ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On Sunday, the halls of the Polish Community Center were filled with crowds of collectors and fans of comic books. Albany Comic Con promoter and owner of Excellent Adventures Comics John Belskis says that although the event differs from bigger conventions, the attendees have given him positive feedback over the years.
“I want my show to be about comics and be an “old school” comic book show,” said Belskis. “There is an intimacy in our show because of the smaller venue. It is more accessible than bigger shows. There is a family-friendly feel, and people like to come back because they are not overwhelmed. The show is to try and introduce people to comic collecting. Many people comment about the show, saying it is the first one they have ever been to, and now they will try and go to a bigger one. We are a bit of a stepping stage to the next level show.”
The event featured over 30 exhibitors, vendors, and guests including comic book artists Charles Barnett III and Richard Clark and inker Kevin Conrad. Local artist and owner of Falsemind Studios Michael Anderson says conventions are a fun time for everyone to meet and talk to people who have similar interests and share a passion for the hobby.
“The human element is a huge part of it,” said Anderson. “I can do this online. Most of my biggest clients are online, and I communicate with them through text. Ultimately it is the time I get to talk to somebody, the time I get to see people wearing awesome clothes or pins. Hearing what they love, hearing what they like or don’t like about my art. That stuff is what keeps it alive. It is a bonding moment, being able to see people laugh at a joke I drew, even if they don’t want to buy it, that brings me joy.”
Anderson, who had aspirations to become an art teacher, now makes prints, commissions, and sculptures full-time. “I am a very fortunate man. I get to do something that I love, which is not something everyone gets to do. I could probably make more money purely off Upwork, charging a higher rate and only dealing with the professional world but making money was never the goal. Instead, I focus on being able to pay my bills and make cool things for people. I don’t want to run a business, I want to build a community.”
The community element was seen throughout the convention. The 501st Garrison Excelsior, a chapter of the 501st Legion, an all-volunteer organization was in attendance raising money for Things of My Very Own, Inc., a non-profit corporation that provides crisis intervention services and programs to children in crisis situations.
The Legion’s goals are to promote interest in Star Wars, facilitate the use of costumes, and contribute to the community. Several volunteers were dressed in Star Wars costumes but most notably on display was a life-size R2-D2 droid, created by the R2 Builders Club.
“We don’t charge for pictures but those who want to make a donation can,” said Nicky Blum, the Garrison PR Officer. Blum says the organization focuses on charity events or events where there are going to be a lot of kids or Star Wars fans. “We do different parades, library visits, and conventions. We are 100 percent volunteers so we do not charge for any of the appearances that we make. We get invited to a lot of events but it is all dependent on whether we have enough volunteers to be able to do it.”
Blum says while the pandemic created some obstacles for the organization, they were able to figure out ways to connect with the community. “We developed some virtual events that we would broadcast on our social media, for example, a character storybook telling time, so our volunteers would get into their costumes at home and read stories aloud that we would put on our YouTube channel so kids at home could still interact.
While the 501st Garrison Excelsior has a number of upcoming local events, Blum noted that the 501st Legion is involved in many events worldwide. “Because the Legion has developed such a strong relationship with LucasFilm and Disney for the past 25 years, we get invited to do some high-profile things. 501st Legion members have appeared in shows like The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi and have participated in events like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Any time the studios are looking for a large group of stormtroopers, they start calling us instead of stunt doubles especially since we source our own costumes. The same thing happened with the droid builders as well. When they started doing the prequel trilogy, they started utilizing the droid builders’ droids for the movies instead of making their own.”
While the convention focused more on comic books and collecting than pop culture, Brett Putnam, owner of Fantasy Unlimited Comics, says the movie industry has created a real resurgence in the hobby. “In 2008, the first Iron Man movie came out, which was really the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. That lit a fire that is still burning hot where there is a whole new generation of kids that are interested in Marvel and all of the Marvel superheroes, and the fans have been renewed with enthusiasm and interest again.”
Putnam started selling comic books in 1976 when he was 13 years old and was able to sell comics to pay for his college tuition. “It is truly remarkable how such flimsy things can survive all these years and still be in incredibly good shape. You hear stories of people storing comic books in their houses between wall boards and things like that and yet somehow they survive intact. The big baddies with comics are humidity and light, so if you keep them in a dark and cool place, you are in good shape and generally, the paper does not degrade very much.”
Putnam says he is excited to see more comic book characters and stories come to life on the big screen. “Marvel’s inventory of both characters and stories is practically infinite. There is an infinite treasure trove that movie producers and directors can tap into, there will never be a shortage of material. I am happy that somebody with a vision like Kevin Feige came along and actually took the time and effort to put everything together and create this cohesive Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nothing like this has ever been done in cinematic history, it is just amazing.”
“I think comics are generational and collecting is a generational thing,” said Belskis. “I think that what has happened with the movies is that has allowed comics to expand into another generation of readers. I think that anything that captures those dreams and imagination is just a healthy thing for the genre all the way around. To be able to build that bridge so that people can continue to explore and enjoy comics is great and that is what the movies do. The movies build that bridge to the next generation.