Some Thoughts on Heroes from Show Vets

The Heroes Comics Convention is this coming weekend from June 22-24 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  As part of my pre-show coverage, I asked some great people who go to the show regularly to talk about what makes Heroes such a great convention to attend.  Thanks to Johanna Draper Carlson, Gray Gunter, Lan Pitts, Chris Pitzer, Caroline Pruett, Michael Ridlen, Shannon Smith, Ben Towle, Rob Ullman, and Joey Weiser for taking some time to talk with me!

Editor's Bonus:  Here's a Heroes volunteer, Heather, with her take on what to do at Heroes.
Editor's Bonus 2:  Here's KC Carlson talking about what makes Heroes an awesome show.

Panel Patter:  Heroes has such a great reputation among fans and creators alike.  Why do you think that is?

Gray Gunter (7 Heroes visits, 2 times as exhibitor, graphic novel writer):  If balloons drop as I write this it's because I'm the ten thousandth person to mention it: HeroesCon is what HeroesCon is because of Shelton and the crew at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find. They love comics. They love people who make comics. That love inspires them and the con. That love creates a curated and intimate experience. That vibe trickles down. I've never met Shelton. I've only stood inside Heroes Aren't Hard to Find a couple of times, but I know enough to respect both.

Lan Pitts (6 times visitor to Heroes, comic art collector and comics reviewer):  Because it's not media-heavy unlike some cons and the focus remains on the creators and the comics they create. Sheldon Drumm seems to take care of everybody well and it's a good show. Just a fun atmosphere and always a joy. I look at shows that bigger shows (not to say Heroes isn't big, it's quite huge) and the lines for people and you might find that here and there at Heroes, but it's just much more relaxed. 

Michael Ridlen (1st Heroes show as exhibitor for New World Toys and Collectibles):  Having been to Heroes numerous times as a fan, it has the most accessibility and  interaction with the creators of any show that I have ever attended (including NYCC).  Despite being a huge show, the emphasis is upon treating each attendee as a pop culture fan and not just a revenue source.

Caroline Pruett (3 Heroes visits, avid X-Men reader and comics blogger):  In my opinion, Heroes is the perfect size show. The con floor is big enough that you can walk around it all weekend without getting bored, and it's never too cramped or crowded. However it's also intimate enough that you can talk to just about any creator one on one, and you never have to wait in line an unreasonable amount of time. Likewise, it draws an interesting variety of guest from Big Two as well as indie creators.

Joey Weiser (4 year show exhibitor, author of Cavemen in Space and Mermin):  The thing that is cool to me about HeroesCon is that it is a mainstream con, and the majority of the people who go seem to be primarily interested in super hero comics, but it’s developed a community that really values artists, both mainstream and indie.  This is a show where people buy a lot of original art, and although they might specifically be collecting Wonder Woman sketches or whatever, they still value the artists and their individual styles.  Plus it’s fun for me, personally, to get a chance to draw this stuff!

Not only that, but in contrast to some mainstream shows I’ve been to in the past, Heroes attendees tend to have an open mind and are willing to give the small press books a chance even though they don’t feature their favorite heroes.  I think that’s very telling when they are not just looking for their Gambit sketch, but also interested in the books you make on your own.

Rob Ullman (8 year show exhibitor, creator of Old-Timey Hockey Tales and Teeny Bikini):  [Heroes] is really fun and laid back...a big show that doesn't feel like a big show. The crowds are big, but you never feel like you're gonna lose your mind.

As much as I love small indie shows like SPX and TCAF, I'm also a lifelong comics nerd, and I have a fondness for all the ridiculous trappings of comic conventions: the dealers, the toys, the con deals. The great thing about Heroes is that the Indie Island audience is so good that it easily rivals what you'd see at a small-press show, but within the context of a larger mainstream comic con. It's an amazing, impressive, singular balance.

Chris Pitzer (9 year show exhibitor, publisher of AdHouse Books):  The people. Everyone is so damn nice! From the very top (Shelton), to people helping run the show (Rico, Phil, Seth, Heather, Dustin), to the fans who attend. It’s just a really good vibe. I know it’s a dangerous path to god down when you start dropping names... So I apologize if I’m forgetting someone. I do appreciate the work that everyone does!

