Friday, June 27, 2008

HEROESCON 08 :: Super-Long Fact-Packed Con Report!

For literally hundreds of photos, go check out our massive Flickr collection dedicated to HeroesCon 08, which we'll be adding to and updating with descriptions and links for most likely weeks!

Where to begin? Here it is a full week since HeroesCon 08 opened its doors to the public, and we're struggling under a DELUGE of well-wishes, congratulations, and sweet notes from many of you. Not to mention that half of us are sick--after a month without days off, a full weekend of scant sleep, missed meals and crummy food, and possibly more late nights in the hotel bar than are really appropriate for health-minded individuals, it's no surprise. Only super-conventioneer Shelton Drum seems immune to the effects of time and tide--not only did he bounce back faster than any of us, but he was unloading boxes and fixtures the very next day in our warehouse, with nary a complaint!

But enough about us: the report from every quarter seems to be that HeroesCon 08 was an unqualified success! Tons of smiling fans everywhere, the biggest guest list we've ever had, and dealers from wall-to-wall! It would be tough to hit all the points from over the weekend, but I'll try to as briefly as I can--brief for me is twice as long as most people's "long", so it should even itself out.

STAFF

It's not the sexiest place to start, but our staff usually gets mentioned last, and this year they were so amazing that I want to recognize them first. While you may not have noticed it--the infrastructure at a convention is designed to be invisible--this year's show was one of the smoothest-run I've ever been a part of. I don't mean me or Shelton, either: the credit mainly goes to our "lieutenants", each of which went over and above what was asked of them to provide the best possible con experience for everyone they came into contact with. Todd Harlan and Phil Southern crushed it at the Heroes booth; Steve Saffel, Dana Hayward, and Shelley Drum ran the smoothest registration ever; Charlie Foesch was hysterical and tireless at the Info Booth; Karla Marsh checked in most of the exhibitors almost single-handed; Doug Merkle ran shuttles to and from the airport all weekend; on and on. I'm leaving out a ton of our actual paid staff, who were awesome of course--but these guys each ran a prime sector of the convention, and the relative lack of problems is a testament to their abilities.

But I can't leave out two people who I'd personally nominate as show MVP's as far as staff goes: Andy Mansell and Seth Peagler. Andy, who we don't pay a dime, handled a giant panel schedule armed with nothing more than a cellphone and an inexhaustible wellspring of energy. It might sound easy, but it involves a lot of running up and down stairs all weekend, as you corral panelists, handle last minute problems, and generally keep everything looking smooth for the attendees. If you went to a panel and had a good time last weekend, thank Andy Mansell. I think the photo above is about as apt a description of what he did all weekend as anything I could describe.

Seth Peagler has been working for us for barely a year, but if we could clone him a couple of times we could run two or three more HeroesCons every year. I can't say enough about how ready to handle any problem Seth was, including many of my own problems. You can see how selfish my MVP suggestions are: both Seth and Andy did a TON of work that usually goes to me, so I actually worked less this year than in the past. Hurray me!

FRIDAY MORNING

So Friday morning, everything's going smoothly, due mainly to the staff I just praised above, and just before we're about to open the doors for fans at 11am, Shelton calls down to ask if I'm going to take a picture of the line. "Oh, is it a long one? I haven't been upstairs." "Oh, it's a long one," he says, "but you'd better run if you want a picture--these people want in."

Holy mackerel! This was Friday morning, too--usually the big line comes on Saturday morning. So this was definitely a good indicator of the kind of weekend we were going to have.

Once the doors were open and the fans streamed onto the floor, HeroesCon had begun! I have to say that the only real problem we had this year, and probably 70% of the fires I had to put out, had to do with tables in Artists Alley. When there's a misunderstanding and someone sits in the wrong table, it creates this chain reaction of table moves that takes a lot of head-scratching to solve. It helps that most of our invited guests are super patient when this kind of stuff happens, so thanks to everyone who was nice to me as I tried to get everyone seated correctly so they could start meeting fans. Also thanks to Steve Epting's sketch line, which I had to move TWICE on Saturday. People love some Steve Epting. Poor Steve deserves a big thank you, as he was feeling under the weather and STILL signed autographs and did sketches for a ton of fans.

