A crowd of people lined the block outside Devos Place on October 22nd. Whether wearing Walking Dead t-shirts, clad in Steampunk-style clocks and goggles, or in full costume representing their favorite characters, all of them were very excited for Grand Rapids Comic Con 2016. They came to see stars like Kevin Eastman (co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Denise Crosby (actress on The Walking Dead, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and Austin St. John (original red Power Ranger). They came to sort through boxes of comic books, searching for old favorites or the missing issues for their collections, and attend the informational seminars on comic book drawing or cosplay 101. They came to show their kids a different world, a fantasy world where super heroes, villains, and imagination come to life. But most of all, they came to geek out about their favorite characters and stories with fellow nerds, to gush excessively about their everlasting fandoms with others who understand and share their excitement, to be allowed to be obsessive and over-the-top. Grand Rapids Comic Con might possibly be the happiest place on earth.
When Mark and Jennifer Hodges began the event in 2013, it was a much smaller comic con. With a budget of $9,000 and 10,000 people in attendance, it was held in the Wyoming Home School building. Over the past few years its growth has been exponential and this year boasted a budget of $500,000 and 29,000 attendees crowded at Devos Place. Part of its success can be credited to the growing popularity of nerd culture. Super hero movie franchises have taken over theaters and mainstream culture. When The Walking Dead season one ended, people who had never bought a graphic novel before suddenly flocked to book stores, eager to continue immersing themselves in the story while waiting for season two. Lesser known characters and stories have become household classics, and these stories have turned into whole universes that continue expanding.
While nerdy has become the new cool, and sci-fi movies and shows climb in popularity, the Grand Rapids Comic Con continues to be a welcoming event for all kinds of people. Differences aren't as noticeable when everyone is smiling, costumed, and in full geek mode. It's a place for people to come together. It's a dreamland, the happiest place on earth.