The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

First ever Highland Heights Comic Con held at NKU

March 19, 2023

This was no regular Saturday in the Student Union Ballroom. Rows of tables housing stacks of comic books and pop art lined the room; cosplayers and comic fanatics came and went cheerfully; eager creators connected, potentially laying the groundwork for big ideas to come to life at the first ever Highland Heights Comic Con. 

Award-winning comic writer Bob Frantz spearheaded the event hoping to host something that puts a love for comics at the forefront and showcases the immense and unrecognized local talent in the comic sphere. 

Stellar comic creators Brian Level, Kyle Starks, Matt Nixon and Kelly Williams headlined the event, all of whom reign from the tristate area and are accomplished creators who have lent their ideas and talents to famous comic series like “Rick and Morty,” “Star Wars” and “Wolverine.”  

“It’s an opportunity to kind of meet some of these people who you might not know have been in the industry for a very long time who walk among us,” Frantz said. 

A spate of other creators made appearances, discussing their work with peers and fans and capitalizing on sales opportunities. Other vendors were also in the building, selling fantasy memorabilia like Dungeons and Dragons game supplies and artwork across dozens of mediums. 

The School of the Arts held a table run by professors Christina Wald and Tom Capizzi who chatted among themselves and passersby, Wald jotting down drawings and Capizzi displaying his animated projects on a monitor. Senior BFA students Bridgett Hancock and Skyler Smith represented SOTA as well with their manga, screenprints and zines sprawled across their table. 

Senior BFA students Bridgett Hancock and Skyler Smith represented SOTA with their manga, screenprints and zines sprawled across their table. (Killian Baarlaer)

But comic cons aren’t just a celebration of comics and an excuse to go home with stories cradling worlds of wonders to get lost in. For many aspiring creators, the event was an intimate grassroots effort to network with professionals. Comic writer and editor Chas Pangburn was doing on-site portfolio reviews—a chance for creators to hear constructive feedback from an industry mind. 

Hancock and Smith agreed that as young visual storytellers, the event was a welcoming exposure to the community they hope to work in down the line. Hancock explained that traveling the Comic Con circuit through different regions is a popular avenue to build a name and brand as a creator, and that the reserved feel of this one was a good jumping off point.

“There’s really high expectations. You’re going to be right next to people who’ve been doing it forever and ever,” Hancock said of larger Comic Cons. “This is a really nice starting point to start putting feelers out there… It’s also nice to see what’s going on at a local level.”

Surveying the work of local talent might have paid off for Hancock. Discussing the ample opportunities to get inspired and connected amid the community playgrounds of comic cons, Pangburn mentioned that Hancock’s work caught his eye, prompting him to take down her name as future candidate for hire on developing projects. 

Informative panel talks were held as well, giving attendees candid insights into the creative minds behind comic book creation and the practical sides of pursuing these projects. Writer and artist Kyle Starks and artist Brian Level held a talk about horror comics. Frantz held one about the crowdsourcing site Kickstarter as an impetus to fund comic book creations, which he said was used to finance all of his projects. 

Frantz threw this event to put the art and fun of comic books front and center, a focus he says is becoming lost at comic con events that increasingly are straying into pop culture hodgepodges despite the eponymous tie to comics.

“You can find some really interesting things. Spider-Man wasn’t always Spider-Man and had to start somewhere. And so it’s just a fledgling idea. You can find fledgling artists who are trying to make their way in the industry by making their own things, you know, so it’s a really great way to see the ideas of tomorrow, today,” Frantz said. 

The first Highland Heights Comic Con at NKU, Frantz hopes, will not be the last. Continuing to unite the fanciful minds, seasoned, budding and curious alike for Comic Con might just be a yearly occasion. 

“In my vision, I would have something like this become kind of woven into the fabric of campus life at Northern Kentucky University,” Frantz said.

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