Northwest Comics Fest: A Free Comic Con For All?

Lydia Roberts L. K. Roberts
January 15th, 2016

I am a proud Blerd who lives in the Pacific Northwest home. My dad had an interest in comic books and instilled a passion for them in me. After decades of being a Marvel Fanatic, I got sucked into the DC whirlpool that was The New 52 launch. Currently, I am moving more into various independent and non-mainstream titles. I am a proud supporter of local artists, comic book creators, and comic book businesses. My two goals as a writer for ComiConverse are 1) to highlight new, little-known, and/or diverse titles, artists and writers, and work that is coming out of the smaller publication houses and 2) to address issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation in comics and the industry.

Northwest Comics Fest: A Free Comic Con For All?

As many of us know, the cost of attending comics-themed fan events has been rising in recent years. Our Lydia K. Roberts took a look at one entrepreneur who's taking on that challenge with a passion.

According to the 1969 Comic Art Convention Progress Report, admission for a single day of the three-day event in New York City was $1.50 and $3.00 for all three. Rates for rooms at the Statler Hilton Hotel, the location of the convention, started as low as $15, and hotel guests could attend the convention for free. The L.A. Times article, “Every Year Of Comic-Con In One Giant Timeline,” reports that a one-day pass to the 1978 San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) was a mere $4, with a five-day pass topping out at $15.

Even taking into account inflation, there has been a staggering increase in the expenses incurred by those hoping to take part in these multi-day gatherings during this day and age. Luckily, there are numerous smaller conventions that occur in most major cities in the country, eliminating the many of the fees associated with travel and lodging. However, even when attending a local con, there are many expenses that patrons have to take into account; tickets, art prints (my personal weakness), new comics, geek gear, and food and drink. Big-ticket items like VIP packages that include autographs and photos, rare collectibles, and elaborate cosplay materials require a little more thoughtful budgeting. Regardless, every year, fans do what they have to do to make it work.

But, what if there was a way to make all of the fun a little more affordable?

Doing just that is the goal of Northwest Comic Fest’s director, Casey Ocupe, who is seeking Kickstarter backers to create a comic and pop-culture event without any entry fees - for fans or vendors.

The event is scheduled for August 2016 in Salem, Oregon.


Northwest Comic Fest Credit: 2015 Northwest Comic Fest


I got in touch with Ocupe to find out more about his dream.

On your Kickstarter page, your event is listed as a "Free Comic Con", but there is also a note that asserts that it is more accurately a Comic Fest. Can you clarify the difference for our readers?

A Comic Fest has everything a Comic Con has and more, such as many, many performances! At my 2015 Comic Fest, there were 15 live bands outside playing the whole time. We had a comedy roast of the Red Power Ranger, Steve Cardenas, cosplayed break-dancers, parkour and martial arts performances, beat-boxing, a fashion show, a puppet show, an indoor concert with celebrity singers, and a film fest in a nearby state-of-the-art theater.

Every day, there were well-organized cosplay contests and much more... and this year our goal is to have the same, plus even more!

No one had any idea what to expect last time. I don't think they believed it.

In the video that accompanies the campaign, you say that you want to bring more celebrities, writers, artists, etc. Can you tell me some of the people who you had at your show last year, and any who have lined up as potentials for this August, if the funding comes through?

Last year, in addition to Steve Cardenas, we had "Hannah Montana" actress Romi Dames, David Liebe Hart from “Tim & Eric,” professional wrestlers Matt Striker and Gangrel, and cosplayer Joanie Brosis. For this year’s show, I have contacts for "Walking Dead" people, "Buffy" people, "Clerks" people, "Star Wars" people, the list goes on and on. It would be dependent on reaching the goal, of course, but when we do, we can get more specific.

Free Sketches

Do you have plans for continuing with the show even if the campaign is not fully funded?

It’s a Kickstarter, so if it’s not fully funded it’s not funded at all. This is an opportunity for a business to come in and provide us with a Comic Con that's free for everyone. The business would simply have to provide funds, and I'd do the work. It would be presented as "The Free Comic Fest, Presented by__________."

They'd be heroes!

