Gem City Comic Con expands to Nutter Center
By Kate E Lore
Photo: Cosplayers Phoenix Kasai (Rogue) and Nataniel Grauwelman (Gambit); photo credit: Scott D. M. Simmons
My overeager feet nearly trip themselves. The parking lot at the Nutter Center feels like a vast ocean and I am anxious to reach the horizon. Charging forward, the air is abuzz with excitement. I pass a guy with green hair smoking a cigarette casually talking to a zombie. Through the doors, the volume is turned up several notches. I am immediately in line. In front of me there is a man in his 50s having a very serious debate over “Batman Year One” with his pre-teen son. Behind me is Wonder Woman who’s stoked about the guest list. Suddenly, a very tall and threatening Darth Vader walks past me. He is followed by four Storm Troopers in military formation. Here I can geek out with excitement and have no fear of judgment. For I am amongst my people, and my people are totally awesome.
Gem City Comic Con (GCCC) is Dayton, Ohio’s largest comic book convention. This year, the action will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 23 and 24. For the first time, the 2013 GCCC will be held this year at the Ervin J. Nutter Center in Fairborn. In years past, GCCC had been held directly on the Wright State University campus. This move to a larger venue speaks for the growth of the event.
Daytonians have been known to travel thousands of miles to attend comic book conventions, spending hours on end to create the perfect costume and stand in line for ages with the dedication of only the most extreme devotees. But, surprisingly, a lot of these local people do not know about Gem City Comic Con. This convention, which is held right here in our backyard, has been steadily growing year by year.
Nine years ago, Jesse Noble had been like any other local comic book enthusiast. He was tired of having to travel so far to get to the nearest comic book convention. One day, on a whim, Noble bought a huge collection of comics – this was a good deal for the money, but it was also an absurdly large amount. Having more comics than he needed, Noble decided to get rid of that stash the fun way: he decided to run a convention. Already working for Wright State University, he had access to the perfect venue and thus Gem City Comic Con was born.
Noble had been to comic book conventions before. From this he was able to see and learn from the mistakes of others. “I wanted the con to be about comics first,” said Noble. He intentionally steered away from big-named guests who tend to steal the focus at these events. Anyone who comes to GCCC as a guest is always working in comics somehow and they are not presented as the main focus of the convention. Some of the more noted guests might get their own panel for questions from fans, but out on the promotional floor all tables are created equal. It’s up to the individuals to present themselves and their work.
For the last eight years, GCCC had been held on the Wright State campus using the Student Union. This is made up of several large banquet halls and a few smaller rooms. For one weekend a year, here you could find comics for sale from both local vendors and outside collectors. There were artists displaying their work and trying to get word out about their projects. They had card tournaments and celebrity artists signing autographs. In the side rooms you’d find discussion panels about different art techniques, Q & A sessions or maybe lectures about breaking into the biz. All around this would flow eager fans, many of them dressed in full costume. These dedicated comic book supporters are the driving force behind the growth of this con.
The coolest thing about GCCC is that the fans themselves lead the direction of the convention. “This is the fans’ show, I’m just a custodian,” laughed Noble. It is the fans who push for certain artists and series. These fans are the ones who determine which events are more popular than others. It’s about what the fans want … and the fans want more.
“We have doubled our sellers, quadrupled our artists and we add about two new guests every year,” said Noble. Within these years, they’ve extended the card tournament, filled up both the selling room and the artists’ alley, as well as added more panels, including Comic Book Jeopardy. “I’d say we’ve increased a thousand percent compared to that very first year,” Noble estimated.
There are some big and exciting changes in store for this year’s convention, which will be taking place on the first floor of the Nutter Center. “The Student Union worked well, except we outgrew it,” Noble said. “The new move was always our goal. This jump to the Nutter Center is part of the natural evolution. It’s been a slow but steady growth.”
This year, with the new, larger location, GCCC will be hosting its first ever costume contest. “People have been showing up in costumes every year since it started, but this is the first year where we actually had the space to host a contest,” said Noble. There will be a contest for adults on Saturday and one for children on Sunday. Both of these will be judged by the professional costumer Phoenix Kasai.
