Megacon 2002 Convention
by Bill Turner
Megacon 2002 Convention Report
The guest list at Megacon 2002 included most of the comics pros on my "I always wanted to meet" list who I hadn't already met. Harry Lampert, the original Golden Age Flash artist, and Mart Nodell, designer and original artist of the Golden Age Green Lantern, would both be there, and for some time I'd been noting their convention appearances and telling myself, "Some day..." Kurt Schaffenberger's death in the fall of 2001 galvanized me: I had met Kurt, but these guys are all in their 80's, and I couldn't continue to assume they would always be there.
I made all my travel arrangements - airline tickets, rental car, hotel, and convention membership - in advance over the Internet. In case the reader is considering attending, I'll give enough information to allow preparation of a budget. The plane ticket was about $300.00. Although it was Spring Break, Orlando had a huge number of vacant hotel rooms, so I was able to get a quite attractive rate ($34.00/night) at a Quality Inn on International Drive about 2 miles from the Orange County Convention Center where Megacon was to be held. A rental car from Thursday through Monday was under $200.00. Convention membership was $35.00 for 3 days through the Web site http://www.megaconvention.com.
Having made all my arrangements, I checked every day to see if there were any guest cancellations. After all, I was investing a considerable amount to meet these people! As there was no program scheduled for Friday, I sent an email to Megacon asking if they knew whether the comic book guests would arrive Friday. I was pleasantly surprised that Beth Widera answered me promptly with the news that everyone was scheduled to be there Friday, except for Carmine Infantino, who might make it to the convention towards closing or may not be able to make it at all on Friday.
I flew down to Orlando on the Thursday before the convention. When I arrived (shortly after 5 PM) it was about 80 degrees, and a very pleasant evening. I drove a few miles each way up and down International Drive to orient myself, then found my hotel and checked in. There are restaurants all over the place, so I walked about a mile and had dinner. Then I stayed up watching Sarah Hughes win the gold medal in Olympic figure skating.
Friday, February 22, 2002
Friday dawned cool and wet. It rained all day, and the high was under 70 degrees. I stopped for breakfast at a Friendly's on the way to the convention center, and got probably the world's worst omelet. I was looking around for the Candid Camera staff who must be filming my attempt to cut this thing that was obviously vulcanized. I ate the toast, and the waitress didn't charge me for my order. Apparently someone a couple of tables over had already complained. I truly do not know how a mere short-order cook could have made that substance starting from eggs and cheese.
I got to the convention center around 10:45 AM. Check in for advance ticket holders began at 11, and at noon both the convention doors and the ticket booths opened, so in effect the advance ticket holders got in an hour early. Parking was $7.00/day at the Convention Center, and there were shuttle buses running from the parking lots to the building. The shuttle bus was full of obvious comic fans - you could tell both by their dress and by the fact that half of them were carrying comic book boxes of one form or another. (I myself was wearing my Golden Age Flash T-shirt from Graphitti, so this isn't a slur!) Unfortunately, the convention center is so large that you need to know what entrance to take, and none of us did! As it happened, the closest entrance to the parking lot was the right one, and when we got off at the front of the Convention Center we ended up walking about as far through the building as if we'd just walked from the parking lot - which I did thereafter.
In fact, this is one of my few complaints about Megacon: it was hard to find it in the convention center! The building is huge, and there were several other sizable conventions going on at the same time, so I would get to a booth prominently marked "Registration Booth" and then stop to ask what it was for. None of the different conventions had large signs telling what they were! Maybe the Convention Center doesn't allow it.
The convention attendees were a fairly balanced mix of comic fans, anime fans, and media fans. The waits in line (10 minutes to check in, then another half hour in the line to get in) weren't at all bad because there were a lot of costumes to look at. Although I know nothing about anime, there was a big costume contest, and groups of fans were walking around in costume. I struck up conversations with the people in line around me, and we had a lot of fun attempting to explain to people who apparently speak but don't understand English about needing to check in first, even if you had paid in advance.
Watching the exhibitors and guests arrive, I was surprised at the coolers and cases of soda being hauled in, until I went to the vending machine and found out that a soda was $2.50. Then I understood. I didn't buy much food at the convention, but everything was at convention center prices.
