Robot 6

Talking Comics with Tim: Dustin Harbin



HeroesCon is one of my favorite comic book conventions. This year the convention will be held from June 19-21 (Father’s Day Weekend), in Charlotte, N.C. With the date fast approaching I caught up with Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find’s Creative Director, Dustin Harbin, to find out what’s planned for this year. I have to agree with Harbin, who described “the straight up 100% comics vibe, without all the actors and movie stuff and all that” as being part of what makes the con appeal to folks like myself.

Tim O’Shea: A few years back, Wizard tried to create a con to compete with HeroesCon–but that’s far from what happened. Ultimately how much do you think the industry rally to support HeroesCon (as opposed to Wizard) helped bolster the reputation of HeroesCon?

Dustin Harbin: Ha ha, welllll we have made a point of not really making a big deal out of that whole kerfuffle. Just in terms of being classy, I guess. But to comment directly to the second part of your question, I think we had a pretty great reputation with most of our guests and exhibitors, and that whole thing just ended up advertising to the larger industry how well-liked we seem to be.

That’s maybe a distortion though–obviously I’m predisposed toward thinking that HeroesCon is very well-liked–but it was really the very public efforts of a lot of creators that really got people riled up. Cully Hamner and Tony Harris and some others immediately came out with pretty direct responses, and then a lot of pros that had never attended the show before threw their hats in the ring, like Greg Rucka and J. Michael Straczynski.

O’Shea: Every year, HeroesCon seems to have certain fan favorite pros return to the con, but for some pros, this may be the first year they’ll attend the con. Care to mention some of the pros attending for the first time this year?

Harbin: Oh gosh there’s a ton. Without thinking too hard, there’s Ed Brubaker, Steve McNiven, Dustin Nguyen, Jason Lutes… Brian Michael Bendis is coming this year, though he technically used to attend back in the day when he was doing Jinx and Goldfish for Calibre. Shelton (Drum, HeroesCon’s owner and founder) is working on confirming a couple of names I can’t talk about yet, but fingers crossed!

O’Shea: What’s your involvement with the con planning?

Harbin: Shelton and I organize most of the convention between us; Shelton is like the Godfather, the public face of the show and kind of an industry icon in his own right. He handles a lot of the hard stuff like actually wrangling contracts with venues and hotels, dealing directly with pretty much all of the 200 or so exhibitors, and just generally overlording it. Plus he’s been around in comics since the mid-70’s, so a lot of our guests have known him for years and years–he usually comes back from different stops on the convention circuit with half a dozen new guests for our show, just from chatting with different people.

I’m like a Tom Hagen dude–when I’m not hiding horse heads in people’s beds, I do a lot of the nuts-and-bolts organization, figuring out the schedule, wrangling guests and all the Small Press tables, Indie Island, that kind of stuff. Plus all the design and marketing work, website, blah blah blah. Shelton’s stuff is more fun, I think.

O’Shea: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that you and Shelton face in planning the con, particularly in a year when the economy is struggling?

Harbin: Well you pegged it–it’s all about the Benjamins. Even in the best year, money is on our minds all the time. Organizing a 3-day comics convention is outlandishly expensive, and everything seems to be priced like those $25 bolts you’d hear about the military using in the 80’s. That’s Shelton’s other big responsibility, and one he can keep–he does everything that involves money. I would lose my mind if I had to worry about paying for all that stuff.

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But, and please imagine me knocking on wood like crazy, so far the economy has been pretty kind to us this year, and advance tickets sales are, if anything, UP over last year at this time. I think our sales numbers are marginally lower, but our store manager Shawn Reynolds had already tightened her orders around last fall, so we’re running leaner and more profitably than we might have been otherwise, and Shelton is selling comics at pretty much any convention within a day’s drive of Charlotte, so having revenue from that angle is great too.

O’Shea: This marks the fourth year of Indie Island, a 10,000+ square foot section in the middle of the convention, dedicated to indie and alternative comics creators and publishers. What are some of the folks to watch out for at Indie Island this year and how much has this part of the con grown over the past three years?

Harbin: This is actually the fifth Indie Island–the first was back in 2005. I hate to play favorites, but it would be silly to pretend that people aren’t going to freak out over Jeff Smith being here. The guy is one of the few cartoonists that people outside of comics circles recognize; there are something like two million copies of Bone in print, right? Insane! Plus we love Jeff–we’re all big fans of his, so it’s exciting to have him back. I think the last time he was here was in ’98 or so with the second Trilogy Tour.

As I mentioned earlier, Jason Lutes is making his first appearance this year, which I’m personally pretty excited about. He’s coming with a contingent of returning cartoonists from the Center of Cartoon Studies in Vermont, which for my money is turning into a real talent factory. Recent graduates like Joe Lambert and Chuck Forsman are just on FIRE–I expect them to be the Chris Ware’s and Dan Clowes’ of the next decade or so. It’s kind of exciting to be in on the ground floor of their careers. Wait who was I talking about? Oh yeah Jason Lutes–HE’S COOL TOO.

