The “Bronze Age of Comic Books,” from 1970 to 1985, was a period known for its inclusion of real-world issues in the typically fantastical genre. While this world was seeing a major shift, another change was occurring in Ithaca. 1975 saw the comic book wave rising enough for a convention to start. Following other conventions such as the San Diego Comic-Con and the Pittsburgh Comicon, IthaCon provided a home for comic book fans to gather and discuss the genre.
For its 41st year, IthaCon is coming back from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 16 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 17 in Emerson Suites.
The convention will feature several prominent and local guests from a variety of media platforms such as manga, anime and video games. April 16 is dedicated to panels, video, table-top gameplay and an event dubbed “cosplay red carpet.” The red carpet gives convention-goers the chance to show off their costumes to fellow attendees. On April 17 there will be interactive events like Quidditch Bootcamp and the Charity Geek Trivia Event, where teams can pay $10 to test their knowledge.
Sophomore Serena Columbro has been cosplaying as characters from online comics and anime series since 2012. While she first went to IthaCon last year, her first convention was AnimeNext 2012 in New Jersey, and she has been going every year since.
“College cons are a lot smaller, just by virtue of a lot of students being in school while they’re going on,” Columbro said. “AnimeNext is huge. They actually had to move the venue to someplace bigger. There’s usually more people cosplaying at bigger conventions as well.”
William Turner began IthaCon nearly 40 years ago and has been running it since then as one of the last charter members of the Comic Book Club of Ithaca. Having grown up with comic books as far back as the late 1950s, Turner said his vision for the convention has always been making it as accessible as possible. He said keeping the event fan-based by making admission free or inexpensive makes it more accessible to the greater community.
“We’ve stayed small over the years,” Turner said. “A lot of conventions have gotten really large, and they did it mostly by focusing on TV shows and movies and other media as comics have gone that way. We tend to focus more on the actual comic books themselves and comic artwork.”
While the convention is taking place in a relatively small area, the guest list features prominent figures in the comic book industry and other industries. Comic book author and novelist Roger Stern, known for his work with Marvel and DC Comics, currently lives in Ithaca and has been attending IthaCon for several years. Steve Ellis, a renowned inker and penciler for many top comic book companies, such as DC Comics and Dark Horse Comics, will also be coming to the event.
Tim Gray, owner of Comics for Collectors, a comic book store downtown, has been helping out with IthaCon since its inception. He said that while he does not have time for the business aspects of the convention, he helps find and secure guests each year for Turner. Gray usually finds these guests through interacting with fans who come to the store and recommend up-and-coming artists.
“I think a lot of them start out in comic book stores, and one way or another, they’ll get into the industry doing some sort of publication,” Gray said. “It is hard. It can take many years. The ebbs and flows in one’s career path. You can take it wherever you want to.”
Turner said he was grateful for the college’s space and interest in the event. Due to superhero movies, he’s noticed a resurgence in the public’s interest about the comic book world, which he said was great for the convention.
“There was a time around 10 or 15 years ago where there was really a concern about whether this was going to be sustainable because interest in comics was at an ebb,” he said. “Now the appearance of the superhero movies has really stimulated public interest in it and public knowledge about it, so comics have suddenly pretty much become mainstream. There’s a buzz when you go there … and it’s really nice to see that.”