Saturday, Sep 27th, 2014

Hot Times in Baltimore (part two)

canwellposted by Bruce Canwell

Last time we gathered in this space I discussed my experience at this year's Baltimore Comic Con. In early September I made the trek south with my long-time friend Mike Dudley; once in town the two of us connected with our mutual pal, DC and Marvel Comics artist Lee Weeks. At the convention I got a couple of autographs—met for the first time folks like Joe Staton, Andy Runton, Tom Palmer, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez—and renewed acquaintances with Denis Kitchen and others. Mike D. got even more autographs, met even more folks (Dave Gibbons, Alan Davis, Walt and Weezie Simonson ...), and got a great half-price deal on a Joe Kubert Artist's Edition volume, to boot.

Of course, we didn't just hang at the convention during our three-plus days in Baltimore! We landed just after 4:00PM on Thursday, September 4th, traveled by train into the city and got settled into our hotel room by 6:00PM. We knew that less than an hour later the Baltimore Orioles would be ending their home stand in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. Since Mike and I both love baseball, who were we to pass up the chance to go to a game in the delightful Camden Yards?

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Baltimore is the birthplace of The Big Bam, Babe Ruth, whose father ran a café on the current site of Oriole Park. Here's the team's modern-day statue honoring the immortal Bambino.

 

The game itself was a spirited 9-7 slugfest in which the Os took a big early lead, only to have the determined young Redlegs tie it seven-all in the late innings before a final late push gave Baltimore the victory. Being used to seeing games at the major leagues' oldest ballyard, Boston's Fenway Park, Mike and I were impressed by the spacious concourses and clear sight lines Camden Yards affords its patrons. Ticket prices - about half what one would pay at Fenway - were also a welcome revelation.

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Root-root-root for the home team: the Orioles in action.

Yet Thursday night had even more cool aspects than a pleasant baseball game. I mentioned in the previous essay that one of my goals in traveling to Baltimore was meeting Westfield Comics Content Editor Roger Ash, who each year helps plan and run the comic convention's slate of programming. Dudley and I left our hotel and hit the streets, heading to the ballpark, around 6:10PM. Despite the late-rush-hour time of day, foot traffic on the sidewalk was sparse. We hadn't walked even a block and a half when I spotted someone walking in our direction who looked mighty familiar based on two or three pictures I'd seen.

"Naaaah," I said to myself, "it can't be—what are the odds?"

The other fellow got closer, said, "Bruce ...?", and then there was no doubt—we had bumped into Roger Ash on the streets of Baltimore. (This gives a welcome new slant on the idea of "pedestrian events!") Mike and I spoke with Roger for perhaps ten minutes, promising to connect with him again on Friday before we resumed our walk to Camden Yards, and indeed, Roger's and my paths crossed during each of the next two days. I owe him a debt of thanks for steering me toward the convention's Saturday panel devoted to Charles Peanuts Schulz; that was an informative hour, one filled with terrific historical photos and original art taken from the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. Thanks again, Roger!

After crossing paths with Roger, we had one more random encounter in store. Last time I mentioned that Dean was going to be in Baltimore on separate business, and we had agreed we'd connect sometime while we were in the city. Who could have expected that would happen Thursday evening in the "Orioles Store" adjacent to the ballpark? Mike was shopping for family members and I was on the prowl for Christmas presents (never too early to get those bought and in hand) when I came around a display rack and - there was Dean! He and the folks he was visiting had decided to take in the game as well. We didn't speak long, trading bon mots and agreeing to have breakfast on Saturday morning, but it was slightly wild, seeing both Roger and Dean within the first hour of our officially being in town, and before Lee Weeks had even arrived in the city!

Mike and I connected with Lee on Friday morning, helping him set up his table on the convention floor for the official 1:00PM start of the show. By 2:30PM Friday I left the convention because I had a 3:00 appointment scheduled at the Geppi Entertainment Museum—and Friday, in many ways, became "G.E.M. Day."

My appointment was to meet the VP of Publishing for Gemstone Publishing, J.C. Vaughn, another of the many folks with whom LOAC has helped me develop a pleasant e-mail acquaintanceship even though we've never met personally. Both J.C. and I knew this trip offered the perfect opportunity for us to get some face time, and I'm grateful to him for taking two hours out of his busy schedule to yak with me - I had an absolute blast, and I'm hoping J.C. had at least half as good a time as I had!

