NC Comicon: Bull City

Nov. 9-11, 2018

Durham Convention Center, Durham

While I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore comic-convention veteran, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about what makes a good con, based on my years experiencing the onslaughts that are San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a smaller convention, and I’m both excited and trepidatious as I approach the Durham Convention Center on a rainy Friday afternoon.

NC Comicon is a homegrown convention for lovers of comics and pop culture, and November 9–11, it hosted the likes of Chuck Palahniuk and Gerard Way as well as dozens of other artists, creators, and fans. The floor has just opened when, arriving with my badge, wristband, and phone, I find it already in full swing. At first, I pay no mind to the long line swinging around the corner, drawn instead to the next room, which is bustling with artists and their wares.

Local artisans, artists, and small presses line the aisles, passing out free comic books to entice people to their tables. Typically, I ignore such advances, but this time, I’m glad I succumbed. Durham resident Frank Kreacic is the self-proclaimed inventor of 3-D resin art. He hands me a pair of 3-D glasses, which I awkwardly slide over my own glasses. Immediately, I see character from Star Wars: Rogue One pop out from the block of resin. It’s not just 3-D; it’s layered with vibrant colors and a wonderfully constructed scene. I can’t help but laugh.

OK, this is cool.

Kreacic tells me that if I go to city hall, I can see his 3-D triptych “Durham: Charging into the Twenty-First Century.” It was installed as part of the city’s public art program. I make sure to wander by later that day with the handy 3-D glasses he gave me. But first, I have to stop myself from buying tiny top hats and cute pillows and plushes—a wide variety of things, all bright and colorful and beckoning. I can feel my wallet bracing itself, but I keep strong. It’s only the first day, after all.

In the next room, with its towering wire racks of figurines, Legos, and other collectibles, I overhear a couple debating which Hatsune Miku (a Japanese vocaloid) figurine to get. I also spy my first cosplayers of the day. Figuring most people were at work or school, I didn’t have high hopes. But I am greeted by a truly menacing Hannibal Lecter and the most adorable Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I snap some pics, tell them they look great, and head into the hallway where, it turns out, all the cosplayers are.

I snap a few more photos, but something else draws my attention. That line from before—it’s gotten much longer. Never one who could ignore a good, long line, I wander over out of curiosity and find, at the end, a pile of severed arms.

OK, they’re rubber, but it takes me a moment to process that information. Then I see someone grab for one and realize, oh, that’s Chuck Palahniuk. Neat. I watch for a few moments as fans come up with piles of books for the Fight Club author to sign along with their token severed arm. I admire the way Palahniuk chats, laughs with them, and poses for photos. A fan tells him he’s the reason he started writing, and Palahniuk looks genuinely touched. It’s the sort of fan-talent interaction that’s refreshing to see.

The main floor is packed on Saturday, and it reminds me of the milling masses of the larger conventions I’m used to. Scooting past shoppers, I find my way back to the cosplay hall, delighted by the hordes of characters. A Mario group starts posing, and I join the spectators snapping shots, laughing along at their antics.

A child dressed as Banjo Kazooie runs past me, exclaiming to his sister, a Rey, that they just missed Black Cat. It’s a perfect scene that illustrates everything a comic convention should be. A giant, fully functioning Gundam is next on the “neat” list, and I stand in awe as the person inside wields a sword and moves around as if it were nothing. Yet it’s a towering ten-foot robot. I love comic cons.

Next is CausePlay Carolinas, a group I had briefly spoken with the day before and wanted to learn more about. Dedicated to giving back to the community, the group does everything from marches and fundraisers to hospital visits, all in cosplay form. One of its members, dressed as the Thirteenth Doctor, tells me that while the group is only a year old, it’s participated in dozens of events already.

I make my way back into the merch room as the overhead announcer says a panel is starting. My wallet begins to cry again as I discover a custom clock-making booth and start debating whether a TARDIS or a Legend of Zelda clock is in my future. Nearby, a little girl asks her mother if she can take a photo with the Teen Titans, and I can’t help but steal a photo as well.

Sunday is the final day. I pass some Rivendell elves as I wander inside for the final taste of a successful and energetic convention. One last pass through the artist and merch rooms ends with checking out Magic Wheelchair, a charity that decorates kids’ wheelchairs into amazing pieces of fandom. I ask Batman if I can snap a pic, and I spy an X-Wing wheelchair as well.

These kids’ excitement warms my heart. Their smiles show how much the positive attention to something that perhaps they don’t always feel too great about really mattered. On my way out, a teenager is profusely thanking their mother for an artist’s print from an anime series, as a very small and sleepy Princess Leia whines that she doesn’t want to leave.

I feel you, kid, I feel you.