6th Annual Tucson Comic-Con Hulk-smashes Attendance Records, Raises Bar for 2014

November 18, 2013

More than 8,000 eager fans queued up at the Tucson Convention Center earlier this month.

More than 8,000 eager fans queued up at the TCC earlier this month.

by James J. Jefferies

Faster than a speeding streetcar, more powerful than a 47 Scott cocktail, and apparently able to leap last year’s attendance mark with a single bound, the 6th Annual Tucson Comic-Con blew into the Tucson Convention Center with comic book and pop culture lovers of all stripes chomping at the bit to gather, buy, dress up, and celebrate their favorite art form and beloved fictional characters.

The event featured booths from more than 80 exhibitors, 50 retailers and publishers, artists’ panels, a gaming room, and professional quality cosplay from the 501st Dune Sea Garrison, Justice League Arizona, Arizona Avengers, and the Arizona Ghostbusters. More than 8,000 attendees filed in this year, a new record, and Comic-Con director (and Tucson native) Mike Olivares is bullish on the future of his powerfully geeky baby, with space already booked for the 7th Annual convention to be held November 8th & 9th of 2014.

“Every year, consistently, we’ve doubled (the number of tickets sold). Next year, we’ll be going from 30,000 sq. ft to 80,000,” said Olivares. “The idea isn’t to necessarily overflow that space immediately, but to grow into it.” It’s a far cry from when Tucson Comic-Con started just a scant six years ago, as a small gathering occupying a couple of meeting rooms at the Four Points hotel at Speedway and Campbell.

Gotham's finest and many Daleks could be found amid the crowds.

Gotham’s finest and many Daleks could be found lurking amid the crowds.

Despite the rapid growth, Olivares remains fixated on the reasons he started up the event in the first place. “I had just gotten back from San Diego Comic-Con, and by that point (2006),” said Olivares, “it had really become this giant media thing, and I was like, ‘Man, I can’t even walk around, it’s so crowded’…and it really wasn’t so much about the artists anymore.” Many of his friends in the local comics community felt the same way, and once he began touching base with a few Arizona-based retailers and artists, the entire thing began to snowball on its own.

A chance meeting that same year with renowned comics artist Michael Turner, creator of comic book titles such as Witchblade and Fathom, added fuel to the fire. At the time, Turner was in the late stages of cancer, but continued traveling in support of his beloved medium relentlessly despite the rigor of his chemotherapy treatments. “He was already really sick at that point, but he still made the effort to come to San Diego…and I thought, ‘Well, what’s my excuse?’”, said Olivares.

"What about that BLUE one?" Yes, Uncle Owen, he was there too.

“What about that BLUE one?” Yes, Uncle Owen, he was there too.

In July of 2008, when Turner succumbed to his illness, the wheels had already been set in motion for the first Tucson Comic-Con, and donations were accepted at the event on behalf of Turner for the American Cancer Society, a tradition of giving back to the community that remains a part of the proceedings today.

This year, the event featured the first-ever Costume Contest, with the entry fee being the donation of a brand-new, unwrapped toy to be given out to children at hospitals by the various nonprofit professional costume groups in attendance. This year’s winner in the Advanced category was a well-known alien character from the Mass Effect video games, a stunning piece of realistically fabricated craftsmanship. “The thing actually had a mouth that moved,” exclaimed Jenn Hopkins, a Comic-Con regular and volunteer photographer at this year’s event. “It was amazing!”

Olivares sees the area he grew up in as having shaped his outlook and approach to the event. “My love for Tucson…it nurtured me into being who I am. Growing up, I just hung out Downtown, and I feel kind of a responsibility to help bring a focus on it again. Just come to this convention, come and have fun, and learn about our local independent artists.”

It is clear this event has as bright of a future as the energetic city center it calls home, with the focus so firmly on the artists and the unbelievably fun environment by so many passionate fans. Check out the Tucson Comic-Con on their website.