HeroesCon 2012, America's Favorite Comic-Book Convention, has already come and gone. I'm still reeling over the fact that this was the 30th Anniversary, and that I've attended EVERY SHOW.
I started attending HeroesCon in 1982, 13 days before I was actually born, when my 13 year old brother threatened eternal hatred of me if I was the reason he didn't get to attend a comic-book convention. His threats against the unborn served him well, and two weeks later my overly pregnant mother drove him (and me too, I guess) the hour from Lincolnton to Charlotte in the sweltering heat of a 1978 Granada to attend the first ever Heroes Convention.
I have to say, that first show must have been worth it, because we continued to go back the following four years as a trio, my brother, mother and me. It was in 1987 that things started to change, and I thought I was going to miss the big event I had grown to love.
My brother announced that since he had his own car and could drive himself, he would be going without my mother. I was too scared to ask him if I could go too, though I wanted to more than anything...(big brothers are sometimes scary to little sisters...especially when they duct tape you inside a refrigerator box and threaten to ship you to Clemson on a regular basis) My fears, however, were unfounded, as on the morning of the convention my brother woke me up super early (it might have been more like Noon...but anytime before 4pm was early for me back then!!) and told me to get ready, we were leaving in 10 minutes!! I remember rushing to get dressed. I was only 5 and not necessarily gifted at dressing myself. I remember running out with my shirt on inside out and backwards and wearing two different shoes. My mother laughed at me as she fixed my outfit and made my brother promise to keep a close eye on me.
And that was it...the beginning of the pilgrimage that would last another 15 years for one big brother and his little sister. We went every summer without fail. It was almost my birthday present every year, sometimes it was actually ON my birthday. It turned into a ritual celebration that nothing could interfere with. We scheduled vacations around it, we avoided family reunions because of it. HeroesCon was OUR thing, and it was the one time of the year that I was proud to be a "nerd", as I was so deemed by my classmates growing up. At HeroesCon I fit in. At HeroesCon I was the "cool girl" who read comics and watched cartoons. As I got older, I even got a few compliments about being the "cute girl" who read comics. It was good for me and my self esteem. It made me feel like I belonged somewhere...which can be hard for anyone to find, especially a teenager. Going to HeroesCon was like going home once a year. Those were my people, and I couldn't wait to see them again the next year...
In 2003 though, for some reason, my brother couldn't make the trip. He had two kids and a job that had him traveling around the state and sometimes the country. Our dad had been in and out of the hospital a lot from 1999 to 2001 and I had gotten rather familiar with driving to Charlotte, so I decided to make the trip with my then boyfriend. I remember being a bit overwhelmed by the trek. I was 21 and with a guy who didn't read comics and thought the idea of a comic-book convention was juvenile (that should have been my first red flag!). Even though I was super happy to be back at HeroesCon, it was weird to be there without my brother, my mentor and trusty side-kick. It just felt like something was missing.
Thankfully though, those feelings of weirdness didn't keep me from making the most of my first convention without my brother. I walked through artist alley and looked at peoples prints and sketches, I bought arm loads of books from various vendors, and I bought three new Masters of the Universe comics from a guy named Val Staples, who flirtatiously signed them for me. (It would be years later that Val and I would become fast friends, and work together to make some really amazing things happen in the MOTU world, ex: Power-Con / ThunderCon!!) I remember feeling like Heroes was part of who I was, and I wasn't about to give that up for anyone or anything...which made the most difference the following year when I met Phil.
I was still dating "Mr. Not-Quiet-Right" from the year before when I met Phil at the Heroes store the Monday before the convention in 2004. He had mistakenly asked my then boyfriend what he could help him find and I rather rudely redirected his attention to me, the one he should really be assisting. "A thousand apologies my lady," he said as I blushed, "what can I help you with?!" The boyfriend chewed me up one side and down the other all the way home that night for flirting with the guy at the comic-book store. But it didn't matter...Phil had flirted his way into my heart, and he was never going to leave.
|Me and Phil at the HeroesCon After-Party in 2006.|
I started going to the Heroes store on a regular basis after that, instead of my regular 3 or 4 times a year, and I eventually got up the nerve to ask Phil if he was ever going to ask me out. He gave me his phone number on the back of a Heroes bag, and we've been together ever since.
It was in 2005 that I started volunteering behind the scenes of HeroesCon. It was mind boggling!! All the work that goes into the little comic-show that could!! It's incredibly impressive how something as big as HeroesCon runs on the man-power of a select few. It was like watching an orchestra perform!! I continued to volunteer for the show every year, right up until early 2012. It was in February 2012 that Heroes stepped in and, once again, changed my life.
Shelton Drum, owner of Heroes Aren't Hard to Find and organizer of HeroesCon, asked me to dinner and made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. He offered me the job that it seemed I had been preparing for my entire life...the position of Events Coordinator for the shop and the convention. I had been working as a graphic designer for 12 years at an area newspaper at the time, but there was no need for consideration, I said YES immediately...and quit my job at the newspaper the following week.
So this year was my first year as a true "Employee" of the convention, and not a mere "volunteer". Sure, it was a LOT of work. Even though we spend months planning, there is always too much to do, and there is never enough time to do it all! And sure...it was REALLY rough a couple of times, but would I change a second of it? Not a snowball's chance in Hades!!
