Pittsburgh Comic Con Report
by David R. Black
On Friday April 27, 2001 I left work at 6 PM and headed off to Pittsburgh for a weekend of comics, comics, and more comics. It's a four and a half hour drive from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and since I wanted to travel as cheaply as possible - that way I can afford more comics! - I drove my friend's minivan. Planning to sleep in the back of the van, I removed its two back seats and left them behind.
Driving to the PA Turnpike, I was psyched. My trip would be a hit and run, one day affair. Get there by Saturday morning, have the run of the con, then head back home Saturday night or Sunday morning. Nothing could go wrong. And then the van's radio blew a fuse.
OK, maybe I don't need the radio, I thought. Even though it was going to be my sole source of entertainment for the long drive, I thought I could manage without it. 30 minutes passed. I start to get bored. I begin to count the number of blue cars on the opposite side of the turnpike. Another 30 minutes pass. I begin to daydream and start having improper thoughts about Black Canary. Fifteen minutes later, I start having improper thoughts about Fire, Jesse Quick, and Jade.
Fifteen more minutes pass, and I start having improper thoughts about Granny Goodness. I realize I can't go on like this. Pulling over at the next rest stop, I find the fusebox, and manage to figure out which one belongs to the radio. Doing my best imitation of Batman, I deduce that the radio fuse is the same type as another fuse. I pull the other fuse (what it went to, I never found out), put it in the radio slot, and voila! The radio works! With Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers wailing, I continue my journey without incident.
Sleeping in the back of the van wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. About 20 miles from Pittsburgh, I pulled into a rest stop and crawled into my trusty sleeping bag. Alongside some truckers who were doing the same thing, I felt safe and secure. Around 4 AM though, I was awakened from a deep sleep by two truckers arguing in Spanish! I also realized how darn cold I was.
Note to self: Bring more than one sleeping bag next time. Even though it's nearly May, the low temperature can drop into the upper 30's, especially in the Allegheny Mountains!
On the plus side, the chilly weather kept the food I brought with me nice and cold. But it's not like peanut butter and dried fruit really need refrigeration, though.
I arrived at the Expo Mart, the site of the con, around 8AM. I had expected to get lost after getting off the turnpike, but amazingly, the directions provided on the con's website were accurate.
I should probably mention that although the con is called the "Pittsburgh Comic Con," it is actually held in Monroeville, a western suburb of Pittsburgh. I like cities and had hoped to see some of downtown Pittsburgh before the con started, but alas, it was too far to go downtown and get back to the con before it started at 10AM. On the plus side, there's plenty of free parking in Monroeville.
The Expo Mart sits between the Monroeville Mall and a Radisson Hotel as part of one big shopping mall area. (I found out later, however, that the Expo Mart has commercial offices on its second and third floors, so that statement isn't totally accurate).
The ground floor of the Expo Mart contains plenty of convenient parking spaces for con goers, and these come in handy if, like me, you end up buying a bunch of comics. Instead of toting them around all day in a backpack (comics can get heavy fast) it's really nice to make a run to the car and be back in the con in under five minutes.
I know from other cons that Saturday is usually the most heavily attended day of a three day con, and this one was no different. Many people say the comics industry is going to hell in a handbasket, and that could be correct, but based on what I saw at the con, I'd say otherwise. There were times, especially in the afternoon hours, that I could not move down some aisles.
Traffic jams of people not only made it tough to move, but if you wanted to browse through any long boxes on the floor, it was nearly impossible to do. Not all the aisles were jam packed however. Crowds tended to form around booths where certain creators were signing autographs.
I should mention that the con wasn't entirely devoted to comics. There was a large contingent of movie and TV actors in attendance, most of whom were from the Xena: Warrior Princess show, the various Star Wars movies, or the Evil Dead/Day of the Dead series of horror movies. Tournaments of the Magic: The Gathering card game also attracted their share of people to the con.
