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SYFY WIRE Behind the Panel

I went to my first comic book convention in over a year... and I’m glad I did

By Mike Avila

The SC Comicon that took place last weekend in Greenville, South Carolina was the first major in-person convention in the area since before the pandemic. When I heard the show was happening, and having already been vaccinated, I flew up to Greenville to see it for myself. The largest con in the state, it's long had a great rep for being a talent-friendly show with a low-key vibe and is also known as a con where you can score some hard-to-find comics.

Robert Young, the organizer of the show, knew the decision to resume the show after canceling it in 2020 would very likely open him up to criticism, and he understood why. Even though vaccinations are rolling out at a rapid clip and more than half of American adults have gotten at least one vaccine shot, there is concern that vaccine hesitancy combined with pandemic fatigue could pose dangers in certain communities. Young knew that, but he also was aware that statistics showed the number of COVID cases in the Greenville area had been steadily declining since January.

“We already had the dates locked in and we were thinking about changing it obviously,” Young told SYFY WIRE. “But the vaccinations were just ramping up at such an incredible rate. And the numbers in our area were plummeting. We felt like the timing was right. In any kind of tough situation, eventually someone has to go first and we were just willing to do it and accept whether it went well or whether it didn’t.”

comicon floor

The show took a number of steps to adapt to the present-day need for physical spacing. Young rented 80,000 square feet more than he normally does for the con, and he sold fewer tickets. Masks were required to be worn inside the Greenville Convention Center, sanitizing stations were easy to find inside. He rented fewer booths to vendors and spaced out the tables in Artists Alley, and also canceled all panels and the annual costume contest, which he had admit was a tough call to make. “That is one of our most popular events that SC Comicon is known for,” he says. “You've got folks in costume going across the stage and everybody wants to watch. The idea was to just try to make people feel safe and comfortable, so we felt like we needed to eliminate the costume contest.”

The extra space in the convention hall meant the dealers room did not feel as cramped as it does at just about every comic book show I've ever attended. There were a couple of times as I sifted through longbox after longbox where I noticed some other comic book bargain hunters were a little too close, but then I moved away. Also, the fact I had the vaccine and was wearing a mask made a huge difference for me. Given all the data that shows the vaccines are incredibly effective against the virus, I felt quite safe. When I left the show, I was glad I attended. Not just because I had a good time, but because I felt comfortable. I felt safe.

comic book longboxes

And to be perfectly honest, I was stunned by how happy it made me to be flipping through comics, checking out portfolios full of original art and haggling over prices again. The last con I attended was C2e2 in March of 2020, just before the world shut down and our lives went virtual. Like a lot of other geeks, I've done my fair share of online shopping. But it doesn't compare o the sheer bliss of trying to fill your want list at a convention.

I was not completely successful in my quest, however. Hawkman #4 and Avengers #9 were two books I couldn't find at all at the show. Can a guy get a first appearance of Wonder Man over here?!

Talking to other attendees at the show, I got the sense I was far from the only person who was glad to be back in the friendly confines of a comics show. A few of the people I talked to said being vaccinated was the deciding factor in their decision to attend the con. Young, who also owns the Borderlands Comics and Games shop in the area, says he heard similar feedback.

"Everyone seemed to be so excited and so happy to get out and have the ability to go have some fun," he says. "We got a lot of positive response. All of our media guests were super happy with how we handled everything." 

He's still tallying attendance figures but expects it to be around 70 percent of what a normal show gets. Young also says putting on a show in the age of COVID helped him figure out a few ways that could make future shows even more efficient and crowd-friendly.

"We used a new charging system (for tickets) that was like a point-of-sale and it helped us move the lines faster. That was important to us because we didn't want people standing in line," Young says. "That really helped us and I think it'll help people get into the con faster in the future."

An unexpected benefit was he had several new dealers rent space at the show who took the place of longtime exhibitors who decided not to attend. "We got a lot of new vendors in who wanted to do shows and they had a good weekend, so now we've gotten a lot of new folks interested in our convention."

Not everyone will agree with his decision to go on with the show. I know some people think it's way too early to put on any type of large-crowd gathering like this. And while there have been no reports as of yet of COVID cases stemming from the convention, that could certainly change. But with ReedPop bringing New York Comic Con and other major cons back as in-person events in the fall, it's time for people to start deciding what measures need to be taken to provide a comfort level that makes them personally feel safe enough to return to the convention floor. If you ask the people who attended SC Comicon, i suspect most would say the measures in place there provided them that measure of security.

When will you feel safe attending a comic convention again? Find me on Twitter and Instagram and let me know.

Don't forget that Behind the Panel is a multi-platform experience. Our video series is loaded with my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. Check 'em out!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.