“You did it! I can’t believe you actually did it,” Knightmage choked out between barely contained laughter. Under my Deadpool mask I smiled. I had posted a few days before that I would see him at NEO, and that I was bringing at least one of my kids. Also a unicorn. And there I was, in full Deadpool regalia, perched on top of a fluffy unicorn with comically big eyes.
NEO comic con has rapidly become one of my favorite shows, in no small part because it’s the closest comic con near me, but also because it’s so well run. I never fail to have a good time here, and the showrunner (a friend of mine) is the hardest working promoter I’ve ever seen. It’s NEO’s second year here at the North Olmsted Soccer Sportsplex and I knew from last year that parking would be a challenge. My younger daughter Lydia was feeling sick, so while the wife slept in with her, Maddie and I hit the early service at Gateway Church in North Ridgeville then jumped in the car and raced the six minuet drive down the street to the show.
By the time we hit the complex, the parking lot was full. Plenty of cars were giving up and heading to the college down the street where a shuttle bus would pick them up and ferry them back and forth. Some of the more adventurous cars however, were heading to the lawn. I pointed my large honda towards the back fence and lowed through, snagging one of the last spots in the grass.
Entering the complex, my friend Jim spied me from the ticket booth as I rode the unicorn in the building with my pass stuck on it’s horn.
“No. NO! OUT!” he grinned waggling his finger at me. One of the ticket takers plucked my pass off of Sparkle-Murder-Pie’s horn. “Okay, that covers him, but what are we charging for the UNICORN???” Jim demanded.
“She’s three years old,” I replied. “Kids get in free.”
Jim threw up his hands in exasperation, laughing. To be fair, I had my own concerns about bringing Sparkle-Murder-Pie the Unicorn to this show. I remember it being crowded last year, and was wondering if I’d have any problems getting around, but while there were a few choke points in the complex (especially by the entrance or the connecting path between the two sections) NEO is extremely efficient in the way it uses it’s space. I remained unhindered for most of the day. Shawn, the promoter, spotted me and gave the unicorn a friendly slap on it’s hollow flank as he passed by.
I had to get my picture in front of the TARDIS. The TRACE people did me one better, opening both doors and helping me maneuver the unicorn in. As I emerged, I pointed to the giant Pikachu rounding the corner and Maddie squealed. We rushed over for more photos. Emerging from the weirdest selfie ever, Maddie announced she was hungry and we went in search of lunch. I dig the snack bar here. They don’t gouge at convention level prices for food and the con is good to them. Maddie grabbed a hot dog and I got some pizza. Over at our table, my friend Chris came over to me, his Black Mask in hand.
“Dude, do you have any tape?”
“Hot glue gun in the car,” I replied. Then I spotted an electrical outlet over in the corner by the lunch tables. “We can plug it in there. Give me a couple minuets to do finish eating and we can do a swag dump while I pick up the gun.” We ran to the car, and Chris was nice enough to fix one of my hooves while patching up his mask.
Between lunch and the swag dump, I missed the comic creator’s panel with Tony Isabella and Mark Sumerck. It’s a drag (I’m still hoping someone filmed it and youtubes it) but to be fair, Marc is a friend and I heard a lot of his stories. Lately, Tony’s been hitting the con circuit hard since the release of the Black Lightning TV show and I’d bet I also caught most of his recent schtick at ConCoction last Feburary, so if any panel had to go – this was the one.
We stuck around for the next one though – it was an action workshop, run by a film choreographer. It’s an unusual panel to see at a comic book convention, but they were hosting the fan film production company that does TRACE and their more recent Superman project. I’m familiar with how a lot of action is staged and how you throw a punch (more importantly how you TAKE a hit), so I left Maddie there to watch (I figure she might pick up some ideas for The Backyard Zombie Movie) while I snuck off to Tony’s table. I had an erstwhile copy of Essential Captain America vol 5 that I need an autograph on. I’m not sure if I picked this up after my last encounter with Tony or if I just didn’t have it with me before. I handed it over and he happily replied “The first signature is free….just like ALL the best drugs!”. Yeah, that’s right, Tony has started charging. We had some warning about this last year – it was definitely under consideration and I was pleased it didn’t happen at Akron Comic Con, but it’s finally occurred. He is however, offering free signatures on anything bought at his table and on one of your own items. I gotta admit, this is perfectly fair. If you’re going to charge to autograph, this is definitely the right way to do it.