RINGO TRIBUTE

By Friday night I was so wiped that all I could do was invite myself to dinner with some of my favorite Indie Islanders (more on I.I. later) and then sit there nursing a Coke and 4 orange slices. I admit--I totally broke down. If you want endurance, Shelton is definitely your man. What sucks about this is that I missed the tribute party for the late great Mike Wieringo, which from the pictures looks like a ton of fun. We had it across the street from the convention center, and it featured a ton of Ringo's buddies and collaborators talking about their friend, the new Ringo scholarship fun that Ringo's brother Matt has started in conjunction with SCAD, and just a little bit about some cops that showed up mid-party but then ended up being pretty friendly. Don't embarass us, Todd Dezago!

OH, THOSE GUESTS!

Man, if there was one thing we weren't short on this year, it was guests! Even with a discouraging number of cancellations in the couple of weeks prior to the show, we had every table crammed with someone all weekend. From first-timers like Darwyn Cooke and Frank Cho, to old salts like Adam Hughes and Matt Fraction, there were big name guests all over the place, all of whom seemed to have a great time. It helps that we definitely try to skew our guest list toward guests we like and who like us--that friendly vibe on the show floor doesn't happen by accident, you know! Plus a lot of guests recommend us to their buddies, as in Brandon Peterson and Frank Cho, Allison Sohn and Stephane Roux, etc. So it builds a big neighborly vibe on the floor that's pretty singular, from what I understand. Shelton knows better than I do--he does a lot more shows than I do. See earlier for reports of Shelton's powers of endurance.

We don't really play favorites or anything, but I gotta say I was impressed with Darwyn Cooke, although I barely had time to do more than shake his hand and introduce myself at one point. We worked this guy to DEATH, not only at the show, but beforehand. Besides doing the amazing art for our advance ticket incentive print this year, he had to sign ONE THOUSAND of them as soon as he showed up at the hotel. That's no small feat, if you've ever signed 1000 of anything. From all reports, Darwyn was a super-popular guest, and signed and sketched pretty ceaselessly all weekend, with his wife at his side.

A cool thing that we had a lot more of this year was podcasters--there were people holding microphones all over the place, across Artists Alley. The cool thing about that is that there are a ton of interviews across the internet for you to listen to, not to mention a bunch of our panels that the good guys at The Dollar Bin recorded for us. Those guys were SUPER awesome, and I know that main sound dude Adam worked his little earphones to the bone racing from panel to panel with his tricked out audio setup in tow.

Another cool thing about having so many friendly guests is the hotel bar scene--as Tom Spurgeon pointed out in his excellent HeroesCon report, there was a real mix of established veterans, hot newcomers, small pressers, and publishers of all stripe toasting each other in the Westin bar, which was cool. One of my favorite sights was seeing Jaime Hernandez in the corner, holding court and chatting with Evan Dorkin, Dan Nadel, Frank Santoro, and Sammy Harkham. I would have loved to sit in on that conversation, but I was getting pulled all over the place slapping high fives with everybody. Also great was Matt Fraction--wherever he went he was surrounded by a ton of funny people, in a kind of storm cell of hilarity. I joined in a couple of times, but him and Ivan Brandon, Rick Remender, and those guys are way over my head when it comes to funny. Best to get your shot in and leave on a high-note, Costanza-style. Although I will say: do NOT under any circumstances get into a discussion about Barack Obama with Matt Fraction, especially at 2am the night before the convention you've been working on all year is set to open. It'll make getting up the next morning so hard...

But leave us not forget to mention:

PANELS

The event schedule at many comics conventions, including ours at times in the past, can be something of an afterthought. It's not so much that the convention organizers aren't interested, but they most likely have a ton of things on their minds already, and organizing panels is highly labor-intensive. Just ask Tom Spurgeon, who has endured an endless barrage of e-mails from me for the past year. Besides just deciding what it is you'd like to do, you then have to get all your panelists onboard, which is a lot more e-mailing and phone work, etc. Then at the last minute, suddenly everybody decides that oh-yeah-they'd-like-to-do-a-panel-too, thus bunging up your carefully planned schedule.