O’Shea: Will SCAD be hosting workshops at the con this year? How did these workshops get started at HeroesCon in the first place?

Harbin: Yes! We love these guys–I can’t remember whose idea it originally was, but Tom Lyle, who a lot of your readers will remember as a former Spider-Man penciller, is a professor down there, and he brings up a ton of instructors to do those workshops. For those who don’t know, there are two each day, all pointed at teaching some of the basics of making comics. In the next week or so we’ll be publishing our Event Schedule on our site, with all the details of each of the six workshops. But they will be FREE, which I think you’ll agree is cheap at twice the price.

O’Shea: Other than the standard excitement that comes with the big two (Marvel and DC) panels, what panels do you hope will be of great interest to attendees this year?

Harbin: I’m still finalizing a lot of the panels right now–as I type my desk is covered with papers and notes and my cat (kitty get down!)–but some of them are in a shape where I can talk about them a little. I know that Ben Towle and Craig Fischer are doing another of their in-depth overviews of an artist’s career (last year was Harvey Kurtzman), this time focused on Steve Ditko’s work. I plan on doing more full-on spotlights on individuals this year, as well as group interviews–I think those are fun. When you have funny guys like Matt Fraction and Brian Bendis in a room, it seems like a no-brainer to have them interview each other. Not to mention economical.

O’Shea: I recently saw Roger Langridge’s piece for the Art Auction, can you mention other folks who will have art up at the auction?

Harbin: I know a lot of people are planning on either bringing originals to donate, but I’d say about 60% of the pieces are done live at the convention. We set up a little stage with easels and a ton of art supplies, and fans totally freak out watching guys like Adam Hughes and Brian Stelfreeze painting live on big pieces of illustration board. It’s a celebration!



Sounds like this could be one of the best Heroes ever! It’s always a great time for all. Thanks guys!

I’ve been going to Heroescon since the days when it was a “mini” and I didn’t even have my high school diploma. They are always tons of fun, but these days my three kids are all just about out of high school or college, and I still can’t wait for the next Heroes Con to start.

Maybe Shelton or Dustin can treat me to a beer or a gin & tonic this time around.

Great interview with Dusty who is too modest about all of the hard work that he does to make the Con the success that it has been. He is absolutely right that it is a three day celebration of all that is wonderful about comic books. The artists and writers are available and generally super friendly to the fans. The Con is family (kid ) friendly, and you would be hard pressed to pack more fun and excitement into three days. Shelton Drum should be very proud of this great event that he has created for comic fans in the South. This year truly looks like it has one of the best lineups of star writers and artists ever !

Chris Schweizer

May 26, 2009 at 4:34 am

I usually gravitiate towards the indie shows (SPX, MOCCA, etc), but Heroes is hands down my favorite show. It has all the comic-centrism of the indie shows but isn’t confined to any one type or style; it’s a chance to get to see my friends who work for Marvel/DC, have a fun, laid-back time, and meet tons of potential readers that I otherwise might never get to. Dusty and Shelton really bend over backwards to make this one heck of a great show year after year.

Yay for HeroesCon! We love it, and look forward to it all year long. We appreciate EVERYONE who helps make this show the best that it is!

CAN’T WAIT for HeroesCon this year! It’s our first time exhibiting and we picked this con for a reason. They have an amazing line up of artists.

Year in and year out, HeroesCon is able retains all the magic of the famed comic conventions of the past.
There is a great feeling in the air as soon as you enter.
The focus is on fun, family and comics.
Most other large conventions I’ve ever attended feel like they have lost their soul.
I know the focus of any business needs to be profitability, but the feel of money-making should not carry the day.
With Shelton, Dustin and crew, it is a love of comics and desire to provide a great time for all!!

Wow you guys are so sweet! Shelton and I don’t do it alone, although I’d claim all the credit if I thought I could get away with it. Shawn and our Warehouse Manager Seth Peagler are hugely instrumental in taking care of a lot of the nuts and bolts on-the-floor work at the show, not to mention the rest of our staff and a massive army of volunteers. Yeah, and this year is going to be crazy CRAZY–we just added Marvel Comics, Chris Claremont, and David Mack to the list over at our blog: Wait is that crass to put a link there. Oops I did it!

Heroes Con is the centerpiece of my year, same with my friends. We hit a few shows over the course of a year but Heroes is the main event. It’s what everyone says it is: fun, accessible, relaxed and you really do feel like you’re part of a family, from the time in line in the morning, to time at the hotel bars and local restaurants.

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