Monday, October 31, 2016

GRAND RAPIDS COMIC-CON: PART ONE

My second experience with Grand Rapids Comic-Con, held October 21-23 at the DeVos Place in that fine Michigan city, was even better than my first wonderful experience with the event two years ago. In just a few years, Mark Hodges and his partners and volunteers have made this convention a must-attend event for me. I’ll come back as often as they want me to. But I’m getting ahead of my story, which will take a day or two to tell.

Thom Zahler, famed writer/artist of Love and Capes, Long Distance and My Little Pony, was my boon traveling companion for this trip. He arrived at Casa Isabella on Thursday night, put his stuff into Monty (my trusty van) and set himself behind the wheel. My driving skills are still intact, but they aren’t as good as they once were. So when I get a younger driver to take the helm, I am quite happy to give him or her the captain’s chair.

It’s a five-hour drive to Grand Rapids. The hours were filled with pleasant conversation about our lives, comics, movies, TV shows and more. As long drives go, this was a good one.

We arrived at the Amway Grand Plaza, which is located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids and but a short walk from the DeVos Place. I was immediately struck by what a beautiful hotel this was. It’s easily the nicest hotel I’ve stayed in this year.

My room was huge. Two large window views, each looking out on the Grand River and the many bridges which span it. The city’s beauty was obvious, even in those light-night hours.

Two queen-sized beds. A comfortable chair. A spacious desk with a comfortable desk chair. A large flat-screen TV. Plenty of storage space. A clean and very nice bathroom.

Great staff. Great service. Great food. The only thing that would have made my stay even more pleasant would have been in my Sainted Wife Barb had been able to join me for the weekend.

My late-night dinner was a delicious pizza. Big enough to take care of my immediate needs with slices left over for snacks during the weekend. It was a good start.

After a good night’s sleep, Thom and I met in the lobby. Retrieving Monty, we drove to the DeVos Place. Loading our convention stuff into the show was easy. Two quick trips via the freight elevator. We drove the van back to the hotel, strolled to the nearby Atwater Brewery for lunch and then head back to the convention to prepare our next-to-each-other booths for the event’s 2 pm opening. Things were going so well, one would almost have to expect a “but.” Here it is:

There was no “but.” The Grand Rapids Comic-Con was a sheer delight from start to finish. The show promoters, staff and volunteers took great care of us. The venue was clean and well-maintained with some of the friendliest and most competent workers I have even seen at a convention.

Right from the 2 pm start, Friday was filled with old friends and excited fans and creative cosplay. On the corner of the aisle where my booth was artist Stuart Sayger with a huge stunning display of his prints and posters. He’s one of those guys who makes me wish I had a lot more wall space in my home.

Down the aisle from Thom and me were comics artist Joe Rubinstein, who I have known since the 1970s, and writer Dirk Manning, who I’ve seen at so many shows I can no longer remember when we first met. Of course, being writers, we can probably come up with incredible “origin” stories of how we first met if the need ever arises.

Within sight of my booth was the booth shared by J. David Spurlock, whose Vanguard Publications has published works by some of the all-time great comics creators, and animator/cartoonist Bob Camp whose won awards for his work on The Ren & Stimpy Show. David and I have known each other for years - before the show ended, he gave me this very cool Wally Wood t-shirt and I gave him a copy of DC’s recent Black Lightning collection - but this was my first time meeting the very talented and amiable Camp.

Another first time meeting was Luke Daab, a friend of Thom Zahler. He’s a professional artist working in promotions, creating designs and illustration for McDonald’s, Kellogs, Dreamworks, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and others. He’s also the sole proprietor of Daab Creative, an independent design and illustration agency.

Luke is a swell guy who was way too excited to meet me. I was very happy to make his acquaintance. Before the end of the convention, he gave me this swell Black Lightning drawing:

                                                                                 
    
There were lots of great costumes throughout the weekend. I tried to write down the exceptional ones. My Friday list included a cute Raven and Beast Boy couple, Doctor Strange and Batman villain Croc. Cosplay is a big part of conventions for me and, starting in 2017, I’m going to run special promotions to award and honor some of the cosplayers who visit my tables at these events. I’ll have details on these promotions as soon as I work out the details. I’m looking to creating something fun and moderately silly.

My “Tony’s Tips Live!” panel was scheduled for 5:30 pm on Friday. That was pretty early in the convention and, sad to say, I didn’t draw as many fans as I had hoped for. Those that did come learned more about some of my upcoming projects than I should’ve revealed. They also heard some outrageous stories of my comics career. It was a fun forty-five minutes.

Hosting my panel was Allen Stewart, the founder of the amazing Hall of Heroes Museum of Elkhart, Indiana. It was my first time meeting Allen. After my panel, as I walked back to my booth, I stopped by his display, which included such wondrous things as an autographed shield from Captain America: The First Avenger, a car destroyed by Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, the Green Lantern ring worn by Ryan Reynolds in that 2011 film, the motorcycle prop driven by Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider and many smaller but equally amazing items of comic-book memorabilia. I hope to make an appearance at the museum sometime in 2017.

Attending my panel was Brent Clark Rogers, the author of the Guide To The DC Universe. It’s an epic resource that Brent continues to update every few years. He’s a devoted fan and a good guy.

Back at my booth, I answered questions and signed a whole bunch of Isabella-written stuff. With the questions, the greatest areas of interest were Black Lightning, Misty Knight, my current excellent relationships with both DC and Marvel and what new projects are on my desk. Autograph-wise, the most frequent items signed were comics featuring Black Lightning and Tigra, the Iron Fist Epic Collection: The Fury of Iron Fist and, somewhat surprisingly, Satan’s Six, the series created by Jack Kirby and developed by me (with Jack’s full blessing and support) for Topps Comics in the 1990s. I would love to return to Satan’s Six someday, but that’s probably not going to happen. But I did enjoy working on the book and, during that time, calling Jack and Roz Kirby on a regular basis.

Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of the justly beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, was set up across the aisle from me. He was easily the biggest draw of the convention and I’ll have more to say about that when this report continues tomorrow. See you then.

© 2016 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. Delighted you had such a good time in my hometown!

    ReplyDelete