San Diego Comic-Con International officially opens on July 24, but for Triangle residents unable or unwilling to travel 3,000 miles to stand in line with thousands of other fans, there are a number of comic-related events coming up in the Triangle, ranging from visits from top creators to superheroes coming to “life” on stage.
One of the most surprising events comes on Saturday, July 12, when Chapel Hill Comics owner Andrew Neal says goodbye to retail with the store’s self-proclaimed “Greatest Signing of All Time,” featuring creators Jim Rugg (Street Angel, the comic book version of TV’s Adventure Time), Tom Scioli (Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, Godland), Ed Piskor (Hip-Hop Family Tree) and Chris Pitzer (publisher of AdHouse Books). The four creators specialize in doing both their own wildly experimental concepts and more “mainstream” superhero books, an analogy that’s perfect for Neal’s career as a comics retailer.
Neal started off working for the comic shop when it was the Rosemary Street bookshop Second Foundation (previously known as Foundation Bookstore, which spun off the shop Foundation’s Edge in Raleigh) in the 1990s. In 2003, he bought the shop and gradually phased out the science fiction and fantasy books to focus entirely on comics before moving the store to its current Franklin Street location in 2005, expanding the space a few years later.
With fire-engine-red walls and 1800 feet of retail space, Chapel Hill Comics earned acclaim for cultivating a diverse style of comics, illustration and storytelling. Visitors are likely to find not just current issues, but also small, self-published mini-comics, art books ranging from classic magazine illustrations to reproductions of Little Golden Books, even Japanese candy for fans of anime. Occasionally, the store has sold unique items, such as a cover for issue No. 1 of the Adventure Time comic drawn by Neal himself (a 500-copy print run ultimately sold through with some help from eBay).
Neal recently sold the store after being approached by Ryan Kulikowski, a former ESL teacher who wanted to own a comic shop. Though Neal will be staying on in an advisory capacity for a few months, similar to the transition when Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh changed ownership last year, he’s made it clear that he simply wants to do something else at this point in his life.
Whatever Neal decides to do now, the changes he brought to Chapel Hill Comics as owner helped introduce Triangle residents to a wide variety of books and their creators, and Saturday’s event, which starts at 6 p.m., should help him go out in style.
While Chapel Hill Comics is bringing in a number of alternative creators to help send Neal off, over in Raleigh, there are worries that a new comic book convention could be a case of corporate comics trying to push a small business out.
Wizard World, a chain of comic book conventions spun off from the late comic book magazine Wizard, recently announced that part of its 2015 expansion will include the Raleigh Comic Con at the Raleigh Convention Center on March 13–15, with initial guests including Buffy the Vampire Slayer veteran James Marsters and Star Trek legend William Shatner, who already hit Raleigh earlier this year.
The move is controversial, as the Wizard World chain has been accused in the past of trying to push out smaller, locally-run comic book shows. In 2005, the show received an avalanche of bad press when it announced a 2006 Atlanta show that would be the same weekend as HeroesCon, a popular Charlotte show run by local shop Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find.
Comic pros that enjoyed HeroesCon protested this swipe at “the little guy,” including former store employee Matt Fraction, now a major writer at Marvel Comics. This actually worked out in HeroesCon’s favor: Dozens of A-list comic book pros, including Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitian), Bryan Hitch (The Ultimates) and others, signed on as guests in protest, with many returning in subsequent years. The Wizard World show changed its date as a result.
In the Triangle, Wizard World’s arrival has struck a similar ominous note with the people behind NC Comicon, which is run by Durham’s Ultimate Comics and has enjoyed increasing attendance and expanded venue space each year since it started at a Morrisville outlet mall in 2010. This year’s show in November is expected to be its largest yet, with announced guests including Fiona Staples of the Image Comics hit Saga.
On Facebook, Pittsboro-based comic book artist Tommy Lee Edwards, a co-owner of NC Comicon, called the Wizard World shows “The Walmart of conventions” and said they had announced a date closer to NC Comicon, which this year is November 15 and 16, before he spoke with them.
Edwards also noted that almost no comics-related guests had been announced for Wizard World, and that the cost of a three-day pass was $75—more than double the $35 for NC Comicon’s two-day show. Whether this turns into a Wizard World/HeroesCon-type battle remains to be seen, though as an Ultimate Comics employee told us, “If it does, it’d be great if we could get Warren Ellis to come to the Triangle.”
If you can’t make it to the Chapel Hill Comics event, you can always kick off the weekend by heading to the Southland Ballroom in Raleigh on Friday, July 12, for the “Marvel vs. DC Comics Burlesque Revue” (see this week’s issue of the INDY), featuring local performers stripping down as their favorite superheroes and super-villains. The event starts at 10, and for the audience, the feeling is that no matter who wins … you win.
Or if you’re looking for something more family-friendly, there’s the “Marvel Universe LIVE!” show at PNC Arena July 18–20, where the Avengers and others hit the stage with all manner of cool pyrotechnics. The cast includes a Durham native (see our full story in next week’s issue). This might be a dare for DC Comics to bring its similarly-themed “Batman Live” to the area, or at least a tour of the infamous Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark musical, with music by U2 members and a reputation for injuring stuntmen.
Fun fact: Former Marvel head honcho Jim Shooter wrote a script for a Spider-Man arena show in the 1980s that was never produced, though he’s since posted it online. Whatever the current Marvel show is, can it compete with one that ends with Doctor Doom being dragged to Hell by the Dread Dormammu, True Believers?
Even as it plans NC Comicon, Ultimate Comics has several signings coming up at its home store, including a “Doctor Who Party” on July 26, celebrating two new comics series from Titan Books based on the long, long, long-running British SF classic.
There’s also a signing by Charles Soule on August 16. Soule has become one of the most prolific superhero writers of the last few years (on top of his work as a practicing lawyer), with runs on Swamp Thing, Superman/Wonder Woman and now the high-profile, upcoming Death of Wolverine miniseries from Marvel, which promises to kill off the lucrative metal-handed mutant. We don’t think it’ll take.
For late July and early August, the Cary Barnes & Noble has multiple events, starting with “Get Pop Cultured” July 18–20, which includes a costume contest on July 19. A “DC Comics Spectacular” takes place July 23–27, starting with “Batman Day” that includes multiple exclusive Bat-books and a chance to win a Mini Bat-Signal. Not to be outdone, there’ll also be a “Marvel Comics Day” to coincide with the release of the Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy on August 2, where kids can learn to draw superhero characters, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Jr. Ninja Training Academy” event on August. 4. The celebration concludes with a “Page & Screen” event featuring books adapted into major films on August 9–10, including The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones and others.
Or if you want something a little smaller and more intimate, you can head to the long-running Raleigh Comic Show at the Crabtree Valley Hampton Inn & Suites on August 24. Held four times a year for more than two decades at various Triangle hotels, it’s a short but fun affair that attracts top retailers from surrounding states, with back issues ranging from beaten-up quarter bin fare to classic first issues that go for thousands of dollars. If you ever wanted to own the first appearance of Spider-Man or the X-Men, head on over—though you might have to take out a loan first.