Store owners launch ambitious Portland comic convention

Tristan Gallagher and Chad Pennell, co-owners of Coast City Comics on Congress Street in Portland, are helping organize a new three-day comic convention in the city to be held next month.
Tristan Gallagher and Chad Pennell, co-owners of Coast City Comics on Congress Street in Portland, are helping organize a new three-day comic convention in the city to be held next month.
Posted Oct. 10, 2011, at 6 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — If next month’s three-day comic convention in Maine’s largest city is nothing more than “the best nerd party in Portland,” co-organizer Tristan Gallagher said, he’ll be satisfied.

Of course, the Coast City Comicon, modeled after the high-profile industry showcase conventions held in places such as New York City and San Diego, has the potential to be much more than that.

Like its better established “con” cousins elsewhere in the country, Coast City Comicon can boast a few product launches that’ll make a splash. No, Angelina Jolie probably isn’t coming to announce her next action flick, but as far as first-time conventions go, the local one promises to bring some hype.

There, Gallagher said, the “Exegesis of Philip K. Dick” will be unveiled, as well as sneak peaks of the highly anticipated “Womanthology,” a massive all-female comic anthology that attracted some of the most talented artists in the business.

The “Exegesis” is the wide-ranging religious and philosophical journal kept by the late Dick, a science fiction writer known for classics turned big screen hits such as “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report” and the recent Matt Damon thriller “The Adjustment Bureau.”

“Womanthology” is the brainchild of Maine artist Renae De Liz, whose idea for an all-female comic anthology steamrolled initially modest online fundraising goals and has become one of the most anticipated projects in the field.

Those works highlight an otherwise strong lineup that also includes movie screenings, video game tournaments and panel discussions with in-the-know guests such as local Transformers and Iron Man author Alex Irvine, former Marvel Comics editor Andy Schmidt and former Cracked Magazine Editor in Chief Mort Todd.

With a nod to the annual spring Maine Comic Arts Festival, Gallagher said the Coast City Comicon, stretching through all or parts of the day on Nov. 11, 12 and 13, is the biggest such event Portland has seen. The event kicks off with a so-called “Nerd Rave” party running from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the SPACE Gallery the evening of Nov. 11 and continues with myriad attractions through Sunday, Nov. 13, when it wraps up with a party for ages 21 and up from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Geno’s Rock Club.

“I think this is the first time anybody’s tried anything of this scope, with films and events at multiple locations over a whole weekend,” said Gallagher, who co-owns Coast City Comics on Congress Street with “Action” Chad Pennell, another of the convention’s organizers.

“We’d been talking about how there wasn’t a comic convention like San Diego or Boston closer by,” Gallagher continued. “We have people who travel long distances to some of those. We have carloads of people who pack up every year and leave Maine to attend those conventions. Well, we have the city, we have the talent, we have a place where people like to go, so why not do it here?”

Among the venues for the Coast City Comicon will be the SPACE Gallery and Eastland Park Hotel.

Pennell said conversation at the convention undoubtedly will drift toward the highly publicized restart of DC Comics’ most well-known superheroes, such as Batman and Superman.

“They put a ton of money into marketing and they did what a lot of people thought was crazy,” Pennell said. “They rebooted everything.”

Now, said Gallagher, their Congress Street store is seeing an influx of new customers looking to sign up for subscriptions of comic books they grew up following but lost track of as story lines became more complex. The DC reboot has given fans a chance to start over from the beginning with some of their old favorites, he said.

“There was so much history,” Gallagher said. “These were plots that were going on for years and years in the comics, and to make things that happened in the stories years ago relevant now is difficult.”

Another hot topic in the comic world is Marvel Comics’ decision to kill longtime Spiderman alter ego Peter Parker in its latest Spidey comic series, replacing him with a newcomer.

“It’s the first top-tier black superhero Marvel’s done,” Pennell said.

There will be a lot to talk about it at Coast City Comicon 2011.

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