To my great delight, the other comic guest wern’t asking for autograph fees. Phil Hester and Ande parks are well known for thier Green Arrow, but I was all about thier Dynamite work, and I plopped down a small stack of Green Hornet for them to sign. On the top of the collection though, there was one particular issue that stood apart. It was an Aliens story called “Purge”. It’s a one-shot featuring characters I was always disappointed never appeared any where else. I don’t know if I found this in a quarter bin, or was given it or if it was off the shelf, but it’s always been one of my favorite Aliens stories. As Ande signed I turned the conversation over to his time of The Lone Ranger.
“It’s interesting, I wasn’t a fan of the character going in,” he said. “They gave me ‘The Death of Zorro’ and I was like ‘okay.’. Then they told me it was a Lone ranger story and I didn’t know what to think about that. But writing it I just fell in love with the characters, with the ranger and Tonto and all of them, it made me a fan.”
In this blog and elsewhere, I’ve long said that Dynamite is the only place that’s gotten the Lone Ranger right. I mentioned to Ande that I really wanted to like the movie, but that it was nowhere near his run on the book.
“I saw the movie and just though ‘All you guys had to do was follow the path we set on the book, and I just don’t understand why they didn’t do that.'”
You took the words right out of my mouth.
Maddie and I made our way down the table over to Angel Medina. My buddy Mayday always makes a point to stop by Angel’s table any time they are at a con together. We’ve been at Great Lakes Comic Con together but I didn’t have anything to sign. This time however, I came prepared. Maddie pulled a couple of Spider-man comics and a Dreadstar out of my backpack as I sat perched on top of my unicorn. I pulled up my Deadpool mask and we got Medinia’s attention. He thumbed in my direction.
“So, you with him?” He asked.
“That’s my Dad,” Maddie replied.
“Man, you don’t know how lucky you are,” he told her. “When I was a kid, my parent’s just didn’t get it. They’d drop me off at the con and pick me up later. They’d wonder why I was wasting my time on this stuff..and when I told them I was going to college for it? Forget it! It wasn’t until I showed my mom that first paycheck with Spider-man on it…It wasn’t until then that she understood maybe you can make a living this way.”
He finished signing my books and waved towards me. “You’re lucky. Your dad’s a nerd – and I mean that in a good way.”
We moved on as another person was chatting Angel up about Dreadstar. They mentioned that they had planned on bringing some for Angel to sign, but just couldn’t locate any of the First Publishing issues. Angel reached under his table producing a copy from that run and signed it.”That’s awesome!” he gushed. “What do I owe you?” Angel shook his head and waved him on, no charge.
We explored further, running into friends and taking photos and suddenly I found myself at the end of a long conga line chanting “One of us! One of us!” The line came to a stop but Deadpool kept riding his pony past them, racing across the sportsplex to photobomb a tense confrontation between Wolverine and a movie accurate, leather-clad Deadpool. Hulk shuffled over to me, petting the unicorn’s soft fur, the epitome of calm. I thumbed through dozens of three for a dollar bins and came away with a dozen Superman books. Maddie supported one of the local artists and purchased a Jigglypuff poster from him. I finally made it over to the American Knight table to see my old POP buddies Jae and Rick who were releasing their very first issue of the long-awaited book.
They were sold out.
Seriously. I arrived just in time to seethe last issues snatched up. “I go over to see Ange Medina first and because of that I miss out???” I screamed in mock outrage. Truth is, I couldn’t be happier for them. They have been working on this book for a while and a lot of us have been waiting to see this come out for years – indeed, at least as long as NEO Comic Con has been around. Greg was back and heard my disapointment.
“Did you get the digital copy?”
“No, I wan’t part of the Kickstarter”
He reached in his bag and pulled out his copy and passed it to me. “I got my digital one, and you really need to read it. You can have mine.”
I couldn’t believe it. I asked how much I owed him and he wouldn’t hear of it. “We gotta stick together, you know?”
