The Baltimore Comic-Con starts next weekend on Saturday, and has a convention hall full of guests again. I’ve gone to this show for the past three or four years, and enjoyed myself immensely each time. It’s still small enough that you can meet the cartoonists you want and talk to them, and large enough that there’s more than enough to do. The Harvey Awards are given out on Saturday night, too.  It’s at the convention center on the harbor, so your family can walk around there when they can’t take the comics anymore. Marc Nathan, the organizer of the show (and owner of Cards, Comics and Collectibles) took  some time away from being a new father to give us a few bits of background.

Washington City Paper: How’d you get into comics?

Marc Nathan: I had comics as a little kid. I had older sisters so the comics were in the house, and then I bought them at newsstands. I started the store in 1984 just as the direct market was exploding, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was about to come out and revolutionize comics. I opened it after one year of college. Part of the reason for opening was small town pride, taking over my little niche for Baltimore county.

WCP: How many years have you put on BCC?

MN: This one coming up is the 11th.

WCP: How’d you start?

MN: Actually it’s kind of similar to starting my store. I was going to other cons and setting up to sell comics, and getting to know pros. As I got to know fans, and when they asked “Where are you from” and I said “Baltimore” and then I got a disdainful “oh…” to feel Baltimore insulted when you’re in Detroit or Pittsburgh…  So I just got my little bit of hometown pride, and knowing enough artists and writers and most every retailer, it seemed like an easy thing to do at a time.

It never occurred to me that “annual” meant “every year,” though.

You have to think about it and work on it year round. As soon as this one’s over, things will occur to me about how we can make it better and I’ll have ‘wouldn’t it be great if we had done this?” thoughts.

WCP: Is this the biggest con in the tri-state area?

MN: Absolutely.

WCP: So how many people are you expecting?

MN: We’ll have 15,000-20,000 which is a remarkable number for two days. Most three day shows would brag on those numbers, and I don’t know when we’ll move to three days. Maybe next year. The retailers, once they’re in town, are the ones really pushing for a 3-day show. A preview night would just simply be for people who want to buy comics, but it’s all being thought through now.

WCP: Why is it earlier this year?

MN: It’s earlier because the NY Comic Con took our previous dates from last year, and regardless of their reasons, when you’re trying to attract people and publishers from the West Coast like Image and Top Cow, if you expect them to choose between two shows with the same demographic and fanbase, they’re going to choose New York City.  We had to be further enough away from that event to be attractive to everyone else, and we had to be before them. Taking them on isn’t the game I wanted to play, and I didn’t want to move the show to take someone else’s date either.  And we’re dealing with the same thing for 2011.

WCP: Is there anything special about this year?

MN: Todd McFarlane’s a big deal, and we’re bringing back for a second time the art auction and the costume contest which both had a large positive response last year. The one thing I’m aesthetically happy about – this is the first time ever that I got everything I wanted at the convention center. I got the halls, the panel rooms, everything I want, which is very rare.

WCP: Any cartoonists you are particularly proud of having come, this year or in earlier years?

MN: Having Todd is great. The truth is he’s hardly ever on the East Coast, he never does shows, and it’s quite the coup.  I’m curious about how many toys we’re going to see on the signing line.

This year’s Harvey Awards are going to be really good too. Scott Kurtz as MC and Mark Waid as keynote speaker – I’m really looking forward to the Harvey Awards on Saturday night. I really enjoy the Harvey’s – it’s probably my favorite part of the convention.

WCP: How fast do the tables sell out?

MN: Honestly, last year it sold out faster. There’s two reasons – last year we had to put the programming on the show floor so that cut back on tables, so we have a little more room this year. There is a convention in Canada on our same weekend and there are a few retailers from there who just stayed there. This meant other people had an opportunity to get in and rent tables, but we are sold out. When we have the Diamond Summit, tables sell out faster because the dealers are planning to be there anyway. The dealers are undoubtedly packing to leave Chicago’s con now, and when they leave Baltimore, they’ll be going to Atlanta for DragonCon over Labor Day weekend. Our show’s helped them plan their course for driving. I do know there are a lot of retailers that are taking staff and doing both shows – they don’t want to give up their spot on the floor.

WCP: Can you talk about the kid-friendly aspects?

Kids under ten are free. We have a giant area, even bigger than it’s ever been before, for the “Kids Love Comics area” [which is being set up and managed by Washington’s John Gallagher]. We’ve let it expand and take over the whole back wall. They have the largest booth on the show floor. BOOM who’s doing all the Pixar and Muppet books is also a big part of our show, and their booth is right by the door.

I’d like to note that I appreciate Marc taking the time to talk when he’s got a brand-new baby at home. Check out the list of guests for the show, which includes our local cartoonists Steve Conley, John Gallagher, Shannon GallantRichard Thompson, John K. Snyder III, Pop Mhan, Carla Speed McNeil, and the Luna Brothers, and the list of panels, too. The convention is at the Baltimore Convention Center and open on Saturday, August 28 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, August 29 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale now or available at the door.

And if you need more comics, the totally cool over-the-top geekfest of Geppi’s Entertainment Museum is across the street, and you can see Ben Franklin’s first political cartoon in America as well as Steve “Diamond Distributor” Geppi’s amazing comic book collection. The Museum’s staying open late on Saturday night so you can visit after the con.