When the doors opened, I immediately went back to the Artists Alley area. There were 4 blocks of tables, maybe 20 tables long by 3 tables wide, in the back right of the convention hall. Apparently anyone who was not a featured guest was free to just claim a spot. There was a completely heterogeneous mix of pros I consider "names" (such as Sergio Aragones, John Romita Sr., and Dick Giordano), "regular" pros, and people hawking their own self-published work. Of course, the last group was the most prepared to get there and set up, and tended to have the biggest displays. I stopped first at Sergio's spot and bought a Groo drawing (very nice, inks and partial color, $100.00), got him to autograph a few comics, and chatted with him a bit. It's a good icebreaker when you bring older material to have autographed; I had him sign the first Groo story in Destroyer Duck #1, and also the story in Bat Lash #1 where he got a writing credit. There were no lines yet, and I wanted to make it around to see the other pros, so when somebody else came up to talk, I moved on.
I was particularly looking for the Golden Age pros, and found that they had booths rather than a spot in Artists Alley. Harry Lampert and Mart Nodell were sharing a booth, and back-to-back with that one was a booth shared by Nick Cardy and Carmine Infantino (who as expected wasn't there yet). I spent about half an hour talking to Mr. Lampert and Mr. Nodell, both of whom were there with family members (Harry Lampert with his wife, Mart Nodell with his wife and son). Both had art for sale, and I bought a color Flash drawing by Lampert and a Green Lantern color drawing by Nodell.
Harry Lampert does ink drawings then reproduces and colors them, so he sells several different pieces at different price points: a color photocopy was (I think) $5.00, a hand-colored print (watercolor over the reproduced drawing) was $25.00, and the originals were $125.00. (Of course, I got an original!) After he retired from advertising, Harry began writing a bridge column and then bridge books, and he also had copies of his latest bridge book for sale. As I also play bridge, I got one of those, too. I had taken a copy of the Golden Age Flash Archives, 2 copies of the Famous First Edition Flash #1 reprint, and a copy of Sensation #76 to be autographed. I told the Lamperts that I was determined that of all the comics I owned, there must be at least one non-reprint that featured Harry's work. After several hours of searching, the only ones I could come up with were issues of Sensation from 1947 that featured gag strips (1/2 page and 1 page) by Harry! So that's what I took. Harry laughed when he saw it, signed it, and told me that when those came out, he was selling cartoons to the magazines, and whenever one didn't sell, he offered it to DC. He said that they took them, but told him to redraw them to fill a whole page, which is why they are mostly several panels but only one joke. He was also selling a self-published book featuring cartoons of Droopy the mosquito that he had drawn during his Army service in WWII.
Mart Nodell attends more conventions and obviously makes more of a business of it, as he had a wide range of merchandise, including prints and drawings, but also books such as the Golden Age Green Lantern Archives, the GA Green Lantern logo T-shirts from Graphitti, action figures, and more. (Mrs. Nodell was actually wearing a Green Lantern ring that came with one of the toys.) I had taken my GA Green Lantern Archives to be signed, as well as an All-American Comics and Green Lantern #1. They made quite a fuss over the GL #1; they had only recently gotten a copy, which a comic book dealer (they told me who, but I forget) had had restored for them. Mart also gave me a plastic Green Lantern ring, which he signed.
I had my camera with me, and had my picture taken with Mart Nodell and Harry Lampert separately. Both were extremely affable and willing to talk, and I moved on only because somebody was waiting to interview them.
Around the corner was Nick Cardy, also accompanied by Mrs. Cardy. He had some very nice pencil drawings for sale, including head shots of Wonder Girl in various incarnations. I had taken Bat Lash #1 and #2 to have autographed; Cardy did the art on #1 and both story and art on #2. By this time, traffic was picking up, so I couldn't easily stand around and talk, although I did chat briefly with Mrs. Cardy about the book The Art of Nick Cardy and its publishing history. They are quite pleased by the book's success. I told her that I'd bought the original signed trade paperback, and was now torn about the hardcover. She immediately told me that I'd made a great buy, and commented on how much the book was going for on eBay!
