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