About thirty five minutes outside of the hustle and bustle of Baltimore, where fans are ranting about the Orioles, and reveling loudly to music as cars fly by in a wanton manner; lies a sleepy town in Howard County, Maryland called West Friendship, the home of a small Comic Convention.
West Friendship is a glimpse into the past and what Maryland used to be. Farmland sprawled as far as the eye could see. It is quiet and peaceful. You see people take the time to stop and say good morning to each other, and wish each other a nice day.
It is a place that brings me back to how things were when I was younger. When things weren’t so rushed and demands were low. You could afford to take the time to actually enjoy a minute of your day.
This is where I found myself today. I was at Galacticon, a small Comic convention located at the Howard County Fairgrounds. The experience was a pleasant, and memorable one.
A Small, Yet Important Convention
Galacticon isn’t a convention that you see on the news. You’re not going to have Kevin Feige appear to do a press conference on Phase Four of the MCU. No trailer premiers, or special screenings are going to be found.
It is a good, old fashioned convention. It is akin to a swap meet, or flea market with costumes. You might not get the bells and whistles, but conventions like this are in some ways more important than the mega church style conventions that dominate the news.
This is a place where the gate keepers don’t deign to go. This allows actual fans to have fun. Socially awkward people have a place to go where they can feel at home for a day, and maybe try their hand at cosplay without being harangued for getting Loki’s mask wrong or getting the shade of red wrong on your Flash suit.
People are free to be themselves and embrace their quirkiness. I came across one young man strolling through the convention in what appeared to be Superman pajamas.
“You like Superman, huh?” I asked. “What’s your favorite story?”
“SuperBoy!” the young man corrected me in a playfully condescending tone. “SuperBoy has stripes on his socks. That makes his uniform cooler.”
Whether that is true or not, the passion and confidence behind the young man’s stance on the matter won the debate. That kid was in his element. Nobody was going to take his moment away from him.
I found myself at Galacticon, because I was helping a friend run her booth. Kelly Beckham who runs Halcyon: Signs By Kelly picked me up at my Annapolis home at around Seven A.M. Starting our day.
We got to the fairgrounds, and set up. It was a relatively quiet morning. Kelly has a vast catalogue of work, considering the fact that she’s a one person operation. Her husband Drew, who I was filling in for, 3d prints little trinkets for small sales and giveaways. Other than that, it’s Kelly’s show.
“I’ve never worked this particular Con before.” She said. So I don’t know what to expect, so I brought a little bit of everything.” As we unpacked, I hung up a near-perfect hand painted picture of an Old Bay can.
“I take one of those to every Maryland show.” She explained. “At bigger cons, and around the holidays, its a hit.” She’s not wrong. Marylanders are crazy about the stuff. They put it on everything.
Kelly’s approach to her craft is interesting. She creates signs that look cool, and are references to everything from “Star Trek” to the “Zelda” franchise. But it’s not just portraits of Mr. Spock, and Link. They are pieces that serve as references to things within the given property. That’s her artist trademark. Paraphrasing Kelly: “Anybody can put a picture of the Death Star up, or have a portrait of a Xenomorph. I like to add a little bit more. I like for fans to have something more than a movie poster copied onto a piece of wood. I also like for it to look appealing to somebody who might not necessarily be a fan.”
So, “Harry Potter” fans can find signs for The Leaky Cauldron. Alien Fans can proudly display a billboard advertising life in Hadley’s Hope. “Star Trek” fans can show off their advertisement for The Redshirt Union, where you can enjoy a generous death gratuity.
It is a fresh, original take on a market that has become bogged down with replica movie posters and overused quotes. A huge talking point for Mrs. Beckham’s product is integrity. She does not, under any circumstances use a cricut machine, or stencils.
Everything is done from start to finish, by hand. Her only aid is a ruler for spacing. Depending on the details and colors involved, each piece can take between four and six hours to make. It is truly a labor of love.
Kelly’s journey to this point was not an easy, or traditional one. She doesn’t have a fancy art degree hanging on her wall. She doesn’t intern for anyone, and she doesn’t have the connections that most career artists do. She comes to each Convention equipped with only her skillset, her confidence, and her dedication to geek fandom and culture. She makes the most out of every opportunity, and her art is generally very well received.
