By Julian H. Betancourt
BALTIMORE COMIC CON: GETTING TO KNOW THE EVENT
The first and second Baltimore Comic-Con were one day shows at the Sheraton hotel in Towson, Maryland. The show outgrew the Sheraton and on its third year was moved to the Baltimore Convention Center. On its fifth year, the show was scheduled for September 11 and 12, the fourth anniversary of the attacks on the U.S. The "Bring it on!" attitude by the promoters helped fuel popular interest and each year since, it has taken off at the downtown location continuing to grow. Its steady, solid increase is based on the show's well-deserved reputation for being a comic book convention that is actually about comic books.
2007 marked Baltimore Comic Con's 8th successful year and it was considered by many the best rendition the show had yet. As usual, the event was held inside the modernly attractive and spacious Baltimore Convention Center on 1 Pratt St. in beautiful Downtown Baltimore during the weekend of September 8 through 9 seeing a 50% increase in attendance compared to the previous year.
The guest list was huge and it was a dream come true for many comic fans, spotlighting some of the best Comic talent from across the country. Shown on the official souvenir program cover was a drawing of Hellboy done by the Industry's Harvey Award winner Mike Mignola, writer-artist and creator of Hellboy, Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Abe Sapiens and others. Mike was a most fan-requested guest of honor at the show. Among the other artists attending were Al Feldstein EC artist and former MAD editor in chief, Jim Lee (Batman, Wildcats), Dick Ayers (Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider), John Romita Sr. (Amazing Spider-man) and Superman/Batman inker Dexter Vines who was there for the first time.
BALTIMORE COMIC CON: DAY #1
Getting to the Convention was no easy task. Since our trip was a last minute decision, my wife and I were forced to stay at the Days Inn in Timonium, about 20 minutes drive from the Convention Center (an hour or more in heavy traffic) because everything else was booked due to the Orioles and Red Sox game. For out of towners, it was a definite plus having a GPS navigational receiver in our car, otherwise the trip from the hotel to the Con and back would had been a true headache due to the complicated expressway system.
Once we drove past the Convention Center looking for a spot to park, we noticed the large line waiting to enter the building's main floor but by the time we were able to park ($20.00 for just 4 hours) the doors had opened, the line was gone and access into the Center was easy. Inside it was crowded as fans of new and older comics had swarmed the halls and two lines had been formed, snaking around the lobby, one for those with pre-ordered tickets and one for those waiting to purchase them at the ticket booth.
Within the walls of the 300,000 sq ft exhibit hall below street level, a wide variety of dealers and comic book artists were featured for the show. The event offered a large range of items ranging from comics, original comic art, action figures, character premiums, and much more for comic fans. One could find the latest comics or much older Golden Age Whiz Comics selling way into the hundred$$ or enjoy checking out the artists works and sketches being done and having a print signed by the original artist. There was also a booth with a flat screen showing movie trailers as well as an area for Donkey Kong video playing and free Shoot Em Up, Resident Evil, and Mr, Woodcack t-shirts and posters. Later in the day we spent a good two hours just picking up freebies and watching all the movie trailers.
Of course, our main objective was to get a hold of the last of the Clone Commanders in Gentle Giant's World Rock Tour, Commander Bacara. He was being offered for pre-order pick up at the GG booth and sold to the general public through the BCC booth. Although the Commander was to be sold at pre determined amounts of 150 pieces on Saturday and 100 on Sunday by the staff of BCC, we later on found out that was not the case.
Since our pre-orders for this exclusive were a sure bet, we decided not to worry about them on our first day and rather spend the time walking throughout the Convention floor. It didn't take too long to realize there weren't many other collectibles around to put a hole in my wallet. Except for two or three dealers carrying some Master Replicas and Gentle Giant items, one of them being an Asajj Ventress maquette I was able to snag for way under its ongoing secondary market value, it became clear the convention was purely about comics.
While venturing through the isles, we came upon BCC's Exclusives booth. The line for the bust was very long but we got in it and hoped to get an extra or two of Commander Bacara to try help or return a favor to those that had helped us before. Unfortunately within 20 minutes of waiting, sometime around 11:00 o'clock in the morning, a BCC member yelled to the crowd, the stipulated amount for the day had been sold out. Bummer! Still they had plenty of the Yoda/Artoo maquette as well as the Luke/Han Stormtroopers bust ups.
