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Credit: Saquan Stimpson

WICOMICON: A place where community was built

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Sep 6, 2018, 5:24 PM EDT (Updated)

For one day in April, hundreds of fans found themselves inside Under Armour's former Baltimore headquarters celebrating their favorite inclusive fandoms alongside fellow cosplayers, comic artists, writers, and celebrities at the WICOMICON Pop-Up convention organized by The Nerds of Color (of which I am a founder), Black Heroes Matter, Carbon-Fibre Media, TheBlerdgurl, The New Release Wednesday Show, and the Be A Boss app.

Two years earlier, these same fans from across different marginalized communities had been eagerly anticipating Universal FanCon, a Kickstarter-backed convention dedicated to diversity and inclusion with an all-star laden lineup and — the public would soon learn — mountains of debt. On April 20, seven days before Universal FanCon was to open its doors at the Baltimore Convention Center, the organizers announced the convention was "indefinitely postponed" due to a "financial deficit" they could not overcome. I go into more detail regarding The Nerds of Color’s affiliation with Universal FanCon here.

Needless to say, Universal FanCon's abrupt and unexpected "postponement" left a lot of people feeling hurt and betrayed. Even worse, dozens of people were in the final stages of traveling to Baltimore — many had purchased non-refundable plane tickets and/or hotel reservations. Those who had planned to exhibit at Universal FanCon had already shipped their wares to the Convention Center, unsure of how they would ever retrieve their products or recoup the costs of exhibiting at a show that no longer existed.

WICOMICON, Constance Gibbs

Credit: Saquan Stimpson

One such vendor, Uraeus of Black Heroes Matter, reached out to me within moments of the announcement that Universal FanCon was postponed. "I'm super serious about finding a solution to this problem," the text read. "I think we can put something together on the fly and make something positive out of this fiasco."

That text led to a phone call, and less than 24 hours, Uraeus and I were meeting up at 1100 Wicomico Street with Andre Robinson of Carbon-Fibre Media, Elijah Kelley of the Be a Boss App, and the building's management team to tour the seventh floor and see if a pop-up convention was even feasible. After struggling to come up with a name for the event, Uraeus noticed the word "comic" was in the middle of "Wicomico" and suggested we put an "n" on the end of the word: thus, WICOMICON was born. Later that evening, after some research, I learned that the name "Wicomico" was derived from Algonquin words that roughly translated to "a place where homes are built." This perfectly distilled the mission of WICOMICON.

Because so many fans were left homeless in the wake of Universal FanCon, WICOMICON would provide a refuge for those who had already committed to coming to Baltimore: vendors and artists with merchandise already on the way or fans with travel plans they couldn't change or vacation days they couldn't get back.

By Monday, a website and social media handles were created, Karama Horne, a.k.a. theblerdgurl, was brought on to oversee the programming schedule; Patrick Michael Strange, host of the New Release Wednesday Show, came on board to manage entertainment on the main stage; and Bounce comic creator Chuck Collins leveraged his security experience to work with security and police staff to ensure a safe environment for all attendees. The next four days were a whirlwind of late night conference calls, bouts of anxiety, and steely dedication from the entire executive team to make sure everyone would have a positive experience at WICOMICON.

"WICOMICON was spawned by a community of creators, producers, promoters, and [an] ecosystem [of] builders in Baltimore and beyond," said Robinson. "[We were all] determined to make the best of a bad situation."

In the meantime, dozens of vendors who were originally scheduled for Universal FanCon reached out to be part of WICOMICON and were allowed to vend free of charge. I was actually in charge of communicating with them beforehand and overseeing the exhibition room on the day of the event. While nearly every one of the exhibitors expressed gratitude to us for giving them this space and providing a platform for their art, we organizers were indebted to them for taking part in the day. Moreover, many of them took it upon themselves to ensure the day was a success for everyone and not just their own businesses individually. 


Credit: Saquan Stimpson

Here's the thing about the community built around WICOMICON: that generosity of spirit was shared among everyone. Exhibitors who came a day early to set up their booths also helped with hauling chairs and arranging tables for everyone. Others multi-tasked as volunteers, lending their time to mop up spills and sweep the floors in between dealing with customers. Speaking of volunteers, people from all walks of life, from every part of the country, offered their services to be part of the spreading the spirit of WICOMICON. This includes the building staff who worked day and night to make the space at 1100 Wicomico ready for a convention full of kids, cosplayers, and fans ready to support local artists. Even outside groups like Geeks Out stepped up to purchased 50 admission tickets to give away.

"WICOMICON was a testament to the power of community," said Uraeus. "A shining example of the truth that when folks get together under one common goal, without ego, and in the face of great adversity, there is nothing we can't accomplish."

Once Saturday rolled around and the freight elevator doors opened, unloading the first group of fans into the makeshift exhibition hall, WICOMICON went from an idea to a reality. Hundreds of fans were able to meet professional comic creators like Greg Pak and Ron Wilson, purchase art and goods, cosplay as their favorite characters, and mingle with celebrities like Cheo Hodari Coker (Luke Cage showrunner), April Reign (#OscarsSoWhite creator), and stars from SYFY's The Magicians and Killjoys. Ten thousand square feet of empty space was transformed into a bustling marketplace, a center for thoughtful conversations, and the place to be for entertaining musical acts and cosplayers of all stripes.

“After recent events, our goal was to help the vendors and artists left with inventory they couldn’t move and plane tickets they couldn’t return,” said Horne. “And to change the narrative about working with creators of color and give everyone affected a sense of hope.”

Because of the dedication of the entire WICOMICON team — including staff, volunteers, vendors, guests, and panelists — we were able to maintain the original intent of the weekend: to provide a safe and inclusive space for fans from traditionally underrepresented communities. We set out to support the community of nerds of color who has supported us for so long. The outpouring of love we have received from that community since Saturday has truly been overwhelming and humbling. After everything that transpired in the fallout of Universal FanCon, we didn’t just come together as a community for WICOMICON, we found a place and built a home.