The first ever Cincinnati Comic Expo was held last week on September 18th. Cincinnati has been notoriously bereft of a decent comic show. Even though Wizard World bought last year's lousy show, there has never been any announcement of when we will see Wizard World Cincinnati. They can just pass us by if they want. We've got it covered.
A great time seemed to be had by all. I think having it in the main concourse of the Cintas Center was a creative idea. Dealers and guests were lined up along the wall on both sides and there was plenty of room between. It was a very comic-centric show, void of the media guests that seem to dominate other shows. Those types of guests have their place, but an all-comic show was part of the vision con partner Andrew Satterfield told me about earlier.
The local dealers were out in force, with half of the Cincinnati-area shops having booth space, as well as a shop down from Dayton. Some local businesses I saw were new to me, like Lego dealer Cincinnati Bricks. Even a well-known publisher, Moonstone Books, was there with a special Captain Action comic. Rounding out the show was a large small press presence, very reminiscent of SPACE.
For me, this show was about the main guests - Michael Uslan, Murphy Anderson, Alan Bellman and Russ Heath. Uslan is many things to comics - an historian, a professor, and a writer, but he's probably best known as the man who acquired the movie rights to Batman and worked to get a movie made when everyone else thought it was a bad idea. This may be the reason Uslan always seems to be smiling. I missed Uslan's keynote address at the con, but heard it was entertaining and informative. He graciously signed my copy of the 70's paperback "America at War: The Best of the DC War Comics." Uslan also shined as the moderator of the panel pictured above. He kept the panel and listeners engaged, expertly dividing questions and time among the three guests. Kudos to him for also overcoming the intolerable noise situation coming over the partition from the gaming room next door.
Looking like an aged screen idol, the dapper Murphy Anderson sat calmly with his wife and genially signed comics all day. He had no wares to hawk, rather he had sixty years of comics history there for the asking. I am a latecomer to his work, only recently discovering, through reprints, his large body of work for DC, particularly the heroes of the Silver Age. His soft baritone voice was sometimes hard to discern in the panel. I did hear what to me is a surprising admission, that his most satisfying work is when he had the contract to do "P.S. Magazine" for the military, having taken over from his mentor Will Eisner. Anderson signed my copy of the Captain Action guide. Anderson was the primary box artist for the venerated toy line.
I don't recollect hearing of Allen Bellman before his appearance for this show was announced. He left comics after the Golden Age, and his work has rarely been reprinted, so it's no wonder (though Marvel has been doing more and more in that era). Bellman was a bullpen artist for Marvel, then known as Timely Comics, in the 1940s. After he left comics, he thought that was it. Almost fifty years went by before he was sought after for interviews about his comics work. This opened up a whole new world of conventions and recognition for Bellman, highlighted by a standing ovation as an Inkpot Award winner at the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con. In Bellman I found a fellow Milton Caniff devotee. "I used to sleep, eat and dream about Milton Caniff," Bellman told the crowd. "He was a god to all the artists." Bellman even started an amateur version of the National Cartoonists Society and asked Caniff to write an article for their newsletter. To his surprise, Caniff wrote him back. "The greatest adventure of my life was getting a letter from Milton Caniff."
I spent the most time with Russ Heath, who I wrote about last week. I brought seven different books to sign, and he not only signed them, he would also peruse them and talk about the work that he did. He did this at length on my copy of "Little Annie Fanny", on which he collaborated with Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder and Frank Frazetta. "It's very hard to know who did what," he said, as multiple artists would work on the same page, and sometimes the same panel! He paged through it methodically, telling me who did what. It was a one of a kind history lesson from the last man left to tell the tale. Phenomenal.
Heath is a mystery - seemingly curmudgeonly and unapproachable, but then talkative and humorous. Uslan asked him about pop artist Roy Lichtenstein's swipesof his work. "He made $4 million on it and never even bought me a cocktail," Heath lamented with a smile. But not to worry. "I can relax, 'cause he died. I can't get at him." Heath was asked about why he was a stickler for artistic accuracy, particularly in his western and war work. He brought it back to childhood, when he went to see a Western with his father, a former cowboy. His father complained about the movie's authenticity. Those impressions stuck with him when it came to drawing comics. "I wanted people to think I knew what I was talking about." For example, as he signed my copy of 'Hearts and Minds', his 1990 graphic novel for Marvel, he complained about how they got some of the colors wrong. "I took a long time getting that right," he said, still bothered by it after 20 years.