Finally, the moment Maddie had been waiting for drew close. It was twenty minuets before the line up for the kids costume contest. We slipped into the back of the sportsplex, in a dark and unused portion of the complex. I helped Maddie don her overshirt and we got her clipboard out of the backpack. There in the dark, she practiced her quick-change twirl about four times. Confident in her display, we stuffed her cape up the back of the shirt and hiked the Supergirl skirt up so it was hidden under the billowy white blouse, cinched tight around the waist with a smart beige leather belt. Maddie joined the other kids by the panel area and I was happy to see her hanging out and chatting. I think she’s discovering (like I did) that the best part of a costume contest is hanging out with the other contestants backstage and getting to know them. She was particularly enchanted by the boy in the Aliens costume – funny since we just finished that movie a week prior. The line started to move, and the emcee called her name.
“And next we have Maddie as Supergirl!”
He caught a glimpse of her in the yoga pants and white blouse and corrected himself quizzically.
“I mean, FROM Supergirl….”
Maddie reached the center of the stage, grinned and ripped open her blouse, revealing the red “S” underneath. The judge’s jaw dropped as the crowd erupted in applause. Maddie twirled the blouse off and pulled her skirt down into view, ripping off her glasses. It was the best quick change I’d seen from her yet.
I’d trot on stage later as Deadpool, but I’m pretty sure Maddie’s turn was the highlight of the show for me. We headed back to the car exhausted and ready for dinner back at home…but also ready to come back next year! Keep an eye out for Maddie’s con VOLG (She’s been slow getting into it, but I bet it’ll be up by the end of the week). In the meantime, check out Maddie’s quick change in the kids costume contest here as well as my Unicorn waddle in the adult contest! (Thanks to Ken Nemec for recording it!)
In its first year, Neo Comic Con exceeded all expectations with attendance nearly double what they had projected. While growth was slow in the second year – a mild swelling if you will, the shoulder to shoulder traffic inside the hotel made it clear that it was time to move to someplace bigger already, if they wanted to grow. In it’s third outing, this year moving to the soccer sportsplex in North Olmsted, they exceeded their previous attendance records before noon, eventually topping out at about 1/3 more attendees than ever before.
I have to admit I’m pleased by all of this, it’s nice to have a show like this practically in my backyard – 10 miles away and a 15 minute drive. I’m familiar with the venue, Heroes United did an event there (a superhero night for the soccer players) and was excited about the layout – it reminded me a great deal of All-Americon. That’s really what I was
expecting, something very much like the previous versions of all American when they had set up over Packard Hall. What we ended up seeing was actually pretty different.
Neo created an interesting flow here with the vendors all set up on one side of the arena, and the artists alley in a completely separate section separated by bleachers, tables and the snack bar. It works and it makes sense, the flow actually feels good – but I’d feel better if were more than one entrance. If you want to get to the side with the artists and cosplayers, you absolutely have to walk through all of the vendor tables and in my case that proved difficult since I was carrying stuff to set up at the Heroes United table.
Also complicating things with the parking situation.By the time I arrived, a mere hour and a half after the doors opened, the lot was full. I managed to snag and innocuous little space right behind the factory across the street – plenty of shade and enough maneuvering that it would make someone trying to tow or vandalize my car more trouble than it was worth. The convention and also secured parking down the street at the college and was running shuttles every 15 minutes – this isn’t a bad idea, but for those of us carrying bulky props and wearing cumbersome suits, it was absolutely going to be a hurdle… and I’m not sure what the fix is for this is either. Under the circumstances I think they came up with the best solution that they could.
Still, it made loading and unloading an issue (swapping the baby basket for the rocketship halfway through the day), and made my lunch plans impossible. We ended up grabbing food at the snack bar and commandeering a table for me and my friends. Big props to the Soccer sportsplex staff by the way. They really rolled with the event and got into things. There are some venues that don’t really dig convention crowds– the fanboys and the cosplayers put them off. There is the infamous story of the hotel in Butler back when Monster Bash was at its last location and the bellboy going up and down the hall screaming “go away monster people! “. These guys embraced it, and were having fun… The man at the counter paused me to get a picture in before taking my order. It was a good day for them as well! They were selling out of items regularly and I’m not surprised… They had normal pricing on just about everything, higher than McDonald’s you might say, but reasonable – $2.50 for a slice of pizza, $1.50 for a drink. Definitely not gouging. I dig that, and it really made me feel better about buying my lunch there.
