Comic book conventions have exploded in recent years (e.g., the monolithic San Diego Comic-Con) but they’ve also lost touch with what a comic convention should be, forfeiting the artistry of graphic novels to instead concentrate on a tumescent number of celebrity guests. This weekend marks the inaugural Cincinnati ComiCon, a convention that shepherds Cincinnati back to its roots.
Kendall “Grand Poobah” Swafford, owner of Cheviot’s Up Up & Away comic shop, founded the con with four of his influential friends: sales team Brian Livingston and Bill Haders, and The Walking Dead co-creator Tony Moore and his wife, Kara. Disillusioned with the way Cincy’s other comic book convention, Cincinnati Comic Expo, had evolved, the partners launched a Kickstarter campaign last fall that raised almost $40,000 ($15,000 more than their goal) toward their own convention.
“We were commiserating together and realized we all had a similar vision for what we thought the show should be, so that’s when we decided to strike out on our own,” Swafford says. “There’s nothing wrong with autograph shows or pop culture shows or any of the like, but I think it’s a little bit disingenuous to call them comic book conventions.”
Since last year, the partners have been busy organizing the con and reaching out to rare guests like artist/writer Arthur Adams, who’s never participated in a con east of the Mississippi but will be in attendance this weekend thanks to Tony Moore.
“Tony is kind of like our ambassador,” Swafford says. “Tony has a lot of friends in this business and is well-liked and well-connected, and people will take Tony’s phone call when they won’t necessarily take mine, is the best way I can describe it.”
Tony is famous for illustrating The Walking Dead comic series that was adapted into the insanely popular eponymous AMC television series; more importantly, Tony’s a local guy — he and Kara live just over the river in Indiana.
The Moores attend about 15 cons a year, and between them and the rest of the partners, they’ve been to hundreds of cons. “Doing other conventions, I think, has helped us prepare and given us a little more insight in how to do one on our own,” Tony says.
The gang modeled Cincy ComiCon after HeroesCon in Charlotte, N.C., a show that’s remained authentic and unadulterated for all of its 31 years.
“They really keep focused on creators and not washed-up wrestlers and movie stars that you maybe really don’t care to pay $60-$75 for an autograph and five seconds of their time,” Kara says. “It’s more about art and creating and local and community.”
The couple mentions how Cincinnati’s teeming with creativity — walk down any street in any neighborhood and you’ll be presented with a stunning ArtWorks mural. There’s likely more comic book shops in the area than regular bookstores. Comic progenitor Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) got his start here as a political cartoonist and Kyle Hotz, who’s drawn for Marvel Comics, is based in Dayton.
“Most people don’t suspect that there’s a hot bed for creatives but it’s surprisingly so,” Tony says of Cincinnati.
And let’s not forget the Hall of Justice is located here: Union Terminal appeared in the Justice League comics and Super Friends animated show featuring Superman and Wonder Woman. On Friday night the Hall of Justice/Union Terminal will host an after-party called Drink & Draw where fans can sip cocktails and draw alongside comic creators; 100 percent of those proceeds will go to the Museum Center’s restoration fund.
“We want to bring the attention to [the Museum Center] because I think 99 percent of the people in the world don’t know the Hall of Justice is actually real, that it’s a building and they need money to keep going,” Tony says.
Tony designed the zombie-rific convention poster that awesomely depicts zombies drowning in a pool of blood on the museum steps. When he started illustrating the zombie-themed Walking Dead 10 years ago, he had no idea what kind of monster he’d unleash into the world.
“I was the hot kid and now I’m just an old man,” Tony reminiscences, “but I’m thrilled it had that kind of longevity and it’s clearly found its place in mainstream pop culture. Just a few years ago you wouldn’t really even admit publicly that you were a fan of horror movies, much less a zombie fanatic, and now it’s totally vogue — it’s strange to me to see that 180 done on that. At the same time, it’s really cool. I’m thrilled to see middle-aged housewives coming up to me at conventions telling me they’ve never read a comic in their whole lives and now they’ve got the entire Walking Dead collection.”
Those housewives will surely be in attendance at ComiCon, along with 10,000-12,000 other fans arriving from all over.
“We’d like to build a destination show for the Midwest because most bigger shows are all along the coasts and we really thought the fans down here are rabid for something,” Tony says. “All the other events around, people always come out for ’em, so we really know the scene is hungry for something.”
“We want people to wanna go, ‘Oh, yeah, that show in Cincinnati, that show is great!’” Kara says.
With only a couple of days until the birth of Cincy ComiCon 2013, Tony and Kara Moore are feeling a wide array of emotions, but no matter what manifests at least they gave it their best shot.
“At the end of the day I think our crew has done just the best job that any crew could’ve done,” Tony says. “I think we put together a guest list as good as any show out there, especially for a small show and especially for a first year show. I feel like we put forth the best effort that we possibly could’ve. So now all the nervousness just kind of lies in all the aspects that we can’t control. We’re just gonna have to sit back and watch it happen now and pray for the best.”
CINCINNATI COMICON runs Friday-Sunday at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, One West River Center Blvd., Covington. Tickets and more info: cincycomicon.com.