Not California, but not bad at all!
Ocala (For those of you who do not know…) is a smallish city about an hour north of Orlando. It can be found by taking the Turnpike to I-75, and following I-75 strait to Ocala. The city of Ocala has been growing exponentially for the last several years. It seems to many to be on the verge of blossoming into a the kind of place that will attract more than just retirees and equestrians. Perhaps this is why Ocala found itself the location of a comic book convention recently.
It has been several years since I was heavily involved in the science fiction and comic book community. As such, I was a little hesitant to walk in when I arrived at the Ocala Hilton. Though I was sporting a Batman t-shirt, and I backwards sports cap, I still felt that I was going to stick out like a sore thumb. Outside of the front door the Florida Blood Center had set up the “bloodmobile” to take donations, which to me showed how just how much the local community was planning on being involved with this event.
I arrived at the Con about three hours after it had officially started, and the lobby of the hotel was packed with all manner of costumed characters. Once I got my wristband and officially entered the Con, I was immediately blown away by the sheer amount of booths that were directly on the other side of the entrance. There were of course several booths that were selling comic books. Their selection was amazing, ranging from the Bronze and Silver Age (Oh yeah, I know stuff) to modern day issues of The Walking Dead and beyond. There was a conference room that had been set aside for panels, which were scheduled throughout the day. The list of confirmed guests included: Quinton Flynn, John Swasey, Dustin Runnels “Goldust”, Chuck Dixon, Bob Mcleod, Rodney Ramos,Clay Mann, Sergio Cariello, Dennis Calero, David Liebe Hart, and James Quall.
Next to the conference area was another room that had been rented by the Central Florida branch of the 501st Legion. For those of you not in the know, the 501st is a nationwide collective of Star Wars enthusiasts who dedicate an astonishing amount of money and time into painstakingly accurate costumes. True to their image, Storm troopers and Jedi Knights populated the room and greeted fans. There was even a Princes Leah and a Storm Trooper with a patriotic theme (The Con happen to fall on the weekend before the Fourth of July).
I continued down the hallway, there were several more booths that were selling many more comics and toys. I was surprised to see Power Ranger toys being sold for upwards of $150. The hallway opened up into the grand ballroom of the hotel. The transformation of this room into what I saw before me was quite spectacular (It just so happened that I had been in this very room a few weeks before filming a wedding reception.). There were booths lining the wall of the entire room, with even more booths in the center, creating an oval track of fantasy and awesome.
As I walked around the ballroom, I was most impressed by the amount of independent sellers and publishers who were hawking their wares. There were comic book artists and writers from all around central Florida, and even as far south as Miami. There was a filmmaker who had recently completed a horror film that he had shot in the forests of Ocala, and was selling tickets to the premier. My personal favorite was a booth of teenagers who were creating wholly unique products by painting shoes and coozies, they would even create something while you waited…(I left with a Batman coozie, because Batman.) I also had the opportunity to speak with a local comic artist who had also been to an Orlando Convention recently. He explained to me that while the Orlando Convention had been larger in size, because of the people attending the Ocala convention, the Ocala Con was a much better experience. There were well over 1,000 people in attendance.
Despite my hesitancy at the beginning, I was very impressed. There were activities for everyone involved, whether you were educated on the subject at hand or not. No single person in attendance failed to have fun, and more than a few left having traded money for a big pile of toys and graphic novels. Most impressive was the amount of community support for this new endeavor, and because of that support, I would call the Ocala Comic Con a great success. I would highly recommend geeking out at next years Con, I know I will.
Brian Reynolds, Guest Writer
Photos: Sam Maynard