Traveling to Orland ofor Megacon this year, I was already bracing for what I thought would be certain disappointment. The guest list was the weakest I have seen in the several years I have attended this show, comic books are always a highly unreliable commodity, and there would be no meeting with the Tampa Fanboy contingency (which thankfully did take place a week earlier in Tampa). The terrible weather that dogged Byron and I from the time we left Jacksonville until we entered the outskirts of Orlando, did nothing but reinforce the mood.
One of the reassuring things about these excursions is there always seems to be enough secondary activities to compensate if the main one is not a success. Upon arriving in Orlando on Friday night, we enjoyed another year of our traditional dinner with John and Amy Thrailkill at Alfonso’s. Nothing alleviates an over two hour drive in inclement weather like the magical combination of pizza, hot wings, and beer! This also gave us an opportunity to draw up battle plans for the next day’s adventure at Megacon before retiring for some much needed rest.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, Byron, John and I headed out for the Ponderosa breakfast buffet on International Drive. As we knew from previous years, this place is fast, filling, cheap and convenient. By 9:15, our stomachs were filled, the caffeine was kicking in and we were ready to trek two blocks south to the convention center and commence plundering!
This was the first time Megacon has been located in the new section of the Orange County Convention Center and it took up a large portion of the South Concourse. Admission was increased to $24 per day this year or $55 for a three day pass. Thankfully, parking remained $6.00 at the convention center. We knew something was different as soon as we arrived because the traffic to enter the parking area seemed longer than usual. Our suspicions were confirmed once we entered the main hall and saw what must have been in excess of three hundred people standing in line to buy tickets and many more waiting for the doors to open. Even though it was only 9:30AM, thirty minutes before the show opened, John still had to stand in line for what he estimated was an hour to purchase his admission.
After dropping John off, Byron and I made our way down the winding line towards the main doors, marveling at just how many people were here first thing on Saturday. I realized the show was going to get mobbed very quickly once it opened so we dashed inside to get photographs of the dealer’s booths and exhibits before things got too crowded for this to be practical. Moving quickly, we were able to cover a good deal of ground and get some great shots before we heard the announcement that the show was starting. As the sea of customers came flooding in, I decided to get a few minutes of shopping in before things got too hectic. It was nothing other than blind luck, but I hit three dealers, all within close proximity of one another, and was tapped out for just about all I felt comfortable spending in no more than thirty minutes!
The first dealer I visited had a sizeable selection of Bronze Age comics (mainly from the 70’s) and all for $1.00 each! These comics may not have been bagged and weren’t in exemplary condition but at that price, who cares? This was a bonanza for a true reader like me and I made short work and a decent stack out of the titles that appealed to me. Moving on a few yards, I encountered a slightly different pricing tactic than I have seen in the past. This dealer had all of his comics divided on the table into two halves. Everything on one side was $20 and everything on the other was $10. This may seem a little pricey but once I saw some of the titles and issues, I realized just what a bargain these were. I found a lot of near misses on both sides but finally walked away with some key DC Silver Age issues including the first appearance of the Phantom Stranger (in Showcase #80) and the first issue of his self titled comic for only $10 each. Proud additions to my collection indeed!
I was in an understandably good mood after coming away from two successful purchasing sprees so early in the show but I was in no way prepared for my next stop. Having grown up between the tail end of what is considered to be the Silver Age of comics (1956-1969) and the bulk of the Bronze Age (1970-1979), I have always had a special affinity for the Golden Age (pre 1955) stories that I read as reprints and saw referenced in current (for that time) titles. Unfortunately, Golden Age comic books are also the rarest, most desirable among hardcore collectors, and therefore most expensive category in the hobby. Megacon has always boasted an excellent selection of these books but the prices have been outside what I was willing to pay for all but a precious few. My Golden Age collection is so small that I don’t even bother keeping a list because I remember everything I have and the possibility of accidentally purchasing duplicates is highly unlikely.
As I approached the tables for Motor City Comics and studied the selection of premium merchandise on the back walls, I realized they had an impressive and varied inventory. I immediately launched into my well rehearsed litany of what I was looking for and my stringent price range while also assuring them that, if they could meet these criteria, a sale was almost assured. Now nine times out of ten, I am either told I am out of luck before the spiel finishes crossing my lips or I am offered items that fail to meet the reasonably broad terms I have just outlined. This was that tenth time though when I struck Golden Age gold! Some bone and number crunching negotiating followed that would have made Ralphie’s father in A Christmas Story proud but when the dust settled I had some outstanding purchases.
