Motor City Comic Con

 

Con Recon: Motor City Comic Con
Novi, Michigan (May 18-20, 2018)
Mike Morello

 

My brother lives outside of Detroit and goes to Motor City Comic Con in Novi, Michigan pretty much every year. In the past, he has reported back to me that it has been “just okay.” Thus, I have avoided it.

Essentially a regional show that is often populated with local shops’ tables and local customers, this year’s lineup and scope seemed to be much more robust than in previous years.

So, I saddled up and took the nine hour drive from Nashville to finally check it out. There were at least a few worthy artists and a nice weekend with my family, looming.

Long story short, I thought it was a fantastic con from an organizational standpoint: the artist guest lineup was excellent, the talent guest lineup was equally excellent, the variety of dealers was vast, the layout of the floor was well-conceived and, put simply, there was a little something for everybody.

The disappointments of the weekend had nothing to do with actual con itself, but instead, with the comics dealers, themselves, and one particular artist.

Let’s break it down…

 

ON SITE

 

 

The Building and Grounds

Novi, Michigan is hardly the bustling metropolis suggest by the name “Motor City Comic Con.” One would expect Detroit, but Novi is about 20 minutes out from there.

As such, while there is some commerce, it is a fairly quiet area. The con itself is in a small “convention center” (I use that term loosely) that connects to a Hyatt Hotel. Essentially, it is one huge concrete-floor room.

There appears to be a fairly large addition going on to the convention center which should allow future shows to be bigger and more spread out.

Currently, the show is actually a little too big for its britches. On Friday, it was quiet enough to get a parking spot in the lots right outside the con and to get in the door.

However, on Saturday, later arrivals had to park out in satellite lots and get shuttled in only to find themselves waiting for up to as many as two hours to get through the door. I did not attend on Sunday, so I cannot speak on that.

Beside that, however, there were really no other negatives to the con’s organization and congratulations should be in order that it has outgrown its home a little. 55,000 attendees were expected

Inside

Once inside, the floor layout was well-planned. All artist guests were to the left (more on artists, below), the dealers in the middle (more on that, below, as well) and the talent guests to the right.

The aisles were wide enough for fairly decent movement other than at the height of the Saturday rush from about 12:00 noon to 2:00 or 3:00pm.

That can’t really be helped. General “flow” of the foot traffic was pretty good. Additionally, the rows were truncated into thirds so that one could hop rows without going to the very ends to do so.

This helped quite a bit. Oddly, one aisle seemed narrower than all of the others. A nit-picky detail, but it seemed weird.

My only criticism of the floor was the actual floor, itself. Ugh! Concrete for 12 hours was pretty brutal. Some carpet or rubberization would be REALLY nice.  

Otherwise, there weren’t nearly enough bathrooms in the building. Really there was one inside and one outside the hall. Hopefully, this will be remedied with the current addition/renovation that is happening.

Food

Well, to be fair, the food was not great. Luckily, I was warned in advance about this and prepared by bringing my own, but what I saw waltzing around was pretty sub-par. Pizza, hot pretzels… that kind of stuff. It felt like a school cafeteria.

With no real outside-the-con options for food, this should really be ramped up. It should be like Gen Con and other cons where food trucks are allowed on the premises. With that said, there was ample dining area with tables and plenty of chairs.

Other

Lexus had a pretty sweet setup of a promotional replica of the Black Panther film car. They were also giving away a comic called Black Panther: Soul of a Machine which seems to be going for a little bit… $15-$20.

 

 

ARTIST ALLEY

 

There were 229 artists/creators at this con!!! WOW!!! That is a huge amount. Artist guests were set up along the left-most wall in four rows.

What I particularly liked was that the high-end/famous artists were interspersed with the lesser-known and local artists.

Not only did this spread crowds out, nicely, it also potentially exposed up-and-coming artists to more new customers; while people were waiting to talk to a big name, they could peruse some artists they were unfamiliar with.

This was a wise choice on the part of the organizers.

Big artists for the show (in no particular order other than from my brain) were Neal Adams, Frank Quitely, Brian Stelfreeze, Jae Lee, John Cassaday, Babs Tarr and Arvell Jones (I’m sorry if I left your favorite off this list). In short, there was a lot of talent, there.   

