So, I went to Baltimore Comic Con, which is a first for me. A few weeks prior to the convention was a Funeral Home convention also being held at the Baltimore Convention Center. My day job is doing tech support for an IT company that makes specialty software for Funeral Homes. Several of my co-workers went to the convention and when they got back I asked them about Baltimore, good restaurants, etc.. and well, didn’t get encouraging answers.
I got told that the area is fine during the day but at night gangs come out on dirt bikes, wearing ski-masks and guns. I was told it’s best to not go out at night, but if you do, go in a vehicle or walk in groups. I was told a nearby Sandwich shop was held up at gunpoint at 8pm while they were there. I was told the Funeral Home convention (which moves to different cities) only got 1/3rd of the attendance it normally gets. I never got too much in the way of specific restaurant recommendations.
I decided to follow through and go despite these less than enthusiastic experiences. I originally was thinking of flying down, but the only nearby airport that went to Baltimore was in Toronto (everything else went to Washington) and between the drive to airport, getting there 3 hours ahead of time (like they recommend), flying and then getting from the airport to the Hotel was going to take me 7.5 hours – if the flight left on time. When I went to San Diego in July the flight was delayed 1 hour going down and 3 hours coming back. According to google maps driving down would take me 7.5 hours (+ stops for gas/food/bathroom breaks) so I decided to drive it instead. The cost of gas & hotel parking would be less than the flight and airport parking. The drive was fairly simple going south on I-81, then on I-83 and the hotel was only a handful blocks from where I-83 ended.
I made it to Baltimore in about 8.5 hours. I stayed in the Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor at Camden Yards. I usually have good experiences in Marriott hotels, but my hotel room had a very stiff door which was difficult to get open. It also had the smallest, oldest TV I’ve ever seen in a hotel. The hallway light and a 2nd light in the bathroom would randomly come on hours after turning on the light. The mattress for the bed was softer than most I’ve slept on which was a good thing. The pillows were smaller than usual but that didn’t matter. I found the toilet to be lower to the ground then normal, which made my not very flexible body groan when using it. The A/C was a little noisy, but that didn’t bother me when I took out my hearing aids. There was also a light from one of the alarms that would flash every few seconds after the lights were turned out. In short, if you are saying at this hotel, don’t get room 816. I did let the hotel know about these issues.
Late Thursday afternoon, I went to Pickles Pub for dinner. While the food was good I was a bit surprised by the plastic cup for the drink. The next morning I went to Kerbie’s Grill for breakfast. The French Toast supposedly on Texas Toast bread, was more like thin sliced bread. It was served on a paper plate and with plastic cutlery. I went to the Jimmy Johns chain beside the convention for a sub for lunch. They told me they couldn’t do a little john sub, so I had to get the more expensive regular size and they also didn’t ask me anything about the sub and just handed it to me quickly. I found it had a ton of mayo on it and there wasn’t any napkins available anywhere. Everywhere I went for food outside of my hotel near the convention that has a 4.something rating on google maps had more of a 3.something dining experience. I don’t know if all of Baltimore is like this, but if so they must generate a LOT of garbage with all the single use items. The hotel restaurant (called The Yard) was good for food off the menu. The only issue I had was the breakfast buffet pancakes, which were horrid. They also had a place that served individual thin crust pizza’s that was decent.
The convention itself was pretty great. I got in and got my press pass with ease. When I arrived at 1pm (start time) I noticed a long lineup, but a volunteer told me with my press pass I didn’t need to wait or get a wrist band like the paid attendees. I went to one panel that got to a late start and ran a little long (From Skartaris to Danger Street). There was no panel in that room afterwards so it wasn’t affecting anything, except for my ability to get to the next panel on time. But that wasn’t a problem in this case as it was a Jim Starlin spotlight panel, which I had witnessed and recorded at San Diego back in July. The Danger Street panel was a great panel and I wish there were more like it as it was a deep dive into a particular short-lived series. There was a lot of inside stories about the various issues, what went on in them, the creative people doing them and more.
The rest of my experiences doing panels was pretty good except for the Frank Miller spotlight panel. I went to it but Frank was very late, showing up just as the panel was about to end. They had an art auction going on in the room afterwards and they moved it to later to give Frank his panel. If you’ve seen Frank lately, you’ll notice he has health and mobility issues. We are lucky that he shows up at conventions at all, so I’m not complaining. I unfortunately had to leave as there was another panel I wanted to attend that I would have missed if I stayed for Frank’s.
One of the reasons I wanted to go to Baltimore Comic-Con was to do some shopping for myself. I’ve been mainly going to TCAF and San Diego Comic Con for several years now. TCAF isn’t the type of show for back issue shopping as it’s focused on alt/indy/kids books. There has been a reduction of Gold/Silver/back issue dealers at San Diego and they generally charge higher prices because of the expense of doing the show. I’ve also gone to a number of relatively local shows that do have back issues (Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa) but it’s mostly the same dealers with the same stock. I was hoping for something better at Baltimore and it delivered. There were lots of dealers there, selling some of what I’m looking for at decent prices. If you want to buy back issues that don’t need to be in the high grade/price range then this is a good convention to attend.
