I stole a comic book today.
My hometown Albany, New York hosts the Albany Comic Con twice per year. It is, I'm told, a relatively small convention. I don't have a lot to compare it to since it is the only convention I've ever attended.
Small or not, it's growing. Usually most of the local shops have booths (I know Aquilonia, Comic Depot, Earthworld, and Paragon were all there), there are other independent vendors, a smattering a cosplayers, and in the past there was a relatively stable list of local-to-semi-local comics pros like Ron Marz, Fred Hembeck, and Herb Trimpe (though I did not spot Trimpe this time). It had its busy moments, but for the most part there never seemed to be enough people to make it difficult to navigate.
Things changed this year. When I drove into the Holiday Inn parking lot Sunday morning with my buddy Gene Kannenberg in the passenger side, we had to look around a bit to find a free spot. Our hopes dwindled as we noticed the same cars pass us two and three times, all with drivers just as frustrated as us about finding a parking space. Eventually we found a spot just barely big enough for the Dodge Caliber to wedge into, though Gene volunteered to get out before I pulled in so we wouldn't both be smacking the doors into neighboring cars on our way out.
I thought maybe there was something else going on at the hotel that day, but when we arrived - at 11 am, only an hour after the doors opened - the convention floor was already packed. I've only been to the con two or three times and I'd never seen it that crowded. You couldn't walk from booth to booth without bumping into a person or two and you couldn't have a conversation near a booth without becoming a traffic obstruction. My friend Alan Doane, who I missed this time around, mentioned his plan was to arrive early to beat the crowds. Whether he didn't show up as early as planned and that's why I didn't run into him, or he did and I just didn't spot him, I tend to doubt his plan worked out.
Though I didn't get to see Alan and his family, I bumped into local blogger Kevin Marshall who is a co-conspirator in a project to be revealed before the end of the year. I was surprised to see my co-worker Zack. Zack doesn't read a lot of comics, but told me he was there for the Star Wars related stuff. There were tons of Stormtroopers, Vaders, Leias, jedi, and a dude with a remote control built-to-scale R2D2. I always thought Boba Fett only had one outfit, but I saw at least 3 or 4 different Boba Fett costumes and all had different colors. One younger boy had his Boba Fett costume painted like the outfits professional dirt bikers wear.
Overall, there seemed to be much more cosplay activity than usual. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures. The reason isn't complicated. I'm shy about asking strangers for their pictures, even if they're dressed in a way that says "please take my damn picture."
The picture I most wish I had taken was of the most disturbing costume I saw: a Rorschach suit worn by a little kid. When we eventually left the hotel I expected to see the kid on the roof sling-shotting puppies into trees.
What I did see was two de-helmeted storm troopers on a smoke break. I really wanted to say "We're not the droids you're looking for" as Gene and I walked by, but I figured they might kind of get that one a lot.
Along with Gene, Kevin, and Zack; I also ran into my old acquaintance Jon Stephenson. Jon was good friends with my older brother and used to own his own comic book shop nearby until his shop's pipes froze, burst, and poured water all over his stock.
Jon and I got to talking in front of Aquilonia's booth. I had been looking through their TPB and hardcover bins. Gene entered the discussion as did a couple of folks nearby who overheard me mention I had written an undergraduate thesis on Marvel comics. Eventually we all went our separate ways.
Maybe 15 minutes later, two men walked up to me. By this point Gene and I had migrated to an area in the back of the con space; just beyond the hotel's pool. There were only a few booths and some tables set up for trading card games.
One of the men asked me, "Sir, have you visited the Aquilonia booth today?"
My natural bullshit defenses went on. I couldn't understand why someone would be asking me that. My first thought was that Aquilonia was having someone go around and talk up their booth to get more traffic.
"Yeah," I told him. I noticed he was looking at the books under my arm.
"Did you take a copy of The New Frontier?"
"Uh, no." I had no idea what he was talking about. For some reason, I thought he was referring to some kind of Star Wars or Star Trek comic book.
"This gentleman," he pointed behind me to a guy I hadn't noticed until then, "said you may have a copy of The New Frontier you didn't pay for."
