The weekend of September 19-21 was Cincinnati’s second comic-based extravaganza, the Cincinnati Comic Expo. After a long time of Cincinnati being one of those cities that gets passed over for not being the state capital, it took me by surprise that I had two conventions to go to and that they were in the same month. At the end of the day, Cincinnati Comic Expo might be a misnomer for the actual experience. While there are certainly tons of comic book retailers and comic book related merchandise, most of the promotion seems to go in a different direction. Many of the guests at the Expo who were promoted heavily in the materials were elder statesmen of the medium, like George Perez and Marv Wolfman, Mark Bagley and Neal Adams, or they were more pop culture figures, such as Henry Winkler, Paul McGann and John Rhys-Davies.
There’s no way for me to talk about the Expo without framing it in reference to the Cincy Comic Con earlier in the month. They are two different beasts, but they serve different purposes. Where 100% of the guests at Cincy Comic Con were working pros, up and coming talent, and lots and lots of indie creators on artist alley, and the only thing that cost you money were physical goods—books, prints, sketches, etc. The Comic Expo had a lot of indie creators, but they got lost in the shuffle for the most part, and many of the heavily promoted guests were charging for autographs. It rubbed me wrong, but it’s the Expo’s perogative. The floor itself was dominated by a huge vendor selling t-shirts that literally rose up two stories, taller than everything else in the convention center. All the legendary creators were situated around the edge of the center, and the currently working ones like Mike McKone, Koi Pham and Allison Strejlau got relegated to the maze inside the room.
A lot of my issues with the Expo honestly weren’t with the kind of affair it was—there’s a time and a place for a convention that’s based around the pop culture that comic books spawn, and this was the time and place for it. My problems lay more with the organization of the convention itself. More space and promotion was given to giant Lego models and the Tom + Chee stand inside the center. (Not to slam Tom + Chee—that place rules. It’s just not a comic booky thing, really.) The Expo seemed a little tone-deaf to me, in terms of what it was promoting.
One prime example of that would be the gentlemen the Expo positioned as security figures, manning the exits and whatnot. They were all dressed as STARS agents from Resident Evil, with prop guns. The guns all had the orange tips that denoted them as toys, but the way most of them were being held in such a way that I walked in and legitimately thought there were armed guards. I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, I didn’t know the President was coming to Cincinnati to meet Lou Ferrigno.” It seemed off-key, especially given the national attitude towards open carry of assault weapons right now. Not wrong, just weird.
I will say that the amount of vendors there with cheap comics was staggering. I walked away with a bunch of recent back issues for half price or so, a Lee/Kirby Thor, a copy of the first issue of Jack Kirby’s 2001: A Space Odyssey... it was an impressive haul, if I do say so, and I had to exercise a lot of restraint. They’ve got this aspect of the convention figured out, for sure. They just need to figure out if they’re promoting the comics, or if they’re promoting the celebrity guests. Whichever one they land on, that’s fine. I just want to know when I pay my 50 bucks for a ticket what exactly I’m gonna get.