Thursday, September 14, 2006

Adventures in Baltimore

I don’t remember much about the vacation I took with my family to Baltimore in 1994. I recall my father was jazzed since one of his favorite shows – Homicide: Life On The Street – was set in Baltimore. I had gotten tickets to an Orioles game, but the players’ strike left us taking a tour of Orioles Park at Camden Yards instead, as well as a trip to Bowie to see the Bowie Baysox of the Eastern League. I’m pretty sure we went to the Inner Harbor a few times. And I recall buying Green Lantern #0 and Starman #0 while I was down there. I’m sure I got two other comics, but I can wait on figuring out what they were.

As you know, I live near New York City, home of DC and Marvel Comics. Up until this year, New York didn’t have a major comic convention. Then came the New York Comic Con, a three-day event that turned into a full-blown disaster, what with the limited space and the fire marshal shutting the Javits Center down for a few hours. I needed something meatier. San Diego? Too far and too expensive. Chicago? Ditto. Toronto? I’d have a free room with Stephen, but the airfare got jacked up, and a twelve-hour train ride would be a hassle. In the end, I went with Baltimore, which is where I’m writing this.

Actually, I’m in Linthicum, which is near the local airport. Even though I decided to drive down here, the shuttle service allowed access to the light rail system, which takes me to the convention center. Throw in a good deal ($89 per night), and I was sold.


After packing up, checking a few last things online and having a quick breakfast, I was off on my journey. Getting to Linthicum was mostly simple...just take the New Jersey Turnpike the whole way south, breeze past Delaware, and make a few turns. Happily, I didn’t get any major scares, although I did have to gas up twice. The second time was a little messed up, when a gas attendent was asking me about a runaway fugitive who was hiding in upstate New York. The guy had a thick accent and no front teeth. I don’t know what was scarier...that guy, or the price I had to pay for gas.

I ended up screwing up, making one wrong turn and getting a tour of suburban Linthicum. I finally lucked into a parking lot near the airport and I got good directions. After rolling around trying to right the right hotel, I found my destination.

The room is a beauty. Sure, I take a hit in terms of television choices, but so what? I have a refrigator, a microwave (which I won’t use) and an ethernet connection (which I can’t use). It’s a big room, and it should be comfy for tonight and tomorrow.

After unpacking, I took the shuttle service to the light rail, and proceeded to Camden Yards. I bought a Left Field Lower Box for $27, then entered the park. The place is about a decade old and it’s held up well. After getting a pork sandwich at Boog’s Bar-B-Q, I settled into my seat. There was one small problem....the Orioles were hosting the Yankees, and lots of their fans decided to make the trip south to basically act like idiots. Really, nothing’s as bad as a Yankee fan rubbing superiority in your face. There were lots of them in my section, and they were loud. It could have been another section, I saw four Yankee fans escorted out. Naturally, they were waving their arms, happy with getting the heave-ho.

Surprisingly, the second-rate Orioles actually kicked some ass. Melvin Mora hit a two-run homer than landed one section to my left in the first inning. The O’s tacked on five runs in the second inning – three driven in on a Jay Gibbons homer – and chased Cory Lidle out of the game. The Yankees got two runs in the third, and that was as dangerous as they got against Erik Bedard. The only dark spot was that Alex Rodriguez didn’t screw up in a major way...he went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly. Joe Torre ended up replacing most of the lineup with rookies in the last few innings, and Craig Wilson got a two-run homer off Brian Burres, who was pitching in his first game in the majors (2/3s of an inning, one strikeout), but Julio Manon got Thompson to fly out to left field for the final out. If only the drubbing shut up the Yankee fans.

I made it back to the airport, where I screwed up where I was supposed to way for the shuttle. I ended the night by getting dessert (animal crackers from a vending machine) and going online at the business office.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I have my sketchbook (29 entries so far), some references, and money. I’ve been told that the Baltimore Comic Con is mellower than the bigger cons. I’ll see for myself.

Addendum: In Camden Yards, they don’t play “God Bless America” in the middle of the seventh inning...they go with “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” I miss that. Also, when I got a hot dog inside the back, the average age of the folks working the stand had to be at least 65.


