Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Turning 30 with a friend...30 years with HeroesCon

It's hard to believe that Charlotte's own 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.
It was that following Saturday at HeroesCon 2004 that I saw Phil at the Heroes booth and he blew me a kiss as I passed by. That sent boyfriend over the edge with rage...and we broke up in the parking lot after leaving the show. It was an uncomfortable ride home...but it was the last uncomfortable ride, and HeroesCon had freed me from yet another anchor in life.
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 have to say, meeting the Roldan family this year was easily one of the highlights of my convention experiences. Matthew Roldan, the 'wish child', is a charming young man who is suffering from terminal lymphoma. He and his precious family were the singular most appreciative, and deserving, family I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Matthew's wish was to meet Spider-Man, and though Phil and I had organized to have a Spider-Man costume on hand for the event, and we had several people lined up to play the part, the best Spider-Man imaginable showed up on his own the Friday morning of the show.
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
and Matthew.
Spider-Man graciously spent the rest of the afternoon with us as we walked around the convention. I introduced Matthew and his family to several creators, some of whom even did sketches for Matthew (THANK YOU Cully Hamner & Yale Stewart!!), and he got to visit a lot of vendors, some of whom donated toys to Matthew and his brother Nick! (THANK YOU to Mike Ridlen of New World Toys and Collectibles!!) But the real treat came on Saturday, when the family got to meet the one-and-only STAN LEE.

Matthew and his brother, Nick, talking with Stan Lee!
I had explained the circumstances to Stan's staff, and Stan was more than happy to help make a wish come true. He stepped away from his line of paying fans to spend a few minutes meeting with the family, taking pictures, signing a Spider-Man movie poster (THANK YOU to Justin of Regal Cinemas Stonecrest for the poster!) and even gifting Matthew with a set of special Avenger's toys. He also took a few minutes to visit one-on-one with Matthew and his brother Nick, which I'm pretty sure was the experience of a lifetime for both boys!
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.
"Why yes it is!" Stan laughed. "You know, he's a pretty good friend of Spider-Man's. Did you know that?"
Matthew nodded.
"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. 
Me and Izzy, as I'm just starting to figure out what's going on.
When Val told me that they needed me inside for a minute, I naturally assumed that we were gathering to honor Shelton and all that he has done over the past 30 years. 

The unveiling of an amazing gift...
I almost passed out when I realized that this gift wasn't for Shelton, but for me instead. Val had assembled a select group of some of my favorite artists to do a very special piece for my 30th birthday. I am now, and always will be, a die-hard She-Ra, Princess of Power fan, and Val had arranged 9 different pieces by 9 different artist, all of She-Ra characters, to spell out "Happy Birthday Karla". I was FLOORED. It was a gift beyond my wildest dreams, and something that I would have never thought possible, much less probable. The pieces are as follows: Peek-A-Blue, by Mike Maihack; Flutterina, by Cliff Chiang; Frosta, by Joe Staton; Bow, by Matt Tyree (who also did the visual layout for the entire piece!); She-Ra, by Brandon Peterson; Catra, by Andrew Robinson; Shadow Weaver, by Craig Rousseau; Scorpia, by Casey Jones; and Mantenna, by Mike Mignola.

I was so stunned that I couldn't speak. I just stood there in the middle of the room and cried like a tiny injured child. I have never felt so loved...and to receive a gift like this from such an amazing group of talented artists...it melted my heart. I can never express my gratitude to them enough. It truely was a once-in-a-lifetime present, made possible by some once-in-a-lifetime friends. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!! From the very bottom of my heart... I love you all to pieces!! 

So...here we are. 30 wonderful years later, and HeroesCon has been a constant source of love and inspiration for me throughout my life. It has brought me closer to my friends and family, it has led me to the love of my life, and it has given me the opportunity to give back to others in ways I never thought possible.
To the Amazing Spider-Man who helped me grant a wish, I know you're true identity...but your secret is safe with me. As far as I'm concerned, you are the REAL Spider-Man...as your acts of kindness made you a true SuperHero in my eyes. To Stan Lee, you sir are not only a legend, but an inspiration to all mankind. You are worthy of a legacy that will last a millennia...and even that won't be enough.

And to everyone who has ever loved something with all their heart...hold on to it. True love is special. If you take care of it, it will take care of you. Sometimes there are things in your life that you take for granted until you step back and look at the big picture. HeroesCon was just an event 30 years ago, and a trip my mother made to appease my brother, but it turned out to be much more than that for me. It turned out to be the epi-center of my life. The heart of everything that has mattered to me, and continues to matter.

I owe a lot to HeroesCon , and I plan to try to give back to it for as long as I possibly can.
It's taken care of me, in one way or another, for 30 years. Now it's my turn to take care of it.
Happy Birthday HeroesCon...you make 30 look good.

Until next year, my friend...


  1. A beautiful story, beautifully told.

  2. Karla, This is Matt Tyree's wife. He shared this with me and it is simply precious! Every part of it! I love that you and HeroesCon grew up together and you never missed a year. The sweet family and REAL Spiderman showing up just in time! Stan Lee pouring out his kindness. The way you met Phil. I love it all and I love the way you wrote it. I hope to meet you sometime. Smile, Donna Marie

  3. Thanks guys! It was my honor to be a part of everything that went on this year. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of something that reaches so many people...and has meant so much to so many for the past 30 years.

  4. I... I think have something in my eye, Karla... ;)