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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman inks a sketch for a fan at his booth in the main hallway.
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A far cry from the choked hallways and extravagant TV and movie premieres of the San Diego Comic-Con, Boston Comic Con is a true convention for comic books, their creators, and their fans. It’s somewhere where fans can have great interactions with their favorite artists as well as meet new ones, and take part in events that were truly about the joy of comic books.

“Because so many of us work on comics alone, it’s important for us to get together with other creators and meet the people reading them,” said Cliff Chiang, the current artist for Wonder Woman.

Fans of all types thronged into Hynes Convention Center last Saturday and Sunday to celebrate comic books by attending artist panels, comedy performances, a film festival, and gaming tournaments.

Boston Comic-Con is also special because of the large number of independent and local artists and creators that attend the event. Walking further through the exhibition hall, we saw local artists like Sean Kasper of LuvCroft Comix around selling art and taking commissions that were a little more reasonably priced than those of the big names. Indie comics like David Petersen’s Mouse Guard were also on display, providing a welcome reminder that DC and Marvel don’t have a monopoly on telling stories through art.

Cosplayers were present in full force all over the convention, wearing costumes of comic book characters from Batman to Sinestro to Poison Ivy as well as characters from other mediums like Mr. T, Link, and the Ghostbusters — who were dwarfed in the main hall by a giant inflatable Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Everyone was happy to stop and pose for pictures with us or by themselves, and other cosplayers frequently jumped in for group shots. We found the Mr. T cosplayer to be one of the most imaginative in how he posed with fans. He arm wrestled my friend for one picture and let me deliver a face-shattering punch in the other.

A chat with the creators

The artists in the exhibition hall were happy to chat and give autographs. Industry professionals like Tim Sale, who penciled and inked stories like Batman: The Long Halloween and Spiderman Blue, were on hand throughout the hall drawing commissions and selling some of their work.

By far, the most popular table at the show was that of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman. We waited in line for about two hours to meet the very personable artist and writer, who gave a free personal sketch for every fan. Eastman was happy to talk about comics in general and also the upcoming Ninja Turtles movie, which has aroused some fans by changing the turtles’ origin to arriving from outer space.

“Don’t worry, I’m working closely with [the producers], and they’re reacting to fan skepticism and working hard to make the movie awesome,” he assured me. To give you an idea of how cool a guy Eastman is: he did me the pleasure of drawing one of the characters from my comic strip Uppercut with Leonardo of the Ninja Turtles, and took my friend’s request to draw Batman as the pupil of Master Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Meeting the legends

Panels throughout the convention brought together different creators to talk about their careers. One panel had some of Mad Magazine’s most legendary contributors: former editor Al Feldstein, artist Paul Coker Jr., and Al Jaffee, who continues to contribute to the magazine after 55 years. They spoke about the environment of comics censorship that gave birth to Mad Magazine, the funny stories of how they became involved with Mad, and the art they enjoyed creating the most.

Jaffee began to work for Mad after Stan Lee, his editor at the time, played a practical joke on him when he suggested he might hire another artist in Jaffee’s place. Attendees of the panel also spoke fondly of Paul Coker’s recurring “Horrifying Cliches” series that turned common cliché statements into humorous monster pictures.

I attended another panel titled “Legends” that showcased some of the most accomplished creators in the industry. Bill Sienkewicz, Bernie Wrightson, Joe Sinnott, and Bob Layton gathered to take questions and discuss just what it’s like to be some the most celebrated talents in comics.

“‘Legend’ has an interesting connotation. When people say legend, they’re being polite instead of calling you old,” joked Layton, whose long run on Iron Man is credited with giving the character the personality and depth that has made the movie so popular today.

Joe Sinnott, whose art credentials at Marvel Comics are comparable to the narrative contributions of writer Stan Lee, remarked on his work on over 200 issues of early Fantastic Four comics. “I never read one of em,” he said flatly. “I just didn’t have the time. … How I turned out all the work I did I’ll never know.”

The artists remarked on how they had to let go of being influenced by other people’s work. “You learn by copying, but you can only copy so much. If you really take it to heart, you move on and make it something your own,” said Bernie Wrightson, co-creator of iconic horror comic Swamp Thing.

The new DC Comics

DC Comics artists Jema Idle, Cliff Chiang, Francis Manapul, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado gave a panel on their work in DC Comics’ New 52 reboot. For the uninitiated, DC Comics relaunched its entire universe last year in an effort to attract new readers, freeing characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman from decades of backstory to let writers and artists take them in new directions.

“There’s a new playing ground. … You’re allowed to be a little bit more free than in stories from before,” said Manapul, who is writing and penciling The Flash. “The trick in comics is that the main characters stay the same, but you change everything around them to create an illusion of change. With the New 52, we’re actually creating new characters.” Another topic of discussion was the changes that have come with DC simultaneously publishing comics in print and in the digital form. “I’ve tried to make my art look more organic, so people know this is something that was made by a person,” Chiang said.

I caught up with Chiang at his booth in the exhibition hall later. Cliff’s fresh art for the Wonder Woman relaunch is a big reason the series is one of the New 52’s biggest hits. “It’s been a rewarding opportunity to do [a reboot] on something so iconic,” he said. “I feel like the character’s been stuck for a long time. It’s important to present the character as a symbol for a modern audience.”

There were plenty of adventures to be had at the show. Realizing I needed something autographed by artist Joe Sinnott that he created, I journeyed into the comic merchant booths to locate some classic Fantastic Four issues of the ’60s and ’70s. We went through the same routine to get signatures from Wolverine co-creator Herb Trimpe, who reacted with disgust to the title of the comic I asked him to sign, What if Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk.

“Like that would ever happen,” grunted Trimpe, who introduced Wolverine as an antagonist in issue #180 of The Incredible Hulk. He never anticipated the character becoming one of Marvel Comics’ most popular superheroes.