Tom Spurgeon ran something like 7-10 different panels this year, and I missed almost all of them. If you don't know him already, Tom runs the Comics Reporter website, which is definitely my favorite comics blog to read. I don't read many comics blogs, though, so maybe I'm naive. Either way, he's a super smart dude, and a superb panel moderator--Tom just asks a couple of well-thought out questions and then gets out of the way, trusting the panelists to make things interesting.

Don't take my word for it; as I've mentioned elsewhere, the jolly guys at The Dollar Bin recorded most of his panels, and they're getting put up over at their site one by one. I listened to the 75 minute Collaboration In Comics panel, featuring Darwyn Cooke, Matt Fraction, Jimmy Palmiotti, Cliff Chiang, and Barry Kitson the other day, and it was really fascinating. My personal favorite panel by far was the one on Religion on Sunday, featuring Sammy Harkham and Kevin Huizenga, who are probably 2 of my 3 favorite cartoonists right now. I admit that I abused my role as organizer a little on this one, as it was kind of a dream panel for me. Apparently some of the staff thought so, too, as Seth and Rob were both in attendance, as well as a few volunteers.

INDIE ISLAND

This year's Indie Island was our biggest ever, with 46 tables and 8 booths crammed with cartoonists and publishers from all over the country. Most of the reports I'm getting are pretty excited about it, especially reports from people who have exhibited there over the years and loved all the new faces--and so many new faces! Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, Brian Ralph, Nick Gurewitch, the Chapman Bros of Homestarrunner... the list goes on and on. My personal favorite parts of Indie Island this year were meeting Scott Campbell, who did the art for our Indie Island print this year, which we turned into a giant 15' banner at the back of the section! The other favorite was getting to hang out with the awesome New York/Portland wing of comics, including Alec Longstreth, Liz Prince, Aaron Renier, Kaz Strzepek, Greg Means, Laura Park--all those peeps. They were so fun, and were very kind to let me hang around with them in the hotel bar after hours.

The only down side for Indie Island this year were reported crummy sales for some of the new exhibitors, including Buenaventura, Picturebox, and Bodega. This was the first HeroesCon for all three, and their books weren't as recognizable to our admittedly highly superhero-centric crowd. But I trust that future appearances will see those sales climb, as they build a regional audience. Chris Staros of Top Shelf told me that they'd had one of their best HeroesCon's ever, and that sales last weekend were on par or exceeded many of the other "big" indie shows they attend. So it's six of one, half dozen of the other. But as the guy responsible for Indie Island (along with the kind indulgence and budget of Shelton, who really has let me do things my way with the section), I take these sorts of things to heart, and am already churning my brain for how to address them next year, when our regular exhibitors are joined by Jeff Smith and Fantagraphics, as well as I'm sure a ton of other new faces! Either way, hanging out with the guys from Buenaventura and Picturebox and Bodega was awesome, they're all super nice guys, which is right up my alley.

The cool thing about Indie Island was that all the guests were so much fun--even the ones that weren't doing great selling stuff were big fans of each other, or just plain friends, so there was a fun vibe everywhere. And for some reason, everyone kept saying how much they liked that the Indie Island table skirts were yellow rather than blue, and how nice it looked. I thought they were hideous, but that just shows what I know.

ART AUCTION

I go to the Art Auction every year--as I tell new guests who are wondering whether or not to attend, "It's twice as fun as you think it would be." And this year we tried all kinds of new stuff. For one thing, we held the Auction in The Alley Cat, an uptown club that contains two or three full bars, a miniature version of the excellent Penguin restaurant, and a much more organic atmosphere than a hotel ballroom, where we've had it the last several years. What did the Alley Cat lack this year? Rosario Dawson. No problem! Shelton was kind enough to rent me a white pinstripe tux, and for the first time ever, I was the auctioneer.

Things almost got off to a rocky start, when a sudden thunderstorm dropped a month's worth of rain on Charlotte precisely when people were leaving the hotel to walk the 6 blocks uptown to the Alley Cat. I thought for sure the attendance would be killed, but when I finally showed up, the room was packed from wall to wall and front to back, and people only seemed a little disappointed to learn that I was not, as they may have thought, Rosario Dawson. I do what I can with what I've got, and if you ask me, I did okay. I think at the end of the night, the Auction total, despite the much-less-attractive auctioneer, rainy start, and new venue, pulled in just a hair less than last year's record amount, and that's not including items included in our Silent Auction on Saturday and Sunday at the convention itself. I've heard a few complaints about the acoustics in the Alley Cat, but I think those are easy to address next year, as the room was set up for a band following our event.

