As the saying goes, even the smallest stone can create a giant ripple over time.
That may have happened July 20, with the first Wilkes Comic Con at the Benton Hall Community Arts Center in North Wilkesboro.
The seeds were sown for what organizers hope will be an annual convention in Wilkes celebrating comic books, science fiction, video games, movies, television and more.
The inaugural Wilkes Comic Con drew about 300 attendees and raised about $1,000 for the Wilkes Playmakers, a nonprofit theater company that regularly performs at the historic Benton Hall, which dates to 1913.
Most would consider that a modest turnout, but consider the humble beginnings of the biggest comic book convention on the planet, the San Diego Comic-Con International (CCI).
The first convention in 1969 was organized by a 36-year-old unemployed comics fan and a group of teenagers. A little more than 300 people attended the first con at the U.S. Hotel, located in a seedy part of downtown San Diego.
CCI just celebrated its 50th anniversary by drawing about 130,000 rabid fans of geekdom, filling (and spilling beyond) the 11 acres of the San Diego Convention Center and making a $150 million economic impact on the city.
That all started with a small stone thrown in 1969 into a wide sea of popular culture.
The man who threw the stone in Wilkes is Denis Lachapelle of Millers Creek, Wilkes Comic Con chairman. He is an artist who has been doing comic-style and fan art for about seven years.
Lachapelle said he’s been involved for several years at the open air markets here and has had tables at several comic book conventions, including Heroes Con, Soda City Comic Con, Rob Con in Bristol, Tenn., and local shows in Winston-Salem, Statesville and Morganton.
“My style is more cartoonish than realistic and I generally do cartoon bears, thus the name of my studio: Coffee Bruin Studios.” He describes Coffee Bruin as “the adventures and observations of a bear, his friends, and his coffee.”
About 18 months ago, Lachapelle said the Playmakers inquired 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 was wrong about this event.”
Lachapelle said that he and Wendy and Eric Harmon of Millers Creek-based Two Tiger Moon Studios began planning it immediately. Bailey Hutchens, a local game designer, soon joined the team as social media coordinator.
The fruit of their labor was a packed-to-the-gills Benton Hall on July 20. About three dozen vendors were on hand and events were staged simultaneously all day—from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.—in the hall’s gaming room, on the theatrical stage upstairs and in the auxiliary room.
“So, we did what we set out to do for (the Playmakers),” summarized Lachapelle. “If the people that went to the con had a good time too, then we’ve done our job there, too. Now, we have to improve.”
He said his team noted many things that could be bettered for next year. “We’re looking at additional talent. I started talking to a comedy troupe out of Greensboro in early June about doing next year’s con.”
Lachapelle continued, “Our organization--Wendy, Eric, Bailey, and myself—is committed to Wilkes Playmakers and their efforts with historic Benton Hall. We really busted our butts (on July 20) to make it a good day for everyone. And we really are looking forward to next year, after a good long nap.”
He said the Kilted Creature—who plays guitar and bagpipes while dressed as the Creature from the Black Lagoon—author James Maxstadt and several other exhibitors have committed to be at the next con at Benton Hall on July 18, 2020.
Maxstadt delivered a huge thank-you to Lachapelle following this year’s con. “I did better than at Hickory, and frankly better than I ever have,” he wrote. “I’m still getting used to the cons and what it takes to sell my books face to face, and this was a real shot in the arm for me.”
Playmakers President Holly Piotrowski told me recently, “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.”
Here’s hoping the Wilkes Comic Con makes a huge ripple that extends into 2020 and beyond.