If you’ve been to a large comic convention, or even a mid-sized one, you probably have a favorite part. For some of you, maybe the sales floor holds the most appeal. For others, it may be the cosplay, the panels, the demos, or the display cases that tortuously hold hostage a large collection of toys that neither you or I can play with for a long, long time.
For me though, my con-happy place exists within the confines of Artists’ Alley. There, in that area that is typically annexed from the rest of a con, the people who draw our comic heroes and put words in their mouths exist. These folks are the motor of the comic book industry. Honestly, I’m not really a Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, or IDW fan — I’m a Mark Waid fan, a Brian K. Vaughan fan, a Mike Mignola fan, a Clayton Crain, Steve McNiven, Warren Ellis, Jo Chen, and Alex Ross fan.
There is nothing craven or terribly commercial about Artists’ Alley. It isn’t filled with people shilling for those companies so much as they’re filled with tremendously creative people, happily mingling with their fans and promoting what they are passionate about. Sure, money changes hands and prints and original artwork get sold sometimes — afterall, tremendously creative people need to eat too — but there is no charge for a conversation and often there is no charge for an autograph or a picture, and that is a rarity in a world where a bit player from a long dead TV show can and will still charge $50 for the same access.
This weekend, I had the privilege to spend about 4 hours in a packed Artists’ Alley– making brief small talk with McNiven, buying a print from Ivan Reis, meeting both Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera. The best part though? Sitting behind Mike Mignola’s table for about 10 minutes beside the man who created Hellboy as I conducted an interview with him between signings and conversations (you’ll get to read that shortly).
Why was that experience one of the single best experiences of my con? Because I got to witness the true adoration that Mignola’s fans have for him and his creations. Something I saw at other tables with other comic pros as well.
I’m a cynic, but nothing could bitter or sour the experience of seeing a guy as he says — with a slight tremble in his voice — that Mignola has inspired him to be an artist. That’s someone meeting their hero, that’s someone making their dream come true and it sticks with you. Hell, the next day, I also had a slight tremble when I met Waid, and this ain’t exactly my first rodeo.
The point is, that that enthusiasm and that thrill seeps into you and you can’t help but nerd/geek out a little while you’re in Artists’ Alley because this kind of access seemingly belongs in the bizarro world and these people are the one’s whose work is driving not just comics, but now has a hand in the shape of TV and film as well.
It’s more than big names though. Artist’s Alley is a land of discovery as well. This year, I met an action figure sculptor named Enrico Botta. Enrico has sculpted a Farscape action figure that went to market and he had some tremendous DC concept pieces. I hope to tell you a little more about him in the near future and the same can be said for an artist known as Epyon5, who produces hero and villain prints and paintings on old newspaper and comics.
These are just some of the people you can meet in Artists’ Alley, some of those jewels that are known and unknown. So, next time, when you go to a con — let the others wrestle over those con-exclusive Aquaman cuff-links and get your ass to Artists’ Alley.