Ben Towle (8 year show exhibitor, creator of webcomic Oyster War):  It's incredibly well-run and organized and it's all about comics...not video games, movies, wrestling, etc. It's pretty much all comics. You don't even get that at something like the San Diego con.

[Heroes] is just plain friendly and fun. If you're a fan, you can meet your favorite artists and writers and actually have a low-key conversation with them on the convention floor. If you're a creator, Heroes is sometimes the one place every year that you see a lot of your fellow comics folk that are also Heroes exhibitors. It's also a convention that has a lot of attendees that come over and over every year and it's great to be able to interact with fans that you only see at Heroes.

Johanna Draper Carlson (over 10 visits to Heroes, comics reviewer and panel hostess):  It's such a friendly show, it feels like old home week or a school alumni reunion. There are people I see there every time, year after year. It's wonderful to catch up with favorite creators and local friends. Plus, it's great to see such a large show that values comics above all; that's my favorite kind of convention.

Shannon Smith (7 Heroes Shows, reviewer and creator behind #rockingsohard):  Oh man it's a lot of things.  I'd say the main thing is the laid back atmosphere.  Hospitality!  From Shelton Drum, through his staff, through the volunteers, through the fine folks working the convention center and just about anyone you are going to speak with they are totally accommodating and help you out with a smile.

While it is a pretty big show it's in a big convention hall and it's spread out over three days so there is room and time to actually have conversations and enjoy the company of fellow comics pals.  And I've gotten to know a lot of great folks there over the years so it's like an annual high school reunion but with people you actually like.

Panel Patter:  With all this talk about reunions, I think I might need to pack my tux!  What do you know about the North Carolina Comics scene?

Smith:  I don't live in NC, but I do see a lot of my Carloina pals working together or even just drinking and drawing.  Enough so to make me jealous at least, since I live in a rural part of Virginia.

Towle:  Honestly, the NC scene is pretty fractured. If I had to pick a city that's got an active comics community, though, it'd be Charlotte. There're people there like Dustin Harbin, Rich Barrett, Henry Eudy, Bridgit Sheide, Rico Renzi, and all those other Sketch Charlotte folks. NC, though, definitely doesn't have a comics "scene" along the lines of places like Chicago, Athens GA, Minneapolis, etc. Maybe someday!

Panel Patter:  What would you say about Heroes from an exhibitor's perspective?

Ullman:  The thing with Heroes Con is just that they take such good care of you as an exhibitor. Anything you need (and I don't often need to make any requests as things are usually so very well taken care of in the first place) is addressed immediately.

Ridlen:  The biggest issue is in utilizing the booth space to display product.  Comics are compact and all display pretty much the same.   With toys, we have to try and pack as much stuff into the booth as possible yet keep it accessible for everyone.  Toys tend to be more of an impulse buy because there is a lot less active digging than comics.

Panel Patter:  What panels are you moderating this year?

Carlson:  I'm talking with Adam Hughes, Bill Sienkiewicz, Stuart Immonen, and Lee Weeks about Cover Art on Friday night at 6. On Sunday at 3:30, Ben Caldwell, Becky Cloonan, Sanford Greene, Jerry Gaylord, and Jarrett Williams discuss manga influences on their comics.

Towle:   I do a "mega panel" every year at Heroes with my friend Craig Fischer (teaches comics classes at Appalachian State, writes for The Comics Journal, etc.) and this year we're doing a retrospective on the year 1982 in comics to celebrate Heroes' 30th anniversary. That's what people should hit. We'll have an interview with Jamie Hernandez, a panel on the end of Warren with Louise Simonson, and a whole ton of other great stuff. Come one, come all!

Panel Patter:  How are the quality of the panels at Heroes?

Pruett:  Heroes has a good variety of panels that cover a spectrum of topics and are given enough space that you don't have to fight crowds to get in.  [Heroes] Panels have been particularly good about covering comic book history; I saw Roy Thomas host a screening of Jonathan Ross's documentary on Steve Ditko, and I also attended a panel on the history of Charlton Comics, with guests including Dick Giordano, shortly before he passed away. I have been to other cons where the panels were squeezed into tiny rooms where you couldn't hear anything, which is never the case with Heroes.  Other panel topics have included autobiographical comics, the latest developments in digital comics, and the launch of the Tori Amos 'comic book tattoo' anthology.

