Over the past few decades, comic conventions have become mainstays of the industry. They unite people — or nerds, as you might call them — for one general purpose: their passion for comics and related sub-cultures of geekdom. And all the meanwhile celebrities visit, games are played and parties are thrown.
From the night of Nov. 11 to Nov. 13, Portland will play host to its own comic convention, the first annual Coast City Comicon, which will combine comic culture with a broader geek culture including B-horror movies, video games, nerd raves and more. The event, which will span between Eastland Park Hotel, SPACE Gallery, and Geno’s Rock Club, is being organized by the owners of Coast City Comics, a shop that includes many of the convention’s offerings.
“It’s a lot more than just comics,” said Tristan Gallagher, co-owner of the Congress Street store.
While the convention will offer panels about breaking into the comic book industry and film screening that document modern comic legends, many of the events fall into other categories. For instance, a Super Mario Bros. 3 tournament will be held on Saturday in the vendor’s area at the Eastland. As Gallagher was happy to point out, it’s a nod to the 1989 cult classic video game film The Wizard, which starred a young Fred Savage.
“And if somebody does actually show up with a Power Glove in a box and take it out, they’re totally allowed to use it,” Gallagher said. “But they’re going to score lower than anyone else because those things are impossible to use.”
While admission costs $20 for the weekend for adults (add another $10 for a pass to the movie screenings and a t-shirt) and $5 for children, day passes for $10 are also available.
On Friday night, the convention will kick off with a dance party and costume contest at SPACE Gallery. Performers include Portland’s favorite party metal band, WARANIMAL; mash-up artist, DJ PonyFarm; and New York electro-dance outfit, Heloise and the Savoir Faire. Also on the convention’s non-comic agenda: a panel led by Loren Coleman of Portland’s International Cryptozoology Museum, a panel about guerrilla filmmaking and a Mystery Science Theater-esque viewing of an obscure Captain America film from the ’70s.
Ever since Coast City Comics was founded in June 2009, Gallagher and founder/former owner Gerald Von Stoddard said they knew the convention was eventually going to happen. It was just a matter of how and when. After Stoddard transferred ownership to Gallagher who owned Fun Box Monster Emporium, a conjoined store with an emphasis on video games, toys and t-shirts, Gallagher combined the two businesses and began planning the convention with new co-owner Chad Pennell.
“This year I was in charge, so I said, ‘let’s do it’. I got around to doing all the stuff that needed to be done, and here it is,” Gallagher said.
Stoddard left the store in order to pursue comic writing full-time, a longtime dream of his that wasn’t possible when he was running daily operations for the store. He’ll be attending the convention as a guest, debuting the first part of his Deadboy series, a graphic novel aimed at an all-ages audience. He said writing comics isn’t as easy as people might think.
“There’s a saying that everybody thinks they can write one, and the truth is very few actually can,” Stoddard said.
To help himself through the process, he joined Comics Experience, an online comic school run by Andy Schmidt, a former editor for Marvel Comics and IDW Publishing. Schmidt along with other members of the school will be visiting the convention to impart their wisdom about the creation process. Some former students have gone on to greater things, including Nick Spencer, who is now a fledgling writer for Marvel, DC and Image Comics.
Gallagher said conventions like this have been tried in the past, but they failed by being too narrowly focused, relying on celebrity signings as the main event. For Coast City Comicon, he said that won’t be the case.
“We’re trying to make interest by having people active in doing things. There are actual things happening.”