Arts & Entertainment and Travel & Tourism

Comic-Con boldly goes into its second year

Convention moves to larger venue, adds more dates.

March 28, 2014
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The sophomore year of Grand Rapids Comic-Con is expanding at warp-speed.

This year’s event has been extended from last year’s one day to three days, will be held at a larger venue, and will include a star from a storied sci-fi television and movie franchise that challenges explorers to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Co-owners Mark and Jenn Hodges said they are moving this year’s Grand Rapids Comic-Con from the Home School Building in Wyoming, where it was held last year, to The DeltaPlex Arena and Conference Center in Walker, where it is slated for Nov. 21-23.

The Grandville couple is convinced the event is not a flash-in-the-pan and will prove itself through its profit-making muscle.

“We feel that when we start talking about main events in Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids Comic-Con will be on the same level as Festival (of the Arts) and ArtPrize,” said Mark Hodges.

Celebrity guest appearances this year will include Alaina Huffman, who portrays Abbadon the Queen of Hell on “Supernatural,” “Naruto” voice actor Maile Flanagan, “Black Sails” cast member and “Transformers” actor Mark Ryan, and Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lt. Nyota Uhura on the “Star Trek” television series and succeeding motion pictures.

Dr. Martin Luther King declared Nichols’ character was “the first non-stereotypical role portrayed by a black woman in television history.”

Comic book artists at the event will include Dennis Calero, Christopher Jones and Allen Bellman, and stop-motion 3-D animation specialistJustin Kohn.

Celebrity guests like Nichols are important to local convention venues and hotels because of their regional draw, said Mark Hodges.

“‘Trek’ fans spend money,” he said. “They’re highly intelligent people who spend money. (Nichols) will bring them in by the droves.”

According to Hodges, the inaugural comic-convention easily exceeded his expectations. With an initial “modest” $9,000 budget that grew to around $18,000, he projected 2,000 to 3,000 people would show up. Instead, 4,000 science fiction and superhero fans came through the Home School Building’s doors. He estimates another 3,000 were turned away.

“The market is there,” he said.

Not everyone was convinced, at first.

“We had two comic book stores in the area that said nobody would show up,” he said.

Hodges believes he’s having the last laugh.

“The response was far better than we anticipated,” he said. “A month before (last year’s) show, we realized we might need a bigger place, so we started talking with The DeltaPlex.”

This year, Hodges is projecting a collective 35,000 to 40,000 people will attend the family-friendly, three-day comic convention at The DeltaPlex, averaging 15,000 per day. Hours are 4-9 p.m., Friday, Nov. 21; 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 22; and 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 23. For more information, visit grcomiccon.com.

This year’s budget is $195,000, and Hodges projects the show will gross between $600,000 and $700,000.

In addition to celebrity appearances, this year’s comic-con will include “nerd-oriented” cars such as the Batmobile and a replica of the Mach 5 Speedracer that fans can sit in for $5 a pop; vendors selling comic books, action figures, posters and books; “Star Wars,” “Dr. Who” and “Star Trek” fan club members donning costumes; a quiet room to calm children and breastfeed babies; and an art show featuring original work from comic artists such as Frank Miller, Jim Lee and George Perez.

Hodges said he believes within three to five years, Grand Rapids Comic-Con will garner a strong enough fan base to move it to downtown Grand Rapids, where he’ll be able to make use of DeVos Place, JW Marriott, Amway Grand Plaza and Van Andel Arena.

“A show like that could bring $5 (million) to $7 million to the city with a profit of $2.5 (million) to $3 million,” he said.

“We could sell all the hotels within a 10-mile radius. We feel when it gets downtown, 50,000 people is not out of the question. There are a lot of people who don’t read comic books who will go see Captain America.”

Comic-cons are a multi-generational, shared experience with a nostalgic draw that’s a powerful magnet for fans willing to part with their money, said Jenn Hodges.

“It’s a way to hold on to the magic of their childhood,” she said.

“You get hundreds of people who show up dressed (as a character) in a favorite TV show or movie,” added Mark Hodges. “We encourage people to bring their cameras.”

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