I’m sure we can all remember when talks of “nerdom” didn’t land you a seat at the popular kid’s table, but, my, have the times changed. We flood theaters for Marvel movies, have shelves stacked with funko pop collectibles, and are willing to shell out the dough for yet another streaming service to be able to get our fix whenever we want (thanks Disney…) Donald Jeungling, founder of the Memphis Comic Expo, recalls those times and recognizes how much the movies and high dollar productions have changed the game, but hopes that the Expo will allow those local, regional, and up and coming creators to have their time to shine.
“When Comic Con’s originally started, they were just about comic creators and the real hard core fans that read their work, ” Jeungling said. “You’d go get autographs. If you were lucky, you’d get some kind of sketch, and, besides that, it was just people selling their comics. Nowadays, comic creators are often pushed to the side or left out of the equation entirely. One Marvel movie is easily a billion dollar deal with all of the celebrity involvement, civic gain, etc, and the same could probably be said about the comic industry given how labor-intensive it is. It’s a grind, and not many people realize that.”
And it’s not just the comic creators that have their noses to the grindstone. Within comic culture exists a multitude of sub-genres that have their own body of participants, supporters, and admirers. The Comic Expo is not solely a spotlight for the illustrators—it’s for the gamers, the cosplayers, the makers, and the spectators who are all dishing out their own respective pieces of the pie.
“We have, by far, the largest selection of comic creators—from the top of the top names in the industry to those who are just starting to garner attention,” Jeungling said.
Traci McDoniel handles operations and marketing for the Expo.
“A lot of local folks are bringing their comic-related merch,” said Traci. “You want a watch band fashioned out of comic books? No problem! Now, our cosplayers—this is no Party City situation. When you see a group of Storm Troopers who look like they just walked off a movie set, it’s hard not to be impressed with what these people can do with their costuming and crafting.”
While I’ve never been to a comic con or comic expo of any kind, what’s been described to me is almost like a talent showcase of sorts. You’ve got people to the left trying to beat their highest score and people to the right who might as well be walking a runway. Not only that, but all of these people are coming together in the spirit of storytelling and character connections.
“For most of us, comic culture is escapism. It’s an alternate universe that we all have the pleasure of existing in, and we get to be surrounded by the people who are keeping those world’s alive. You connect with the stories and the characters—and at something like this [the Memphis Comic Expo] you’re able come face to face with people like Scott Snyder, Chris Claremont, Robbi Rodriguez and more who you feel like you’ve known from afar. “
There’s something for everybody at the Expo, whether you’re truly dedicated to the fandom or a newb. There’s a gamers space that’ll be hosting both free and paid tournaments, the cosplay costume contest is open to people of all ages, and both of those offer some prime time people watching for those of you that merely want to spectate—not to mention the multitude of talent that’ll be featured along Artist Alley.
“We really stepped our game up this year, and we’ll continue to do that as long as we can,” Juengling said. Cities like Chicago, New York, and Dallas are able to bring out the big big talent because they’ve got the big bucks, but we’re able to hold our own as niche within a niche. When I started this thing, a lot of people thought like ‘Oh, he must be following his dream.’ I mean, I like it but I don’t know if this is like my dream. I’m just a dude who like comics and I want this to exist and flourish, and for people to have the opportunity to go to something like this in Memphis.”
Among those featured guests are renowned comic artists like Scott Snyder, Chris Claremont, David Finch, Peter David, Meredith Finch, and Robbi Rodriguez who will all be holding panels throughout the Expo.
Check out the full list of featured guests and vendors here.
The Memphis Comic Expo is happening on October 19th and 20th at the Agricenter International. Tickets range between $25 -$85 for general admission and VIP experiences, and kids 12 and under receive free admission.
- What: Memphis Comic Expo
- When: October 19th (10AM-6PM) & October 20th (10AM-5PM)
- Where: Agricenter International (7777 Walnut Grove Road)