Panel Patter:  What is one thing that a visitor should do when they go to Heroes?

Ridlen:  Without a doubt, it's the Art Auction.   The Saturday night Heroes tradition, full of amazing one of a kind pieces, is a must do for comic fans.  The Sunday art auction has to be one of the best kept secrets of Heroes Con and is also well worth seeking out.   Each year, we make it a point to bring home at least one piece from the auctions.

Weiser:  A really cool thing that HeroesCon does every year is the art auction.  Even if you aren’t interested in bidding, you should definitely check out the pieces.

Pitzer:  As much as I “don’t” want the competition, the Art Auction is a really fun time. Lots of hijinks and wonderful art to stare at. Saturday night in the Westin.

Smith:  I went to the art auction for the first time last year and it was a good time.  At least swing by before the auction and check out all the amazing art.  You get to see original stuff from some of the best artists in the biz up close.

Pitts:  Attend the art auction. It's sometimes a bit crazy to see what goes for how much, but it's fun because it's all the top guys in the field just in one place drinking and having fun.

Towle:  Go to the art auction. Seriously--it's a lot of fun even if you just hang out and watch and don't bid on a single thing. 

Ullman:  Go to the art auction.

Panel Patter:  There you have it folks, just about everyone says you should go to the art auction!  What else can they do?

Ullman:  One new thing I'm excited to check out is the HeroesCon Fun Run, which takes place Saturday morning. For the last few years, I've managed to drag my ass out of bed relatively early on Saturday morning (which isn't as impressive as it may sound...having young kids, I'm kind of trained to involuntarily switch on at about 6:30 am) and run a couple miles before the show starts. It's a nice way to clear my head a bit and proactively work off some of the many liquid calories I ingest over the weekend. The fact that there'll be an organized run this year, with the proceeds going to fight hairy cell leukemia, should be really fun, and I encourage anyone who has three miles in 'em to sign up!

Pitts:  Depends on what they're looking for. Me personally? I collect original art and I would be on the hunt for the best buy for that. Maybe even support an indie book if something they see strikes their interest.

Also, do the drink and draw. Usually it's at Fuel pizza across the street. Again, just people hanging out and talking comics and sort of making comics at the same time. 

Smith:  Buy some original art.  Visit the Indie Island and Artist Alley folks and get some original sketches, buy some comics pages and some prints.  Comics are great and I certainly want everyone to buy mine but you don't get the experience of watching artists create custom art right there in front of you on eBay. 

Carlson:  After conversing with amazing artists and devoted fans, shopping is my favorite thing to do there. It's a pleasure to wander Indie Island and see who's got what out new (or new to me, if I've missed it previously). Indie Island is a focused area dedicated to great creators that's bigger than some shows! If you're looking to discover great work, that's where you want to be.

Gunter:  Shop Indie Island. That goes back to the curated nature of HeroesCon. Everyone there is
invited, and they don't invite crap.  Also, hang out at the Westin bar late at night. Lots of comic book people
chill there but BYOB because they overcharge for a drink and the service is shit.

Pruett:  Heroes is a great con to get sketches from your favorite artists, since the lines aren't as long as there are in some places. There's often a Hero Initiative booth that includes some of the top talents at the con (George Perez sketched there one year).

Panel Patter:  I've noticed there's a pattern in relation to suggesting getting art at Heroes.

Towle:  You'd think that pretty much any comics convention would be all about art, but really there's nowhere like Heroes for people that are into original art. I've been to a lot of conventions, but I've never seen anything like Heroes as far as an audience for original art, sketches, themed sketchbooks, commissions, etc. goes. It's really nuts, actually. I'm not a "big name" cartoonist by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm usually slammed with commissions Saturday and Sunday at Heroes. It's fantastic.  

Panel Patter:  Any cool Heroes memories you'd like to share?

Smith:  I think 2003 was my first year as an exhibitor.  I was selling my first minicomics but my table was across from the great Bill Sienkiewicz so I got a lot of traffic and did okay.

Pitts:  I think the highlight [of 1994] was seeing the unpublished JLA/Avengers team-up that Perez had worked on. I believe Rob Liefeld actually owned the art and was generous enough to loan it out to the show. 