Her skills were honed at her day job, where she is an integral part of the Trader Joe’s sign team. “I started on the sign team under Ashley Schiotis.” She began to explain. “There, I learned quickly that lettering, and spacing can make or break a sign. So I kept working on it. Now, here we are.”
The hard work, and persistence paid off. When you display one of the pieces from Halcyon, you can see and feel the dedication and work put into it. This was made with integrity by a dedicated fan, for other dedicated fans, or people that just think that it looks good. She doesn’t judge.
People like Kelly are extremely important to geek culture. It might not seem like it, but with each sign comes questions from onlookers who are genuinely interested. Somebody seeing her “Lord Of The Rings” Prancing Pony sign, and asking about it subversively reinvigorates interest into the property.
This is the type of work that helps keep a community and culture thriving. So the next time you are at a convention, and you see “Halcyon: Signs By Kelly” at a booth, stop for a minute. Take a look around, and enjoy the passion behind each piece. You’re going to find something that you like.
That’s a guarantee.
Coastal Peaks Comics
We had a lot of interesting neighbors at Galacticon. Each booth had a story to tell, and tell they did.
Operating out of Ellicott City, Maryland; Coastal Peaks Comics is operated by a man named Derrick. His whole family is enjoying the Con, but Derrick has his son, Devon manning the stand with him. Coastal Peaks is run almost entirely off of Derrick’s personal collection. “I had trouble reading when I was a kid. I had a relative who worked for Marvel Comics, and it helped me out. Eventually, the collection built up.” He explained.
He is working with his son to teach him the importance of money management early in life. A large portion of his collection is graded by the CGC. If you are close enough, he will hand deliver your order himself to ensure its safety on its journey to your collection.
Also operating out of Ellicott City, Hawksmoor’s menagerie sells hand painted pieces for tabletop gaming. Each piece is painted carefully and with great detail. Proprietor Laura Farrell can even be seen plying her trade in person while people are admiring her booth. “It calms my nerves.” she explains.
Although, I saw little to be worried about, the pieces were beautiful.
Knight Of The Abyss
Across from us, I saw a young man with his own creation on display. Quintin Dorsey is the creator of “Knight Of The Abyss” a Manga style comic about Ninjas, Revolutionaries, The Ancient Abyss, and Ominous Prophecies.
Mr. Dorsey raised almost twenty thousand dollars to publish Volume One. His Volume Two Kick Starter is running now.
The Charm City Ghostbusters
If nefarious paranormal beings decided to show up, a call wasn’t necessary. The Charm City Ghostbusters were on hand to keep us safe.
Have no fear, Superhero Support is here! They were on hand to make our days brighter. Superhero support is a charity that visits sick fans in the hospital, and raising general awareness.
Words From Ken Hunt
Long-time industry artist Ken Hunt was present, signing autographs, and drawing for fans. He was kind enough to share with me his opinion on the state of the comic book industry. Here is what he had to say:
“We (The Comic Book Industry) were blindsided in the nineties. What people don’t realize, is that before Image came along, Darkhorse was the only (Notable) independent company. They had been around since 1986. Then, Todd (McFarlane) and those guys left Marvel. They made an immediate impact. Image Comics blew things wide open and caught everyone by surprise. What I will say about the state of the industry today, you ask? I would say that we are (turning a corner) and we will keep it going, if you get your kids involved. You have to do that. Guys like you, and the other mainstay fans are already here. We know you’re going to be here. You guys have to be willing to pass the torch to the younger generations.”
I likened the situation with the American comic book industry to the woes that the auto industry faces.
“That’s not a bad analogy.” He replied. You had guys buying the same brand of car for years, auto brands were a tradition passed from generation to generation, then it stopped… (We) are fortunate to have the opportunity to avoid that, and turn the corner. But you have to get the young fans, and the kids involved, and engaged. If you do that, we will be as good as we’ve ever been.”
If passion, and engagement is all that’s needed to keep this thing of ours alive, I would say that events like Galacticon lie at the heart of that statement. The fans here have that in spades.
So let’s all sit back, and be thankful for the Conventions that celebrate the real fans. Without them, we lose everything worth having a convention for.
What do you think, GNN faithful? How do you feel about small Cons? sound off in the comment section!
Thank you for reading. when I am not writing, you can find me spending time with my wife, Barbara, My two year old daughter Frankie, My Hound Dog Marbles, and my Ferret, Ms. Farrah Pawcett. For more fresh, geeky content, check out our youtube page. Stay Geeky, everybody!