Alamo City Comic Con, now in its fourth year, is returning to San Antonio Halloween weekend. The event at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, which is looking to break last year's attendance of 78,000, also is expanding its educational outreach.
The Worlds Beyond Gallery and the Young Adventurers programs are bringing in a handful of award-winning illustrators and authors who will share their knowledge and interact with the audience throughout the weekend.
Young Adventurers is a daylong workshop set for Oct. 28. Professional and amateur writers can learn from San Antonio-based author David Liss and his contemporaries Lou Anders, Bruce Coville, Holly Black, Matthew Cody, and Melissa Marr, who all write fantasy for teenagers and middle schoolers.
The workshop will end with a book signing, followed by "fan days" on Oct. 29-30, during which the authors will engage with Comic Con attendees in individual panel discussions and breakout sessions.
Workshop space is limited to 75 participants and admission ranges from $105-165. The $105 covers the workshop and Friday convention admission; the $165 package includes workshop entry and a three-day Comic Con pass. Each Young Adventurers package also includes a free copy of Anders’ book, Thrones & Bones: Frostborn.
There's no charge for Comic Con badge holders who only want to only attend the Young Adventurer "fan days."
In Worlds Beyond, local artist John Picacio, as well as Brom, Jeffrey Alan Love, Peter Mohrbacher, Ruth Sanderson, and Todd Lockwood will personally exhibit their original sci-fi/fantasy-inspired illustrations. Admission to Worlds Beyond will be free to all Comic Con badge holders.
Inspired by the success of the Alamo City Comic Con-organized event last December, Star Wars: The Force of Art, Picacio and AC Comic Con organizers saw the Comic Con itself as an ideal setting for established sci-fi/fantasy illustrators to display their original creations. These creations go beyond typical corporate licensed characters such as Harry Potter and X-Men.
The overnight success of the homegrown Alamo City Comic Con impressed Picacio, an award-winning sci-fi/fantasy/horror cover artist of 20 years.
"It became one of the fastest growing pop culture conventions in short order," Picacio said.
Worlds Beyond is a chance for collectors to acquire originals and prints straight from the artists, many of whom are visiting San Antonio for the first time.
Aside from the Worlds Beyond gallery, Picacio sees Comic Con as a great place for sci-fi/fantasy writers to also share tips and anecdotes with writers all of kinds, and further inspire their fans’ minds.
He applauds the presence of local literary events such as Librarypalooza, but sees the local Comic Con as a chance to capture the attention of a bigger crowd.
"I thought to myself, 'Be more than a big-time cover illustrator, do something to lift the city,'" Picacio said.
The ideas thrilled local creators and Comic Con organizers such as Wes Hartman. He, along with event CEO Alfredo “Apple” De La Fuente, Austin Rogers, and Zach Escamilla, all run and operate a small comic book publisher, Guardian Knight Comics.
“We love to promote and feature creative talent across all media," Hartman said, "and being able to provide an opportunity to have award-winning and New York Times best-selling authors use their experiences to provide advice to creators – amateur and professional alike – was too good not to pursue."
Educational elements at a comic convention are neither new nor widespread. Yet, programs with a focus on original sci-fi/fantasy literature are a chance for Alamo City Comic Con to expand its community outreach.
Comic Con has held an art contest where local students could design a show badge. This year, Emmy Award-winning artist Mark Kistler will be in the Kidz Planet section sharing his love for art and teaching his "You Can Draw" panels to children and families.
"Young Adventurers is a brand new extension of that endeavor to help mold the next generation of creators that will influence our culture," Hartman said.
While Picacio has concentrated on developing Worlds Beyond, he immediately thought of writers Liss and Anders to help program Young Adventurers. This will be Liss' first time at Comic Con, which he described as a "fan con" – a convention built by fans for fans, rather than a commercial industry-pushed convention.
Liss was originally set to moderate the Young Adventurers workshop and presentations, but stepped in to participate after he learned that Obert Skye, author of Leven Thumps, injured himself and would be unable to attend.
Liss understands the allure of taking photos of cosplayers and scoring autographs from your favorite celebrities in a comic convention, "but listening to authors at a panel discussion, I find that much more interesting," he said.
"If I go to a convention, it's because I have a chance to talk with readers and get new readers."
A full-time children's book author, Anders has been a friend of Picacio for 20 years. This will be his first Alamo City Comic Con.
"(Picacio) introduced me to Apple and this wonderful opportunity for fans of children's books young and old," said Anders, who lives and works in Alabama.
Anders said the writing workshop is designed to be a great experience for anyone interested in writing middle school grade, young adult, or adult literature. The "fan days" will be an opportunity for young fans to meet their favorite authors, he added.
"For conventions, the need to outreach to the next generation of fandom is very important," Anders said. "All together, I think the Young Adventurers weekend could really have a big role to play in inspiring the next generation of readers, writers, and artists, and I'm proud to be a part of it."
Picacio echoed Anders' sentiments. Young Adventurers "fan days," from a business standpoint, could take advantage of expected record crowds by bringing whole families in so the kids can meet their favorite authors.
"Authors talk about their works and their processes," he said. "Kids rub elbows with writers and artists, pick their brains."
Liss said San Antonio – with its Comic Con's growth – is seeing something special from its creative community.
"The guys behind Guardian Knight Comics are trying to make their own imprint," he said. "Apple and the folks behind ACCC, they are producing actual products.”
In a time when more pop culture gatherings are arising, Alamo City Comic Con is setting itself apart, Liss added.
"There are cons happening somewhere every weekend," he said. "I like to see the ones that distinguish themselves, bring something different to the table."
To Picacio, both new Comic Con programs are ways for established artists and authors to give back to fans old and new, and reassure their creative communities by inspiring a new generation.
"I thought it was important that you help to build a future," he added.
Events such as Contemporary Art Month and Fotoseptiembre, Picacio said, show San Antonio is capable of supporting a booming arts community. Alamo City Comic Con is just another way for San Antonians to expand their art and literary appreciation.
"I see this show as a big top circus," Picacio said, "putting in a couple of poles and bringing in new audiences and expanding the scope of the city's potential."