I succeed and fail at HeroesCon every year. By that I mean I am always successful at having a good time and acquiring nifty things for the collection, but I fail miserably at doing everything I want to do over the course of three days.
And therein lies the beauty of HeroesCon.
If you’ve never been to HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC, may I suggest you make plans now to go next year (June 21-23)? Shelton Drum, owner of the comic book shop Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find and patriarch of HeroesCon, has created a convention like no other. It’s huge, yet more intimate than any convention in the country.
While out with friends Saturday night, outside the annual Art Auction, my good pal Duane Ballenger quipped that HeroesCon is like summer camp, and it truly is. When Mr. Geeky V and I started attending in 2010, it was about visiting comics creators we admired and nervously asking for sketches. We didn’t know very many people (if any) at the con, so we didn’t even stay the entire weekend. Now that we’ve been going for five years (and tabling with Battle Babies and our BFF Brandon Barker’s ManOrMonster? Studios for the past three), it’s more about visiting our comics family, hanging out at each other’s tables, flitting from restaurant to hotel rooms to the hotel bar to outside (and back again) after the convention ends for the day, and giving heartfelt hugs hello and goodbye as we enter and exit the weekend. It’s an exhausting, emotional, blissful experience. This is the first year in a few I haven’t left Charlotte in tears, and I think it’s because I had such a wonderful time I’m still in the afterglow.
When I said it’s a very intimate convention, I mean that often comics professionals call HeroesCon their vacation. Obviously I view it as a homecoming of sorts, and I’m not alone. You’re more likely to hear more casual stories from creators, whether on panels or just speaking with them at their tables. For example, I found an old Comics Journal with an interview with the Hernandez brothers (Gilbert and Jaime) that I had them sign, and Gilbert said, “Oh, this is the one where I was growing my hair out all weird.” (If you’ve never met Los Bros Hernandez, they are delightful people.)
I also had the great fortune of meeting Denis Kitchen in person. (Denis Kitchen is a legend in the underground/indie comics world, going from cartoonist to publisher at Kitchen Sink Press to founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and all points in between.) I had the opportunity to interview Denis for a podcast a year or so ago and was excited he was appearing at HeroesCon. I was not prepared for how well the interaction went. He signed my book, did a sketch for me, and even gave me one of the 3D posters he was selling. Also, I totally have to start podcasting again just so I can work with Denis. I could listen to him tell stories about his comics work all day long.
HeroesCon is also a great place to discover new writers/artists, and this year was no exception. I picked up a few self-published books in Indie Island (to borrow a phrase from my friend Rachel, my favorite vacation spot), and actually ordered a couple more when I got home because I forgot to pick them up at the show. My favorite finds were my friend Tom Scioli’s Final Frontier and Kyle Starks‘ Never So Special. (Kyle also gave me a tiny “The Nightman Cometh” print because I said it was my favorite It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode.) If you’ve never heard of Tom Scioli, take a look at his work. He’s the second coming of Kirby, a comics scholar, and one of my favorite people in comics. His Transformers vs. GI Joe #0 for IDW was the best book for this year’s Free Comic Book Day, and I can’t wait until the first book debuts next month. I would also suggest picking up American Barbarian, which was my introduction to Tom’s work. It’s hilarious, epic, and reminds me of childhood favorites like Thundarr the Barbarian and Masters of the Universe.
You could spend the entire weekend in Artists’ Alley and Indie Island, but then you’d miss all the amazing vendors. When you enter the convention, just past the information booth, one of the first sights you’ll see is the Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find booth. They bring some of their best back issues and books featuring artists/writers attending the convention, and this year they had a dollar booth across from the main booth. This booth had comics, but more importantly they had vintage magazines like The Comics Journal, indie comics, and even a few books. I bought a huge stack, and kinda wished I’d bought more. Beyond that, you can rifle through longboxes for hours and still not see it all, along with purveyors of new and old toys, t-shirts, and comics-related merchandise. This year, except for my annual visit to the one guy who always has Eightball comics (I love Daniel Clowes), I focused on $0.50 and $1 bins, and HeroesCon was full of them! I found a lot of great gems in these bins, like an entire run of Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers. (I’ve gone a bit crazy for Kirby’s later work, so I audibly squealed when I found these.) I forgot my list, so I didn’t look for everything I meant to, but honestly, I couldn’t be happier with what I came home with. (Plus, that means I’ll have more to find at the next con I go to!) On Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, I spent a few hours rifling through longboxes, and when I showed off my haul to my pals, I proved why I call myself the Queen of Dollar Bins. I didn’t necessarily find any super expensive comics in the haul, but I found some fun books to add to the collection. (And a pro-tip: check $0.50 bins first if you’re looking for something in particular. One vendor’s $5 comic is another vendor’s $0.50 comic. I was really glad I shopped around with some of the things I found. Also, sometimes it pays to wait until Sunday to do your digging. The Captain Victory run I bought was originally in $2 bins, but Sunday morning those longboxes were reduced to $1.)
In addition to convention activities during the day, HeroesCon has a Drink and Draw on Friday night and an Art Auction Saturday night. The Drink and Draw this year, as it was last year, was held at the Hilton near the convention center, and it was packed. Everyone who attends, from comics professionals to your dear author, are encouraged to pick up a writing utensil and a coaster or card and draw something. Normally I’m an observer, but this year I joined my Wide Awake Press buddies and drew a baby Darkseid. Then I took it up to the table, where it joined hundreds of other drawings up for sale/auction, with all proceeds going to Team Cul de Sac, a Parkinson’s charity. I totally didn’t expect my little drawing to sell, but the next thing I knew, someone picked it up, which was really exciting. (I am now available for commissions if you want your own crappy drawing from this girl.) The Art Auction is a chance to pick up some beautiful original art by artists attending the convention. Proceeds from the auction go back into the convention, and the event is always fun. It’s a great opportunity to rub elbows with creators and decompress after a long day on the convention floor. I spent most of the event outside the actual auction talking with old and new friends, and the atmosphere is incredible, very laid-back.
I could go on for thousands more words about why this is my favorite convention and weekend of the year, but we all have lives we need to get back to and comics to read. Long story short, you have to experience HeroesCon for yourself. Next year, I’ve got plans for maybe being on a panel, so that will be a new frontier. If you were there this year, share your experiences in the comments section!
Special thanks as always to Shelton Drum, Rico Renzi, Seth Peagler, and all of the dedicated employees and volunteers who make HeroesCon happen. It’s clear that this is a labor of love for everyone involved, but it is an incredible endeavor to make all of it run so smoothly. Big hearts to you all, and see you next year!