I made my way back to Artists Alley where there was a short line (7-8 people) for Dick Giordano. I had taken Wonder Woman #201 and 202 for him to autograph; these featured his pencils and inks, not just inks. He laughed when he saw them, and got out from his portfolio cover recreations of them. He told me he is doing cover recreations for collectors, and he did #200, 201, and 202 on commission, then the guy only paid for the first one, so he had the others with him. Gorgeous, but out of my price range even at the discounted price he was offering (I think he said $600. but it might have been $800). He said the worst part of it is that he doesn't do lettering, so he had paid a letterer to do the lettering on the pieces, so he was out cash as well as his time. I hope somebody bought them!
Back at the other end of Artists Alley there was a line of about a dozen people for John Romita Sr. I had met him before, so I had already had my Amazing Spider-Man comics autographed, but I had taken the Marvel Masterworks volume with Spider-Man #31-40 to be autographed. Romita patiently explained over and over that he wasn't doing drawings but would autograph something you had brought and if you hadn't brought anything, he would give you a copy of a pencil Spider-Man drawing and autograph it. Despite this, about every other person in line tried to talk him into doing just one drawing for them. I wish they'd either express their appreciation for his work or just move along! (I'm amazed Romita doesn't tell them something like "Maybe I'll do just one drawing, but it will be some time tomorrow, maybe around 2 PM. Be here then in case I get into the mood.")
I had seen on the guest list that Matt Webb, a colorist who used to live in my town, was a guest, and eventually found him in Artists Alley. Matt was a member of the Comic Book Club of Ithaca (http://www.comicbookclub.org) before becoming a pro, and the Club newsletter published his fan art 'way back when. He moved to North Carolina a few years back after his wife was in a serious car accident and found the cold winters less tolerable. We chatted for a while, exchanging the usual news of who is doing what.
Having finished the (for me) "must see" part of the show, I checked out the convention floor. On the far left was the media area. Several members of the Lost in Space TV show crew were there, including June Lockhart (Maureen Robinson), Bob May (Robot), Marta Kristen (Judy), and Mark Goddard (Major West). From the movie Aliens there were Mark Rolston (Drake) and the distinctly non-Latino Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez (her getting the role of Vasquez is a story in itself). From the Star Wars universe, there was Michonne Bourriague (Aura Sing) and Kenny Baker (R2D2). There were a bunch of other media personalities, but as I am a non-TV person I didn't recognize most of them. Of course, they were selling autographs and photos. Interestingly, the guys who played robots were probably the most outgoing guests there! Mostly I hung back and watched for a while as fans came up, got their pictures taken with the stars, and bought autographed photos.
Kevin Smith was scheduled to do an autograph session in the media area at 4 PM, and the line started forming very early. He did several sessions, and I think every time the line was closed at about 150 people an hour or more before he started. No way was I going to spend the whole convention sitting on the floor waiting!
At the left rear of the room, near the media area, were gaming areas. These seemed to be heavily used throughout the show. Of interest to me was a VERY LARGE miniatures game, featuring Star Wars ships; the larger ones were a few feet long! They were all on stands that held them 2-3 feet from the floor. Very impressive; I was not the only attendee taking pictures.
Universal Studios had a booth that was selling discount "convention" half-day tickets to their theme park, which was only about 2 miles away, and showing the Spider-Man movie trailer, which I watched several times over the weekend. I joined some other fans who were hanging around talking about the movie. (I have my hopes for the movie, but the animation in the trailer is blatantly obvious, not at all convincing.) Alternating with the trailer was a behind-the-scenes short feature about the Spider-Man ride at the park. I pointed out to the group watching that it seemed odd to me that everyone in the video was wearing a hard hat; do they give you a hard hat when you get on the ride, and does that inspire confidence? People told me that it is an amazing ride, and that the video was shot before it opened. I decided that I might go check it out.
