Stripped of their powers, the Fantastic Four must face off against the evil Doctor Doom, who has taken over the top floor of their home, the Baxter Building. With their technology turned against them, they must turn to the aid of the blind Daredevil to reach the top floor of the building and reclaim their super powers and home. So goes the story of "The Fantastic Four" issue number 40 by comic legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The opening page claims "The Battle of the Baxter Building" is "destined to take its place beside the battles of Waterloo, Gettysburg, and Dunkirk."
Though the issue may not stand up to the opening page hyperbole, for Westminster comic fan Michael Shipley, this 1965 issue was an introduction to a lifelong passion, one which he shares with his daughter Kayla. This weekend Michael and Kayla will join more than 15,000 other comic book fans at the Baltimore Convention Center for the Baltimore Comic-Con.
The event, being held Friday, Saturday and Sunday, features a massive costume contest, panels throughout the weekend, authors and artists signing and selling books and vendors selling everything comic related from single issues to graphic novels, from toys to original art. Superheroes won't be the only characters represented, with Harvey Pekar's autobiographical "American Splendor" comics sharing shelf space with back issues of "Rom: Spaceknight."
The event will feature expert panels from opening to close each of the days. Panels being held throughout the weekend include "Gender and Comic Books," "Self-Publishing" and "Comics by the Numbers," which will look at increasing diversity in comics creators and readers.
Michael said he was most interested in heading down to meet with the writers and artists he remembers from childhood.
"I'm an old time collector, so I go to see some of the old time artists and writers," Michael said. Last year, he said he was able to meet Don McGregor, best known for his work on Black Panther, and Ramona Fradon, co-creator of Metamorpho, the Element Man. "I had always wanted to ask her how she got into comics, because there weren't that many women drawing comics back then. She told me that she was introduced by her boyfriend."
Last year was the first year Michael and Kayla went to Comic-Con together. At the event Kayla was cosplaying — where people design and dress up in costumes of their favorite characters — as Sailor Jupiter, one of the characters from the popular Sailor Moon anime and manga, or Japanese cartoons and comic books.
"The first time he went, he didn't ask if I wanted to go, so I got kind of upset," Kayla said. "He said we could go together the next year."
This year, Kayla said she wasn't sure if she was planning on cosplaying again, though she has considered dressing as Death from Neil Gaiman's critically acclaimed Sandman series.
Though the convention is a chance for comic fans to come together for a good time, for comic creators and shop owners, it's merely another day at the — metaphoric — office.
Keith Forney, owner of Gotham Comics in Westminster, said the event is a way to meet with other dealers to fill gaps in their collections and find missing issues for customers. Josh Farkas, owner of Speakeasy Comics in Eldersburg, said heading to Comic-Con is a mix of business and pleasure.
"I mean I can get almost any comic book I want anyhow. It's not like I'm walking around looking for what other people are selling," Farkas said. "It's a good place to get things signed by artists."
Farkas said some of the most prominent creators that will be attending include Scottish author Garth Ennis, best known for his run on the Punisher as well as "Preacher," a Texas story of angels and demons that is currently being adapted into a television show by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Other creators include Greg Capullo and Scott Snyder, the current creative team behind "Batman," Marvel editor Tom Brevoort, Batman film producer Michael Uslan and Jim Starlin, whose cosmic Marvel comics have been experiencing a resurgence in popularity due to the inclusion of his co-creation Thanos in the recently released "Guardians of the Galaxy" film.
"It's been a big boom period in comics because of all of the TV shows and movies and stuff," Farkas said. "The big thing with 'The Walking Dead' is it's kind of like a gateway drug. It's almost like — I guess, it's bad to be considered like a crack dealer — but when people come in because they're interested in the TV show and they end up reading 'The Walking Dead,' I can sell them on three or four different titles that I know are good. After that, they have a huge pull list and come in every month."
Comic author and artist Mark Wheatley, who has worked on the series "Frankenstein Mobster," "Breathtaker," and "Blood of the Innocent," and runs the comic company "Insight Studios Group" out of Westminster, said he's attended every Baltimore Comic-Con since it began 15 years ago. Wheatley said he loves Baltimore Comic-Con because it is one of the most prominent conventions completely devoted to comics.
In recent years, larger conventions like San Diego Comic-Con — the convention most people envision when the term Comic-Con is used — have become multimedia extravaganzas with Hollywood and television stars pushing out comic content. Farkas said between the focus on comic guests and the hosting of the Harvey Awards, a peer-judged comic creator award show, comics take the center stage.
"New York and San Diego are more about movies and media, but this is more of a celebration of comics and comic stuff," Farkas said. "I know a lot of people think about the Comic-Con brand and don't realize that each one is different."
Farkas said superhero movies and TV shows are what first attracted him to the medium.
"I must have watched 'Superman II' a hundred times as a kid, but then in fourth or fifth grade, the first Batman movie came out, and that was a big deal," Farkas said. "When I was young, we moved around a lot, and it was like when you first move somewhere you don't necessarily know anybody, but you know comics. I could keep following the story no matter where I was at, it was like a constant."
Michael said after his introduction to the Fantastic Four in kindergarten, he tried everything he could to get his hands on more comics. Growing in Taneytown, with little interest in hunting or farming, Michael said comics and reading were a way to escape.
"I think in the early '70s, my parents would bowl over at Thunderhead Lane every two weeks, and I'd tell them I need a haircut. I'd go over to the bookstore, because the bookstore had a newsstand that had all new comics, and I would go in there and read the comics," Michael said. "I guess my parents figured out I didn't need that many haircuts."