Oh Man-ga! Comic Expo a Huge Hit

By José María Gámez-Lamadrid, Guest Writer

I walked past the double doors with my media badge in hand. A picture of Shazam doing a power pose stood triumphantly above a maroon bar with “Exhibitor” etched in golden art deco font. To my right was a life-sized recreation of Appa from Avatar: The Last Airbender at which a charitable donation granted access to take a photo with the sky bison, complete with a Water Tribe village backdrop to fully immerse yourself in the hit Nickelodeon cartoon. To my left, in front of me and all around me, there were endless rows of colorful booths, tables and pop-up shops that decorate the convention floor, servicing crowds of cosplayers, families and fans all around. 

Even though it only bears “comic” in the name, the Cincinnati Comic Expo serves as the Queen City’s premier melting pot of all forms of pop culture — movies, video games, television, manga and comics. Running every fall from Sept. 22–24 at the Duke Energy Convention Center on Elm Street, the comic expo draws both fans and creators alike. Everyone from industry veterans such as Jim Lee, chief creative officer and publisher at DC Comics, and Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, to independent creators from Cincinnati and abroad looking to promote their projects attended. 

Newswire photo courtesy of José María Gámez-Lamadrid

As part of an internship at Creative Mussel Productions, I was able to learn about the convention experience from the creator’s side — how a pitch works to an attendee, setup and teardown a booth,  the waiting game for an interested attendee to come over. 

I met up with Jay B. Kalagayan — creator, writer and publisher — and Clint Basinger — the contributing cover artist for Creative Mussel and creator, writer and artist of Cosmic Moustache Comics as they promoted the publisher’s flagship comic “MeSseD.” 

Centering on the adventures of Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) filter worker Lilliput, the comic chronicles her exploits in the dangerous, terrifying and sometimes beautiful biomes of the sewers, transformed by years of buildup from human, medical and industrial waste. As Kalagayan describes it in his pitch, “You can compare it to a Tremors-Tank Girl-Hellboy kind of comic book.”

“MeSseD” was a personal project for Kalagayan, who was inspired by his daughters to create a strong, female, Asian character — a character that they can see themselves in.

“Comics are the union of visuals and language. If done well, you might not need the words. With comics, the reader controls time. If the reader wants to slow the story down to understand it better, they have that control. TV and movies don’t have this ability,” Kalagayan said. 

Kalagayan and Basinger pour ink, sweat and tears into their work. From hours of conversation with them regarding inspirations, previous career ventures and all-time favorite comic books, it’s clear that they bleed passion for the industry. 

Besides comic-related activities, the expo offers a costume contest with different classes based on experience, props and displays sponsored by charities, fighting and racing video game tournaments and tabletop gaming sessions, all sponsored by local organizations. 

“It’s really special that the Cincinnati Comic Expo is locally-owned. A lot of shows are owned by national chains, so it’s nice that the Cincy expo has a local flair in its programming and is really committed to supporting Cincinnati-based artists,” Kalagayan said.

Next September, when you’re looking to kill time with a nice weekend adventure to destress from classes, consider swinging by downtown for the Cincinnati Comic Expo. Stop and say hello to John Wick, Captain Rex or Doctor Fate as you roam the convention floor. Take a picture with Jabba the Hutt’s rancor or on Emperor Palpatine’s throne. Maybe, by the end of the day, you’ll leave the convention doors with a comic or two.