Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Outrageous Weekend at the Baltimore Comic-Book Convention, Aug 2011

Back in the Spring there was general talk about "let's get together at some convention this year." Chicago would have worked well for me, but it was far for a lot of my east-coast comic friends. My friend John Schwirian is from Baltimore, and he had suggested strongly that it was well worth the effort. Originally I had decided to go to the Baltimore Comic Convention in order to meet two of my all-time favorite comic-book creators: Nick Cardy (artist of AQUAMAN and various other DC comics) and Paul Levitz (LEGION and AQUAMAN writer). I talked to my Friend of Aquaman buddy and fellow Buckeye Rick Duncan and we decided to split the expenses and make the trip. And besides meeting up with Aquaman Chronicler John Schwirian, we would also be able to get-together with the Aquaman Shriner himself, Rob Kelly.

However, as soon as Rick & I had made specific plans (ie, hotel reservations & tickets purchased) the semi-final Guest List was issued and guess which two creators had decided not to visit Baltimore after all! (sigh). Luckily, this was the only real disappointment of the whole event, as we ended up having a wonderful weekend.

Rick and I left Columbus before noon on Friday and after a relatively easy 7 hour drive, arrived in Baltimore before 7 pm. We checked in, then arranged to meet local-boy John in the lobby. He soon introduced us to John and Cathy Workman. Now, John Workman is definitely not a household name, but if you know comics you may have heard of him. He is an extraordinarily talented letterer, artist, and production guy. He told us his first professional work was drawing the "vs" in the world-famous SUPERMAN vs. SPIDERMAN book back in the 70s. Who doesn't know or remember that book!?! More recently he has lettered AQUAMAN (I brought issues for him to sign) and drawn covers to the JLA ARCHIVES. At Saturday's Harvey Awards ceremony he was named 2011 Harvey Awards' Letterer of the Year for his work on THOR. (Who?) So this guy was major talent....and he and his wife ended up having dinner and breakfasts with us!! He entertained us with stories about Bob Kane, Carmine Infantino, and other comic big-wigs. What was really fantastic about the time we spent with him was that he seemed genuinely interested in us, such as my life in Japan and my experiences with Japanese manga. Rick and I had a wondderful time with them. On Saturday at the Convention I asked him for a sketch and he provided this great piece of Aquaman considering two very *different* redheads. (For those not in the know, Mera is his redheaded wife!) For us die-hard Aquaman fans, this is as good as it gets!!

On Saturday, after we had a very pleasant breakfast with the Workmans, we walked over to the Convention and on the way I met up with living legend Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. Now if you don't know who this is, you just don't know the name. For several years, ANY DC merchandise you could buy would use his artwork on it. So if you've seen a GL or Flash t-shirt or something like that, on THE BIG BANG or at Target, you've more than likely seen The Great One's work. He noticed my Aquaman t-shirt, with art by him (!!) and said his favorite pose was the one of Aquaman diving. He was as nice as can be while we chatted about whether he would be busy at this convention or not. I told him I would definitely be coming by his table later to chat with him again.

After the convention officially opened, the first table I made a bee-line to belonged to Amanda Conner and her husband, Jimmy Palmiotti. She was famous as the artist of POWER GIRL and drew Aquaman in WEDNESDAY COMICS. He is a writer of such books as JONAH HEX. I had originally considered asking her for a sketch, but there was already a huge crowd around her so I decided to not even ask. I did get her to sign my WEDNESDAY COMIC and both of them signed a copy of BIRDS OF PREY that they worked on together. So that was fun. Jimmy even mentioned that the one other creator on that book was at the convention, and to get him to sign it, too, so I had a complete set! I ended up doing it, which makes these two issues totally unique in my collection.

Next I made my way to the table of LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES artist Greg LaRocque and asked him for a sketch of one of my favorite Legionnaires. My thinking on sketches is this: I don't ask the really famous or really popular because I think they will either be very busy and decline OR too expensive and I will be embarassed. So I hit the "semi-famous," the artists I consider to be at the convention to do sketches for the extra money. I'm not sure if this is right, but I've never been disappointed yet and I've never paid more than $20 for an illustration. Anwya, we chatted a little bit about comics in general and the Legion in particular. He was the artist in the late 80s and early 90s, which was one of the better runs in its era IMHO. He seemed very friendly and graciously signed my six or seven LSH comics. I went back a few hours later and picked up this incredible sketch of Sensor Girl. (If you aren't a long-time LEGION fan you don't know who this is; don't worry about it, haha!) I had asked for a sketch and had expected just a head, but he took up the whole 8 1/2 x 11 paper. The whole thinig wouldn't fit on my scanner...that's how awesome it is. :-)

