Friday, June 13, 2014

Heroes Con.

Was going to rattle off some thought as to why Heroes Con has always meant so much to me, but my pal Ben DeFeo went and said about 90% of it already:

I am not big on family reunions, the prospect of sitting in a park watching the flies feast on Aunt Mary’s potato salad while I force conversation with someone I rarely see sends chills down my spine. In spite of this, each summer I pack the kids into the family truckster and head east to the humid south, to the lush green state of North Carolina, to a family reunion in Charlotte. This reunion is different, there are no blood relatives are in attendance, this is the reunion of my adopted family and I would not miss it for the world. This is Heroes Convention.

Heroes is a special place for many reasons, but it all starts at the top with Shelton Drum. A fixture at many conventions through the year, his Heroes Aren't Hard to Find booth is a great spot to thumb through comic treasures. Comics that are bagged and boarded, but almost never slabbed. That is because Shelton believes comics are for reading, even if it is Amazing Fantasy 15. That is just a small facet of insight into Shelton. He cares about comics, he cares about them being accessible, and he wants to share that with others.

Shelton has been putting on Heroes Con for over 30 years; I have been at the last eight which makes me a newbie. People plan their summer around Heroes and many have been for longer than I. Over the years the show has grown in size and attendance. The guest list has become on par with SDCC or NYCC in breadth and depth of comic talent. Some things have not changed though. The show is about comics and the comic creators are the A-list stars. You will not find a celebrity alley as you do at almost all “comic-cons.” When there is a VIP event, it is for a comic industry individual, like Stan Lee and not for a B-list sci-fi actor. The show is affordable, $40.00 gets you in for the three days and children under the age of 12 are free. Want to just do Sunday with the kids? $15 will get you and them in for the day. Hard to beat that and most shows do not come close. While you are there with the kids, don’t worry about walking up on a smut booth. Art is welcome at Heroes, but porn isn’t. It is a family friendly show. In addition, the show features a live art stage on Friday and Saturday where you can watch artists work on pieces for the art auction. Watching someone like Brian Stelfreeze or Phil Noto paint is a treat at any cost.

Shelton brings in a guest list, which as I say, rivals the huge conventions. Many guests are there on the con, meaning travel expenses are taken care of. Shuttles pick up attending guests at the airport and whisk them to the swank Westin right next door to the convention center. All the guests and most of the con-goers stay right there in the same hotel, another plus for mingling after show hours. Guests often bring spouses and families along, something not common to most conventions. Shelton and the Heroes crew go out of their way to make it a comfortable experience for the guests and that goes a long way to keeping the core attendance up. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights there are events where the guests are treated to some sort of food and drink, culminating with a “dead dog party” on Sunday night. Things like this above and beyond the norm really make you stop and notice the love and dedication that go into the show.

In recent years, Friday night has become a drink and draw where artists and fans gather to do just that. There is music, food, drink and, of course, great art. In addition to being an enjoyable time, it is an opportunity for artists who are starting their journey to draw next to working pros and glean some information in an informal setting. Much of the art from the event is collected and auctioned off for charity.

Saturday is the big dog, the art auction. Attending artists are asked, but not required, to donate art. Some of this is pre-done, some done during the course of the show on the art stage. There is a variance of size and price point by dozens of artists. The proceeds from this live auction and the smaller silent auction at the show go to help funding Heroes Con. I look at this as sort of a public radio/scholarship program. Supporting the auction and buying art there preserves Heroes so I look at that as worthy endeavor. In order to keep Heroes what it is, at the cost for fans to attend, Shelton and the crew need help. The prices could be raised, celebrity types could be brought in to sell more tickets, but then it wouldn't be the same show. Over the years, I have watched new artists really take off from the art auction; the publicity their art gets as it hangs on display with giant names of the industry is irreplaceable. The art auction is a good thing and a good time!

Sunday is a wind down and the reality that the good times are almost over for another year starts to set in. Traditional dinners, Monday breakfast for those who can make it, and off to the airport. If the hotel would take my reservation for next year I’d have it made already.

There is no greater gathering for me. Low key, lots of friends, plus a good selection of shrimp and grits… what more could I want? Heroes is a family reunion and Shelton is that crazy uncle that everyone wants to hang with. He and his lovely wife, Linda, as well as the whole crew of staff and volunteers provide the comic community with a wonderful three days and I will be forever grateful.
Heroes Con is June 20-22, 2014 at the Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St., Charlotte, NC 28202.  I'll be there, and I hope you will, too.