I did have a bad experience with one dealer. He was selling some pretty beat up, low grade books and I saw some something I was interested in maybe buying, but the issue number wasn’t on the cover or written/stickered anywhere on the bag. So, I open it up to check the indica and the dealer jumps up at me telling me I’m not allowed to open books because it causes too much stress on the comics (there was no sign stating this). He then looked at the book, saw a small rip by one of the staples that was already there, said he didn’t know if it was there before I opened it up or not. I realized then there was no way I was going to buy anything from him as I don’t buy books I can’t inspect first (older books sometimes have missing pages and when they are in rough shape and other issues as well). I also had a sneaking suspicion he was about to try and guilt trip me of buying the book by suggesting I damaged it. As I left he goes from not knowing if the rip was there, too loudly “thanking”/accusing me of popping the staple out of the comic. I made a mental note to never go near his booth again.
I caught up with my friend Carla Speed McNeil who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. She was a judge for the Ringo’s which was being held during the convention. I got from her when and where the Ringo’s were being held with the intention of going there to see and maybe cover it. I tried getting a zTrip cab to go to the hotel it was at, but my phone listed me as having been picked up and delivered even though no cab had come. I tried booking it again, but no driver would accept the call as it was a short trip.
While waiting I overheard somebody wish somebody luck at winning the award tonight to two people who were walking away from my hotel. I asked if they were going to the Ringo’s and they were so I walked with them. Along the way the information about the safety level around Baltimore Convention Center was confirmed to me. I was told it was the kind of city where there are good and bad areas and the area around Baltimore Convention Center was a bad one. I was told it would be safer if a baseball game just ended and there were lots of people leaving the stadium (which is right beside the convention center), but that was not tonight.
When I got to the Ringo’s I noticed they were handing out badges to people and you needed one to get drinks (and later food). I went to the table and let them know they wouldn’t have a badge for me as I just showed up. I was told the next table over would make a badge for me. The guy at the next table asked me who I was and then refused, saying there wasn’t any open seating available, despite there being all the materials on the table to make a badge. I did explain I was press and was a judge for the Doug Wright Awards and previously the Eisner’s, but that didn’t matter. I wasn’t allowed to attend. I now know why there is very little coverage on the Ringo’s except for their press releases on who the judges, nominees and winners. It’s a very closed off, private shindig. Anyways, I was able to get a cab back to my hotel after talking to a human at the cab company.
Outside of that, I did really enjoy the show. With San Diego and TCAF they normally have a whole bunch of good panels going on, often at the same time and I need to pick and choose which ones I want to cover and I’m usually immediately going from 1 panel to the next. Baltimore had a more relaxed schedule with quality panels, which was much easier on me. There were only a couple of overlapping panels I would have liked to have been at, but had to miss. 6 panels over 3 days is an easy event for me. At San Diego I’ve done 6 panels in a day.
One thing I feel the need to highlight was how much the show provided for deaf/hard of hearing attendees. There were multiple ASL people working many of their panels doing sign language for those who might need it. That’s something I rarely see any other conventions do and it’s a nice way to include people that usually don’t get included. Those ASL volunteers need to be thanked as I know some of them didn’t know they would be called upon for their services until just prior to show. They went to show, not knowing if they would just be a regular attendee or volunteering for the show, but when they got the request, they stepped up and did it.
I also got to have nice conversations with Steven Grant and Paul Storrie, whom I haven’t seen in several years. I got to chat with Johanna Draper Carlson and meet her hubby KC for the first time, they gave me some background info on the convention. I wish I had taken more pictures and had more conversations with people as Baltimore Comic Con has the had best Artist Alley I’ve seen outside of NYCC. I’ve since heard the guests had a good time and the convention treats them well.
The Convention Center itself it pretty nice in that it has lots of room and seating on the 3rd floor (where the panels are) for when you want to get off your feet and way from the thick of it if you want. The isles for shopping weren’t super cramped either. They’ve got some space to handle larger crowds if they were to come. I was able to get some work done at the con itself instead of needing to do most of it at the hotel room at night. I didn’t go there but I understand there was a coin collecting convention at another part of the building too.
Baltimore Comic-Con itself was great, as was the convention center it was in. The volunteers/staff I dealt with were all fantastic too. The only shame is it’s a great show surrounded by not great experiences outside of the show, which they can’t really do anything about. It’s a convention that’s long been on my bucket list to attend one day. I’m glad to have gone but I’ve got other shows I’ve also been long wanting to attend that I’ll be doing before I consider going back.
My drive back to Canada was pretty straight forward as well, this time it went 9 hours as I stopped a 2nd time for gas (which is cheaper in the US than Canada) and to have a decent sit-down restaurant experience meal. The old Waze app worked well for getting me there and back. The ArriveCan app that we used to need to use to enter the country is no longer required so getting back into Canada is like it used to be pre-pandemic. I wore an N95 mask at the convention (not many people wore masks there) and thankfully didn’t catch Covid.