Comic book culture is embedded in our collective imaginations like never before, inspiring a slew of Hollywood blockbusters like Batman and Superman (for starters), as well as a number of gritty independent films, such as American Splendor, Ghost World and Road to Perdition. The genre also attracts all manner of craftsmen to explore it as a new medium, from Michael Chabon to Kevin Smith to Stephen King.
In fact, comic books have moved from geeky back rooms to mainstream pop culture. They are internationally celebrated, but the true heights of this culture are best observed in several major cities by annual Comic Cons or Comic Book Expos.
Greater Cincinnati area has long played host to a variety of big-ticket conventions and gatherings. However, before 2010, the region never had a real comic book expo. For decades, other cities across the country and around the world exalted comic book culture, some of them growing their annual events to draw tens of thousands to enjoy, learn and just generally geek out.
For those who don’t know, a comic-book convention (or “comic con”) is an event where fans, vendors and stars gather to discuss, buy, trade, lecture, workshop and salute their heroes, both real and imaginary. Celebrities make special appearances for photos and signings It’s a gleaming sea of mags and graphic novels, toys, games, costumes and super-personalities, all lit up by the magic of comic culture.
Greater Cincinnati has had a few one-shots and start-ups here and there, but no established event has gathered fans of comic books and popular culture all in one place consistently.
“As a fan and a vendor, I would go to many of these shows that were out of town,” Cincinnati Comic Expo director and founder Andrew Satterfield explains. “I had to go to Columbus, Dayton, Chicago and Baltimore. At these shows, I saw many artists from Cincinnati selling and signing their books. Cincinnati has a wealth of comic artist talent. Why do all these people from Cincinnati have to go to other towns and cities?”
Satterfield established The Cincinnati Comic Expo last year, giving the area an annual show celebrating all periods and genres of pop culture, with an emphasis on comics.
“Cincinnati has been in the comic/pop culture darkness for too long,” Satterfield says. “The expo is a beacon of light to expose all things great about pop culture and comics.”
The inaugural event, held at Xavier’s Cintas Center, was a great success.
“The response from artists and vendors was more than expected,” Cincinnati Comic Expo’s media relations director Matt Bredestege says. “We ran out of space and had to turn possible exhibitors away. We did not know how many people to expect — our advertising was all word of mouth and very grassroots.”
Spreading its wings with a move to the Duke Energy Convention Center, the 2011 Cincinnati Comic Expo will include over 30 vendors, 24 featured guests, 50 comic creators and artists, professional panels, trivia competitions and a costume contest.
One hotly anticipated new feature is the gaming room.
“We realize some of the comic fans are also game fans, but we also know that there are just people out there focused on the gaming,” Bredestege says. “Yottaquest, a gaming company, will introduce new board games to the public. These are not your typical Monopoly games. There are various card games, games of strategy and games of skill. Yottaquest will have a professional at each table to explain the game, help out with any questions and play along to show how the game develops.”
Another highlight this year is an appearance by Jim Steranko. Since the ’70s, Steranko produced revolutionary work as an artist and writer on comics such as Captain America, X-Men and S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as cover work on Batman. As an illustrator, he has painted a multitude of book covers, record jackets and movie posters, including 30 Shadow paperbacks. His work has been shown at more than 200 exhibitions worldwide, including The Louvre in Paris and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
Another popular activity around comic con is “cosplay.” Short for “costume play,” fans don the outfits and accessories of their favorite characters, including superheroes, video game characters and even an invasion by your local Garrison of Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars.
“Lots of people will be dressed, from prop-quality Star Wars outfits to those bought at Target,” Satterfield says.“We have made this a family-friendly event. Even though some artists may specialize in gore or nudity, they can sell their artwork, but they are not allowed to display it in the open,” Bredestege says. ©
The Cincinnati Comic Expo is Saturday at downtown’s Duke Energy Convention Center. Admission is $10. For more information, go here.