Asheville Comic Expo brings superhero superstars to town

NECESSARY HEROICS: Cosplayers who will be attending the Asheville Comic Expo showed off their costumes at Free Comic Book Day in May. This year's expo is expected to bring larger crowds, more special features and new-and-improved superpowers. Photo by Anthony Hardin and JC Mero

We live in an age when many of the major blockbuster movies are either comic book-derived or from similar genres of fantasy or science fiction. There are currently half a dozen live-action TV shows based on comic books, with more in development. Indeed, it appears that the geeks have inherited the Earth, or at least the realm of popular entertainment. And the Asheville Comic Expo celebrates all things geeky in Western North Carolina Saturday, Oct. 24.

“Asheville had a couple of great conventions in the past, but they never seemed to last more than two years or so,” says Darrin Williams, Asheville Comic Expo founder and owner of Comic Envy. “After the last one closed its doors, a few customers suggested to me that I think about running my own. The idea took root, and here we are, four years later.”

This year’s event features the biggest names on the guest list to date, with comic book legends Steve Rude and Mike Grell. Grell and Rude both signed on with independent publisher First Comics in the 1980s and were among the first creators to actually own the characters they wrote and drew. Rude is known for his book Nexus, with writer Mike Baron, as well as his work on iconic characters like Superman and Batman. He’s bringing a series of artist workshops with him to Asheville, which take place in and around the Asheville Comic Expo, with two sessions scheduled at ZaPow Gallery and Solid Studios.

Grell gained fame in the mid 1970s with DC Comics before becoming one of the leaders of the creator-owned movement of independent publishers in the early ’80s. He created the short-lived science fiction series Starslayer before crafting his most iconic character, Jon Sable. The Jon Sable Freelance series was even a short-lived TV show in 1987, in which actress Rene Russo debuted as Sable’s girlfriend, Eden.  Grell returned to DC Comics in the mid-’80s and helped relaunch the publisher’s Green Arrow superhero. Much of Grell’s interpretation of that character can be seen in the current TV show, “Arrow.” Sable was nearly made into a film in 2001 after Grell released a novel version of the character’s origin story, but it has been stalled in development for over a decade.

“The best part for me, as ACE grows, is watching the milestones tick by,” Williams says. Just over 1,000 people attended in 2012, the expo’s inaugural year. This time around, Williams is cautiously optimistic but hopes to see well over 3,000. “Expanding into the main arena of the U.S. Cellular Center was a great moment for us and then, even better, was realizing how quickly we could fill it,” he says. “Over the years, we have had to spend less time contacting vendors, artists and special guests. They started to contact us.” And, Williams adds, this year’s roster of creators and professionals like Grell and Rude includes the type of names he would stand in line to meet if they were at another show.

The expo includes numerous charities like Warrior Service Dog and the 501st Legion Carolina Garrison, a contingency of Star Wars cosplayers who are often involved in children-related causes, including an annual Star Wars toy drive. There will also be a dozen special guests, more than 50 artists and indie-creators, and nearly 30 vendors selling everything from comics to collectibles. Plus, the Asheville Comic Expo is being graced with a special edition of the new Back to the Future comic series from IDW Publishing. A 500-copy print run, timed for release the year that Doc Brown and Marty McFly went to the future (2015, despite much online squabbling about the date) has an exclusive cover just for the local event. It will be available at the expo while supplies last.

“The next step is to expand to a two-day show and really give Asheville the convention it deserves,” Williams says. “Moving forward, we want to keep focusing on local talent and local business, while still bringing in some of the best and biggest names working in comics. Putting on a great show, giving our attendees what they want and having fun is the most important part.”

WHAT: Asheville Comic Expo, ashevillecomicexpo.org

WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 24, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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