Rose City Comic Con celebrates geek culture

Published on Wednesday, 6 August 2014 22:30 - Written by DEREK KUHN dkuhn@tylerpaper.com

Acting like the bat-signal for nerds, geeks and dorks across East Texas, the Rose City Comic Con is set to pull in enthusiasts of all ages just like Magneto attracts metal later this fall.

The second-year comic con, which takes place on Oct. 25 and 26, may seem weird to the uninitiated but its supporters champion the conference as an event that builds camaraderie and shows children that it’s OK to be different.

“We are very proud to promote ‘be yourself, learn from it and have fun doing it,’” Rose City Comic Con board member George Jones said. “The long and the short of it is it (events such as the Rose City Comic Con) has absolutely made it a lot better, and (it has) allowed younger kids to realize that being different isn’t bad, and that they can express themselves without getting picked on.”

Paralegal and Rose City Comic Con board member Charles Parkes III agreed with Jones’ sentiment, but believes the comic con, which this year is at the Holiday Inn on South Broadway Avenue, functions as a waypoint for some people in East Texas.

“I think that we’re that anchor point (for kids) out here in East Texas because — let’s be honest — stigmas here can really drag you down and cause problems,” Parkes, a Palestine native, said. “I think us being here shows that ‘hey you know what? You’re not weird, you’re not different; there’s thousands all round you that are right where you’re at, so hold your head up. Come out and celebrate with us. Come be with us so that the people who are making you feel like the weirdo can see that they’re the odd balls.”

Parkes’ wife Jennyfer Keohane, a professional make-up artist, said it is good for people to go to these events.

“It’s a break from normality,” Mrs. Keohane said. “It gives people a chance to have fun. There are so many ‘normal’ things like garden shows and gun shows, and I think we needed something that’s a little bit different.”

Many attendees cosplay or dress up as a character when they go to comic cons.

Cosplayer and self-described geek Bill Necessary agreed with Mrs. Keohane’s perspective, and said he thinks the comic con is a great event for the youth of Tyler.

“When I graduated high school back in 1982, I was tolerated, but it was like ‘Bill wore superman shirts, read comic books and he’s one of THEM,” Necessary, a Deacon at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, said. “In grade school, I was bullied, but not anymore.”

Necessary, who often cosplays as Batman, Lone Ranger and Captain America among others, said he has personally seen how these events can affect children.

“I remember a few years back, this middle school student who was getting picked on because he liked comic books, super heroes and action figures,” he said. “The other kids picked on him and called him a nerd. Now, kids like him can come out and see that they’re not alone. And there’s a whole lot of us; we’re not just kids — we’re big kids.” And that’s a great thing, he added.

Showing not just children but adults that no matter how different you think you are, you aren’t that different from other people is important, Mrs. Keohane said.

 

BUILDING BONDS AND CELEBRATING GEEK CULTURE

“I think that something that gets lost too often in modern society is a sense of community, the internet and all those other things have a tendency to isolate people, but what we are seeing here at the store (Ground Zero Comics) and especially at the con, the sense of community gets brought back,” RCCC board member and Ground Zero Comics owner David Seigler said.

“It’s not just geographical; it’s not just a neighborhood — because a community back when I was a kid, all too often, it was the old lady that yelled at kids playing on the street and the local butcher who wouldn’t let you ride bicycles in his driveway, but that was your community because that’s where you lived,” he said. “Now we got a community that is built on your interests, and it’s a much tighter and bonded community.

“Frankly, it’s a much healthier community, and something like this facilitates it because you get a bunch of people who share the same passions,” Seigler said. “We are defined by our passions; they are what make us who we are.”

And what they are is nerds, but that’s OK, Jones said.

“It’s hip to be a nerd,” he said. “People are starting to realize that nerds are the ones who rule the world,” Jones said with a chuckle.

Mrs. Keohane, who was born in New York, said the stereotypes of groups of pimply, pale, basement-dwelling teenagers isn’t an accurate description of who the comic con attracts.

