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Sam Landman treats the not-for-kids-anymore world of comics conventions like a casino: Enjoy the cosplay and meet & greet, take a set amount of cash to buy books and then leave while you've still got the "Nien Nunb is my co-pilot" shirt on your back.
By Sam L. Landman
June 6, 2013

Courtesy of Midwest Comic Book Association

“THIS IS GONNA END BADLY.” I’m speaking in the past and future tenses here, conjoining my past self (who’s obviously aware of how much money he’s about to spend at Midwest Comic Book Association’s SpringCon) with my future self (who’s going to glean something by the end of day two that'll send him into a nihilistic freefall).

It’s actually the sort of anachronism not particularly out of place at a comic book convention.

God, I never know what to wear to these things. Apart from the nerdy glut of cosplay that goes on here, there are always “normals,” shuffling up and down the aisles, carefully decked out in their favorite geek culture t-shirt. (You could take out 20 or so with one swing of a bat’leth.) My tactic? Pick the unlikeliest t-shirt for such an event in your closet and wear that. I figure it’s the equivalent of someone rocking a Starfleet uniform at BronyCon (Google it). So, this year I downshift into an all-black, Stiff Records shirt and wind up at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds by one in the afternoon, hoping to avoid the lines.

Which is immediately what I find myself in. One that’s at least 50-geek deep. I can’t help but notice a family in front of me. Ugh. I really should’ve dipped into a Dr. Gonzo-sized briefcase of tranquilizers before I left home (what? don’t you have one?), because I’m not sure I’m ready to pop the cherry on this story by interviewing these people. The dad’s openly pointing and laughing at cosplayers around us, spitting his chaw into a stained Styrofoam cup. The mom’s paying no attention to his jibes, instead focusing on their daughter, who I can tell is already second-guessing her own cosplay choice: the slightly outdated anime/manga character, Naruto.

There’s a $12 admission fee; I fork it over and decide the official Wristband Checker (i.e. Con Bouncer) should be my first victim instead, sheepishly breaking the ice with the most generic, cub reporter questions anyone could ask:

• Median age of SpringCon attendees – 30s

• Most popular cosplay this year – Deadpool

• Average total attendance for the two-day SpringCon – 5,000

Seems like the kind of digestible sound bites my editor’s looking for, so I figure I’m free for a while to focus on flipping through back issues. Pretty soon, the tips of my fingers are black with ink. I give a cursory glance at the notebook on my iPhone, which has a goofy bucket list of comics I’m seeking out:

• Atlas Comics issues I already own

• Pre-Morrison Doom Patrol issues I don’t

• A short-run DC comic known as Thriller

• John Byrne’s run on

- Spider Man: Chapter One

- X-Men: The Hidden Years

By now, I should’ve probably mentioned my M.O. at these things: I treat comic book conventions like casinos. My thinking is you should always enter these geeky dream factories with a set amount of cash you’re willing to part with. Once the money’s gone, get out of there while you’ve still got the “Nien Nunb is my co-pilot” shirt on your back. Because the geekhouse always wins. 

Once 'round the gauntlet of tables, my arms are already weighed down with two relentlessly heavy bags of funny books. There’s still a fair amount of loose cash in the bank envelope I keep stuffed in my jock, which means a walk of shame back to my car is in order before I continue. The old “drop-off/head-back” tactic -- a shopaholic classic. As I leave my car, I feel unexpectedly rejuvenated about this surreal hayride. Maybe it’s the lack of kids at this year’s SpringCon. Seriously, I’ve probably seen a dozen mop-headed, midget Iron Men, but no more than that. Which puts my dorky heart at ease. Because let’s face it, these days comic book conventions are primarily for older people.

Older people like a guy I saw this year, who I keep referring to as “Uncle Predator.” Probably in his 50s, he’s shuffling around in a nude bodysuit, Tarzan loincloth and what I’m assuming must be a $200 Predator mask (at the low end). He’s the ultimate anti-hero. I’m secretly hoping he wins the costume contest, though he’s got his work cut out for him against:

Padmé Amidala, giving everyone here a strange feeling in their pants

• Ash, cosplayed by a kid whose parents weren’t dating when Evil Dead came out

• A full-blown Arkham Asylum, full of Batman’s villains, including a busty, big-boned Harley

• A team of Ghostbusters who’ve invested more money in their gear than my house is worth

• A husky Kraven the Hunter, wearing John Lennon-style round spectacles and cross-trainers

• At least four Jack Sparrows, who must all use a time clock, since I never see more than one at a time

• A corpulent Clone War Stormtrooper with more working robotics than a Ford plant

• A rather dapper Fifth Doctor, who appears to be attending with his non-cosplaying life partner

• More Deadpools than should be allowed by law in one establishment

• A Superman and Flash, who participate in hourly foot races (most ended in a tie)

Considering this is the 25th anniversary of SpringCon, I guess I expected the lineup to be different this year, including something special in honor of the occasion. Yet most of the cosplayers I see are fairly boilerplate -- the same Superman and Loki from last year. Even the illustrators, bootleg DVD salesmen and comic dealers are the same ones I see every time I go. All of which forces me to consider the possibility that the longboxes I’m fingering still have my DNA from the previous year on them.

