Small but vibrant crowd expected for Annapolis Comic-Con
He was always a skateboarder and action-movie fan, not to mention a punk-rock enthusiast, but from the time he turned 12, nothing excited Steve Anderson more than the approach and arrival of his favorite day, Wednesday.

That was the day the newest issues of his favorite comic books arrived at the local shop, Alliance Comics in Bowie, giving him a reason to drop in, hang out with the owner and schmooze with the other customers.

"Someone would always talk to you and say, 'Hey, check this [new comic] out,' and you'd take a look, maybe take it home and get started," Anderson says. "You built a rapport. It meant a lot to me growing up."

Now 29, Anderson, the co-owner of Third Eye Comics in Annapolis, and a partner, Annapolis native Ben Penrod, hope to offer comics fans a taste of similar camaraderie when they unveil Annapolis Comic-Con, the first comics convention held in the state capital, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

"Conventions as a whole have gotten so much bigger over the last 10 years or so," Anderson says. "This year's Baltimore Comic-Con was the biggest I've ever seen it. It was a great show, as always, but our mission statement is to be the hard-working little brother of these bigger shows — to offer the kind of intimate environment that sometimes gets lost."

The 12th annual Baltimore festival, boasting appearances by Spider-Man creator Stan Lee and a range of panel discussions, drew more than 25,000 to the convention center over two days in August, which qualifies it as one of the nation's largest.

Anderson and Penrod have reserved Elks Lodge 622 in Annapolis, where they hope to draw a crowd of 500 or more. The day will feature 10 local and nationally known artists, 20 comics dealers from six states, a costume contest and other events.

The pair say it's shaping up to be just the right size.

"We're going all-out in the things we know we can do," says Penrod, 28, a comics nut who owns Ninja Pirate Gear, an online shop based in Waldorf. "I don't want people to show up expecting another Baltimore Con. But in its own way, it's going to be madness."

Swamp Thing

Some historians trace comic books — that is, narrative tales told in successive illustrated panels — to the 1840s, when a series of previously published comic strips, "The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck," appeared in hardcover form in New York.

The form blossomed in the late 1930s, when Superman first appeared in a volume called Action Comics No. 1. It acquired nuance during the 1940s with the appearance of Disney's "funny animal" comics, and in the 1950s and 1960s, when the heroes began showing self-doubt.

It became a full-fledged cultural force in the 1990s and 2000s with the emergence of comics-based Hollywood hits like "X-Men" and "Iron Man," video games like "Aliens Versus Predator" and the emergence of dozens of fan conventions across the country.

But for two guys who make their living in a multibillion-dollar industry, Anderson and Penrod are living proof that the appeal of comics is still a very personal thing.

When Anderson was a kid, he recalls, what thrilled him more than anything was knowing his favorite artists and writers were out there creating new episodes — and that four weeks after they finished a book, he'd get it in his hands.

"There was this anticipation, a sense of discovery you didn't get anywhere else," he says. "These stories and pictures came out of nowhere and grabbed you."

He got a job at Alliance Comics at 19, worked there for six years, and eventually scraped together enough money to set up his own shop, with his wife, Patricia Rabbitt, as co-owner.

When they opened in 2008, they named the new place after a bookshop the artist Alan Moore created in his 1998 comic series "Saga of the Swamp Thing."

"I thought it would be 'meta' to bring The Third Eye into the real world," Anderson says, using the "geek culture" term for "self-referential." "It's a pretty obscure reference, but once in a while, one of my customers gets it."