The BangPop convention Saturday at the Bangor Civic Center relished in the passion for comic books, graphic novels, art, modeling, dressing up and hula hooping. The Bangor comic convention was a testament to the genuine passion of a multitude of human beings who share in their beloved devotion and care for their individual passions in popular culture.
Whether it was a vendor, writer, fan, artist or hula hoop instructor, everyone was deeply immersed within their craft or admiration Saturday. There was a particular vibe in the air, as the larger floor was covered with adoring fans and tables full of artists and vendors.
“Turnout was fantastic. I don’t know where the geeks came from, but they came,” said Gibran Graham, organizer of the event.
Last year’s BangPop was held in a hotel near the Bangor airport. This year, the Bangor Civic Center gave BangPop the recognition, space and distinguished look it deserves, in addition to extending the event from one day to two.
Graham’s extension of the event’s programming, artists, creators and vending tables distinguished it as a serious player in the comic convention world. “Today we surpassed the amount of people who came last year,” Graham said. On Sunday, Graham staged events and programs geared toward kids.
The most impressive aspect of the event was the fans, who showed their dedication by stretching their wallets and tallying miles on their speedometers to volunteer for different comic conventions all over the United States. Fans who volunteer pay to come set up tables, run projectors and check people in. “I thought a lot of people showed up. All in all, we’re very happy,” said 33-year-old volunteer Ben Roberts, who is from the Portland area.
Krystal Smith worked PortCon and SnowCon last year. “Some of these events are difficult to hear about, but BangPop is a very accessible event to be a part of,” Smith said. She is a part of a group of devoted fans who follow events like BangPop all over New England.
There was something for everyone at the convention — from a short play depicting scenes from “An American Werewolf in London,” to fans dressed up as Optimus Prime and Megatron ready to duke it out.
“This place is a lot better. It’s laid out for an event like this. There are rooms for movies and other activities,” said Alex Irvine, professional writer and professor at the University of Maine.
The event also promotes the increasing interest in the graphic novel, which has transformed to a distinguished medium in its own right.
“Any form of art that lets people find expression is something to be happy about,” Irvine said. “The graphic novel has come into its own in the last 20 years as a mature form of artistic expression. It’s been over the past five years where people who aren’t graphic novelists or fans of them have started to find that. People are identifying this great wealth that’s there.”
Sculptor and craftsman Israel Skelton displayed a myriad of comic props which were identical 3-D scales of 2-D props from comic stories. Skelton’s renderings of iconic props included Batman’s Batarang and Hellboy’s one-shot cannon.
“The jump from some artists’ works are more difficult than others, however, in how they are drawn,” Skelton said.
Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, commissioned Skelton to make a 3-D version of a key from Hill’s graphic novel “Lock and Key” at BangPop last year. The key was featured as an exclusive comic book prop at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2009.
Skelton is an avid comic book fan and a passionate artist who has sold his pieces to fans all over the world. Skelton also urges artists out there to tap into their creative potential and passions: “A lot of people think they’re not creative, but they choose not to do it. Try it; you could be amazing! So many people have the potential to create unique creations. Many people don’t take the risk and settle for mediocrity.” Skelton is actually a long-time friend to the Convention’s creator, Graham.
Ron Fortier, who has been writing comics and science fiction stories for the past 30 years, was one of the guests at the event. He is most recognized for his work on “The Green Hornet” for Now Comics and “Terminator Burning Earth,” illustrated by Alex Ross. He has also written for “Popeye,” “Peter Pan” and Marvel’s “Hulk.” He created his own humor character — Mr. Jigsaw, Man of a Thousand Parts — who is Maine’s only superhero. Currently he writes and produces pulp novels and anthologies for Airship 27 Productions from his home in Somersworth, N.H.
Graphic novel artist William Ward was surprised at the turnout of artists and writers during the event. “You don’t realize who is in your own backyard, as everyone is in their own little bubble. Comic conventions thus benefit artists to be accessible to each other, as with the fans. It is a networking event,” Ward said.
Ward said, “[BangPop] gives people a lot of wider variety of comic books, makes people find out it’s not just the big superheroes. There’s a lot more going on than the superhero genre: It has become its own medium, as you can tell any story you want to with it.”
The event began at 10 a.m. and ended with a film, “Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: the Evolution of the American Horror Film.”
“It is the second time the film is being shown in the United States, and it’s here in Bangor, Maine, at BangPop,” Graham said.
Artist Philippe Guillerm came all the way from Paris, France, before settling in Camden, Maine, to craft wood carvings and write graphic novels. Guillerm initially left France on a little sailboat called a caravelle — barely 14 feet long — in his 20s. He changed boats as his family got bigger, as he got married and had two daughters.
Guillerm has been working as a wood sculptor for many years and his work can be seen all over the world. His story, “Bobby the Buoy,” chronicles the story about a buoy and a fisherman traveling the seas, which draws on his own experiences.
The event’s vendors included Antoine Malaab, owner and vice president of Coast City Comics in Portland. Coast City Comics is different: It focuses on local artists. “We have original framed artwork which brings in a lot of different clients,” Malaab said.
Graham is planning a much bigger and better convention for next year.
“It’s a lot of work, but I love comics. To be able to share this hobby, this creativity, imagination, passion is fun, fantastic. No one is walking away not having a good experience,” Graham said.
Graham is trying to expand the pop culture offerings to attract stars of B movies. “Imagine Bruce Campbell in Bangor.” Graham excitingly remarked. “All we need is $25,000, if anyone wants to help me raise it.” Graham is currently talking to a talent agency to try to get stars at the convention next year and wants to continue to expand and have more authors from outside Maine.
For more information on the event, visit www.bangpopmaine.com.