Wizard World Philadelphia Re-Cap (Part 1)

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So let us dive in head first, shall we?  If we are to at least start at the beginning, then I must describe my living quarters for the weekend.  Since Wizard World Philly is a convention that is held roughly twenty minutes from my home, I offered up free living space to some of my friends.  To my delight (shock?) six pals took me up on the offer and we were all set to rough it here in my small two-bedroom, one bath home.  This is also where I should mention that there is only one actual bed in the place as well as a single leather sofa and a rocking chair.  My girlfriend and I, of course, got my bed.  The only other couple to stay over brought a small air mattress while another person lugged a huge air mattress that also fit another guest.  The sofa was also taken for the entire duration. I let my home be something of a camp for my fellow conventioneers from early Thursday afternoon up until Sunday night.  All told, it was I and just one other man to room along with five beautiful women who were into comics.  It was sounding great until we all got into comfy clothes and hit a bar on the night before the convention.  Imbibing pints mixed mostly in hard liquor at the Independence Brew Pub - which was right beneath the convention center. Not a smart thing to do for those of us who wanted to be at the show for the opening minute. In fact, I can't even tell explain how we got home because I don't remember most of it.  Kids at home, be sure to eat some food before you go out and have drinks! That next morning while everyone was readying to head up to the Wizard World show I and one of my female roommates were puking our guts up.  The two of us were the last people from my home to enter the show, and I kid you not that each of us almost tossed our guts up once again as we traversed the city toward the convention center.  Our saving grace was lovely dough in the form of Dunkin Donuts bagels.  Anyone who saw me the Friday morning of the show took a moment to ask if I was okay and thankfully, I was.  My ego was a little bruised, but hey, I've got some to spare.  Okay, enough with the pre-game jibber jabber.  Here come my photos and perspective on what was the 2006 Wizard World Philadelphia comic convention.

In my many travels over the convention floor there were three men whose lines dominated the entire weekend: director and sometimes comic book writer, Kevin Smith and super-star artists Jim Lee and Michael Turner.  Kevin may have caused a little more stir than either Michael or Jim though, if only because he was always flanked by buddy/actor Jason Mewes and they both made impromptu appearances here and there on the convention floor.  The Graphitti Designs booth caused congestion and the sight of many a running fanboy whenever Kevin and Jason popped in for a moment.  I don't know if it was due to a lack of recognition outside of his "Jay" character in Kevin Smith's films, but I overheard many a fangirl shocked and chatting other girls up about Jason's closely coiffed hairstyle.  Love them or hate them folks, but "Jay and Silent Bob" are permanently etched into our pop culture universe. These guys are giving contemporary artistic titans a run for their money in the "longest line" bragging rights!

While at Jim Lee's signing area the announcement was made that the amount of items allowed to get signed was cut to two (from three).  Also of note with Jim was that when he was signing at the DC Comics area of the convention floor, fans in line needed to have a bracelet or they were out of luck.  That wasn't the case when he was in Wizard's designated signing area, so when you go to a convention, keep your eye out for multiple floor appearances in case you miss out on someone's appearance in a particular spot. Many of these creators reside in more than one booth or table.  Also note that you sometimes can't get everything that you own from a given creator signed all at once.  Something else I noticed missing from Jim's fans this time out was sketches.  If you're a fan and got a sketch from Mr. Lee, please let me know as I didn't see him do any when I was in his vicinity. In year's past it was an "either/or" situation of getting signatures or getting a quick sketch.  The man can do a Grifter or Batman sketch as quick as a strike from a bolt of lightning.

My inner geek came out of me while at Michael Turner's Aspen Comics booth.  As a collector of the Soulfire series I wanted to buy the Wizard Philly exclusive cover (2500 copies) to issue seven as well as the more limited (700 copies) Wizard Philly virgin cover. I did buy them but a vast majority of the comics atop the Aspen table were fingered over and we comic nuts know what that means: dreaded finger-prints or dents/creases and other collector's maladies.  Therefore, I asked the girl working the sales area if she had anymore copies to which she replied, "Yep, we fill each spot back up once the all sell."  When I asked her if I could have better looking copies, she tilted her head much like a confused puppy dog would and didn't say anything.  I just accepted the fact that what was in front of me was either what I was or wasn't getting at this moment or maybe not at all considering their limited quantities.  I quickly gave up and just paid her, taking the best of the bunch.  Hell, I don't get my books graded anyways.  That stuff should be only for cards and coins - NOT comics that you read cover to cover - but that is an argument left for another day.  Michael Turner though, you'll never see more women waiting in line for a particular creator, let me tell ya.  Is he still doing sketches?  I'll never know because the Aspen line is the only one that I refuse to wait in.  The creators there are just too damned nice and they'll literally sign a stack of hundreds should someone bring them.  I've seen it happen before.  One day though, you'll see me and I'll get my Soulfire sketch and I'll be a happy nerd.  Turner, I'm coming for ya!

