If you take a look at the highest grossing films of the last, let’s say 7 years, you’ll notice a trend. You’ll see movies that might star a web slinging college student. Or a man in an iron suit. Perhaps an alien in colored clothing if not another of the array of icons who don figurative outfits to battle injustice. In case you are one of the very few who haven’t realized, we are well into a defining era of the comic book movie.


   But let us not brush past this phrase. Allow us to hone in on the words, ‘comic book’. The ‘comic book’, is an American staple without any comparison around the world, it’s own prototype. While Japan may have Manga, now closely tied to it’s anime, and France has produces it’s own distinct array of enticing humor and imagination with the memorable TinTin  and Sempé, the United States has the cape flying, masquerading super-hero.



   The modern superhero, as we understand them to be, was by many sources, Superman. Though historical creative ‘first’ may be hard to attribute, it as the lone alien from Krypton that put the superhero on the map when there were none. Zorro may have been swift with the sword, and Sherlock rather ingenious, but it was the multitude of powers that made Superman stand out. Perhaps no other figure had really captured the depth of imagination of what one person could do since older legends pertaining to Hercules or Cuchulain. But even then, there is a divide in intent. Superman was fighting for peace and justice while characters of previous god-like men were fractured and flawed. Superman when best described is as much the man as he is Super, and that is why Action Comics #1 continues to break its own record for the price of a single comic book.


   So, it was thirty-five years ago, in the midst of the Charlotte streets, an inaugural event occured that would change the cultural landscape of Charlotte, and in some ways, really put it ahead of its time. The very first, Heroes Convention in Charlotte, founded by and still headed by local legend, Shelton Drum was started, and it is today that we have cosplay competitions. For those unfamiliar, the Heroes Convention is an annual comic book mecca in celebration of the craft that has thrown its influence onto every major movie production and television outlet, our comic book!


   Names like San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and WonderCon may have more recognition, but the Heroes Convention in Charlotte stands out because they still focus on the comics, and the people who make them. There will not be a major booth by Warner Bros. Studios, nor will the stream of actors and extras who may have never flipped a page appear.


   At the very heart, conventions were not intended to promote films or boost the status of a pretty face. Their purpose is to be a hub where people who love comics can read and trade comics. Before the advent of the internet, finding others like you took slightly more effort and invention.


   Nowadays, each summer, the Charlotte Convention Center holds floor to a variety of vendors from all over the country, some strictly comic books, nostalgic toys, comic book art supplies, memorabilia and posters, and anything relating to comics. It’s all very much like a bazaar. Then behind them, you will discover another reputable staple of the convention, the artists! Where the heroes convention really thrives is setting up comic artists, from league professionals to local off key creators ignited from the 2005 convention under ‘Indie Island’. Previous guests have included George Perez, Todd McFarlane, Alan Davis, Joe Quesada, and even multiple appearances by Stan Lee.  


   The Heroes Convention remains a stage for conversations to occur about comics. They offer panels and workshops where the dedicated or seasoned may improve their craft whether that be inking or drafting a story. Then there is also discussion about the nature of industry trends so that the inquisitive may learn the nuanced inner workings of what is fittingly called, ‘Comic ‘Book Culture’. No convention would be complete if we didn’t have the annual Quickdraw contest, the Cosplay Competition, or the art auction, the Heroes Convention is really comprehensive in its approach taking into account the people who make it happen.


There is one other dynamic that the Heroes Convention does right, and it really sums up the whole spirit of the convention in a better way. The convention was founded on the belief that people should get together to experience comradery and nearly every year, the occasion falls on Father’s Day weekend at a peak in the summer. That has ensured families, often led by Fathers but Mothers as well, may come in unison and see the spirit of where these screen icons have come. It’s long boxes and plastic sleeves, ink jars and bristol board, capes and cowls.


