Photos ©2013 Marnie Ann Joyce
Heroes Con took place in Charlotte NC the weekend of June 7th, filling the city's convention center with creators, retailers, and fans, all joined together to celebrate the art and culture of comic books. And while many of the usual elements of comic conventions were in evidence, Heroes just feels different than most events of this size and nature. While there were numerous fans in costume, there were far fewer storebought ensembles, and far more homemade labors of love: a construction paper Batgirl mask, crocheted horns on a Homestuck Troll, hand-drawn logos and details. They're not dressed up to show off, but to share their love of these characters.
In the year since it launched, Marvel's Captain Marvel series has grown steadily in popularity and become a source of inspiration and empowerment to many readers, thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick's portrayal of lead character Carol Danvers as a capable and nuanced hero. Superhero comics (and comic creators in general) often confuse 'strong female characters' with one-dimensional fetish objects, adorning women in skimpy costumes and high-tech weaponry, while neglecting to provide them with actual personalities But Ms. DeConnick and Captain Marvel are notable exceptions to that rule, using thrilling stories and rich characterizations to build a loyal and vocal fanbase, sparking a movement of fans that have dubbed themselves 'The Carol Corps'.
The Carol Corps panel was the most thoughtful and entertaining program I attended at Heroes: a room packed full of fans, joined in shared appreciation and celebration of this character and comic. The three people onstage (artist Nicki Coley, cosplayer Kit Cox, and Ms. DeConnick herself) discussed upcoming events in the comic, held forth on the long fictional history of Carol Danvers, and talked about their own personal identifications with the character. DeConnick fielded questions about the decision to change Carol's codename from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel, the according redesign of her costume (DeConnick's reaction: "…When I first saw it, I thought 'this looks like the dress uniform for the superhero branch of the military!' I loved it."), and reaching an audience that is historically underserved by superhero comics (DeConnick: "If female readers see gratuitous T&A shots, they know: this book isn't written for you"). The audience was lively and engaged, and quite a few were dressed especially for the occasion, in Captain Marvel costumes and/or selections from DeConnick's t-shirt collection.
There were other amazing programs as well – The Jim Steranko spotlight featured the legendary artist/writer/publisher/graphic designer/musician/magician regaling the crowd with tales of his early life in Pennsylvania, his work as designer for Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and how he sought (and eventually obtained) employment as a writer/artist in the comic book industry of the 1960s. The Starman: 20th Anniversary session brought together artists Tony Harris and Andrew Robinson to talk about their experiences providing the visuals for the seminal DC series, answer audience questions, and give candid opinions on the creative and collaborative processes that went into their work. The Crossing-Over panel featured a selection of artists and writers giving insight on how they create acclaimed work in both mainstream superhero titles, and independent creator-owned series.
In addition to the panels I attended as a member of the audience, I moderated two of them myself (Hip-Hop & Comics: Cultures Combining on Saturday morning, and Comics Of The Fab Four: The Fifth Beatle And Beyond on Sunday). So, given that I participated in both an on and offstage capacity, I feel completely confident saying that Heroes Con fans are the most knowledgeable, polite, and well-spoken comic fans I've ever seen – and Heroes Con employees are the most efficient, pleasant, and well-organized crew in the business. As a fan I was welcomed, as a member of the press I was treated with respect, as a panelist I was put at ease by the professionalism and general good spirit of everybody in the room.
And that's the truly amazing thing about Heroes: everyone feels at ease. You can see it in the creators, as they stop to talk and laugh in the middle of signing an autograph or doing a sketch. You can see it in the dealers, welcoming everyone to come dig through boxes of 50¢ comics. And you can see it in the fans, soaking it all in, grinning and conversing and already making plans to come back next year.