In just its second year, Denver Comic Con is poised to take the pole position among the region's many fandom conventions. Sporting a stellar lineup of geek-culture icons, including Wil Wheaton, George Takei, Colin Baker, Chris Ware and last-minute guest William Shatner, as well as hundreds of panels, cosplay, an independent film series, sci-fi comedy, gaming activities and more, the con is building on the momentum of last year's event. Before the event kicks off tomorrow at the Colorado Convention Center, we talked to Denver Comic Con co-founder Charlie La Greca about what to expect from this con, comics as mythology and how Denver Comic Con is different from other cities' Comic Cons.
Westword: Despite the name Denver Comic Con, it's not just comics, right? It's geek culture, and even pop culture in general? Movies, games, everything?
Charlie La Greca: Absolutely. Comic Con is the term associated with the event, but it truly is a pop-culture, multimedia circus of imagination and a celebration of creation of any kind in our modern era, whether it be comics, gaming, film, TV, books, even role-playing games. It covers the gamut. Literally anything you can think geeky is thrown in there. People can look forward to all of those elements. If there's anything they geek out on, most likely they'll find it there.
That makes it an excellent opportunity to cross-pollinate, doesn't it? Like if you're a big comic-book fan who always wanted to check out Magic: The Gathering, this is a great chance to do that.
Totally. That's the great thing about it. Artists' Alley is one of my favorite things, because its 220 artists -- actually even more since a lot of artists have another artist at their table -- some of them are working for top publishers like Marvel and DC and Dark Horse, and some are just doing their own stuff. So it's an amazing discovery for anyone, something that they might find that speaks to them, whether it's a print or a T-shirt or a quirky, weird hat, whatever it is. There really is a huge amount of diversity to find something to relate to.
Then you can go to a panel on anything. We have 250 panels this year; last year we had 150. Our programming director set a really high bar for himself this year, wanting to do more, so we have 250 programming panel hours, which is just unheard of. It can be anything from learn how to write novels to storyboarding for movies to fan experiences to spotlights on someone's career. There's definitely something for everyone.
Another thing is we really crafted the floor this year trying to educate people. You have the main floor, then you have all the panels, then you have all the gaming stuff ... the fan table area and all these different areas. There's two film rooms that people can watch films from morning until midnight, so if you're just tired and want to go watch a movie, they can. People need to explore the convention center to discover them. Hopefully they do.
In addition to Denver Comic Con, you do something called the Comic Book Classroom. Can you tell us a bit about that?
They're both tied together. The Comic Book Classroom really is the heart of the whole thing. Frank Romero, my best friend since childhood, had the idea, the seed that we should do something, because we learned so much from comics. I feel like a lot of times comics try to cater to the age groups now, but back then, they were just writing whatever they wanted, and we learned exciting, big words from comics. I'd be plowing through them and I'd see these words over and over again, like "archnemesis," and slowly you start learning them. When you're seven years old, or eight years old, those words are new to you. They would just use them and you would have to catch up.
Frank and I were talking about that and we both felt like we had pretty high reading levels and that it was due to comics, more than anything. They're this wonderful gateway. So we came up with this idea to help the next generation of kids, who don't even know about comics -- comics are less and less on everyone's radar, kids know the movie franchises and stuff like that; they hardly ever pick up a comic -- and be that gateway for kids to learn, and literacy and empowerment and imagination and all the other exciting things that can bring.
Introduction to modern mythology
Oh my god, yeah! The modern American mythology, right? The mythology we're building. Who would have known that all these characters of Stan Lee and those guys created would become are myths? It's kind of crazy.
People do seem to have invested the energy that previous generations put into things like Greek mythology into these characters. The mythological archetypes have become superheroes and supervillains.
Yeah, they've been contemporized. It's a mixture of the gods and a few other things. I know Superman was a mixture of Hercules and a few other things I'm forgetting. A lot of it was pulled from religions and other myths. Mythology mashups!
It definitely seems like when it comes to pop culture, if you want to reference some universal cultural idiom, you don't make allusion to the labors of Hercules, you're making an X-Men reference.
That's so true. That's a really interesting take. It gives us a contemporary hero that speaks to us and our times. Superman was so cool because when he was first created, it was during the Depression. He was the blue-collar, even anti-government on some level, pro-civilian hero.
Speaking of that, it reminds me that it's the 75th anniversary for Superman. He's the first of the American comic-book heroes. We're bringing out all kinds of comic-book guests who have written and drawn Superman through the years, many different generations. You'll get a wide breadth of people who have worked on Superman and maybe have a lot to say with him. We're doing programming around that and we've created what's called the Daily Planet experience on the floor. It's for the media and guests and VIPs that's a recreation of the newsroom from the Daily Planet. We're honoring a bunch of different anniversaries this year, but Superman is the big one.
