The Asheville Comic Expo has been on hiatus for the past two years. A business move and event space rental expense were two of the reasons for the break. But organizers plan to bring the convention back bigger and better than ever (and say exactly that, in all caps, on the event’s website).
“This is definitely our biggest year, so we’re trying to appeal to more groups of people as we grow,” says Allison Jenkins of local comic book store — and ACE creator — Comic Envy. “It’s not about being the best comic-con, it’s about being a comic-con that is reflective of Asheville and what we love about it.”
On Saturday, Nov. 10, ACE returns to U.S. Cellular Center. The convention features many special guests, including actress Erin Cahill, who played the pink ranger in the “Power Rangers” TV series; actress Jennifer Cihi from the cast of Princess Mononoke; Samantha Newark, the voice of Jem on the “Jem and the Holograms” cartoon; New York Times best-selling comic book illustrator Georges Jeanty; Andrew MacLean, artist and writer of the Head Lopper and ApocalyptiGirl comic series; Alexis Ziritt, illustrator of the Space Riders comic; and cartoonist Shannon Wheeler, creator of the satirical superhero Too Much Coffee Man.
There will also be many local artists, including Asheville-based illustrators Gregory Dickens, Wayne Bernstein, Elizabeth Albright and Jarrett Rutland. The convention has opened up to local artists as well. “This time around, we have a lot of local vendors who do what I like to call the craft arts, the making of jewelry, or pint glasses, the handmade nerd things. We’re going to have more of that,” says Jenkins, who is the vending coordinator for the event.
Dozens of vendors have rented booth space. This will be the first expo for Asheville’s newest comic shop owner, Morgan Albritton of Morgan’s Comics. She says she is most drawn to ACE because of the feeling of camaraderie. “My shop and our fellow nerd shops are all different colors, flavors and personalities, and there are enough geeky folks in Asheville to sustain us all,” she says. “We help stimulate the Asheville economy, and we all play nice with each other.” Albritton took over the failing Haywood Comics in July and turned it around, becoming one of the first woman to own a comic shop in Western North Carolina.
“The Asheville Comic Expo is a perfect example of the larger nerd community of the Asheville area coming together [and] showing support for each other in all of our like-mindedness — as well as our unique differences — and bonding with our friends and family who make it possible for us all to exist,” Albritton says.
Jenkins has been with Comic Envy since shortly after the business opened in 2008 and considers herself the chief librarian. From 2012-15, the comic shop organized and hosted three Asheville Comic Expo events that drew up to 3,000 adults, many with children in tow. Jenkins says the group expects to equal that number this year and hopes to top it.
Despite taking two years off, ACE seems to be returning at full momentum and is ready to play hard. Among the offerings, Asheville Retrocade will provide a selection of arcade video games, Asheville Pinball Museum will have several machines set up and Well Played Board Game Cafe will be hosting a board-game room, as well as providing experienced Game Masters to clarify game rules.
“In the past, we haven’t been able to do board games,” says Jenkins. “You need to have closed doors for a quiet place to play, and before, we just had a big open room with the vendors. This year we have a lot more space and are able to use the mezzanine for gaming.”
Jenkins says that the game room will have demos of many new and unreleased games, free Magic the Gathering and Pokemon tournaments, and other collectible card games to play.
Festivities for ACE extend beyond the expo’s hours. A Drink and Draw kickoff party is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. at Well Played Board Game Cafe, hosted by Cheap Joe’s Art Supplies. An after-party will take place at Static Age Records on Saturday, following the convention, at 8 p.m.
“I wanted to make sure that there were more free things to do at the con than in the past because, while the vending is a huge part of it, it’s not the only thing,” says Jenkins. “There should be lots more going on.”
WHAT: Asheville Comic Expo, comicenvy.com
WHERE: U.S. Cellular Center, 87 Haywood St.
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 10, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. $15 general/free for kids ages 10 and younger
Editor’s note: On Nov. 7 at 4:30 p.m., the admission price has been updated from a previous version of this article. The correct price is $15 general admission.