You don’t have to drive to the big city to bring out your inner kid.
For fans of the fantastic, the comic convention is the best thing since comic books first appeared on newsstand racks in the 1930s. From awe-stricken kids meeting their favorite superheroes to adults reminiscing on their towering comic book collections, people of all ages get caught up in exploring the worlds pop culture writers and artists have created. And they don’t have to drive six hours to New York City to experience Marvel’s chronicles—the West Virginia Pop Culture and Comic Book Convention, or WVPopCon, brings the fun to Morgantown’s Mylan Park in late summer each year.
After attending several comic conventions along the Eastern Seaboard in the early 2000s, Jon Hayes wanted to bring the same fun atmosphere to Morgantown so local artists could showcase their fantastical worlds right here at home. He had the knowledge and connections—he’s the owner of Comic Paradise Plus in Fairmont and Morgantown. So in 2012, Hayes and his wife, Julie, took on the complex venture of bringing everything pop culture to the wild and wonderful state. “We were more excited than worried,” Julie Hayes says.
Since then, WVPopCon has only grown, with new vendors added each year and an ever-expanding comic-loving community: about 2,500 attending, in recent years. The visually lavish event includes entertainment and a Retro Gaming Lounge as well as more than 100 exhibitors. Attendees can find anything from comic-inspired T-shirts and jewelry to plushies and other collectibles, art, and a retro gaming lounge—including, of course, comic books.
Hayes’ favorite event is the cosplay costume contest. Cosplay—a fusion of the words “costume” and “play”—is when fans dress up as their favorite characters from movies, TV shows, comics, or video games. “You always get your Deadpool, Harley Quinn, and definitely a Batman,” she laughs. “And sometimes you’ll get a, ‘Who’s that supposed to be?’” The junior show takes place on Saturday, but the real competition is on Sunday, when adults with the best costumes win cash prizes or gift certificates to Comic Paradise Plus.
One of the convention’s biggest cosplay highlights is the impeccable replicas of Darth Vader and Chewbacca walking around, ready for the cameras. They’re the work of the 501st Legion’s West Virginia Charter—in Hayes’ words, a “serious to the book” Star Wars and costume enthusiast organization that promotes its love for the movie series through event appearances and charity work. “I don’t know if I’d call it cosplay,” she says. “It’s so much more than that.”
WVPopCon has brought in well-established names from the comic world. Distinguished illustrators and authors Pat Olliffe and Ron Frenz, most notable for their work with Marvel Comics, and Peter David, an award-winning writer best known for The Incredible Hulk series, to name just a few. Small comic publishing companies like Aspen Comics and Action Lab Comics attend regularly as vendors and have even created comics exclusively for WVPopCon.
Another one of WVPopCon’s more popular vendors is The Collector’s Cave, a comic store located in Pittsburgh known for offering exclusive and hard-to-find Funko Pop! figures—those vinyl figurines with abnormally large heads and tiny bodies modeled after pop culture characters.
In recent years, WVPopCon has gone beyond the realm of comics to include local businesses. Food vendors like Garcia’s Latin Market and Pyles of Pasta have kept attendees fueled.
As the convention continues to succeed, the Hayes’ vision remains to offer a family-friendly environment where people of all ages and interests are welcome. “Some come for the comic collecting aspect, some for the atmosphere, some not sure what to expect,” Hayes says. “The great thing about pop culture is, there is a little bit of something for everyone.”
Photographs courtesy of Julie Hayes.