961), were published sometime in the 1960s by Charlton. Later, he passed a vendor's table where a single Gorgo comic was listed for $70! Shop and compare, I thought. Well played, David Cawley - well played, sir!

Gorgo, Monster of the Deep

At three o'clock, we went upstairs to catch a panel discussion featuring Dave-fave artist Paul Pope (who, like Neil Gaiman, looks like a rock star - dressed in all black with long, just-rolled-out-of-bed unkempt hair like a still-breathing Jim Morrison) and his editor Bob Schreck. (The event was billed as "PAUL POPE VS. BOB SCHRECK - A CAGED EVENT.")

Paul Pope and Bob Schreck

While we were waiting, another panel discussion was wrapping up. This was the one called "SPOTLIGHT ON CUBA: MY REVOLUTION" that featured artists Dean Hespiel and artist/colorist/photographer Jose Villarrubia (who's worked on Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire and Promethea). God I'm such a dummy! I've met Jose before and didn't even realize he and the illustrator were one and the same! He's a nice guy! He's the current chair of MICA's Illustration Department, but it wasn't until I saw his photo in a program guide that it hit me - I had met him several times at my friend (and fellow MICA instructor) Laurence Arcadias' parties. I remember Jose being impressed that I knew who adult film star Jeff Stryker was. (Hey, I may not know a Matisse from a Monet, but I know my porn stars!)

Dave couldn't stop talking about how great Pope's Batman: Year 100 was (colored, incidentally by Jose Villarrubia!), though I was more interested in his non-superhero work that I had read about previously in a New Yorker article. I just remember some reviewer comparing a Pope graphic novel to Blade Runner - always a good thing in my book! But for Dave, it's superheroes when it comes to comics, and monsters when it comes to Japanese sci-fi movies (that's why we disagree on Godzilla movies - Dave can never accept Godzilla Vs. Hedorah because there's not enough monster-destroying-Tokyo footage).

Pope talked a lot about how much his art is influenced by music (he's similar in that regard to Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, and both Pope and Schreck cited Jerry Goldsmith's Planet of the Apes score as influential), film (he mentioned Kubrick), and even TV shows like The Outer Limits.

Paul Pope feels at home in the Outer Limits

Later, during the Q&A, Dave excitedly asked Pope what his favorite Outer Limits episode was and was disappointed when Pope named two - The Inheritors and Soldier (written by Harlan Ellison and later part of the inspiration for The Terminator) - that didn't meet his sci-fi monster criteria.

"But there's no monster in those ones!" Dave cried, incredulous. Startled audience members turned around to see who emitted such a high-pitched objection. "I know," Pope continued, "Maybe that's why I liked them best." Ah, Dave; must it always be about the monsters and alien creatures?

Next door the big Costume Contest ($1,000 prize for top honors!) was reaching its climax. I stuck my head in to check out the 13 & Up Girls Division and was pleasantly surprised to see a young "Cammy" with eye-catching gammies attracting a crowd of camera-toting horndogs. I quickly joined the crowd.

Cheeky cosplay gal as Cammy from "Super Streefighter 2"

Cosplay Cammy, upon closer inspection

Ms. Cammy and Mr. Hammy

"Gee miss, you sure are purdy!" a fanboy spurts
as Cammy realizes she has become a sex object

After getting my cheesecake pics in the Costume Contest room, we headed back down to the dealers room for a final walk-through, hoping to find end-of-convention close-out deals. We weren't disappointed when we passed by Motor City Comics, where the sassy-tough comic chick behind the counter chatted me up while we browsed the racks of $1 comics.

I think this sassy comic vendor chick liked me

If you like Jack Kirby, this spot was certainly Shangri-La. I picked up a bunch of his DC titles like Demon, The Dingbats of Danger Street, and the one-issue run of Atlas, and almost picked up a slew of Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth issues until I decided to hold off for a Kamandi collection. Alas, no sighting of my favorite Kirby creation, the punky mohawked OMAC (One Man Army Corps)! I liked Atlas; I wish there had more of this "1st Issue Special."

Atlas: is he legend or man?

While there, Dave spotted his comics buddy Larry, on whose recommendation I picked up the Witchboy ish of Kirby's Demon.

Dave Cawley's comics buddy Larry

Then we wended our way back to the table where Paul Pope had been signing books hours earlier, but there was only his new THB comic for sale, disappointing Dave - who wanted me to get Pope's Batman: Year 100. We eventually found the fourth and final issue of the Batman: Year 100, but I decided to hold out for the collected story edition.

And the only manga-themed books I saw on this day were something called Ax: A Collection of Alternative Manga ("Too pricey, in my opinion," Dave opined, accurately) and Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater, which Dave practically forced me to buy (he should get a commission from the publisher!), and I did - with no regrets, as it's a pretty awesome book about a fairly obscure art form (kamishibai literally means "paper drama"), one that was the forerunner of Japan's modern manga industry.

Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater
by Eric P. Nash
Publisher's description:

Before giant robots, space ships, and masked super heroes filled the pages of Japanese comic books - known as manga - such characters were regularly seen on the streets of Japan in kamishibai stories. Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater tells the history of this fascinating and nearly vanished Japanese art form that paved the way for modern-day comic books, and is the missing link in the development of modern manga.

During the height of kamishibai in the 1930s, storytellers would travel to villages and set up their butais (miniature wooden prosceniums), through which illustrated boards were shown. The storytellers acted as entertainers and reporters, narrating tales that ranged from action-packed westerns, period pieces, traditional folk tales, and melodramas, to nightly news reporting on World War II. More than just explaining the pictures, a good storyteller would act out the parts of each character with different voices and facial expressions. Through extensive research and interviews, author Eric P. Nash pieces together the remarkable history of this art and its creators. With rare images reproduced for the first time from Japanese archives, including full-length kamishibai stories, combined with expert writing, this book is an essential guide to the origins of manga.

And while I didn't pick up Ax, both Dave and I agreed that the last story in it, "Six Paths of Wealth" by Kazuichi Hanawa, looked intriguing - and not just for its weird drawings of ants crawling over naked women (hmmmmm...what does it say about us that the lone story that caught our eyes involved insects and naked women?).

Panel from Kazuichi Hanawa's "Six Paths of Wealth"

No, it was the detail and the creepy-macabre tone. This was a beautifully drawn story. Apparently he is best known for doing cult horror manga, and his real life is just as bizarre. (In 1994 he was arrested and put in jail for possession of illegal firearms. He collected his experiences in the manga Doing Time, which was first published in Ax in 1998 and now is available as a graphic novel.) Mental note: check out works by Kazuichi Hanawa in future!

And that was that. It was 5 o'clock and the vendors were packing up, so off we went, Dave grabbing a handful of complimentary Hershey kisses on the way out (his only food of the day!) to sustain him on the long drive home...where our colorfully illustrated literature awaited our perusal!

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Anonymous Violet said...

I think the blonde corseted cosplayer is supposed to be the White Queen from the X-Men books. (I blame all my corset fetish on the cover of New Mutants #39.)

2:37 PM  

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