Bellingham ComiCon: Celebrating the culture of comics

by KEENAN KETZNER

courtesy photos

Comic books, a long-time entertainment staple, have exploded wildly into the mainstream in recent years. Since 2000, there have been more superhero movies made than the entirety of film history prior, with this  comes the popularity of comic book conventions. Thankfully it’s not only San Diego or New York that offers them, but also Bellingham. We spoke with the show’s organizer Eric Burris to see what the convention is all about.

It all started back in the 1990s when Eric was a convention dealer down at the Portland Comic Book Show in Oregon, taking notes from promoters on how the convention was organized. Then, during the influx of super heroes since the 2000s, comic book conventions had inflated to be mainly promotional events for advertisers, diehard fans, and event coordinators, so he wanted a way to bring the people back in contact with this form of art.

“Bellingham ComiCon has always been a community driven event drawing support from local merchants and fans alike,” he said. “From the beginning I wanted to do a ComiCon that would be a special event, one that was fun and affordable for everybody, an event that you could take the whole family to or for a student with limited income.”

Thus, Bellingham ComiCon was born. Eric, with the help of northwest convention dealers Richard Finn and Bill Wormstedt, organized the event’s humble beginnings with the first show happening in Fox Hall at the Hampton Inn and netting about 250 people. Nowadays the convention happens at the Ferndale Event Center and draws nearly 1,500 attendees to revel in the cosplay, comics and guest speakers.

Bellingham ComiCon keeps things interesting with how it interacts on a local level. Many of the comics are produced by Pacific Northwest publishers and local artists, thus bringing a hint of exclusivity to an event that would easily end up highly commercial. By having homegrown material, it keeps the event from seeming impersonal. Eric wants to maintain that original sense of wonder he had as a kid for this generation.

“That’s one of the reasons children seven and under are admitted free of charge. I think every kid should get to attend a ComiCon, wear a costume, get their picture taken with the Star Wars characters, and get an autograph.”

Another endearing aspect about the Bellingham ComiCon is the fans themselves. Every year the 501st Legion and Rebel Alliance (Star Wars costume clubs) have volunteered their help to raise money for several local charities. Not only that, but the cosplay is apparently very good, and only getting better and better each year thanks to the help of volunteers and avid comic book fans (who range widely in age and lifestyles).

“I can’t count all the times a guest mentioned how great the fans are at the show. They are also very enthusiastic because they enjoy having a show to call their own. Fans have also been very generous giving back to local charities at the show. This year our charity will be the Alternative Humane Society of Whatcom County. We have also given them the concessions to help raise money as well.”

Thanks to the increase of fans showing up and funding for the event, Eric has been able to coerce long time writers and artists into coming in and talking about their work. This year alone will feature Bob Smith, Randy Emberlin and Doug Wheatly, who have all been in the industry for over 20 years and will be sharing their insight and affection with all the Bellinghamsters eager to attend.

Django Bohren, owner of the Comics Place in Bellingham, believes Comic Cons are fantastic for a community. “Comic conventions are a great gathering place for fans, old and new. I go to cons to root through the boxes of cheap comics. Some people go to meet creators. Some folks go to show off their costumes. Others are most interested in hard-to-find books. We’re lucky to have a large enough nerd community that we can support a local convention.”

It has been partly due to Bellingham’s ability to bring together so many passionate artists and loyal fans for a combination that reinforces everything positive about conventions, but also in part due to dedicated stores like the Comics Place and Cosmic Comics, which has remained a staple of both Bellingham and the BCC for years now (and hopefully numerous years to come).

Catch all the comic mischief and fun at this year’s Bellingham ComiCon on Oct. 22 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ferndale Event Center. For more details, see www.bellinghamcomicon.com.

Published in the October 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine