Alright, let’s get the bad part out of the way at the start: Heroes 2017 is the first full show in a while where we did not make back our table fees. But, it is worth noting that almost everyone exhibiting felt that this year’s show was…weird. AwesomeCon in D.C. was happening the same weekend, and while AwesomeCon is more a celebrity smooch fest than comic show, it must have drawn both talent and fans normally happy to make the journey to Charlotte.
Heroes’ adherence to the art form, however, makes even an underperforming weekend fun.
Comics Camp. Comics Family Reunion. Heroes. No matter what you call the weekend, it is guaranteed to bring memories and a welcome chance to renew old friendships and create new ones.
In fact, that’s starting to be a problem with Heroes…too many friends to catch up with in one building!
One thing I noticed is yet another year in which there were more female fans, in and out of costume, and more female creators. The tide is turning in comics, and people are paying attention. Wonder Woman was also a huge presence at the show, solidifying the very welcome increase in women’s voices in comics. I hope this trend continues, and soon every troll online who stupidly believes women don’t belong in comics will simply be drowned out by their own irrelevance.
The trip down for our family was luckily an easy one. 85 South was shut down for a tractor trailer accident for several hours in the afternoon, and from what we heard, we missed the accident by minutes. The only issue for us travel-wise was my slow recovery from a dislocated rib, which when paired with my back problems, made even the easy drive rough.
We held forth until Durham, where we stopped for lunch at Biscuitville, indulging in way too many carbs for me to admit to my endocrinologist. I will say one thing about Biscuitville: it’s a darned good thing they aren’t farther north, or I would be in real trouble.
We arrived just in time for check in at the hotel, and after getting the room settled, headed over for setup.
The show weekend started with a weird moment. As we were heading over, we passed Mike Zeck, the legendary Marvel artist whose work is responsible for some of the more iconic poses for many of Marvel’s best-known heroes. I nodded, and said to him, “have a good show, Sir.” He responded with a smile, and said something in reply.
Now…I thought I heard him say, “thanks, Robert.”
I met Zeck briefly the previous year, but could not imagine he knew me from a throw rug, let alone that he would know my name.
Keep that in mind.
Rico Renzi, who manages the show and handles all of the requests and insanity with amazing patience and tact, did a great job with table groupings. I wondered if I owed him the Kidlet for placing us in a group with Jamie Cosley, Thom Zahler, John Rose, Marcus Hamilton, and Chris Sparks. Having so many friends in our group got us off to a great start.
One primary regret of mine is that my rib and back issues meant post-show socialization was basically impossible. My wife was awesome as usual, walking a few blocks every night after the show to pick up a quick dinner for us to eat in our hotel room. Next year, I hope to not drag down the team and spend quality time with friends in and around Charlotte.
With the families expected for Saturday and Sunday, I spent the first hour or so of the show trying to visit friends. I got to visit, albeit far too briefly, with Alitha Martinez, Andy Runton, Brian Smith, Cameron Pitti, Chris Kemple, Chris Sebella, Christian Sager, Christine Brunson, Craig Rousseau, Dean Trippe, Drew Moss, Eryk Donovan, Francesco Francavilla, Gregg Schigiel, Hoyt Silva, Jamar Nicholas, Jason Horn, Joey Ellis, Kelly Williams, Kevin Cuffe, Matt & Suzanne Wieringo, Mike Maihack, Nicky Soh, Rich Woodall, Scott Fogg, Shane Berryhill, Shawn Pryor, Taylor Carlisle, Todd Dezago, and Wilfredo Torres.
If you do not recognize any of those names, when you can, check out their work. They are all talented storytellers, and are Kidlet Approved!
Friday was pretty slow, and we only had one sale, a couple looking for a gift for a new baby in the family. They picked up a plush Shakes toy and a copy of MOO THOUSAND AND PUN. Maybe in a couple of years they’ll be back for the next Shakes book.
Being slow, it let us catch up with our old friends and collaborators Jamie Cosley and his family. We also got to know Teresa Davidson, longtime Sonic and Archie artist and letterer. They both helped make a long day shorter.
After the show, we headed over to the Drink & Draw, a function run every year to raise funds for Team Cul De Sac, part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. I never know if my work sells, but Kidlet and I both drew a few pieces. I took a pic of two, but the third was given to a friend at our table and I forgot to snap a photo. I drew Percie the Penguin as Thanos, wielding the Infinity Flipper. (I made him go to the main table and donate a little, too. Luckily, my friend is a good sport.)
The band started up at the same time as a migraine and a desperate need for sleep hit, so we turned in for the day. Probably a good thing, too…Andy Runton arrived as we left, and I would not want to try and draw next to him.
Saturday was a little shorter, and a little crazier, than Friday. A fellow Kids Love Comics exhibitor, Joe Endres, came down to check out the show and visit with us. Former comic shop customers who became good friends came to visit as well. One was a bit disappointed that Bill Sienkiewicz had to cancel his appearance, so I drew – or tried, anyway – a sketch card of Shakes as Elektra in Sienkiewicz’s style. Endres then threw me a curve by asking me to draw Shakes in the style of Sam Kieth.
Below are the results. One thing to note, we had NO cell service, so everything I drew had to be from memory.
We got some fun cosplay passing by, too, including our favorite cosplayer AlyJack, who was wearing a spectacular and completely handmade dress as Antebellum Captain America. There’s always a Squirrel Girl, too, a testament to North and Henderson’s great work on the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. One copslayer was dressed as Barb from Stranger Things, and completely broke character when she saw Shakes. Anyone who loves nerdy stuff, cows, AND puns is pretty awesome in my book.
This cutie pie also charmed our whole table, and showed that Shakes gives great hugs.
Saturday also allowed me to scuttle my nerves and get a signature from one of my all-time favorite artists, Jerry Ordway. A few years ago I managed to get a commission via mail from him of Nick and Nora. I had just enough time to thank him for the art, and years of entertainment, and I managed to keep my cool. Kind of. He very kindly did a quick sketch of Captain Marvel in my hardcover copy of his Power of Shazam graphic novel. If you ever get to read it, pay attention to Billy Batson’s parents, whom Ordway modeled after Nick and Nora. I was also able to get a book signed by Roy Thomas, Joe Giella, and Frank Brunner, and the first issue of Captain Carrot signed by Scott Shaw, true legends all. Saturday was a wild day, to be sure.
In addition to “Barb,” who came back for a copy of MOO and a Wonder Shakes toy, a family swung by twice, and once they heard where the ideas for the Bear From AUNT came from, they immediately bought a copy of The Honey Don’t Case. Something tells me we will be seeing both again next year.
(I won’t dwell or go into details, but Don Rosa lived up to his reputation with the Kidlet, leading to some of our friends going into full parent/grandparent mode and reassuring her that he’s…well…not great with kids.)
Sunday was the most hectic, between the show’s final day, and getting everything packed and set up to head out once the show ended.
I got to visit with a few more folks I had missed earlier, including Brian Stelfreeze, Chip Zdarsky, Chris Campana, Janet Lee, Joe Staton, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Laura Martin, Matt Fraction, Paul Jenkins, and Skottie Young. Like the previous group, these are all also Kidlet Approved (but, if you have little ones, stick to Chip’s new Spider-Man comic).
Kidlet took the reins and became the official Shakes Selfie person, and got some great shots with new folks to add to the cult of the cow. Chip Zdarsky swung by to take his own photo with Shakes, and it’s everything you would expect. She also recreated an old picture from a previous show, in which she and Drew – er – drew sketch cards for each other, creating a Heroes tradition for us both.
Sunday was also Father’s Day, and my wife and Kidlet totally shocked me with two great gifts. Elinda commissioned Shakes from Janet Lee, who clearly gets me.
Kidlet went above and beyond, getting Hoyt Silva pencils inked by Francesco Francavilla, and then colored by Laura Martin. One friend who watched the presentation of this jam piece remarked it was worth it just to see me speechless.
Kidlet then messed with my head by taking me to see Mike Zeck. Apparently, she had gone over to ask him if he knew who I was. He said he didn’t know. She took me over, and he shook his head to her. Embarrassing, but…I guess he’ll remember me now. Thanks, I guess? Oy. (I swear, the picture of her with Michael Myers was not my response to her. Honest!)
A new friend we happened to chat with in the hotel elevator Friday came by and picked up the first Shakes and Bear books, and a toy. An hour later, he came back to tell me how much he was already enjoying Bear. Sales always encourage a creator, but that kind of feedback really brightens our days!
There are even a few shops who expressed interest in carrying our products! Fingers crossed that we can make that happen.
The drive back Sunday was uneventful but long, and we got home well after midnight. We hope to finally be caught up on sleep soon.
We may not have made table, but we did meet folks who could easily become new regular customers.
We may not have visited with everyone, but we also made new friends to make the next show even more anticipated.
One thing is for sure, there are never enough “lows” at Heroes to come close to making it a trip we regret. Every year, be it “comics camp” or our “family reunion,” we love this show. We always will.
And every year, it is our friends and family at the show filling our hearts and inspiring us to keep working to make it, and ourselves, better.
I started the drive to Heroes on Thursday by playing this song, by Dead Man Fall…and it is perfect for everyone who attends Heroes with the hopes of meeting their next favorite patrons. It’s a great song for anyone starting out like me who wonders how long to keep trying.
Thank you everyone, and we will see you next year!
Here are Chip and Shakes.
Cheers, and we’ll see you next year!