He was also a great host, giving me a personal tour of the museum. I would recommend the Geppi Entertainment Museum for anyone visiting Baltimore who has an interest in comics, movies, television, pop culture artifacts, and ephemera of all sorts. It is easy to find, located in Camden Yards, right next to the Orioles's ballpark, on the second floor of the same historic building that houses the also-excellent Sports Legends Museum.

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Take the stairs to the G.E.M. and enjoy these giant-sized cover recreations.

There was a private event at the Museum that evening and J.C. arranged it so my friends and I could attend. That evening Mike Dudley and I made our way to the G.E.M. (Lee had a previous dinner engagement with about two dozen other comics artists and scripters) and I was able to show Mike all the wonders I had seen earlier in the day; we subsequently discovered more besides. What am I talking about, you ask? How about:

• A large room displaying a variety of comics down through the decades. Enter and you're greeted by a display case featuring copiesof Action Comics # 1, Detective Comics # 27, and the first Walt Disney's Comics & Stories, all in beautiful condition. Walk around to the other side of that case to see a row of beautiful Spirit newspaper sections. A separate room currently celebrates Milestone Comics and is loaded with artwork and artifacts centering around those characters and their creators.

• An excellent display on the growth and development of television, from Howdy Doody to '50s Westerns to '60s spy shows, and all sorts of memorabilia tied to commercial advertising.

• Wonderful exhibits tied to late 19th/early 20th Century newspapers and the first heroes of the comics: The Yellow Kid, Buster Brown, Little Nemo, The Brownies, The Kewpies, and more.

• Extensive movie artifacts—the walls of the Museum are filled with lobby cards, posters, and other movie artwork. Keep an eye out for the letter to George Herriman's daughter, expressing sorrow at "Garge's" passing, written and signed by none other than Walt Disney!

• There is also a room currently devoted to the 75th Anniversary of Batman. Not only did I get to pick up Commissioner Gordon's red Bat-phone from the 1960s TV series, I was able to tilt back the head on the Shakespeare bust from that show, the one with the button that activated the sliding panel leading to the Batpoles and the Batcave. I'll spare you a "Holy Something-or-other" gag here—but it was pretty cool!

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Another display the G.E.M. - how many familiar characters can you spot?

Our time at the Geppi Entertainment Museum ran longer than expected because just about the time Mike and I were getting ready to leave, whom did we spot in the lobby but Dean! He had wrapped up his own dinner engagement and came to the G.E.M. event, just as we had. So we spent close to another hour re-visiting some of our personal favorite exhibits and finding J.C. to bid him good night and an additional round of thanks.

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LOAC's very own Mutt and Jeff

Saturday morning Dean, Mike, and I convened again over breakfast; Dean was heading back to his home that afternoon, but as noted in my previous travelogue, Saturday was primarily a day at the convention for me. Not entirely devoted to the show, however—around 2:00 PM I crossed paths with Mike and we departed the Convention Center for a short walk up Light Street to the historical Federal Hill section of the city and a fine used bookstore, The Book Escape. I had visited this establishment during a prior trip to Baltimore and came away mightily impressed; Baltimore, I thought during that earlier visit, had a really top-notch collection of bookstores, but The Book Escape struck me as among the best. This time I came away without making a purchase, but Mike nabbed a couple of digest-sized Portuguese reprints of 1970s-era Captain America and the Falcon comics. Couldn't find those at the con!

Saturday night Lee, Mike, and I got together for dinner at a pleasant steakhouse. The high temperatures that had blanketed the city during the past three days began to break a bit thanks to a brief rainstorm. Even after the rain stopped, heat lightning flashed intermittently across the skies above the Inner Harbor. We called it a night sometime around 11:00PM; Mike and I were en route early Sunday morning to Marshall Airport and our return flight to New England.

Since then everyday life has consumed me with some far-from-everyday events, one of which caused me to shed more than a few tears. My memories of September, 2014 will always contain that very sad milestone—but I know that indelibly etched in those memories will also be this exceptional trip to Baltimore and the wonderful Baltimore Comic Con. It was a trip where old acquaintances became new friends and where old friends renewed and strengthened their ties. Who could ask for anything better ...?

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A calm Inner Harbor morning, looking out toward Federal Hill.

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