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Great Scott! It’s the Great Allentown Comic Con


[Dre reports from a Pennsylvania comic con, where she exhibited her own work and chatted with other comics artists, vendors, and enthusiasts. — the Artblog editors]

The Great Allentown Comic Con, summer edition, took place July 12, 2014, right outside downtown Allentown at Merchants Square Mall, which is filled with a collection of unique shops that carry antiques, vintage pop culture memorabilia, comics, and collectable trains. A comics collector would have a good time at the Merchants Square Mall any time of the year, but one of the biggest draws to the place is the Great Allentown Comic Con. This smaller convention is held twice a year–in the summer, and for two days in the winter. At the show, one will find comic book creators, a handful of celebrities, and comic book vendors.

Fans out in full force

Power Rangers
Power Rangers

Before the doors opened, there was a long line of eager comic con fans waiting patiently. The environment at this show is inviting, cozy, and friendly. The showroom size is notably smaller than that of shows like Wizard World, and that can be very good for a one-day event.

Men and women of all ages, children, and whole families came dressed in costumes to do what is called costume play, or “cosplay” for short. When I interviewed them, many attendees reported that they felt very safe there and that the occasional public harassment of cosplayers was not present. There was an overall feeling of inclusiveness that created an accepting, safe, and at the same time wild atmosphere of diverse geekdom in which everyone could thrive.

The Fanatic Four
The Fantastic Four
Make My Marvel cosplayers
Make My Marvel cosplayers

The first costume I saw was a Klingon from Star Trek, played by a spirited older lady. Also present were five members of superhero team The Fantastic Four, including Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, The Human Torch, Crystal, and She-Hulk, all represented by cosplayers. Another interesting group of cosplayers included a Superman dad and his children, Supergirl and the Riddler. 

Cosplayers steal the show

The Playful Gorilla
The Playful Gorilla

When the doors opened and the first wave of guests arrived, it was game on! I met a slew of interesting customers and even had a chance to interact with some of my Instagram followers in person. What stole the show for me were the great cosplayers. With a venue that size, I was thoroughly impressed by the number and quality of the the costumes. From Mandalorian Mercs to Peter Griffin–it was fun to see people go to such lengths to pull off the perfect cosplay outfit, said exhibiting artist Alex Rivera, also known as the Playful Gorilla.

DC Cosplay Family
D.C. Comics cosplay family

My table, where I exhibited comics, zines, and prints, was a great place to watch the parade of costumes walk by. I saw local Philly artist, Andrew Dyer, a man who focuses on wearable art inspired by an artist well-known to the Lehigh Valley: Mr. Imagination. Dyer is also well-known–for his outlandish costumes, which he wears on a regular basis. However, he didn’t appear in costume at the con due to his approach to summer comic conventions, which is to stay in comfortable garb due to anticipated excessive heat.

Dyer has been going to the Allentown con for over a decade now; he’s originally from Philadelphia, and went to the Baum School of Art in Allentown. When I asked him about his experience at the con, he said, “I had a wonderful time at the Great Allentown Comic Con! It was a really fun convention for comic readers and for families, too. I finally found Superman #317 there, and I’ve spent over two decades looking for that comic! I highly recommend going to it!”  

Notes from the pros

Bryan JL Glass
Bryan J.L. Glass

I also encountered local, professional comic industry writer Bryan J.L. Glass, who currently works on the comic book Furious with the illustrator Victor Santos–who also collaborates with Glass on the series Mice Templar. While reminiscing about the comic con, Glass shared the following with me: “So many fans, old and new, making the trek to Allentown! It was so great to see the show expand so significantly this year!” I agreed that the event was much more popular than the first time I visited, which was in the summer of 2012.

Marc Lombardi of Grey Haven Comics
Marc Lombardi of GreyHaven Comics

Marc Lombardi, editor of local publishing company GrayHaven Comics, was also exhibiting his publishing company’s comic books at the show. He told me that the small convention remains one of his local favorites, but he had a few suggestions for the next time.

Lombardi on networking and meeting people: ”When I’m sitting behind the table, it’s [about] so much more than the number of books being sold…It’s more about meeting new fans and, especially, potential new contributors for GrayHaven…I think it was a great day, and hope to hear from many of the people I met as potential writers, artists, and cartoonists.” 

Flynn and The Bubblegum Princess
Flynn and The Bubblegum Princess

About the convention’s crowds, Lombardi said: “… It was a bit hot and crazily crowded. I read online about how many people were bothered by the heat, and how the hour-long line to get into the show meant that they were in and out quicker than they intended…That hurts sales, and shows that big crowds aren’t always the goal for a con.” 

About celebrities: “…While ‘Xander’ and the Power Rangers certainly brought some people to the show who otherwise may not have come, that didn’t translate to comic book fans and sales for people like me,” Lombardi said. “I would love to see the show in November make a return to focus on comics, and maybe bring in some bigger comic names rather than celebrities–but I also understand it’s a business decision on the part of the convention organizers.”

The next Great Allentown Comic Con will be held November 15-16, 2014, in the Allentown Merchants Mall at 1901 South 12th Street.