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At R.I. Comic Con, fans strengthen community

Expanded convention includes cosplay, Q&As, panels as fans celebrate love of pop culture

Assorted costumed characters — including Mario, Loki and a ukulele-playing Marshall Lee — migrated to downtown Providence last weekend, claiming the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as their own. Attendees lined up for photographs on the Iron Throne and autographs from childhood staples like Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman in “Batman: The Animated Series.”

Last weekend marked the fourth annual Rhode Island Comic Con, an eclectic gathering to celebrate pop culture. Highlights included panels with Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke — the voices of SpongeBob and Patrick — and the cast of Hellboy, including Selma Blair, who rarely appears at conventions.  There was also a question-and-answer panel with Jason Momoa of “Game of Thrones” and a costume contest. Carrie Fisher — Princess Leia of the “Star Wars” franchise — was scheduled to attend, but canceled the night before due to illness. According to a post on the Rhode Island Comic Con Facebook event page, she will make an appearance at next year’s convention.

The convention expanded this year. Last year, Comic Con took place over two days in the Rhode Island Convention Center. This year’s convention spanned between the Convention Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and lasted three days.

The change followed last year’s ticketing crisis, when organizers allowed the number of participants to exceed the building’s maximum capacity of 17,000 and hundreds of people with reserved tickets were left waiting outside or denied re-entry after leaving the building for lunch, The Herald reported at the time.

This year, vendors, artists and celebrity guests had stalls in the ballroom on the lower level of the Convention Center and in the Dunkin’ Donuts Center stadium, while Q&A sessions and panels took place on the Convention Center’s upper level.

Cosplay is popular among attendees. Participants dressed up as characters from different media and acted out their characters’ personas, responding to questions and posing for photographs accordingly.

“It’s the best con in New England,” said Jason Phillips, who attended the convention as the Joker from the “Batman” franchise. “It’s pretty much the highlight of my year.”

“There’s a big culture of people interested in this sort of thing. Last year, I was shocked by how many people came from far away,” he said.

Many attendees stressed that the community attached to convention culture is a major draw.

“I participate in Rhode Island Comic Con primarily because it involves me in great community,” said Terrance Hanlon, a Boston native who attended the convention as Kylo Ren from the new “Star Wars” film, the Arkham Knight incarnation of Batman and Lelouch from “Code Geass.” He added that the convention is “very open and welcoming” and that because he works in law enforcement, he does not “usually share that nerdy enthusiasm outside of here.”

“For me, the most exciting part is engaging with the community and coming to the panels,” he said. “You’re not only sitting and chatting with like-minded individuals who share your love for comics or cosplay or whatever, but you can also engage with new hobbies and interests all under the same kind of nerdy genre at the convention.”

Allyson Cook, a Rhode Island native who dressed up with her fiance as Belle and the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast” and Harley Quinn and the Joker from the “Batman” franchise, also finds the community attractive.

“I’ve been going since the first year,” she said. “I love being able to go somewhere where you can dress up in costume and not have people looking at you a little strange.” Cook described conventions as places where it is normal to “get into conversations with complete strangers.”

“The convention is a concentration of all the different ways you can express yourself,” said Gus Roth ’17, who attended the convention as a Jedi knight. “The crux of cons is being with people who also appreciate this type of atmosphere as much as you do. You can see all the different cosplays, swap stories and meet famous people.”

“Popular culture is now nerd culture in a sense,” Roth added. “A lot of nerds are disappointed in how prevalent comic books are becoming in popular culture and think it’s becoming diluted, but I don’t see it that way. There used to be all these negative connotations, but they’re going away.”


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