Saturday, January 29, 2011

What Lurks in the Longbox? #5

Convention Wrap-Up 2010! (Part 3)

In the final part of my “Convention Wrap-Up 2010” report, I head back to a couple local shows, including one in the town where I grew up, and finish out the year with the grand return of one of the oldest conventions in the industry, a final “year-end” convention that more than made up for any of the year’s earlier disappointments. 

July:  Metro Detroit Conventions, helmed by local comic dealer Mike DeSantis, started a new show in my old hometown of Roseville at the VFW Hall on Gratiot Avenue.  This was a much needed local show that helped fill in the gap left by the departure of the bi-monthly St. Clair Shores comic show run by Airborne Comics during 2009.  The show featured a nice mix of comics and vintage toys, and had great deals as well as friendly dealers.  According to Promoter Mike DeSantis, the first show had about 170 in attendance, which was a great start for this new event.   One of the toy dealers gave us a nice deal on a vintage Lego set with carrying case.  My son was thrilled to add a more “collectible” item to compliment his ever-growing collection of Lego toys.  The most memorable purchase for myself personally was a very reasonably priced Dell Lone Ranger comic from 1965 that was printed in Spanish!  Admission to this show was only $2, and half of all admission proceeds (as well as all concession sales) went directly to support the VFW Post. 

September:  The Durand Fantasy Expo returned for its second year, and once again featured a nice diversity of science fiction & fantasy authors, comic dealers, and publishers.  Some of the guests included Tom Sullivan, Randy Zimmerman, Dan Mishkin, Jim Hines, Dark Elf Designs, Star Wars artist Rachel Kaiser, and even the 501st Legion.  Admission was $5, with kids 10 and under getting in for free.  One of the best aspects of this show was that I had the opportunity to visit with several Facebook friends in person, including: Randy Zimmerman of Flint Comix; Brian Germain of Dark Elf Designs; Eric Mullarky, the publisher of New Baby Productions; Steve Jencks, the owner and artist of “Lost Highway’s B-Movie” classic movie posters; and of course Promoter Jeffrey Decker.

My friend Jim Waggoner had never been at any kind of comic or collectibles show, but when I informed him that his favorite fantasy author Jim Hines would be appearing, he quickly decided to give himself a birthday present and meet the author.  In addition to the Expo, the town of Durand had its 21st annual “Cruisin to the end of Summer” car show going on at the same time, which featured several city blocks of vehicles from the early part of the 20th century all the way to more recent models, including a car devoted to the popular Pixar movie Cars.  Both of our families spent the day together checking out cars and listening to 50’s tunes played by the local radio station that was promoting the event.  The Durand Memorial Library also hosted a writer workshop with DC Comics writer John Ostrander.  Promoter Jeffrey Decker is making plans for Year 3 in 2011, with updates expected in the near future. 

October:  Unlike the previous two years, when our “convention season” ended with Mid-Ohio Con, this year’s convention experiences wrapped up with the “return” of Detroit FanFare.  Billed as being “45 years in the making” on the front of the program book, the show was held at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, Michigan.  I use the word “return” even though it was technically the first show, because FanFare was a celebration of the glory days of the Detroit Triple Fanfare.  The DTF was one of the earliest comic conventions, originating in the late 1960’s and forever marking Detroit as a significant player in the early days of comic conventions.  

Admission was $10 for the weekend, although many of the attendees never paid a single penny of that admission cost.  The show’s organizers experimented with a new promotional idea that ended up helping to make the show an absolute hit.  With almost 100% participation from comic retailers throughout the Metro Detroit area, convention “vouchers” were provided to comic shops, so that any purchase at a participating store earned that customer a “ticket” that could be redeemed on the show’s website for free weekend admission.  With a convention featuring none other than Stan Lee, along with a long list of Bronze and Modern Age creators, comic dealers, and tons of great panels, getting into the show for free was quite a perk that perhaps no other convention could match.  Of course the Stan Lee package itself was not quite free.  The $125 “VIP Package” included the morning Q&A session with Stan (which was huge fun), an autograph on any item of your choice, and a photo opportunity.  Kudos goes to the organizers of this package deal.  I anticipated being in line for several hours with someone as huge as “The Man,” but the lines for both the autograph and photo moved along much quicker than I ever could have anticipated. 

