Get your geek on at Mighty Con Milwaukee
Has there ever been a better time to be a comic book fan?
Comic books and superheroes aren't on the outside of mainstream culture looking in; they are mainstream culture. Most of the big, most talked about movies coming out in the next two years are comic book movies ("Captain America," "The Avengers 2," "Batman vs. Superman," etc.). Even those who never touched a comic book before now know about Iron Man and can talk fluent Thor.
One of the ultimate signs of geekdom's conquering of pop culture is Comic-Con out in San Diego. What was once a comparatively modest gathering of comic book, video game and general geek culture fans has turned into a massive industry, with stars, movie trailer premieres, intense entertainment coverage and, somewhere mixed in with the crazy costumes and cosplaying, comic books. A good showing at Comic-Con can now give a big new movie even more buzz, while a bad showing can help kill a film in its infancy.
Mighty Con, a roaming Midwest-based comic convention coming for the second year in a row to Milwaukee this Saturday, doesn't have that influence or grandiose presence yet. However, it's serving just as important of a function: bringing comic book fans together to buy, sell or merely talk lovingly about the comics, collectibles, characters and culture they adore.
And yes, dressing up in costume not only normal, but encouraged.
Bill Cody, whose own love of comic books began with a Ghost Rider comic he bought for $1.25 at a 7-11 as a kid, started Mighty Con down in Wheaton, Ill., when he noticed an odd dearth of worthwhile comic events in the area.
"A lot of the shows you did see around were either not very friendly to their vendors, in that they were really expensive to set up at, or not advertised very well at all," Cody said. "There just weren't a lot of shows that let people know that they existed. In fact, a year ago at this time, there were three regular shows in Milwaukee. When I tell people about that in Milwaukee, though, they have no idea."
As a result, Cody started the first Mighty Con about a year and a half ago at the Dupage County Fairground in Wheaton. Since then, he's built up a strong list of vendor contacts to grow the event and branch it out into other cities. One of those cities was Milwaukee.
"It always amazed me that for a city the size of Milwaukee, and with such an entertainment history, there's no big comic shows there," Cody said. "It had some decent ones way back when and a few good bowling alley shows that take place now and then, but there's no big entertainment and collectible convention going on. So we saw a big, big opening for that kind of market and said, 'Why not?'"
So Cody brought Mighty Con up from the Chicago suburbs to Milwaukee a year ago, taking over for the now folded South Milwaukee Comic Con at Papa Luigi's Pizza. That first show, according to Cody, featured between 26 and 28 tables of comic books, toys, collectibles, related art and merchandise.
A year later, that number has doubled to 50 tables, helping to fill Mighty Con's new location at American Serb Hall, 5101 W. Oklahoma Ave. Cody said he already has a waiting list of tables and vendors for the next Mighty Con in Milwaukee as well.
According to Cody, about 80 percent of the tables coming out this Saturday to Serb Hall are dedicated to collectibles, mostly comic books. There are also toy collectors, some original artists and crafts makers, as well as one vendor stage-named Igor who sells old black-and-white horror DVDs along with his own line of pop culture themed hot sauces ("His 'Doctor Who' hot sauce is just delicious," Cody noted). In many cases, the tables are bringing impressive collections featuring rare, notable comic books to show off and sell.
"A few shows ago, we had a guy there who had a collection that hadn't seen the light of day in a while," Cody said. "He brought out some early Spider-Man issues, including an 'Amazing Spider-Man' No. 1 from 1963, autographed by the creator of Spider-Man, Stan Lee. Aside from being a high dollar issue, that was a rare sight."
At their last show, one vendor had a graded – that is, professionally assessed and protectively cased – issue of "The Walking Dead" No. 1. Even though that's a fairly new comic book – published in 2003 – the series' wild popularity helped it sell for around $1,600.
With money like that flying around, it can be easy for a rookie or newcomer to the comic book world to feel intimidated. However, Cody has some advice for those worried about feeling like a noob.
"Generally, I say first figure out what you really want," Cody said. "Do you want to buy comic books as an investment piece, or are you looking for something fun to read? Once you determine the route you want to go, a show like this is the best place to start because you're going to meet the most people with the widest variety of opinions you can get in one place. Start there, shop around, go table to table, see what people recommend, see what kind of deals you can find and don't be afraid to ask questions."
Thanks to the Internet, it's even easier for newcomers to find out what comics are popular or good investments. At the same time, Cody noted, there are still dangers to collecting comics.
The main problem is artificial inflation, which happens when a company like Marvel or DC releases "special" or "limited edition" comics that have no real inherent value. Cody compared it to the Beanie Baby craze of the '90s, how certain animals were considered "rare" but sharply lost their value over time. As a result, one could invest thousands of dollars on a "limited edition" comic, only to see it diminish to a third of that price in a few years.
"If you are getting started, look at some older issues that have stood the test of time," Cody said. "If something has maintained its value over 10, 20, 30, 40 years, it's going to stay valuable. If something has been valuable for a week, well, it might not be worth jumping into and dropping a whole paycheck on."
Compared to the big Comic Cons out in other cities, Mighty Con is still fairly small. However, it's growing, hoping to expand to more cities in the Midwest, such as St. Louis and Indianapolis. As it expands, Cody hopes to increase the number of vendors and tables, and therefore the amount of notable comic books and merchandise on sale and on display. At the same time, he aims to keep the price reasonable.
"The problem with some of these big shows is a lot of people can't afford them," Cody said. "One show in Chicago was $15 to park, and a weekend pass at the door was $100. And if you wanted a celebrity autograph, they averaged $30-$50 apiece."
While he wouldn't like to replicate the price, Cody would like to bring some of what makes Comic-Con in San Diego such an event over to Milwaukee and the Midwest. With enough vendors and interest, he'd like to make Mighty Con a weekend event. He'd also like to bring in comic book culture celebrities. The first person on that list for Cody?
"Definitely got to be Stan Lee. I went to Wizard World Chicago a couple years ago. I still own the first comic book I ever purchased, and I got it signed by him. It's on my wall right now. It's a great collectible, and I would love to be able to bring that experience to the people of Milwaukee."
Mighty Con Milwaukee runs Saturday, Jan. 11 at American Serb Hall from 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tickets are $3 for adults, and children 12 and younger are free. Admission comes with a free comic book. For more information, visit the website.
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