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09 June 2011

HeroesCon 2011.

Before I get started on this report I'll take a second to show off the above piece of art which I got from Patrick Dean.  Amazing huh?  I got two things from Patrick Dean, that drawing and a big club soda spray pattern on my luggage.  I will cherish both of them eternally.

I'm still recovering from HeroesCon weekend.  The show in itself was very smooth and laid back but the week without sleep leading up to it will take some time to get over.  In the days leading up to HeroesCon I took on an illustration job and also decided to add a three page comic to my new comic #RockingSoHard.  (On sale now!)  So, I did not sleep a lot leading up to HeroesCon.  Nobody's fault but mine.  I printed my minicomic in the AM before the show and drove to Charlotte on about one and a half hours of sleep.  Good times.

It was a pleasant drive.  My pal Red Bull was nice enough to navigate me to yet another comics show and I was able to enjoy the perfect weather and lovely countryside between VA and NC.  I got to the show late on Friday.  I think that by the time I parked and picked up my badge it was around 2:00 when I set up on Indie Island.  I was really happy with my table location.  We were facing a back wall, which is not the best place to be, but I got to set up with my super best pals.  I was on a row with J. Chris Campbell, Brad McGinty, Josh Latta and Ashely Holt of Wide Awake Press and we were in a square of tables with fine Top Shelf folks like Robert Venditti, Duane Ballanger, Van Jensen and Andy Runton.  Across the aisle to my left was Henry Eudy.  Across the aisle to my right was Ben Towle.  And in the next section up form us was the GA gang including Patrick Dean, Robert Newsome, Joey Weiser, Drew Weing and Rich Tommaso.  So most of the folks I wanted to say hit to and hang out with were right there within shouting distance.
Set up was easy.  We had plenty of room.  Everything was smooth.  So smooth that you can almost forget what a great job the HeroesCon staff and volunteers do.  I never had to ask for anything.  Every thing was in it's right place and as it should be.  I simply strolled into the show, picked up my badge and strolled to my table.  Smiling faces greeting me at every turn.   I've had a more difficult time making it to my desk at work on many occasions.  So, great job HeroesCon staff.  I heart you so much.

There are going to be a lot of parts of the HeroesCon experience that I won't comment on in this post because I either missed them, did not care about them or was just oblivious.  I'm at HeroesCon in three capacities.  Three often conflicting capacities.  As a creator I'm there to sell comics, sell art, sell sketches and grow my readership.  As a writer-about-comics I'm there to check out what is new and exciting in alt/indie/underground/mini/art-comics.  As a fan I'm there to shop for stuff I don't see a lot since I'm not a weekly comic shop guy anymore.  Those second two capacities often conflict with the first so I'm not the best person to turn to for any kind of sales estimates.  And that first capacity keeps me stuck at my table a lot limiting my time to be of much use on the second two.  That first capacity also forces me to miss out on panels and a lot of other things any fan would enjoy.  In short, this post is not going to report to you the HeroesCon experience. It can only report my experience and I'll break that up in three main sections.
As a creator:
Friday was really slow.  Not much traffic on indie island.  I did okay selling sketches and sold a few of my new comic.  I took advantage of the slow time to say hi to pals and drop off a few comp copies of my new book.
Saturday was busy right off the bat.  I felt like I was sketching from open to close.  I sold a good amount of minicomics at every price point that I offer and I sold original art.  Sketches probably made up the largest share of my transactions but original art the largest part of my money.  I had several return customers ready to buy the new comic no questions asked.  That's how you want it.  A growing readership.  Good times.
Sunday had me busy with the sketches right off the bat again but I think I sold a lot less comics on Sunday.  I literally had people buy original art off me without even looking at my comics. 
All and all I did fine as a creator and I am more than glad that I made the show.  But I think things are changing and I and other creators will have to adapt.  I think HeroesCon is becoming a sketch convention.  I just don't see it as a show where people come to buy comics.  The average attendee already has a pull list and a big comics collection.  They are looking for what they can not get at their local shop.  They are looking for autographs, sketches and original art.  And that's fine.  It if it is a sketch convention then I still want to be in that game.  I just need to plan for it better and be ready with more original art next year.  I did okay.  Foot traffic may have been down but I was smart enough to bring some original art and I get paid a whole lot more for that than I do a minicomic.  Next year I'll be ready with even more. 