As many attendees know, during the period in which Detroit FanFare was promoting their show, the organizers of Motor City Con scheduled a fall show (their first in several years) on the same weekend as FanFare.  Perhaps in a repeat of the Wizard World/Heroes Con conflict of 2006, there was a severe backlash by fans, artists and dealers over the conflicting events.  To some, it appeared to be a hostile move by Motor City to prevent the success of what many saw as the feisty underdog:  Detroit FanFare.  Similar to what happened with Wizard in 2006, Motor City did not anticipate this backlash and was first forced to move the dates of their Fall show, and then cancel it altogether.  The reasons for cancellation have been the subject of much online speculation.  Some believe it was directly related to Detroit FanFare, while others feel it was just the result of poor last-minute planning and the inability to gather a strong list of media guests with the short lead time available.  In any case, planning is already in full swing for Detroit FanFare 2011, which is being moved to the larger venue of Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit during the weekend of September 24th-25th, 2011. 

With the premiere of the Amazing Arizona Comic Convention earlier this month, the term “Convention Season” may become obsolete in 2011.  Convention Season is now year-round, with large comic and media events taking place during all four seasons.  2011 promises to be an interesting year for the industry for many reasons, most notably the massive increase in competition which has caused conflicting dates that will force fans to decide between conventions.  Of particular note are the aggressive moves taken by Wizard World to increase their market share this year.  First, they have added many new locations for their shows (such as Cincinnati, Nashville and New Orleans), which may affect smaller comic shows that did not previously have serious competition in those cities.  Secondly, Wizard has pursued the acquisition of several independently owned conventions, such as Nola Con, Central Canada Con, and most recently, the announcement that they were taking ownership of Mid-Ohio Con.  Online opinions from fans seem divided on whether or not a “corporate takeover” of their favorite con will actually be to fans’ benefit or not.  However, one fact remains clear:  There will be no shortage of comic book and collectible shows for fans to choose from in 2011. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Lurks in the Longbox? #4

Convention Wrap-Up 2010! (Part 2)

After spending much of the first half of the year checking out local conventions and flea market collectible shows, our convention experiences moved to larger events as summer quickly approached. 
May:  Motor City Comic Con in Novi had the normal mix of comic, toy and video dealers, although the bootleg merchandise has not been seen as frequently over the years following the MPAA raid that took place during the 2006 show.  The usual “C-list” TV show actors, wrestlers and models were also present as usual.  Dealer reactions to the show were mixed as always, with some dealers very pleased with their sales numbers, while others were struggling with getting customers to even check out their merchandise.  Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics attended and was furiously purchasing back issues as fast as he could pull them from boxes.  It’s always fascinating to watch him in action.  He is virtually tireless, and has an energy and zeal for life that very few people can match.  Chuck later reported in his weekly newsletter that he purchased 35,000 comics throughout the weekend, including 14,000 comics that were handpicked during a straight 8 hour period on Sunday!  For any of you that subscribe to Chuck’s weekly newsletters, it’s pretty obvious that this was just a typical weekend for him!  Admission for a single day was $25, with Adam West being the primary draw at $60 for an autograph.  Online complaints about admission, parking and autograph costs were numerous on networking sites like Facebook, causing a severe backlash against this long-running show, even by fans who have loyally attended MCCC for many years. 

May:  Adventure Con moved from its previous venue in Knoxville, TN to the Grand Resort Hotel in Pigeon Forge during the Memorial Day holiday weekend.  The show had fewer comic dealers and a heavier concentration on TV and movie celebrities, which this year included Neil Kaplan, Billy Dee Williams and Jake Lloyd.  The cancellation of Charisma Carpenter (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), along with the death of child TV star Gary Coleman (a guest at last year’s show) cast a definite shadow over the convention.  Additional factors such as the presence of “filler” dealers like tattoo artists and sword/knife vendors, very poor lighting, untrained and unprepared staff, and the lack of a program book did not help to improve the situation.  Fortunately, the downturn in this year’s show was offset by a couple wonderful days spent travelling through both the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  My full report of this convention can be found in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1670! 

