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Guest Columnist Kristen Rybandt Presents:



BALTIMORE/NOT-BALTIMORE: One Woman’s Guide to Not Doing the Con

When I contacted Marc last week about writing for Comics Waiting Room, my big plan was to cover the Baltimore ComicCon that ran this past weekend. See, I am a comic wife - a comics fan by proxy, if you will. My husband is a bonafide comic book guy, and we’ve been together for almost 15 years, so I’ve developed a heady fascination with the culture and how it has evolved over the years. I think we can all agree that comics have gotten hipper over the years, more mainstream, but also keeping their edginess. I love being a fly on the wall at comicons, and of course those after parties, because frankly it’s a lot of fun.

Joe, my husband, went for the entire show and my plan was to drop our kids off at the grandparents and then join him in Baltimore Saturday afternoon. It was his birthday too - a big weekend. But not just for us. Nope. It was also the same weekend as the Baltimore marathon, a race that attracted 20,000 runners and countless cheerleaders. Gulp.

Because of the marathon, numerous streets were closed through midday. So I planned my trip in for late afternoon and carefully checked the Light Rail schedule. I still missed my train and somehow paid $5 for $1.60 fare. I did catch the next train, but in doing so missed my chance to check out the show on Saturday.

Instead, I met my husband at the Pratt Street Ale House, which used to be called Oliver’s and still carries the always-good Oliver microbrews. We had some drinks and crab dip and watched as the hoards of costumed and non left the con and headed home or on to more fun. Lots of people carried cool looking swag and many looked tired – but everybody seemed happy. On our way to meet up with friends after the drinks, I got to meet Dean Haspiel, the artist who illustrates the cool intro to HBO’s new series Bored to Death (and who the Zach Galifianakis character is loosely based on). It’s my new favorite show, so that was pretty cool.

The big destination that night was the Alliance Comics party at Illusions Magic Bar and Lounge in Federal Hill. One of the best parts of the evening was how our delightful cabdriver smiled and sang “oohh, Ill-u-si-onnes” when we told him where we were headed. We knew right then that magic was in store.

Every city should have its own Magic Bar and Lounge. It was dazzling from the outside, with its theater marquee and creepy-fun décor. Inside it held up just as well, with elaborate cobwebs and giant vintage posters of fortune tellers. And the staff was personable and friendly - while I was sending a text, the owner gave me a business card and said, “Here hon, put this up on your facebooks,” which of course I did.

We got some drinks and headed up to the snack and swag area, taking in the atmosphere and feeling pretty cool. Imagine my delight when the hostess announced that a magic show would be starting in a few minutes. A magic show!?! This wonderland kept getting better.

We took our seats in the back and watched as the magician – who incidentally had also been our bartender – wowed the crowd with some cool card tricks. He was funny and he had the crowd going. But then something incredible happened. I got picked to join him on stage and help him do a trick!

I had to blindfold him with a necktie, and then I followed a complicated series of instructions that involved mixing and cutting a deck of cards after he’d had two people pull cards from it. At some point, I had to stand on special footprints so he wouldn’t wing me with a GIANT sword that he used to stab cards (while blindfolded, mind you), and I just kept thinking “I am the luckiest girl in the world!” The trick worked, of course. He correctly guessed both cards that the other people had pulled, and I had no bloody idea how he did it. But it was a lot of fun to be a part of.

As if it wasn’t cool enough to be part of a magic act, the evening ended with the magician having another assistant strap him into a straight-jacket suit and then he hung himself upside down from the ceiling and escaped, Houdini style. Seriously, if you live in the Baltimore area, I don’t know why you’re not at Illusions right now. I would be.

Sunday at Comicon was also a big fail. I had planned to go back to my parents’ and get our girls and head back. I hadn’t realized there was a Ravens game at noon. When I caught the light rail back around 11am, I started seeing the sea of purple shirts roll in. And trying to get off at my stop, I felt like a fish trying to swim upstream and almost didn’t make it. Baltimore definitely loves its Ravens. I thought about driving in and finding somewhere to park, but Marylanders in the know schooled me on the insanity of that plan.

So while I never actually made it inside the Baltimore Comicon, I still had a helluva time as a bystander. I guess it’s where I’ve always been – enjoying comics on the sidelines, taking it in via osmosis, but longing for more. But there was good beer, great company, and birthday fun. And there even a little magic in the air.

 Kristen Rybandt 

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