Raleigh Supercon

Friday, July 14–Sunday, July 16

Raleigh Convention Center, Raleigh

It may not approach the 130,000-plus crowd that recently invaded San Diego for the annual Comic-Con International (“SDCC” to those on social media), but the recent debut of Raleigh Supercon offered ample evidence that the Oak City is upholding its reputation as one of America’s geekiest places. Over three hot days in mid-July, 30,000 fans came to the Raleigh Convention Center to get their pictures taken with celebrities, commune with fellow fans, and occasionally even buy an actual comic book.

The success of Supercon—due to return in August 2018, according to con officials—ups the stakes for cashing in on the fanboy and fangirl base in the Triangle. The area already enjoys a boost at the start of summer with Animazement each Memorial Day weekend. More directly, the mini-empire of Ultimate Comics and NC Comicon has continuously expanded, with NC Comicon upped to two shows per year, plus the Greensboro Comicon in September—and that’s on top of existing events, from local (Durham Comics Fest at the Durham County Library and the GeekCraft Expo at the Durham Armory) to across the state (Heroes Con in Charlotte, which celebrated its thirty-fifth annual show this past June). Even a few local comics creators are thriving; one piece of news out of SDCC was that Durham comics writer Jeremy Whitley just had his all-ages fairy tale Princeless optioned as a film by Sony Pictures.

What does this mean for the Triangle? If nothing else, escalation. On Sunday, in the aftermath of Raleigh Supercon, NC Comicon announced the first guests for its November show in Durham and grabbed a number of big-name creators, including Rick Veitch of the 1980s Swamp Thing, controversial writer-artist Howard Chaykin, and Shelly Bond, who long oversaw DC’s Vertigo line of books with such titles as The Sandman and Preacher.

My visit to Raleigh Supercon showed both the potential and problems inherent in expanding the fan-event culture in the area. Owned by a chain of conventions, Supercon took over the space formerly reserved by another chain, Wizard World, which held its own event at the Raleigh Convention Center in 2015. Both cons rely on similar principles: assemble a large number of TV and movie-related celebrities to appear, whose handlers then charge fans various rates to take a picture with the celeb or have an item signed.

Supercon is at least a little better at including actual comic book creators than Wizard World, where many of my friends complained of an almost complete lack of comics for sale. Sure, there’s plenty of media headliners. (Look, Stranger Things kids! And there’s Michael Rooker, hot from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2! And almost the entire main cast from Kevin Smith’s early films—a week after Smith himself appeared at Goodnights!) But beyond that, there are some comics veterans worth leaving the house for.

There’s Jim Shooter, the polarizing former head of Marvel Comics and the original version of Valiant; artist Georges Jeanty, who worked with Joss Whedon on his comics continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and who has a book, The American Way, with 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley out this week; Kevin Nowlan, an “artist’s artist” with a long list of Marvel and DC credits, who rarely does cons and is taking commissions for fans at this show.

Though less dense with cosplayers than Animazement, Supercon is still swarming with fans all weekend, many of whom find themselves braving a line out the door in 95-degree heat when the show opens on Friday. The air conditioning blasts audibly throughout the downstairs hall where the retailers and celebrities are stationed, but the humidity clings to con-goers throughout. “I took a shower before I came here, and it was completely undone by the time I got to my booth,” says Simon Roy, an artist for Image Comics’ sci-fi book Prophet, with whom I spend a good chunk of the weekend chatting. He still has a good time in Raleigh: “There are so many great restaurants here, and just in walking distance.”

Any first-time con is going to have some kinks to work out, and Supercon is no exception. By one p.m. Friday, the closest ATM is out of money, and the celebrities are mostly not keen on debit cards (perhaps due to worries about Internet reception, perhaps due to a preference for cash payments less traceable by Uncle Sam). The entrance and exit lines go through the same gate, resulting in some logjams, and an elevator’s out of order, to the chagrin of a few families with infants in strollers. By Sunday, one of the down escalators is being repaired. Online, the show’s promoters inform those without tickets that online sales are now cut off and begin advising hours when the crowds are likely to die down and tickets might be purchased at the door.

The celebrities in attendance are for the most part punctual and gracious; I indulge a bit myself, plunking down cash to meet Star Trek: The Next Generation actors Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton, along with Justin Roiland, creator and main voice actor on the cult cartoon Rick & Morty. The experiences vary; celebrities are in booths next to each other, so the lines for them are designated with paper-tape mazes on the floor that herd fans through like the proverbial cattle: “Keep it moving!”

Unlike comics professionals, who are generally wiling and able to spend a few minutes chatting with a well-informed fan, there’s rarely time for a longer conversation with TV and movie people. They’re in demand, and their time is literally money. Volunteers help keep the crowds moving and provide details, though in one case, I find the money I just took out of the ATM to get a Lee Majors autograph for a friend still in my pocket after the show. Should his people be reading this, I am happy to compensate if you get into contact. You just don’t stiff the Six Million Dollar Man.

Friends I talk to compare the experience to Dragon Con, the Atlanta-based SF and fantasy event that takes place each August. It’s become a big destination convention in the state, drawing about 77,000 attendees annually. Supercon poses the question: Can it become a similar draw for North Carolina? Or will NC Comicon or Animazement’s growth, or even some new show, officially give the Triangle the same kind of resounding cachet that comes with events such as SDCC each year? Or will there be some kind of détente, with different shows capping off at different levels and somehow coexisting, some growing to a ripe old age like Heroes Con in Charlotte?

No matter what happens, one thing is clear: as a fan, I need to start saving money. With all these shows, it’s going to take an Avengers-level intervention to keep my credit card from maxing out. Hey, do you think they could get Joss Whedon next year?