ComiCon-way to bring thousands to city

By Tammy Keith Published November 27, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Julian Dominquez of Conway stands in his home office, where he has a wall-to-wall collection of comic-book art and figurines. Dominquez, 45, said he has loved comic books since he was a child, and he started going to comic-book conventions about 17 years ago. He said ComiCon-way — advertised as Arkansas’ premier comic, sci-fi, anime´and gaming convention — stacks up against all the bigger shows he’s attended. It is scheduled for Friday through Dec. 4.

— Julian Dominquez has been to comic-book conventions in several big cities, from Dallas to Philadelphia — but he said ComiCon-way is his favorite.

“I have been a comic-book fan since my early, early childhood, watching superhero cartoons with my younger brother, reading the comic books,” he said.

Dominquez, 45, of Conway will be among the estimated 6,000 attendees at this year’s event, Friday through Dec. 4, sponsored by the Faulkner County Library. ComiCon-way will kick off with a reception from 5-7 p.m. Friday, followed by an anime movie, and costume and trivia contests at the library, 1900 Tyler St. in Conway. Dyer said a panel discussion will be held about 6 p.m. Friday, so fans can ask questions of the guests. Activities will be held Saturday and Dec. 4 at the Conway Expo Center.

Admission is free.

The first 200 people at the reception Friday will get VIP passes to get in 30 minutes early to Saturday’s event.

Attendees, many of whom dress as their favorite anime or comic-book characters, will have a chance to meet well-known authors, writers and artists.

Kara Dyer, director of youth services for the Faulkner County Library, said the show began with about 1,700 attendees five years ago and has grown to the thousands it drew last year.

“We have people from all over — Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma. It’s huge; it really is,” she said.

Dyer said she had the idea for the comic-book show because of her young patrons’ passion.

“I had a huge anime teen base,” she said. “They loved watching anime movies, checked out graphic novels, and they wanted a place to cosplay. What a cosplayer does is dress up like favorite characters, basically.

“They wanted a venue and an outlet to be able to celebrate their love of anime and graphic novels.”

Dyer said her husband, Jimmy, is a “major comic-book fan” and collector. The couple collaborated with Faulkner County Library patron Mike Curtis of Greenbrier, who writes the Dick Tracy comic strip. Kara Dyer said Curtis’ help was invaluable.

Curtis helped Dyer get in touch with writers and others in the comic-book industry. She and her husband went to comic-book shows, including one in Dallas, to check out vendors and “get a feel” for the events, she said.

They launched the first show in 2011 at the library.

“I think we had 12 or 13 comic-book artists, writers and creators,” she said. Thirty vendors were booked, and 1,700 people attended.

“We just filled up the library,” she said. “Then we realized at that point how extensive this thing could get because we didn’t realize how much people actually loved comic books and loved the whole industry of it.”

The show’s reputation grew.

When 4,200 people came the third year, “we just couldn’t handle that; we were shuttling people from two different locations; it was absolutely insane,” Dyer said.

Last year, the Saturday and Sunday events were moved to the Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds.

“We’re working diligently to let everyone know the Faulkner County Library is responsible for the show; it’s the reason it’s free,” Dyer said.

On Saturday, the doors of the Conway Expo Center will open at 9:30 a.m. for VIP guests and at 10 a.m. for the general public. The center will close at 8 p.m. The show will open at 11 a.m. Dec. 4 and end at 6 p.m. Similar events will be held both days, Dyer said. An individual cosplay contest is scheduled for Saturday, and a group cosplay contest will take place Dec. 4.

“We have almost 100 vendors who will be on-site,” she said. Comic-book aficionados can make a day of it because there will be “six amazing food vendors,” she said.

The main attraction for most attendees is the artists, writers and others who attend. Dyer said 16 guests are scheduled, including Alex Saviuk, a longtime artist for Spiderman; Ken Lashley, who draws for X-Men; and actress Athena Massey, who was in Star Trek: Voyager.

Travis Langley, who teaches at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, will discuss a book he wrote about Batman.

Also back this year is writer Howard Mackie of New York, who has written for several Marvel comics, including Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, X-Men and others. Dyer said he has been a big part of ComiCon-way’s success.

“He’s one of our biggest advocates and one of the reasons we have some of the great guests we have,” Dyer said.

Dominquez said he met Mackie, and they have stayed in touch.

“I met him at the show three years ago and started following him on Facebook and have become Facebook friends with him. He is very open to talking to fans,” Dominquez said. “When you stop and think about him coming to Conway, Arkansas, it’s amazing.”

This will be Mackie’s third time to participate in ComiCon-way, “and I look forward to it more and more every year,” he said.

“Kara and Jimmy Dyer have put together a wonderful, vibrant and growing show. It really has been my pleasure to return each year and to spread the word among the comic-book creative community about just how special the show is. It is not the largest show I’ve ever attended, but not the smallest by any stretch of the imagination,” Mackie said.

He said he’s already been to “cons,” as he calls them, in Hawaii and New Mexico this year.

Mackie said he has been impressed by the hospitality he’s experienced at the event in Conway.

“It is attended by some of the nicest folks — fans and volunteers alike — that I have ever come across,” he said. “Before coming to ComiCon-way I had never been to Arkansas, but now I am a big fan of the state.”

He said he has always loved libraries, adding that his wife works at their local school library, and his daughters have volunteered at their community library.

“So, for ComiCon-way to be sponsored by a public library and to have a focus on literacy through comic books and graphic novels — it was a no-brainer for me to get involved,” Mackie said. “There seem to be an equal number of comic fans and first-time con attendees every time I’ve been there. That is a wonderful thing. At a young age, comic books were my gateway into reading, so I love sharing my love of story, art and reading with everyone who stops at my table.”

A mini-heroes corner will offer activities for children ages 12 and younger, including games, face painting and crafts.

Dominquez, a graduate of Central Baptist College in Conway, said he moved to Philadelphia in 1999 and soon afterward went to his first comic-book show.

“There were more comic books there than I had ever seen in my life,” he said. “Actually going to one really opened my eyes to cosplay — dressing up as your favorite character — seeing the actual writers and artists, … seeing celebrities like Lou Ferrigno. Seeing them all in one place is really a dream come true.”

Dominquez, who moved to Sherwood before moving to Conway in March, said he attended his first ComiCon-way a couple of years ago and was impressed.

Although he said it’s hard to narrow it down, when pressed, he said Batman is his favorite superhero.

“I like a lot of different ones for different reasons,” he said.

Dominquez works from home for CHI St. Vincent in Little Rock.

In his home office, his love of comic-book characters is eye-poppingly evident.

“All four walls are covered with posters, signed comic books form different creators, original art, prints,” he said. “Every time I went to a show, I had a goal of getting a new Batman picture. I’d get a print by an artist who worked on Batman and get it signed.”

Dominquez said his prized possession is one he won at ComiCon-way a few years ago. It’s a signed comic book, The Infinity Gauntlet, No. 1 issue, signed by the artist George Perez.

Dominquez plans to dress up as Luke Cage from the Netflix show.

“I’m prepping my costume now,” he said.

Dyer said she loves to people-watch, and that’s her favorite part of the event.

‘“It’s a social event, and everybody is welcome, no matter what you love,” she said. “If you love to read, it’s for you. If you love to watch movies, it’s for you. If you love to people-watch, it’s for you. It’s just a fun convention that offers something for everyone. We have it all for the geek and geek wannabe, or just the social butterfly who just wants to see what’s going on. The atmosphere is happy, exciting, fun. It doesn’t matter if you’re a geek when you walk in the door. I promise you will be a geek when you walk out.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.