Big Lick Comic Con NOVA 2024 – A Con That’s Way Better Than Its Name!

So, a few weeks ago, Big Lick Comic Con NOVA was held at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia, and I somewhat begrudgingly made my way down there. Let me back up a bit, though. You see, I’ve been to this con in the past, and it wasn’t that exciting. I’m not saying that I need shows to be on an SDCC/NYCC level, but I do need them to be something akin to Baltimore Comic Con. In the Mid-Atlantic region, there are basically two ends on the comic convention spectrum: on one end there’s the Shoff Productions shows, which are hybrid comic/sports card shows held either at a firehouse or a hotel ballroom, and on the other end there’s Baltimore, at the convention center. There are pros and cons to each, but it mainly always comes back to value. Big Lick falls somewhere in the middle, where it’s offering a tad more than the Shoff experience, but it’s charging Baltimore admission; Shoff shows run you about $4, while Baltimore can run you around $30 on a Sunday. When I had gone to Big Lick in the past, there were some great deals, but it never really seemed like it was using the space efficiently. Plus, there was an odd assortment of guests, looking sort of sad along the walls (I never thought I’d see the gorgeous Blue Ranger from Power Rangers Time Force at an event, and no one wanted a picture. It’s amazing what 20 years can do…). So, I remember leaving that show, thinking “Well, it’s nice Northern Virginia has its own convention, but I don’t need to come back down here for this.” I even went on to skip last year’s show. When I saw it was coming up this year, however, I had something of a change of heart. If you read my Awesome Con recap, then you know my goal this year is to get creator signatures instead of using these events are purely shopping trips. A lot of the creators from my formative years won’t be with us forever, and I wanted the chance to meet them and tell them what their work meant to me. So, with that in mind, I made the trip down to Chantilly.

Big Lick was a 2-day show, but I didn’t go until Sunday afternoon. As I’ll tell anyone, the best deals are made on Sunday afternoon, as dealers don’t want to lug all that stuff back home. I was so sure this was going to be a surgical strike that I didn’t even get there until around 1, knowing that the show ended at 5. I had even told my wife “I’ll be in and out, so I won’t be gone too long.” Once I got in the Expo Center, I immediately set out to find those comic creators on my list. Along the wall was the same motley bunch of celebrities, including The Fresh Prince of Bel Air‘s Tatiana Ali and WWE Hall of Famers Scott Steiner and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. I kept my head down, so as not to make eye contact with them, or any of the small press creators, set up to sell their wares. “Hey, bruh – You like comics?” I muttered a “Yup!” as I sped by their booth. Surely, the comic celebs would be set up near the other guests, right? Nope. OK, maybe they were along the back wall? Nope. I pretty much did a circuit around the perimeter, only to find them set up in an aisle adjacent to where I’d come in. Ugh.

I first saw legendary writer Christopher Priest, but he had some folks at his table, so I looked down the aisle and saw another legendary writer, Howard Chaykin. He also had someone at his table, but they were wrapping up. Chaykin saw me and asked me to give him 10 mins, as he needed to go to the restroom. He said “Don’t worry – At my age, it doesn’t take long!” As he was running off, I saw that Priest was free, so I went over to speak with him. He had something I don’t think I’d ever seen at a show before: a chair in front of the table, facing him. Ya know, for a seated conversation. He asked my name, shook my hand, and asked me to have a seat. I pulled out the book I’d brought for him to sign: an American Entertainment exclusive edition of Quantum & Woody #0.

Now, this was an important choice for 2 reasons: first off, my buddy Adam & I had done a podcast about that very series, which led to the eventual creation of our Remember That Show? podcast. I thought it would be a nice change from all of the Black Panther books I’m sure he’s always asked to sign. The second reason, though, is that American Entertainment was near and dear to my heart, as I was quite the mail order customer during my Gen13 fandom. So, it was like a lot of my comic worlds colliding!

Anyway, he did looked surprised when he saw the book, and even flipped through it – the whole time telling me about the business decisions behind the book, as well as an upcoming streaming adaptation in development. We talked about how the artist, M.D. Bright, had recently passed away, and the contributions he had brought to the book. It was a nice personalized interaction, and not the cattle call autograph sessions that tend to occur at conventions.

I thought my time was up, especially when someone else came over to speak to him. He was mid sentence when they came up, so I waited until they were done for him to finish his thought. They told him how they were fans, and he flipped through their book, and signed it. Once they left, he was like “Where was I? Oh, right..” and the conversation continued. This kept happening, as we discussed everything from Michael Jackson’s legacy (Priest is something of a Jackson historian) to the Joker: Folie À Deux trailer to people we both knew in the industry. I think that’s what made this more special, and I’m not sure how many folks will relate, but it’s rare to meet a Black man in this industry. It’s even more rare to meet one who was successful in this industry. And it’s even more rare to meet one who had an impact on the industry back when we weren’t really being hired to do that. At a certain point in time, it was pretty much Priest and Dwayne McDuffie, and that was it. Even though it was a lifetime ago, I’m a tad more than “just a fan” due to my time at Diamond. I have no real success stories from that, but I saw how the sausage was made and, in the process, happened to travel in circles of folks that Priest also knew. It was really like I was talking to one of my older cousins. I got way more relaxed than I usually would, or probably even should. But he didn’t hold back, either! He told me some great stories, but this wasn’t an official interview, so those aren’t my stories to tell here. He even turned me on to a comic series that has NEVER interested me: Vampirella. He’s the current regular writer, and he explained a bunch of things he’d been doing that actually sounded really cool. I asked him where I should start reading, he mentioned that he had created something he called the “Vampler” that he would send me. He asked for my email, and sure enough, I got it a few days later!

