There are a lot of comic conventions hosted throughout North America every summer. “Con season” begins earlier and ends later each year providing fans of all stripes (comics, cosplay, books, movies, TV, and just about anything else you could think of) with a lot of events to choose from. You would think this would make competition between the various conventions stiff (and it is), but it might really be a competition for the silver medal.
Because in this contributor’s eyes, the gold has to go to Heroes Convention (HeroesCon) in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Many conventions have worked to specialize and cultivate a unique atmosphere and culture in order to distinguish themselves. Some bring the biggest studios and stars from Hollywood, others focus on niche products and small press comics. Others emphasize a regional charm above all else. HeroesCon has centered its brand on the passionate connection between creators and fandom.
You won’t see banners displaying the names of the biggest publishers in comics in the Charlotte Convention Center. But you can be certain that many (it often feels like most) of the talented people they employ will be there. From the stunning artwork of Brian Stelfreeze and Francesco Francavilla to the insightful words of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Matt Fraction, you are bound to be starstruck. There is so much talent available at the convention that the question you have to ask yourself is not what you want to accomplish, but how much you can fit in.
It’s the variety of talent and events on display that supports the notion there really can be a comic con for everyone. The emphasis on creators and fans above all else means that even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re bound to find whatever it is. For someone interested in small press comics, HeroesCon puts on a murderer’s row of talent. Michel Fiffe, Charles Forsman, and Rich Tommaso were all sitting together this year delighting fans of shows like SPX in Maryland.
If you’re looking for the inspirations of your favorite Hollywood films, those too can be found throughout the convention center. Steve Epting, the artist of “The Winter Soldier” story in Captain America was meeting with fans all weekend. Paul Azaceta of the comic Outcast (set to make its TV premiere onCinemax this week) was in attendance on Saturday and Sunday. Not to mention comics legends like Jim Steranko and Bill Sienkiewicz who helped to shape many of the most beloved characters in movies and on TV today. Both men have a reputation for sharing stories and they do not disappoint in person.
Of course when you need to take a break from collecting signatures and sketches, the shopping at the convention is stunning. Rare G.I. Joe action figures, stack upon stack of back issues, and other unique delights fill the space. There are plenty of deals to be had for all sorts of great gear. And when you’re tired of standing, the panel halls are filled with comfortable seating and chatter on all of the most interesting stories of today.
The variety of what’s available goes on and on. If you look through the panels, the stores, and the booths, you are bound to find something that makes your inner child (or the literal one by your side) squeal with delight.
As the convention draws to its end, the organizers throw an enormous art auction in the ballroom of the Westin on Saturday night. For hours a variety of beautiful pieces ranging from oil paintings to original pencil drawings are sold to the highest bidder. Gawkers are able to look at an incredible range of artwork, all of which helps to support bringing more talented people to Charlotte for next year’s convention. It’s an evening of fun that both helps to support the show and puts on a truly unique show of its own.
HeroesCon does not take place in a vacuum though. It is hosted by the city of Charlotte and after spending four days there, I could not imagine a place I’d rather enjoy some hot, summer afternoons. Both the convention center and Westin Hotel next door proudly display sides proclaiming that everyone is welcome. There is a strong sense of inclusivity that runs directly in the face of the recently passed state law HB2 that discriminates against transgender individuals. A nearby Buffalo Wild Wings hosted multiple events throughout the weekend with artists like Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, as well as Fraction and DeConnick, proclaiming their support for every fan attending the convention.
The surrounding downtown area is just as open and friendly. Drivers in ridesharing services will gladly point you to the best Carolina barbeque in town (or good sushi joints, if that’s your preference) as well as local attractions like the Nascar Hall of Fame. It’s the off season for football, but the odds you’ll spot at least one player for the Carolina Panthers out on the town aren’t bad. All of the food and entertainment surrounding the con meet the high standards set by the day too. The vinegar-based barbecue of North Carolina is as exquisite as promised, even to a Kansas City style fanatic like myself. Simply walking the downtown area to get to dinner can be a joy, giving you a chance to look up and around while enjoying a cool Southern breeze.
There’s no doubt about it, HeroesCon is the complete package. When you drive into town or step off your flight, Charlotte is ready to treat you to a weekend of geeky revelry. When it’s time to leave, your mind will already be looking forward to the next year. Every meal, panel, signing, sketch, and even those all necessary con naps will remind you of why you’re someone who loves attending comic conventions in the first place. Whether you’re looking to discover something new or finally make contact with something that’s shaped your entire life, HeroesCon delivers in a fashion that is welcoming, passionate, and a whole lot of fun.