Oh and one more thing about the sketches.  They were a lot of fun and a great challenge.  The themed sketchbooks that folks pass around are very cool.  I get to see all this great art from other artists and I get to the challenge of drawing stuff I would never think of.  I drew stuff Pinky and the Brain, MODOK, Firestorm, a sea monster, a robot Bigfoot with Boba Fett's helmet, wrestler Jimmy Boogie Woogie Man Valiant riding a shark in outer space... etc.  It was great!
As a writer-about-comics:
As a writer-about-comics/critic/columnist/etc. I totally failed.  I barely looked at any of the tables outside of Indie Island and when I did all I managed to do was say hi to a few people and pick up a few books.  I had a list of about 20 creators that I wanted to speak to but I just totally failed.  I also failed to make any of the panels.  I really, really, wanted to make that humor panel, the webcomics panel, the Kickstarter panel and Ben Towle's panels but I was too busy sketching.  Sorry readers.

Normally I would post a pic of everything I got and write some brief reviews but my loot is still in a suitcase.  I did have a lot of folks drop off comp copies for fuo.  Thank you comp copy dropper offers!  I will get to your stuff.  I had three books that I wanted to pick up.  One was Robert Venditti's new book the Homeland Directive.  I totally failed to get home with a copy.  I'm gonna blame that on sleep deprivation.  I talked to Rob about it Friday morning and looked through it.  It looks great.  I tricked myself into thinking that I got a copy on Friday even though Friday me was really dumb and was expecting Sunday me to pick it up.  I'll either get it online when I have some funds or I'll get it at SPX.  
I had better luck getting Dustin Harbin's new book.  It's the 2nd collection of his online diary strips.  I've already read the strips online but I wanted the book in part because Dustin is very good at making minicomics.  I'll do a more formal review of it later and post some pics but I'll just say it's a fantastic looking comic.   (And I got a little sketch in it.  Thanks Dharbin!)
I was super excited to pick up Brad McGinty's new hardback collection of Wysteria.  Brad bound this sucker together by hand and it looks fantastic.  I can't wait to read it to see how it ends.  I'll post a full review of it later with pics and all that jazz.  Brad also hooked me up with a super cool ninja turtle t-shirt he made.  Thanks Brad!
Thanks to everyone that gave or traded me stuff.  I'll get through my suitcase and blab about all of it here at fuo as soon as I can.

As a fan:
I was busy enough at my table that when I did go shopping it was in a frantic running around style.  When I'm shopping with the dealers I'm really just looking for two things.  Toys for my kids and really cheap comics for myself.  Like I told one dealer, quality was the absolute last thing I'm looking for in comics.  I want them for a dollar or less.  Coffee stains and cigarette burns are not only tolerated but they are preferred.  I had a surprisingly hard time finding comics I was looking for.  I'm mainly looking for 70's Marvel and 70's Kirby at DC.  I'm sure every comic I want was at that show but I did not find many in my price range.  The #1 thing I was looking for in my cheap comic hunt was The Essential Thor #1.  I got it for $5.  Success!

As far as toys go I had a very hard time finding anything for my girls.  I was looking for just about any girl super hero toys and there was almost nothing.  The dealers all seemed to have the same stuff as last year.  Minus what they sold last year.  I was disappointed.  Josh Latta found some action figures that were Disney characters dressed as Star Wars characters.  My kids love both so I picked up Minnie Mouse as Padme and Minnie Mouse as Princess Leia.  I eventually found a nice Batgirl action figure and paid about $15 more for it than I should have but after three days of looking you do what you can.  (The Batgirl toy's arm broke off as soon as it came out of the package.  Lame.)  My four year old is into Sonic the Hedgehog so I picked her up a nice pack of Sonic toys for $10.  Not a bad deal.

I did find a few comics cheap.  I filled in some of the holes in my daughter's Batman and The Outsiders collection.  On Sunday a dealer was blowing out comics at ten cents each so I picked up a bunch of  Teen Titans and Dazzler for my daughter and some American Flag for myself.  That's what I'm talking about.  If I had time I could have come home with a whole suitcase of good stuff.

