At this year's Soda City Comic Con, guests roamed the halls in costumes that paid homage to everything from cult classic films like Ghost Busters to the Nintendo Mario game series. One attendee was even dressed head to toe like the character Wario, complete with bright purple overalls.
Columbia residents and guests gathered to find collectibles and kindred spirits last weekend at Soda City Comic Con. The event returned to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention center for its seventh year and ran from Aug. 20 to Aug. 21.
It featured celebrity guests, rooms full of artists and vendors, three pinball tournaments, over 50 free-play pinball machines and a vintage video game room — not to mention the abounding photo-ops with cosplaying attendees.
Like many comic book heroes, USC alumni Donald Brock, Jr. leads a bit of a double-life. Most of the time he's an accountant. Other times, he's running Soda City Comic Con with co-founder and friend Steve Powell.
Powell wants people to know that the convention was not only created for Columbia’s fans but that it’s run by fans as well. In fact, he and Brock first met through the Columbia comic book scene, according to Brock.
“Steve was interested in buying comic books, I was interested in selling comic books. We met at Liberty, had lunch and we’ve been friends ever since,” Brock said.
The two agreed that Columbia was an underserved market for this type of convention, and began work in early 2015 to create an event in Columbia that would bring the kind of comic con shows they enjoyed attending in other cities to the local market.
“We feel it’s our responsibility to bring something, as Brock said, to the Columbia market that fans that live in Columbia can go to and say ‘this is my hometown show.’ You know? Bring celebrities and bring artists that if you are a Columbia fan ... you would never get the chance to meet,” Powell said.
This year’s show featured guests like Ray Park, who played the "Star Wars" villain Darth Maul, Thom Mathews of the "Friday the 13th" franchise and Alexis Knapp of "Pitch Perfect," as well as popular TV voice actors and writers.
The atmosphere in the convention center was friendly and energetic, according to event participant Lindsay Wilson who cosplayed as Sailor Jupiter, a character from the manga series Sailor Moon. People can come together to feel like they belong, she said.
“I think it's important because there's a lot of people, especially people who are younger, who need a place to fit in … so I think it's really good for a lot of people who love to express theirselves through cosplaying and stuff like that, to have stuff like this," Wilson said.
The event also welcomed vendors and artists like Liana Stadelmann, a Spartanburg, SC native who specializes in fantasy watercolor pieces. Stadelmann said the opportunity to promote her work at Comic Con has helped to advance her career.
Four years ago she was a professional cosmetologist, but a combination of selling her artwork online and vending at events like Soda City Comic Con allowed her to become a full-time artist, according to Stadelmann.
“And that’s why I'm so excited about how many events and opportunities there are for me to sell my art in this area. And this is a really great convention, obviously, I came back. It’s very well run, well organized, so I intend to keep doing it as much as I can,” Stadelmann said.
In addition to acting as a safe space for those interested in fandoms and cosplay and providing opportunities for vendors and artists, Soda City Comic Con and similar events act as a way to unify people amidst divisive and overwhelming current events, said Powell.
“Most people are a fan of something, and I think that shows and events like what we put together unite people in a common bond … and that's what these big entertainment pop culture events are about," Powell said. "It's about uniting people under a common front, under a common rooftop, to celebrate art, to celebrate life and to celebrate just the enjoyment of being a fan.”