For the general populace who have never been to a comic or anime convention (never mind the fandoms big enough to warrant their own!), they can seem like impenetrable beasts. A full weekend immersed in all of these once-fringe interests? The mere thought might stir excitement in the extreme for some and terror in the extreme for others. There are images of people running around in costumes (at least one Deadpool per con), excited or bored celebrities sitting at the head of a room full of people, and enough merch to decorate your house 10 times over.

The truth is conventions are all of these things, even the sillier/stranger bits, but usually more and increasingly they are integrating into the community around them and act as gateways to finding like-minded fans and new friends. Capital City Comic Con, based in East Lansing, is one such example and a rarity to see because of its young age. I attended just a few weeks ago with fellow Nerd Union writer, Sarah Lokay on her first artist alley jaunt.

Cosplay, vendor variety, and other indicators of mature convention culture abound at Capital City

While I can’t speak for what the big conventions of our times (the SDCCs, the Paxes…Paxen? Paxi?) looked like in their early days, but it’s easy enough now to identify features of a modern, mature convention at one as young as Capital City Comic Con, just having had their third iteration this year.

To even novice convention goers, the cosplays will always be one of the  most eye-grabbing features. These days, with access to potential income for the hobby and access to both high quality material and tutorials for just about every creative technique, fantastic cosplayers can be found at conventions of every level. Capital City, alone, hosted some very well executed examples. The cosplayers ranged from members of dedicated groups to casual hobbyists to whole families. Not only has the variety of participants increased, but range of works has widened too. Games like Dream Daddy and podcasts like the Adventure Zone now get representation along more well-known fandoms such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Who.

Amy Pond and River Song, Doctor Who

Robert Small and Damien Bloodmarch, Dream Daddy

Taako and others, Adventure Zone

Starlord, Guardians of the Galaxy

Source: Sangdi Chen

The dealer’s room/artist alley portion of Capital City is similarly a microcosm of those found in much larger cons. There are vendors of vintage comic books offering special deals and a few rare first-run prints. There are hobby crafts vendors selling every variety of merch to please fans who want to make sure EVERYONE knows they love Castiel. There are artists offering beautiful renditions of your favorite characters and will even take commissions for custom art. There are game shops offering the newest releases of games and more likely than not, have a demonstration area for these games elsewhere in the con. It’s hard to say if cons of yesteryear had so many ways to empty your wallet, but the pleasure is undeniable.

Source: Sangdi Chen

Capital City is forging a unique relationship with MSU and its comic program

Source: Michigan State University Comics Forum

Of cons I’ve been to, Capital City is in a unique situation due to its geographic location. It is held on the campus of Michigan State University, one of the few in the country to offer a comics minor from the department of art, art history, and design. To that end, the con features some of the faculty from the program and offers MSU students a $1,000 scholarship to be awarded for excellence in original art. Also, featured at the con is a booth for the Comics Forum, a two-day event open to the public featuring keynotes, panels, and a tour of MSU’s special collections archive of comics (one of the largest in the largest in the world at over 200,000 items). Through these initiatives, con goers are exposed to  perspectives on comics and other nerdy media that have been hitherto unknown.

Capital City offers a hint of where conventions might go in the future beyond the (sometimes) overpriced merch, Chewbacca cosplays, and celebrities–a world in which comics and other such media have become cultural objects of serious academic study. In this world, more serious examinations of our entertainment is not just purview of black-robed academics but the average consumer. And that would be a pretty cool thing.

If you’ve wondered about conventions, even just a literal passing curiosity if there’s one near you and you wondered “What are all those costumes?” I would encourage you to have a look. Your local cons, like Capital City, are affordable and less intimidating than the comic con giants. You never know, you might discover a new favorite board game and meet your favorite character…but in real life.

Capital City Comic Con was held on August 26th at the Breslin Student Center on the campus of Michigan State University.

Special thanks for the following cosplayers and vendors for allowing us to feature them in this article:

Brittany and Sarah from the Blue Box Time Lords cosplay group (Amy Pond and River Song)

Rick Dortch (Starlord)

Maxx, Rachel, and Alex (Adventure Zone)

Kate and Ashley from the Cosplay Chaos cosplay group (Dream Daddy)

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