When the Philadelphia Comicon opens in a couple weeks, it will feature actors portraying Captain America, Thor, Falcon, Winter Soldier and other actors who play characters in the Marvel Universe. There will also be tons of other actors from television and film.
If you want to know what actual comics content the convention will offer, you’ve got to scroll way down to the bottom of the page. In the past several years, comicons have turned more toward big-name and iconic celebrity guests than toward the actual comics and the artists and writers who make them.
Todd McDevitt, who owns New Dimension Comics and its six locations across the Pittsburgh region, is hoping to change all of that May 20 and 21 with the 3 Rivers Comicon.
“There are other shows around here that focus on celebrity guests and they’re great. Fans love them,” McDevitt says. “But when I go to these shows, I see a very small number of comics vendors.
“What we want to do with this show is focus on comics and comics artists. We’re putting the comic back in comicon.”
The two-day show will feature appearances by comics artists and writers, many of them local. They will be meeting fans as well as selling their work and speaking on panels. For example, artist Mark Wheatley — who has worked on titles including “Dr. Strange,” “The Flash,” “Tarzan,” “Green Hornet” and “Doctor Who” — will speak about “finding the art in licensed properties,” and Darryle Banks and Justin Jordan will discuss writing and drawing “Green Lantern.” Dozens of other artists will be in attendance including Jim Rugg (“Afrodisiac”), DJ Coffman (“Hero by Night,” “Hulk #100”), Christina Rice (“My Little Pony”) and Ron Frenz, who has worked on several titles for DC and Marvel Comics in his more than 30 years in the business. Other special events include kid’s day on Sunday (children 8 and younger get in free with an adult), featuring a kid’s cosplay contest offering $1,000 in prizes. There will also be plenty of vendors selling comics and other merchandise.
There are several levels of admission that start at $10 and includes a free graphic novel. VIP packages include T-shirts and free comics with an exclusive 3 Rivers Comicon cover variant. McDevitt, also a lover of craft beers, had a special beer brewed for the event by Helltown Brewing. It’s called Dark Dawn Stout, featuring a label drawn by Joseph Michael Linser, the creator of the comic “Dawn.”
“The beer-release party on Saturday should be a great event,” McDevitt says. “You’ll get a sample of the beer, a bottle of your own to take home, admission for both days of the event and all of the other giveaways.
“I’m a fan of beer and I thought this would be a great way to celebrate the comicon,” says McDevitt. Part of the batch was aged in a barrel from Wigle Whiskey and added to the main batch for a distinct flavor. “This beer will taste better as it ages. I’m really excited about it.”
McDevitt is no stranger to working with things that sell better with age. He started collecting comics as a kid, although he quickly found he was more interested in the business side than in collecting for the thrill of reading comics. McDevitt and a friend began selling their own books to friends, and through the mail, while in high school. In June 1986, while a junior in high school, McDevitt opened his first New Dimension shop in Ellwood City for a summer. He enrolled in Washington and Jefferson University’s Entrepreneurial Studies Program even as his brother continued to run the business back home. After college, McDevitt opened another store in Cranberry Township, and from there expanded.
For his part, artist DJ Coffman says a convention focused on comics is long overdue, and he isn’t surprised that McDevitt is the one to start it. Coffman also says it’s important to know where your favorite television shows and movies actually got their start.
“Nobody treats creators better than Todd and the New Dimension comics crew, so I’m not surprised that Todd’s real mission is to focus on comics first,” says Coffman. “While I enjoy the traffic big stars can bring, it’s often too expensive for the common fan. It’s important to educate the public that you wouldn’t have Walking Dead or Preacher television shows or Avengers and Batman without the comics. Comic creators are really driving media and culture now, but often not focused on at mainstream conventions.
“My girlfriend actually summed it best when she said, ‘Comics are enough.’”