At about this time I made my way around to Jose Luis Garcia Lopez' table. He saw me and remembered me from the morning (really, I think I was one of two with an Aquaman t-shirt on, and the only one with an orange dress shirt on over it, haha!!) We chatted a little bit, and then I asked him to sign my two copies of LEGACIES: the issues that featured Aquaman (in the JLA) and Aqualad (in the Teen Titans). He was as nice as can be and it was a real pleasure to meet him. Depressing post-script to this story as far as I am concerned: the next day as Rick and I were on our way out we happened to chat with somebody and were told that Mr. Lopez had been doing quick pencil sketchs for $10. WHAT!?!! It didn't even occur to me to ask him because I thought he would be too expensive!! Lesson learned: from now on, I will ask *any* artist I like how much a quick sketch would cost. I am still kicking myself, several days later. I COULD HAVE HAD AN ORIGINAL JOSE LUIS GARCIA LOPEZ!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Moving on. (sigh)

Later in the day I finally found Cliff Chiang's table. It had been "hidden" by a line of people waiting to see somebody else! I squeezed in and wanted to talk to him, but he was eating his lunch, so I just perused his prints and books for sale to let him eat. He had done a series of famous 80s images re-imagined with super heroes...."Pretty in Pink" featuring Phoenix, Cyclops, and Wolverine; Duran Duran "Rio" with Vampirella; Janet Jackson "Control" with Storm...and these two wonderful images: the Teen Titans as "The Breakfast Club" and Batgirl as Prince in "Purple Rain." I saw the 8 1/2 x 11 print of the Teen  Titans and *really* wanted it, but it was $40. Yikes. When I first saw the same sized same priced Batgirl I laughed out loud. This got his attention, and as he had finished lunch we started chatting. I told him I had gone to school in Minneapolis and had been to First Ave, the club where "Purple Rain" was filmed. Plus I had loved Yvonne Craig as a kid so I really liked this print. I really wanted both these images, but..... So he told me he had a set of post-cards for $10, and I snatched them up! Then I asked him to sign them, as well as the only Aquaman illustration I could find that he had ever done, and he signed that comic, too. These scans don't do his talent justice; please do click on them to enlarge them. You won't be disappointed. 

By this time Rick, John, and I got back together and decided it was about time to head to Delaware to meet our buddy Rob.  Rob lives in New Jersey (in an area close to Philadelphia) so he had about an hour drive southwest to meet us; we left from Baltimore and drove about an hour northeast to meet him. We met in an in-between dimension, at a rest stop on I-95 in Delaware. We talked Aquaman, the Aquaman Shrine, the Aquaman Chronicles, Aquaman, comic book creators, conventions, and Aquaman. It was OUTRAGEOUS! Rob's friend Dan took this great photo of our Fantastic FOAMers: Rick, Rob, John, and me, Russell. (Hey, I just realized all our names begin with "R" except John! I wonder if that means anything....?! Haha!!) We teased Rob that of all of us, he was the only one not actually wearing anything with Aquaman on it; he said that made him the least geeky, for once in his life, haha.

The next day we met up with the Workmans again for breakfast and were happy to hear that John had won the  Harvey Award. While we Aquaman Fanatics were visiting in Delaware, the 2011 Harvey Awards Show had been going on back in Baltimore! I had forgotten about it, but it turned out that the only winner I really knew anything about was John! He graciously posed with us with his award.
Rick and I walked around to shop for a little bit and then had intended to go to a DC Comics panel about their New Universe. However, when it was cancelled, we decided to just head back to Ohio early. We said our good-byes to John Schwirian and John & Cathy Workman, and left "Charm City" with memories that will last a lifetime. A sincere thank-you to everybody who made it so wonderful!  

The next Con I'm going to is the local Mid-Ohio Con the weekend of October 22-23. I've applied to be a Volunteer Staff, so it'll be an interesting experience.If you are thinking of going, I heartily recommend it. If you *are* going, let's arrange to get together and talk comics!

I forgot to mention the weirdest experience I have ever had at a con! So Sunday while I was walking around trying to find a cool poster of the DCU Superstars I had seen on Saturday, I walked by a table with some stranger selling work that was obviously by my buddy Rob! I stopped and tried to figure out if he was a crook or what...turns out he was one of Rob's friends named Doug Slack and was "authorized" to seel Rob's stuff. So I introduced myself (Hi, I'm Russell...) and he looks at me and says, "Russell....Burbage?" I must have looked shocked because he quickly added, "I remember your name from the Aquaman Shrine."
Well you could have bowled me over with a feather, I tell you! I drive seven hours to Baltimore, Maryland to be "recognized" by a complete stranger. It really is a small world!

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