In addition to four issues of Sensation Comics (a Wonder Woman headlined title that, more importantly, featured Wildcat, Mr. Terrific, and Sargon the Sorcerer in backup stories), I also acquired two issues of what I consider to be the holy mother of all Golden Age books – All Star Comics. For the majority of its 57 issue original run, All Star Comics was home to the world’s first superhero team, The Justice Society of America. JSA stories, in addition to featuring the most popular characters of the time (except for Superman and Batman who were “honorary” members), are considered some of the best and most influential ever produced by DC Comics. It was, in fact, the revival of this same group in the early 1960’s that lead to the creation of multiple earths in DC continuity and paved the way for every Crisis that has followed.
Reeling from my purchases, I staggered back to my group at approximately 10:30 in the morning and announced that I was done! Byron and I had picked up the sole ambassador from Tampa, Lonnie Dohlen, around my second purchasing stop and Richard “Dragoncon” Blair had just arrived. Rich was attending his first Megacon, along with his wife Connie, as chaperones of their son Patrick’s anime club (I promised not to hold it against them). John also arrived on the scene about this time and for one fleeting moment we were a cohesive unit. While I steered John towards the dollar comic payload I had discovered, the rest of the group headed for the celebrity section. By the time I caught up with them a few minutes later, Lonnie and Byron were nowhere in sight so I spent the remainder of the show with Rich and Connie.
For the first time since I have been attending conventions of this size that feature media guests, I did not get a single autograph. The guests at this year’s show were clearly divided along two distinct lines. On one side were those related to current popular programs like Adrian Pasdar from Heroes and Erica Durance from Smallville. These were actually the only two people I saw with anything resembling a line for their autographs in the three plus hours I was there. On the other side were performers from older classic series but these were almost all people who have been guests at shows in the Central Florida area multiple times in the last few years. For the record, Gil Gerard, Cindy Morgan, George Lowe, Marc Singer (who I never even actually saw but was on the list), Erin Gray, and Mark Goddard offer almost no appeal to anyone who has attended any of these shows in the past three to five years. This is not to imply that these people are not talented or not in demand in certain areas, just not in this area after all the recent times they have been here. It doesn’t matter if these celebrities are paying their own way or even purchasing tables, if they are listed in the publicity materials for the show as guests, this implies that some portion of the funds for celebrities were expended on them when it could have been put to a better use.
For the remainder of our time at the show, Rich, Connie and I perused the other vendor tables which offered an incredible selection of all things related to fandom. In addition to the expected anime and comic book merchandise, there was a decent quantity of action figures, jewelry, artwork, clothing, gaming supplies, and even weaponry (which seems to be more popular each year) on display. There was a small selection of vintage toys to be found and you could even get a new tattoo if you were in the market for one! Surprisingly, the number of bootleg DVD vendors seems to be continuing to decline at this event while they are increasing at others. Hopefully the promoters of Megacon are becoming more quality-conscious in their selection of what merchandise to allow here as this certainly improves the overall image of the event.
It may have been the increased size of the show space or the larger crowd by comparison, but there seemed to be fewer people in costumes this year. There were still plenty on display and those attendees who went to the trouble of dressing up had put a lot of work into their costumes. In addition to the usual display of Jedi and Stormtroopers, there was an incredible costume of Mr. Freeze from the Batman series that looked almost like a walking cartoon character. My personal favorite was a gentleman dressed as Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern but Mr. Freeze was a very close second.
As my group wrapped up their shopping, we took a break in the largely empty gaming area. Byron caught up with us a few minutes later and John eventually turned up but we couldn’t locate Lonnie. Comparing our loot, Byron stocked up on some Star Wars gaming pieces he needed and bought an independent film on DVD that caught his eye. John was weighted down with no less than three bags full of comic books, all purchased from the dealer I had hooked him up with earlier. With our pockets empty and arms full, it was time to call it a day for Megacon and reconvene at the Crazy Buffet for some well deserved refreshments!
As we worked our way out of the convention center, we were amazed at the line of people still heading in. I estimated there were at least two hundred people in some phase of entering and Byron put this number even higher. The event hall was already crowded when we left and it appeared it was going to get worse. There was even a line of cars heading into the lot as we left and this was after 1PM. Its obvious Megacon is the top dog of comic/collectibles shows in the South and growing stronger every year.
Not having the highest of expectations for the 2008 Megacon, I think it’s safe to say I was blown away by the time I left. Granted, comic book finds are an incredibly fickle proposition but the search is half the fun. Hopefully, some thought will be put into the celebrity guest list for next year to bolster this sagging area. If this year’s attendance is any indication of what the future holds for this event, I highly recommend you purchase your tickets online and get there early in 2009!