Across the Ithaca College campus, there are posters promoting ITHACON, Ithaca’s annual comic convention. On the back of those posters is the slogan, “Proud to be the little guy,” a testament to the convention’s history and values.
ITHACON, which will be hosting its 46th annual convention from 10–5 p.m. April 22 and 11–4 p.m. April 23 in the college’s Campus Center and Williams Hall, is focused primarily on comic books, as opposed to larger comic conventions that cover much broader media.
“I’ve only really been to bigger conventions like New York Comic Con aside from ITHACON,” senior Roxanne Palladino said via email. “There’s a big focus on comics where others have kind of moved away from that, and it’s clear spaces like this are so important to the industry.”
The convention is hosted by the Comic Book Club of Ithaca, the longest-running comic book club in the country. While the Comic Book Club of Ithaca has come a long way from its humble beginning as a middle-school comic book club, it still has stuck to their values of creating a convention experience that is run by fans for fans.
Ed Catto, instructor in the Department of Management, currently leads the class that organizes ITHACON each year — ITHACON: Promoting and Managing Convention.
“While other conventions, like the San Diego Comic-Con, have grown very large, ITHACON takes great pride in being a small convention,” Catto said via email. “We have short lines, easy parking and, for our fans, plenty of time to meet with and easy access to our guests. Big conventions just can’t offer those things. So we are proud to be the little guy.”
The team behind ITHACON, both Catto and his students, consistently demonstrates a great deal of pride and passion for the convention and the values at its core.
“I think the biggest value for ITHACON is that it is a convention by fans for fans,” senior Evan Clarke said. “Everyone involved in this, whether you are working in the class or you are a guest or you’re a vendor, you all have a very important role but you’re also more likely to be a fan of pop culture and comics.”
Clarke and his fellow students, along with Catto, are the fans behind this “by fans for fans” convention. Students work on the logistics of planning the convention, along with handling the publicity as well. Students who have been involved throughout multiple ITHACONs also get a chance to take on more peer mentoring-based roles. This student involvement is one of the things that Clarke said makes ITHACON so special for both attendees and the students planning it.
“For people like me, I’m really big into comics and stuff like that,” Clarke said. “So, you know, being able to work around all these people and make this stuff happen is really special, not a lot of people get a chance to work on something like this.”
It is not only the students who see value in the chance they are getting, Catto said he sees the importance of the work his students are getting.
“Interestingly, ITHACON is the only convention to be developed and managed by college students,” Catto said. “In the tradition of ‘passing it on to the next generation,’ ITHACON forged a unique relationship with Ithaca College several years ago. But that doesn’t mean that ITHACON is anything less than professional. In fact, we all have very high standards and work hard to ensure our attendees have an outstanding time, our professional guests are treated extremely well and all the entrepreneurs who exhibit at our show enjoy maximum opportunities to build awareness and drive revenue.”
The partnership between ITHACON and Ithaca College did not start until 2014, with the 39th ITHACON. Now, students get a chance to work behind the scenes in Catto’s yearly spring semester class and carry on the tradition of the well-beloved convention.
“A lot of the people who have been coming to this have been coming for years,” Clarke said. “Because they love coming to ITHACON and they love supporting it.”
The love that fans have for the convention is special because of the ways ITHACON differs from many of the larger, costly comic conventions. Opposed to conventions like San Diego Comic-Con, which charge between $50 to $75 per day, ITHACON only charges a $10 fee per day for adults and a $5 fee for membership for children between the ages of seven and 17. ITHACON also notes on its website that there are scholarships available for families who may struggle to pay for tickets. The affordability and therefore accessibility of the convention creates a unique experience that makes ITHACON special for comic book and pop culture fans.
“I think that’s what really separates it from bigger conventions is that a lot of them are more for making a profit, they’re more profit-focused,” Clarke said. “This is, I say, more of a celebration.”
The upcoming convention includes a lineup of featured comic writers, artists and editors Will Dennis, Don Simpson, Mike Gold and Roger Stern. Attendees will also have a chance to meet people like Inkpot Award-winning artist and writer Jamal Igle, and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” actor J. G. Hertzler. These guests get a chance to be a part of this unique and important convention, bridging the gap between fans and creators.
Students like Clarke and Palladino said they see the value in bringing fans and creators together.
“There’s a lot of comic writers and artists coming to the show,” Palladino said. “And they’ll be right there in Emerson Suites for fans to come talk to. There really aren’t spaces like that for fans to talk face to face with creators on a personal level outside the convention circuit, and at a small show like ITHACON it adds a whole new level of almost intimacy.”