There were a few people at the con I'd actually never met before and the first of them would be one Erica Angelique Hesse.  To put it mildly, I was blown away by this woman's skills with the drawing pencil!  To what effect?  Well, I got myself two commissions from Erica over the weekend.  Displaying her mad pinup and poster skills on the large piece behind her at her Artist Alley table or in her multiple portfolios, there was just page after page of gorgeous "good girl" art.  Erica has a true talent for drawing sexy women, full-figured women, cute women in pigtails and lollypops and not making it look "adults only" or blatant in her image's intent.  Though some portfolio originals displayed vibrant coloring, I was out of luck this time as Erica didn't bring along all her colors.  She and I made a date for the upcoming Baltimore Comic Con when I'd have her color the two pieces she did for me.  Check out her site at www.hesse-art.com!  If you're into commission pieces or sketches, I can't emphasize enough that you drop Erica a line or you track her down at an upcoming convention.  I fail to believe her fees will remain as low as they currently are.

The second artist that I met at the show was Joe Pekar. He, like Erica has a portfolio filled with wonderful "good girl" pinup art.  Both are decidedly different in their styles though and Joe's comes to life a little less stylized and grounded more into real world looks, at least that is what my eyes told me.  His work has a really cool "retro" feel to it but you can see for yourself at his website: www.joepekar.com.   Joe was doing sketches the whole weekend and also had a full color spiral-bound book that I will not call a "sketch book" for sale. It looked to be selling quite well too.  Hey, when someone this talented offers a free sketch to anyone who'll buy his book, the man should be selling out all over the place!  Joe also teased on-comers with a preview copy of his upcoming new full color book entitled Naughty Girls Vol.1. I said it for Erica and I'll say it again: Go to Joe's website or see the man in person at a con and treat yourself to a con sketch or commission piece.  These two have the chops to transcend the comic book world into higher realms of art if they so inclined.

Finally the other awesome new acquaintance I made at the con was Frank Beddor, producer on the film There's Something About Mary, but more currently, creator/writer of Hatter M from Image Comics.  He was there not only promoting his comic, but also the novel that the characters came from, Looking Glass Wars. If anyone out there is a fellow fan of Lewis Carrolls' Alice in Wonderland books and/or characters, Frank has crafted a book that begins the tale of the "true" story of Alyss over a trilogy of novels.  There are a lot of really good shorts and mini-movie type thingies on the site for the book, check it out at www.lookingglasswars.com.  I loved the site until I saw photos of Frank hanging out with the likes of Cameron Diaz and Julia Stiles; now I just despise the man.  Oh yeah, be on the look out for a card game based on the concept of Looking Glass Wars. You can also preview it on the link above as well.

There were also a good bit of my old pals at the con too and everyone had new projects, which is nice because you really get to see everyone's enthusiasm and hear a good secret every now and then.  Sorry folks, I NEVER kiss and tell.  I can tell you one pretty crazy fact though.  Artist Stuart Sayger has the largest circulated comic book in the entire world. What was that?  You may not completely know who Stuart Sayger is?  He is the artist on the DC Comics/Lego Bionicle: Ignition comic book.  While it isn't for sale in comic shops, it is given to members of the Lego fan club, virtually assuring Stuart of that mythical comic book readership: KIDS!  If Legos aren't your thing, give Sayger's Shiver in the Dark comic a look-see as that is one hellishly beautiful book.  I noticed a good bit of fans walking around with one of Stuart's prints in particular and it kind of scared me.  Why? Glad you asked!  It was a print that he did of the "mullet era" Superman for DC's trading cards.  Yes, it looked great but c'mon!  It is Superman in black pajamas with a mullet!

Jimmy Palmiotti and co-writing pal Justin Gray were hard at work in Artist Alley.  When they weren't fending off the famed "Hey, do you know when Amanda (Conner) will be here," questions from rabid fans, they were signing stacks of books and formulating plans on future cool comics.  Special note to all you talented and aspiring artists out there: the incredible art on Justin and Jimmy's Daughters of the Dragon mini-series from Marvel, done by up and comer Khari Evans?  Word has it that Jimmy discovered the man at a comic con when he was asked to check out a portfolio.  Now don't go running to Jimmy saying I sent you, but hey sometimes a tip is a tip is a tip.  The man is pretty honest and has a great eye for art.

