The inaugural Wilkes Comic Con drew about 300 devotees of popular culture to the Benton Hall Community Arts Center in North Wilkesboro on Saturday, said event organizers.
Denis Lachapelle, Wilkes Comic Con chairman, said his expectations for the Wilkes Playmakers fundraiser were exceeded.
“With a first-year event, you can’t really know how many people to expect,” he said. “We had a low-ball figure of 100. That would have been okay and would have covered most of our expenses. We far exceeded that. The hall was packed all day.”
Holly Piotrowski, Playmakers president, said the convention raised about $1,000 for the nonprofit organization’s continuing restoration of Benton Hall. The oldest parts of the facility, the former North Wilkesboro School, were built in 1913.
“When Wilkes Playmakers reached out to Denis and his team, we had no idea what to expect,” she said. “We thought maybe a few artists and some video games. They completely exceeded all expectations, and we are very pleased with the result.”
Piotrowski said the event gave the local artistic community a forum for expression through cosplay (costume play), stage performance and creation of art via drawing and painting. “That’s what we love to do here” at Wilkes Playmakers, she added. She also thanked Dom Bakeries for hosting the "Drink and Draw" event following the convention.
Over three dozen vendors filled the first floor of Benton Hall. Artist and actor Matthew Atchley met fans and sold artwork from his prime spot just left of the registration table. Another special guest was artist Budd Root, creator of the “Cavewoman” comic series.
321_tv had the first slot in the Artists’ Alley, broadcasting the convention to a worldwide audience via a seven-plus-hour live stream on its Twitch channel. 321_tv interviewed artists, discussed the event’s panels and tournaments and staged a panel discussion on professional wrestling.
Local vendors included the Wilkes County Public Library, Hero Clash Collectibles in North Wilkesboro, Wilkes Community College’s game development department and Hillside Horror, which for its 10th anniversary is staging a haunted Halloween-themed corn maze in Roaring River.
In the Dragon’s Den gaming room, tournaments for Super Smash Brothers and Magic: The Gathering were staged.
On the Playmakers’ theater stage on the second floor, events were from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A Mortal Kombat XI tournament turned the platform into a battle arena, followed by “Superfriends Extravaganza!” by Divas Live.
Wilkes Playmakers actors and actresses read from scripts of favorite movies and TV shows during the “Parody for Charity” at 1 p.m.
Ben Taylor and Michael Lindenbaum served as moderators of a 2 p.m. panel discussion about the world of professional wrestling called “AwesomeMania.”
A cosplay contest was at 3 p.m., with awards presented to Jordan Potter, best in show for her “Poison Ivy” costume; Destiny Rector, 12-and-under winner for her “Lydia Dees” outfit; and Matt Gentry, 13-and-older winner for his “Peter Griffin” in “Family Guy.”
The main theater’s final act was the “Kilted Creature,” paying musical tribute to the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” classic movie monster. He opened the set by playing guitar to Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and Kermit the Frog’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” Later in the show, he displayed his skill on the bagpipes.
Benton Hall’s auxiliary room hosted events all day, from WCC’s Jere Miles’ panel on “Making Players Heroes—Story Structure in Games” to an officially sanctioned Yu-Gi-Oh tournament and a Dungeons & Dragons special quest created for the convention.
Lachapelle and Taylor hosted a “Doctor Who” panel during which they discussed the best and worst of the past 50-plus years of the show, speculated about the new season and why the show is special to them.
About five years ago, Lachapelle said he contacted the Wilkes Library about hosting an artist-centric comic con. He said this became the Wilkes Mini Con and Gaming Expo, held in January 2014. It wasn’t affiliated with the comic conventions at the library from 2008 to 2014, but was held in the library with the library’s blessing.
Many artists present Saturday were also at that first successful con, said Lachapelle.
Lachapelle said he became good friends with one of the artists, Millers Creek-based Two Tiger Moon Studios. “They also saw the need to bring a larger convention to the area. Wendy and Eric Harmon were the first ones to come on board.”
Wilkes Comic Con was first planned about three years ago, but Lachapelle said the idea had to be tabled due to extenuating circumstances. In early 2018, Wilkes Playmakers approached him about putting together the Wilkes Comic Con for charity.
“When I was approached about running the con, the first thing I told their board was, ‘Small comic cons don’t make money,’” said Lachapelle. “I repeated that. I am very happy to report that I am wrong about this event.”
Lachapelle said that he and the Harmons began planning it immediately, and Bailey Hutchens was added to the team as social media coordinator.
“Benton Hall is a great facility for all sorts of events, and I think an event like Wilkes Comic Con really helped to show that off,” said Lachapelle. “We were able to have a crowd milling about in the Artists’ Alley, kids playing Magic the Gathering, people upstairs watching Divas Live, and a panel discussing Doctor Who all at the same time.”
Lachapelle said his goal this year was for every attendee and exhibitor to have fun. “I think we pulled that off,” he said. “I’m getting emails today from vendors asking to come back next year. This year laid down the foundation for future years to come.”
He said the Kilted Creature, author James Maxstadt and several other exhibitors have committed to be at the next con at Benton Hall on July 18, 2020.
Piotrowski added, “I think 2020 is going to be great and I’m excited to see the program of events Denis and his team puts together for next year.”