It was deja vu all over again.

About 90 minutes into the Baltimore Comic Con, somebody pulled a fire alarm. Not quite the same as the overcrowded Javits Center in Feburary, but there I was, waiting outside the Baltimore Convention Center, waiting to get back in. On a surreal note, Lou Ferigno – the Incredible Hulk himself – was five feet from me. That wasn’t the weirdest comic con experience I had...that would be the Sofitel Hotel in Chicago back in 2001, when Kenny Baker (the fella inside R2-D2) asked me how my breakfast was.

I got the morning started right...the hotel offers a free contiential breakfast. The best part: making my own waffles. I’m serious about this. They have cups of batter laid out. You pour the stuff into one of two irons (either four little waffles or a single one), flip the iron over for two minutes, then flip it back, open up and enjoy. Very yummy. Wish I could say the same about the convention at first.

The con hit a discouraging note at first...a few artists I wanted sketches from were charging big bucks. One of my faves was asking for $100 for pencils, inks and shadowing. It would look great, but it was outside my price range. One hundred bucks here, $50 there, $75 with this guy...not good.

The convention is small compared to the big shows in San Diego, Chicago and Toronto. It’s kind of like the Big Apple Con, only better laid out and fewer z-list celebrities (no offense to Lori Petty, who will appear at the con next week. The rest? No apologies, guys). I recognized dealers by their layouts...I’ll never remember their names, but I can sniff out what I want, even though I left my list back at my room.

As for sketches, I got four today. Three were free, and I got the fourth for buying two comics. I’m not above paying, but my ceiling is usually $25, $50 if I really like the creator. I had gotten Marvel Comics villianess Nightshade from Bob Almond back in New York, so I hit up Bill Willingham for a quick head shot of Nightshade from Shadowpact, a DC Comics heroine. I also got sketches from Alex Robinson (Ray Beam from Tricked), Michael Avon Oeming (Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen), and Pop Mhan (Edward Elric, Fullmetal Alchemist). My big day will come tomorrow, because I did something kinda stupid, yet totally cool.

There I was at a DC Comics panel, relaxing from the grind and listening to A-list talent (Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, Willingham, JG Jones, George Perez, Marv Wolfman, and Barry Kitson). Dan Didio (DC’s vice president and executive editor) asked the creators which character they’d like to kill off. Kitson goes into a story about a villain who had smokestacks on his back and fishnet stockings. Yes, it was a male. Kitson couldn’t remember the character’s name...he knew who drew it and what title it was from, but he was stumped on the name. So he made the audience an offer: find the issue, get a free sketch. Cut to me in my seat, light bulb above my head.

After the panel, I talked to Kitson to confirm the details, then I went down two floors to the con floor. In a few minutes, I found the guy: Bloodthrist, from Superman: The Man Of Steel. Ugly sucker. I paid $1 for it, went to Kitson’s table, got on line, waited until he returned, and I showed it to him. Ding ding ding, I was the first person with the book. I would have gotten the sketch today, but he had people in front of me sketch-wise. At Kitson’s request, I showed the issue to Didio. His reaction?? “Holy shit!” and “I’d kill him, too.”

The rest of the day was eventful. I had dinner at the ESPN Zone, walked around and got lost, and made it back to the hotel after 10 p.m. I also walked around the Inner Harbor, which reminded me of South Street Seaport back home, with all the shops and restaurants, and the smell of seawater. Last time I was at the Seaport, I didn’t keep track of Yankee fans. Today, they were out in force, in full colors. I guess Baltimore is to them as Philadelphia is to Mets fans...a place that’s close enough to root for the visiting team.

All in all, it was a good day...and I got at least five people who noticed my “The Fake News Is All I Need” t-shirt that I got in the mail from Glarkware on Thursday. I’ll hit Kitson and Danielle Corsetto for sketches tomorrow, look for more deals, then haul butt back to Staten Island tomorrow. Right now, I’m just going to pack up, take in some old-school Doctor Who on the local PBS station, and get some sleep.


