Over the last forty years, comic book and pop-culture conventions have exploded in popularity and become staples of Americana in their own right. Found in almost every major city in the nation, these conventions attract tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people, allowing them to share their interests and take in the unique culture of each convention.
San Diego Comic-Con, the largest, most well-known of these events, prides itself on premiering blockbuster movie trailers, attracting the biggest actors and directors to speak on a panel, and featuring leaders in the industry to talk about storytelling in all its different forms. As valuable and exciting as this is, there are hundreds of smaller conventions that offer something just as valuable and unique as the Goliath of the convention world.
Local convention ComiConway is one such example. Running for only its seventh year in 2018, the relatively new convention focuses on a simple but important mission statement: to improve literacy in the community by promoting comics and their creators.
“There’s this weird misconception that comics are some lower form of literacy,” Kara Dyer, the woman responsible for ComiConway said about their focus as an event. “Comics take a lot of imagination to understand and are incredibly useful for kids, particularly boys, just learning to read.”
“There’s this weird misconception that comics are some lower form of literacy,” Kara Dyer
She should know, she’s a librarian with the Faulkner County Library System. Her efforts in encouraging literacy among children and adolescents span over a decade and ComiConway is a direct result of that work and passion.
“We wanted to make an event for families, something that anyone, age 3 to 99 can enjoy, and with that venue encourage people to embrace comics and pop-culture as a force for literacy.”
It’s clear speaking with Kara how much she cares about the project, and that passion and energy has translated to massive success in the convention. Though it’s still run like a small show, with two showrunners and a handful of managers, it attracted over 6000 people last year and has forced them to seek progressively larger venues in less than a decade of running the convention. Even in its first year, the convention attracted around 1500 people, several magnitudes over what they expected or could handle at the time.
“Comics take a lot of imagination to understand and are incredibly useful for kids, particularly boys, just learning to read.” Kara Dyer
This rapid growth has allowed them to invite some impressive figures in the comics industry such as Howard Mackie, Mike Curtis, and Andrew Pepoy. The names themselves might not sound familiar, but the things they’ve written stand out: Spider-man, Dick Tracy, Batman, Superman, and Godzilla, to name a few. It’s encouraging that, even with this growth, Kara and her husband Jimmy are still firmly centered in their mission.
“Even though we’re expecting a larger turnout this year,” they explained, “we’ll be taking up a smaller space. We wanted people to be able to experience everything and not force people to really look for the things they came for.”
This, to me, encapsulates what makes ComiConway special: it continually focuses on the best quality and the best mission to benefit its community, even if that means shattering the illusion that they’re the biggest game in town. It doesn’t look for flashy ways to get people to come, but for ways to maximize the experience and truly benefit the community.
ComiConway takes place on November 2-4th this year. Tickets are generously inexpensive at $5 for the weekend ($15 for VIP) and only exist to keep the convention up and running. If you’re thinking about going, I would encourage you to do so; you’ll be supporting local artists, learning about comics and storytelling, and encouraging literacy in the community.
Kara and Jimmy Dyer were never in the business of creating the next San Diego Comic-Con, but with a pure vision and a lot of work, they’ve made something just as impactful to their community.
Pictures courtesy of ComiConway
Wells is a freelance writer specializing in fiction and narrative commentary. A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas’s English program, Wells spends much of his time at Blue Sail Coffee, frantically writing down articles for this website or editing a novel that’s just one fifteen more drafts from being complete.