Ah April, how I’ve missed you. You bring me longer days, warmer nights, and most importantly, the beginning of the convention season. For myself, and few other Nexus alums, April holds even more significance because it brings with it one of the most underrated Comic Conventions in the country, namely The Pittsburgh Comicon, which runs from April 23rd through the 25th. Every year, former Nexus writer and current The-Trades.com contributor Jeff Ritter and Chris Delloiacono join me in a trek to the Steel City to attend and report on this one-of-kind convention.
Unlike so many shows, where attendees are ushered through lines so quickly that they’re lucky if they can even say “hi” to the creator who’s signing their comic (that is if the creator you got in line for is even still there), the Pittsburgh show is laid back and friendly. That’s not say you won’t find some lines, especially at some of the bigger name creator’s tables like this year’s Roy Thomas, Scott McDaniel, Tom Mandrake and Jo Chen; however, you won’t be pressured to throw a book down to be signed and run off. You can talk with these creators, pick their brains, and in most cases get them to do a sketch for you (with some little green papers of course).
At this point, though, I feel I’ve said enough. Instead of my prattling on about how great this show is, and why you should make it a regular stop on your convention circuit, we’re going to let some of Pittsburgh’s regular creators say a few words about the show. Jeff and I have been interacting with each of these talented creators for years, so much so we’ve come to call them friends. And we could think of no better way to promote this wonderful show than by letting them tell you about it, and convention life in general. Our cast of creators include: Bryan J.L. Glass, Harvey Award winning writer of “The Mice Templar” from Image Comics; Darryl Banks, the legendary artist of DC’s “Green Lantern” and the co-creator of Kyle Rayner; Marc Wolfe, Army veteran and Lucasfilm illustrator whose work deserves to grace many more comic covers than they currently do; Adam Withers and Comfort Love, the husband and wife duo behind “The Uniques,” a terrific independent comic; Rich Bernatovech, writer of “The Sentinels” graphic novel saga through his own publishing house, Drumfish Productions; and finally Jamie Fay, a soon-to-be-household-name artist who has contributed to “The Sentinels” and is working with Rich Bernatovech on “Neverminds.”
How many comic conventions do you typically get to in a year?
Bryan J. L. Glass: It increases every year. Will probably hit a dozen before 2010 ends.
Darryl Banks: 2 to 3 shows per year.
Marc Wolfe: In the past I would kill myself and do upwards of 18 or so. In the past two years I have cut way back due to commission responsibilities and do maybe 6 or so.
Adam Withers and Comfort Love: Typically we do a lot. For 2010 we’re aiming for 20 shows, though we may not quite hit that mark. Several shows we wanted to go to are on the same weekend this year, which makes it impossible to do every show we’d want to.
Rich Bernatovech: Definitely not as many as I’d like. They get expensive and I have a full time job so it’s also hard to get off from work for a lot of them. But I’ve basically been doing 5 a year.
Jamie Fay: I do enough to show face but not to over-do it. More than 10 a year for an indie creator is crazy especially with working a full-time job and creating books!
What was the first comic convention you ever attended? How did it influence the writer/artist you would become?
Bryan: This is a toughie…
First convention I ever went to was a Philadelphia Creation Con way back in ’79. An astoundingly good time, and it told me this was the community of folk I wanted to be associated with.
First con as an aspiring pro was probably another Philly show in the early 90s.
But the first con to ever host me as a guest was good old Pittsburgh Con, shortly after my novel Quixote was published by Image back in 2005.
I feel the most powerful creative influence a con can have upon the aspiring creator is to connect with the pros at every strata of the industry, and of every individual art and discipline of the craft, and realize that they’re real people. So if they can make it, so can you. For the aspiring creators that are honest with themselves, there are stories aplenty to be heard by creators that have tread the path before you.
Darryl: I don’t remember the name of it. It was a small, local convention in Columbus, Ohio back in 1981. I won an amateur artist contest and got critiques from Jim Shooter, Val Mayerik and Joe Rubenstein.
Marc: The first convention I ever attended was the Motor City show (second was Pittsburgh). I had attended shows beforehand as a fan and enjoyed seeing all of artists showing their work. At every show you see a wide range of talent from beginners to top pros. At the time I gauged myself somewhere in the middle and figured I would give it a shot. My first show I was lucky and had a great welcome from the fans.
I was hooked and never looked back at having a “real” job.
Adam and Comfort: We both had our first con experiences at the Motor City Con, Adam around ’97 and Comfort the fall of ’99. We’re both from Michigan originally, so it was kind of our home town show.
Fun as those shows were, it wasn’t until we went together to a WWChicago show in 2001 and brought our portfolios for review that we had a deeper experience. This
was when we hit a major creative inspiration point; getting reviews from artists and editors we respected and feeling like we were part of something so big and bright and possible made us want even more to become professionals.
Rich: The first comic convention that I attended where I had was the Big Apple Con in NYC. This was waaaay back when they used to have a lot of big name guest there. It influenced me a lot as I finally got to met many artists and writers who I always admired. Seeing them as real people and interacting with them showed me that I could one day follow in their footsteps.