 

 

As I mentioned in my Cover Tunes #7 article, this week, I had the great pleasure to really sit down with Brian Stelfreeze who was a phenomenally nice guy.

He was extremely generous with his time as we spent over 30 minutes chatting on Friday and another 20 minutes on Saturday.

We talked mostly about technique and the current market, other artists (with a particular focus on a hilarious story about Bill Sienkiewicz) and about nerd things, life and art, in general.

It was a refreshing conversation. I watched him work on two pieces (an inked piece of Punisher and a fully painted piece of Wonder Woman) and both were fantastic.

Watching him in the process was fascinating. This was the highlight of the show for me.

 

 

I was also able to chat a bit with both Frank Quitely and Jae Lee, both of whom were extremely cordial and obviously there to enjoy and meet their fans.

I commissioned a great little Wolverine head sketch from Jae Lee that I love. Many of the local and lesser-known artists that I spoke with were also quite nice, especially Adriana Melo who did the cover art for the con program, pictured above.

John Cassaday was only at the show from 2pm-5pm on Friday and Saturday and his lines were crazy-long. Thus, he was taking no commissions of any kind which was completely understandable.

Frank Quitely’s commission list filled up rather quickly, but he was great to chat with even though he was quite busy and had taken the very long trip to be there.

 

 

Now comes my one piece of negativity… Babs Tarr. A buddy of mine sent me to Michigan with a blank cover in order to get a sketch from Babs Tarr.

Thus, I was waiting at her table on Friday, with other fans of hers, to get on her commission list, right away. Not only was she late to the show, but her handler told those of us waiting that Babs would be doing no commissions of any kind.

I would have understood this if she were busy, but her table was virtually a ghost town all weekend. When I went back to her table, on Saturday, she had posted a sign that she was only doing torso sketches for $395 or more!!!!

WHAT THE WHAT?!?!  Who the hell does she think she is?

I mean, Neal Adams was charging less and he’s FREAKING NEAL ADAMS… A LEGEND. Babs is a nobody, in comparison. Jae Lee only charged me $60 for my commission and his list of accomplishments makes Babs’ look like an empty slate.

I would have thought, initially, that there was some actual reason for her inability to draw, last weekend (such as a sprained hand or something).

But then, when she put up a sign that said she WOULD sketch for a lot of money, my compassion went quickly away. Needless to say, she pissed off a lot of her fans.

I spoke with a few of them who had been hanging around her table and many of them expressed disgust over her pomposity. I saw people snapping pics of her sign and I can only assume that social media will be rife with some ugly comments about this decision.

She did not ingratiate herself to anyone. I think the juxtaposition of her doing this alongside really famous artists who were more than willing to please their fans puts her ego into sharper focus. Frankly, she’s not good enough to warrant such an arrogant decision.

 

 

DEALERS

 

Not a ton to say about the dealers other than that the variety of types of dealers was really nice. There were 145 dealers and 36 additional crafters which were mostly in the back of the room.

There were plenty of comics , LOTS (read as “too many”) gold, silver and bronze keys, modern toys, vintage toys, modern comics, statues, animation cels, larping weapons and cosplay costumes, pops, schlock, posters (vintage and modern), T-shirts, custom game controllers, etc.

You name the nerd thing and it was probably there. Bravo for such a nice variety.

The toy and “other” dealers all seemed priced accordingly and/or pretty low and willing to haggle a fair amount. However, the comic dealers were REALLY high priced.

So much so that even haggling was pointless since “haggled” prices still wouldn’t have gotten you in the ballpark of correct value. It was a shame.

There probably were a few decent high-end deals to be had, but I certainly didn't see any. I will say, though, that if you were looking for high grade slabs, they were aplenty; all eras, all grades. I mean, there were even 8.0-9.0 range golden age, there.

One dealer had three slabbed copies of Amazing Fantasy #15. Inasmuch, for the regular human, 90% of the stock was unattainable and seemed to be there to NOT sell; only for show.

There were three dealers, though, that had modern spec stuff and decent prices. All three were willing to haggle and I was able to pick up 10 or 12 really good books at great prices.