In fact, the band was probably the biggest pro and con of the night. We promised the kind owners of the club that we would be done by ten o'clock, and done we were, but at such a speed! It's hard to talk for three hours straight really fast, especially when some of pieces are so dazzling! Allison Sohn was the unofficial star of the night, bidding on several pieces very aggressively, often throwing out epithets at the audience if she didn't feel like people were bidding enough. I myself got into a brief bidding war over the original painting Scott Campbell did for our Indie Island print, which finally went for a wallet-bursting $750! Holy mackerel! But what can I say, I had to have it. Once that credit card bill is paid off (around HeroesCon 2010), I'll be able to stare lovingly at the framed painting without thinking so much about all that money.

Other "big" pieces including the biggest of the night, Stephane Roux's Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy painting, which he did onstage at the show. Plus "live" pieces from Brian Stelfreeze, Jim Mahfood, Josh Cotter, Tommy Lee Edwards, Darwyn Cooke, and a ton of others. Even going fast, it was pretty dizzying to see so much amazing talent whizzing by. Reports we've heard are still split on the faster, leaner Auction: on the one hand, many of the pros I talked to afterward were EXTREMELY positive about a shorter Auction, not to mention starting at 6.30-7pm, rather than between 8 and 9 as has happened in the past. Other people liked the longer, marathon-style auction, although I haven't heard from them as much. Much of the credit for the earlier start goes to Michaele Drum and Trey Alexander, who shepherded the Auction all weekend, and Allison Sohn, who was a huge help (as always) in coordinating everything.

THE WRAPUP

Believe it or not, I could go a lot longer with this report. I've left out a ton of stuff--the guests I witnessed sneaking 40's of Colt .45 into the hotel bar, the incredible patience of Roy Richardson, June Brigman, and Rod Whigham, how cool it was to see Al Feldstein hanging around our convention, on and on. Plus a neverending list of people to thank for their kind indulgence and enthusiasm.

But all good things must come to an end! By the end of the show on Sunday, Phil Southern and Andy Mansell cranked up their awesome load-out machine. I'm not proud to say that I helped almost none at all, although they had it well in hand to all appearances. By Sunday night I could barely move, and was having a hard time thinking about anything more complicated than "need water" or "feet hurt." Fortunately others on the staff are made of sterner stuff. Later we all repaired back to our store, where Shelton threw a giant party for all the guests and staff. Talk about a Who's Who! By the time I showed up, it was standing room only already, and I had to wade through Frank Cho, Al Feldstein, and Dexter Vines just to get in the door! Our buddy Billy Reid helped serve a ton of food from Mac's Barbeque, and our other buddies Pete and Michelle kept making beer runs, but everyone was happy and slapping each other on the back.

Speaking of slapping each other on the back, here's a back-slap for us: one of the coolest things about HeroesCon is how focused on comics it is. Believe me, it's not by accident, and we talk a LOT about anything that might be at odds with that. Even as tired as I was on Sunday, I sat down with my new best buds Alec Longstreth and Aaron Renier, with my plate of BBQ, and looked around at all these minicomics dudes, then at the table next to me were Al Feldstein, Jim Scancarelli, and Don Sherwood. In the store Matt Fraction and Rick Remender were cracking up a crowd of people, and not far from them Robert Kirkman and Brandon Peterson were doing the same with a different crowd. Such a crazy mix of people, all here at the place I've worked (with a couple of interruptions) since 1996! And all because of HeroesCon.

Regardless of all the time and effort we put into it, for what is often no profit at all in terms of revenue, I'm proud that Shelton has built HeroesCon into what it is over the years; I'm even more proud of what I have to do with that, but maybe I'm just self-centered. But believe me when I tell you that HeroesCon has a paid staff of like 12 people, only 4 of which are full-time. And all of which run the best comic book store in the country all year long as well. So surely it can't be all our fault that our show has become famous for being so great. No, we strongly suspect that most of the blame rests squarely on YOUR shoulders.