Amanda Conner was seated next to Jimmy and Justin.  Her line per usual was just scary, and it was full of people who mostly wanted sketches.  I would like to come out and say that all these people are ruining it for me, and I'll never get my big commission piece from the lovely Amanda.  While this may not be true, I just felt that I needed a venue to do a little whining and this is definitely the perfect time since I've been playing the begging game with her for a good while now, all in good fun.  She attends as many, if not more, comic cons than I do, so I make it a point to ask each time I see her.  I'll luck out one day.  It makes me think how crazy we fans are.  I mean, here I am saying that I'll luck out by giving a cute gal most likely about $300 for a drawing!  Sorry Jimmy, but the moment you got up and took a walk, I had Amanda grope me.  I am soooo dead.  Jimmy is from New York and has done a lot of Punisher projects for Marvel.

Savage Dragon fans rejoice!  Franchesco (pictured with my pal Kittie), artist on the upcoming and long delayed She-Dragon one-shot, all but swore the book would be out in time for San Diego Comic Con.  I hope the book does well because Franchesco is such a great guy with a lot of positivity.  The man has the artistic chops of an Adam Hughes too, so support his projects!  An eager fan was picking up his full body (bodied?) Power Girl sketch from him while we were chatting and damn if it wasn't one hot sketch. For the life of me I don't know why he isn't working at a DC or Marvel these days.  Erik Larsen must love it having him do his gorgeous green-skinned gal. The teaser with Franchesco was that he has another project lined up in the coming months, but refused to even hint at what or where it may be.  If there was ever a way to keep an idiot in suspense Franchesco, you've found it with me my friend.

That smile on Darick Robertson's face has to be from the happiness he is feeling from working on The Boys, the upcoming series from DC/Wildstorm and the mind of writer Garth Ennis.  Envisioned as a 5-year finite series, Darick had the preview copies for the first four issues and the book just looked totally demented: dogs with really bizarre smiles, people being killed left and right, super-hero teams with creepy induction methods. This book is going go over really well with the Ennis/Robertson faithful, that is for sure.  I spoke with Darick for a good while since I'm a member on his forums at www.darickr.com but yet never met him at a comic con.  Plus, he was at the A.C.T.O.R. booth, and I tend to make a donation each year for a sketch, so this worked out perfectly since I wanted a Spider Jerusalem in my sketch collection.  He did a killer piece for me, and it just made my day to get the great sketch and see a pal in such high spirits. It is great to have Darick back at DC Comics again.

Zen master Andy Lee, as is usually the case, wowed his onlookers over the entire weekend with his painting style and magnetic personality.  For someone who hasn't done a comic book in a while, Andy may be the single most popular Artist Alley convention sketcher out there.  Men, women, boys and girls, children of all ages come to Andy for sketches of Superman or lions or even just flowers.  The man is affordable to all and brilliant.  Bah, I could go on for days talking well about this man.

Recent Harvey Award nominee (Best Colorist) Jennifer Rodgers was proudly displaying and selling her latest and greatest achievement, The Lone and Level Sands hardcover graphic novel.  I was thrilled to hear from her that the Archaia Studios Press publication was now readily available on Amazon.com. Here though, she was signing and personalizing copies to her fans. Jennifer isn't "just" a colorist either. She is a wonderful artist in her own right, and I'm left to wonder what she was doing talking with the ever entrepreneurial men of indie hot spot Silent Devil Productions.  If we're lucky, there'll be a project on the way and we'll all get to see her skills on the interior of a comic.

Since I'm on the subject of beautiful comic book interiors, I thought I'd mention that Billy Tucci was in attendance and from my photo, looked to be doing about a hundred things at once!  If there is one thing to know about Billy, it is that he is always moving.  Whether signing a book for a fan, doing a commission while the customer sits in front of him, showing off pages from his upcoming run on Marvel's Heroes For Hire or just telling stories that captivate the folks in front of his table, he just isn't one to wander a convention floor.  If you haven't been privy to seeing any of the preview pages that he has done for Heroes For Hire, let me tell you that he is really pouring his heart and soul into the title, and they look as good if not better than anything he has done.  Keep an eye out because this isn't some minor Marvel release.

What do Geoff Johns, TNA wrestlers Team 3D and Blade all have in common?  Normally that may be impossible to figure out, but at Wizard Philly they were all booth guests of Spike TV.  I found this booth in particular to be one of the more interesting places to hang around whenever bored at the show.  It was the first thing people saw when they entered the con and with the Spike TV set up having two floors, they were able to house their own DJ for the weekend playing some really cool music upstairs.  I did think it odd to hear N.E.R.D.'s "Lapdance" song booming all over from the mega-watt speakers, but this was also an area that was run by women in highly cut cutoff denim shorts and skin tight "wife-beater" t-shirts.  Nope.  I'll never fully understand the Wizard convention floor plans. Anyhow, the lines for wrestlers and anyone else Spike TV had signing always seemed to move really quickly; so quick that even I managed to hop in line for a photo with the Dudley Boyz, (even if they're no longer called that).

