Bangor convention invites all lovers of comics, graphic novels, sci-fi, horror and fantasy

Posted Sept. 07, 2008, at 8:28 p.m.

Your average comic-book fan is nothing like the Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons.“ They don’t sit at home, practicing their light saber skills and over-analyzing each minor villain from the original Justice League comics. They don’t paint tiny pewter figurines and nurse serious crushes on Catwoman, as played by Julie Newmar.

They have day jobs, they have families, and, if they’re anything like self-admitted pop culture junkie Gibran Vogue Graham, they’re motivated to put their love and knowledge of the medium to good use.

“I’ve always been a comic reader and collector,” said Graham, a resident of Bangor. “I’ve always tried to be an advocate for comics, and try to win people over and educate them about the medium.”

Earlier this year, Graham took that passion for comics even further, when he decided to plan BangPop — Bangor’s first comic book and pop culture convention in more than 10 years, and most certainly its biggest one yet. It’s set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 13, at Spectacular Event Center on Griffin Road.

Graham, a regular customer at Top Shelf Comics on Central Street in Bangor, would chat with store owner Jeff Robinson about his dream of someday planning a real comic convention — one that was more than just a handful of dealers and buyers. Graham now works at the Greater Bangor Visitor and Convention Bureau, but at the time that he started organizing he was finishing up a position at Borders Books & Music.

The timing was perfect.

“He told me all year, ‘When are you going to do a convention? You could do a great job,’” said Graham. “I’ve been to all those big comic conventions, like in San Diego and New York and Atlanta, that attract tens of thousands of people. And I’ve been to a lot of smaller ones in New England that are just a little room in a hotel with just dealers. I wanted to do the small-town convention that was more than just that — something with programming and lots of guests and artists and writers.”

Graham got to work putting out feelers for people local and regional to put on the schedule. Among the first to sign up was Joe Hill, author of the best-selling “Heart-Shaped Box” and the graphic novel “Locke & Key,” and, as the son of Stephen King, a hometown boy.

Then came Walt Hunt, author of the “Dark Wing” series of comics; Mark Ricketts, a Bangor resident and creator of the “Moose Mountain” comic strip; and graphic novelist Gareth Hinds, author of re-imagined versions of “Beowulf” and “King Lear.” Christopher Mills, a comics writer based in Belgrade, signed onto the convention and will be a part of the Artist’s Alley — a combination vendor booth and gallery for Maine-based writers and artists that will run during the course of the whole day.

“It’s been a long time since there’s been anything like this in this part of the state. Conventions are always such a great place to share stuff and to network,” said Mills. “It’s nice to be able to go somewhere where there are a lot of people who share your interests — and in some cases, obsessions.”

Brewer resident Josh Alves, who’s “Zeek and Dent” and “Tastes Like Chicken” comics appear within the pages of the Bangor Daily News, also will be a part of the Artist’s Alley. BangPop is his first comic book convention, despite having been drawing “Zeek and Dent” for nearly seven years.

“This is my first one, said Alves, 25, who has also done illustrations for Marvel Comics. “I’ve always wanted to go to San Diego or New York, but time and funds limit that. Now there’s one in my hometown. I can’t wait to meet with other local comic artists and enthusiasts, and get my work out there.”

Graham wanted to make sure that BangPop appeals to more than just the comic book or graphic novel fan. To that end, he has brought in some other panelists outside the medium, including Maine fantasy author Kristen Britain, University of Maine English professor and sci-fi novelist Alex Irvine, and Peaks Island-based children’s illustrator and newly minted graphic novel artist Annie O’Brien. O’Brien illustrated the award-winning children’s graphic novel “Hong Kil Dong,” based on a Korean folk tale.

“Transitioning from children’s books to children’s graphic novels as completely reinvigorated my work as an artist,” said O’Brien. “I wanted to tell this story, and have it be full of action, like a comic book about a ninja or something. Then the light bulb went off in my head. Using the comic format really enhances your ability to tell a story to a child.” As a parent of a young daughter, Graham also is interested in the educational and kid-friendly aspects of graphic novels and comics.

He’s offering all teachers and librarians in the state free admission to BangPop, so that they can attend one or both of the hour-long panels geared toward educators.

Other than that, BangPop is about gathering everyone from “Star Wars” fans to die-hard Alan Moore readers together, to celebrate genre fiction, be it superhero, fantasy, sci-fi or horror.

“The ideal person I want to attract is not your avid comic fan, that buys new comics every Wednesday,” said Graham. “I want the person who maybe likes role-playing games, or anime, or ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ The casual fan who went to see ‘Iron Man.’ Maybe they’ve never bought a comic book in their lives — but they know all the characters and the stories.”

This summer’s superhero blockbusters underscore the growing awareness of the comic book and graphic novel as a serious art form. “I think there’s a specific interest in comic books and graphic novels, and an overall interest in pop culture in general,” said Graham. “Look at how popular ‘The Dark Knight’ has been. I think the genre is always growing and expanding — think about all the movies in recent years that were based on graphic novels, like ‘300’ or ‘Sin City’ or ‘A History of Violence.’ There’s a bigger public consciousness now than ever.”

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To register for BangPop, visit http://www.bangpopmaine.com. Online registration is $9; at the door, $10. Vendors and Artist’s Alley slots are still available; registration is available on the Web site.

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