There are a lot of reasons why comic book conventions are great. Boxes of cheap back issues and the chance to chat with your favorite creators (or, if your standards are a bit lower, your third-favorite comic book critic) are great, but some of the real highlights come from the stuff. And on that front, last weekend's HeroesCon, a decidedly comic book focused show that comes right in the middle of convention season, is one of the best shows for checking out all the new projects that independent creators are showing off this year.

As a result, I came home with a huge stack of comics that I'll be working my way through in the next few weeks. For now though, I've picked out a few highlights from my HeroesCon Haul that you can watch for at your local convention, from widescreen Blaxploitation action to Disney Princess MMA! Jim Rugg's Notebook Drawings: 2011 - 2012: This was one of the things I was most looking forward to picking up at the show, and ended up being the very first thing I bought. I've written about Rugg's incredible series of notebook drawings before, and while it still blows my mind that he has actually done these with ballpoint pens, what really made me want the collection was the format they went with for print:

In a tribute to Rugg's choice of medium, AdHouse decided to make an actual spiral-bound notebook, reprinting 48 of the drawings, complete with three holes punched out of each page. It makes for a pretty striking collection -- especially considering the eye-searing hot pink cover -- and it's a great way to show off the pieces in a form that shows exactly how great they are. The only problem is that it's a limited release: There are only 300 copies printed, and while they seemed to have enough on hand at HeroesCon, that was also the show where it debuted. If you're planning on picking one up, you might want to act fast at the upcoming Baltimore Comicon and Small Press Expo.

Jay Potts' World of Hurt: The Thrill-Seekers: Speaking of awesome formats, I finally got the chance to pick up the print version of "The Internet's #1 Blaxploitation Webcomic," by South Carolina's own Jay Potts. That would be pretty awesome in and of itself but what pushed it over the top was that Jay opted for an ultra-widescreen presentation that I've been referring to as Hurtscope™. Here's a look at the book next to a copy of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand that I threw in for scale:

The end result is a pretty beautiful book that echoes the look of a '70s theater lobby card, which fits the old-school aesthetic that Jay's working with very well. More than that, though, the fact that he was able to fund the book with a successful Kickstarter is a pretty nice reminder of what a great independent artist can do with the support of his readers.

John Pading and Shigeharu Kobayashi's Princess Calabretta: Pading and Kobayashi were another couple of local guys that I was pretty excited to see at the convention. Last year, I got their mini-comic, Motor Psycho, which was about a telekinetic super-hero who rode around in a motorcycle's sidecar, who was actually just a normal guy with an invisible best friend. It's hands down one of the funniest and saddest comics I've ever read -- and you can check it out for free at their site, -- so I was definitely looking forward to their newest offering, Princess Calabretta.

Especially when Pading described it as "A Disney Princess MMA story."

At a whopping 70 pages, it stretches the definition of a "mini"-comic, and it's a great read. It's set in a fantasy land that's loosely based on Lexington and Richland Counties, South Carolina -- and while non-locals probably won't laugh as hard at stuff like the Kingdom of Cayce and the White Mage of Gaston, I definitely did -- in which the monarchy is crowned by martial arts. As a result, it's the only fairy tale I've ever read in which the Princess meets her Prince, then promptly beats him into a coma in the octagon.

It's every bit as funny, bizarre, and genuinely touching as the other comics they've done, and well worth shooting an email to them (or swinging by October's Cola-Con in Columbia) to grab your own.

Andy Belanger's Black Church: This one was another book that was impossible to resist based purely on its format. In this case, it's a story inspired by heavy metal that's been designed to look like a 7" record, complete with a thick, blood red cardstock sleeve, pictured here beneath the actual comic:

You may already be familiar with Belanger's work as the artist of IDW's Kill Shakespeare, and while I haven't had a chance to do much more than leaf through the story -- which involves witchcraft, barbarians, demonic bears and the birth of the Antichrist in Romania the year before Vlad the Impaler was born -- it's that art that sold me on it. It's a beautiful book that's packed full of bloody action, and the only reason I hesitated was that Belanger mentioned that when the story's done, he wants to do a box set of the series in the size of a vinyl LP. If he does, I get the feeling I'm going to end up buying it twice.

Ryan Browne's God Hates Astronauts #1 and 2: Until I actually saw it on the table in front of me, I had completely forgotten about Ryan Browne's incredible webcomic, which made me feel like an idiot because God Hates Astronauts is the story that every other ultraviolent super-hero parody wants to be.

If you've never read it, God Hates Astronauts -- which is another innovative title that sprang to life as a webcomic (and that link is profoundly NSFW) -- is the story of a super-team torn apart by a combination of grotesque head trauma, infidelity, occultist bears and the vengeful spirit of a dead cow. It's one of those books where "over the top" barely even begins to describe it, but Browne's writing is genuinely sharp, and his expressive, almost frantic art style is perfect for the story he's telling.

The print copies will set you back six bucks each, but they're worth every penny and more to support a comic and a creator like this.

Chris Schweizer's Sherlock Holmes Paper Figures: Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I already have every book Chris Schweizer has created over the past few years, but one of the nice things about cons is that it gives you a chance to see the stuff people make beyond their comics. Case in point, a pack of eight paper figures based on Sherlock Holmes:

Considering my feelings about the other World's Greatest Detective, it probably won't surprise anyone to learn that I'm a big fan of Holmes as well, and Schweizer's fun, cartoony versions of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty and the others are a fun thing to have around. You can check out the entire set over at his blog, and there's even a bonus inspired by the BBC's current Sherlock series. They're pretty awesome.

And that's really just the surface of what I picked up at the con -- the rest of the stack is full of great stuff like Milk and Cheese hardcover, a handful of mini-comics (and Downton Abbey-inspired valentines) by Mega Man artist Chad Thomas, and more. But they're great things to watch out for when it's time for your local convention. So the next time you hit Artist's Alley, keep an eye out and support independent artists -- you might just end up with a stack of great stuff.

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