Something that the loud music didn't help with was the hearing of other announcements throughout the convention.  I mention this because on Friday, I spotted a guy in a costume who looked great, but I was left to wonder how or why security let him in with all the weapons that he had on.  He was wandering the convention the entire day, and there I was in my hangover stupor, never noticing he didn't really leave the Spike TV area.  I even mentioned to my pal Kittie that I couldn't believe how much he looked like Blade.  Well, it was Blade-the television version.  I don't think that anyone knew the actor was there, and it took me an entire day until finally someone told me it was him.  With our new found knowledge, we proceeded to shoot a quick photo the next time we bumped into him.  Later in the afternoon on Saturday I swear I saw him pushing a stake into Bubba the Red Neck Werewolf.

I was really surprised to find Geoff Johns' lines weren't as staggering as some of the other top talent at the show.  It could have been that he signs comics quickly or it could have been that despite the convention program stating it, no one really thought to visit Geoff at a Spike TV booth.  It was a different story entirely when he was in the DC Comics area, with fans lined up all over for the chief Crisis creator.  I asked him for my own curiosity if he had written any of Steel's story so far in the weekly 52 series and to my shock, he hadn't.  He told me that he got a kick out of fans telling him who they thought wrote each specific character in the series and more often than not, the fans were wrong.  For a moment I found myself wanting to whine about JSA's reboot in the fall and thankfully I didn't geek out.  What did make me happy was knowing that Geoff was going to leave the series until this new direction came about.  He got re-interested in the title and decided to come back for the relaunch along with Alex Ross.  That is the sort of thing that'll make me come back in a flash, pun maybe intended.

Waaay back in Artist Alley there is a place.  It is a place where some unsuspecting comic book fans will find themselves around the equivalent to comic book used car salesmen.  That place would be the few rows where I'd term the products being marketed and sold as "deep independents," though they are more commonly known as "small press."  Some in that area take our hobby way too seriously and will actually charge you money for a piece of folded in half paper that looks like it was drawn by your opposite writing hand. How they can sometimes convince anyone to fork over $2 or more for some of this schlock is beyond me. But then there are some people back there who enjoy making comics and enjoy having a good time.  Luckily I ran into the gang from www.doppelgangercomics.blogspot.com first! The collective that is composed of Mike Storniolo, Ian Harker, Rob Messick, Brian Milligan and John Carr all had their wares out and even gave me a couple on the cheap! I'll freely admit that this isn't the most polished product at the convention, but it definitely is some fun grass roots-type comic book creating.  John Carr's The Strange But True Tale of Planet Steve is surprisingly funny and the "advertisement" on the final page of the comic is GOLD!  For someone who doesn't buy small press books, I don't think I've ever laughed as hard at a single page in the genre.   Then there is The Epic & True Story of Che' Guevara from the mind of Ian Harker.  If the title leads you to believe that you're in for some educational or pretentious small press reading, the Dadaist cover will certainly sound the alarms that this tale will likely be neither "true" nor "epic."  Funny?  Yes.  Insulting?  Possibly to some, but hey, it is still an emotional reaction, right?  With a sales motto like "Pick one up! Slap a cheesesteak between the pages! And feast on the South Jersey slop you know you need," I ask you this; how can you NOT support these guys?

With my coverage winding down, I thought that I'd post a few random images of some interesting costumes. The 2006 Wizard World Philadelphia comic con was a real blast, and I think it was definitely better than last year's edition.  With the addition of something diverse like the Spike TV booth, more open space for walking (with exception to the retailer area) and many more female fans in attendance than ever, it was a great weekend to be a comic book fan.  Reportedly, attendance was larger than last year by a few thousand so this is still one of Wizard's larger stops, and Philadelphians are in no jeopardy of losing our only major comic con on the year.  It was also nice to see the lessening/absence of most of the T&A that has been on the Wizard World tour the last few years.  While a fan of all things adult myself, they don't necessarily have a place at a show where children are advertised as getting in for free.  The adult business has conventions anyway and without a single comic book presence to boot!  Getting off my soap box (do they still make those?), I'd like to send out a few specific "THANK YOUS" before my fingers give out:  Koop's Comics (you the man Mr. Tim Kupin!), Andy Lee (thanks for that quickie sketch on Sunday), Jim Lee (Jager-much?), David Mack, the gang at Silent Devil (partay?), Jimmy Palmiotti , Stuart Sayger, Frank Beddor (thanks for the book!), Erica Hesse (I lurve the sketches!) and everyone else that totally kicked it here in my city!  Doh! How could I forget that special thanks to all my house guests?  You all really made the weekend that much more awesome and I'd welcome you all back in a heartbeat. Okay I'm outta here. Time to get ready for Heroes Con.

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