April 11, 2016

Heroes, villains flock to comic con in city


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Rebecca Siler and her 5-year-old daughter, Hermione Warfle, of Cortland, has comic caricaturist Noel Passeri, right, draw her a rendition of the villain Poison Ivy Saturday during Heroes and Villains con in Cortland.

Staff Reporter

Stephen Vincent Jr. watched a menagerie of characters squeeze past him. Spider-Man was there, so was Poison Ivy. Harley Quinn, too, and a few people in suits and ties. They packed Heroes and Villains comic shop like the images in a comic book.
“This is crazy,” Vincent said.
Vincent and Vanessa Mielke, his girlfriend and co-owner of Heroes and Villains, saw more than 300 comic book fans at Heroes and Villains comic con Saturday, coming from as far away as Syracuse and Oneonta to visit the shop in the Cortland Corset Building on East Court Street.
The couple came up with the idea for the con to celebrate the shop’s first year in business. Vincent said they wanted to create a “big hello,” which says, “Hey, there’s a comic book shop in Cortland, come on over.” And their customers, wanting to help spread the word, jumped at the opportunity to volunteer.
“We were getting ready to put out fliers and they (our customers) came in and saw the fliers and asked if they could put them up,” Mielke said. “We, ourselves, did not put up a single flier. Our community put it up for us, because that’s how supportive they are of this.”
The hallway next to the shop was set up with video games and face painting. In the parking lot, a Star Trek-themed food truck dispensed hot dogs and someone handed out free energy drinks for passers-by. Inside the small rectangular shop, tables were set up for local artists and comic book creators to share their work.
They initially invited a few local artists, but through word of mouth, that grew to about 12. And word eventually reached all the way to legendary comic book writer Roger Stern — who has written characters such as Spider-Man, The Avengers, Superman, and co-created a famous Spider-Man villain, the Hobgoblin.
“He’s probably had arguments with Stan Lee. And he’s here. This is crazy,” Vincent said.
Stern attracted a lot of attention, including a fan who dressed up as a character he wrote, Doctor Strange.
“I’ve been interacting with people all day, nonstop,” Stern said. “There are a lot of nice people here. This is a very nice little place.”
But the local artists attracted just as much attention. Noel Passeri, a substitute teacher at Cortland High School and frequent visitor to the comic shop, was at a booth selling his comic, “Pablo and Noel,” and drawing fans as any comic book character they wanted.
“This combines everything that I like, my favorite comic shop and a chance to get to draw people and draw my favorite comic book characters,” Passeri said.
Other artists had custom drawn prints, custom trading cards, and many would create anything requested on the spot. They were a major selling point of the con, noted by the over populated walkways between booths and the overflowing entrance alleyway. A half hour after the doors opened at 10 a.m. there were already 50 people in the store, Mielke said.
Mielke and Vincent had predicted about 100 to possibly200 people showing up; all the other business tenants did not mind the traffic. Tammy Witson, one of the owners of Cinch, adjacent to Heroes and Villains, said she was excited about the event when she heard about it and loved that it brought people to the building, and through her store.
Chad Hill of Homer, who came with his daughter, Lorelei, had heard a lot about the shop before, but hadn’t made the trip, until Saturday. He said he is a comic fan and his daughter really likes art, so the artists pulled them in and there is a good chance he’ll be back. And even though most people came for the artists, there were still a lot of comics being sold.
“I had to put our back stock off to the side and I blocked it with a cardboard standee, thinking no one is going to want to go through the back stock,” Vincent said. “Someone moved it and people have been shuffling through. So people are here for the comics, and everything. We’ve sold toys, too.”
Selling comics wasn’t the intent of the con, but Vincent said introducing comics to Cortland was always important to Heroes and Villains.
“We’ve had a lot of kids come in here and say, ‘This is my first comic book,’” Vincent said. “They bought it here. They’re not going to forget that.”
Mielke and Vincent already plan to make the Heroes and Villains con an annual event, and to make it much bigger. The only complaint from attendees was that the store needed more room. Mielke said they plan to work with other businesses in the city at next year’s event and have the con at multiple sites, creating a scavenger hunt around Cortland of different con activities.
“I think Cortland needed this,” Mielke said. “I’ve had people come up to me and shake my hand for putting this together. This is definitely going to happen again. We’d love to see it build the entire community.”
Less than two hours to go before the end of the event, herds of comic books fans continued to pile into the store. Comics continued to leave the shelves and artists feverishly finished one drawing after the next.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up getting more than 400 people,” Vincent said. “This is just crazy.”

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