People helped organize last year’s music fest, film fest, comedy roast, along with some of the documents and the website; however, the rest of the work was more than ninety percent me. All of this was so much work that for me to do it again, I would need to really be offering something far different than the other Comic Cons; making this free, that excites me.

I'm gonna keep faith in what I'm doing and address any roadblocks when I come to them. Ask me again on Feb 2nd if the goal isn’t reached.

What has inspired you to pursue this goal?

I thought it and liked the thought.

I do just about everything I think of.

Now, people who know me know that when I say, "I'm thinking of doing ______,” not to take it for granted that those are just words in the air like they used to. A little more than a year before I did the Comic Fest, I said I was thinking about doing a Comic Con. I figure wanting to do something is the indicator that you should do it. For example, two of my projects that have taken a seat on the back burner for the Comic Fest, are finishing my custom Batmobile and finishing my life-sized Transformer.

I've purchased a Porsche 917 for my Batmobile. (You can google it.) I've cut up a VW Beetle that I will be using to make the most accurate life-sized G1 replica Bumble Bee Transformer.

Also, I do a TV show (The Northwest Comic Show) on public access, until it possibly gets picked up otherwise. I make my own music.

Now I want to do a free Comic Fest via Kickstarter, so I am.

You mention in your bio that in your youth, comics provided a sense of escape for you. What aspects of the con would be of particular interest for the younger fans out there?

I like to take the aspects of pop-culture and bring it to real life in the real world, as well as show others how to create it.

Take Mortal Kombat X, for example. It’s big right now, so I think kids might like something like several professional breakdancers having a breakdance battle in Mortal Kombat Cosplay, especially if the cosplay is very high quality.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg; concepts like that can be done all sorts of ways.

There are classes on creating your own comics. Last time, we had Steve Cardenas (The Red Power Ranger) teach a Martial Arts class. What Power Ranger fan wouldn't want to be taught a Martial Arts class by a Power Ranger?

2015 Comic Fest; Salem, OR

How will the event be staffed and are you currently seeking volunteers?

Shortly after completion of the campaign, we’ll roll out the website, and there will be a form for volunteers. In the meantime, for people who see this as valuable enough to volunteer, they can help by sharing the Kickstarter with every person, business, and contact they know and expressing the importance of supporting this Kickstarter.

The Salem Convention Center has a large, helpful, and skilled staff, but volunteers will be needed for several positions and areas, such as Celebrity Assistant/Handler, Panel Management, Photography, Videography, Director Assistant, and much more. Until the website is up, anyone interested can message me through the Northwest Comic Fest Facebook page.

Have you received any push-back from people who are connected to other area cons?

There has been no direct push-back, and in some cases there has been awesome support, like from Kumoricon; they are amazing. Of course, I like push-back! It can be very fun to push-past, and tells you that you must be doing something very right.

Chris Herndon is an artist who has offered a print for the campaign. Can you share what it looks like?

He just offered it, so it’s probably in creation stages at the moment. Chris and I don't really know each other very well; I believe he saw that someone was trying to give people something nice and positive and decided to get in on it. As I said in the video, I'm trying to create a good karma stimulus program, a catalyst to pass on and exponentially multiply smiles. Everyone who goes to cons in the area will go, and lots of new people who have never gone will go; the result will be tons of enjoyment.

What are some of the things you plan to do in the next couple of weeks to continue to spread the word and gather resources and swag for the event?

I'm doing podcasts, talking to the local comedy club, having associates hanging fliers, whatever I can think of. I hope everyone who reads this will consider helping and share the link. Pledging $1, $5, or $10 dollars is less than a ticket to an event or anything else you can possibly do this weekend that would lead to a fraction of the amazement generated by what I'm hoping to create.

It’s the thousands of people who think their $1, $5, or sharing of the link won’t make a difference whose contributions would add up to the total success of this campaign. If six thousand people gave $5, we'd be there. If three businesses gave ten thousand, we'd be there.

I'll keep trying, and if anyone can help, I hope they do. If anyone has ideas, tell me.

Thank You!


The Northwest Comic Fest Kickstarter campaign runs through Monday, February 1st and currently has raised $593 toward its $30,000 goal.  


L. K. Roberts is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter: @Lyderary

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