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Five things you can’t miss at the 13th annual Baltimore Comic-Con

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Art from the special Comic-Con cover of Meredith Gran’s Marceline and the Scream Queens.

Hey kids, comics! Maybe more appropriately, hey kids (and adults), Comic-Con! Baltimore Comic-Con makes its return to the Convention Center this weekend. Originally a mild-mannered, one-day show held in a hotel ballroom, “America’s Greatest Comic Book Convention,” as it now calls itself, has bulked up over the last decade to become, at the very least, one of the East Coast’s most hotly anticipated comic book events. There’s a ton to see and do, from dealer tables overflowing with back issues to a booth with a petition you can sign to “Make Hira-Shuriken Maryland’s Official State-Throwing Star.” Luckily, we’ve saved you a lot of endless wandering and listed the absolute essentials.

The Kids Love Comics Pavilion

Baltimore Comic-Con has always had a decidedly family-friendly atmosphere (children under 10 get in free), so it’s no wonder that this year they’ll be setting up a section of floorspace just for kids and their parents. All-ages pros like Archie Comics artist Dan Parent and Pixar visionary Marty Baumann will be around to sign autographs and even teach mini “how-to” tutorials to budding young artists. The Kids Love Comics Pavilion also promises “design your own superhero cape” activities that sound like a marvelous way for weary, backpack-toting parents to rest their feet for a few minutes. Short version: If you’re bringing kids, this booth will be a godsend.

Frank Quitely and Garth Ennis

OK, this one’s really a two-fer of awesome international stars. Baltimore Comic-Con has been able to lure some impressive comics talent to Charm City over the years, but for comics geeks like me, it’s really outdone itself this year. Scottish artist Frank Quitely has wowed critics and readers alike with his superbly emotive, often unnerving artwork in comics such as All-Star Superman, We3, and Flex Mentallo, and Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis has captivated audiences with his signature mixture of black humor and unflinching violence (most famously in the seminal examination of guns, God, and America that is Vertigo’s Preacher series). Both creators will be signing autographs and attending panels throughout the weekend.

Marceline and the Scream Queens Comic-Con variant cover

There’s never a shortage of cool things to buy at the convention (Note: If anyone sees a cheap copy of Essential Power Man and Iron Fist Volume 2, give me a holler), but keep an eye out for exclusive-to-show comics, T-shirts, and more. From what’s been announced so far, the hot item sounds like it’ll be the axe-smashingly cool, special Baltimore Comic-Con variant cover for the first issue of Meredith Gran’s Adventure Time spinoff miniseries Marceline and the Scream Queens. Available while supplies last at the BOOM! Studios booth.

The Mark Waid and Thrillbent panel

Mark Waid, a veteran comics scribe whose expansive resume includes celebrated runs on Daredevil, The Flash, Fantastic Four, and The Incredibles, has been a steady presence at Baltimore Comic-Con. This year, he’ll be on hand to discuss his new digital comics venture, Thrillbent (a web site that hosts free-to-read, updated-weekly comics, like the father/son superhero drama Insufferable). In addition to sneak peaks at future Thrillbent content, the panel promises advice for creators looking to break into digital and much more. If you want a glimpse at the future of comics in the internet age, this is for you.

The Costume Contest

As with any nerd-centric convention, the costumes are half the fun. And while you’ll see no shortage of elaborate, garage-made Iron Man getups or Juggalo-tastic Harley Quinn cosplayers as you cruise the convention floor, Sunday’s costume contest is your best bet for seeing them en masse. Sponsored by T-shirt purveyor Stylin Online, this year’s competition offers spandex-clad participants a chance to compete in categories including best group costume, fan favorite, and best overall. All winners receive free admission to next year’s convention, and there’s even a $1,000 grand prize. If you think you have what it takes to compete, the entry fee is $5 for adults and free for participants up to age 17.

Baltimore Comic-Con takes place Sept. 8-9 at the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St.,

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