“It seems like everybody is into this,” Mrs. Keohane, who also is a RCCC board member, said. “We’ve got business owners, liquor store managers, Rocket Fizz, bank presidents and political activists (who are involved with the comic con) — these are the people that are into this sort of thing.”

The mother of two teenagers said geek culture has provided a way for her and Parkes to connect with their children.

“We all grew up in this whole mentality that ‘you’re a grownup; you’re not allowed to have fun anymore,’ but I think this is a way to have good fun with your kids,” she said. “My husband and I have two boys — 19 and 16 — and we are able to bond with them over the comic books and video games. I think we need more of that. We need to let people know there are ways to still have fun and be young.”

Other than connecting, Jones said the RCCC works as a healthy outlet for the nerds in East Texas.

“It allows people to have a way to vent and provides an avenue for people to express themselves,” he said. “You get Halloween once a year and you get to dress up, have fun and be someone else for a day, but an event like this allows you to dress up and be somebody else at a different time with a bunch of other people who enjoy expressing themselves through that sort of a venue.”

Self expression and having fun with one another keeps with the fun-loving spirit of nerd culture, Seigler said. Regarding the stereotypes commonly associated with nerds or geeks, he said comic cons such as the RCCC don’t seek to dispel them, rather they are embraced.

 

WHAT IS THE ROSE CITY COMIC CON?

The RCCC is a convention complete with celebrities, booths selling wares, gaming areas, and Q-&-A sessions that draws from a wide array of popular culture such as science fiction, fantasy, comic books, television and gaming.

Seigler said that the term comic con can be a little misleading, and that events are actually much broader in scope than some might suspect.

“There is really a large community of people who are fascinated by this stuff,” Seigler, whose comic book store has been in Tyler for 21 years, said. “We’ve seen a shift in fans. Whereas 25, 35 years ago if you were a fan of this genre you read comic books — that’s all you did — but now the movies, TV shows and all the other properties that have come out really have shifted to the point that a really large group of people consider themselves genre fans.

“I use the word genre fan rather than comic fan because (it now includes) the people who’ve seen the Batman and Spiderman movies, and watched Twilight and other type stuff that’s related. It really is fascinating; we’ve seen an explosion of people who 25 years ago wouldn’t be caught dead at a convention or even a comic book shop. But things have matured since then and that is reflected in the fact that something like this has been brought to Tyler.”

When asked about Tyler and the RCCC, one of the fathers of modern pen-and-paper gaming, Jim Ward, spoke highly of the area and its people.

“It is the greatest little comic con with the greatest group of fans that I could ever imagine,” the Dungeons & Dragons designer said. “The people are super friendly. I’ve given a couple of seminars there and it was a packed house. They all had nice questions; it’s a smart group of people. There’s also a lot of attractive women there.”

Ward is one of the many celebrities slated to be at this year’s event.

 

WHAT DOES THE ROSE CITY COMIC CON MEAN TO TYLER?

This past year’s comic con brought in about $200,000, which was just in a two-day period, not only to the RCCC, but to local businesses, vendors, hotels and restaurants, Jones said.

“It brings an incredible influx of people who have might not heard of Tyler before — it is tourism to the max,” Jones said. “It brings in people who like to spend money, so you’re looking at tourism, tourism dollars and more recognition to Tyler. We are bringing in people from all over the world — not just next door — and that is a big deal for Tyler.”

Despite the financial impact, members of the board believe the event has a more symbolic meaning to the area.

“Aside from the economic aspect … you hear about comic cons and comic conventions like Dallas, San Diego, New York and Austin, and here’s Tyler getting ready to do something that you only see in large metropolitan areas — it’s a symbol of growth for Tyler,” Parkes said. “It shows that East Texas can run with the bulls. I think that is a reason for the community to come together.”

 

WHO WILL BE THERE?

There are a number of celebrities who have been announced, but more will be announced as the RCCC draws closer.

With that being said, Jones said the comic con has snagged some big names.