As an aside, whatever the Magic people are doing, the comic industry needs to copy it. In the line to get into the con, I stood next to five kids in their early teens who were totally absorbed in that game. You think comics are too expensive for kids? The teenagers I saw had two shoe boxes full of Magic cards, and I know that a pack of those cards costs roughly the same as the average comic. You think kids can't understand the complex story lines in comics? Man, listening to those kids talk, I think the Magic game is more complex than comic continuity. There seems to be hundreds of different cards/characters, attacks, counterattacks, and strategies.
A comic con isn't all about buying comics and meeting your favorite creators! Panels are creator led discussions devoted to certain topics. Panel topics included; Top Cow comics, the Xena mythos, spirituality in comics, Fantagraphics Comics, and using comics as classroom teaching tools. Quite honestly, not many panels interested me, and one or two that did, I missed because they were held on Friday.
I did, however, attend two panels.
Julius Schwartz, DC's most beloved ex-editor and current goodwill ambassador, ran a panel in which he reminisced about his career and fielded questions from the audience. The phrase "living legend" gets thrown around by the media way too often for my tastes, but in Mr. Schwartz's case, it is absolutely appropriate. From his work as a science fiction agent for the likes of Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison to being responsible for creating Batgirl, the JLA, and many other characters, Mr. Schwartz has probably impacted the sci-fi and comic industries more than any one person.
Mr. Schwartz fielded questions about various aspects of his career, but with such a long history in the field, it was impossible to cover everything in the one hour allotted to the panel. I wanted to ask about his roles in the first fanzine ever published (The Time Traveler in the 1930's) and his decidedly odd role as a recurring character in the Ambush Bug miniseries, but with a room full of people, I never got a chance. I did, however, manage to get Mr. Schwartz to sign my copy of his autobiography, Man of Two Worlds. Shameless plug time: Buy a copy of Man of Two Worlds. You won't regret it. It's a great read.
I also learned that an upcoming eight page backup tale in Gotham Nights or Detective Comics will feature a story plotted by Mr. Schwartz (It was unclear if he wrote it or simply developed the plot idea, but his name will be in the credit box in some fashion). The story will be a tale set in Bruce Wayne's adolescence while he is training for his future role as Batman.
Additionally, Mr. Schwartz believes that comics will be around in the future but not as we know them. Just as dime novels evolved into the pulps, and the pulps evolved into comics, so will comics evolve into some other form.
The other panel I attended was "Breaking Into Comics" by Dave Campiti. A former comics writer, Campiti now serves as the manager of Glass House Graphics, an agency which represents comic creators and produces work-for-hire stories and art for the major publishers. An energetic speaker, Campiti wasn't afraid to tell it like is: If you want to be a writer, you're pretty much screwed. If you want to be an artist, you have a slightly better chance. If you want to be a colorist or letterer, you better know your computer software inside and out.
The best way to break into comics, according to Campiti, is to get a staff job at one of the major publishers. The comics industry is like one big fraternity, with all but a few creators coming from within the company ranks. It makes sense, really. As a staffer, a person gets practical experience in the industry and the company becomes familiar with their work ethic.
This begged the question though - How does one become a staffer? Well, Campiti didn't answer that directly. Instead, he suggested that you try an internship, make your name and face known to editors by writing letters and attending cons, and basically being relentless about it. Don't give up.
And, as Campiti said, don't limit yourself to comics. Submit your work to a prose book publisher, a publisher of short stories, or a children's book publisher. Just because you can't crack the comics industry doesn't mean that your ideas aren't good. Campiti admitted that some established comic writers would be hard pressed to find work with other publishers of fiction.
And you know the story about everybody reading comics wanting to be a comics creator? It's true. The panel was even more crowded than Julius Schwartz's panel.
The DC Booth
DC had a good sized booth, and it was stocked full of free stuff and black and white previews of upcoming issues. Editor Bob Schreck was manning the booth when I happened by, and he seems like a cool guy. I flipped through a few previews, mostly because it feels so weird to sit there and read full issues for free.
Batman: Our Worlds at War looks like a pretty good start to the big summer crossover event. President Luthor plays a big role, and asides from a few no-name construction workers, nobody died in the issue.
