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Become an Outsider

Last weekend I attended an event I had no interest in at all, and I’d highly recommend you do the same whenever you get the chance.

Held since 1982, HeroesCon is one of the oldest and largest independent comic book conventions in the country. Hosted by the owner of local comic book store Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, the convention has become a staple for comic books fans around the country.

It’s even been the center of an underdog story of its own in 2005, when large corporation Wizard Entertainment announced its own comic book convention to be held in Atlanta on the same weekend as HeroesCon, leading some of the country’s most popular comic book creators to side with the little guys in Charlotte and eventually convincing Wizard to reschedule.

On the floor at HeroesCon 2019. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Now mind you, while I’ve always been aware of the important role Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find and HeroesCon have played in Charlotte’s nerd culture (is that OK for me to say?), I’ve never been big into the comic book culture. My earliest memory of comic books comes from the time my friend brought a few from his rare collection on the bus in second grade. I was in the midst of reading one when motion sickness suddenly struck me and I threw up all over it. He didn’t talk to me much after that, and I didn’t read many comic books from then on, either.

Even now as the culture enjoys a renaissance of sorts, I’ve only seen three of the 20-something Marvel Universe movies, and two of those I was dragged to by my 10-year-old mentee, or my Little, as they’re called in the Big Brothers Big Sisters world.

I say this about my detachment from the comic book world not out of smugness or some judgmental idea about comic book culture, it just never caught on for me. So it was that I found myself heading to my first HeroesCon on Sunday, my Little in tow.

The sheer scope of the convention caught me off guard, with aisle after aisle of all things comics. For someone to truly get a good look at all the vendors and their wares who set up shop at the convention, they’d have to attend all three days.

a photo of people cosplaying at HeroesCon
On the floor at HeroesCon 2019. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Within minutes of walking into the event, my sister had found a full Iron Man costume for my Little. As he flew around the convention floor, we came across art auctions, cosplay contests and an endless amount of vendor tables. For the most part, we just hit the tables on the outside, and that alone took a couple hours.

There were comic books, graphic novels, original art, throwback toys, miscellaneous merch and, holy shit, so many Funko dolls (I’m serious, even Ross Gellar has a Funko doll).

Attending events like HeroesCon can be looked at the same way many people see traveling. It’s important to go out and just exist in a culture that’s different from whatever bubble you live in most of the time. It’s like traveling in your own city — a staycation, as they call it.

It gave me perspective on the comic culture just to walk around HeroesCon and people-watch for an afternoon or eavesdrop on conversations between vendors and fans, some of whom dedicate their life to this world of superheroes, anime characters and fantasy realms.

(Photo by Grant Baldwin)

It’s cool to see such a large group of folks who have grown up in a world where they’re so often viewed as dorks or outcasts because of their passions ­— even if that’s not the case in today’s mainstream cultural climate — come together at an event that caters to their interests.

As HeroesCon was taking place at the Charlotte Convention Center, just north of Uptown at Camp North End, Jimi Thompson and BlkMrktCLT were hosting their second annual Durag Fest, another cultural celebration based on inclusivity and putting an underrepresented community at the forefront.

Despite a divisive battle between organizers over who truly owns the “Durag Fest” brand, the event itself was created to connect the black community. For reasons made clear in this week’s News feature on page 6, black creatives and entrepreneurs can often feel pushed out of Charlotte’s business community. The Durag Fest is a chance for Charlotte’s black community to take the lead, and for anyone else to leave their own bubble to see what that community has to offer.

That doesn’t mean white folks should be flocking to the Durag Fest wearing durags any more than they should be appropriating other cultures during celebrations like Cinco de Mayo. But it is a chance to find out how you can support a community that all too often doesn’t see that support from a large part of Charlotte’s population.

As Alexandra Jane wrote in an essay about Durag Fest that we published here on our website: “I have heard many times that you have to pay to play, but tell me, when have Black people ever had the opportunity to be dealt into the game? The way I see it, if society repeatedly tells us that it is our responsibility alone to free ourselves from economic oppression, we are at least owed the chance to do so.”

That can only be done when the insiders are made to be outsiders on a regular basis, so switch spots often.

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