Big City, Cozy Comic Con
By Sonise Lumbaca
When you have been to many Comic Cons in the United States and some abroad, you pray that one event is unlike the other. Of course the key themes tend to overall be the same: celebrity engagements; vendors selling collectibles and trinkets; 90% of the artists selling drawings of globally known superhero and anime characters, while some sell original works; jewelry and cosplay embellishments sales; panel discussions; and what comic con would be complete without a plethora of cosplayers making an appearance? Then there are the random “stick out like a sore thumb” vendors, like sellers of gutter protection guards for your home. But, each time we attend an event, we always attempt to look for that “thing,” big or small, that separates one comic con from the next. It is the thrill of hoping that you find, see or experience something different. We decided to head to one of the smaller Comic Cons in the Northeast as the spring weather kicked off; the Empire State Comic Con.
Compared to many other Comic Cons, The Empire State Comic Con is a cozy event. This is despite having an amazing line up of well-known celebrities. This year’s event was held at the Albany Capital Center in Albany, NY and some of pop culture’s amazing figures graced the event with their presence. Guests such as Robert Patrick, best known for his role as FBI Agent Jon Doggett in the X-files and, more famously, as the T-1000 liquid metal Terminator in Terminator 2: Judgement Day; David Mazouz who portrays young Bruce Wayne on Fox’s Gotham television series; the martial arts champion and stuntman Taimak Guarriello aka Bruce Leroy from the cult classic The Last Dragon; Felix Silla known for his role in the original Adams Family as Cousin Itt and famously known as the robot full of personality, Twiki, on the 1980s series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and other cult classics; Sam J. Jones who portrayed the 1980s golden boy Flash Gordon and later as Krebb in the 2007 TV series revival; and so many more. We have been to many Comic Cons and never have we been to one where access to these celebrities was so casual. Of course there was a sense of security for their well-being in the event that one “crazed fan,” (not to be confused with the short story Crazed Fan in Volume 3 of our novel Space Alien, Bad Mothers and Guns), decided get through; but let’s be realistic, the Comic Con community for the most part is above being cray-cray.
The Celebrities were quite personable and very friendly. Because this was a cozy event, the lines nor the wait wasn’t long; and therefore the individual attention that the celebrities paid towards their fans wasn’t rushed. The added bonus was that celebrity panels presented at the con. So, if fan missed the autograph and photo opportunity, they at least had the opportunity to attend the panel and participate in some Q & A’s while learning about the latest and greatest news about their idol.
Speaking of idols, some members of America’s “Greatest Generation” were also on hand at this year’s comic con. Golden Age Legends Joe Sinnott and Allen Belman chatted up fans and signed autographs. Joe Sinnott, who served with the U.S. Navy Seabees in Okinawa during WWII, began his career in the comic book industry working with Stan Lee at Timely (Marvel) in 1950. His career eventually led him to work for Jack Kirby where he and is known for some of his work on The Fantastic Four. Sinnott’s resume also includes works such as Thor, Silver Surfer, West Coast Avengers and Nick Fury to name a few. Joe worked a total of 69 years at Marvel Comics.
Allen Belman, also a WWII Veteran and a Timely employee, also lent his artistry during the same time period. Belman is best known for his work with Marvel from the 1940s-1950s. His resume includes working with characters and titles such as Captain America, The Human Torch, Marvel Mystery Comics and so much more. Like his cohort Joe Sinnott, Belman is one of the few remaining pioneers of the comic book industry and WWII Veterans.
The legends of the comic book world in attendance to this con didn’t end there. There were plenty of panels to cerebrally tantalize the fans. During the Writing and Visual Storytelling with the Pros panel we had the opportunity to sit in on, we were introduced to some of the industry’s legends: Dennis (Denny) O’Neil, Carl Potts and Ron Marz. O’Neil was a comic book writer and editor from the 1960s through the 90s and Group Editor for Batman titles until his retirement. His other works include Green Lantern, The Shadow, The Question and others. Potts, who began his career in 1975 was an artist for DC Comics and eventually became an editor at Marvel. He also oversaw the development of The Punisher and edited titles such as The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange and more. Potts spent 13 years at Marvel. Marz is a comic book writer known for his work on Silver Surfer, Green Lantern and the D.C. vs. Marvel crossover. He also worked on the CrossGen Comics series and created for Dark Horse Comics.
During the panel, the trio discussed today’s comic books compared to yesteryears; sighting that vast wealth of good comics exist today because there are more genres to choose from and publishers. However they cited that because there’s a lot of competition, the comic book industry as a whole is not doing too well. In addition to the competition, they biggest issue they continued to hit on was the lack of locations where fans and enthusiasts can purchase comic books. As they put it “No one knows where to go to buy them.” The industry doesn’t make it a welcoming environment to new fans or those who are interested, but not enthusiasts. They believe that the answer lies within the industry putting comic books where the people are instead of making people go find them. Sales of comic books, once upon a time, were sold at local newsstand. During this time if comic books weren’t sold in the sum of 100,000 copies, they were probably cancelled; compared to today where fans have to travel to comic book stores (where the environment can be unwelcoming to those who aren’t diehard fans), or comic cons and the industry finds themselves to be fortunate if a comic book issue sells 20,000 copies.
Other topics discussed included today’s comic book movies, which while popular and introduces a new fan base, because they are owned by big corporations, storylines are less creative because they have editorial control of the content. But isn’t that how things always go when big corporations step in and assume control of any industry? We digress. Other panels included: The Altered Reality Quick Draw; Blue Devil to New Devil with Paris Cullins; Taimak: The Last Dragon Glow; Sam Jones: The Return of Flash Gordon; David Mazouz: Growing up Gotham; Robert Patrick: A Storied Career in Film and Television; and a plethora of others for such a cozy con. Overall, the panels, besides the celebrity appearances, seemed to be the best part of this event; coupled with the staff and volunteers who were nine out of 10 times helpful and friendly in answering questions.
There unfortunately was not a lot the cosplay that we love to see so much. For those who did arrive as their alter ego, they did not disappoint. There was even a Rocky Horror Show group that paraded themselves up and down the aisles of the con. Talk about cult classics; its presence was there in full effect.
Finally, the one thing that made this event stand apart from others, despite its cozy size, was the plethora of children activity stations. Everything from face painting and kids’ tattooing, to making silly putty and wonder balls, to board game tournaments for all ages. All in all, a great way to spend your weekend whether being a new fan, an enthusiasts or seeking a temporary escape for the day.