Since 2011, the year River City Comic Expo founder Brent Douglass put on the first Expo in Sherwood for about 300 attendees, people have been telling him that a comic book convention would never work in Central Arkansas. Too isolated. Not a big enough fan base. Not enough disposable income to keep a niche event like that afloat. This weekend, as thousands of comic book fanatics and cosplayers converge on downtown Little Rock's Statehouse Convention Center for the 2016 installment of the Expo on June 11-12, some of those naysayers will be eating fanboy crow.
Last year, the event drew over 6,500 ticket holders for fun and fandom, a record this year's two-day event seems sure to smash. As of last week, Douglass said they had already presold over 220 tickets for the event, which far exceeds ticket presales in the past.
Tickets for this year's event, available at rivercitycomicexpo.com, are $10 for a day pass, $15 for a weekend pass, or $75 for an all-access VIP pass. Children under 12 get in free.
The other big news for the Expo this year will be the addition of the Little Rock Picture Show, the sci-fi, horror and fantasy film fest that's the sole surviving member of the family of film festivals that once resided under the umbrella of the still-mourned Little Rock Film Festival. Douglass, a comic book fan since childhood who has a collection of somewhere between 22,000 and 24,000 comic books, said he started the River City Comic Expo after becoming frustrated with having to drive to Dallas, St. Louis or New Orleans to attend large gatherings of comic book fans.
"I thought, these cities are a little bit larger than Little Rock, but we're comparable," he said. "Why don't we have anything like that?"
Starting out small at Woody's Sherwood Forest, the event quickly outgrew first that space, then the Clear Channel Metroplex, before landing at the Statehouse Convention Center last year. Cramped for space again in 2015, this year Douglass booked the entire downstairs of the Convention Center, almost 100,000 square feet. Even so, the vendor booths quickly sold out.
Douglass said there will be 265 vendor booths at this year's River City Comic Expo — everything from collectibles to board games to costumes — and another 26 booths featuring celebrities like Nichelle Nichols, who played communications officer Lt. Uhura on the original "Star Trek," and Arkansas native Gil Gerard, who starred as Buck Rogers on the 1979-1981 TV series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." In addition, there will be several well-known comic book artists on hand to sign autographs, including James O'Barr, creator of the comic book series "The Crow," and Neal Adams, who helped define the modern look of several DC superheroes, including Superman, Batman and Green Arrow. Douglass said another sure draw on the floor of this year's Expo will be a meticulous recreation of the black 1967 Chevrolet Impala from the fantasy TV show "Supernatural," which will be available for photos.
Douglass said he thought the Little Rock Picture Show "would be a good fit, so we worked out the details. ... It'll fit right in with the science and sci-fi crowd that we'll have there already." Highlights of this year's Picture Show including a screening of 1994 cult classic "The Crow" with creator O'Barr for a Q&A, a screening of the 1920 silent classic "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" with live musical accompaniment from instrumental quartet Becoming Elephants, the world premiere of the time travel feature "Diverge" with director and Little Rock native James Morrison, and a large slate of sci-fi and horror short films.
Douglass said the River City Comic Expo gets a little bigger every year, and the trend doesn't seem to be slowing. Already looking toward next year, Douglass said they'll likely have to rent even more space at the Statehouse Convention Center in 2017 to accommodate the demand for booth rentals.
"Each year the attendance grows and each year the number of people coming out in cosplay grows," Douglass said. "It's fun to see the people in costume, it's fun to see the people who put meticulous detail into their costumes, and it's fun to see the little kids who dress up as their favorite heroes as well. You can see their imaginations just running wild."
For more information or to buy tickets, visit the River City Comic Expo website at rivercitycomicexpo.com.