Last November, Cliff Bumgardner made a movie.
He interviewed and shadowed the organizers of NC Comicon in the lead-up to the weekend-long celebration of comic books and comic culture; then, when the convention itself took place in Durham, he and his camera navigated the long signing lines and backstage areas. The resulting documentary, “NC Comicon: The Movie,” debuted in late August and documented the successes and failures of the 2015 con. (The film screens at the ComiQuest Film Festival at The Carolina Theatre each day during NC Comicon.)
For this year’s Comicon, however, Bumgardner’s no longer on the outside looking in – now, he’s the media coordinator. The con’s organizers were so impressed with his work, says creative director Brockton McKinney, that they hired him.
“I still feel like I’m hopping on a moving train,” Bumgardner says with a what-am-I-getting-myself-into smile. “Everyone who gets to work on this sort of thing is just honored to do it.”
That kind of arc is what the NC Comicon is all about, its organizers attest: people who want to break into the business, McKinney says, may find their in through the con, which returns to Durham Friday through Sunday.
Since last year’s con, in fact, Bumgardner has moved into the comics world in two ways – as a Comicon employee and as a writer. His five-page story “American Jesus: Undeath” ran in “Millarworld Annual 2016.” Bumgardner wouldn’t have had the confidence to submit his work to the international talent search if not for the con and the support of its organizers.
“If you want to be a creator and you want to be in the industry, there is a panel for you,” says McKinney. He, Bumgardner and Comicon co-founder and co-owner Alan Gill are sitting in the Comicon’s office in downtown Carrboro. It’s decorated with “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” posters, and a Godzilla figurine the size of a large house cat faces the doorway.
A con for creators
With hands-on Lego rooms where guests can learn to build Pokéballs and portfolio reviews by esteemed publishers, their convention is purposefully oriented toward creators. Last year, Bumgardner remembers, Action Labs Comics president Dave Dwonch did a panel specifically about breaking into comics. Along those lines, Insight Comics, Action Lab, Valiant Comics and DC Comics all offer portfolio reviews at this year’s con.
“DC Comics coming is huge,” explains Gill. “They don’t set up at our size show. They just don’t do it.”
NC Comicon largely has Gerard Way to thank. The comic writer (who is likely best known as the vocalist for My Chemical Romance) was one of last year’s marquee guests. At that convention, he announced he wanted to reboot DC’s “Doom Patrol.” DC gave Way an imprint, Young Animal, and Way is returning for the 2016 convention with the teams behind the four books on Young Animal. One title, “Mother Panic,” is based in Gotham City.
“It’s a huge deal, too, to be introducing a new Batman,” McKinney says.
Another huge deal this year is guest Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher books. McKinney has read these novels and likes them, and he’s excited, too, about artists Afua Richardson, who has worked on many Marvel titles, but recently drew her first Batman book, and Hillsborough’s Richard Case, who drew the original “Doom Patrol.”
From his work on that title as well as “Dr. Strange” and “Sandman, “ Case has a powerful reputation in the comic book world. Yet he’s incredibly laid back and easy to talk to, McKinney notes.
Proceeds to charity
There’s also a philanthropic angle to the Comicon. In 2015, it raised $16,000 for the Duke Children’s Hospital; this year, proceeds will go to Equality NC, a nonprofit dedicated to equal rights and just treatment for LGBT North Carolinians. This is directly tied to the fight against HB2, Gill says. Within days of the controversial bill’s passage earlier this year, Comicon gave a statement in opposition to it.
And for all its opportunities for prospective comic writers and artists, the NC Comicon is also designed to be a party. Last year, in fact, it had its first prom-style dance: it was open to anyone, costumed or not, and it was enormously reassuring to the organizers of this annual comic book convention. Naturally, it’ll happen again this weekend in Durham.
“It was as close to a John Hughes movies as I’ve ever seen in real life,” says McKinney.
What: NC Comicon
When: Noon-7 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Durham Convention Center and Carolina Theatre, downtown Durham
Cost: $25-$35 single day; $50-$300 3-day pass