Thanks to one disastrous event known as Extrosion, the Las Vegas comic-book community spent nearly a decade without a large-scale convention. While Comic-Con International in San Diego was drawing up to 130,000 fans a year, with passes selling out in minutes, no one in the convention capital of America was willing to follow up on the giant failure that took place at Mandalay Bay in 2003. That is, until last year, when Charles Lee and his two brothers joined forces to create the Las Vegas Comic Expo.
Lee’s convention, held at the Riviera in September 2012, helped open the floodgates for comics-themed events in Las Vegas. Expecting 2,000 to 3,000 attendees, Lee ended up with more than 7,000. This past June, Jimmy Jay, who worked with Lee on the Comic Expo and runs the Amazing Arizona Comic Con in Phoenix, started the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con at the South Point, which attracted more than 20,000 fans and will return in June 2014. The Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival, a free one-day event at the Clark County Library held as part of the Vegas Valley Book Festival, has grown to 3,000 attendees and will return for its sixth year on November 2.
The Expo itself returns for a second year at the Riviera this weekend. Guests include such notable comics creators as Neal Adams, Whilce Portacio, Jim Cheung and Gerry Conway, plus pop-culture figures like actors Lou Ferrigno, Linda Blair and Giancarlo Esposito. Last year the Expo competed with MorrisonCon, a more upscale, exclusive gathering centered around superstar comics writer Grant Morrison and held at the Hard Rock Hotel during the same weekend, but that event, touted as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, won’t be back this year. “We haven’t announced any new events, but we definitely wouldn’t hesitate to come back to Vegas,” says MorrisonCon organizer Ron Richards.
As for the Expo, “I think it really whet the appetite for people here,” says local retailer Jay Bosworth, owner of Maximum Comics. “It reminded us that the Vegas comics community is really strong, and that we shouldn’t let things like an Extrosion ruin us from getting together and doing stuff.” Bosworth has exhibited at the Expo, the Amazing Comic Con and the Comic Book Festival, and he regularly holds his own mini-events as promotional opportunities for his stores. “Everything I do is built marketing first,” he says. “We have a sale at our parties and events, but that’s sort of an afterthought in a way. It’s really more about the hanging out for three hours and having food and prizes and a good time.”
Bringing the community together is what drives the various comics events, and convention organizers see a crowded calendar as a positive thing. “More is better, no matter what,” says Pj Perez, co-chair of the Comic Book Festival and publisher of local comics company Pop! Goes the Icon. “Because you’re getting more exposure of this type of material to a greater number of people.”
Lee agrees. “I think the problem Las Vegas has is that there are a lot of people that are fans of comics, but there’s really no unifying factor that brings everybody together,” he says. “One of the things we’re trying to do, besides promoting our own event, is also spreading information about other stores, other events, either directly or indirectly related to us, because we also want to support the local community that helps us out.” Although he and Jay now run separate events, he sees the Expo and the Amazing Comic Con as complementary, not antagonistic. “I think there’s enough opportunity in a city like Las Vegas where you can have more than just one thing,” he says. (Jay declined to be interviewed for this story.)
While the local comics community is growing, the phenomenon isn’t unique to Las Vegas. “I think that the geek community is banding together everywhere and strengthening communities across the country,” Bosworth says, citing the success of a recent first-year convention in Salt Lake City. “It’s also a sign of us playing catch-up,” Perez says. “If you go to a city like Seattle or Portland or Chicago, they have extremely strong comics scenes there.” Comic books permeate mainstream culture, serving as source material for massively successful movies and TV shows. “A lot of what people are consuming in pop culture right now, whether or not they realize it at first, is based on comic books and graphic novels,” Perez points out. “And it’s inevitable that eventually, just like everything else, Vegas jumps on that bandwagon.”
Las Vegas Comic ExpoSeptember 28 and 29, Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $25-$45. Riviera Convention Center, lasvegascomicexpo.com.