Speaking of highlights, are there any other events over the weekend that deserve special mention?
When you plan something this big, there is so much to choose from. All of our top-tier guests are something people are really excited about. George Takei is a huge fan favorite. Wil Wheaton and one of the doctors from Doctor Who, Colin Baker. So on that level, the TV and media and movie guests are really exciting for the people of Denver to get to go and meet these people, and for us to bring them out here to experience our city and the people around it. One of my favorite things last year was talking to the guests and hearing them say, "You know, I've never been here and the people of Colorado are just amazing. They're so ebullient!" The feedback we got was this refreshing outlook the guests had versus other cities. Each city has its own character and Denver definitely does, so it was interesting to hear that from the guests.
We'll have signings with those guests. Panels in the main events room with the biggest guests. Photographs and all sorts of cool options you can get with them.
For a Con in just its second year, you have an impressive guest list: multiple Star Trek icons, a Doctor, big comics names -- how do you manage to pull that off for such a relatively "young" event?
I think we were so propelled by the reaction that Colorado had. We were only expecting 7,000 to 10,000 people. When we got almost 30,000 people, setting the record for the biggest opening, I think that is really reciprocal. We worked hard on the con, and then people reacted so much to it, that then it came back to us and we were like, "Well, now we want to do an even better job." So, honestly, our team is just on fire. Everyone is just working their butts off. It's all volunteers, and just the amount of passion -- that's the gas for this engine, is just everyone's passion. That's how we've done this -- pure fan love and passion and the idea that we're bringing it to Denver and people reacted so passionately that we want to bring it back to them.
What's the relationship between the Denver Comic Con and the San Diego Comic Con, which is the one most people have heard of? Is this some sort of franchise?
We're the third cousin, stepchild of San Diego Comic Con [laughs]. No, we're all children of the very first Comic Con, which was in New York City in 1964. Even San Diego Comic Con is a child of that. Actually, if you think of it as tree, we're like a grandchild, or third or fourth generation. New York was the first and Comic Cons haven't really changed that much since that very first one. If you look at the very first Comic Con, they had panels, they had cosplay, they had film guests, TV guests, they had comic guests and writers. It covers exactly what we're doing now. It's just now there's girls at the convention [laughs]. No, now there's even more of this pop-culture circus.
We're our own complete entity. Comic Con is not a term that's owned, it's a term like "music festival." It's just that the branding of San Diego Comic Con has become so fantastic and great -- and we've all benefited from it -- that people think Comic Con is synonymous with San Diego. Bonnaroo music festival is totally different than Wakarusa music festival, and we all know that, but with Comic Con people don't realize that. It's never been trademarked and there's been Comic Cons going on almost fifty years.
Denver has a healthy con scene, with Star Fest, multiple anime conventions, gaming conventions and lots more every year. What made you decide, "Hey, Denver needs another con!"
Four years ago, when Frank and I started talking about the idea and started shaping it, we knew we wanted an element to raise awareness of the Comic Book Classroom. We knew immediately that we wanted to do something in tandem with that, that would be embracing geek culture and pop culture and comics and literacy. We actually were trying to decide if we wanted to do a little indie show. We even looked at a few spaces, but we kept coming back to Comic Con. We just knew, deep down, growing up here -- I love StarFest, I love Nan Desu Kan, I love all these little satellite shows, they're all valid -- but I always wondered, going to all these conventions, why doesn't Denver have its own [Comic Con]? The city deserves it! Frank and I knew that, deep down.
We definitely took a chance. If you saw our funding, you would have been like, "what!?" It was a hope and a prayer and glue and blood and spit and comic love that put it together. It paid off, for everyone. We knew deep down that Denver was ready for it.
What kind of local elements are featured?
I want this show to be Colorado unique. I want it to show off Colorado at its best. So Bruce MacIntosh, our programming director, we discussed, let's get as many local filmmakers to show their film, even if it's a five-minute film, and let's do a Q&A. We have that aspect. We tried to get involved with partnerships and people from Colorado and show that off -- Never Summer snowboards, Breckenridge Brewery -- really trying to bring all these elements that make it different from New York or San Diego.
Anything else you want to mention before we wrap up?
I'm really just thankful that I have the opportunity to be part of something this big and to have it be embraced. I started something with my best friend and now there's this army of people behind it, celebrating it. I just want people to come out and celebrate that imagination, on whatever level, and have a fantastic time.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.