Circling around the room, I found the ACTOR booth, where there were silent auctions, the items for the live auction were on display, and George Perez was doing drawings as a fundraiser. Perez was steadily busy at this, and I admire his dedication. He could have easily sold the drawings and kept the money, but is obviously dedicated to this cause. The ACTOR organizer Jim McLauchlin was "up" the whole time, selling the idea, selling memberships, and encouraging people to bid both on the silent auction and the live auction.
The largest display in the room was by Crossgen Comics. They had an area that was maybe 50 feet square, with a lot of their pros there at all times. The area was always very busy. It was also one of the few professional convention booths, by which I mean the kind of big display you might find at an electronics trade show. Quite impressive.
Carmine Infantino did show up late in the afternoon, and I was among the first at his booth. I don't know what the formal arrangements were, but the booth was shared by Nick Cardy, Carmine, and David Spurlock, who published both The Art of Nick Cardy and The Art of Carmine Infantino. I imagine the intention was to promote the books, but as they'd already apparently sold out, there wasn't a lot of point to that. I had been advised that Carmine is sort of gruff at shows, and that was true at the beginning. The first fan there, of course, asked for a drawing, and Carmine told him somewhat more vehemently than necessary that he had an exclusive arrangement for drawings and his agent insists that he not do drawings. After that guy left, I asked Carmine to autograph a Flash #106 and the Silver Age Flash DC archive, and he said he would but he didn't have a pen. I had brought a selection of pens just for this purpose, and gave him a fine point Sharpie to keep, as there were by this time several people behind me.
The convention was open until 7 PM, but when the crowd thinned out around 6:30 I did the same. I was carrying around three DC Archives, one Marvel Masterworks, a couple of Famous First Edition treasuries, plus several comics, my camera, etc. in my briefcase, so by this time I was getting arm-weary.
Saturday, February 23, 2002
The weather on Saturday was much worse than on Friday; it rained hard most of the day, and was quite cool. I really felt sorry for the vacationers (many of them British) with little kids staying in my motel complex. It was definitely not a day for the parks.
The show opened at 10 AM, and I got to the convention center about 9:45. This time, I just carried my umbrella and didn't wait for a shuttle bus. The Golden & Silver Age Panel was scheduled for 10:45, so I just browsed around in the convention hall for a while. The attendance seemed good - certainly there were a lot of fans there, although I'm not good at estimating the size of a crowd.
About 20 minutes early I found the room for the panel. These rooms did not have schedules, and not that clearly labeled (in terms of which was "G", for example) so there was a fair amount of confusion as to which panel was going to be in which room. After I was there for a few minutes, Maggie Thompson came in. She was the moderator of the panel, and an excellent choice. The artists who showed up were Nick Cardy, Dick Giordano, Carmine Infantino, Harry Lampert, Mart Nodell, and John Romita. George Tuska had been invited but declined, as he is very hard of hearing and didn't think he would be able to participate fully.
It was an excellent panel. Several of the stories told by panelists involved World War II experiences. Nick Cardy told of the day when he was allowed to drive the tank. Infantrymen commonly hitched rides on the tanks by running alongside and clambering aboard. As Cardy drove along, he kept seeing guys getting on, and couldn't believe their number - how could they all possibly fit on his tank? When he stopped, he found out that he'd been driving under overhanging branches and sweeping the guys off the tank, and they'd be running to catch up and get on again - no doubt yelling a few choice words that he couldn't hear over the noise. In response to a question about the work he was most proud of, Harry Lampert told about a war-time strip he'd done in the service featuring Droopy the mosquito. The base where he was stationed in Florida was heavily infested with mosquitos, so the choice of character was obvious. The paper he ran featuring Droopy won several awards. He had recently self-published a book reprinting Droopy strips, and Maggie spoke well of it. Dick Giordano responded to the same question by referring to Sarge Steel, a comic book series he'd done for Charlton where all the work was actually his - a rarity in his career. (I noted this because I wasn't familiar with it.)
After the panel, I dropped by Harry Lampert's booth, where George Tuska was now sharing space, and had him autograph a copy of Iron Man #5, his first work on that title. In a pattern that was now familiar, I chatted briefly with Mrs. Tuska while George worked on sketches.
