Comic cons have seen a boon of popularity in recent years, with new events calling themselves “comic cons” popping up in every state. Minnesota is no exception. But one Minnesota comic con is rounding its 28th year this weekend, and in its several-decade lifespan has garnered a large, loyal community of comics creators and fans alike.
MSP ComiCon, hosted by the nonprofit Midwest Comic Book Association (MCBA), is a comic con in the most traditional sense—run by comics fans, for comics fans, with a ubiquitous focus on comics creators and mediums. It is a unique showcase for the region’s large homegrown comic-book creative community, a home away from home for the geometrically expanding comics fan and readership populace, and is uniquely positioned as a vehicle to nurture the ever-growing comic-book culture at a grassroots level.
Given the fact that the Midwest has a history of producing exceptional comic-book writers and artists, it’s no wonder that MSP ComiCon is one of the favorite comic-book conventions for many creators. But when it comes down to it, the thing that keeps them all coming back and genuinely sets MCBA’s comic cons apart is the community the organization has fostered.
“I’ve been attending MSP ComiCon since 2004—when it was called SpringCon—and tabling since 2008,” says local comic writer and artist Dave Wheeler. “It’s a hometown show that genuinely feels happier and more upbeat than any other show I exhibit at across the country. Everyone that is there wants to be there. I’m a Minnesota boy born and bred, and the crowd is made up of some of the kindest and friendliest folks around.” Artist Dann Philips echos those sentiments: “I’ve always enjoyed the shows. The crew has to be some of the friendliest people in the galaxy; they’ll do whatever it takes to make the guests feel welcome and comfortable. Whether you’re an all-star like Dan Jurgens or a schmuck like me, we all get treated like we’re worth something there. That’s something that I’ll always appreciate!”
In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a comics creator at an MCBA convention who doesn’t feel this way about the con. “You couldn’t meet a nicer bunch of folks!” says Dr. Ursula Murray Husted, who began tabling at MSP ComiCon in 2006 and now teaches comics at the University of Wisconsin Stout. “When you check in as an artist you are made to feel part of a large and jovial family. Everyone helps you to your table and there is a friendly sense of camaraderie between artists at all levels of their careers. I bring my students to MSP ComiCon with me and they have the opportunity to run a table professionally—often for the first time. It’s delightful to see them interact with a huge range of fans of all stripes and ages. I know that I can bring them to MSP ComiCon and they’ll have a good experience. It’s a wonderful place for them to learn to be professionals, and that’s due to the atmosphere encouraged by the con staff and volunteers.” Chandra Reyer, a local artist who publishes comics about space dinosaurs written by her daughter, adds, “If the other cons are like going on a vacation to a resort or touristy area, the MCBA cons are like going on a vacation to visit a friend.”
Lucas Munson, a member of the Twin Cities Comic Collective, notes, “MSP ComiCon is my absolute favorite show. They do everything they can to make you feel welcome. And they make everything about the comics. It’s refreshing—the show is an injection of fun into the local comics scene.” Minnesota artist Christopher Jones, who has been published by both Marvel and DC Comics, has been attending MCBA comic cons for two decades. “I remember that the first time I ever exhibited there I was treated courteously and professionally, even when my pro credits didn’t yet warrant A-list or even B-list treatment. The MCBA always made me feel like if I was being given table space then I was there as a pro, and more importantly, was part of the family. I’ve never forgotten that and it keeps me very loyal to MCBA to this day.”
To be a part of the MCBA tradition is to be part of a family.
The sentiment everyone seems to share is that MCBA comic cons are like family. It is no surprise, then, that the convention and the MSP ComiCon community are empowering of comic-creating families as well. Maria Lorimer, a local comics creator who is part of the Black Hat Collective, recalls how former cornerstone of the MCBA Nick Post (who passed away in 2014) “moved heaven and earth to make my experience as a new parent a good one. He found me a room to use for pumping and breastfeeding, and made me and my newborn feel welcome at the convention. All this, and I was still running an artist table!” Chandra Reyer notes, “everyone there knows my kid, so I don’t have issues with her wandering the convention and visiting with the artists she knows. She won’t get lost as long as she finds someone she knows nearby, and there’s always someone nearby.”
What all of this means for attendees is that the atmosphere at MCBA’s comic cons is palpably friendly, whether you are a seasoned convention-goer or a first-timer. The comic creators are all very happy to be there rather than just treating it like a job, and are generally happy and enthusiastic to share their passion for comics with everyone who visits their tables. “It’s a convention organized for the love of comics and fandom, rather than being a for-profit cash grab,” says Christopher Jones. This is evident in the low price of admission—just $14.00, or free for kids nine and under—as well as the wide variety of free activities, including guest creator panels, the Arkham Asylum comic carnival, a cosplay and costume contest, a museum-quality display of original comic artwork, make-and-take activities for kids, game demonstrations, free door-prize drawings, and more.
While the con is a veritable nexus of Minnesota comics talent, MSP ComiCon doesn’t exclusively attract Minnesota comics creators. In fact, MCBA’s comic cons bring in comics creators from all around the Midwest and beyond. This year’s featured creators include Angel Medina, Sara Richard, Craig Rousseau, J. K. Woodward, and more. Mark Stegbauer, who travels to the convention every year from Madison, Wisconsin, says he first heard about MCBA’s comic cons from Minnesota comic artists Peter Krause and Gordon Purcell during Chicago Comic Con. Stegbauer began attending what is now MSP ComiCon in the early 1990s and rarely misses one, noting, “They have such a wide variety of creators. Big-name folks as well as people making their own minicomics are welcome at the show.”
Mike Edmundson of the Midwest Comic Book Association sheds some light on the variety of comic talent at MSP ComiCon: “We feature and support comic-book creators instead of movie and TV actors. With that in mind, we have 250 or more comic-book creators, artists, and writers at MSP ComiCon this year. That is two to three times the number of creators at most other conventions.” That’s impressive by itself, but the MCBA’s appreciation and respect for new and young talent is especially unique and contributes to the diversity of those creators. Edmundson elaborates, “We make a point of setting aside a percentage of the creator space each show to new talents who haven’t had the opportunity to table with us previously. And we encourage the up-and-coming generations by providing some tables to teen and preteen creators—accompanied by their parent or guardian, of course—to explore the local comic-art scene through tabling at a comic book convention.”
Perhaps the most mind-blowing thing about MSP ComiCon and the MCBA is that all of this is done for charity. In fact, the Midwest Comic Book Association is an all-volunteer organization creating events that support a number of charities including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Minnesota Lupus Foundation, and Bikers Against Child Abuse, raising somewhere between $5,000 and $7,000 for these charities per year. On top of that, they offer $1 off admission with the donation of a non-perishable food item for local food shelves.
Truly, MSP ComiCon exists for the love of comics, the love of comic creators, and for the love of community, on several fronts. It stands apart from almost any other comic con you might attend, and we Minnesotan comics fans are lucky to have it in our back yard.
Twin Cities Geek will be at MSP ComiCon 2016, so stop by our table and meet us!
MSP ComiCon 2016 is at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand on May 14th and 15th. Admission is $14 ($13 with a nonperishable food donation), and kids nine and under are free. Find more information and get advance tickets on the MCBA ComiCons website, www.MCBAComiCons.com.