When it comes to his Baltimore Comic-Con, organizer Marc Nathan takes that word "comic" seriously. The annual fan gathering is a comic-book convention, he stresses, not a pop-culture convention or a cool stuff convention or a famous people convention.
"It's about comics, illustrated art, that kind of thing," says Nathan, whose day job is running the Cards, Comics & Collectibles shop in Reisterstown. "It doesn't make sense for our vendors to have these other people there to take up valuable space that would otherwise go to people who do make sense."
Which is one reason why there won't be a bunch of old-time TV personalities at this weekend's 11th annual show, running Saturday and Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center. There also won't be vendors selling swords or athletes selling autographs or Hollywood types talking about their exciting fall schedule.
What there will be are tons of comics, scores of artists and writers, and lots of fans dressed in the costumes of their favorite superheroes. Nathan is an unabashed comics fan, and he's glad to put together a show tailored to people just like him. He's not against having guests from other media at his show, so long as they have a clear comic-book connection.
"Having fringe sci-fi people, from shows that were popular back in 1972, doesn't make that much sense to me," he says. "That's not my show, that's not what I want to do."
What he does want to do, Nathan says, is provide area comic-book fans with a forum where they can celebrate their hobbies and their passions. More than 80 dealers have bought space at the show. They'll be selling comics ranging from the 1940s golden-age adventures of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (for which collectors can pay thousands of dollars) to the most recent adventures of Gen 13, Wolverine and Watchmen (which can often be found in bargain boxes for a quarter).
Nathan has also booked more than 150 guests for the show, including Todd McFarlane ("Spawn"), Adam Hughes ("Wonder Woman"), Herb Trimpe ("The Incredible Hulk") and Marc Hempel ("Sandman"), many of whom will be doing sketches and signing autographs for fans. Saturday night, the annual Harvey Awards, voted on by comic industry professionals, will be awarded. An artists' workshop, run by comic-book veterans Howard Chaykin and Klaus Janson, is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, just one of dozens of workshops and panels being offered throughout the weekend.
And to cap the weekend, a costume contest with a $1,000 grand prize is on for Sunday.
Nathan revels in hosting such a comic-centric weekend, and believes the vendors and guests who make their way to Baltimore every summer enjoy the weekend's relative single-mindedness. "We are well known all over the country as a haven for what we do," he says. "They know the kind of audience they're going to get, and they appreciate it."
Such stubbornness in pursuit of purity does have its costs. Most of the country's biggest comic conventions have eagerly embraced other pop-culture phenomena, and grown bigger accordingly. Comic-Con in San Diego, which started off as just another gathering of the comic-book faithful back in 1970, has grown into behemoth-like proportions. Hollywood studios use the annual four-day convention as a launching pad for many of their film projects, regardless of whether they have a comic-book connection or not.
San Diego also attracts more-than 125,000 people, compared to the 15,000 or so expected for the Baltimore show.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that San Diego is only a couple hours south of Los Angeles; Hollywood types don't need to travel far to hawk their goods there. But it's not just the San Diego show that, in the minds of some comic fans, has grown a little too all-encompassing. Last weekend's Wizard World Chicago convention included a whole section devoted to superstars of wrestling, and the biggest media buzz came when former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich showed up.
But the relative intimacy of conventions like Baltimore's has its advantages. "I'm a big comics fan, and I want to see comic-book artists, writers and comic-book-related stuff, instead of pro wrestlers or some washed-up actor from a 1970s show," says artist Frank Cho, who lives in Elkridge and has drawn both the Hulk and Spider-Man for Marvel. "I enjoy and believe in what Marc Nathan is doing, staying true to the spirit of what a comic convention should be."
If you go
The 11th Baltimore Comic-Con is set for 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Admission is $18 daily, $28 for a two-day pass (kids 10 and under get in for free). Information: 410-526-7410 or comicon.com/baltimore