You can find a lot of treasures at Motor City Comic Con – things like a hard-to-find comic issue in a dollar bin, an autograph from a childhood icon or a long sought collectible.
Then there are the intangibles. You could also find loss of alienation, paranormal discussions, homecomings, hometown pride, father-son bonding and even immortality.
It was all there for the more than 55,000 people who attended the three-day event last weekend at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. This year’s Motor City Comic Con featured 42 media guests, 34 panels, 229 comic guests, 107 exhibitors and 36 crafters.
Comic book conventions were created to bring together people with unconventional interests. Rob Shelby and Mindy McPeak were there to do just that.
The pair met at work and it turned out they lived near one another. Shelby worked in IT, which was fortunate for McPeak. One day when her computer overheated she put it in the freezer figuring that would cool it down. Not so much. Shelby came over and fixed it. The friendship blossomed into a comic book collaboration starting with McPeak illustrating Scooby Doo-inspired comic adventures of Shelby’s band, The Lightning Bugs.
It was their mutual interest in the paranormal that spawned their current comic book, Pure Human. The comic is an original story based on alien abduction tales Shelby has heard first-hand or through his own independent research. Shelby and McPeak have found many people who flock to them are less interested in science fiction than talking to them about their personal experiences with beings from beyond the stars, opposed to just seeing lights in the sky.
The large image of a man being abducted by aliens on the Pure Human comic’s cover is certainly eye-catching. For many people it acts as a beacon to talk about their own close encounters.
“They come to you – people looking to talk about it,” says McPeak.
She and Shelby say it is similar each time. A person will see the image and start to circle around. After a few passes, he or she will come up and start talking, first about the book. Once the pair has shared their passion for the paranormal, the visitor starts talking about his or her own experiences.
Among the stories they have heard at conventions was one from a Detroit-area man who says extraterrestrials repeatedly have visited him.
Another was from a man who said as a sailor in the Navy he saw two space ships crash in the Caribbean. He was quickly taken to a room where mysterious men had him sign a paper stating it never happened.
This is hardly the usual comic booth conversation and many would scoff at the tales. Shelby and McPeak, however listen attentively, and discuss with open minds and researched thoughts. The duo says the stories will be slow to come because most people don’t believe the experiences ever happened so Shelby and McPeak’s interested ears are more than welcome.
These conversations all happened at their booth in Artist Alley, where all the writers, artists, glass blowers, puppet makers, jewelers, and every other creator set up shop.
Tracey Watkins was there selling his pop culture artwork under the banner of Sketching Time.
With what he calls “40 years of practice,” he sells vivid, life-like drawings of everything from superheroes to slasher movie villains to cartoon characters.
He is what you might call a professional amateur. Just a few years ago he started selling his work at cons after a friend convinced him he was good enough.
While he does have to work a day job, drawing is by no means secondary. “I get up in the morning and I’m drawing,” says Watkins.
Motor City Comic Con has a special meaning to Watkins, who was raised in the Detroit area. He moved to Austin, Texas, in 1992 with his wife, his high school sweetheart.
The time away has not dimmed his love of Motown. “I think to myself, is it ‘Detroit good?’” he says, referring to the work he brings to the show. “Bring your A-game, kid.”
The industrial nature of the city acts as a constant inspiration. A self-described autophile, the mixture of art and science the auto industry fosters drives Watkins art.
Aside from just sketching pop culture, he also is willing to discuss his subjects and their history with convention patrons.
However, his time for drawing the well-known figures of pop culture may soon slow down. Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, suggested he start drawing his own work, which he is doing.
When asked if he would bring those creations to a future Motor City show, he was cagey, but says it is very possible. You can click here to check out his work on his website.
Those following more well-known artists would be more interested in the Adams family. Don’t snap your fingers yet, I mean Neal and Joel Adams.
For those uninitiated in the world of comics, Neal Adams is a legend. He made a name for himself in the ‘70s, with realistic depictions of a whole host of characters, most notably the X-Men, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Superman and especially Batman.
While less well known, Joel Adams, Neal’s son, may have had as much, if not more, of an impact on popular culture.
Joel wanted a career in comics, but publishers said he drew too slowly. Instead, he ended up as a designer for the television show King of the Hill.
Southeast Michigan seems to have a large number of fans. He has almost a steady stream of King of the Hill commission work art fans pay their favorite artists to draw.
That’s not why the younger Adams says Motor City is in the top 10 of the 36 conventions he does a year. It is because he is a comic fan.
Many people in the comic book buying community lament the loss of comic culture at the show, but Adams says it is one of the more comic centric conventions he visits.
The older Adams enjoys being able to spend time with his son on the road. Sometimes they will meet up on the floor, while other times the whole day will pass and they won’t see each other until the end of the day at the bar.
“I like them for some reason,” says Neal Adams, with a smirk, of his family.
The Adams were brought in to the Motor City Comic Con after Stan Lee drew massive crowds when he was a guest in 2013. The convention organizers worried they would have too large of a drop-off in attendance. Since then the Adams men have been a regular fixture at the show.
“We’re happy to have helped build it up, “says Neal Adams.
On a more somber note, Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in three Superman movie, passed away only a few days before she was scheduled to appear at Motor City. She still had a presence at the show though. Her table was set up with a vase and flowers by where she would have been seated to sign autographs.
Where the line would have begun there was a large board filled with signatures and statements of love from fans of all ages. By the end of the weekend heartfelt prose left no blank spaces on the board.
Motor City Comic Con seems to bring out respect and reverence from people when they walk through the doors as well as a desire to believe in what might be possible.