After hitting a dozen comic book conventions this past year I thought I’d seen it all. That is, until about a week ago when I headed to the Jersey Shore to check out Asbury Park Comic Con. It was an hour’s drive but I was curious. I had already taken a pass on the glitzy and expensive MorrisonCon at the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas that weekend. APCC by contrast, was in an old bowling alley in a town that had seen better days.
I knew something was different as soon as we walked in. The smell of sizzling burgers filled the air. There was a grill in front of the room. And a bar. No, wait, two bars! And there was music in the background. Turns out the bowling alley Asbury Lanes has been a club for several years now, and a popular venue for punk bands like Butthole Surfers. We were, in fact, just down the road from the Stone Pony of Springsteen fame. Organizer Cliff Galbraith (Rat Bastard) paid homage to Asbury Park’s music heritage with an impressive playlist ranging from Dwight Yoakam to Alex Chilton.
The featured guests were particularly entranced with the venue. Creator Larry Hama (G.I. Joe, Bucky O’Hare), who has seen his share of conventions, marveled at the presence of a bar right on the con floor. The stiff drinks were widely praised – Bloody Marys were a popular choice. The omnipresent Emmy Award winning artist Dean Haspiel (didn’t I just see him in Baltimore?) cheerfully informed me he had four root canals the previous day as he ordered a Coke and a shot of Makers Mark from the pink haired bartender. A bemused artist Reilly Brown (Cable, Deadpool, and the creator owned Power Play) said it felt just like a Springsteen song as he sat in front of the empty bowling lanes. In the corner by the bar I spotted Mike & Ming, otherwise known as Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen, reality show stars of AMC’s Comic Book Men. They were live podcasting their show I Sell Comics sporadically throughout the day. Super friendly, both were much more real in real life and chatted amiably with everyone who passed by.
And then there were the comics. Enough to attract roughly 600 people over the course of the day, according to Cliff. He and comics dealer Robert Bruce (also a familiar face on AMC’s Comic Book Men) managed to cram 40+ exhibitor tables in and around the bowling lanes. The result was a marvelous and eclectic mix of indie, minis, superheroes and vintage. The vibe was laid back and natural – I chatted with several creators including aspiring penciler Javier Cruz Winnick and Jersey guy Joe Martino, cancer hero and creator of Ripperman and the Kickstarter funded The Mighty Titan.
By late afternoon Comics Beat editor and man-about-town Torsten Adair sat in the corner of the bar/lounge gleefully showing off his stash of quirky finds to Hannah Means-Shannon and myself. Reilly Brown finally took a break from his table balancing what appeared to be two beers and a shot or ginger ales – I didn’t ask back to the space he shared with artist George O’Connor and photographer Seth Kushner.
I ‘m glad I decided against spending the almost $800 plus airfare for MorrisonCon. Asbury Park Comic Con was a gem of a con, and only cost a whopping $6, $1 of which went laudably to the comics charity Hero Initiative. The burgers were shockingly excellent and the drinks cheap and strong. People showed up, browsed, hung out and enjoyed the fun and kitschy vibe. Sorry, Grant Morrison, but by the end of the day, my mind was blown. I left feeling like I had just crashed the coolest college party on campus.