Sunday, February 28, 2016


Issue #482: Pensacon 2016: When is a Con a Comic Con?

Not often these days, not often at all. An example is a nice local event in Biloxi, Mississippi that I've attended for  years and used to think of as a comic-con, “CoastCon.” Last year when Dorothy and I were there, I found exactly seven comics for sale in the dealer room. I don’t mean seven long-boxes of comics, I mean seven freaking comics. Panels on comics? None. Comics creators among the guests? Zero.

I know that this is in part due to the consolidation that’s been going on for quite a long time now, at least twenty years. There used to be comic cons, and SF cons, and gaming cons, and Trek cons. Now there are just cons, which supposedly integrate all those things and more. In truth however, today cons tend to mostly concentrate on what the organizers think is the current big interest, be it gaming or steam-punk, or anime. Cons are often big business now. Even the original comic con, San Diego, has somewhat pushed comics to the side in favor of the money-powered glitz of movies and TV.

And I am OK with those things. I am good with attending a Doctor Who or Star Wars panel. I might even buy a new set of Spock ears in the dealer room. But the focus of my genre interests is still comics. Has been since I started collecting seriously in 1966. So is it so wrong for me to want a little comics representation at the cons I attend?

Since comics are still the Big Thing for me, I’ve begun to be selective in my con attendance. Visiting the CoastCon website recently, I noted the March event this year will, much as last year, give the short shrift to comics. No dealers. No comics oriented guests. Oh, well, 'bout what I expected. Bopped over to the Mobicon (Mobile) website. Looked better. Couple of dealers at least. But that event won’t take place till May. What about this new one over in Pensacola, Florida I’d been hearing about, Pensacon?

Though it’s only in its third year, I’d been told Pensacon was beginning to eclipse our other two local events and might even be gaining on the New Orleans Con. At least one of my local shops, 99-issues, planned to be on the dealer floor, and the folks there had nothing but good to say about the event. So, I checked out the con’s website. Dang. At least six comics dealers and, maybe even better, substantial industry presence on the guest roster. Several people I wanted to see, culminating in Neal Adams on Saturday. Well, if Neal was going to be there, so was I. I bought tickets online and began making strategic plans about who/what to see and what to buy.

Actually, the fun began for me on the Wednesday prior to the start of Pensacon. Not only was Wednesday, as it always is, New Comics Day, it was to be a special New Comics Day. A living legend, artist Neal Adams, would be visiting 99 Issues to give a talk, hang out, and do some signing. If you know anything about comics, you know Mr. Adams has been a giant since the 1960s. Among his many accomplishments is the revival of Batman in the early 1970s. Neal and writer Denny O’Neil took the character, which had been languishing after the campy 1966 TV series ended,  and returned him to being the Dark Knight of legend.

Mr. Adams was supposed to appear at 4 p.m., but as me and my buddies and the staff of 99 Issues waited in the front of the store in an agony of anticipation with the appointed hour approaching, we didn’t see how he’d make it on time through all the after school traffic. Nevertheless, he did, somehow, and right on the dot of the appointed hour, there was Neal and his wife to the accompaniment of numerous relieved exclamations, “THEY’RE HERE!” I like to think of myself as an educated fan who appreciates comics in a reasoned manner. But I must admit the appearance of one of my heroes pretty much reduced me to fanboy status.

What’s Neal like these days? As energetic, friendly, funny, and opinionated as ever. He is 76, but you’d darned sure never know it. He’s just finished doing a big series of covers, 28 to be exact, for DC, covers that pay homage to his earlier work. He’s also embarked on writing and penciling a major new mini-series, The Coming of the Supermen, the first issue of which came out this month. In other words, he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Along with Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko, Neal Adams is in my triumvirate of all time great artists. And while I bow to no one in my love for King Kirby’s work, he’s been gone from us for a long time.  Steranko? He did some groundbreaking comics, but left the field a long, long time ago. Neal is still around and working hard, so his body of work is ever growing. Except for one hiatus after the comics depression of the 1990s, Neal has been there with us all along across the Silver, Bronze, and Modern (Copper) Ages.

Not only was the man there, given the small crowd (most folks were still at work), he was quite accessible and I was able to spend some time shooting the breeze with him. Oh, and getting him to sign some of his work for me. I picked up a (tremendous) print of a pencil Neal did of Katie Cassidy as Black Canary from Arrow as well as an inked/colored print of his Detective Comics 49 cover, and a pencil-only version of that. I was a happy little camper when I left. Perfect way to start Con Week.

