KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Comic-Con is back for another year, but not in the city it’s named after.
Friday marked the first day of the three-day April event, called the ‘Spring Fling Road Trip.’ But it was a bumpy ride before the comic-con reached this year’s destination in Kalamazoo.
For the last few years, the April show for the Grand Rapids Comic-Con was at the Deltaplex in Walker. But when it suddenly closed in 2022, it left organizers, including event coordinator Rosie Bono, scrambling to find an available venue that checks their boxes in less than a year — something that usually takes about two or three.
“Venues like this are booked up and the space requirements that we have are vast. We need a lot of space to put this event on,” Bono said. “So we needed something that could fit our needs and was available.”
Their search led them to the Kalamazoo Expo Center.
“Kalamazoo, for us, is only about a half-hour south from our offices, so it seemed like a perfect happy medium for the show,” Bono added.
With the DeltaPlex gone, she told News 8 the Grand Rapids Comic-Con does have a new permanent home, which has yet to be announced. Bono says it’s been an incredible learning experience for their staff.
“We’re handling our own ticket sales this time, which we have never done, a whole new logistics for a building we’ve never been to,” Bono explained. “All-new things … things we thought we had a handle on, that we’re like, ‘Hmm, we need to do a little more learning.'”
VENDORS INCLUDE LOCAL ARTISTS
Hundreds of vendors set up shop at the center to meet customers and sell their creations. Items for sale include the usual suspects of comic books, posters, stickers, clothing and costume accessories.
Other items include masterpieces attendees won’t find anywhere else from artists who happen to be local.
Sita Navas has called Muskegon home for the last five years after moving from Tucson, Arizona, where she grew up on two of her favorite things: video games and Hispanic culture, which comes from her dad’s side.
“The aesthetic was always so fascinating to me. The colors, the style … I am always really drawn to it,” Navas explained. “Growing up in Arizona, where there is just a big, very vibrant, rich Hispanic community. I was always surrounded by that culture and it is always so interesting to me.”
With that curiosity, she and her sister started creating art combining elements from video games and movies with the aesthetics and style of the Mayan calendar, paving the way for a passion project to become her business, Retro Nerd Studio.
“I started doing a little more research, studying the shapes and linework and all that stuff, trying to reimagine what it would look like as one of my top favorite games of all time,” Navas said.
It was that same curiosity through a TikTok video that had Brandon Reed branch out from creating animations to making rugs featuring characters, franchises and other lore.
“I’ve seen someone making rugs and I was like, ‘It looks so cool,’” Reed explained. “Sometimes, you just want to try stuff out, so I bought the equipment that it took to figure it out.”
Grand Rapids Comic-Con’s pit stop in Kalamazoo marks the first time Reed’s business, Cartoon Connect, has its own booth at any event.
“When we were younger in school, it wasn’t always the most popular thing,” Reed said. “To be able to be in a space where so many people love the same thing and can nerd out over everything, it’s amazing. I can’t help but be happy every time I come to a con.”
Around 16,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event, with Saturday anticipated to be the busiest. On its schedule are a costume contest, and a panel with voice actors from three of the main characters from the manga series “Death Note.”
Tickets are on sale and can be purchased at grcomiccon.com.