For 12 years, Rick Fortenberry and Dave Hinson (of Dave’s Comics in Fort Mill, SC) have been delighting Charlotte area comic book collectors with their Charlotte Comicon. The show is held three times a year–in April, August and December–and never fails to entertain. I suppose this would be a good time to mention that I have been involved with this show in both a volunteer and working capacity for a couple of years now. But, I promise not to let personal feelings get in the way of an honest convention report.
The Charlotte Comicon averages between 1,100-2,000 visitors per show, with ages ranging from toddler to senior citizen. Most of them are die hard comic collectors, as this show is predominantly a ‘trade show’. With 35 vendors and 24 special guests (artists, authors, and so forth) at their April 13, 2014 show, there were plenty of treasures to be found. I have seen this show grow exponentially in recent years, even causing them to change venues to their current home at the Crown Plaza Executive Park Hotel.
One aspect of the show that has continued to expand is the Cosplay participation. Years ago, the number of attendees in costume was less than 100. Now, hundreds show up at Charlotte Comicon dressed not only as their favorite comic book characters, but recognizable characters from movies, television, novels, anime, manga, and more. This year’s spring show had 164 contestants just for their costume contest! I do not envy the job of the judges, whatsoever. There were multiple age divisions for competition and Honorable Mention awards given out as well. Winners from each division were given cash prizes that they could spend in the dealer room. The costume contest is one of the bigger draws for the younger crowd that attends each show.
Seeking to connect with their cosplay fan base, Fortenberry and Hinson arranged for a special Secrets of Cosplay panel. The hour-long panel featured professional cosplayers DJ Spider, Amberle Linnea, Todd Lacey, Eve Madison and ‘The Clown Prince of Charlotte’ Victor Goldberg. Each panelist addressed specific topics such as the politics of cosplay, construction tips, and staying in character. It was standing room only in the ballroom that housed the panel, as the audience hung on their every word. Some went so far as to take notes during the panel and many hands went up when it was time for the Q & A segment. I know a lot of the familiar faces who attend the Charlotte Comicon regularly came away from that session eager to put their knowledge to use. The level of costumes at the summer show should be extraordinary.
Another new addition to the spring show was the Tribute to Charlton Comics panel, featuring Michael Eury (Editor-in-Chief Back Issue Magazine), Dan Johnson (Comics Historian) and Fester Faceplant (Artist, Writer). This hour-long panel with Q & A gave a unique history of Charlton Comics, 1946-1985, and the original characters that ended up being acquired and re-imagined by the likes of DC Comics. I admit, I knew nothing going into this panel, but by the end was fascinated with the industry and the backstory of the likes of The Watchmen. The Charlton Arrow #1 was being sold in limited quantities after the panel. Charlton Arrow is a limited edition collection of stories by Charlton veterans as well as contributors from DC Comics, Marvel and Archie. This historical look at the world of comics was enough to make me hungry for more. I hope that Charlotte Comicon will continue to include such panels.
All in all, Charlotte Comicon is exactly what they claim to be: a family-friendly show. For six hours and $5.00 (free if you are in costume or under the age of 12) you can enjoy a day meeting authors, watching artists paint and draw bringing characters to life before your eyes, and take in one of the wackiest costume parades I have ever seen. Here’s where my honesty kicks in…if you have trouble with tight spaces, you might want to consider that when attending one of their shows. They get more and more crowded each time and maneuverability in the dealer room can be daunting at times, especially if you are wearing a costume. Beyond the tight quarters, I have never had a bad experience at a Charlotte Comicon.
There was a big announcement made at the spring show, however, that should alleviate some of the traffic. Fortenberry and Hinson will be adding a third ballroom for the remainder of the 2014 shows. This additional room will house a Toy Show, with vendors and collectibles as far as the eye can see. With comics in one room, toys and collectibles in another, and cosplay/panels in yet another room, even if their attendance doubles as a result, it shouldn’t feel crowded and will remain a fun and affordable outing for families. I’m looking forward to watching this little show grow and grow. Who knows? Perhaps in the near future it could end up being a full weekend? Until then, I don’t think Charlotte Comicon or its fans have anything to worry about.
The next show will be held from 10am to 4pm on August 3, 2014. Information can be found at charlottecomicon.com
On Saturday January 25, 2014 the Charlotte MiniCon returned to the Grady Cole Center. With over 2,500 guests in attendance, comic book lovers of all ages came out to enjoy the day. Admission to MiniCon was free as always, though a donation of a non-perishable food item (even pet food) was encouraged. Five tons of food, in fact, was collected for the Second Harvest Food Bank, a local non-profit organization.
The MiniCon was founded by Shelton Drum in January of 1977. In 1980, Drum would go on to found Heroes Aren’t Hard To Find and the annual Heroes Convention, which is also held in Charlotte. Said Drum, “We did the MiniCon for a while and then focus shifted to Heroes. But we brought it back in 2007 and it has been growing bigger ever since.”
Founder Shelton Drum
The convention focuses primarily on comic books, highlighting the writers and artists that bring them to life. One such writer, David Pinckney, traveled all the way from Atlanta, Georgia to attend the single-day MiniCon. “I actually found out about it on Convention Scene’s website!” said Pinckney. He was there promoting his comic book, No West to Cross, which is the story of a female gunslinger, “…the first cowgirl in the wild west.” Interestingly enough, though published a year ago, Pinckney has never met any of the artists associated with his work. “I utilized websites like Pencil Jack and Digital Webbing to find artists to work with. “I have team members located in Nebraska, Florida; it’s pretty cool.”
Artist John Hairston, Jr. works on a portrait at MiniCon.
Someone else who drew a sizable crowd was gallery artist, John Hairston, Jr. from All City Studios. “This is my favorite environment,” said Hairston. “I’m among my people, if you know what I mean?” Hairston has been working conventions for 12 years. Painting free-hand on canvas at the MiniCon, he claimed he always knew he wanted to illustrate comic books, yet his work crosses the line into fine art. “I get a lot of commissions from a Con like this.” I, for one, could have stood and watched him paint all day!
Amberle Linnea and Kristin Jann Fischer.
It’s no secret that the cosplay scene in Charlotte is very impressive. Characters of every kind lined the stage at the Grady Cole Center to register for the costume contest, while Charlotte cosplay legend DJ Spider played that funky music. Fan favorites included Kristin Jann Fischer, who looked positively painted into her Black Widow costume, even going so far as to adopt a spot-on Russian accent as she chatted up the other guests as Natalia Romanoff. Amberle Linnea wowed the room with her homemade rendition of Hunger Games character Effie Trinket. Painstakingly piecing together over 1,000 tiny butterflies–including those on her eyelashes and body–Linnea laughed, “You should have seen me trying to ride in the car on the way over here. This dress doesn’t bend!” That’s dedication.
Charlotte MiniCon 2014
All in all, it was a fun day. The Grady Cole Center had plenty of upper deck seating for those needing to take a break. They also had a concessions booth set up in the lobby. Charlotte MiniCon was a shopper’s paradise. We know of various sports’ seasons, wedding season, award season and so forth. For me, the annual Charlotte MiniCon each January is a fantastic way to kick off my “convention season” of the new year. Up next for Shelton Drum and his crew will be their annual 3-day Heroes Convention June 20-22, 2014.
Photos courtesy Garrett Marks