Long day. Lots of mistakes made. I checked out of the hotel, got on the highway, got off too early, and had to wait for a train before I could get back on track. From there, I wound up going back and forth between Kitson and Danielle, as both were busy sketching for other people. As a result, I couldn’t get sketches from any other artists. Not that this was a bad thing; I don’t know how many more freebies I could have squeezed from folks I merely kind of liked. It just got frustrating because I couldn’t find any deals on comics, at least before I got a copy of Justice League of America #0 at half-price. Also, I ended up misplacing my cell phone and camera, but I got both back. My mind? The jury is still out on whether I had one to begin with. In the end, I got an awesome sketch of Superman from Kingdom Come from Kitson. This goes nicely with past sketches from the groundbreaking miniseries of Red Robin and Kid Flash.

As for Danielle? I asked her if she was tired of drawing mostly female characters. She didn’t mind, because she wasn’t all that good drawing males. After some thought, I decided to have her sketch Monkey Woman from Who Wants To Be a Superhero?. Danielle had never seen the show before, and she was tickled when I explained it to her. She was also impressed by the picture I had brought of Monkey Woman from the show’s website. Also, she had folks read her sign-up list and get jazzed by my request. This is the final product, which goes great with her past sketches of Social Butterfly (Livewires) and Barbara Gordon (Birds of Prey).

I wanted to get out early to beat nightfall, but I lost. Aside from traffic congestion and the occasional raindrop, I made it back without major incident. It was the longest I’ve ever driven in one shot, and I’m impressed that I pulled it off. And the best part? I know that I can always come to Baltimore for my convention cravings. I just hope that Orioles aren’t playing the Yankees next time.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Later

I remember bits and pieces of the summer of 2001 before everything changed. I had an unpaid, uncredited internship at Travel Agent Magazine. I went to Wizard World in Chicago, staying at Hotel Sofitel for $99 and having Kenny Baker – the guy in the R2D2 unit in the original Star Wars movies – ask me about my breakfast. I went to Wrigley Field, a must-see destination for any true baseball fan. I watched the Staten Island Yankees many times in their new ballpark.

On September 9, I went into the city to the Sanrio (Hello Kitty) store, because Melissa Howard was doing a promotion there. Before you think I was stalker fanboy, we had been e-mailing each other off and on at the time. She was the second reality star I met after Judd Winick...and nine months later, I started my ritual visits to TARCon.

On September 10, I attended the first class of my final semester at New York University. I forget the title of the course. The teacher was Gary Belsky, who was an editor of ESPN: The Magazine at that time. I met familiar faces, swapped summer stories, the usual thing.

I had a plan for the following day. I wanted to get to NYU early, because I had to try and get some of my sketches scanned at the computer lab. My class for Tuesdays was Sports Journalism, taught by writer/editor Dr. William Serrin. I had taken Jounrnalistic History under him the previous year, and he was a fun guy to listen to. Heck, he even wore a New York Knights jacket, modelled after the fictional team from The National. Tuesday was going to be a good day.

I woke up to the sound of my clock radio, which was tuned to “Imus In The Morning” in those days. I heard Don Imus say something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I tried watching on the television in my room, but I wasn’t getting a signal. I had better luck with the cable, and I saw the unthinkable happen. Yeah, the Twin Towers had been bombed back in 1993, but we didn’t see this coming. I think we were used to bad stuff happening elsewhere...and we had stuff like the Oklahoma City bombing and the massacre at Columbine to deal with. But this was different.

I tried calling my the time, both buildings were still up. She worked on 32nd St., but the express bus she took went by that area. I remember calling the journalism department, telling that I might not be coming to school. I get back to the television, and one of the Towers was gone. Then the other one joined it.

I lost it. I really, really lost it. My grandmother called from Yonkers, telling me not to go to the city. You think? My grandfather called from Brooklyn, and he had to calm my blubbering down. I was all alone except for the family dog. Eventually, I found that my mother was on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the time of the attack. She saw the planes hit the Towers from the express bus. She had seen death when my father passed on five years earlier, and she didn’t need to see that. Mom ended up in Brooklyn, and she managed to call me. She was okay...a wreck like me, but okay nonetheless.

