Arts & Entertainment, Film, and Travel & Tourism

First Comic-Con has modest goals

But promoter expects event could eventually draw 30,000 fans.

February 8, 2013
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First Comic-Con has modest goals
Mark and Jennifer Hodges have plenty of fun with comics and sci-fi, but they say comic conventions are serious contributors to a region's bottom line. Photo by Michael Buck
Come Oct. 12, Mark Hodges intends to populate a building in Wyoming with Stormtroopers, Spider-Man, Batman, and a host of other superhero and sci-fi characters, at the inaugural Grand Rapids Comic-Con.

Hodges said he is using a slow-and-steady approach to build attendance in the years to come, but the promoter predicts Grand Rapids Comic-Con will one day be a premier source of revenue for the Grand Rapids area, just as other cultural attractions, such as ArtPrize, are.

He is basing his prediction, in part, on the success of established comic-cons in cities such as Atlanta, Las Vegas and New York City. San Diego’s single largest convention, Comic-Con International, is projected to generate $488 million over 2013 and 2015, including sales tax revenue of $442,000, direct spending of $207 million by convention attendees, and sales of 378,000 hotel room nights, according to San Diego Metropolitan Magazine.

Hodges also cites the local JAFAX (Japanese Animation, Film and Art Expo), a free visual culture convention held every June at Grand Valley State University. In 1995, JAFAX started out in just a few rooms at Kendall College of Art and Design with about 150 attendees, but it has since grown to occupy multiple buildings at GVSU and now attracts 3,500-plus fans of anime, manga and Japanese culture.

Hodges believes it’s plausible similar attendance records will hold true for Grand Rapids Comic-Con one day.

“When it’s done right, I believe an event like this can be successful in virtually any area of the country,” said Hodges.

“By done right I mean not being afraid to spend money on it. I’ve seen a lot of shows try to turn every penny, and they’re as cheap as you can be. You can’t be afraid to attract quality guests. But I don’t expect to hear a profit the first two years.”

This year’s Grand Rapids Comic-Con will be held at the Home School Building, 5625 Burlingame Ave. SW, in Wyoming. Given the area’s social mores, the event will be family-friendly, said Hodges.

The expo will feature a “huge” vending room selling comic books, anime/manga, movie memorabilia, action figures and toys; an “artist alley” featuring a selection of independent comic artists representing the best from the Midwest; a gaming room; a film festival; an activity room with events, including a costume contest, seminars and presentations from show guests, and an appearance by the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers; and five to six nationally renowned comic book artists or creators who have worked with DC Comics, Marvel Comics and other national publishers, including Jon Alderink, Chris Yambar, and Allen Bellman, the artist who drew “Captain America” during the 1940s. Details can be found at grcomiccon.com and facebook.com/grandrapidscomiccon.

What the 2013 Grand Rapids Comic-Con will not include is a big-name guest, said Hodges, such as “Sons of Anarchy” star Ron Pearlman, who frequently is invited to comic-cons. There’s not enough money in Hodges’ $10,000 budget, but if success favors the local event, a guest star will be on his radar.

Hodges said he projects 2,000 to 3,000 people will attend the first Grand Rapids Comic-Con, but eventually he hopes to hold it in larger venues such as The DeltaPlex Arena and Conference Center in Walker and, if all goes well, DeVos Place.

Hodges’ background in event planning includes being the public relations manager for the Grand Rapids Toy And Comic ExpoShows Inc., a stint he held from 2011 to 2012. He also worked from the 1990s to early 2000s as a promoter of Christian concerts, co-founded the Unity Christian Music Festival in Muskegon, and launched some small comic book trade shows in Grandville and downtown Grand Rapids.

In 2006, Hodges started Rivertown Entertainment, which sells movie memorabilia at trade shows, conventions and on eBay.

From 2008 to 2010, Hodges worked on a project called Phoenix E.V. Inc., a series of film festivals in Grand Rapids, but fundraising efforts fell flat, which Hodges attributes to an inability to compete for money with Rob Bliss’ promotions and ArtPrize.

Hodges said he decided to launch Grand Rapids Comic-Con because of the enthusiasm he sees from local people who attend comic-cons in other areas of Michigan and throughout the country.

“This is a group of people who are passionate,” said Hodges. “These kinds of people are people I know. I can see this event in 10 years running on a budget of over $1 million with 30,000 people attending.

“With the first (Grand Rapids) Comic-Con, I expect fans’ criticisms,” continued Hodges. “We want input. We want their criticisms. This year is a glorified template.”

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