Heroes Con officially kicked off Friday morning, but for me, it began a day earlier. We packed the cars (the wife and kids were continuing on to the beach for a couple of weeks after the weekend) to drive up Thursday. Wanting to maximizing the time we had at the convention I booked our rooms for Thursday through Sunday, a serendipitous bit of foresight that I’ll be sure and repeat next year, so we could get up early and hit the ground running on Friday after a good night’s sleep. After a shitty drive up – thanks in large part to an accident that turned I-85 into a parking lot for a good hour and a half – we made it to the hotel with enough time to grab our badges and enjoy the pre-opening night bash. Food trucks, a band, and another great opportunity to mingle with a lot of the attending creators, it’s something you definitely want to make plans to attend if you’re gonna go next year. A nice evening unwinding, decompressing, and walking around was a perfect way to kick off the weekend.
Bright and early Friday morning, with everyone well rested, refreshed and badges in hand, we made our way across the street to the convention center. Once again, the decision to arrive a day early and collect badges was another in a string of inadvertent “best decisions we made” over the course of the weekend. The lines were staggering. The only other time I’ve seen THAT many people lining up for geekdom was last year at Dragon Con, and it was the same situation, the ticket line. Since we had our passes, we were able to move past the “I need to get a ticket” line and make our way to the end of the “we already have our passes line”. This line stretched from the entrance around the inside of the convention center, up the stairs and began to make its way around the upper deck. Not a short line, but once the doors opened, it moved along rapidly.
First up was to begin cashing in on that email equity I had worked on the month or two prior. I made a beeline to Ed Piskor’s table and handed over my sketchbook. A fan of “Hip Hop Family Tree” since I began reading it on Boing Boing, Ed was top of my list. I desperately wanted an Afrika Bambaatta sketch by Ed and had worked the better part of the last year on getting the ever-elusive artist to agree to do a commission at the convention. I don’t even think he had completely unpacked all his stuff when I bounded up to his table and introduced myself, “HiI’mJeffSmallWe’veSpokenOverEmail I’mTheGuyWhoWantedTheBambattaSketch IThinkYou’reTheGreatestGuy AndI’mAHugeFanOfHipHopFamilyTree!”. He smiled and I settled down a bit. We chatted about the book, his plans, the upcoming third volume and his experiences since publishing the anthology series and I quickly realized why I loved the guy so much. He’s warm, genuine, authentic, and every bit the person he seems. I handed over my sketchbook and began wandering around, getting my bearings and figuring out where the rest of the people on my list were sitting.
I caught up with Wilfredo Torres, artist on one my favorite books out currently, “Jupiter’s Circle”. Connected with Evan “Doc” Shaner, who draws the most amazing Captain Marvel you’ve ever seen. I found Mike Maihack, Klaus Jansen, Tim Sale, Andrew Robinson, Arthur Adams, Geoff Darrow, Craig Rousseau, Babs Tarr, and Kristopher Anka. I stopped by Evan Dorkin’s table. He had apparently had a pretty rough trip into town and was a little flustered trying to unpack and spread out as the convention was opening up. He was a charming curmudgeon as people came up to the table to say hi and get their items signed. He was wearing a wrist brace, made several references to having a sore hand and begged off doing any signing or sketches first thing until he had a chance to settle in. I graciously obliged with as much empathy as I could muster. I felt bad for the guy and made a mental note to steer clear and come back around Saturday or Sunday when he had an opportunity to get collected warm up a little.
The day flew by. We wandered around the floor, met creators, took photos with Cosplayers (So many Deadpools!) and bought some fun things from a couple of the vendors. I wasn’t ready to dig into comics just yet, that’ll wait for the last day. There were some great lunch spots close by, so it was easy to drop off sketchbooks, and wander across the street to grab some pizza with the kids, who were busy checking their Nintendo DSes every few minutes to meet another set of 10 convention-goers in Mii Plaza.
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As the day wound down, I began to get excited for the evening. I was notified earlier that afternoon by an email from the staff that my VIP Stan Lee experience would begin at 6 over at the Hilton, which was a block over. We made our way back to the Marriott to drop off sketchbooks, decompress and relax for a little while. The wife and kids made dinner plans (The Friday evening experience was reserved for those who paid, family could participate in signatures and photos the next day, but the actual meet and greet was limited to a very small room) and I trekked over to the Hilton to meet Stan Lee. Not knowing how many people were signing up for the full VIP experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect walking in. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the meet and greet was limited to 25 people and we had the small room all to ourselves! There was a bar available for people who wanted cocktails (I grabbed a seltzer water, natch) and hors d’oeuvres spread out to snack on while we waited for Stan to arrive.
We chatted among ourselves, I met some great people, we traded stories, and a few minutes after I got there Stan’s assistant came in and prepped us for Stan’s arrival. We could ask anything we wanted (questions that could put Stan in an awkward position regarding upcoming movie spoilers were obviously the only thing off limits) and Stan would promise to get to everyone in the room. With that out of the way, Stan made his was in.
I was completely blown away. I’ve had various little celebrity moments in my life, met actors, writers, astronauts, and even recently met an ex-President, but this guy was Stan “The Man” Lee. This is the man who (along with Jack Kirby and a handful of other brilliant creators) created what’s arguably one of the richest, deepest, and most beloved universes of modern mythology in our collective recent history. There simply is no analog over at DC. There’s no consistent personality you can look at (Julius Schwartz MAYBE comes closest) and say “he drove that”. Say what you want about Stan. He drove that ship. He wrote those words. Editor-in-Chief. That was his title. There probably won’t be another person like him in my lifetime… and he was standing right there in front of me.
He took his seat and began speaking. It was that voice. It was the voice that I grew up with on records (The Merry Marvel Marching Society!), cartoons, TV, movies… it was him. He’s 93 years young, but you wouldn’t even know it to see him. He looks exactly like he looks in the movies and on anything you’ve seen him in. This was the same Stan Lee who answered Brody’s questions about the Thing’s thing and whether or not Mr. Fantastic could stretch EVERY bit of himself. He’s a little challenged in the vision and hearing department, but his assistant sat next to him and carefully repeated our questions to Stan could answer us fully.
I had goosebumps every time he spoke and patiently waited for my turn. I asked him when he realized he was writing comic books for a more sophisticated audience beyond the “funny books” that he started with in the 40’s. “Great question,” he answered and spent the next several minutes talking about what it was like in the early 60’s writing stories that were beginning to appeal to an older and older audience. I just sat there dumbstruck. This was Stan Lee and I was alone with him and a couple dozen people sitting around tables in a small room having a casual conversation about him, his creations, his peers, and his recollections about creating the Marvel Universe.
It was brilliant.
We spent the next hour and a half or so chatting and at the end we all took a group photo, Shelton handed us a limited edition print signed by Stan, we shook his hand, thanked him and made our way out back to the world. I was walking on air. I was only a day into my trip and it had already exceeded every expectation I had… and I still had two more days!