While looking for hand sanitizer, I spy a few illustrators that’ll hopefully get this assignment back on track and keep me from spending more crotch dollars:

Human cosplay/illustrator/storyteller Sandez Rey – This luchador mask-wearing, former Eros Comics artist talks to me about how the “most over-researched porno story ever” led him to his first PG-13 project, Punk Rock Comics.

MCAD’s Comic Art major Jaime Willems – Plying her trade of creator-owned comics, looking at me through hipper-than-hipster glasses, she declares that she “just wants to make a living doing what I love,” with an earnestness and optimism that I instantly crush on.

Casey and Brandon of No Fun Comics – Two shadowy, sardonic upstarts who’re using SpringCon as an outlet for their band (They Live), t-shirt designs and, of course, comics. “Might as well throw ‘em together and sell some snake oil.”

It’s that brutal honesty that makes me realize what this place is: a geeky security blanket, swaddling participants in acceptance. A warm, childlike cocoon of timelessness where, no matter your entry point, there’s always a place for you. You know, like “The Nexus” from Star Trek: Generations. (Am I right, folks? [thumps mic])

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I treat comic book conventions like casinos. You should always enter these geeky dream factories with a set amount of cash you’re willing to part with. Once the money’s gone, get out of there while you’ve still got the “Nien Nunb is my co-pilot” shirt on your back. 

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After a few hours, when I’ve plucked nearly 20 back-issues of the fly-by-night Atlas Comic company from various dealers, I’m about ready to call it a day. But not before I get a soda outside and plop down on a bench to recheck my iPhone list and sift through my haul to make sure I haven’t missed anything.  This is when a couple of older gents in their late 50s sit down at a table next to me. My ears perk up. Just when I thought I had this ever-loving convention pegged, these pearls of wisdom spilled from their mouths:

Gent 1 – My son’s like us, reads and collects comics. Can tell you everything there is about superheroes, Star Wars, whatever. But all his friends know are the video games and the movies they watch. No interest in the books.

Gent 2 – I suspect most of the kids going to see Iron Man in the theater don’t actually collect Iron Man comics. Funny thing is, as collectors fall off, comic conventions have never drawn bigger crowds than they do now.

Gent 1 – You know, growing up, I could never dream of having 27 different action figures of Superman. I had one. One! But it’s a busier world. Who has time to read, I suppose?

Gent 2 – I’m telling you, in 10 years they’ll still be having this convention, but there won’t be any comic dealers here. Meet the stars, autographs, costume contests, video games, all the spin-off things that came from comic books. But I think there’ll be one, lonely comic book dealer off in the corner going, “Hello? Remember me?”

Gent 1 – With a lot of people walking by saying, “Look at that neat, old comic. How much do you want for that?!!? Wow. Comics are worth a lot of money.”

They laugh, almost in unison. And I suddenly feel like crying.

Remember way back at the beginning of this story, when I said that this was gonna end badly? Surprise. Here I am: the coffers in my boxer briefs are depleted. All these books that I always thought would complete me -- I have most of them from my list. But what do I have to show for it, really?

• Back issues – 67

- 24 individual

- 43 within nine runs

• Trade paperbacks – 5

• Shirts – 4

• DVDs – 1

At the end of this two-day, labyrinthine marathon, I can’t help but ask myself, When is this gonna stop, this incessant collecting? Will it be before or after I’m buried under thousands of bags and boards? I mean, how much is enough? And if some old guy’s theory is correct, what’s the point of collecting these things, since there's probably no more than a good decade left on this ride anyway?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. Nor do I think I ever will. I’ll probably just give it another 10 years, I guess.

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Related information and links:

SpringCon, Midwest Comic Book Association’s annual “comic book carnival” took place May 18 and 19 this year on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. The MCBA FallCon Comic Book Party is scheduled for October 5 from 10 am to 4 pm in the fairgrounds’ Education Building. For more information: http://midwestcomicbook.com/

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About the author: Sam L. Landman is a digital copywriter by day and a screenwriter, playwright and ne’er-do-well by night (as well as some lunchtimes). He’s half of the comedy duo known as Pommelhorse and an actor in various theater companies around town. Currently, he’s putting the finishing touches on a comic book called Orphans and his sci-fi novel, I Hope That I Get Laid Before I Have To Save The Universe. The latter is partly autobiographical. 

MN Artists