This new location has also allowed space for 50 new exhibitors who are selling top-notch work cheaply while trying to get exposure. The Nutter Center has allowed for double the amount of panels from previous years. Some of these panels, “give you the unique opportunity to sit in a semi-intimate environment where you can ask questions to your favorite creators,” said Noble. “On Saturday, about half of the panels will be devoted to ‘Learning With Pictures’ which is a teacher-operated program that aims to help children learn through graphic art.”
The very popular “Magic The Gathering” card tournament, hosted by Bell, Book and Comic, has added one-third more seating thanks to this new location. This year promises to have upped the quality of the prizes as well. “[Wizards of the Coast, who publish ‘Magic The Gathering’] are officially supporting the tournament,” said Noble. This should mean some seriously cool prizes for tournament winners. There will be several “Magic the Gathering” competitions running consistently throughout Saturday starting at 11 a.m. For Sunday, there will be some alternative games such as “Heroclix” and “Fantasy Flight-Star Wars” at 1 p.m., followed by Yu-Gi-Oh at 2 p.m.
Considering all this, it’s fair to say that what had started as an attempt to sell some comics has turned into quite the undertaking. With all the organizing, work and stress, why keep doing it? What makes it all worth it?
“My Dad always works the door for me. Every year he says that we didn’t advertise so nobody will come … But then every year we find a line of people waiting for the doors to open.” People who are eager, excited and grateful for a comic book convention in Dayton, Ohio. Noble also enjoys seeing the people in costumes, which had not been expected at first, as there had never been an official costume contest prior to this year. “The enthusiasm of the fans is what really keeps it going,” Noble said.
There has also been some success from exposure for artists who had started with displaying at GCCC early in their careers. “It’s extremely rewarding when people come back after they’ve made it, like artist Sean Foley. He’s a professional illustrator who started independent, but now works for Marvel. Seeing him reap the rewards of his hard work and the fact that he comes back every year is gratifying,” said Noble.
As you might imagine, one of the benefits of running a convention is that you get to hang out with the guests behind the scenes. “Over dinner Saturday, we all get together to eat and talk about books, etc. You get an idea of the behind-the-scenes workings, which is really cool. Some of the older guests can talk about the legends from the heyday of Marvel who they knew and worked with,” said Noble. “Chris Claremont came one year and told a story about talking to Stan Lee about a new adding a new character to ‘X-Men.’ That character became Wolverine.”
Something that is extra special to Noble is the Hero’s Initiative auction. This will be a live charity auction Saturday from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. It will be hosted by Frank Raynor and Bill Gladman in Berry Room 2 at the Nutter Center as part of the event. “Artists have donated original artwork for the cause and it’s run by official members of the organization,” explained Noble. Hero’s Initiative aims to help creators in need. “They assist retired artists and writers who have no health care, as well as current creators [who fall into trouble],” said Noble. Josh Meters, one of Noble’s friends from Columbus, had been an up-and-comer getting published for Top Cow books when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. “Hero’s Initiative helped Josh financially and even assisted him in finding work when his health began to improve. He got a gig with Death Dealer thanks to them,” said Noble. With the rate of growth for this convention it is fair to be worried that it might eventually outgrow our city altogether. I’ve seen that happen before with other conventions that ultimately ended up in bigger cities. Noble assured me, “This is Dayton’s convention. We are technically outside of the city right now but we have no intention of ever leaving the Miami Valley.” So rest assured, Gem City Comic Con is all ours and it’s not going anywhere.
This is a convention for my people, the people of Dayton. We demanded, we deserved and every year it grows larger. I asked Noble about his hopes for the future of this convention. “To be consistently better,” he said. “Few more guests, more attendee pop culture fans.”
I’ll openly admit to being a geek and I’ll also let loose that I’ve been to more than my share of conventions. I fully understand Noble’s frustration nine years ago at Dayton’s complete lack of comic book conventions. I respect his ambition at starting a convention himself and I admire his success thus far. Jesse Noble has done something Dayton had only dreamed of for so long. “This convention competes with Columbus, Pittsburgh and Chicago,” Noble said. “Here we are front and center, Dayton, Ohio.”
Gem City Comic Con takes place March 23-24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ervin J. Nutter Center, 3640 Colonel Glenn Highway in Fairborn. Admission is $15 for the full weekend or $8 for a one-day pass. For more information, visit gemcitycomiccon.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kate E Lore at KateLore@daytoncitypaper.com