June:  Cherry Capital Con (C310) in Traverse City, MI returned for its second year, moving from last year’s August dates to the weekend of June 12-13th.  CCC was a much needed addition to the convention circuit in 2009, as Northern Michigan had been without a solid comic show for several years.  The Grand Traverse Resort continued to be the venue of choice, providing plenty of room for potential expansion in future years.  C310 once again had some great guests, including Daniel Way, Jason Howard, Ryan Stegman and their guest of honor, Steve Dillon.  This year’s show was slightly bigger, but with about the same number of actual comic dealers as the prior year.  Perhaps my only real complaint was the presence of Best Buy as one of the vendors, as they delivered cell phone sales pitches throughout the weekend.  Dealing with someone trying to sell me a cell phone at a comic convention was somewhat akin to the experience of watching commercials at a movie theatre before the movie begins.  The funniest moment of the show had to be Jay Jacot’s hilarious print of Betty White vs. Wolverine!  Next year’s show has been scheduled for the weekend of June 25-26, 2011.  My full report of this convention can be found Comics Buyer’s Guide #1671!

In Part 3 of my “Convention Wrap-Up 2010” report, I head back to a couple local shows, including one in the town where I grew up, and finish out the year with the grand return of one of the oldest conventions in the industry.  It’s my “year-end” convention that more than made up for any of the year’s earlier disappointments. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What Lurks in the Longbox? #3

Convention Wrap-Up 2010! (Part 1)

2010 was a year of huge changes for both the convention circuit as well as the comic book industry itself.  Diamond’s announcement to offer Tuesday delivery of new comics to retailers; DC’s cover price reductions for their $3.99 titles; and IDW’s move to a “premium” publisher in Diamond’s Previews catalog, were just a few examples.  On the convention side, there were lots of new shows, as well as the expansion of many returning events.  Once again we attended a variety of different conventions throughout the year, all shapes and sizes.  The following report is a month-by-month summary of the shows we attended in 2010, which included local comic shows, regional comic and media conventions, and smaller collectibles/flea market type events.   

February:  W&D Productions promoted a Nostalgia & Paper Show at the Royal Oak Farmers Market, which also serves as a flea market on Sunday mornings.  A huge variety of items could be found at this show, including postcards, Big Little Books, movie memorabilia, tin signs, vintage toys, and of course comics, which included golden age all the way through modern books.  My wife found a nice stack of 40-50 Gold Key/Whitman comics in medium to low grade for only $8, which even included a few books from the late 50’s.  I also found some reasonably priced Bronze Age DC’s and Charltons.  Admission to the show area was $4.00, although there was no charge to check out the rest of the market. 

March:  Joe Pellegrino, a long-time promoter of collectible shows in the Detroit area, once again held his “Collectors Mania” show, which also took place at the Royal Oak Farmers Market.  Admission to this show was also $4.00.  Unlike W&D’s show the prior month, this event was more of a straightforward comic book and toy show, but still had a nice variety of merchandise.  Donna once again found the best deals, including a great deal on nine early issues of Iron Man, which contained Issues #2 and #3.  The Farmers Market is always an interesting choice of venue, as you can walk out with a stack of comics in one hand and some fresh produce or baked goods in the other.  We always recommend stopping by John Henry’s booth that features “farm fresh” meats and cheese, which come directly from Meinecke Farms in Millington, Michigan.  They also offer Amish Country Butter in a two pound roll, which may be the best butter you will ever have!

April:  Flint ComixCon was a new show organized by Randy Zimmerman, a local artist and Editor of the Flint Comix and Entertainment newspaper.  FC&E is a monthly publication that features a wide variety of comic strips both new and old, with everything from Popeye to Judge Dredd.  Also serving as an entertainment and dining guide for the Flint area, the newspaper is offered absolutely free through news boxes and various businesses in the local area, with paid subscriptions available through the mail for fans living outside the area.  Randy offered unlimited free copies of Issues #3-12 of the publication to all attendees.  Brian Germain of Dark Elf Designs was also at the show promoting his creator-owned work, as well as his own upcoming “XcapeCon” event that will take place in 2012.  The show had more of an emphasis on local artists and small press publishing companies, but did have a few comic dealers as well.  One local store owner in particular had a sale on a large selection of DC kids comics like The Batman Strikes!, Teen Titans and Justice League Animated. As we usually do when in the Flint area, we made stops at the Flint Flea Market and a local antique shop for deals on some additional old comics.  Many people do not realize how “comic friendly” Flint is.  There are several local comic shops, antique stores and a major flea market with a great collectible toy store owned by Andrew Jones of Discount Toys & Comics. 

In Part 2 of my “Convention Wrap-Up 2010” report, I’ll discuss my frustrations with a couple larger shows we visited, before finishing out the year with a brand new local show in my old hometown, and the return of one of the oldest conventions in the country.