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HeroesCon unites comic fans and pros

The low-key convention returns to Charlotte

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Fans and movie studios alike pine for big-budget superhero flicks, which have the power to not only revive actors' careers — hardly anyone thought of Robert Downey Jr. before Iron Man — but also bring home some serious awards, like the Oscar The Dark Knight captured in 2009. But often the storylines aren't birthed from big-name writers or famous directors.

Many come from Charlotte's very own HeroesCon.

Unless you're a geek, you might not have heard of HeroesCon. Unlike other comic conventions, including the hugely popular ComicCon in San Diego, HeroesCon won't feature movie studios promoting their latest summer and fall releases. There are no fan panels about Firefly, Harry Potter or Twilight, and you won't spot any Hollywood stars or paparazzi lining the streets leading up to the Charlotte Convention Center, the event's home. Video game and television production companies won't be there, nor will Internet celebrities or former pro wrestlers. And there are no corporate sponsors of any kind — HeroesCon, now in its 31st year, is funded entirely by the attendees and sales from an annual comic-art auction.

So who will be there this weekend? Just about every notable artist, writer and editor in the comic-book industry. More than 700 professionals will share new ideas and collaborate and create the next generation of comics that Marvel, DC, Pixar and DreamWorks will inevitably make into big films. Rather than focus on selling ideas, HeroesCon promotes the generation and sharing of them, even with fans.

"So many formative ideas and concepts are unearthed at Heroes," said Pittsburgh-based graphic-novel artist Ed Piskor. "It's almost religious."

The only other comic convention in America that has been around longer is ComicCon, which celebrates its 43rd birthday this year. However, unlike ComicCon, which has grown to be the fandom event of choice for the video-entertainment industry, HeroesCon is and has always been about comics.

"HeroesCon proved to me that you don't need a massive multi-media spectacle to have one of the most memorable [comic conventions] on an annual basis," said L.A.-based illustrator Eric Canete.

Arguably, the major draw of HeroesCon is the sheer number of artists in Artist's Alley, the portion of the convention dedicated to artists drawing commissions (art fans can purchase) and signing comics. Walking through this portion of the convention, one can see just about every stripe of comic book and animation professional, from legends like Neal Adams (Batman) to current animation artists like Scott Morse (Pixar), to young and talented artists like Irene Strychalski (Deadpool, Archer). They open conversations to anyone standing near them, pointing out aspects of illustration and art that non-artists may not be privy to. You will also find artists who worked on comic books that became the storylines for the past few years' worth of summer blockbusters, such as The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger, Green Lantern, all of the Iron Man movies, Thor and many others.

HeroesCon is the brainchild of Shelton Drum, owner of Charlotte's premiere comic-book store Heroes Aren't Hard to Find. Attracting creative types instead of major media and film- and video-game studio attention has always been HeroesCon's goal.

"I don't play video games," Drum, 59, says. "I have nothing at all against them, I just don't know and understand them. I don't understand the movie or television business either, so I stay out of that. What I do know and love is comics, so I put all of my effort and attention into that."

Drum began collecting comics as a child and immediately understood their value, buying out the entire comic-book stock of a department store in his hometown of Newton, N.C.

He opened Heroes Aren't Hard to Find in 1980 and started HeroesCon in 1982.

"Shelton Drum is the civilian alter-ego of a superhero named HeroesCon," Atlanta-based illustrator Cully Hamner joked. "He strips off his civilian clothes for a weekend in June and performs a feat no other con can. That's his superpower — bringing people together."

Peacock is a life-long comic-book fan who hails from Atlanta, where he runs the Art of Akira Exhibit and an animation studio.

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