By Alyssa Weston
All American Cards and Comics hosted its 10th annual Youngstown Comic Con July 6 and 7 at the Covelli Centre. Within a decade, the convention has grown from 400 people in attendance to last year’s record of nearly 5,000.
This year, the convention had a slight dip in attendance with 4,400 people, according to Greg Bartholomew, owner of All American Cards and Comics and organizer of the comic con.
In Bartholomew’s opinion, recent closings of General Motors and Northside Hospital could have affected the convention’s attendance.
Bartholomew reflected on the first convention 10 years ago, when he rented out a space in a friend’s store during Market on the Square near the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center.
Two years prior, the Expo Center in Niles ran its own comic convention that had an elaborate budget but minimal success, according to Bartholomew.
He said he started his convention with a $500 budget to prove a comic con could be profitable in the area, even without a six-figure budget. He also used the opportunity as a cross-promotion marketing strategy for his comic book store.
As the convention inevitably grew, Bartholomew tried to find a more spacious, permanent home for it. The con has been held at the Covelli Centre for the past three years.
“The Covelli Centre works perfectly for us. It’s fantastic, and we will stay there as long as we can,” he said.
This year’s comic convention had dozens of vendors selling comic books, artwork, character memorabilia and much more.
In addition, the convention held its annual cosplay contest and featured meet and greets with comic book legends including “Clerks,” “Mallrats” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” star Jason Mewes, Marvel Comics writer and illustrator Jim Steranko and AMC’s “The Comic Book Men” Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson and Mike Zapcic.
Bartholomew said working with big-name comic book celebrities is stressful but rewarding, and he builds relationships with guests and their agents so they will want to return to Youngstown.
“It’s not as hard as you would think if you don’t wait to do things last minute,” he said. “I wanted to get in with some of these agents with bigger name guests, take care of them, treat them well, be organized and not let anything slip up.”
In the future, Bartholomew plans to have more movie-based celebrities at the con, along with comic book veterans.
He has already started planning for 2020’s convention.
Clayton Petrella, a junior theatre studies major at Youngstown State University, attended the convention for the first time this year. His familiarity with the Youngstown area intrigued him to attend the event.
“I find it cool that events like this are held close to campus. It opens up a window of opportunity for people new to cosplay or conventions,” he said.
Petrilla cosplayed for the convention as Cletus Casady, with the Carnage symbiote from Marvel Comics and showcased his costume with his brother in the cosplay contest.
“My brother [cosplayed] as Eddie Brock, with the Venom Symbiote, who is my character’s counterpart. We interacted on stage in character and it was awesome to be there,” he said.
Overall, Petrella viewed the convention as a fun way to meet like-minded people in one place and gave YSU students the chance to try something new.
“College kids sometimes have nothing to do, so why not go and dress up or hang out at the convention with friends and make new ones,” he said.
George Des Rosiers, a nine-year cosplay veteran, visited Youngstown for the first time from Essex, Ontario, to celebrate his 40th birthday.
“I decided to come to Youngstown to attend the Kevin Smith Q&A at Stambaugh Auditorium. Upon hearing there was a con on the same weekend, it was a done deal for me,” he said.
Des Rosiers has developed cosplay for nearly ten characters and created a Facebook page titled “Illegal Alien Cosplay” as a way to showcase his passion for space inspired pop culture-themed cosplay.
“My passion of movies and comic books eventually led me to this path that I very much consider a lifestyle,” he said.
Des Rosiers cosplayed for the Youngstown Comic Con as a mash up of Zoolander and Superman: a character he calls “The Man of Blue Steel.”
He said his personal highlight of the convention was meeting The Comic Book Men.
“The convention itself was great. [It had a] good layout, and the space around the arena was utilized well, which I found interesting. It had a lot to offer as far as special guests, vendors, artists,” he said.