Once upon a time, gatherings of geeks would come together to celebrate the art form that they loved – comic books. Fans, some costumed as their favorite characters, would stream into the hall, excited to see their favorite creators. You could buy sketches from your favorite artist, or talk over a plot line with a writer you loved. Panels would discuss upcoming events, or the histories of beloved characters. Dealers would set out stock and polish their banter. There was time to see everything, to get your books signed, to discover some small press book that you may have overlooked. Then the movie companies came, and the video game companies. Suddenly, comic conventions became “entertainment” conventions. Panels became product pushes, selling to an audience of people who had paid to be admitted to see your commercial. The old spirit of fandom was lost, replaced with sheer commercialism. But fear not, true believers! The Baltimore Comic Con still follows the traditional model. In a big room at the Baltimore Convention Center, fans, creators and dealers are still celebrating comic books for one weekend every year.
Drawing an average of 15,000 fans over two days, the Baltimore Comic Con is still a hometown kind of show. It’s easy enough to meet face to face with the creators of some of today’s best comics. Even industry heavyweight Todd McFarlane was accessible, with two ticketed two hour signing sessions on Saturday, at no extra charge. The floor may not have been as packed as it has been in previous years, but there were plenty of costumes, plenty of dealers, and a general air of excitement. One jarring note was the absence of industry heavyweight DC Comics, formerly a staple booth on the show floor. Normally, DC brings some marquee creators to the Con, as well as handing out promo materials for upcoming projects. Plenty of other companies were there to help fill the gap. Image Comics had a large and busy outpost, with fan favorite like Ryan Ottley (Invincible) and the Luna Brothers (Girls), and dozens of up and coming creators. Small press writers and artists were out in force, promoting their projects. Marvel Comics does not exhibit at the Baltimore Comic Con corporately. Many prominent creators who have worked for Marvel do exhibit their work privately at Baltimore, and they’re always a fan draw. Sketches and signatures are easier for fans to obtain than at the larger conventions.
Baltimore area comic shops use the Baltimore Comic Con as a way to promote their stores to area fans. Several local merchants had booths at the Con, to visit with their customers and showcase what their retail locations have to offer. Alliance Comics, on Light Street two blocks from the Convention Center, was offering fans 25 percent off any purchase all weekend with a Con wristband or ticket stub. Some regional chains were sponsoring individual creators to appear at their booths. Laughing Ogre Comics, out of Ohio, featured prominent horror creator Ben Templesmith (30 days of Night). Dealers in Silver and Golden age comics and original art had large displays, showing modern fans some of the rich history of graphic art. The costumed fans added to the general air of excitement. Batman and his Rogues Gallery, Deadpool and Lady Deadpool, storybook characters and superheroes roamed the floor. The 501st Legion made an appearance, and the Ghostbusters.
The Baltimore Comic Con is at it’s heart a traditional celebration of comic books. It’s a rare and refreshing opportunity to enjoy a day of fun and fandom. By avoiding the pitfalls of the larger and more commercialized conventions that have become the norm in recent years, Baltimore keeps it real enough that every fan can feel comfortable and welcome. This regional gem of a convention is a true delight for comic fans.