Codename Knockout and American Century, both from Vertigo, look intriguing. Knockout combines a Mission Impossible feel with a touch of Charlie's Angels and a hint of classic good girl art. American Century is Howard Chaykin's return to comics after a long absence, and with Chaykin doing covers and writing it, the title should appeal to his fans.
Green Lantern: Willworld looks like a unusual graphic novel. Imagine Salvador Dali paintings in a bizarre sci-fi setting, and that's the book. Hal Jordan is the GL of note, and various members of the GL Corps also appear.
The JLA keeps its string of never ending spin off miniseries intact. In addition to the already announced JLA: Incarnations by John Ostrander, another JLA miniseries will launch in November. For the life of me, I can't remember the name. Sorry.
Another upcoming book is titled Generations, and if you're easily confused like me, you'll think it's part of the JLA: Incarnations book. I flipped through Generations accidentally thinking it to be a second issue of Incarnations. The two names are too similar to each other!
The Individual Creators
There were lots of them. Not just from DC, but from all companies. Despite the large attendance, there's hardly any lines to meet the creators (At least for those that I wanted to meet!). The toughest part, at least to a shy person like me, is getting up the nerve to talk to the people responsible for making your favorite comics.
Mart Nodell, the creator of the original Green Lantern, was in attendance with his with Carrie. How do you tell someone that Green Lantern was not only the first comic character you were introduced to, but GL was also a favorite of your grandmother and great-uncle back in the 1940's? I managed to say something, and Mr. Nodell was very gracious. Mrs. Nodell is a bubbly lady and a fountain of knowledge with her behind the scenes knowledge of comics. She actually hand delivered her husband's artwork to the DC offices back in the 1940's!
Rags Morales (Hourman, Black Condor), and Buzz (JSA) shared a booth. I got a sense of deja vu looking at Mr. Morales, and I swore he looked like someone I knew. Only on the way back home did it dawm on me that he's almost a dead ringer for the character Rypta Gud'n from Keith Giffen's Vext series.
Tim Truman, for whom I brought issues of just about all of his recent works to sign (Green Lantern Annual, Creature Commandos, Guns of the Dragon, The Kents, Grimjack, and Scout) had to cancel at the last minute. That was kind of disappointing, but there's always next year!
What can I say? No matter what anybody tells you, they're the main drawing card of the con. As usual, dealers tend to fall into three categories: one with lots of cheapo bins (50 cents, one dollar), ones with good selections of hard to find stuff, and ones with fancy, upscale golden and silver age collections.
The cheapo bins are always fun. Don't think comic reading is a contact sport? Then you've never gotten down on your hands and knees and scrounged through long box after long box while trying to avoid being stepped on by other con-goers. There are a lot of great deals to be found, and with a bit of luck and a bit of patience, you'll find them. Nothing compares to the feeling of getting a comic you've been looking for at a really low price! I tend to spend most of my time at these types of dealers.
The dealers with good selections of hard to find stuff are a bit more expensive, but not too bad. I browse through these after I'm tired of the cheapo bins, if I know I won't find it in the cheapo bins, or if I just can't find something anywhere else. For example, I finally completed my collection of all the Freedom Fighters' DC appearances after purchasing Justice League of America #107 (1st series) for five dollars. Not bad for a hard to find comic published in the early 70's. These places sometimes have good deals (i.e. 50% off) on graphic novels.
I didn't spend any money at the upscale dealer tables, but it's fun to look at the golden age and silver age books. Comics history is a fun thing to research, but I just can't understand spending 50, 75, or 100 dollars on a single issue.
The Bottom Line
Overall, I'd rate the con a B+ or A-. The con didn't have the buzzing excitement that I experienced last year at Heroes Con in Charlotte, but in all fairness, a lot of exciting stuff was happening all at once last year (Cross Gen and Gorilla Comics were launching, and Nick Cardy, Carmine Infantino, and Julius Schwartz had just relased their memoirs).
Only two people stopped me to comment about my Fanzing T-shirt. One was a dealer who had heard of us, and the other was a fledgling artist who read Fanzing semi-regularly. Still, it was cool to have the Fanzing logo recognized.
Would I go back to Pittsburgh next year? Sure!
David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2001 by David R. Black.
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