Walking into the small Ramada Hotel ballroom, you have to stop and stare in awe at the sheer amount of product the minds behind the Comic Book and Toy Show have packed tightly, yet completely organized, in. Boxes upon white boxes are lined all around the room, framing the walls, and marked with shiny clear tape and blocky black letters of whatever team, character, or arc that resides within. Each box is marked with a price, and once again, your jaw has to drop because fifty cents for a comic book makes you think this is the 1950s and suddenly you can afford your hobby again.
While investigating some of my local comic shops in my new home I stumbled upon a quaint little shop by the name of Borderlands. It’s more of a game shop than a comic shop, with only one wall of newly released comics, and a few boxes of vintage Silver and Golden Age books. However, what really sold me was the owner, Chip, which is, in fact his real name and suits him to a tee.
He’s an older gentlemen, with real life war stories, and a real affection for comic books and games. The type to talk and talk to anyone willing to listen, and better yet, join in on the conversation. After explaining to him my mission to integrate myself into the local geek scene, he handed me a bright yellow flyer that had big block letters spelling out “Comic Book & Toy Show.” It wasn’t a particularly pretty flyer, something that could be made in Microsoft Word without too much frustration (that’s a lie — we all know the horrors of making flyers in Microsoft Word).
However my interest was certainly piqued. I researched the site, and then contacted the organizer Joe Peace, to request a press pass. He quickly responded with much enthusiasm and granted my request without question. I was thoroughly flattered, even more so by his offer to come and see first hand how the event was set up the night before.
I went and let me tell you the transformation is amazing.
I spoke with Joe and his wife Karen who told me with much relish that in their beautiful country home, they own three barns worth of comic book merchandise. Well, one barn isn’t specifically for comics, but given that one of the barns was meant for horses, I think we can count it as two. The point is, their selection is massive, furthermore, it’s impressive.
I saw comics I never thought I’d see. One of the original printings of A Killing Joke? The first issue of Deadpool ever? The entire sealed arc of Young Justice? Help me, I was swooning. There were so many deals it would make your head spin. Entire sealed arcs of everything from big name events, to smaller scaled storylines that were priced at fifty to hundreds of dollars cut in half. It was like collectors Christmas, and Joe and Karen were Mr. and Mrs. Comics.
Though Peace doesn’t collect anymore, his passion for the community hasn’t lessened any. He’s done the bigger conventions for many years, and still does MegaCon in Orlando Florida each year, though he prefers the smaller venues. He doesn’t like the crowds that come with the bigger conventions, and while his shows do more than well — in fact from what he’s divulged they do fantastic for a two day weekend — they aren’t overly crowded.
There was a very pleasant atmosphere that I enjoyed while thumbing through boxes and conversing with artists. Music played softly in the background, the room has a low lull of conversation that never rose, and everyone was simply pleased to be there, getting a good deal. Children wandered around, peeking their heads over to pick through the toys with hands so careful that I could tell their parents taught them to respect the merchandise.
While there, I got to speak with some of the artists in attendance as well. While Peace isn’t one for bells and whistles, he purposely includes artists to give them a venue to showcase their work. I was able to speak with four of the artists, Dimitri Walker, Kyle Willis, Charlie Rodriguez, and Chris King.
I didn’t hold any official interviews, except for with King who had personally requested one. He told me about his long time career on the convention circuit, both as an attendee and a facilitator. King also discussed wanting to break into the larger convention circuit. Something Willis and his friend and business partner Rodriguez are attempting to do.
King also briefly discussed how he builds his own canvas and frames. His giant canvas paintings lined the hallway to the event setting the tone. I enjoyed his rebooted cover paintings the most.
“It’s a real modernized way of doing it, especially for people on a budget,” I commented after King finished his story behind why he builds his own canvas and frames for his work. “Oh no,” he replied, “it’s a true artist’s way of doing it.”
This is where I have to step in and say, artists, writers, other creative people: we need to find a way to be more personable. I know it’s hard; I struggle with it as well. There needs to be tips and tricks, or a guidebook for creative people who aren’t good at talking with others. Otherwise your approach, whether intentional or not, can come off as pretentious, awkward, or otherwise unpleasant. Your talent might be there, but you have to sell your personality as well. You are your business after all.
I took my artist roommate with me to the event, and the reason she bought an adorable Groot sticker print, a custom design print, and a Dr. Who/Harry Potter print was because Willis and Walker were both talented and pleasant. While Rodriguez was shy, he still smiled and conversed with us from time to time. Walker, seeing me struggle with carrying buttons, business cards, and my own purse handed me a clear plastic bag without question.
When we walked over to browse Walker’s work he was friendly, but not pushy. Then conversation struck up and suddenly we spent a good twenty minutes talking to a man whose bread and butter is made doing this. Selling his work, and doing conventions. It sounds like a pipe dream come true, but I could tell Walker had been at this for a long time, both because of the work put into his pieces, and how his personality was able to sell it.
This was Willis and Rodriguez’s first official convention or event of any sort, and the desire to support them was very strong. Both because their work was fantastic, and also because they were cool guys.
Vendors can help enhance a convention experience. You want to see cool stuff, get good deals, and talk with cool people. For the most part, I got that experience at the Comic and Toy Show. As the event wound down late Sunday afternoon, Peace — who had been doing giveaways all weekend — was ready to announce the final winner. Instead of pulling it from the box himself, I got to pull the final ticket. I channeled my best Vanna White, and again what I noticed was that ,while the winner himself wasn’t there, Peace just smiled and said, “I know that guy I’ll give’em a call.” And did just that.
The atmosphere of the Comic Book & Toy Show has built a strong following around it. So much so that people from states away come to enjoy the experience for a weekend.
I ended up thoroughly enjoying the experience, and would be more than willing to go again when they show back up in my city. I bought six New Teen Titans comics for five bucks. My mission next time is to buy every book Starfire’s ever been on the cover of, and the entire Tim Drake collection. Twenty bucks at the Comic Book & Toy Show can go a long way.