GV alumni start first-ever Grand Rapids Comic Con

Kari Norton

Grand Valley State University alumnus Mark Hodges started as a vendor selling posters at comic conventions.

Six years ago—after being denied the first year he applied to JAFAX, GVSU’s anime convention—the organization invited Hodges to be a vendor at the annual event and a year later drafted him as its unofficial vendor contact.

From there, he built connections with fellow GVSU alumni William Burgess, Phil Gibson and Jessica Dubridge.

Hodges went on to work for other conventions and expos in the years since, but nothing ever seemed to be the whole package for him. With all of his ideas stored up from experience at the numerous events he’d attended, his wife encouraged him to start his own convention.

After getting Burgess, Gibson, Dubridge and a few others on board, Hodges set out to plan the first ever Grand Rapids Comic Con.

“We wanted to make an event that would include comic books, anime, movies, Dr. Who, video games, etc.,” Gibson said. “We wanted this to be a place that people with interests in any of the content can come to meet up with friends or make new friends and enjoy whatever genres they like and maybe find something new to enjoy.”

Many comic conventions take place all across the U.S., but for people living in Michigan, the closest large comic con is C2E2 in Chicago.

“The Grand Rapids area has really been itching for something like this, because west of Lansing there really hasn’t been anything like this,” Burgess said. “People from Grand Rapids go to the big shows in Chicago, but I hope one day people from Chicago will come here.”

Large comic cons, like Comic Con International in San Diego, have been known to bring in business not only to the convention, but the city as a whole.

“Many people probably look at these popular arts shows as nothing more than fun and games, but when done right, they are big business and can have a significant economic impact on the cities that host one,” Hodges said.

According to the City of Chicago, C2E2 in 2014 is expected to earn the city $57.9 million.

Although the group of planners thought the event could eventually end up being big for the Grand Rapids area, Hodges suspects it might have marketed a little too well.

“I think I knew this was going to be serious when the Wyoming Fire Marshall said he was going to be there all day to monitor attendance and things like that, so I was (thinking), if he’s really concerned, maybe we should be concerned too,” Burgess said.

The growth and possibilities for the event are not the main focus now, though; the main reason it’s being hosted is for the people.

“We realize that this event is bigger than us,” Hodges said. “Grand Rapids doesn’t have any events quite like what we’re planning. There are people who are interested in this stuff, and like other communities, the nerd community is a community.”

The Grand Rapids Comic Con will have sessions for all ages. The event will include several educational seminars for people interested in learning about comics, as well as a costume contest and vendor area.

The event will take place on Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Home School Building in Wyoming, Mich.

Tickets will be sold at the door for $5 starting at 10 a.m. An early bird pass, which allows entrance into the event at 9 a.m., will be sold for $10 with half of the money going to Kitchen Sage, the official nonprofit of the GR Comic Con.

Hodges and the other members are expecting to reach full attendance and will begin lining people up at 5:30 a.m. For more information, visit the GR Comic Con website.