As a child, Doug Brantley was drawn to comic books. Sure, the artwork and exciting fight scenes were appealing — but there was always a deeper draw behind his interest.
In story after story, the hero always seemed to be someone who was a bit of an outsider, someone who didn’t fit in with the crowd. For Brantley, it was compelling and a reason he feels that so many are drawn to the narratives.
“I think it’s always been a big thing that super heroes in comics are kind of misfits in one way or another. I think that is why so many people connect with them,” he said.
The comics were also inclusive at times when other avenues of society were not. Brantley points out that many characters were of different races and backgrounds.
“When you look back at comic books after you’ve grown up, you see that there were characters of different races, some were probably gay or lesbian. Everyone was covered ... so no one is excluded,” Brantley said.
That is one reason that comic book fans are so devoted. They have become deeply connected to the story lines and characters developed over the years. It’s why, he adds, comic cons have seen so much success over the past few decades.
The events offer fans a chance to fully immerse themselves in that fantasy world. Organizers line up panels of writers, celebrities and artists who share the stories behind the books. But in recent times, “cons” as they’re known to fans have seen a massive expansion.
“It’s become a huge cultural thing. It has really exploded especially with all of the Marvel films that have come out. If a Marvel movie comes out, it’s number one a the box office, you know,” he said.
“Now the people who used to read comics as kids, their kids are getting into it. It’s just become really huge.”
Another reason for the popularity is the inclusion of “cosplay,” at comic cons. Fans can dress up (often elaborately) as characters from comics, books, movies, games or television shows. With the surge of interest in both comics, games and shows like “Game of Thrones,” the industry is booming, drawing thousands of attendees to events. There’s often cosplay contests held at con events.
Like the comics themselves, Brantley says that these offer a way for fans to express creativity without facing judgment.
“The cosplay world is huge. And it’s another thing where it doesn’t matter who you are ... your size, race, shape or gender. People can work really hard putting their costumes together or they throw it together in a couple of minutes,” he said.
The growing popularity of cons and cosplay is why Brantley wanted to offer one locally. He had the chance when was approached by someone wanting to start a con a few years back. He jumped at the opportunity to help.
“I personally went to a lot of comic cons and a guy called me when I was working for Quantum Communications, he was looking to bring a con here and was looking for advertising,” he said.
Brantley offered his experience and helped get the first Jekyll Island Comic Con off the ground five years ago. He eventually took on the production entirely and has held an event each year at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.
“We had more than 1,000 people our first year. So I knew there was a real appreciation for it here ... we’ve been trying to grow it ever since,” he said.
This Jekyll Island Comic Con with a newer element — the Hyde Horror Alley — is returning from noon to midnight Saturday and Sunday at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. Exhibitors will be on hand from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for general admission for both days is $35. It is $20 for each day individually. The VIP tickets run $65.
This year’s event will be similar to years passed in that there will be rooms upon rooms of comics, vendors and cosplayers. There will be role playing video game tournaments and tabletop games, like Magic, as well.
For those looking for a bit of a fright, the Hyde Horror Alley will offer locally produced horror movies. There will be cosplay contest divisions for teens and children.
Brantley is even putting on a “Living Dead Girl” beauty pageant.
“You have all of the beautiful dresses and things but the girls are all zombies. It’s kinda like the movie ‘Carrie,’” he said with a laugh.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s even an opportunity for creating a unique Christmas card.
“I’m calling it the Christmas Card Challenge. We have a chair set up like you’d see with Santas in malls. Then there are two professional cosplayers square off to see who can get the most Christmas Card pictures (with attendees), then we’ll invite that cosplayer back next year,” he said.
“We will print out the cards for them so it’s actually a real card. But it’s a lot of fun because the characters really get into it and get the crowd into it. It’s special to our con.”
While there will be activities throughout the weekend, the reach of the comic con will extend much further. Two local charities are benefitting from the event. The first is No Kill Glynn County, an animal rescue organization. The second is Bolin’s Heroes, a suicide prevention program, with special ties to the local comic con.
The group was founded in memory of Jacob Bolin, an avid comic fan, who committed suicide. They have established a suicide prevention page, www.bolinsheroes.org, with links to hotlines for teens and youth to call if they face suicidal thoughts.
“He actually came to our con and his family said it was the happiest he’d been in years. Then, unfortunately, he took his own life. The organization was set up after that,” he said.
“There are a lot of kids who are going through something similar. A lot of the people who come to the con are kind of misfits themselves, like the characters in the stories. But that’s what is so great about cons. Here, you can be shy or overweight or gay ... the community is so accepting. There’s no judgement.”