Matthew Barnes


**A previous version of this story did appear in an edition of South Charlotte Weekly



   At the heart of this podcast and outlet is the desire to promote and make visible to the community various happenings around the city of Charlotte. It is much in line with the ‘Shop Local’ movement that has sprung up as independent businesses and ventures seem to close regularly only to be replaced by the now thriving entrepreneurial market now possible via the internet and social media. One particular distinction that I’d like to hi-light is that of music from the historically important community choir, or in this case, chorale.


   The Ballantyne Chorale, in fine tradition, is composed of an aggregate of members that are mostly pulled from its namesake, the booming and modern neighborhood on the most southern edge of the city. The locality is known for its luxurious living circumstances that sprung fairly quickly from what was formerly farmland scarcely a few decades prior. It is now a premium suburban shopping hideaway that also flourishes business and with importance to the current topic, residential, both long-term and up and coming.


   Music is very often a passion for anyone who pursues it and is predominantly practiced by those who don’t make it for a living. I wouldn’t expect to find a secret lawyer in an elementary school, or a part time surgeon making sandwiches at the nearby deli. But I can guarantee with near certainty that nearly every building establishment houses at least one closet musician and the larger the walls, the , more likely the case.


   Melody is ingrained in our blood and if the sheer value of the music industry isn’t enough, certainly the amount of people whom have tried and quit after x amount of tries points to the fact that nearly everyone at heart at least wants to make music, if not be a musician. Before the era of digital streaming and even before that of recorded sound, to make music was one of two ways to even hear it. The other, was attending a concert of musicians and in scattered towns and quarters, local musicians of different backgrounds but capable talents, got together and made song.


   This is what the role of the Ballantyne Chorale does for the community and it was recently they completed their 4th annual concert at The Fillmore in Charlotte.


   Expanding beyond their namesake, this year’s concert opened with a young, of primary school age, lady playing through the final movement of Mozart Sonata in A K. 331, or what is widely known as ‘The Turkish March’. I can assure you, you would recognize it.


Beverly Warkulwiz is the chief operator and director of the chorale and she introduced this year’s concert to invite the audience in on the theme, “Pick you Battles”. Songs would have some sort relation to the battles we may be fighting whether they internal or external, with disease or through sports. Life is often marked by a series of clashes fought by both the individual and the collective, literal and slightly more metaphorical, though always real. With the closing of her words, the complete chorale began with a rendition of the piece, “Do you hear the People Sing?” and we were off.


The structure of the concert is diverse and following up, we get a series of solos and duets from the different members of the Chorale. This is when some of the single members get their opportunity to exhibit what brought them out of the bedroom and onto the stage. Of notice was the humorous and vibin’ energy of Jane Russel, one of the founding four members who navigate the fabric of the chorale and then there was also Sean O’ Leary who brought an experienced voice to Andra Day’s “Rise Up”. There was a mother/daughter duet with Beverly and her youngest with the song “True Colors” and all of this and forward numbers would be accompanied by the talented pianist and vocalist, Amber Faulhaber.  


When we do arrive at the complete choir pieces, you can hear the sum of all the parts and it provides a great experience indeed. Sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses come together and take us through hits including the “Eye of the Tiger”, “Touch the Sky” (with the Hawk Ridge Elementary Choir), and in ecstatic fashion, a vocal reprise of Mozart’s theme.


The Ballantyne Chorale is a community organization in every sense of the word, founded and formed of rogue tax payers who have day jobs. They make the effort to get together weekly and practice either at a school, members’ homes, or whatever space may open up to them. During the holiday season, they perform at a variety of concerts in the city taking their listeners through the songs of the season.


While you won’t hear the vocal pyrotechnics of Adele or see the dance moves of Bruno Mars, you will be delivered an authentic love of the combination of harmony and lyric that is unpersuaded by record sales or executives. It could hardly be said of how much effort these happenings require on the behalf of its members and if anyone has any interest in ‘shopping local’ for music, you could hardly find an equal outing of quantity of communal songmakers.