While Pensacon would run Friday – Sunday, we decided that since this was our first visit we’d just do Saturday. That would be the day Neal was speaking, and if the Con turned out not to be so hot we wouldn’t have spent overmuch money on it. If it were a good one, a really good one? Next year we might do two or three days and maybe even stay in a hotel. We’d see.

The trip east to Pensacola was uneventful and not painful at all—other than getting on the road at 8:30 a.m. While I was familiar with Pensacola’s Bay Front Center, their municipal auditorium, which would be the main Pensacon venue, and would have no trouble finding it, we wanted to get an early case the event, which was being heavily covered on Pensacola and Mobile TV stations was crowded.

At the Center, it turned out to have been a good decision to get on the road at the crack of dawn—yes, these days 8:30 is just that for me. Hordes of people in a line wrapping all the way around the parking lot. Cars everywhere. Adjacent parking lots beginning to fill up well before 9:30. We found a good lot for a reasonable price and were lucky to get it, being the next to the last car admitted before the “Sorry, full up” sign went out.

Despite having purchased tickets online, we still had to stand in line to pick up the wrist bands that would allow us entry and re-entry. The weather was pleasantly cool, though, and it wasn’t bad. We spent our time on-line observing the many cosplayers walking around. Deadpool was big, big, big for guys. For women Harley Quinn led the pack. At times I didn’t think anybody was cosplaying anybody but Wade Wilson and Dr. Harlene Quinzell. Also notable were the many food kiosks set up in the auditorium parking lot. Some pretty good ones, too. Barbeque, upscale burgers, even chimichangas for the Deadpools.  

Eventually, after about 20-minutes, we made our way to the front of the line and were on our way inside. When we walked out into the arena and were looking down at the auditorium floor, I must admit I was gobsmacked. Yeah, it had already been obvious there were a lot of people here, but that still didn’t prepare me for the hordes of dealers and all the people crowded onto that floor. OMG! Like our own DragonCon!

We initially intended to take a quick tour of the dealer floor and then scope out the other Con venues, which included the hotel across the street and two downtown movie theatres. We changed that plan when we realized that if we left the floor we might have a hard time getting back on it. In order to keep the Fire Marshall happy, the (friendly and helpful) Pensacon staffers had begun limiting access. People were not being allowed into the dealer area till other people left. We decided to stay and do detailed reconnaissance and buying till lunchtime.

What did I get? Nothing that fancy. The two items I had my eye out for, action figures of Zatanna and Scarlet Witch, were not to be found. Oh, there were tons of figures, but neither of my two somewhat esoteric picks were in anybody’s booth. I did get a bunch of comics. The highlight being an issue of Rip Hunter Time Master. It is so cool that Silver Age hero Rip has a TV show now (Legends of Tomorrow), and I intend to pick up as many of his books as I can. I almost bought a decent condition copy of Neal Adams’ Green Arrow 85 for a great price, but got cold feet.

Now it was lunch time, and we reluctantly left the floor. Our original intention was to visit the vendors in the parking lot, but in addition to lines at every one of them, there wasn’t anywhere to sit and eat that wasn’t in the now overly bright and warm Sun. We went back inside and did one of the standard auditorium food concessions. Dorothy got a burger and I got an order of nachos, and that was sufficient and not too over-priced as such things go.

We sat and ate in the seats overlooking the floor, and when we were done I thought I’d take a tour of the artists’ area, which was located on the auditorium’s upper deck overlooking the seats. There were no tremendously big names there, but some nice and talented folks. I was thrilled to meet and talk briefly with Jen Broomall, a talented young woman who is shortly going to be doing covers for Boundless Comics’ Lady Death, one of the few independent books I still read.

Back on the dealer floor, I went in search of Hal Jordan. I’d sorta changed my mind about Green Lantern 85, you see, but, alas, it was too late. Another collector had snapped it up. Guess that will learn me. I assuaged my pain by picking up a couple of issues of the Alan Moore/Stephen Bissette run of Swamp Thing, issues I lost some years ago when a leaking air conditioner upstairs in the attic of old Chaos Manor South, destroyed a large part of my collection while we were on vacation.

