By Josephine Valois
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Hundreds of artists from across the nation gathered on the last weekend of September to showcase their work at one of the most popular comic book conventions on the East Coast, Baltimore Comic Con.
For artists like Nate Lovett, a self-described “cartoon-y” artist from Columbus, Ohio, conventions such as Baltimore Comic Con provide great opportunities for getting exposure and gaining a following in the comic book industry.
“I’ve been doing comic book conventions for probably 10 years or so,” Lovett said while sketching at his booth during the convention. “My first year at Baltimore was last year and I had a great time so I wanted to come back. It has definitely helped show off my work. I love meeting my fans and seeing their reactions to everything I create.”
Lovett, like many other artists featured at Baltimore Comic Con this year, has seen a steady increase of interest in comic book culture over the years. He began illustrating for the comic book industry in 2000 after finding little opportunity with traditional 2D animation. He said the comic book industry has been growing tremendously ever since.
“I really attribute that to Robert Downey, Jr.,” said Jeremy Bastian, an artist from Michigan showcasing his work at Baltimore Comic Con. “I think his performance in Iron Man really made comic book movies a thing. It opened up comics to a whole bunch of people that really just thought they were for kids and made it cool to like comics again.”
Bastian said that there has been a renaissance in comic books and, much like Lovett, he is very thankful for the exposure that he has been granted from it. Bastian said it was only a matter of time before comics became a “norm” in society.
Baltimore Comic Con is held annually at the Baltimore Convention Center on Pratt Street. The convention began in 2000 at the Sheraton Hotel in Towson, but two years later moved to the convention center due to its popularity and growing number of attendees.
This year, the convention boasted approximately 30,000 to 40,000 guests throughout the event.
The convention showcases comic book creators, exhibitors, vendors, distributors, writers and artists. In the event’s artist alley, attendees can meet their favorite artists, purchase comics and other related merchandise and partake in costume contests.
Panel discussions with content creators from Marvel and D.C. are held each day and feature the latest information on their projects, as well as meet and greets with television stars such as Ming Na-Wen from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“It’s the only convention right now that is purely comic book driven,” said Mark Zeller, a staff member at Baltimore Comic Con. “You’ll hear some regular attendees from other cons say that this is the only place where you can actually get to meet the artists face-to-face and have a conversation with them.”
Local artists like Steve Blickenstaff, a Frederick resident that has attended Baltimore Comic Con for eight years, appreciate the “closeness” that the convention brings. While the event continues to bring more interest to the Baltimore area, the relationship between artist and attendee remains warm and welcoming no matter the size of the crowd.
“It’s just gotten bigger and bigger,” Blickenstaff said. “People take comics a lot more seriously now than they used to, but I love that the whole atmosphere has remained the same. A lot of the time I get contacted by people after the show asking to commission my work.”
Although Baltimore Comic Con highlights comic book art in particular, many artists began showcasing their work in Baltimore to spread the word of local art being created in the area.
Portrait artists such as April Alayne have noticed that a large number of attendees have supported her work both in and out of the convention scene.
“My very first convention was a tattoo convention and I took that $700 gamble on a table and it worked out for me,” Alayne said. “It literally changed my life. I’m creating art full time now. I had to quit my job last year and I’m very fortunate that I can do what I love.”
Alayne said that while she is new to the comic book community, she finds herself welcome. Alayne started promoting her art on Etsy in 2009 and “it blew up from there,” giving her the opportunity to branch out into different artistic events.
Baltimore is one of many cities throughout the nation to feature an annual comic book convention, and it has successfully promoted comic book culture in the area for both attendees and artists.
“There’s never a dull moment here at the convention,” Blickenstaff said.