Comics convention on UA campus Saturday

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Akron Comicon limited-edition poster by Rick Lozano
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Michael Savene’s full-time job is as a contractor. His full-time passion is for comic books.

Savene is one of the organizers of Akron Comicon, the first in what its operators hope will be a series of comic-themed conventions, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in the University of Akron Student Union ballroom.

More than 70 exhibitors will offer their wares. Celebrity guests include Funky Winkerbean mastermind Tom Batiuk, DC and Marvel Comics legendary writer Gerry Conway, Scooby-Doo artist Joe Staton and Batman and Star Trek comics writer (and Akron resident) Mike W. Barr.

There will be panel discussions, a costume contest and judging of comic-book cover art created by area high school students. Admission is $10 at the door, $5 for senior citizens and UA students with ID, free for children 10 and under. While the event will overlap a University of Akron football game in InfoCision Stadium, which leads to parking fees on campus, Savene said Comicon visitors can park free in decks 36 and 39 and surface lot 34. (Information about parking and other aspects of the convention will be updated regularly at the website akroncomicon.com and the Akron Comicon page on Facebook.)

The event is aimed at comics fans like Savene and his friend and convention partner Robert Jenkins, both of whom listed comics that influenced them in their promotional material for the convention. Savene, for example, cited his love of Silver Age Marvel Comics (those from the mid ’50s to the late ’60s), and his own collection stretching back to the newspaper comics of the 1890s. And, he said, “If it’s thin with lots of pictures and published between 1933 and the mid- to late-1980s, I want it.” Jenkins, for his part, talks about the Human Torch in comics’ Golden Age (from the late 1930s to around the beginning of the Silver Age) as well as singling out specific issues of Marvel’s Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man.

While Northeast Ohio has often played host to fantasy conventions of various sorts, in 2011 Jenkins and Savene saw an opening for a comics-themed event, and especially for one that was family-friendly. Envisioned at first as “just a local flea-market-style show,” it grew from there, especially after the partners decided to base it at UA and make it a higher-profile event.

And the reason they thought it would work at all was the increased interest in comics.

“One thing was the success of all the movies that we’re experiencing,” Savene said. Comic book-tied movies have included 2012 mega-hits like Marvel’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises; 2011 included adaptations of Thor and Captain America as well as X-Men First Class, Box Office Mojo’s list of the top-grossing movies ever includes three comic-book titles in the top 10: The Avengers, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. Savene said that success “has given comics a more visible audience … across the country. Comics for so long have been slipping due to the advent of video games. We sort of lost a generation. … But it’s become very healthy through the movies.”

In addition, Savene said, “I think there’s a grass-roots movement currently by [comics] creators and companies to do all-age books.” Even considering how adult some comics fare has become, Savene said the assembling of family fare for Akron Comicon was not that difficult. “I think most people that are in comics today as fans realize that their hobby is diminishing, and if we don’t do something about it, we’re not going to be enjoying it in the coming years.”

“It’s been a lot of work but we’re really enjoying ourselves,” Savene said. “And we feel very fortunate because so many people seem excited about this process.”

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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