Amid the general economic gloom, and uncertainty over comics sales' shift to digital delivery, attendance was up sharply at this weekend's Baltimore Comic-Con. While final numbers weren't yet available, showrunner Marc Nathan confirmed that pre-registration sales were three times greater than 2010, and the crowded show floor was clearly much bigger than previous outings—admittance to the show was briefly capped on Saturday due to fire marshal concerns.
The surge was definitely led by an appearance by the comics industry’s living legend Stan Lee. The co-creator of much of the Marvel Universe belied his 88 years by posing for photos with hundreds of fans who had bought $200 VIP tickets, entertaining attendees at an SRO spotlight panel, and stealing the show at the Harvey Awards with a quip-filled acceptance speech.
However, Stan Lee wasn't the whole story behind the show's growth. Nathan noted that a switch to a new company to handle advance ticket sales had helped. Previously, TicketMaster handled sales, with all the extra fees that entails. The new company charged only a $3 handling fee, and allowed Nathan to chart sales much better, as well as use pre-sales to help fund show promotions.
Already known as one of the best shows on the East Coast, this year's Baltimore show also reached an audience hungry for all the fun that a comic-con entails: costumes, creators and comics. The Saturday afternoon masquerade was another packed audience, with whole families dressed as their favorite characters.
Nathan was particularly pleased that the show had surged without any media programming or guests—Baltimore remains a comics-only show, with no autograph alley for celebrities. "Who says print is dead?" Nathan quipped, looking at the packed show floor, which was briefly capped due to fire marshal concerns on Saturday.
While creators like Jeff Smith (Bone) and Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead) had huge lines for autographs, the mood was friendly and more relaxed than bigger shows in San Diego and New York. And despite the struggling economy, publishers reported strong sales: the booths of indie publishers Top Shelf and AdHouse were bustling for the whole show, and reported many books being sold out on Saturday. Some artists, like Bobby Timony (Night Owls), had their most profitable show ever.
While the attention was spread over the whole room, Stan Lee was definitely the star of the show. At Saturday's Harvey Awards, he accepted a lifetime achievement award from the HERO Initiative, a charity which helps comics creators in financial distress, joking that given his achievements, "I thought the award would be bigger." When someone in the audience yelled out, "We love you, Stan!" he replied, "As well you should!" He also praised the show, calling it "one of the best shows I've ever been involved in" and is hoping to return next year.
As for the rest of the Harvey awards, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, won for Best Graphic Album, and multiple winners included the deluxe Dave Stevens’ The Rocketeer: Artist’s Edition, two for The Mighty Thor, including Best Writer for Roger Langridge, and wins in Best Artist and Best Cartoonist for Darwyn Cooke.