“Collin Baker is probably our biggest catch,” Jones said. “Everyone is freaking out that we’re bringing the sixth Dr. Who from England to Tyler. … Mike Grell, who is known for recreating Green Arrow and making him cool and is an advisor on the show ‘Arrow.’”

Other than the aforementioned celebrities, the other guests set to attend include: Kris Holden-Ried, (of “Underworld Awakening”, “Lost Girl”, “Night of the Demons 3” and “The Tudors”), Ksenia Solo (of “Black Swan,” “Love Thy Neighbor,” “Mayday” and renegadepress.com), Neil Napier (of “300,” “Immortals”, “Riddick,” voice and motion capture work in video games such as “Assassin’s Creed III” and “Assassin’s Creed IV,” and has recently landed a lead role in the brand new SyFy channel show: “Helix”), Peter Kelamis (of “Stargate Universe” and the voice of Goku in “Dragon Ball Z”), and Theo Crane (of “The Walking Dead”).

 

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?

“The price ranges from a child’s ticket at $15 to a VIP pass at $50,” Jones said. “(The) VIP pass allows you to jump to the front of any line, it allows you to get into the conference room first for preferred seating for Q&A, or meet one of the stars. There’s also a few breakout events just for the VIP guests (no one else is able to go to).”

Mrs. Keohane emphasized the value of the VIP pass by comparing the RCCC’s version to other comic con’s VIP passes.

“You’re looking at a VIP ticket for $50 where at Dallas (Comic Con) the VIP tickets are $150 to $300,” she said.

The VIP pass can be advantageous for people like Parkes, who have a ton of questions to ask the celebrities in attendance.

In regards to vendors or sponsorship, Mrs. Keohane said the fees were very modest.

“Our vendor fee is $75 compared to $600 at Dallas (Comic Con), and our base amount for a vendor sponsorship is $200 — that’s for us to sit there and advertise for you,” she said.

 

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART?

Each of the board members, cosplayer Necessary and gaming-legend Ward, had varied responses as to what makes the effort put into the RCCC worth it.

While Parkes said the stars are the biggest draw for him, his wife espoused her love of the artistic talents of the cosplayers.

“As a makeup artist and costumer, the cosplay is my favorite,” Mrs. Keohane said. “I am in love with the whole cosplay thing. I love to watch them come in with new techniques they do. I love the fact that women can play men roles; men can play women roles and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

Dungeons & Dragons’ icon Ward concurred with Mrs. Keohane in regard to cosplay.

“It’s much more than just a comic con,” Ward said. “It has one of the best costume contests in the world. I judged that contest last time, and I could not believe the quality of the people that came in.”

Although others enjoyed the cosplay, Seigler enjoys a slightly different aspect of the comic con — he said he likes the camaraderie.

“Seeing that many people together having that good of a time really makes the work worth it,” he said. “There are no cliques at the comic con; it’s just one big clique. I like seeing people share their passions.”

Seigler’s wife, and co-owner of Ground Zero Comics Tonya, echoed her husband’s sentiment about the passion and added that she loves seeing the children’s reaction.

“I like watching the little kids looking at all the people in costume,” the RCCC board member said. “Their faces light up and go ‘look it’s Mr. Freeze!,’ or ‘it’s Catwoman!’ They want to get their pictures made with them, and of course, the people that are dressed up are enjoying the heck out of it too. I love the smiles.”

Jones agreed with Mrs. Seigler and said he loves how magical the event is.

“The sense of wonder of it all is what amuses me the most,” he said. “Watching someone come in with a really awesome costume and seeing everybody going ‘wow!’ It really takes their breath away. Seeing things like this and the amazement that people get that it’s in Tyler. I really enjoy the enjoyment of other people.”

While the others cited cosplay, camaraderie or a sense of amazement, Necessary boiled it down to the attendees.

“The people are the best part,” Necessary said. “Of course there are people that come because they are curious, they want to see what it’s all about. You interact and gather with like-minded friends. You get to basically celebrate nerdism together.”

For a complete list, visit www.toursoftyler.com/tyler_rose_city_comic_con .