Encountering Classic Creators And Comic Art At Toronto Comicon 2019

by Koom Kankesan

The 2019 Toronto Comicon ran between March 15th-17th. Despite the name, it’s not the BIG Toronto show (that would be Fan Expo during the Labour Day weekend) but it is a very satisfying medium-sized show. Situated between the smaller Fan Appreciation show around Christmas and the Fan Expo, the Toronto Comicon has some of everything: comic creator artist’s alley, celebrity guests, comic books, cosplay events, and merchandise.
In fact, as usual, there were a lot of people in cosplay gear simply milling about on the upper floors of the Toronto Convention Centre, not buying tickets or entering the convention proper at all. In a way, there’s something for everyone. I guess the convention organizers don’t mind the cosplayers who don’t buy tickets and simply show up in costume to be snapped in photos and gather with their friends.

I did notice that the number of tables selling strictly comic books seems to be shrinking. There only seemed to be two vendors with lots of boxes of $2 comics – I guess there are no dollar boxes anymore, really. Between the two of these, I tried to complete a run of early to mid 80’s Daredevils spanning the Denny O’Neil writing run and came close. I asked one of these vendors why more of those sales aren’t happening and he said that since the cost of tables is fairly expensive, vendors only want to put out the ‘primo’ stuff. And this is what I noticed too – many dealers are selling slabbed collectible golden age and silver age (with some bronze and copper age) comics, like this Superman #1 graded at 0.5 condition – the asking price was a whopping $75,000 US!

There seemed to be a lot more tables selling pure merchandise of one kind or another than ever before and it seems as if the comics are slowly being phased out. Is this an indication of future trends – will comic conventions become purely the memorobilia arm of the TV and movie franchise world? Will there be a future for comic collecting as everything gets increasingly digital? I don’t know, dear reader – you tell me.
Kevin Boyd, who is the connection I know best at Informa, the company that organizes these shows and other conventions worldwide, is in charge of the comic guests at these shows. I’ve always found Kevin to be extremely personable and kind and perhaps just as important, devoted to the purely comics aspect of these shows. I appreciate that he doesn’t just pull in new artists that are the flavour of the month but attempts to get older creators who have contributed to the history of the medium.

One such amazing individual he brought in was veteran editor and writer Denny O’Neil. Denny is perhaps most famous for his association with Batman and the Neal Adams issues, not to mention the Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow series (which ran the infamous Speedy being hooked on heroine story). Other veteran creators who were brought in were Mike Zeck and his longtime collaborator/inker John Beatty. I’ve written on this site about how much I like Mike Zeck’s work so it should come as no surprise that I was thrilled to meet Mike and John.
I got a chance to do a forty minute interview with Denny (it’ll be released through the Deconstructing Comics Podcast around April 3rd) and was surprised to learn that since he was the editor on all things Batman for a while, he was the one who pushed for The Killing Joke to be published without tampering with the script (it had apparently been languishing at DC for a while and I guess some people were really undecided as to what to do with it). He would have also overseen Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and during a spotlight discussion in which O’Neil was interviewed by Mark Askwith, O’Neil only had the most complimentary things to say about Miller. He talked about pushing for Miller over Roger McKenzie on Daredevil when he realized the newcomer’s talent.

The people in the comics biz would play volleyball in Central Park and O’Neil said that Miller was a capable volleyball player but he would ask O’Neil the most intelligent and interesting questions about storytelling and craft on the way to the games. Later, the two became friends and had dinner once a month and continued to discuss craft. O’Neil talked about the importance for the need to write over the need to be a celebrity, the need to dedicate oneself to storytelling and craft, and he came over as a very genuine, interesting, spirited, humble, intelligent, progressive, entertaining person. I had no idea he was this wonderful and it is nice to be genuinely bowled over by veterans of the comics business like this. It was part of the reason I hunted down those Daredevil issues he wrote after interviewing him.

Other veteran creators who were at the con were Arvell Jones and Steve Englehart. I do not know much about them or their work. I’d heard a little more about Englehart and chatted with him for five minutes but there are always things about the industry that I’m finding I know nothing about. Much of my comics reading these days seems to be trying to tease out the threads of the seventies or eighties I know nothing about. I worry that I’ll always be about a decade or two behind the times! One creator I did know is Dave Ross who is a Toronto local – here he is after signing a Punisher page he drew all the way back in 1988:

In terms of being behind the times, I stopped actually ‘collecting’ comics a long time ago (it’s hard to maintain such a hobby financially as you get older) but I do have a soft spot for original art. Not many people bring original art to conventions in Toronto (I gather there is more art at US shows) so whenever there is any, I have to take a look. Artists in the Artist Alley sell art of course but because my mainstream interests (as opposed to my interest in indie comics) tends to be older, it’s rare that an artist who was working in the seventies or eighties will have any art from that period left. I was able to do a couple of trades though with one vendor who did have a scattered assortment of original art in portfolios. One of the pieces I got is a large sketch of Maureen from Paul Chadwick’s Concrete. It’s a relatively early sketch of Maureen from the year after Concrete debuted. I traded a Paul Chadwick published Jurassic Park page for it:

The other thing I got in a complex trade is a page from Green Lantern #60. This normally wouldn’t be my thing but it’s from the late sixties and I don’t really have anything from that time. I found the writing so quaint and lovely (I don’t mean this in a condescending way), not to mention the style and size of art and yellowed paper charming. I am told that this particular Gil Kane page is not worth as much as others from the same time period for various reasons and that perhaps I lost out a little in the trades but I don’t mind. I much prefer to trade or partially trade than buying outright these days: everything is so damn expensive, trading can be mutually beneficial to both parties, you get something new, and it takes me back to childhood when trading comics really brightened up my day.

Another thing I’ve done in reaction to the expensive price of art is to get recreations. Some collectors turn their noses up at the idea of a recreation. However, since the main drive behind collecting art is nostalgia and I’ll never be able to afford some of my very favourite pieces (and it’s more about celebrating the art, not replicating it), I’ve commissioned Gregory Woronchak from Montreal to recreate a few favourite pages like this one of Daredevil in action from Daredevil #227. At the Comicon, I paid Rob Dumo, a cartoonist from upstate New York, to colour the page and I was very happy with the results:
All in all, it was a very lovely convention and it’s always a pleasure to cover these. As I jokingly posted on my Facebook wall, this might very well be my nerdy middle-aged equivalent of Club Med!

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