Gunter:  [My first trip to Heroes] was when I was in middle school. I didn't read comics then, but I made my mom take me because Electronic Gaming Monthly was there showing off lots of video games. I saw a lady dressed like Vampirella and got weird feelings.

Pitzer:  And odd things can happen too. Back in 2010, I really wanted purchase a piece of art from one of the “Pitzerburgher” crew. I add my name to the city name as a joke. Gettit? [Editor's note:  The artists mentioned in this story are all from Pittsburgh, PA.]  The people I’m talking about are Jim Rugg, Ed Piskor and Tom Scioli. After attending the wonderful Art Auction, I came away with an American Barbarian piece from Tom.  Two years later and AdHouse ends up publishing it. Magic!

Panel Patter:  What about food recommendations?  

Pruett:  You should have brunch at Mert's.  If you don't feel like leaving the con center, there's a Bojangle's on the top floor.

Ullman:   I never miss an opportunity to make the short walk over I-277 and visit Phat Burrito for dinner one night. The food is good, the beer is cheap, and if it isn't too hot out, the patio is delightful. Look it up, you'll be glad you did.

Gunter:  Mert's Heart and Soul: Keep walking up College St. until you get fat and Alexander Michael's
Restaurent and Tavern: If you hate dark beer and good food stay away.

Panel Patter:  Free plug time--What's something we can find at your table this year?

Weiser:  New to Heroes this year is my mini-comic Mermin Theatre which debuted at FLUKE earlier this year!  As well as my most recent Monster Isle mini-comic.

I’ll also be selling ink drawings.  I usually prepare about 10 pencil sketches to ink at the show, but I’ll also be doing commissions of whatever character you’d like on-the-spot!  I am also bringing the originals of my AlphaBeasts Kaijuphabet series I did earlier this year.  I don’t typically bring art to the shows besides this one, so I guess you could consider it a HeroesCon Exclusive! 

Ullman:  I'll have several new-to-HeroesCon books at my table this year, including Old-Timey Hockey Tales by myself and Jeffrey Brown and Bluelines (a collection of my hockey commissions), and a few new minis like Teeny Bikini #7 and Ghost Story. Lots of new prints and original art as well, plus I'll be doing sketches all weekend, so I encourage folks to get in touch with me early if there's something special they have in mind!

Pitzer:  Well, we’re surprising people with an uber-exclusive art book. You’ll have to come to Heroes to see what it is! (Hint: It’s pink!)

Gunter:   I'll have black and white pre-release copies of my graphic novel "Love Is a Burning Thing" illustrated by Brent Peeples and other comics I wrote drawn by various artists but you can see them for free at my website.

Ridlen:  With nearly 800 figures ranging from $5 to $200, it's hard to pick out one line or series.  One unique line we are trying out is handmade crochet hats with a variety of pop culture themes like Watchmen, Dr. Who, and Serenity.  Check us out at Booth 105 (right near Stan Lee)!  

Smith:  I'll have my last two one-man-anthology books Shannon Smith is Addicted to Distraction 1 & 2.  (Issue 2 also known as #RockingSoHard.)  And I'm bringing bunches of original art.  I will also be happy to knock out quick (and/or slow) sketches for my wonderful table visitors. 

Oh, and a lot of people at the show know me through file under other.  If creators want their stuff reviewed at file under other, bringing it to me in person is probably the best way to make that happen. 

Panel Patter:  Any last words?

Pruett:  I think Heroes' reputation comes down to the intangible sense that creators and fans alike give of wanting to be there.  It's a little bit out of the way for some--which means that  they've made the effort for a reason--or it's the only con of its kind that is geographically accessible for others--which means it's a once-a-year treat. Nobody at Heroes seems jaded or put-upon by the experience.

Ridlen:  It's a great show, we are proud to be a part of it as dealers this year, and we hope to see everyone there. 

Panel Patter:  Thanks to all of you for your participation!  See you all at the show, I hope!

Thanks to Johanna Draper Carlson, whose excellent reviewing inspired my own when I was starting out.  You can find her work at Comics Worth Reading

Thanks to Lan Pitts, one of my partners on the Newsarama Best Shots team.  You can also find his writing at his website.

Thanks to Caroline Pruett, who writes for Fantastic Fangirls and is on twitter as madmarvelgirl, where she does excellent live-tweeting of convention panels.