And we sure do appreciate it.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great job, Dollar Bin, for getting so many of the panels on your site (I suppose I should give up on ever getting my Heroes Con 2005 videos from Chimera Media :-). My wife and I were so busy buying up back stock bargains from the dealers that we never stopped shopping the entire day Friday and Saturday (except for lunch at Fuel, of course).

The one and only negative about the entire weekend, and this isn't really a negative about the show itself, was the "Dub Hip-Hop Car Show" going on at the same time as the con. I was heading back to the Westin on Saturday night and the crowd for that show was totally getting out of hand. People were getting arrested in the Westin's parking garage, an officer was chewing out another one in the hotel lobby, and a couple dozen were cutting through the Westin's lobby and really trying the patience of the hotel staff. I just found it amazing how the attendees of Heroes Con were so polite, courteous and professional, but the "Dub" show, for whatever reason, just seemed to bring out the worst in so many people.

In any event, many thanks to Shelton, Dustin and the entire staff for putting on another incredibly successful convention. I can't believe we're already planning for next year's trip...our sixth year attending!

Now...when will the 2009 rate be available at the Westin?? :-)

Chris & Donna Galvan
Madison Heights, MI

Phil Southern said...

It was truly smoother than ever before, due to the Herculean efforts of Andy and Seth, protecting Todd and I from the endless fires that must be put out! Thanks to everyone who attended and to the great volunteers who helped us out of many a jam!

Phil

Meredith D. said...

No mention at all of the SCAD classes! For me this was the best part of the whole convention and I sincerely hope you continue the trend. Many of the classes (I attended all of them- maybe you should build in a lunch break) were completely full with stragglers standing up in the back. Where else can you get over ten hours of instruction in making comics??? Especially for those of us who can't quit our jobs and move to Savannah or Vermont to go to school full time. I admire your dedication to the genre and hope to see you expand on this idea in the future!

Dustin Harbin said...

Chris and Donna--I will e-mail you PERSONALLY the very instant hotel reservations open for a HeroesCon 09 rate, promise. You guys are great supporters, and I hate for you to have to wait so long. Shelton has plans in place to get hotel rates open much sooner than this year, so keep your fingers crossed!

Meredith--you're totally right! I left out SCAD (not to mention a ton of other stuff). We love those guys, and were really happy to partner with them. We're big fans of ANYTHING that gets people drawing, so count on a SCAD presence at the show for as long as they'll keep coming!

Speaking of which, I just realized I never included links to the Flickr page, where all the other photos are. I'll take care of that post-haste.

Ted Tarver said...

Thanks to everyone for making my first convention experience a memorable one. (Also, thanks for letting me crash the party Sunday night!)

Looking forward to next year. Let me know if I can help out in any way.

Rusty Baily said...

Dusty-Great report! And even better con! I feel so proud to finally be a part of this AMAZING creation that Shelton started(store AND con!) We ARE the shizzle, aren't we?

Andy Mansell said...

Rusty hit in on the head! I am proud to be able to say I was a part of something so special; so worthwhile. The Con is a reflection of the store, the brand, and above all else Dustin's vision and Shelton's integrity as both a caring fan and merchant extraordinaire!! This wasn't just a showcase for Heroes, it was a showcase for Charlotte and I am proud to have been part of it.

SubSub said...

This was my first Heroes Con and I definitely want to do it again if this is the level of quality you guys always do things.

I had a great time. Keep up the good work guys!

Rebecca said...

What? No photos of guest Dwight MacPherson anywhere! ;) And our table was right next to Nat Jones and Steve Niles..ah well there is a lovely picture on the comicrelated site:)

This was my first Heroes Con and I have to say that I had an amazing time. I will most definitely be there next year. Thanks for putting such a well run con together. Everyone was very cool and extremely professional.

Rebecca Kirkland

illyanadmc said...

looks like it was fantastic fun!

now, how do i go about getting a scott campbell print?

Dustin Harbin said...

You know, I'm not sure I ever SAW Dwight anywhere! Of course, I was running all over the place all the time.

To get Indie Island print: Paypal $15 ($10 + $5 postage) to my main man Shelton at shelton@heroesonline.com, and he will send you out the very lowest numbered print of the limited edition of 100. We also have unsigned prints you can have for $5 (+$5 to get them shipped to you).

And of course, no shipping charge if you buy that stuff in the store.

illyanadmc said...

thanks again for your help, dustin!