BALTIMORE COMIC CON: DAY #2
Finding a place to park the second day was a lot easier and we were able to get into the Convention Center earlier. After talking to Spice on the phone the day before and having in mind to get extra Bacaras, we headed straight for the BCC booth first thing. We were very excited not to find a line but lots of Bacara cases instead. I asked the man behind the table if I could purchase one of the busts and sure enough he was more than willing to sell it to me. That was until he asked for my ticket ... "Ticket?"- I said. So he explained tickets had been handed out to the first 100 people to make the line and that those cases were meant for them. At eight Commanders per case, there were way too many cases, far more than 100 tickets. Since I didn't feel like arguing I walked away and we headed to pick up our two pre-ordered busts at the Gentle Giant booth...
The GG booth although small was a focal point in the Convention. Housed within the glass walls of two display cases, were all five of the much talked about and criticized Clone Commanders busts along with other busts such as Star Wars Classics, Harry Potter an other lines. Many people surrounded the cases taking pictures of the Commanders, a symbolic way of bringing home the Fabulous Five.
Getting the pre-orders was an easy task. We stood in line for merely 25 minutes and were able to pick them up without any issues. Gus, the Gentle Giant Ltd representative behind the booth (no Amanda or Jewell present) was a very down to earth guy, one willing to listen to my rant about the bad handling of exclusives. While checking and crossing out our names on the pre order list he struck up a short conversation, letting us know that much to our dislike the raffles will continue for next year being seen by the company as the only fair way to give a chance to a majority of collectors. On a better note, according to what he later on told my wife when she went back for extra bags, there will be an Obi-Wan Clone Commander bust soon to be announced.
Around 12:30 P.M once again we headed over to the BCC booth and asked about purchasing a bust. Once again we were told they were being held back for people with early morning tickets. Since we had already accomplished what we wanted, we exited the building and gave a farewell to the convention.
BALTIMORE COMIC CON: WRAPPING IT UP
Overall Gentle Giant did a good job handling the exclusives at this Con. Both days they had 2 representatives working the booth while Gus sat, checked for ID's/ pre-orders and interacted with the fans. Items were fast and efficiently bagged so you could go about your day in a zilch. They had enough on Saturday and Sunday to take care of all 500 pre-orders, even if they were all filled within the day.
As far as the BCC booth is concerned, that is a different and disappointing story. The booth was not run by GG as some might think but rather by the BCC staff. Tagged as "Show Exclusives" all exclusives for the show ( this year's show offered the convention's largest line-up of show exclusives to date) were sold there. That included:
Issues with the BCC staff deal directly with the way the Bacara bust was handled. Sunday, after exiting the building and getting rid of our Con bracelets (disabling our chances to get back inside), we wondered outside the building taking some pictures. That's when we noticed three guys carrying one case of Bacara each. My wife stopped them and asked them how they had gotten the cases. Long story short, they told us the BCC booth was letting people buy the bust by the case and by doing so the Con had covered their trip back to Mexico, planning to sell them online. Between laughs and giggles they walked away, leaving me pretty ticked off as there was nothing we could do to get back inside. A half hour earlier we had been told by the BCC staff they couldn't sell us any busts?! To make sure they weren't bluffing, we waited. Sure enough, not too long after this incident another guy walked out with four busts. He confirmed with us the promoters had held back over 60 cases they were desperately trying to unload and were being sold without any restrictions for $60.00 each, cash only, and he had picked up extras to help out his buddies. This person also told us that some of the BCC guys at the booth, in an attempt to get rid of the remaining cases, had been pointing out to people the $200.00 mark up on Ebay. How's that for handling exclusive sales and promoting scalping?
There was also the fact of those working the Convention repeating over and over before they let everyone in, that the mini bust was very limited and such limitation was set by Gentle Giant and not by BCC. This alerted scalper$$ and dealers not knowing about the exclusive to go after it heading straight for the booth.
In all we had a kick out of our trip and seeing so many comic books, getting lots of them for my kid and admiring the talent of so many artists, their drawings and sketches, including those by former Sandtroopers owner Pat Carlucci and his voluptuous women. Downtown Baltimore was filled with friendly people and we loved going up the World Trade Center Tower, Maritime Museum and having dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Unfortunately, the disorganized handling of Bacara surely made some heads fume in frustration. Hopefully the bad wrap they've gotten as far as exclusives, will serve as a lesson to be learned, improving their distribution methods for the near future.