Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thoughts On Garden State Comic Fest (2016)

To some readers, it may seem like all I ever do is go to different conventions across the East Coast every other week. To be honest with you, I don't think I'd mind if that were the case! While the idea of starting my own convention is still a priority in the future, I plan to take in as much as I can from other local events. So this weekend, my friend and I attended Garden State Comic Fest in Morristown, NJ. Like East Coast Comic Con, Garden State Comic Fest is advertised as a comic-focused convention, keeping the spirit of what a "Comic Con" was always meant to be. How did this one stack up against the rest?

Something I've always loved about the smaller conventions, is the idea that there is usually less ground to cover, and more time to simply take in what's around you. I'm happy to say this event is no exception to that rule. Being a sports arena, two large rooms were taken full advantage of (one actually being a hockey rink!), and a large hallway to keep it all together. Not during any point did it feel too crowded, or like there was a lack of space anywhere. It was also nice that they had a food counter in the large hallway, so you never had to go too far.

The first person I saw coming in was Paul of A Video Game Con. He had a great table set up, with two TVs and classic NES and Sega Genesis games on each. He told me that one of the best parts of the day for him, was seeing all the young kids who never grew up on these types of games, actually come up and learn how to play them for the first time. I wished him the best of luck and told him I can't wait for his event come September. I also hope they let me do my two panels again this year!

My friend and I figured that Kevin Eastman (co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) would be one of the first people we should head to, since his line was bound to be long. But we decided to start with the "Heroes Room" first, mainly because we didn't actually look at the map yet, and just kind of wanted to get the law of the land first. Right as we came in, there were comic and action figure vendors all over! This was also perfect, since there were a few comics/graphic novels I actually wanted to get for the sole purpose of getting them signed by some of the guests. (More on that later.)

The first person we came across when walking up the center isle was none other than Bob Camp, co-creator of The Ren and Stimpy show! Two minutes of talking with this man had me laughing just as much as when I first watched the cartoon as a toddler (even though looking back, that show was definitely NOT appropriate for children!). When I took a picture with him, he shouted "Everyone say shiiiiiit," causing us all to laugh pretty hard. He then followed that up by saying "See, that gets a genuine smile out of people; not like that fake stuff." Too true, Bob. Too true.

While wandering around (and seeing what was quite possibly the greatest Hulkbuster cosplay of all time), I also stopped by Rags Morales' booth to get him to sign my copies of Action Comics #1 (New 52) and the Identity Crisis graphic novel. He was happy to do so. I also saw Scott Hanna again, but I didn't have anything for him to sign this time, unfortunately. He's come to quite a few local conventions though, and I'm sure I'll have more opportunities to chat with him again in the future.

While I already had some things ready for Kevin Eastman to sign, I didn't have everything I wanted for Walt and Louise Simonson. This was especially true in Walt's case, as I admit I have never actually owned any of his run on Thor in the past. For Louise, I had a copy of Web of Spider-Man #1, Superman #75 (Vol. 2), and The Death of Superman graphic novel. Since she was also the creator of the X-Men villain Apocalypse, I just knew I'd have to get something X-Men-related for her as well. Thankfully, I managed to find a copy of X-Factor #6 at one of the dealer's booths (which was not only her first issue as writer for X-Factor, but the first full appearance of Apocalypse himself!). After finishing up exploring the "Heroes Room" for now, my friend and I went into the "Villains Room" to check out the other side (and finally get over to Kevin Eastman!). Before moving too far forward, I managed to find a copy of the graphic novel "Thor by Walter Simonson - Volume 1" at another booth. While it's not quite the same as having any issues of his (particularly his first Thor issue, #337), I figured it was at least something.

After this, my friend and I finally decided to stop playing around and locate Kevin Eastman's booth. I was afraid the line would be ridiculous by that point, and I was pretty much right... From about 11 AM to 12:45 PM, we waited to get to the front. The line got so large that con staff actually had to break it off and told everyone else to come back after 2 PM. Kevin Eastman's method for signings was a bit more creative than what I'm used to seeing creators do. The first item you brought up to him was free, while any after that were an additional $20. This was eerily perfect, as I had only brought two items with me (my Ultimate Black & White Collection Vol.1 graphic novel, and the GameStop reprinting of issue #1), and my friend was kind enough to stand in line with me to hand Kevin the second. I can honestly say the wait was well worth it. Kevin was an awesome guy to talk to, and it felt like he had been a friend of mine for years. I'd love to have that kind of charisma with fans of my own someday.

I looked around the "Villains Room" a little more after this, and got Scott Lobdell to sign my copy of Astonishing X-Men #1 (the first issue in the Age of Apocalypse crossover, to which he was a major driving force). I also got Tom Palmer to sign my copy of Kick-Ass #1 (to which he was the inker). We actually had a good talk about the impact of both the comic and the movie, and how the first film was almost exactly like the comic for about the first half or so. We also laughed about how Mark Millar always seems to try and push the (controversial) bar a little more with every major comic he puts out.

