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.
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!