At the August 2016 Golden Triangle Comic Con and Toy Expo in Columbus, friends Evan Ballard, left, and Jayden Lee hang out with a "Star Wars" storm trooper at Trotter Convention Center. Evan is the son of Derek and Emily Ballard. Jayden's parents are Brittany and Matthew Lee of Columbus. This year's family-friendly Comic Con is Aug. 19 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the convention center's upper level. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch file photo
At the 2016 Comic Con last August, Gibson Nettles, left, surprised Brittany Oliver with one of her favorite comic books.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch file photo
Kynley Montgomery, left, and Riley Thompson, both of Parsons, Tennessee, came to the 2016 Comic Con as "Foxy" and "Freddy" of "Five Nights at Freddy's." Visitors from not only Mississippi, but Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana are expected at this year's "con."
Photo by: Courtesy photo
At the 2016 Golden Triangle Comic Con, David Fulton, in steampunk attire, plays Hanabi with friends he made at the event.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch file photo
Gaming enthusiasts at the 2016 Golden Triangle Comic Con check out video games. This year's event features tournaments and a $2,000 pot.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
Mark Hall, left, trades his Darth Vader toy with Kylo Ren to play with his light saber during the 2016 Golden Triangle Comic Con at the Trotter Convention Center in Columbus. Mark is the son of Susan and Sam Hall of Columbus.
Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch file photo
From left, Chris Tarantino, Austin Shepherd and Brandon Sesser
August 12, 2017 10:07:47 PM
Lily Dunn is planning it all out -- the '50s greaser-look costumes she and her friends are thinking about for Saturday at Trotter Convention Center. The 15-year-old from New Hope thinks she'll go as a roller skating waitress. It's different from some of her previous looks, like Totoro, from the Japanese animated fantasy film "My Neighbor Totoro," or Alvin, from "Alvin and the Chipmunks." But at any comic con, the world's a stage.
"It's great that there's one right here in Columbus," says Dunn, who has traveled as far as Memphis for a "con." "This makes it so much easier; not everybody can go to someplace like Memphis. I think they should put on one in every little town so that everybody can have one."
Dunn is just the type of enthusiast that inspires Chris Tarantino as he plans and expands the second annual Golden Triangle Comic Con. He's doing it with help from co-organizers Austin Shepherd, Zac Ashmore and Brandon Sesser, and presenting partners East Mississippi Community College and Colin Krieger of ReMax. If last year's inaugural event was a trial balloon, this year's is a bona fide launch.
A comic con (convention) is a celebration of fan culture -- comics, movies, TV, gaming. It's video and board games, comic books and costumes. And this Saturday in Columbus, it's also celebrity guests, filmmakers, panel discussions, a cosplay (costume) contest and gaming tournaments with a $2,000 pot. Call it geek pop culture, call it fantasy: Tarantino calls it a way to bring generations together, add a new feather to Columbus' cap, attract visitors to the city and, naturally, have a great time.
"Everybody has a little geek inside, and they enjoy the costumes and the atmosphere. Expos like this bring people together of all ages and backgrounds," says Tarantino. The New Jersey native debuted the event last August while at Columbus Air Force Base. He's in north Mississippi now, serving in the Air Force Reserve. "Mississippi is my second home," he says. "I love the people; they're my second family."
Notching it up
The first sign of the local comic con's growth is its move from Trotter Convention Center's lower level to the main ballroom. In addition to vendors, there will be expanded tournaments and nine half-hour panels on topics from "Eclipse Mania" to "Doctor Who." Filmmakers like Shendopen Films' Michael Williams of West Point and Zero Film's Jesse R. Phillips of Starkville (recently on the Discovery Channel's "Darkness,") will screen movie trailers and host Q&A's.
Celebrities will include "I'll Fly Away," "Mallrats" and "7th Heaven" actor Jeremy London and acclaimed voice actor Stephen L. Russell. Gamers will recognize Russell as the voice of Mister Handy (aka Codsworth) from Bethesda's "Fallout 3" and "Fallout 4," among numerous other roles.
Don Teems will attend. He's a regular member of the undead on "Walking Dead" and has worked on "The Vampire Diaries," "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and many other projects. Comic book artists Dietrich Smith and Corbin Delaney will be on hand, as will professional cosplayers and makeup artists. And "Star Wars" fans will hail the return of the 501st Legion out of Memphis -- storm troopers, bounty hunters, imperial guards and pilots.
"Last year there were about 10 storm troopers there; this year there are about 30 to 35 coming," Tarantino says.
Co-organizer Austin Shepherd is pumped about Saturday. He's the director of Columbus Police Department's crime lab. But he's also a dad whose kids like superheroes and video games. He attended Tarantino's comic con last year and bought in to the potential for yet another premier event in the Golden Triangle.
"I'm invested in Columbus and have been here for a long time," Shepherd says. "And even though Chris isn't from here originally, he was stationed here and developed a love for this area, too. He saw a void for this kind of outlet because there is a large and growing community for it."
EMCC joins in
Gaming is a focus of GT Comic Con. GameStop is providing systems, and East Mississippi Community College comes on board to handle the LAN party (local area network) gaming.
"It's a community outreach, but we also would like to give more exposure to our information system technology courses because a lot of really smart high school students who love computers sometimes get pushed in the wrong direction," says IST instructor Brandon Sesser. "We want to expose them to the different options we have."
Tarantino is enthusiastic about the new partnership. Mississippi has a lot to offer, but it should be known for its technology, too. "That is where our world today is going, and you have to get people interested."
Sesser says, "We wanted to jump on board (with comic con) and help grow it. We want to grow the 'edu-tainment' industry so we can not only have gaming expos but also train people on cyber awareness, train people on web design ... have more and more opportunities for the community."
Six days out, comic con anticipation is running high.
"One cool thing in the geek or nerd culture around here is that we're a very diverse group, and newbies are welcomed with open arms," says Shepherd. A barrage of superhero movies has stirred fresh interest. "And it's not just young kids," he continues. "It's people who maybe grew up reading comics and now they're in their 40s and 50s, and it's all coming back into fashion again. ... This is definitely a unique experience. It's just crazy how quickly this one has grown and evolved so naturally."
It's all about community, says Tarantino. It's about fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends coming out -- in costume or not. "It's nice to see everyone come together and share their love for the culture."
How to go
GT Comic Con is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Trotter in downtown Columbus. Some gaming continues until 11 p.m. The Cosplay Contest is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For quickest entry, get advance tickets online at gtcomiccon.com. Cost is $20 for ages 16 and up; $10 for ages 9-15. Children 8 and under get in free. Tickets for military personnel and first responders with ID are $15. Advance ticket purchase includes a collectible name badge.
Palmer Home for Children will on site to accept donations.
A list of panels, celebrities and other highlights can be found at gtcomiccon.com.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.