Jamie: The first convention I ever attended was the Pittsburgh Comicon and it totally influenced me. I met a future collaborator and friend in Rich Bernatovech. Since then I’ve had art published, moved to NYC and have got a legion of the best fans on the planet.
What is the strangest request you’ve ever received from a convention attendee?
Bryan: When attending a con, as a guest or attender, strange simply comes with the territory. Weird is simply part of the overall charm.
Darryl: Years ago I used to get requests for porno sketches which I don’t do. I consider that strange because I’m usually surrounded by artists that will do that but people kept asking me. It’s pretty much clear nowadays.
Marc: Well… There have been a few that definitely stand out. I have had a few asking for particular female heroes nude or in distasteful ways. I refuse to do those based on the fact that I respect the characters and wouldn’t want to sign my name to anything like that. The weirdest is a fan that likes these anime girls that are also mermaids that happen to wear dresses and such. Oh, but they are also dancing in front of a waterfall. Yep, dancing mermaid anime schoolgirls. Hmmm.
Adam and Comfort: This would probably be a request from a guy with a theme sketchbook that was all pictures of Muppets locked in mortal combat with Sesame Street characters. We did a picture of “Reservoir Muppets,” with the Swedish Chef as Mr. Blonde, dancing in front of a tied up police officer Bert after having just cut his ear off. Classic, hilarious, bizarre…and fun.
Rich: Hmmm. I’ve seen a lot of odd and strange things at conventions but I have to be honest and say that I’ve never gotten a strange request made upon myself. I have a high tolerance to strangeness, lol. So maybe things just don’t bother me too much at conventions. I’m used to the unusual.
Jamie: Well, it was strange but oh so fun. I was asked to draw Fisher-Price peg people as superheroes!
What makes the Pittsburgh Comicon different from other conventions you’ve attended?
Bryan: It has always been a very cozy, warm and welcoming environment for me. Pittsburgh is a great city with great people who always make me feel very much at home.
Darryl: I don’t have a definitive answer for that other than I just like it and I always have. Promoter Renee George is always very nice to work with. She’s very professional while remaining very personable. Pittsburgh is stuck with me for the time being!
Marc: Pittsburgh is great because it gets a ton of top artists and celebrity guests and you actually get to meet and talk to them without feeling too rushed like you would at other shows that seem to just try to pump fans through the lines and get them to move on. The show makes everyone very approachable. Hanging out at the hotel bar at night is also very cool because most of the guests are there. It’s not every day you get a chance to buy a Cylon or Darth Maul a drink.
Adam and Comfort: It has a real family atmosphere. The show runners are all very nice people, very personable and friendly. You spend a weekend at that show and you feel like you’re part of the family too. We love that kind of welcoming and comfortable vibe; it makes you feel like you belong. The Pittsburgh Comicon is like the opening to the show “Cheers.”
Rich: Pittsburgh was one of the first conventions I went to as a professional and they treated me with a lot of respect. I like how they treat the creators who come back year after year with appreciation and don’t treat you like you’re there to serve them. They want to help you make the show the best it can be for you. The guests are among the friendliest around and I always have a great time with the other creators. It has a very nice community feel to it that I enjoy.
Jamie: The Pittsburgh Comicon is different because the owners of the show actually care about the creators present. They feed us, and make sure we have a good time after the shows as well. They are also some of the nicest people to chat with. A+ to them all!
Do have any advice for first-time attendees?
Bryan: Pace yourself. Make time to see everyone you planned to, as well as every scheduled event that caught your interest… but then see what new things there are to discover. Embrace some new title, writer or artist at every show you attend. You’ll surprise yourself by what you find!
Darryl: The convention is great but make sure you attend some of the after-hours events like the charity auction. Expect to have fun and you will!
Marc: HAVE FUN! Don’t be shy to go up to your favorite artist or celeb and have a book or photo signed. The Pittsburgh show has a nice relaxed atmosphere so take your time and enjoy. Oh, and stop by my booth and say hi!
Adam and Comfort: Don’t be afraid to talk to the people behind the booths. Pretty much all of us used to be attendees ourselves, and part of why we go to cons is to meet people and introduce you to our stuff. We want to say hello, so you don’t have to be nervous about being friendly or conversational. It makes the weekend more fun for all of us. Just be polite and you’ll be fine.
Rich: Don’t just walk around the convention looking at things, talk to the creators! If you’re an aspiring artist or writer, ask them questions. Most of them will be happy to help and answer you.
Jamie: Hmm, for first time indie creators, definitely make good friends. And make the right ones. There are so many people at the cons that act so nice and you wanna like them, but then they turn out to be liars, thieves and cheats. It reflects on you who you associate with–the wrong people can hurt you. Other than that, talk to people when they are at your table. Stand up and give them a moment of your time. SMILE! Don’t sit there and look like you are depressed or sad because its gonna scare people away. SELL your product.