Rose City Comic Con: Showtime in a comics capital
“There are huge shows you can go to that put ‘comic’ in the title, but really aren’t about comics,” says Greg Rucka. That’s one of the reasons why Rucka — who lives in Portland but commands an international following for the comics and novels he writes — is excited about being a guest at the Rose City Comic Con, happening Saturday and Sunday at the Oregon Convention Center.
“This town is lousy with comics folks,” he says. “But this town has also been lousy about comic book shows.”
However, in its debut last year, the homegrown Rose City Comic Con drew a capacity crowd of fans and won the support of many members of Portland’s community of top-of-their-game comic artists, writers and publishers.
“The Pacific Northwest is huge in the comics industry,” says Rucka, whose résumé includes work for comics giants such as DC and Marvel, as well as his own, creator-owned title, “Queen and Country.”
“You’re not going to find a higher concentration of comics professionals anywhere in the United States outside of New York,” he says.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” he adds, that there should be a Portland show like the Rose City con, with its strong emphasis on comics of all kinds.
Ron Brister couldn’t agree more, which is why he founded the Rose City con. Brister, the convention director, drew inspiration for the event after taking his then-10-year-old son to Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon and the massive Comic-Con International geekapalooza in San Diego.
Brister, who lives in Canby and works for a software company, is a longtime comics fan. He was acquainted with many of the comics creators who were guests at the Seattle and San Diego shows. “And my son finally asked, when we were driving back from San Diego, how come we know all these people, but we don’t have our own con?”
Brister also got to wondering why Portland didn’t have its own, locally founded show celebrating a wide variety of comics and comic creators.
“There was the Portland Comic Book Show, but that’s just a dealer showcase,” he says. “The Stumptown Comics Fest is successful, but that’s creator-focused.”
While Portland has many geek-friendly conventions catering to fans of sci-fi, video games, anime and other forms of pop culture, what Brister envisioned was a Portland version of something like the Seattle and San Diego shows.
He wanted a family-friendly pop culture convention, with an emphasis on comics exhibitors and creators, but also featuring celebrity guests, gaming and special events.
Celebrating the art
“If you ask me, the celebrities aren’t our focus,” says Brister. “They’re a key piece of our convention, but we are a celebration of the art of comics. The celebrities are there because that’s something our attendees want.”
Among the celebs at the Rose City con are David Giuntoli, star of the filmed-in-Portland TV show “Grimm”; Avery Brooks, of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”; Jewel Staite, best-known for Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” and its movie spinoff, “Serenity”; voice actor Billy West (“Ren & Stimpy,” “Futurama”); Sam Jones, star of the camptastic 1980 sci-fi epic, “Flash Gordon”; and Christopher Judge, who went from a football career with the University of Oregon to the role of Teal’c in TV’s long-running “Stargate SG-1.”
For Judge, one of the appeals of being a guest at the Rose City con was the opportunity to come back to Oregon. The Los Angeles native has fond memories of his years at UO, from 1982 to 1987. “I went by Doug Judge when I was at Oregon,” he says, by phone from Los Angeles. (Christopher is his middle name.)
Judge remembers he loved football, but also wanted to be an actor. “The guy who kind of changed my life was Grant McKernie. He was the head of the theater arts department back then. I thought being an athlete and wanting to be an actor were two different things. Grant was the guy who said you could do both.”
Judge knew he wanted to pursue acting. “So I went to (veteran U of O coach) Len Casanova, and he asked me what I wanted to do. I said acting. He called Stephen Cannell (a U O alum who helped create such shows as ‘The Rockford Files’ and ’21 Jump Street’). Cannell had actually played for Cas at Oregon, so Cas called him, and that’s kind of how I got started. One of my first jobs was on ’21 Jump Street.’”
Playing the role of the alien warrior Teal’c in “Stargate SG-1″ — the TV series spinoff of the 1994 movie — has won Judge loyal fans. The show ran from 1997 to 2007, “and it’s popular now through Netflix, and reruns and syndication. So it’s like a whole new generation is finding the show.”
Brister hopes even more people find the Rose City con this year. When he and his team put on the first show last year, they hoped for attendance of about 750. Looking at his budget, Brister recalls, “I thought 750 covered all of our costs. We didn’t have to eat Top Ramen if we had 750 show up.”
As it turned out, about 4,100 people turned out. “My ad budget was about $150, so that was pretty good word-of-mouth.”
He wanted to expand this year’s con, and to that end, he affiliated with Emerald City Comicon. “We’re in an exclusive partnership,” says Brister. That deal has given him the benefit of a wider circle of contacts, and more capital.
Returning as one of the Rose City con’s sponsors is Things From Another World Inc. the comic book/pop culture online store that’s a sister company to Dark Horse Comics, the major comics publisher headquartered in Milwaukie.
“We found that we really enjoyed working with them,” says Andrew McIntire, vice president of TFAW. “What set Rose City apart was, while holding to that love of comics, they made room for pop culture, without it superseding their mission.
“I feel they really tailor their efforts, in terms of what they display, towards the interests of the Portland community. They aren’t serving just the diehard comics fan, but also reaching out towards people who may not be aware of the comics community. I like their non-exclusionist nature.”
It comes down to joy
After so many people came out last year, for 2013 the Rose City con made the move from its former location — in a hotel — to the spacious convention center.
“I’m ultra-conservative,” Brister says. “I think right now if we got 8,000 people, I’d be happy. I’m expecting north of 16,000 at this point, based on our ticket pre-sales.”
Beyond the business side of things, Brister hopes attendees may find the same joy he did in comics and all things related to them.
“When I was a kid, my mom was struggling to get me to read. She was a single parent. One day she drove me to the comic store, and told me I could buy some comics. Next thing I knew I got a box of ‘G.I. Joe’ and ‘Spider-Man’ comics every month. We grew up with very little money, so it was a good outlet for my imagination as a kid, being able to daydream about the things I was reading in comics, and adventures.”
While fans get a kick out of meeting comics creators and celebrities, Rucka says there’s a benefit in attending these events for the guests, too.
“One of the great things about a show is the pleasure that comes from a one-on-one interaction,” he says. “I’m very fortunate in that I’ve written a couple of stories that people have really liked. And for some of those people, they’ve been not only entertaining, but very important. It’s a rare show where somebody doesn’t come up to me and say, ‘This story mattered to me. It was there when I needed it.’”
You can’t get that kind of interaction online, Rucka says. “There’s something to be said for being in a community space with people who share the same passion.”
– Kristi Turnquist