This year I got to meet the incredible Stan Lee, I got to spend time with remarkable talents like the magnificent Earl Norem, Adam Hughes, Cully Hamner, Mark Brooks and more, and best of all...I got to help answer a wish for the Carolina Sunshine, a Make-A-Wish foundation organization.
I was contacted a few weeks before the convention by the Carolina Sunshine, an organization that grants wishes for terminally ill children in South Carolina. I was told about a 5-year-old who's wish it was to meet Spider-Man, and the organization didn't know what the best way to grant his wish was. He was too small and fragile to go to an amusement park, and meeting Spider-Man wasn't something that they felt they could do justice by buying a Spider-Man costume from their local Wal-Mart. So they turned to Heroes for help. I was more than happy to help them answer his wish, and so they sent the family the two hours north to Charlotte to attend their first HeroesCon.
|Me and Matthew, slinging some webs at HeroesCon 2012.|
I approached Spider-Man and explained our situation to him, and he, in typical Superhero-form, was more than happy to help us out!
When Matthew and his family arrived at the show Friday evening, Spider-Man ran out and greeted them in true Spidey-style, sliding across the floor with hands ready to sling webs! Matthew looked up at Spidey with true wonder in his eyes and raised his little arms for a hug. Spider-Man looked at Matthew and said, "Oh MAN!! You want to give ME a hug?! I'd be honored little buddy!!" Spider-Man then leaned down and gave Matthew a true Super-Spidey hug. He asked Matthew if it would be alright if he carried him around the show for a little while, as there were villains all around (pointing toward a couple dressed as Harley Quinn and the Joker). Matthew agreed to a lift from Spider-Man but leaned down and told Spidey, "it's okay, that's just Harley and Joker, they're just shopping too..." Spider-Man looked back at me for a second, and I could see that his Spider-mask was wet from tears. It was almost too much to take in. The kindness in the heart of this tiny Hero was limitless, he just wanted everyone to have a good time.
|Spider-Man and his friends pose for a photo with me |
|Matthew and his brother, Nick, talking with Stan Lee!|
When Stan met with the family, he leaned in to introduce himself to Matthew and said, "Hey there, Matthew, I'm Stan Lee! Do you know who I am?!"
Matthew nodded, but didn't say anything.
Stan then said, "You know, I'm kinda like Spider-Man's dad."
To which Matthew said, "nuh uh, Uncle Ben was Spider-Man's dad."
Stan looked surprised, but smiled at his little friend and said, "well, you know...you're right! I couldn't take care of Spider-Man the way I needed to, so Uncle Ben took care of him for me."
"It's okay," Matthew said. "Uncle Ben was a good Dad."
"Yes, he was. Wasn't he." Stan replied as he patted Matthew on the arm. He then leaned down to Matthew and asked, "Do you remember what Uncle Ben taught Spider-Man? With great power..."
"Comes great responsibility...," Matthew finished.
"My goodness, but you are a smart young man!" Stan declared.
It was then that Stan noticed the Wolverine toy Matthew was holding and said, "well, well...now who do we have here?!"
Matthew handed him his action figure and said, "that's Wolverine!"
|Stan tells Wolverine to watch Matthew's back.|
"You know...he's also a good friend to have when the going gets tough!"
Stan then held the Wolverine up and spoke to it, "Now Logan," he looked at Matthew and said, "I can call him Logan, me and him go WAY BACK," Matthew giggled.
"Now Logan," he started again, "this is my friend Matthew, he's a TRUE BELIEVER, so you watch his back for me, okay?!" He then handed the figure back to Matthew.
Matthew looked at the Wolverine figure, then back at Stan. He then looked at Wolverine and said, "Watch his back too," and pointed at Stan.
Stan looked at Matthew and smiled, he placed his hand on Matthew's arm and said, "You take care now, True Believer." He then shook the hands of Matthew's family and turned and put his hand on my shoulder and smiled. He didn't have to say anything to me. His look said it all.
He waved to us and to everyone who had gathered around as he made his way back to his booth.
It was a true Heroic moment that I will never forget as long as I live. No matter how big and important Stan Lee is to thousands of fans all across the globe, he wasn't too big to share a moment making a memory for this little family who needed it. It was as touching and sweet as any moment I've ever had the good fortune to experience, and I will be forever grateful to Mr. Lee and his staff for making it possible.
Stan Lee is a TRUE HERO, and he will forever have my respect and gratitude for what he did for the Roldan family.
While meeting the Roldan family, and seeing what HeroesCon meant to them...it helped put a lot of things into perspective for me. HeroesCon was turning 30, and so was I. It was a beautiful milestone for both of us. We had grown up together, HeroesCon and I...and it was nice to see what HeroesCon meant for the new generation. It hadn't grown old, it had grown GREAT. I'd like to think that I'm following that same path.
On the Sunday night of HeroesCon each year, we throw an After-Party for our guests called the "Dead-Dog Party". It's a time when HeroesCon staff and guests can finally sit down together, share some food, drinks and conversation, and just enjoy each other's company and trade stories from that year's show. I was particularly surprised by this year's party though...by some very special people who decided to honor me with a very special birthday gift.
My friend Val Staples (and Phil, though he swears he had very little to do with it) had organized a very special 30th Birthday present that they presented to me at this year's After-Party.
Until next year, my friend...