Granite State Comicon brings enthusiasts to Manchester
There was an eclectic and extensive celebrity guest list downtown at the Radisson Center on Saturday.
Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, Capt. Jack Sparrow, Boba Fett and the Phantom of the Opera were among those celebrating the opening day of the 10th annual Granite State Comicon, which has grown in both size and diversity.
Comicon isn't just for superheroes anymore, branching well beyond its comic-book origins into a culture that welcomes just about anyone with the enthusiasm to get into character and join the party.
"It's just kind of cool. Everyone gets to dress up and experience the magic of ... entertainment," said Dana Powers, who was wearing the orange flight suit of a Rebel Alliance fighter pilot from Star Wars. "Everyone's meshing all the worlds, and that makes it fun because it gets kind of boring if everyone keeps doing the same thing."
Powers was sitting outside the hotel entrance with the fully-functional R2 D2 he built himself at his home in Tilton and a replica landspeeder like the one Luke Skywalker piloted long ago in a galaxy far, far away. R2 was one of the most popular attractions Saturday, when people lined up to pose for a picture with the iconic droid.
Inside, people strolled the conference-center floor slowly as they went from booth to booth, checking out the comic books or memorabilia dozens of vendors had up for sale, or stopping to admire a particular costume and chat with the person wearing it. The merchandise covered a range as varied as the characters on parade.
There were traditional classic superheroes mingling with the science fiction faction, zombies and even characters from the world of video games.
The terms "geek" and "nerd" were used frequently and with pride throughout the convention, which for the first time in its 10-year history has been expanded to two days.
Saturday's events included a contest for best costume. Some of then entrants took a great deal of time and effort to complete.
"I've never gone to a 'con' without dressing up," said Joy Powell, a 24-year-old from Boston who was "Princess Peach" from the Mario Brothers game franchise. "It helps people approach you. It helps make new friends, and it helps kind of get the conversations going with other fans. I've always thought that was really fun."
Powell made her costume herself, taking a section of bubble-gum pink fabric she picked up in a clearance bin and sewing it into an ornate little dress instantly recognizable to Mario Bros. fans.
She was describing the various costumes she has made over the years when a little girl tapped her on the arm, complimented the Princess Peach ensemble and asked if she could get a picture with her.
"Seeing their faces and knowing that it sort of encourages them to follow their interest, that's like a big thing for me," said Powell, who estimated she has been to at least 20 conferences since attending her first as a character from Resident Evil when she was a teenager.
This was Powell's first visit to Granite State Comicon and the second for boyfriend Patrick Lochelt, a member of the Ghostbusters of New Hampshire. Lochelt was in complete Ghostbuster attire, from the coveralls to the large "proton pack" strapped to his back. "This show was half as big last year. Everything is getting really big," Lochelt said. "I think being a nerd or a geek is kind of becoming more acceptable, so more people are coming out and coming to things like this."
Organizer Chris Proulx, who owns Double Midnight Comics in Manchester, said he was getting last-minute ticket requests all week and guessed the total weekend attendance could triple last year's figure of about 2,600 people.
"We're really growing this year," Proulx said.
Comicon regular Brian Anderson of Waltham, Mass., was trying a new character on Saturday, stepping away from his usual Star Wars and going as "Dr. Doom," the archrival of Marvel Comics' "Fantastic Four."
Anderson's costume was complete with plastic armor covering his arms, a mask and voice modifier. He was a frequent photo request among his fellow fans.
"The scene is growing enormously," said Anderson, who tries to attend 10 to 15 conventions every year. "I like to see the variety. It's good seeing a lot of different things."
Anderson was accompanied by friend Michael MacLeod, who toted around a bow to complete his new costume as DC Comics' "The Green Arrow."
A musician who once played in a KISS cover band, MacLeod said dressing up for a performance is nothing new, although he did have to dye the leather pants and jacket he was wearing to make them the character's color of green.
"It's not as underground. It used to be an underground nerd movement - as I used to call it," he said. "I think we're becoming a lot more mainstream now."
Proulx said the comicon growth comes from several different factors. He said about 49 percent of comics are read by women now, as opposed to 10 years ago, when it was only about 20 percent. Superheroes overall have also become more popular with more and more featured in movies.
"Along with the films comes a new group of fans," Proulx said.
The convention features a vendor floor, media guests, panels, a mini-arcade courtesy of Weirs Beach gaming center Funspot, an artist's alley and a gaming area. Also in attendance are famous props from television and film, including the DeLorean from "Back to the Future Part III."
The list of special guests included widely known comic artists and writers, including Mark McKenna (Invincible Iron Man, Punisher), Norman Lee (New Mutants, X-Men), and many more.
Granite State Comicon wraps up today at the Radisson Center of New Hampshire, located at 700 Elm St. in Manchester. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.
Paul Feely of the New Hampshire Union Leader staff contributed to this report.