Every May people wait for big names to come in from New York, Hollywood, and plenty of other places to attend the Motor City Comic Con, sign their names and meet fans. But what about the many Detroiters who have made their mark on the comic book industry? For them it isn’t just another stop on the pop culture circuit, it’s a personal experience.
One of those is Gene Walker Teon of Generate Comix, a local organization that aims to generate the next level of urban pop entertainment and culture. For the past four or five years he has come to Motor City to sell his sci-fi and fantasy comics that draw from the African American experience.
Teon is in some ways a second-generation Detroit comic creator. He was the assistant to Arvell Jones, a member of the 1970s comic creator club, “The Detroit Mob.” Jones even got him two freelance jobs at Marvel and DC in the 1990s, but life got in the way and he now focuses on his labor of love — his comics.
Jones also was at the show signing comics, selling art, and doing sketches.
Source Point Press takes a big picture approach to comics and works with industry legends and new talent who specialize in horror, sci-fi, pulp, true crime, the occult, and supernatural comics. This group has helped more than 100 creators, who are mostly from Michigan, produce their multi-genre stories. To get their books sold, they travel to conventions in Michigan and other states.
The company is “very Detroit,” says Editor-in-Chief Travis McIntiire, as he cited its self-starter ways and desire to constantly moving forward. He says many local artists and writers “got on board and supported us.”
Brighton native William Messer-Loebs, best known for his work on the Flash, sees the Comic Con as a way to use his home turf to help causes near and dear to his heart.
He was at the show selling sketches to raise money for The Hero Initiative. The organization helps take care of comic professionals who may need emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work. Since its inception, The Hero Initiative has helped more than 50 creators and their families with more than $700,000 worth of much-needed aid. It is an important resource as many of them work as freelancers.
There is a personal connection for Messer-Loebs, as the Hero Initiative has come to his aid in the past. In the late 1990s when the comic industry was turned on its head, he lost his home and found himself living out of motels. He now tries to repay the organization whenever he can.
Comic book great Stan Lee is also a strong proponent of the Hero Initiative.
The Motor City Comic Con is more than big names and comic books. It also attracts many other groups and talented people.
For example, the St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit was at the show for the second year spreading word about its upcoming Highland Games in Livonia.
Rebecca Casavant brought her Ruppets. These pop culture inspired puppets are in the style of the Muppets. She started making them for people at her church and decided to expand. A self-described geek, she knew other geeks love things that go along with their interests.
The Motor City Comic Con has certainly evolved from the days of the comic-book only shows.
Arvell Jones remembers the long-defunct Detroit Triple Fanfare, which was the first fan show in the area, and one of the first in the country, to include comics. When asked about the comparison between the current giant show and the humbler one of the 1960s and 1970s he said, “(It’s) like night and day, we did it in a small hotel. My earliest memories were in the downtown Howard Johnsons.”
That simpler and more concentrated show is now a thing of the past and is missed by many comic book aficionados. While it is great the show is booming, the rising number of attendees and the reduced emphasis on comic books has caused a bit of uproar in recent years. Comic book fans, who remember when that medium was the dominant one, have grown annoyed with a perceived lack of representation and many have stopped attending. The rising prices and crowds are an even more universal complaint.
While these complaints do have their merit, for some there is still a sense of small show comradely.
While not the intimate collection of fans of Arvell Jones’ memory or the smaller comic centric shows that comic fans long for, Rebecca Silverman of RNG Originals has a very different view.
After two years at the show selling her wire-wrapped crafts, Silverman decided to try it at Wizard World Chicago last summer. She described the show as being like a trip to the mall, with an even more eclectic range of things being sold, including electronic back massagers. While she made enough selling her jewelry to justify a return, she does not plan on doing so.
After her experience with a much larger show in Chicago, she sees the Motor City Comic Con as a more low-key show and one willing to help exhibitors. She had a problem during set up that was quickly resolved thanks to the show staff. She doesn’t believe this would have happened, or at least not as fast, in Chicago.
The Motor City Comic Con has become a staple of pop culture in metro Detroit. More than 50,000 fans were there, and there was even a wedding. For many of the exhibitors it is more than just a show. It is a time to showcase Detroit, and Michigan, talent.
Messer-Loebs, who made his name with the Flash, may have said it best. “Everybody says we’re flyover,” he says. “We are the flesh of the country.”