Before heading back to the main hallway for some lunch, I met up with Petterson Oliveira, one of the recent graduates from The Kubert School, who I met with some other students at a Barnes and Noble a few months back. I really do hope he becomes successful, as his Black Panther and Batman art are more than capable. It was great seeing him again.

Instead of being smart and just getting lunch at that time (I think it was almost 1 PM), I went back to the Heroes Room because my friend and I both found out where Walt and Louise Simonson would be (after finally taking a long overdue look at the convention map!). We figured it couldn't possibly take as long a time as Kevin Eastman's line did, so there was no need to worry. I also learned that I really need to stop assuming things...

Although Walt and Louise Simonson were not actually at their table (likely getting lunch by that point), there were already people lined up, awaiting their return. My friend and I figured we'd join in, since they couldn't possibly stay gone for too long of a time. I started to get a look of dread, as I noticed people with ridiculously large stacks of comics in front of us (including one guy who literally had three boxes of comics stacked on top of each other!). It took almost another 20 minutes before the two came back, and they were both really polite from the second they started talking with all of us.

Walt actually went through all parts of the line in order to tell people he'd only be doing a limited number of sketches for free, in order to keep the line moving. Once again, I have to admit both of them were well worth the wait! Walt kept telling stories about almost everything that people were bringing up to sign, and he was doing all kinds of sketches (for characters like Thor and Apocalypse). I had him draw one of Apocalypse for me as well, and took a great picture with the both of them. Talking with the two of them had to be one of the biggest highlights of the entire convention to me, simply because they were both so adorable together. It was like talking with my parents (if my parents were comic book writers and artists of course!).

After all of this, my friends and I FINALLY proceeded to get lunch, and I managed to somehow stay alive up to that point. As I was chugging down the coffee I had purchased, I had a good laugh at watching Robert Bruce (of Comic Book Men fame) walk up to the one of the arcade machines (with two really large machine guns), and just play the hell out of it like it was no big deal. After meeting him at The Great Philadelphia Comic Con, my reaction evolved from what would have been "Haha, that's really random!" to "Yeah... he would do that!" I didn't even have to talk with him in order to be entertained.

Wandering around again, it was pretty much impossible to not notice the huge line over by Jim Steranko's booth. He was probably the biggest hit of the convention, next to Kevin Eastman. I felt a bit lousy, as I didn't have any books that Jim put out. You could say the comics he made were "before my time" and therefore, harder for me to track down. I was happy to find a variant cover that Jim made for the recent Captain America reboot, and purchased that at another booth, in order to go bring it over to get signed. The man at the counter actually showed me some other comics that Jim made (mostly from his "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.E.I.L.D." series) for purchase. For some reason, I was just happy with the simple variant cover, recent as it was.

So with my Cap #1 variant in hand, I walked back to Jim's booth for the signing. I could see he was having long, deep discussions with a lot of the people coming up to him. Even though this caused me to wait longer, I couldn't help but find it really cool that Jim was taking the time to really talk with his fans, and not just rush them all away. As I was just getting up to the front of the line, some men walk over with Joe Caramonga, the letterer of the very Cap issue I was bringing up for Jim! They were asking Jim to give Joe one of his sharpies to sign with, and they came up with the idea of having Joe sign in blue, while Jim's signature was in red sharpie. This kind of added to the "red, white, and blue" effect of the cover. I asked Joe if he could sign my comic that way too, since he was already over here. All three of us started making jokes like "Who's booth is this again!?" After that, I finally got to talk to Jim briefly. He had an air of confidence in both himself and his fans that I really admired. He also had one of the most unique handshakes I think I've ever seen. Truly a class act, and I won't soon forget him.

By this point, it was already pretty late in the day, and less than an hour before the con would close up. I tried searching around for a copy of Thor #337, in the hopes of getting it back to Walt for one more signature. But it wasn't meant to be. Almost every booth my friend and I searched through didn't have any copies left, and the one that did was selling it for $50, which is far more than most would consider it to be worth. We were just about ready to leave...

Just as we both checked around the Heroes Room one more time for anything we might have missed, we suddenly noticed Louise Simonson was walking right up to a booth with steampunk animal art creations. The girl at the counter asked me and my friend if she was famous, because she "seemed like she was." I kind of laughed and explained, since Louise was too polite. After that, Louise and I actually had a short conversation. I had told her about how I was trying to make a convention of my own, and how I'd be lucky to afford guests like themselves someday if so. She laughed at my mention of cost to book them, and said "Oh, we're actually pretty cheap, so no worries there." She also gave me some suggestions about starting a convention, based on her and her husband's past experiences with them. It was a talk I will take with me forever, and it only makes me even more hopeful about this convention idea of mine really coming to life!

Overall, even with the amount of time I had to wait in line to meet some of the guests, I left this convention with a lot of positive feelings, and couldn't deny all of the fun I still had along the way. I guess this means I've got yet another convention to visit every year! Already looking forward to the next!

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