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Charlotte, NC Scene Report

This week’s scene report is brought to you by Dustin Harbin. I first met Dustin at Heroes Con back in 2008. Check out this picture of me, Dan and Tim at the ComicsComics panel they had for us. Boy, that was a fun show. Dustin was working for the show’s organizer and was in charge of “Indy Island”- and he got to create this awesome show within a show. There was literally a big spot in the center of the hall that was for us indy guys. Jaime was there. Evan Dorkin was there. The Pittsburgh crew of Jim Rugg, Ed Piskor, and Tom Scioli. Sammy Harkham. Kevin H. Brian Ralph. Me, Dan and Tim. In Charlotte, North Carolina? This was the kind of show that Michael Golden went to. Chris Pitzer introduced me to Matt Wagner – that should tell you what kind of show it was. Lots of great back issues – a classy old school convention. It wasn’t really an “indy” show – but Dustin made it into one. (Or tried to. Long story) That was where I first met Tom Spurgeon. And his hi-larious brother, Whit. Saw Marc Arsenault – whom I hadn’t seen over a decade. There was a Dub music and Hot Rod show slash dance party in the same convention center that year. So in the hotel bar there were a lot of 6 feet tall Amazon women every night. One morning Brian Ralph had this amazing story about getting into the dance party. It was a really fun time and I always think if it wasn’t for Dustin most of us “indy” guys wouldn’t have gone to that show. So, thanks, Dustin.

Mr. Harbin has become quite a cartoonist since we first met. I asked him to fill us in on the goings on in his hometown of Charlotte. Check it out after the new DeForge cartoon! Over and out.

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INTERMISSION FUNNIES by MICHAEL DEFORGE

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Charlotte, NC scene report
by Dustin Harbin

Charlotte is a weird city, in that it has a fairly large comics readership, but lacks a truly vibrant comics scene; though the seeds are there. Most of the existing comics community is related in some way to Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find, one of the larger comics shops in the country, the organizer of the yearly Heroes Convention, and my employer for most of 14 years.

Shelton Drum started out in Charlotte selling comics at flea markets and by mail order back in the 70′s, and then in 1980 he established Heroes in a teeny tiny little space just around the corner from where it is now. In the boom years of the late 80′s and 90′s, Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find had as many as six different stores going at one time, from Florida up through Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I showed up in 1996 just in time to usher in The Great Comic Book Miasma Of The Late Nineties–within a couple years, Shelton had shrunk his mini-empire down to one shop, and since then has focused on just making that shop the best shop.

I say that Heroes is the center of the Charlotte comics scene not out of loyalty to my former employer–although I am loyal–but more because I really think there would be no real scene at all without him. Shelton built comics up around here, has consistently–even despite my arguments to the contrary when I was doing the ordering–insisted on carrying the most complete stock possible, and through Heroes Convention has brought thousands of comic book pros to town over the last thirty years. There are other shops in Charlotte, but for my money without the bulwark of Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find through the lean years, Charlotte would just be one of those cities with a couple of crappy strip mall shops that smell like pee and cigarettes.

We’re not a particularly culturally rich city; just a few affluent suburbs sprinkled around some banks, with a college about 10 miles away, completely disconnected from the city.†Without a truly vibrant cultural community, Charlotte is mainly a city of consumers, not makers. Apply this in spades to comic books–I can think of maybe half a dozen full time cartoonists working around here. If you look at the really great comics cities, they seem to coalesce around great shops, and are then perpetuated by a community of artists. Think of Pittsburgh, where you have a Jim Rugg, Tom Scioli, and Ed Piskor active in their community, talking to new cartoonists, encouraging and offering advice. That kind of thing is invaluable. You can get it from other communities, online for instance, but it’s not the same as feeling like a part of a real, visceral community–meeting the other artists on equal terms, talking about what you’re doing, learning as you go.

Whenever I travel to another city with a strong comics scene, I’m always intensely envious. New York or Toronto or Chicago–the cartooning communities are so large there are multiple individual scenes within the same city! If you live in Chicago and are a cartoonist, it’s probably old hat to ride your bike over to someone’s loft and draw with Laura Park and Aaron Renier and Jeremy Tinder and Jeffrey Brown, no big whoop.

But! We are making strides, in our own way. Because there is a large comics reading community in Charlotte–Heroes’ continued success, and the success of HeroesCon, is testament to that. We’ve just been slow to build a creative community to match. But it’s starting to happen. A few years ago, Eraklis Petmezas started Sketch Charlotte, a group of artists and creative people into comic books, who meet at the Showmars across the street from Heroes once a week. Weirdly, I’ve never actually been, even though I live right around the corner myself. I tried to go this past week, with this article in mind, but they were already wrapping things up when I showed up late. Heroes employees Seth Peagler and Rico Renzi, the latter of which is a professional comics colorist also, were outside chatting with Henry Eudy, who’d printed up some inking exercises Ben Towle had put up on his site.

It was nice. I don’t know why I’ve never been. Possibly because they don’t serve booze at Showmars, and also… Showmars. Regardless, the list of regulars and semi-regulars at Sketch Charlotte is close to a complete list of the comics pros living in Charlotte: Jason Latour, he of the recent TCJ interview, Chris Brunner, Bridgit Scheide, Chrissie Zullo, and probably some more who I’m forgetting. It’s a start.

The other thing Charlotte’s got going for it as a comics scene is Andy Mansell, who runs the semi-monthly Heroes Discussion Group, which he and I created together back in 2007 or so, but which only he has had the energy and drive and acumen to maintain. The image above is from the Ghost World discussion a few weeks ago, which was great.†Andy will read a book backwards and forwards, take another book’s worth of notes on it, come up with a million theories regarding minutiae the rest of us never noticed, and still patiently allow most of the discussion to be guided by the ideas of the group. He doesn’t get paid for it, he’s just a smart guy who likes comics and wants to talk about them.

I bring up Andy and the discussion group not to make it sound like the whole Charlotte comics scene is wrapped around that one shop–I’m sure the other store owners in Charlotte might disagree. But I do think our scene, and probably most scenes in most cities, grow up around a few passionate people who just start to make things happen. Whether it’s a Shelton Drum or Andy Mansell or Bill Boichel or Jim Rugg or whoever. If you live in a town without a real comics scene, I guess you’re just going to have to start one yourself. It’s not going to just happen while you sit moldering in your house curled over your drawing board (like me).

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