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By Grace Westermann The sounds of a buzzing crowd, fingers flipping through plastic book covers, the distant howl of Chewbacca and the smell of costume materials encapsulated the Ferndale Event Center on Oct. 20. Comic book dealers, artists, publishers and people dressed as their favorite characters made the real world feel like a distant memory compared to the universe of Bellingham Comic-Con. Eric Burris, the curator and creator of the local event, rushed around maintaining the space’s fluidity while the excited crowd entered the event at 10 a.m. Later, in a back room where event characters had gotten ready for their big debut, Burris sat down for the first time since 5 a.m. Next to his chair, a pair of hairy Chewbacca feet lay detached from their costume while its former inhabitant took a break. After years working behind the scenes at the Seattle and Portland Comic-Cons, Burris said he hosted the first Bellingham Comic-Con in 2009. After being a comic book seller at Comic-Cons himself and building connections in the comic world, Burris said he wanted to create a more affordable show for comic book enthusiasts. He said part of the success of Bellingham Comic-Con can be attributed to his friends who have worked with him in past shows. Burris said when he started the event, there were 250 attendees. Today, the number is closer to 2,000. Burris said Comic-Cons used to be more focused on comics, their artists and creators. He said the focus shifted to TV and movie stars over time. At today’s larger shows, Burris said actors from movies and TV shows end up making appearances and charging high fees for autographs and photo opportunities. “What if people just wanted to go buy comics?” Burris said. “I thought Bellingham would be a good place and it turned out to be a great place ‘cause it’s a really artistic community.” On the event floor, the community is not only artistic, but diverse. Individuals from all different backgrounds appeared side by side for the passion they share for comics and illustrators. Burris said Randy Emberlin is one of the many participating vendors at this year's Comic-Con. Having been a comic book artist for the last 25 years, Emberlin is well known for his work on 83 issues of Spider-Man. Emberlin waited at his station with a colorful wall of his comic illustrations behind him. The line to speak with him was lengthy, as people who walked by continued to stop to catch a glimpse of his work. Before working in comics, Emberlin said he worked for a company that created school programs for students with learning disabilities, like aphasia and dyslexia. He said working in that field helped him to start seeing comic books as educational tools. “Before I was in kindergarten, I learned to read proficiently,” Emberlin said. “I had a sixth-grade vocabulary and it was all because of comic books,” Emberlin said as a kid, Spider-Man was his favorite character to draw and as an adult, he was fortunate enough to work on it for seven years. He said he also liked drawing the character Dr. Strange, because both characters were created by the same artist in the 1960s. “I’ve worked on a ton of different characters: Aliens, Avengers, Batman, Silver Surfer, X-Men- my bucket list is full. I’ve done most of the characters I’ve wanted to do,” Emberlin said. Across the room from Emberlin stood Jason Metcalf, another comic book artist. He too had a wall of vibrant and gritty characters behind him, each one enveloped in a sheen of plastic.

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Comic book artist Jason Metcalf stands in front of his booth's colorful backdrop. // Photo by Grace Westermann
Metcalf said he’s worked with publishers like Blue Water Productions, Top Cow publishing, and done illustrations for the series “Game of Thrones”, the History Channel’s show “Vikings” and trading cards for Marvel Comics. Despite working with big names in the industry, Metcalf said he said he wouldn’t have been able to do some of his projects without the support of others. “In comics, it’s really cool cause you can make it on a very low budget,” Metcalf said. “Crowdfunding has really changed the way an independent creator can get their projects out to the masses.” Along with professional artists like Emberlin and Metcalf were many aspiring artists in the Comic-Con crowd. Attendee and graphic novelist Anne Boose arrived dressed in Wonder Woman’s armor with a dark wig and a star emblem across her forehead. Boose said she recently had her first graphic novel “Beauty and the Beast” published with the subtitle “What if the Beauty is the Beast?” She is currently working on her second project, “Assassin King.” She said she likes collecting comics and has always loved watching the costume contests at various Comic-Cons. The comic book dealers selling to Boose and attendees alike are spread out around the perimeter of the event. Amidst them are sellers like John Hill, owner of Hill of Comics in Auburn, Washington. Hill said it was Steve Cyber, another vendor next to him, who he used to buy comics from when he was 13 years old. “My mom bought me comics when I was younger because I was diagnosed with dyslexia and [doctors] were like ‘Buy him anything he wants to read,’ so she bought me comic books,” Hill said. However, both sellers agreed that young people who want to collect rare comics have a harder time because of collectors with big budgets snatching them up for high prices. Cyber said in the 1980s he saw someone selling a first edition Spider-Man comic book for $1,000. If he would have bought it today, it would be worth a quarter of a million dollars. “Once someone spends that kind of money, it legitimizes the comic being worth that, driving up the prices for other collectors,” Cyber said. At Bellingham Comic-Con, comics could be found for as little as 25 cents, an affordable alternative to comic book prices at larger venues. The event gives back to the community as well, as Burris said each year the event donates the proceeds from its photo booth to a rotating charity, usually connected to animal rescue. “I’ve always been a proponent for animal rescue and this is a way for me to do something for charity,” Burris said. This year’s charity went toward Spot, a nonprofit animal rescue organization that provides foster homes, shots and dental work for cats and dogs. While resting his feet, Burris said he wanted Bellingham Comic-Con to be enjoyed by families and for the comics to revolve around the children like they initially were. “It’s so cool to see some little kid who loves Spider-Man and they get to meet Randy Emberlin who draws Spider-Man,” Burris said. “It’s a big deal.”


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