It’s always a pleasure to see Rubber City Cosplay, promoting positivity and taking photos at their booth. The whole Photo Booth thing seems to be taking off too. One of the other charity groups in the area had theirs set up and their hook was it your photo with Superman and Batman, or select members. In addition – Heroes United had their booth set up with a green screen photo op providing nine backgrounds to choose from… A little something different.
Of course my big thing for this convention was to get over to meet Bob Hall. Hall was the writer for one of my absolute favorite series – Shadowman. He took over early in the run and stayed with the Valiant title right up until the end, just before the Acclaim reboot.
“They gave me the choice of five different titles to write,” he said. “I chose Shadowman because it was the one that was doing the worst… I figured if this book completely fails, at least I’m not going to be the first writer it tanks on… ”
“When Acclaim came in, they told me that the character wasn’t black enough! What does that even mean? He’s Creole! But they wanted something different. They wanted a character they could put into video games thats why I ended of the book, because if they were going to make him completely different, they may as well make him a different character altogether. I did the story where he climbed up to the top of the building and jumps. We never see him hit the ground though. I always assumed some other writer come along and take over – figure a way out of the cliffhanger, but they never did!”
Next to halls table, it’s Kevin Nolan – an artist I enjoy, particuarly for his work on the Superman/Aliens series… We both commiserated over what a wonderful character the Kara girl in the book is in our surprise over her never appearing anywhere else.
I rounded up of the day by getting Tony Isabella’s table. Tony is a legend when it comes to DC titles, having created Black Lightning and he’s also a regular on the Northeast Ohio convention circuit. I was particularly interested in hearing his take on the new Black Lightning television show that supposed to be hitting the CW.
“They flew me out, and brought me into a room with two big whiteboards that I was not allowed to take photos of!” he chuckled. “What I saw were too big columns, one with a lot of studio ideas, and another column with a lot of my stuff. They’re asking me things about stories I wrote 20 years ago, and if feels like there’s a lot of me in this show… There’s a lot of the studio too, but is a good mix of the two. I’m looking forward to it.”
This was interesting to me, because I’ve had my misgivings about this show. I enjoy Black Lightning; Batman and the Outsiders is one of the best Bat books from the silver age! But I look at the suit and I don’t know what they were thinking. I don’t get the origins of this look at all, and it really made me trepiditious about the story. To hear Tony say that they’re putting a lot of his vision in it actually makes me feel a great deal better – particularly in that he got down to some specifics, rather than a nebulous “it’s going to be great!” kind of statement that you have to make when you’re under contract.
Cosplayers came out in force for this event… Neo has always drawn its fair share of costumes, and usueally always some good looking people wandering around the show. They’ve encouraged it by giving free admission to people in costume, and inviting recognizable cosplay talent like night mage, are KG cosplay, Princess Morgan and Miss procrastination… This however, was their first year doing a costume contest and I’m pleased with how good the competition was. Everybody was bringing their A game, with impressive costumes like an Oogie Boogie from nightmare before Christmas, and a dead on Ghostbuster, Judge Death from Judge Dredd, and dozens and dozens of Spider-Man. Seriously, I thought there were a lot of Spider-Man at Great Lakes Comicon? Not even close – I couldn’t walk two steps without stumbling over webs at Neo.
I managed to track down the single 50 Cent bin at the show and pull about a dozen things out of there, pointing out some of the better silver age horror to my friend Rhonda. Still, most of the deals I grabbed were in the form of those old essentials volumes. These things are still plentiful and cheap, and the best way to catch up on really old comics – I’m currently building my Fantastic Four collection. Besides those, I absolutely could not pass up a couple volumes of Daredevil including stuff that was way older than anything I’ve ever been able to afford.
When all is said and done, it was a great weekend. I think that even now, after three years, NEO ComicCon is still very much looking for an identity… But I also think more than ever it has figured out what kind of show it wants to be, and it’s really beginning to look like that.
I can’t wait for next year.
(Photos stolen from every corner of Facebook – my apologies. I didn’t really get any pictures of my own!)