I looked at this second guy - who was looking at the books under my arm just like the first guy - and I suddenly realized what happened.
As I mentioned, before Jon walked up to me at the Aquilonia booth I was browsing Aquilonia's tpbs. I had fished out DC: The New Frontier Vol. 2 with every intention of buying it once I'd made my way through all the books. Once the conversation with Jon and everyone else ended, instead of continuing to look through the trades and paying for the book already in my hands, I just walked away. DC: The New Frontier was lost in the already thick pile of books I carried.
I apologized over and over and quickly dug out my wallet to pay for the book. I was absolutely mortified. I felt like everyone's eyes were on me. Once I gave the Aquilonia owner?/employee? the money I owed him, I felt the need to get as far away from the booths as I could because I was sure the vendors overheard the discussion and would be giving me the stink-eye if I got too close to their merchandise.
To be clear, the guy from Aquilonia didn't give me a hard time. No one asked me to leave, insulted me, or said anything once I handed over the dough. I don't necessarily know if he believed me when I said it was a mistake, but he didn't give me the impression he thought I was lying. It was just an unavoidably tense and awkward scene.
On our way to the back booths I had spotted a Pepsi vending machine near the pool. The incident left me sweaty and nervous, I desperately wanted a drink to cool me off, didn't even blink at the stupidly high $2 price tag, and sighed in defeat as the machine's dollar slot refused to work. Eventually I found a table on which to rest my books and I did my best to calm down while Gene toured the artist alley (where he got a great sketch from Fred Hembeck of a young Peter Parker reading Spider-Man and Hembeck himself reading it over Parker's shoulder). It wasn't until later, when Gene and I ordered matching Guinnesses at the nearby Ninety-Nine, that I finally relaxed.
My lovely girlfriend Maryann gave me the perfect ending for the tale. After lunch at Ninety-Nine I dropped off Gene, drove home, and I didn't even get to say hello before Maryann celebrated my return to the apartment by sneering at me from the couch and saying: "THIEF."
I may have failed to mention that when I leaned against that table while Gene talked to artists, part of doing "my best to calm down" involved using my Blackberry to inform all of my Facebook friends what happened.
Along with "stealing" a comic, I did at least three other stupid things at Albany Comic Con.
1. I didn't take any good pictures. I took maybe a half dozen photos and none of them were very different from the one at the top of this post.
2. My karmic punishment for not-really stealing a comic was to buy a comic - The Best of Twisted Toyfare Theatre Vol. 5 - I already had.
3. I bought an Infinity Crusade trade from Earthworld's booth. There were - what I thought were - two copies of the trade but with different covers. I thought that was strange and didn't realize until I got home that there might be more than one volume of Infinity Crusade. The idea came to me at home because I noticed that the Infinity Crusade I bought did not cover the entire Infinity Crusade series. What makes the stupidity of this purchase start to snowball into an avalanche is that I feel stupid for not buying the second volume of Infinity Crusade when I really should feel stupid for buying ANY volume of Infinity Crusade.
Here's my haul:
Alan Moore's The Courtyad
Alan Moore's Light of Thy Countenance
The Best of Twisted Toyfare Theatre Vol. 5 (to be more precise, this is part of the library's haul, because they're probably the ones I'll be donating it to)
The Best of Twisted Toyfare Theatre Vol. 8
The Best of Twisted Toyfare Theatre Vol. 9
The Best of Twisted Toyfare Theatre Vol. 10
DC: The New Frontier Vol. 2 (Paid for and everything)
Fred the Clown
Grendel: Devil's Reign (I was very happy about this; I love Matt Wagner's stuff and have been meaning to check out Grendel for a while)
Infinity Crusade Vol. 1
Marvel Fanfare: Strange Tales (I was pleasantly surprised when I left the con, flipped through this, and learned the classic battle between Hulk, the Blob, and Unus the Untouchable is collected here)
Rising Stars Vol. 3
Next time the Albany Comic Con swings around, I hope to have saved up a bit more money. I'd love to start building a collection of Hulk convention sketches.
Though they weren't very good, here are the rest of the shots I took: