“If you feel you are geeky about anything in pop culture, you will find something here for you,” said Miranda J. Powell, talking about Camden Comic Con.
The fifth annual Camden Comic Con will take place at Rutgers University – Camden Campus on Saturday, April 14 from 10 AM to 6 PM. The annual convention is about much more than just comics. As Powell states, it’s all about pop-culture and geekdom, and is a great event for the entire family.
Unlike most comic cons, the Camden Comic Con is completely free (both free admission and free parking). Its goal is to provide a fun all-ages event that links and introduces the community of Camden and South Jersey to comic creators, writers, artists, dealers and fellow enthusiasts.
Powell, the Arts Education & Community Arts Program Assistant at Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts, and William Haas, owner of Secret Origins Comics & More in Barrington, N.J., are the team behind the Camden Comic Con. This year’s event includes food trucks, cosplay contests, vendors, live entertainment and programs on topics ranging from how to write graphic novels to Dungeons & Dragons; panels on the power of fantasy and reactions to the blockbuster film “Black Panther;” and offers attendees the opportunity to meet and talk with artists involved with the creation of their favorite comics.
“We’re over the moon about bringing in Gail Simone, she’s definitely our headlining guest,” said Powell. “Gail is probably one of the most influential female creators and writers in comics today. She’s been dedicating herself to helping other females break into the industry and kind of guide them on their journey as well.”
Simone’s appearance at Camden Comic Con will be one of only two east coast appearances for her this year. Based on the west coast, Simone created “Leaving Megalopis” and has written for titles like “Wonder Woman,” “Deadpool,” “Birds of Prey,” “Secret Six” and more for both Marvel and DC Comics. She is currently working on “Domino” for Marvel Comics, “Clean Room” for Vertigo Comics, “Crosswind” for Image Comics and the new “Plastic Man” series for DC Comics. Fans can enjoy a special Q&A session with her at 4 PM.
In addition to Simone, guests scheduled at Camden Comic Con include Adam McGovern, Anthony Spay, Bryan J.L. Glass, Christine Larsen, Daniel Horne, Dorian Vallejo, Erica Schultz, Jamar Nicholas, Jeff Shultz, Mark McKenna, Kristen Gudsnuk, Liana Kangas, Mike Capprotti, Matt Triano, Ryan Browne, Mike Manley, Neil D. Vokes and Mark Poulton, who graduated from Rutgers-Camden in 1995. Poulton is best known for his children’s book series, “A Cat Named Haiku.” He has worked for DC Comics, Image Comics and Arcana Studio. His latest book is an all-ages graphic novel called “Pizza Tree,” which was co-written with his 7-year-old son, Chase.
“Mark was one of the first guys to sign up with us in the beginning and have faith in us,” added Powell. “Of course, it’s his alma mater and he was happy to do it. We’ve just grown from there. Word spread among comic creators that it isn’t a fly-by-night thing.”
Since most admission to most comic cons run from $25 to $60 per day, people sometimes question Camden Comic Con until they see it for themselves. The truth is that the event is also an excellent way to attract people to the city of Camden and the Rutgers campus, while showcasing the work at the Center for the Arts.
The event has grown from dozens of vendors in the first Camden Comic Con to more than 150 for this year’s event. Attendees now come from Camden and beyond, including South Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware. Not bad for something that was originally conceived as a one-time event to help support an exhibit of independent comic artists on display in the Stedman Gallery on campus. That first Comic Con went over so well, people began asking when it would happen again.
As Camden Comic Con has grown, the amount of time spent preparing the event has increased as well. Plans for the next year now start immediately after the current event ends and run throughout the year. Powell says planning gets serious in November and December and they truly buckle down in January and February after returning from holiday break.
Every year features a kids zone and this year’s event contains several workshops that are great for the entire family.
“One of our creators is doing a comic mad-lib thing,” said Powell. “You can make up a comic with your family or group and it’s silly and fun. Other workshops show how to cartoon, how to make your favorite cartoon characters and how to make an original character. There are some teen graphic novel writing workshops and a lot of hands-on demonstrations where people can watch or draw along with them.”
They’ve also brought back the Elegance String Quartet, a Philadelphia-based band that was such a huge hit in 2017 that they had to turn people away. The band performs original arrangements from movies like “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars,” along with games, and anything related to pop culture.
Of course, there will be people dressed in costume and a cosplay costume contest. Last year, about 50 people entered the contest in categories like Best In Show, Best Group, Best Male, Best Female and Best Interpretation of an Existing Character. The competition is open to all aged 14 and up, while those 13 and under can get a prize of their own for participating in the children’s costume parade. Prizes are compiled from the Camden Comic Con vendors. Attendees can even learn how to make their own cosplay props without breaking their budget during one of the event’s workshops.
Outside of the pop culture is the food. Attendees won’t have to go far for lunch or dinner with a plethora of food trucks at the show. Options include Loco Gringo’s Street Taco Express, Blendlife, The Original Weenie Man, Dan’s Waffles and The Pop Shop a GoGo!
“This is a really welcoming environment,” adds Powell. “I’m someone who did not know much about comics when we started and I still wouldn’t call myself an expert or anything, but I always have a good time when I’m here. If you haven’t been to Camden or haven’t been here in a long time, this is an opportunity to come.”
Camden has been steadily improving over the years, but still fights a negative image. Camden Comic Con is hoping to help change that perception of the city. This is one of the signature goals in producing the event. In the beginning, people told Powell and Haas to call the event Rutgers Comic Con, but they have been adamant about keeping Camden as the focus.
“It’s more than just Rutgers,” explains Powell. “There are many people in North Camden that walk to the event and we want them to have ownership over it as well. It’s really a joint effort between the Rutgers community and the Camden city community. We had an artist once who said, ‘In the beginning, I was uncomfortable with going to Camden. Then after I heard such good things about it, I felt a little more comfortable. And now I would imagine coming here every year.’”
That’s the type of response Rutgers and the Camden Comic Con hope to hear. See for yourself on April 14th. Check out the mix of artists, peruse the comics for sale, watch the folks dressed up as their favorite characters and celebrate the love of all things nerdy!