Fantasticon comic book convention in Toledo this weekendWritten by Danielle Gamble | | email@example.com
Brr-r-r-runk! The growl of tables scooting across the floor mingles with the clatter of chair legs hitting each other. Why are there excited voices wafting through the halls of Downtown Toledo’s Grand Plaza Hotel and Convention Center? What is coming?
It’s Fantasticon, the Glass City’s newest and largest comic book and pop culture convention.
A cornucopia of nerdy offerings will be available Downtown 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 11 and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 12. Vintage toys, games, T-shirts, costume contests and celebrity guests like “Mallrats” star Jeremy London are just a few of the offerings to ogle.
Oh yeah, and there are comics — Joe Nieporte, co-owner of Funfest Productions, the company hosting the convention, estimates about half a million books.
“Everyone in Toledo who wants to go to a comic con has to drive to Detroit, Cleveland or Columbus,” he said. “So we put one in their own backyard.”
Nieporte’s job is to put on festivals and conventions like this one. Toledo’s Fantasticon is one of several iterations of the show he has planned, and will be similar to the Fantasticon planned for Mt. Clemens, Michigan, in November.
Nieporte said his usual stomping grounds are Southeast Michigan, but after meeting so many Toledoans over the years at other cons, he came down to check out the locale and test the demand. Over 1,000 presold tickets later, he isn’t disappointed. He’s now expecting between 2,500 and 3,000 attendees.
That’s no surprise to comic book writer Dirk Manning, a Fantasticon special guest and Toledo native.
“They’re testing the waters,” he said. “And what I think they’re already discovering is, you know, ‘We’re going to need a bigger boat.’”
Manning, who has written 14 comic books and graphic novels and specializes in horror comics, is best known for his work “Nightmare World.” He said even though he “can’t even draw a straight line,” he’s been fascinated with comics since his introduction at age 13.
“Once I discovered comics, I just fell in love with the medium,” he said. “It’s such a powerful, dynamic way to tell a story.”
After attending 37 conventions in the past year, Manning said he likes the way Fantasticon balances the excitement and showmanship of a convention with the celebration of comic creators. He’s one of over 30 writers and artists, including some from powerhouses like Marvel, D.C. and Dark Horse Comics, who will be at Toledo’s event.
Having easy access to creators of such globally-renowned work is something Manning said is popular at all comic conventions, and something that’s unique to the industry.
“If you’re really a fan of Angelina Jolie, for example, you can’t just go somewhere and tell Angelina Jolie you’re a big fan of her work — you’ll get maced, if you’re lucky,” he said.
With San Diego’s Comic-Con International growing into a household name, the number of new conventions across the country is on the rise. Manning and Nieporte both credit movies like “Spider-Man,” “Batman,” the Marvel franchise and the rebooting of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” for the rising popularity of what, in the ’90s, was considered a counterculture.
“I would encourage anybody who’s interested in pop culture in general to come find out all the different types of comic books that are out there,” Manning said. “Do superheroes dominate the market? Sure they do. But comic books are books. You’ll find every genre imaginable.”
Although Manning said many people picture comic conventions as populated by teenagers and serious collectors, he said the recent ubiquity of comics and their inspired material have made cons popular with children and families as well.
Darryl Dean, owner of Toledo Game Room comic and game shop, said he is keeping that family audience in mind with the comic book-inspired games he plans on bringing to Fantasticon. He’s been selling family board games and comics in the region for 28 years.
“There are people who for whatever reason — family, school, life — they get out of the hobby, but the [superhero] movies are doing so well they’re getting back into the hobby,” he said. “And I have a lot of parents right now who are trying to get their kids into reading comics, because they remember when they used to read comics when they were kids.”
Dean will be bringing comic book-inspired card games like DC Comics’ deck-building game and Marvel’s “Legendary,” which both pit a myriad of fan-favorite superheroes against iconic villains from their respect universes. He said he’ll also be bringing plenty of his most popular books, including “The Walking Dead” comic series that inspired the AMC television show.
That won’t be the only “Walking Dead” presence. Michonne’s pet walkers, played by Moses Moseley and Theshay West, will be judging a “Walking Dead” costume contest April 12. Theirs is one of three contest held throughout the weekend, including a kid’s contest April 12 and a general cosplay contest, also April 12.
Pre-sale tickets for Fantasticon are available now at www.fantasticon.net, and cost $12.50 for a two-day pass, $10 for a Saturday pass and $5 for a Sunday pass. You can also purchase tickets at the Grand Plaza Hotel and Convention Center, 444 N. Summit St., for $12 April 11 and $8 April 12. Children younger than 5 get in free.
But if you aren’t able to make it over to check out the extravaganza, don’t worry too much; Nieporte said Fantasticon isn’t finished with Toledo.
“There’s no question,” he said. “We’re going to come back and do this every spring.”