Disclaimer: In the interest of full disclosure, I attended Baltimore Comic-Con this year as a member of the press. In turn, my badge was comped. No other perks were provided by the convention to me.
For the third time this year (following the My Little Pony focused Brony Con, and the Anime loving Otakon), Baltimore was home to thousands of fanboys, fangirls and intensely costumed fans as the Baltimore Convention Center was home to the 15th Annual Baltimore Comic-Con.
Started in the year 2000 by local comics retailer, Marc Nathan, Baltimore Comic-Con is considered by many – including those vending – as one of the last “pure” comic book shows. The number of celebrities attending were minimal, and instead the focus was simply on pure funny books. The celebration of the 32 page monthly issues or 100+ page tomes that have come to life in record-setting films and fan-favorite TV shows were undeniably the focus of this show, as it has been from the first edition.
What made the 2014 edition of Baltimore Comic-Con edition so interesting, however, was one thing – scale.
For years, Baltimore Comic-Con could easily be seen as the “other” geek show for the Charm City area, hiding in the intense shadow of Otakon, the United States second largest Japanese animation convention, and the largest on the East Coast. In turn, Baltimore Comic-Con has been allowed to slowly grow, and flourish. I’ve attended roughly every year since 2007, and this was definitely the biggest yet, with the aisles filled and a dramatically increased number of vendors and artists selling. Having missed the 2013 edition, Baltimore Comic-Con 2014 felt like a convention of a dramatically larger scale – with both its pros and cons.
With the shift to the Pratt and Howard Street lobby (as opposed to the Charles Street lobby), Baltimore Comic-Con started to feel a bit closer to Otakon. The registration point was found at the top of a lengthy stairwell, the main show floor filling the same gargantuan halls filled by Otakon for their Dealers Room and Artist’s Alley respectively. There even seemed to be an increased amount of cosplayers.
It’s hard to begrudge Baltimore Comic-Con for its growth – but from my understanding in speaking to attendees and artist vendors, and based on some of my personal experiences – there are still some key issues to address.
1. Grabbing the Interest of Newer/Younger Fans: We’re in a very unique time for comics. While none of the titles I’m about to list currently represent the top 10 in comics, books such as Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye and Sex Criminals (and the Marvel ilk that seems to follow his tone, such as She-Hulk and Black Widow), the Boom Studios books such as Lumberjanes and Adventure Time, and DC’s forthcoming books seemingly designed to only grab these new fans like Gotham Academy and the Batgirl reboot, all have one thing in common. They’ve grabbed brand new readers attentions and gotten them into comics, something thought impossible for most of the 2000s.
Currently, the only conventions that seem to cater to their interest are shows such as NYC’s MOCCA, or Rockville’s SPX (coincidentally next weekend). While Baltimore Comic-Con DID have a significant and well attended presence from Boom! Comics, that seemed to be it from the “new crowd” of comics.
Perhaps this was an example of the show being hurt by Cincinnati Comic-Con occurring at the same time. A quick glance at the guest list for that show indicates that many of these hot talents were lost. Looking at the Baltimore Comic-Con guest list shows many legendary talents for sure, but not many with current hot books or significant buzz – besides say, Greg Capullo (current artist for Batman) and Mark Waid (writer of Daredevil).
2. The Entire Artist’s Alley Situation: The Artist’s Alley is always a difficult situation to address. On one hand, you wish to give artists who are looking to make a break or support themselves independently a showcase. On the other, at roughly every show, it feels like a gigantic meat market. This year was rougher than most, as with the Alley’s increased size, searching for specific artists was incredibly difficult due to a lack of signage or navigation, helping fans find their favorite creators. Instead, one was forced to navigate every single row to find the tables they were looking for.
Perhaps this increased foot traffic – as I did receive reports that traffic was at record levels for the Artist’s Alley section – but I could very easily see people becoming bothered with finding the proverbial needle in a haystack, and hitting their breaking point after the 50th loud shill from an artist who they’ve walked by. (Pro-Tip: Don’t yell about your comic to the people who walk by. Let them engage you. Anything else is tactless.)
Additionally, word came to me from multiple sources that even with increased foot traffic, sales were stagnant or below prior Baltimore Comic-Cons in the Artist’s Alley, indicating to me that something isn’t quite working for these hard working artists.
3. The Lack of “Events”: It’s no secret that the world of comics is built around two events: San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con. That said, as a staple of the industry you’d expect some sort of buzz to come out of the show. Even with a programming slate filled with panels hosted by Marvel and DC Comics talent, the largest announcement of the show came from Boom! Studios (a new Frank Cho title) – or by accident, from the mouth of Greg Capullo (the end of his run on Batman). What has made Baltimore Comic-Con a dead-zone for the big two? Heck, where were Image or Dark Horse?
Sure – fans had add-ons such as a VIP meet and greet on Friday night, or the ability to attend the Harvey Awards (which feels a bit like the Golden Globes of Comics, if the Eisner is the Oscar), but there seemed to be a lack of buzz coming out of the show. Even the much requested addition of a Friday open to the show seemed to fizzle out, with many attending (and vending) indicated to me that the day was “a waste”.
I realize, much of this write up has been negative, and I didn’t attend it to be. Instead, I feel like this year was the first time that Baltimore Comic-Con truly felt growing pains. Even with that, everywhere I looked, fans were smiling, and having a great time. Heck, I had a great time just walking the floor, something I haven’t been able to do for ages.
But as the nerd monolith of Otakon heads to DC in the next few years, Baltimore Comic-Con has an opportunity to step into some hefty shoes, becoming THE Baltimore event to attend. The show has had a wonderful mom-and-pop feel for years, but this is now the time to become one of the greats. I just hope they don’t let the opportunity pass them by.