Even if you've never been to HeroesCon, the annual mid-sized comic book convention, in Charlotte, North Carolina, you probably know about it. And you may have heard that it's one of the best conventions in the country, with a creator-rich, laid-back atmosphere, where you can casually hang out with big-name writers and artists, check out the newest minicomics from the crew in "Indie Island," and enjoy conversational panels with interesting combinations of talent, while shopping for good deals on trade paperbacks and digging into dollar bins. (Oh, and there's plenty of great food nearby the convention center, too, plus the NASCAR hall of fame, if that's your thing.)
All of that stuff is true, and this year I finally made my first trip to HeroesCon, and I'll have to make it part of my regular convention rotation.
Honestly, with the expense of San Diego and the Hollywoodization of that west coast show, and the noise and crush of bodies at the New York show, HeroesCon could probably be called the best comic book convention in America. It would have a strong claim to that title. The Baltimore show is also excellent, but Heroes is a bit bigger, with a wider range of guests, and I've never been to the Emerald City show, which I hear is also nice, but not quite in Heroes' category. HeroesCon is pretty great. Even my wife, not much of a comics reader, enjoyed the heck out of the weekend, as I dragged her down to North Carolina with me as we set up a table and sold copies of various Sequart books I've written or edited or contributed to.
She's a teacher, but if anyone wants to hire her as a public relations or sales consultant, she's worth her weight in gold. She was selling copies of my books to people who already owned them. She's that good.
I had more experiences this past weekend than I can recount -- and some of them were off the record (you'll just have to wait to find out what Scott Snyder has planned for the world in the next year, for example) -- but I would like to highlight a few things I learned at HeroesCon 2012. The best convention in America.
Ben Marra Loves Jack Vance
I spent much of Friday night talking to Ben Marra about basketball, digital tools, Tim Truman, and Dungeons and Dragons, and I found out that he runs an AD&D game back in New York, and we both talked about the creativity of old-school D&D, where imagination was and is more important -- and more exciting -- than the tactical maneuvers of the newer editions. Marra and I are also particularly enamored of the art design of the new Dungeon Crawl Classics game and modules, which intentionally brings a 1970s aesthetic to the role-playing books of today, in contrast to the video-gamish painted artwork of the Wizards of the Coast books that usually dominate the rpg bookshelves.
And I mentioned to Marra that I'm reading the authors from Gary Gygax's Appendix N from the original "Dungeon Master's Guide," to sample the books -- beyond Tolkein -- that influenced the original D&D design. I've already read some R. E. Howard, Roger Zelazny, Lin Carter, and Poul Anderson, but Marra wants me to get to Jack Vance. Jack Vance, the classic sci-fi/fantasy author most firmly endorsed by Ben Marra. That's something to pay attention to.
Brian Michael Bendis is Right about the Talent of David Marquez
David Marquez has had a pretty big year already. His drawings filled the "Fantastic Four: Season One" hardcover, which retold the origin of Marvel's first family for a new generation of readers, and Marquez has been named the ongoing artist (in rotation with Sara Pichelli) of Bendis's "Ultimate Spider-Man."
Bendis has said online that Marquez is a spectacular new talent, and after sitting next to him all weekend at HeroesCon, I think it's safe to say that readers have only seen a little of what he can do. He's just getting started in mainstream comics, but he's been honing his craft for years, and he's going to keep getting better and better.
Marquez is an enthusiastic artist -- eager to share his love for comics with the kids and adults who lined up to get quick sketches or admire his Spider-Man drawings -- and we had a chance to talk a bit about the work of Travis Charest, a guy whose work influenced Marquez a lot, and there's certainly a Charest feel in Marquez's pencil-shaded convention drawings. Marquez works digitally for production, so the only original art that he sells is what he draws for conventions, or the occasional splash page or large panel that he might draw the old-fashioned way, for collectors. Original Marquez art is a rare thing, and it looks pretty amazing. Honestly, I don't think any of his colorists at Marvel have done him justice, though I'm sure he would disagree. Still, there's a power and delicacy in his linework that would benefit from less aggressive color rendering, and I hope that's what we'll see in his work once the garish coloring trends of today fade away.
I think we'll see some pretty great stuff from Marquez over the next few years, and he certainly doesn't seem like an artist who is content to be merely good.
Geof Darrow is Not Exactly Working on New Shaolin Cowboy Right Now
Although we learned about the return of Geof Darrow's "Shaolin Cowboy" back at last years' New York Comic Con, and Dark Horse has an issue of "Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine" by Andrew Vachss and Geof Darrow coming out this fall, it looks like Darrow won't be putting out any new issues of the "Shaolin Cowboy" comic any time soon. As he announced at the Don Rosa/Geof Darrow panel (weird pairing, I know, but a great panel) on Saturday, he has 100 pages of the comic done, but he working on the next Wachowski brothers film right now, and that has pulled him away from doing sequential pages. He did say that the 100 pages tell about five seconds of the story, but "it's all action," as you would expect from Darrow and Shaolin Cowboy. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait a while for more "Shaolin Cowboy" comics, since Darrow wants to have more pages done before he even talks about releasing the new series.
In other news, Don Rosa is still very famous in Europe. (And a super-nice guy in America.) Also, Dave Wachter draws great convention sketches and likes "Star Trek: The Next Generation." In case you were wondering. None of this has anything to do with Geof Darrow.
Finally, If You're Not Reading the Adventure Time Comic, You're Missing Out
I've been playing around with a preliminary list of Best Comics of 2012 So Far, and the refined list of Top 10 So Far will probably run in this column next week -- as we get to the halfway point of the year -- and as I drafted the raw list of the twenty or thirty comics I've read this year that I most enjoyed, I kept coming back to the "Adventure Time" entry, and bouncing it higher and higher on the list. (Or, lower and lower, if we're counting down to #1.)
I didn't intentionally avoid the "Adventure Time" comic when it first came out, but my shop didn't carry it, and I didn't really seek it out until Michael DeForge provided his back-up story in issue #3. And even then, I had to get a digital copy because no one in town carried the comic. But then I went back and bought all the issues digitally. And they're really good. Better than the animated series? Maybe. They are legitimately great comics. (And I like comics better than animation.)
I picked up the physical copies of the first five issues this weekend -- a couple from Heroes Aren't Hard to Find, when we first rolled into town on Thursday, and the rest from "Adventure Time" artists Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb, who I hadn't met until this weekend, and I didn't realize that they were two of the masterminds behind the Star Wars tribute comics I picked up at the MoCCA Festival a few years back. My wife and I ended up sort of accidentally going out to dinner with Shelli and Braden and sharing a soul food table with them on Saturday night, and they were wonderful company, and though we mostly talked about things other than "Adventure Time," they were as excited about working on "Adventure Time" as I've been excited to read it. They talked about the strength of Ryan North's scripts, and how far he pushes the stories and yet still keeps them as comics. Braden even mentioned saying, "Wait, are we allowed to do this?" when he read North's script for issue #4, a script which pushes the absurd escalation of the conflict beyond all reason, but that's what makes it genius.
Look for "Adventure Time" to crack the Top 10 So Far, for sure.
In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.