I dropped by the ACTOR booth again, and looked through the portfolios of items for the auction that evening. I had originally considered hitting a theme park in the afternoon, but the inclement weather changed my mind so I decided to stay for the auction. A lot of nice stuff had been donated. George Perez continued to draw for fans in the booth, and there seemed always to be at least a short line waiting for him.
Eddie Campbell, whose Bacchus work I'd enjoyed, was at the Top Shelf booth. I chatted with him briefly. Earlier in the week he'd participated in the "Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels 2002: The Will Eisner Symposium" at the University of Florida, a serious academic event with nary a superhero costume in sight. For those of you who have never attended an academic conference, it is a requirement that demeanor be very serious; enthusiasm would be very out of place. Two days later he was at Megacon, with plenty of costumes, not to mention me standing there in my Golden Age Flash T-shirt, and unbounded enthusiasm the order of the day. He got a chuckle out of the contrast.
Throughout the day, I browsed around the show. Many of the small press artists in Artists Alley were clearly there to sell, and had quite impressive displays. It seemed peculiar that John Romita was just sitting at a table with no sign or anything, and people I'd never heard of had big, professional displays, in several cases including models in costumes. I didn't ask whether the young women dressed in anything from superhero costumes to fur bikinis were professional models or girlfriends helping out, but I was surprised at how many of them were there. I took a few photos, but have to report that I didn't buy any comics just because there was a model at the table. Whether or not it was financially successful for the artists I don't know, but it certainly livened up the convention.
During the day, I stopped by Dan Brereton's spot in Artist Alley and looked through his portfolio of watercolors. I've always liked his work, and I was surprised how young he is. Somehow, I'd just imagined him to be older. When I first saw him he was talking on his cell phone, and I couldn't see his badge, so I thought he was just someone minding the table. I'd brought the first issue of his Black Terror series to be autographed.
Ramona Fradon was there on Saturday, and seemed to be getting a good amount of interest. I said hello briefly, and told her that I'd been to a concert by her daughter Amy. I hadn't known in advance that Amy was her daughter, but because of the last name I'd asked if she was related to Ramona. Ramona smiled, and said that she was increasingly becoming known as "Amy's mom" rather than the other way around.
I hung out for a while at Sergio Aragones' corner. When I got there, he was talking to Roger Price and Bob Ingersoll, and I just kibitzed. After they left, I talked to Sergio while he drew sketches and signed autographs. I found his viewpoint on publishing comics versus trade paperbacks very interesting. While he is aware that the serious money to be made is through the TPB market and the chain bookstores, he views the money he gets from the comics essentially as advances on the work. For a TPB that collects 6 issues of a comic, he has gotten 6 advances; if he had simply pitched the idea to a regular publisher as a book, he would have gotten one advance. We also talked about the comic "industry". Sergio thinks this is a silly term for something so small. The automotive industry is an industry. Comics - all comics publishers considered as a group - are a small business.
I spent some time at the anime part of the convention, which was actually down a side corridor and well away from the main hall. This is run by Anime Sushi, an Orlando anime fan club, and I'd have to say they did a great job. I'm not that familiar with anime, but a major part of the anime program was a costume contest, and there were MANY fans in costume. Mostly it was just somewhat interesting to check in on a different fandom. You can view photos of the costume contest at their Web site, http://www.animesushi.com. Of course, quite a few of the costumed fans at least wandered through the main hall during the course of the weekend.
From 3:10-4:00 pm was scheduled "An Hour With Eddie Campbell" - yes, a 50-minute hour. As already mentioned, I was familiar with Campbell's Bacchus stories, but hadn't read any of the Alec material or From Hell. His talk was quite entertaining, although showing signs of having been repeated a lot. He himself says that he used to be an artist, but since From Hell became a movie, he's become a professional interview subject. Somebody asked him what he thought his best work was, and he said that the Alec book How to Be an Artist is his best personal work, and the art on Snakes and Ladders he is very proud of. After the talk, I stopped by the Top Shelf booth where he was set up and bought a copy of the Alec book, and also looked at the original art he'd brought, which included a lot of the Snakes and Ladders material. I already had the comic, and it was interesting to see how much computer post-processing had been done to produce the artwork that appeared in print. It wasn't until I got home a few days later that I read How To Be An Artist, and I give it my highest recommendation.