I was lucky...I didn’t get killed, and I didn’t personally know anybody who died that day. I made a frantic phone call to my buddy Joe, and since I didn’t have online access at home, he had to relay my safety to our mutual friends. I was scared, but life had to go on. I vaguely remember going to a Bed, Bath & Beyond with Mom on Wednesday, which was painful enough without the lingering thoughts of “God, what happens now?” Of course, the new Barnes & Noble was closed down, and comic book delivery was bumped back a day. I got relief the following day with two books from my favorite writers: Judd Winick (The Adventures of Barry Ween v3 #4 and Christopher Priest (Black Panther #36). Hey, we needed comfort at the time.

I can’t say that life went back to normal by the time I was done with classes. As luck would have it, I had signed up to intern at the Villager, and they had an office near Canal Street, where non-residential vehicles were not allowed. One of the first stories I wrote had me interviewing reporters camped out along the West Side Highway. I did stories on cell phone service after 9/11, how Chinatown businesses struggled after 9/11, and other stuff I can’t recall. One story I wrote for class ended up in the Villager months after my internship was completed. In the aftermath of 9/11, several comic book companies scrambled to create stories for special tribute editions. I even got to interview Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada for the story, as I called him from one of the classrooms, frantically scrambling to write down his responses.

I wish I could say that 9/11 affected me for the better. I’m still the same person, just trying to live the best that I can. There are times where I felt guilty taking air meant for other people, but that thought went away. But anytime I see ads for movies about the events, I think “Too soon, too soon.” I don’t care how beautiful the films could be, I just can’t bear to remember what happened. I can imagine being on a plane like that, but I shouldn’t. Anytime I get on a plane, I wonder if this might be the last time. It’s not an overwhelming fear, but it’s something that never would have gotten in my head if not for that day when the world changed.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m saying here. I don’t live in fear, but I’m cautiously optimistic. I try to think of the best about most people, trying not to follow others and suspecting people based on race. I had a professor who came from Iran back when I was at Wagner College. I guess the bottom line for me is that I’m glad to be alive, and that I should never try and waste my life.

If you want to read something with a lot more meaning, try “They Missed” by Gail Simone, published on September 13. I met her online on Jonah Weiland’s message boards for Kingdom Come in 1996. While she would become a critically-acclaimed comic book writer, Gail nailed what happened that day and put a positive spin on it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Lounging In Linthicum

I did it. Took me about four hours, an obscene amount of money for gas, and an encounter with a gas attendant missing his front teeth, but I made it to Linthicum, MD. Why have I come out here? Because I will be attending the Baltimore Comic Con for the next two days.

I had been yearning to hit a big con for a while now. While I would have liked to go back to Toronto and stay at Stephen's place for the Canadian National Expo, the price for a plane ticket got jacked up. Meanwhile, the Baltimore con wasn't as far, and I landed a great deal on a hotel. After contemplating coming over by plane, train and bus, I elected to drive down there, which is the longest I've ever driven in one shot.

How did I spend the evening? When I first came to Baltimore on a family trip in 1994, I got tickets to see the Orioles at Camden Yards, the wicked-cool retro stadium. Naturally, that was the year the players went on strike, and we had to settle for a stadium tour. Tonight, I found myself in the left field seats, watching the Orioles beat the snot out of the Yankees. Not that the New York fans in attendance cared...nothing could shut them up.

The only bad news is that I can't get online from my room, since I don't have ethernet. Right now, I'm going online in a 24-hour business room. I'll write out my experiences on my laptop and put them up under "Adventures In Baltimore" when I get back home on Sunday. After that, I'll work on the final recaps of Who Wants To Be A Superhero?, because I got sidetracked by other stuff. The show's been over for little more than a week, but it's not far from my mind. In fact, I printed up images of two heroes in order to possibly get sketches this weekend. Can you guess which ones? I'll say this...I didn't print up Fat Momma. I have nothing against her, but I needed a pic without her looking crazy and/or holding a doughnut.

That's about it. The fun starts tomorrow, and I can't wait.