While we were talking, a familiar couple came by the table: Walt and Louise Simonson. Walt’s Thor run is the stuff of legend, while Louise played a formative role in X-Factor. They chatted with Priest about the old days, and mentioned a bunch of items they hand run across in their archives. Before they left, I asked if I could get a picture of all of them, which you saw above. I chatted with Priest over an hour, and I have to say it was the greatest convention experience I’ve ever had.

I finally made my way back over to Chaykin, and had him sign my copy of American Century #5. Though best known for books like American Flagg, I explained that American Century was actually my first book of his. I got it in my college days, when I didn’t really “do” Vertigo, but I liked the aesthetic. We chatted a bit, and I told him how that series led me to American Flagg, and then I pretty much picked up everything he wrote, including his latest from Image, Hey Kids! Comics! Given his “Bad Boy of Comics” reputation, I will admit I was a bit nervous to go up to him, but he’d already broken the ice earlier with his incontinence joke, and he really couldn’t have been nicer.

Next, I made my way over to the Simonsons’ table, as I didn’t ask them to sign when they were over visiting with Priest. My X-Factor era was after Louise’s run, so I didn’t really have anything in my collection for her to sign. So, I had gone out and tracked down X-Factor #26, which had a great team cover that I thought would look great signed. It was the same line to get signatures from both Walt and Louise, but I just got hers, as I didn’t have anything for Walt to sign. I, then, sort of scampered away to look for deals. I found a dealer who happened to have Thor #369 for sale, so I grabbed it, and then got back in the line for Walt’s signature. I should also point out that neither Priest nor the Simonsons were charging for signatures, but rather accepting donations for Hero Initiative. So, I made sure to give to each of them, towards a great cause. I feel sort of foolish now, however, as I got home and discovered Walt had also done the art on X-Factor #26, while Louise had done the writing. I could have gotten both of their signatures on it! Oh well…

Once I was done with signatures, I only had about an hour before the show closed. I didn’t even make a dent in that convention floor! I stuck to the vendors closest to the entrance, so Lord only knows what I missed when I was keeping my head down during my initial loop. Behind the Simonsons was the booth for Hero Initiative, where they were selling signed books to raise money for the charity. I picked up this hardcover of The Batman 100 Project, which is a book I might already have, but I didn’t care. Plus, it so happens they were set up to someone I used to know.

Jeff Parker is widely known for his Marvel work, like Agents of Atlas, X-Men: First Class, and Thunderbolts. I, however, knew him “back when”, while I was a Diamond brand manager, and he was releasing creator-owned indie comics. Earlier, I said that I didn’t have any “success stories” from that era, and I don’t, in that I didn’t “break” any new talent that you know and love today. That said, I did work with a ton of talented folks who would go on to bigger fame outside of anything I was involved in. Jeff is definitely one of those folks, so I went up to his table, and was like “You probably don’t remember me, but…” After introducing myself, he seemed to remember. If he didn’t, he certainly played along! We talked about his recent Batman – Santa Claus: Silent Knight miniseries from this past Christmas, and how there’s apparently a sequel coming. He also gave me a copy of his latest book, Blighter, that he produced through Kickstarter. We chatted about fatherhood, and the pros and cons of sons vs daughters. It was just really great to see him!

At the next booth, I found something that caught my eye: Youngblood #1. Yeah, I know, I know… I’m on this kick lately to collect all of the “key” comics from when I started reading comics. Most of them have fallen in value to sensible levels in recent years, and I just like knowing I have a Spawn #1 or a Savage Dragon #1. Well, I never read Youngblood. In fact, I probably haven’t read any of Liefeld’s Image stuff from that era. If I did, it didn’t make an impression. I figure if I’m gonna criticize the guy, I should put my money where my mouth is and see what all the fuss was about!

After that, I made it only one aisle before I stumbled into the booth for Cards, Comics, and Collectibles – the Reisterstown, Maryland comic shop owned by Marc Nathan, who also owns Baltimore Comic Con. He always has great deals, and never disappoints. Prior to this, I was proud of how little money I had spent, and most of that had been in the form of donations. Well, that all changed here. It was so bad I had to buy a short box to haul it out to my car. I’m just gonna show you the haul:

So, that’s pretty much it. I didn’t really want to go to the con, but I’m SO happy that I did, as it was – on an interpersonal level – probably the best convention experience I’ve ever had. Sometimes it’s good to push yourself to do something you don’t think you want to do!


Oh, I mentioned Hero Initiative a lot in this post, and all of the folks I met were taking donations for the charity as opposed to charging. I wish more folks did this, as I had no problem dropping $20 in Priest’s jar, based on the enjoyable interaction, and the cause for which he was raising money. It stings less than some pro saying “$20 a signature”, and it’s not really going toward helping anyone but them. I’m not begrudging them that, but if you can charge $20 a signature, chances are you’re not exactly struggling in the comic industry. You’ve probably got side money from movie options or something. Not every creator is so lucky, however, which is why The Hero Initiative exists. Formerly known as A.C.T.O.R., or A Commitment To Our Roots, the organization provides assistance to comic creators in need, as long as they’ve been in the industry – on a work-for-hire basis – for a minimum of 10 years. There aren’t a ton of 401Ks when you’re creating comics, and as someone with a somewhat precarious retirement situation, I hope someone comes up with one of these organizations for comic fans! Anyway, if this cause speaks to you, you can learn more about it here.