During his talk, Campbell praised the work Top Shelf had done in promoting his work, and talked about their efforts to keep copies on the shelves in small stores, even where the store might buy only a few copies. This is relevant because of the problems that occurred a couple of months later with the LPC bankruptcy nearly killing Top Shelf. Because of Campbell's praise, I consider it important for them to survive, so I was among the many who supported them by ordering from them. (All Campbell's other Alec books, plus the first three Bacchus books, since you asked.)
Throughout Friday and Saturday I kept running into another fan who was in line to see the same Silver and Golden Age creators I was. He was there from (if I recall correctly) Arizona. His wife and 2-year-old son had traveled to Orlando with him, but not come to the comic book show. I told him that with the weather, he owed his wife big time. Later in the day we chatted again, and he said he was somewhat surprised that the show wasn't bigger. It turned out that this was only the second comic book convention he'd ever attended, and the first was San Diego! I told him that compared to San Diego, they were all going to seem small.
The ACTOR auction was at 6:45. This actually provided me an opportunity to experience Kevin Smith, who stopped by to auction maybe 30 items. Also, WWF wrestler Al Snow auctioned one item. Overall, the prices realized were very good - clearly the bidders were aware that the proceeds went to charity.
When I left the convention center around 9:30 PM, it was 53 degrees and still raining hard.
Sunday, February 24, 2002
Truth to tell, I was getting close to "conventioned out". The convention opened at 10 AM, but it was closer to 11 when I got there. It was a relatively quiet day for attendance. The fact that the weather had finally cleared may have had something to do with that; when I left my motel, the pool area was full of sunbathers, even though it was around 60 degrees.
At 11:00 I went to the Lost in Space panel. Only June Lockhart and Bob May attended, and I think they may have been the only two cast members at the convention that day. They were quite entertaining. Among the stories they told about the show was why there wasn't a fourth season. Ratings had been slipping and the show was cancelled after the third season, but because of fan protests apparently the show was put back on the network's schedule and Irwin Allen was told to present story ideas for the fourth season. But Allen simply never got it together to write the scripts. When it got too late for the network to keep waiting, they scheduled something else in the time slot and the show was gone. This caused problems for the actors, because they were under contract for the show! That's how June Lockhart ended up doing guest appearances in other shows that season - she convinced the studio that it wasn't fair to have her under contract, then not give her any work. Another interesting point is that Bob May had been doing voice acting prior to being hired to play the robot, but after shooting began Allen decided he didn't like May's voice for the robot after all, so the voice of the robot was dubbed by Dick Tufeld. And yes, somebody asked about, and Lockhart told about, the "attack vegetable" episode, where the script was so dumb that she and Guy Williams couldn't stop laughing, and Allen "punished" them by writing them out of the script for two episodes.
I did some shopping, which I hadn't really had time for yet. Embarrassingly enough, I bought only one comic - the last issue of the 12-issue Fantastic Four series The World's Greatest Comic Magazine. There were some very impressive dealer's displays with genuinely rare Golden Age comics, a good selection of Silver Age dealers, and booths with a hundred boxes of mixed recent stuff. Even with them selling the comics for a quarter, I wasn't about to spend my time rooting through masses of unsorted comics. Although I used to be a fairly serious part-time dealer, setting up at 24 shows per year, I didn't know any of the dealers there, so I didn't get any information on how sales were.
I left around 3 PM, and took a walk down International Drive, just seeing the sights. There are a lot of interesting facilities there, plus the tropical vegetation makes it interesting to a northerner.
Sunday evening I went to the Adventurer's Club at Disney's Pleasure Island. If you don't know about this, there is a Web page devoted to it: http://www.theadventurersclub.net. The Adventurer's Club is a "love it or hate it" place, and I love it. This was my third time. As it was a Sunday night in the off-season, there weren't many people there, and I think everyone had been there before. At the beginning of the evening the guests are inducted as honorary members, and taught the Creed, and of course we all knew it. Adventurer Samantha looked at us and said, "Ooh, you people are scary!"
And Monday I came home.