BALTIMORE - Marc Nathan, the founder of Baltimore Comic-Con, has for the last 15 years seen his fair share of Supermen fly through the convention center. But this year, the costume he’s most looking forward to seeing? Clark Kent.
“If I saw suits and ties [Friday] that would be my favorite costume,” Nathan said. “Everybody could be dressed like Clark Kent.”
GALLERY | Baltimore Comic-Con 2013 pictures
Baltimore Comic-Con will for the first time in its 16-year run open its doors to fans on Friday, just one of the marquee changes and additions fueled by the convention’s year-after-year growth. The show runs from Friday at 1 p.m. to Sunday at 5 p.m.
“What we’ve seen overall is that Baltimore Comic-Con has grown to the point where it’s considered in the industry as one of the major shows out there,” Dan Manser, director of marketing for Diamond Comic Distributors , the largest comic and graphic novel distributor in the country.
Baltimore still ranks behind New York and San Diego’s fabled Comic-Con , although Nathan contends that it’s one of the last true – comic book – conventions. San Diego in recent years has become more of a springboard for popular television shows and movie trailers adapted from comic books, for example.
Baltimore Comic-Con 2014 will feature about 500 comic creators, artists and storytellers – a dramatic increase of about 200 since last year.
“The joke among us is who is not coming?” Nathan said.
The show also welcomes CGC Comics , a firm that grades the condition of and valuation of comic books to determine if books are worth $100 or $10,000 and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Also new this year, will be the use of expanded hall space and the Baltimore Convention Center’s ballroom to accommodate a bigger Sunday costume contest. The prize for the costume contest was also increased from $1,000 to $2,000. (More on the additions below.)
But it’s the inclusion of a Hall of Fame award at the annual Harvey Awards , think the Golden Globes of the comic book industry, which has Nathan particularly excited.
“Who is the most well-known cartoonist in the history of America?” Nathan asks.
Go on, think for a moment.
The Harvey Awards will honor Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, as its first Hall of Fame award winner. Schulz died on Feb. 12, 2000. Accepting the award on his behalf is Schulz Museum director Karen Johnson. It’s rumored that she’ll be bringing with her never-before-seen comic strips featuring the Peanuts gang all grown up.
The Harvey Awards, named after Harvey Kurtzman the founder of MAD magazine, will also honor achievements in best new series, best writer, best artist, best cartoonist, among others – with most of the nominees making an appearance at the convention.
“One of the things that makes cons like this enjoyable … comic book guys are really accessible,” Nathan said.
Imagine sitting for a sketch portrait drawn in front of the guy who draws Batman. Last year, the line snaked through the convention center showroom about 60 people deep for a sit down with David Finch .
“We got some people who never do shows,” like Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore who collaborated together to create the Watchmen miniseries, one of the most critically acclaimed graphic anthologies of all time, Nathan said.
The original cover art of Watchmen No. 1 – drawn by Gibbons -- sold for more than $150,000 in Feb. 2013.
Serious collectors will no doubt, Nathan said, hang around the CGC Comics booth as hundreds are expected to check the value of their old books.
“It’s like a scratch off lottery ticket,” Nathan said.
Comics collecting dust in a parent’s basement, he offered, could be worth thousands, especially “first appearance comics.”
“No. 1’s and first appearances, especially in Marvel right now, almost every first appearance of characters is popping because everybody is fighting for these,” Nathan said. “Howard the Duck, Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s non-stop.”
A rare comic in “average” condition could sell for $10,000; Mint condition could fetch upward of $100,000. The first appearance of Spiderman in mint condition sold for a cool million.
“I’ll bet my bottom dollar, eBay is going to have hundreds of thousands graded comics to sell Friday night,” Nathan said. “If you’re a serious collector, you’re going to want to drop them off on Friday.”
But the con will draw the serious collectors and casual fans alike. Nathan said he’s hoping for a decent walk-up crowd on Friday.
“We’ve never been open when the city is open. We’d love to see people in suit and ties tomorrow,” Nathan said.
The convention met its attendance capacity on the Saturday of the show’s 2013
run. The new 2014 floor plan, Nathan said, “should be able to contain people in a much more pleasant atmosphere, rather than being elbow to elbow like last year.”
The medium itself has grown tremendously in popularity in recent years.
“What we’ve see overall is that comic book sales have increased … [and] the comic book shops are doing very well. The comic cons have grown immensely,” Manser said.
The industry itself has developed out of more accessible avenues like the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe and from conventions.
“With more of these conventions there are a lot of people who go who have never been to a comic book shop,” Manser said of the so-called “con-economy.”
Nathan’s shop, Cards, Comics & Collectibles in Reisterstown, celebrated its 30th year in business this past May.
Baltimore Comic-Con is open Friday (1 p.m. to 7 p.m.), Saturday (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) Tickets are available at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 West Pratt Street, Baltimore. Box office opens at 9 a.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $25 for Friday, $30 for Saturday and $25 Sunday. A three-day pass costs $55.