Geeks unite: R.I. Comic Con has something for fans of every stripe

Geeks unite: R.I. Comic Con has something for fans of every stripe

PROVIDENCE – From a celebrity lineup the likes of which is seldom, if ever, seen in Rhode Island, to the costumes, collectibles, gaming tournaments, panel discussions, vendors, photo ops and on-site tattooing – yes, tattooing – it is hard to describe just how big Rhode Island Comic Con, an annual entertainment and comic convention in downtown Providence, has become.

Dubbed the biggest show in the smallest state, Rhode Island Comic Con drew in some 60,000 people in 2015, and even more are expected at the 5th annual event this weekend, which has grown to takeover two adjoining venues – the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Dunkin' Donuts Center.

Highlights in 2016, include famed comic-book writer and Marvel chairman Stan Lee, making his last New England appearance, and "The Fast & the Furious" star Gal Gadot, who now plays Wonder Woman in the DC Extended Universe series.

But Comic Con reaches far beyond just the comic book genre, and those tempted to write the event off as a passing "geek" fad might want to take a hard look at the guest lineup.

Fans of the hit series "The Walking Dead" will see the show's newest villain – Jeffrey Dean Morgan who plays the brutal Negan – as well as one of his latest TV victims – Red, played by Michael Cudlitz. Other cast members from the wildly popular AMC series include Josh McDermitt, Alexandra Breckenridge, Christian Serratos, Jeremy Palko and Michael Koske.

There's Kate Beckinsale of the "Underworld" movies and "Total Recall;" Katie Cassidy of "Taken," "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "Gossip Girl" and several shows on television network The CW; a long list of "Deadpool" stars; and "Sons of Anarchy" stars Kim Coates and Mark Boone.

There's Alice Cooper and Christian Slater - that's right, the Christian Slater, and Mena Suvari of "American Beauty" and the "American Pie" films.

If that's not enough super-star power, throw in actress Tara Reid and Jon Heder, best known for his role as "Napoleon Dynamite," along with dozens more.

"This year we targeted bigger guests instead of just a lot of them," said Susan Soares, press relations manager for Altered Reality Entertainment, the New England-based company that puts on the event.

The total number of guests in 2016, slightly down from 2015 Soares said, is 75.

And it's not just the massive star presence that makes this event so exciting, although fans will learn they might have to spend a few dollars to maximize their experience. There are established fees for photos and autographs and VIP packages include perks such as swag bags and "fast passes' to put you at the front of the autograph line.

Lee's appearance is complimented by a collectibles booth filled with exclusive "Stan Lee" merchandise including comic books, prints and toys. Guests will even have a chance to win a tattoo designed by the artist.

Fans of Gadot's latest role as Wonder Woman might enjoy a peak at some decades-old memorabilia from the original female superhero, courtesy of the Marston Family's Wonder Woman Museum.

But the celebrities are still just the start of what makes Comic Con truly something to see.

Though not required, costumes are encouraged, and thousands of fans will show up dressed as characters from books, movies and video games. The Comic Con costume contest includes some $5,000 in cash prizes for a variety of categories.

There will also be a full lineup of "panels," from Star Wars trivia and Magic card game tournaments, to discussions with the celebrities about their careers.

"Kids Con," will give the convention's younger guests a chance to get in on the fun with features such as puppeteers, and workshops where they get to make their own comic books.

"They can take part in activities that are more on their level," Soares explained.

Adding to the agenda are amazing sights such as the Hellevator Experience, a chance to take part in the horror game show, courtesy of Cox Communications and the Game Show Network.

Gaming enthusiasts will enjoy tournaments of Super Smash Bros, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter, coordinated by Retro Games Plus.

"It's definitely gotten bigger and better every year," Soares said of the event.

Launched in 2012, Rhode Island Comic Con was expected to draw in around 10,000 guests in the first year, but exceeded organizer's expectations from the start drawing in 15,000.

"We didn't really know how starved the R.I. market really was until then," said Soares.

Cumberland resident Bill Maya attended that first year, and for the past two has brought along his daughter Katie.

"I attend because I've been a geek since before being a geek was cool and I guess it's in my DNA," Maya said. "Back in the '70s I have fond memories of doing my homework in front of the television set while watching 6 p.m. reruns of the original "Star Trek" series. I was into comic books, Marvel not DC, and I always bought two of every issue – one to read, one to save."

"At every R.I. Comic Con I attend I get a kick out of the seeing the costumes that people create for themselves, rummaging through old comic and sci-fi memorabilia, buying some artwork, or picking up a geeky T-shirt or two for my wardrobe. And I spend way more money than I should. But I'll always attend because seeing so many people sharing the same interests gives me hope for the future."

The 2016 lineup also includes a long list of artists from "Ren and Stimpy" animator Bob Camp, to DC Comics artist Neal Adams, as well as other special events.

Child actor turned comic book artist Rusty Gilligan will be there, and he'll double as an ordained minister for couples looking to get married or renew their vows at the event.

If you're someone who's been considering memorializing your fandom in a really visual way, stop by Ink-Fusion, "Where the worlds of tattooing and pop culture collide," where a half dozen artists – licensed by the comic legends – will be ready to create a very unique souvenir.

Those truly in touch with their inner geek might consider Sci-Fi Speed Dating, where the crew from the show will work with the stars of “Geek Love” to help make a love connection.

"Are you looking for that special someone your action figure collection will impress?" an advertisement for the events, which run in two hour sessions throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday, asks guests.

This weekend will also mark the debut of "Rhode Warrior," a new comic book hero for the smallest state in the nation produced by a new division of the entertainment company, Altered Reality Entertainment Comics. Written/co-created by Ian Chase Nichols with interior art by Chris Campana, Hannibal King, Ian Chase Nichols and Joe St. Pierre, "Rhode Warrior #1" will introduce Rhode Island's new defender.

"A vile new menace has brought his evil plans to Providence, which threatens the safety of the entire city and all its citizens," explains the intro. "Local authorities have only one person to turn to – The Rhode Warrior." 
"The Rhode Warrior is a tough character with a strong sense of right and wrong," explained a statement on the Providence-based hero. "She is meant to embody the personality, strength, and resilience of the people of Rhode Island and New England."
"Rhode Warrior #1" will be available exclusively at Rhode Island Comic Con.
Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers will also host for a toy, comic, and collectibles auction at the Rotunda inside the convention center, with partial proceeds to benefit The Meeting Street School from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Comic Con will take place on Friday, Nov. 11, from 3 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 12, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 13, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets to Rhode Island Comic Con are still available through their website, The Dunkin Donuts Center Box Office, and all Toy Vault locations.
To learn more, follow Rhode Island Comic Com on Facebook or visit www.ricomiccon.com .

Bill and daughter Katie Maya of Cumberland at last year's ComicCon.
Stan Lee