     The Original Spaghetti Western


     It drizzles mists on and off as several individuals in various pairings and groupings rush in to get to their seats for tonight’s spectacular event. In one corner, you may see an elderly couple, long seasoned in the liberal and performing arts, always a beacon of youthful energy as they step through familiar doors, while on the other end, one can expect to find a younger crowd, sometimes in larger groups, three generations removed and likely students at one of the nearby educational facilities. Amongst the faces, will be be hidden vocations of students, vocalists, teachers, salespersons, marketers, fry cooks, drivers, and really anything that might drag in a paycheck. What has brought them all together here is the still cherrying event that has captivated audiences for centuries, and one that extravagates so many times a season. This Thursday evening, Opera Carolina, Charlotte’s home company, was to be presenting one of the masters of the form, Giacomo Puccini’s, The Girl of the West, a marked piece in the repertoire of the Italian, of a love triangle that takes place in a saloon during the California Gold rush of the 1840s.  


     Puccini has been considered by several to be the greatest composer of the Italian opera after Verdi, the latter whom inspired the young Giacomo after the composer-to-be walked nearly twenty miles to attend a performance of Aida. It was in this context that Giacomo decided to make opera his life’s principle work.


     While the opera house is no longer the central hub as it stood in either Puccini’s or Verdi’s time, their works still emanate through our world and you have likely heard Puccini if you saw Paul Potts’ competition winning performance in the first season of Britain’s Got Talent, watched films such as ‘Atonement’, Moulin Rouge, or Moonstruck. Even Homer Simpson gave his go at opera in one of the latter seasons of the staple American comedy. Still not convinced? Check out a most popular of all remakes, ‘Rent’ adapted from Puccini’s La Boheme.


     Considering adaptations, Puccini found the fodder for his work after witnessing the play, ‘The Girl of the Golden West’ by American author David Belasco, and despite not speaking any English, felt moved by the essence of what took place on stage for the proceeding work. This was in fact, the second in succession of Puccini adapting a play from Belasco, for during this period he had seen and moved himself into composing the wildly successful Madame Butterfly.


     The two-act opera opens in a saloon full of exhausted gold miners who pass the time lamenting for home through song, playing cards, and of course…drinking. A cheat here, a rustle there and the saloon owner, Minnie steps onto the stage and is a accompanied by a pistol shot of control and composure as she stands: the sole head of the saloon. Soon sheriff Jack Rance enters, quickly followed by a Wells Fargo agent (yes, the Wells Fargo) mentioning how they are hot on the trail of bandit leader, Ramerrez and they hope to lure him to the nearby vicinity soon. In this exchange, the sheriff Jack does his best, unsuccessfully, to woo the tough and beautiful Minnie. Of course it turns out Ramerrez, under an assumed name enters and has a romantic history from Minnie but his troubled past and pressured present is an obstacle to the woman he does not know he loves yet. This is the premise that launches the opera into a social and moral drama of the ages, backed by some of the most celebrated music ever composed.


     To illustrate the stature of Puccini, The Girl of the West was commissioned to him by the Metropolitan opera (remember, no English!) and it would have its premiere at the Met in 1910, with praise immediately following. ‘The West’, as is so aptly understood to be an American concept, was a draw for many artists and composers and throughout the work, one can hear themes and melodies that are distinctly of U.S origin, but arranged and presented through the great European tradition.



     It was under the baton of Opera Carolina’s principle conductor, James Meena, that Puccini’s masterwork was staged in conjunction with Italian artistic Director and Designer Ivan Stefanutti. The collaboration resulted in a spectacle to be cemented in the memory of all those who saw. Visually, Opera Carolina has an impeccable record, and this stood as no exception. Meena and Stefanutti went through great heights to ensure belief on the stage including reaching out to the Wells Fargo history museum, both local and out in California to get material from the archives in setting up the stage for authenticity. The gradiating wood scheme, with atmospheric lights of smoke and grit were reminiscent of early American paintings and the costume revealed that a time long since passed was being presented before our very eyes.  


The composite traditions of an early 20th century Italian opera, about the 19th century ‘West’, being offered up in the early 21st century by an American conductor and an Italian designer resulted in a rich experience and demonstrated how this not quite dormant form still remains relevant and to be enjoyed even today.


Matthew Barnes