Next: HeroesCon at 40

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After a two-year hiatus, the convention returns to celebrate four decades of comic book culture and community
ILLUSTRATION BY DUSTIN HARBIN

In the beginning …

In 1977, ambitious 23-year-old Shelton Drum hosted a small comic book show at the Eastland Mall. The Charlotte Mini-Con was an opportunity for comic book collectors and dealers to come together and build buzz around a growing industry. He opened his shop, Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, in 1980 and has continued to host the annual event.

At that time, the Mini-Con was not so mini. Drum found a bigger venue, the Holiday Inn on Woodlawn Road. In June 1982, he hosted the first official Heroes Convention, a comic book-focused convention that would become one of the industry’s signature events and attract enthusiasts from around the world.

This month, the show returns from a pandemic hiatus to celebrate four decades since this weekend. A lot has changed, especially in the past two years: Since 1995, the Convention Center has hosted the show, but many of the vendor contacts Drum has worked with for decades have left their jobs since 2019. Some friends Drum and colleagues looked forward to seeing each year become too old to travel. Comic book culture has exploded into the mainstream and prices for rare collectibles have skyrocketed during COVID. HeroesCon returns, in some ways, to an alien world. Drum says he’s “stretched to the max”. But a lot of things stayed the same too.

From that first year, Drum made HeroesCon a destination. The first guest list included artist Butch Guice, New Teen Titans creators George Pérez and Marv Wolfman, and Captain America artist Mike Zeck. Just two years later, a visit from Marvel’s Stan Lee, one of the most famous and influential comic book creators of all time, catapulted attendance to over 1,000. Over the years, Drum has resisted offers to include movies and comic book-adjacent pop culture. “We were always the show that was about comic books,” he says.

The family-friendly event was a chance for connoisseurs to hang out with their idols, find long-sought-after issues for their collections, and commune with others who care just as deeply about craftsmanship. Drum says he often comes across third-generation contestants who inherited their fandom from parents and grandparents. In 2012, when he was 89, Stan Lee returned to HeroesCon and spent time with a Make-A-Wish kid who wanted to meet the man behind such iconic characters as Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor , Hulk and Black Panther. . At HeroesCon, those kinds of wishes come true.

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The brightest day, the darkest night…

Drum, now 68, has been in the business long enough to have seen idols, friends and colleagues come and go. Lee died in 2018. COVID claimed artist Steve Lightle, writer David Anthony Kraft, Aquaman artist Robson Rocha and Argentinian artist Juan Giménez.

Some creators, says Drum, with a catch in the voice, are “battling mortality right now.” Pérez, one of HeroesCon’s first and frequent guests, recently turned down treatment for pancreatic cancer, and Drum started an initiative to collect and send letters of love and gratitude. As a testament to the power of the comic book community, it shipped 10 letter books this spring.

Drum says that while hosting the show, he learned the mark of true friendship. This does not mean seeing each other every month or even every year; it’s support you can count on, whether in person or on Facebook. And that has never been more evident than during the pandemic, which has thrown its retail store into turmoil.

“We had to change gears like everyone else,” he says. “We revamped a lot of things: point of sale, displays and warehouses, and all that kind of stuff.”

In those two years, wacky things have happened in the world of comic book distribution and collecting. Marvel and DC, the two biggest comic book publishers, have parted ways with a longtime distributor. And, separately, the value of collectibles soared as stuck-at-home collectors put new pressure on the market. In January, a single page of a 1984 Spider-Man comic book — featuring artwork by inaugural HeroesCon guest Zeck — sold for $3.36 million. Pent-up demand and rising value are part of why Drum thinks this year’s show will be “spectacular”.

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To be continued …

HeroesCon will feature a 280,000 square foot vendor floor; a live art stage, where artists create pieces for auction; a “Drink and Draw” event to raise funds for Parkinson’s disease research; a “quick draw contest”; and over 500 special guests, including John Romita Jr., Ron Frenz and Roy Thomas. Drum is looking forward to welcoming back some of the same guests and vendors who were at the Holiday Inn 40 years ago, but he’s also excited to make new friends: people who got into comics during the pandemic. , for example, or 6-year-olds who don’t know much about the business (yet) but love Spider-Man. (Anyone under 18 can attend the show for free.)

Drum offers some handy tips for beginners: research the books you’re interested in and set a budget – you’re almost guaranteed to find them at HeroesCon. Bring cash to increase your chances of getting a good deal. Wear comfortable shoes. And above all, “just enjoy what’s going on”. He’s seen four decades of earth-shattering magic in those interactions, both for artists and creators and for fans. “When you know someone’s going to be somewhere and you appreciate them, take that time,” Drum says. ” You do not know. You don’t know what tomorrow has in store for you.

Allison Braden is editor-in-chief.

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