As a fan I'm also not above standing in line to meet some creators.  I did not have much luck with this.  I really could not be away from my table long enough to stand in line.  I wanted to say hi to Eric Canete and Ryan Sook.  Those are two of my current faves.  Each time I swung by Canete's table he had a crowd.  I never found Sook.  I did find David Mack.  I'm a big David Mack fan.  I've met and bought stuff off of Mack enough times over the years that I could just kind of pop in, have him give me the new stuff really quickly and get out without taking up much of his time or being away from my table too long.  David Mack is one of the nicest and most appreciative creators I've ever known in all these years of comics life.  I got some fantastic looking comics from him.  Not to turn this report into a David Mack article but I love the collage style he has been using for the past several years.  I think he's really pushing and challenging what you can do with comics.  I think he is vastly underrated. 

I did get to check out the art auction.  It was loud in there so I could only take about a half hour of it but I did look at all of the art.  There were some amazing pieces and it was mind blowing to see how much money they were raising.  It was cool to see several folks I know bring in some big bucks with their contributions. 

Random general impressions:

The show felt slower and smaller to me in almost every area.  Dealers, guest, attendees, costumes etc.  They say attendance was up and I'm sure they would not fib to us but I have a feeling that a lot of attendees were in out a lot quicker than in the past.  I think people came in, hit their points of interest and left as opposed to taking advantage of the show over a whole three days.  I don't have any evidence to back this up but a lot of the people I saw at my table told me that they were just there for one day when in the past I had seen them over the whole weekend.  I also saw people leaving the show a lot earlier than in the past.
Like I said earlier, it seemed like the dealers had a lot less and that what they did have was the same stuff as last year.  In the past the dealers have been very reflective of what is going on in the direct market.  You could expect to see lots of new toys, statues, t-shirts etc. related to the most recent event comics and summer movies.  If this year's dealers reflect what is going on in the direct market right now then what is going on is a fire sale.  Now a fire sale is great for a cheapskate like me but it does not keep the attendees walking the aisles in awe as much as the latest thing would.

And speaking of the latest thing...  I don't think we have one right now.  I heard people talk about the Thor movie a little but I never heard one word about the new X-Men movie.  The only X-Men related stuff I saw was Emma Frost fan art that I would attribute more to the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely comics of the last decade than to the new movie.  There were big Green Lantern banners up but I did not see any new Green Lantern merch at the dealers. 

And please don't go thinking that I'm crapping on the dealers.  I love me some dealers.  I just think times are tough.  For the past several years at HeroesCon I had been thinking that if we were in a recession that it had not hit the convention floor yet.  I think this year it hit.  I found this interesting article about the economy of Charlotte that backs up a lot of my fears.  Times is tough yo.  Good luck Charlotte.  I'm rooting for ya.

I also think timing might be a factor on foot traffic.  The show was earlier this year.  I for one showed up late on Friday due in part to still having a kid in school and needing to get her there before I could leave town.

It's also really expensive.  I was a guest.  Thank God and HeroesCon that I was a guest.  But it is still expensive.  The price of gas is just devastating.  Even at the con rate The Westin is a very expensive hotel.  I'm just a simpleton from the country but usually when I stay at a hotel I get free wi-fi, free breakfast, a microwave so I can eat in room, swimming pool, hot tub, weight room and most importantly without question I get free parking.  The Westin has none of that.  Parking was a killer.  Now I love The Westin.  It is super nice and the staff is great.  But it is very expensive.  I'd much rather have given the money I spent there to artists and dealers.  The Westin is right there at the convention center and it's where everyone hangs out but going forward, I'll probably have to explore other options.  (Lack of free parking is gonna be the deal breaker.)  

But let's not end on a negative note.  I had a super time at the show.  It was great to hang out with my comics pals for three days.  My head is still full of ideas and inspiration from so many great conversations.  Thanks so much to all my pals, peers, attendees, customers, HeroesCon staff and volunteers.  I'm very lucky to be a part of such a brilliant group of comics folks even if we only see each other a few times a year.  I can't wait to start writing, drawing and making new comics to show off to them next time.  See ya next year HeroesCon!

Your best pal ever,
Shannon Smith 

*Convention images stolen from Exile on Plain Street.  Again.  Thanks!
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