How were the events, the panels? Not quite what we had expected/hoped for. Oh, they had some great people scheduled, but there were more than a few cancellations, including just about every last Star Wars-related guest (one of whom was Peter Mayhew). Rumor hath it that their talents were needed elsewhere for some special hush-hush Star Wars project. Cancellations are inevitable at any con, but we were still disappointed—couldn’t help it. There were still plenty of good guests and photo ops with some pretty impressive media figures, but I was here for comics, and the main representative of that was Mr. Adams.

Despite manning his tables, signing books and prints for days, Neal was as full of energy as ever. If he’d had the power level set to 10 when he was at 99 issues, late Saturday afternoon when he walked into the venue at the hotel across the street from the Bay Front Center, he has kicked it up to 11. It was great to hear more of those stories about Neal and the legendary Neal’s Luck, but maybe even better were his answers to the numerous questions from us, the audience. The man obviously has tremendous insight into every facet of the comics industry.

Only slight bring-down? Pensacon was purportedly, at least in part, a COMIC con. Even so, the room was not close to full for Neal’s talk. Fifty or sixty people? Maybe. I thought that was freaking crazy, but, as above, I know these cons are not really comic cons anymore. And, frankly, comics were better represented at Pensacon than at many events I’ve been to lately. Still, nice as Pensacon was, there was still that “comics are the red-headed step child” attitude that is all too common of late.

During lunch, Dorothy and I sat in our seats and listened, halfway anyway, to the announcements over the P.A. system. Some were just practical things, “So and so will begin at thus and such a time.” Others were funny, “Paging Dr. Quinzel! Paging Dr. Quinzel!” But one pissed us off: “There are six comics dealers on the floor folks, but if you need MORE SUBSTANTIAL READING MATTER, see the bookseller at blah-blah-blah.” If comics fans can’t get respect at a con, where can we get it?

Still, despite that minor annoyance and a couple of others—the Star Wars and other guest cancellations—Pensacon was a good one. I loved it and will be back next year if there is a next year. I was sorry to hear the group is having trouble with the corporation that manages the Bay Front Center. Apparently they’ve been locked out of their chosen dates for next year, with the company booking some sort of ice follies stuff instead. Pensacon is obviously very popular, however, popular enough that I think the organizers will figure something out. I hope so; it would be a shame to see the area’s most promising con died aborning.

What’s up next here? I had a tremendous outpouring of support and many kind words regarding the Messier article, and, since you demand it, I will continue with the next batch of Ms next time. Excelsior!

Nota Bene:  You can find many more pix from Pensacon on my Facebook Page...

your blog has been so informative and varied I forgive you this foray into pop culture Lol Howard
I attended my first major con in Anaheim (Wizard World CC) and was stoked by the presence of some of my comic book legends. I remember telling myself I have to do SDCC when my lil one turns 3...and that we did...I did the year after that but gave up. SDCC is now turning into a freaking Hollywood circus. Like you mentioned, comics have become a side show. People are more interested in who who of the entertainment world. I remember buying comics on the floor, when all my my other buddies were busy stalking celebs...and Hall H...oh hallowed Hall H..the lines were ridiculous all because of the GOT, TWD and Marvel panels. Loved SDCC younger brother Wondercon where I met my hero Jim Lee. Did Comikaze and met the legend Stan Lee...and just last year met the man Neal Adam's at Big Wow!!!!!

Thanks for your comments! We're glad you had a good time!

A few notes, however.

David Prowse was at the convention all weekend on the second floor, as were over 50+ more celebs including Michael Rooker, Sam Witwer, Jason Mewes, Michael Dorn and others. If you did not get to that area, you missed out!

We had many big comic names at Pensacon as well, including Mike Grell, Bob McLeod, Simon Bisley, Tony Isabella, John Dell, Derec Donovan and more. Unfortunately, as you noted, if we did a comics only convention, we wouldn't have enough attendance to sustain the event. The face of fandom has changed, but we will always bring in great comic guests, as well as other artists, authors and traditional fandom guests.

There was never a wait on Saturday for the vendor floor this year - that did happen last year, but not this.

The theaters downtown are not movie theaters; they are historic theaters that host Broadway touring companies and other big events.

Thanks for the correction. I meant to type, "Peter Mayew." :-)

And I know you had some great comics-oriented guests in addition to Mr. Adams. Just not the "top of the tops." But, yes, you did have some great folks there, no doubt about it.

Thanks for an excellent experience.
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I call the downtown theatres "movie theatres" because that is what they will always be to me. Your Saenger, like ours began life as a motion picture theatre, and that is good thing. ;)
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