Most dealers had runs of Red Goblin and Cosmic Ghost Rider on their walls (it was the thing I saw most), but VERY little Carol Danvers/Kamala Khan which was unfortunate. I was really hoping to come away with a few good pieces of that.

Many dealers also felt very “old school” in that you often had to shout across a sea of long boxes to get their attention in order to get anything taken down from the wall. It was a little annoying.

Zenascope had a pretty big booth set up with models signing people up for the mailing list and giving comics away for free. There was a Motor City exclusive which was limited to 500 copies.

It was just okay. I passed on that one. CGC and CBCS were also there, although, they were unfortunately not doing any onsite grading.

 

 

TALENT GUESTS

 

I’m not a talent guest guy, nor do I hunt autographs, but the talent pool was pretty large and varied. The area that was set up was huge (which you can see from the floor plan shown, above).

There were 45 media guests and highlights included (based on longest lines) Val Kilmer, Stephen Amell and Summer Glau. Lines were well managed, booths were spread apart nicely and aisles were wide.

Of course, everyone wants too much for a signature, these days, so that’s just bad, everywhere.

 

COSPLAY

 

Cosplay was a little weak at this show. That clearly was not the focus. There were a few cool costumes as shown, below, but I was disappointed, overall.

 

 

 

I think that about wraps it up. I will definitely be going back, next year. It was a surprisingly good con despite the few hiccups listed, above.  

Thanks for reading,

Mike

8 comments

  • Ben C

    AWESOME!! Love reading this reports, well done!

  • dpiercy

    This was great; level of detail and the photos, too.

    Jae Lee is awesome. I talked with him for about 20 minutes at Lexington Comic Con in March. I asked him about his unique style and how it evolved. He self effacingly replied, “ I don’t know, it just kind of happened. I guess I wouldn’t make a very good teacher.” 😂 He was sketching an awesome Black Bolt with no references; quite impressive.

    • Also met Jae at Lexington, super nice guy. I don’t collect sketches so I didn’t get a commission, but I got some sigs and talked to him for a bit.

  • I enjoyed your review. I do disagree with your assesment of Babs Tarr. Maybe you caught her on an off moment. I asked for an autograph and to take her picture for my scrapbook. She was kind and graciously made a free head sketch in my son’s and my own autograph book. She charged us nothing for the pair and it really made our day. Mr. Arvell Jones did a head sketch in my son’s book for free as well. Normally he charges $5 for an autograph. To repay him I’m talked with him about growing up in the Metro Detroit area as comic book shops took root. I’m not a fan of paying for autographs, but I respect a creators decision to charge or not charge as long as they are up front about it before making the transaction. I also did pay for Jae Lee’s autograph.

    • Mike Morello

      I’m really glad you had a nice experience with Babs Tarr, especially for your son’s sake. That sincerely makes me happy. It feels more like you caught her on a good moment than me catching her on a bad one since I witnessed this behavior over 2 full days. She had a lot of very patient and polite folks waiting for her who wanted to gladly pay for a sketch. On Friday, she flatly turned them down. On Saturday, she put that sign up and the language on that sign doesn’t lie. I agree there are all kinds of legitimate reasons for an artist to not sketch (see my descriptions of Cassaday and Quitely, above) and I’d be the first one to support it and champion them, but she had no reason. She was just being greedy. $395 starting price? That’s just ridiculous and her reputation doesn’t NEARLY support that.

  • misfit138

    Babs did a nice re design on Batgirl, however to think that she can charge $395 is insane!!! She’s good at $100 or so. Tyler Kirkham is $100 and I feel he’s much better for 24% the cost!! Jae Lee does full bodies for like $200ish doesn’t he (?), and he’s Jae Lee!!! Natali Sanders can get away with $395 and she charges like $1200+. This industry is getting out of control. To think that she has a handler too?????!!!!! Crazy. I’ll stick with someone cool like Amanda Conner, Kristen Gudsnuk or the very very cool Katie Cook!!!! Katie was only charging $10 for a little sketch!!!! She did a killer Luke vs Vader sketch for me last year for $20 on a Star Wars blank. Babs Tarr booooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!! I am boycotting her work. Not that I bought it anyways.

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