Calling all nerds: Pittsburgh Comicon

When most people hear about Comicon, the phrase “nerrrrrd alert” may come to mind. Or just run-of-the-mill confusion. Comicon, for those not in the know, is a comic book convention, the most famous of which is held annually in San Diego. There are also huge comicons in other cities, such as Chicago and San Francisco.

Apart from pierogies and sandwiches stuffed with french fries, Pittsburgh is also fortunate enough to have a medium-sized Comicon of its own, which took place last weekend at the ExpoMart in nearby Monroeville. Scott Mark, who works at Phantom of the Attic, a comic book store on Craig Street, has worked in the store’s booth at the Pittsburgh Comicon for the past nine years.

Mark described the Pittsburgh Comicon as a large convention center filled with comic book dealers who also sell action figures (toys make up three quarters of the booths) and some artists and writers who are looking to publicize their projects.

“I also recently went to a local comicon that was a lot smaller. That one consisted mostly of comic book and toy dealers. There is also a toy convention every couple of years,” Mark said.

The primary difference between a medium-sized convention, such as Pittsburgh’s, and a large one, such as San Diego’s, is the caliber of the convention’s special guests. According to Mark, the Pittsburgh comicon is usually filled with B-level comic book industry writers and artists, and, occasionally, an A-lister. Many A-level artists who are invited to Pittsburgh Comicon have cancelled their appearances, which Mark suspects would be less likely to happen at a more famous convention such as San Diego’s.

Comicons are also noted for attracting fans of cult classic sci-fi or fantasy shows and movies. Think Star Trek, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica. “Usually,” said Mark, “we are treated to the presence of some some C-level star from a bad sci-fi movie, such as the third Jedi, who hangs out in the background of one scene — i.e., some no-name actor.”

This year, however, Pittsburgh Comicon’s special guests included Peter Mayhew, most famous for his role as Chewbacca, the lovable wookie from the original Star Wars trilogy, Warren Pygram, also from the original trilogy, and Matt Wood, who played the sinister General Grievous in the new Star Wars trilogy. This is a huge step up from the usual Farscape extra.

Although Pittsburgh Comicon’s almost-famous actors do have drawing power (no pun intended), the main attraction, for comic book enthusiasts, are the booths. People come looking for certain comics or toys that may not be available at their neighborhood comic book stores; due to the number and variety of sellers present, Comicon is more likely to have these items.

Many people who self-publish original comic creations come to Comicon, hoping to make connections with the established publishers, artists, and writers who are special guests. To this end, portfolio reviews are offered to any aspiring artist. The Pittsburgh Comicon website (www.pittsburghcomicon.com) states, “Our guests are for the most part more than happy to give a look and a word of encouragement to those would-be comic stars, but several of our publishers are truly looking to foster ‘new talent.’”