Pennsylvania College of Technology will host its first-ever comic convention April 13-14 on its Williamsport campus. Named after the Penn College mascot, Wildcat Comic Con is a two-day celebration of all things comics related, from the Sunday funnies to graphic novels, movies to manga, costumes to video games.
The Wildcat Comic Con will feature 46 award-winning illustrators, writers, experts and industry pioneers. Notable presenters include Dean Haspiel, an Emmy Award-winning writer who has written comic book stories for D.C. and Marvel and who has illustrated for the HBO series "Bored to Death"; David Small, a noted children's book illustrator whose first graphic novel "Stitches" was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2009; artist Mark McKenna, a 26-year veteran of the comic book industry who has worked on Batman, Wolverine, Iron Man and, most recently, Star Wars; and Williamsport-native Tom Woodruff Jr., an actor, director and Oscar-winning special effects creator who has worked on such films as "The Terminator," "Aliens," "Spiderman" and "X-Men: First Class."
There are about 400 comic cons in the U.S. every year, the most famous of which is the San Diego Comic Con.
"For anyone who lives locally, the idea of going to San Diego might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said John Shableski, Program Developer and Publisher Liaison for the Wildcat Comic Con. "But now, with the Wildcat Comic Con, we're going to be able to bring that experience to them. I still have people calling me and saying 'Really? You've got these guys coming here?' We've got people who've been groundbreakers in this field and they're all thrilled that they get to do this because this is what they've imagined a comic con could be."
The Wildcat Comic Con will be a first in many ways.
"This is the first comic con of this size that's ever been put on in this area," said Lisette Ormsbee, director of Penn College's Madigan Library.
Shableski said it is also the first comic con to be organized and sponsored by a college.
"This is the first time, that I'm aware of, that a college has put the programming together and has been an integral part of the entire project," Shableski said. "With most comic conventions, the programming and organization is done by the fans."
When you consider the growing use of comics and graphic novels in high school and college curriculums, the idea of a college hosting a comic convention doesn't seem so surprising.
Both Ormsbee and Shableski were keen to emphasize the educational value of comics-based media.
"With the explosion in the education market, you've got more and more teachers who have figured out that this is a new access to literacy for a lot of students," Shableski said.
Ormsbee said that Dave Sims, a member of the Penn College English faculty, has been teaching a course on graphic novels for over 20 years. It's a course that has been extremely popular among Penn College students.
"It really does cross-cut a lot of age groups and educational levels in our culture," Ormsbee said.
Ormsbee said she wanted to make sure that the comic con would tie in to Penn College's academic program.
"I wanted to make sure it was grounded in the academic culture," Ormsbee said. "Obviously, if Penn College is going to sponsor it, we want to make sure that it wasn't at odds with our mission. But I really think this convention ties in with the college's mission of hands-on learning and its emphasis on 'degrees that work.' For example, we have an early childhood education program and a children's learning center, so I'm working with John to create some children's programming. We'll also have portfolio reviews for students who have artwork and stories they'd like to have looked at by an industry professional. It's a great way for them to make professional contacts. That's why this [comic con] is absolutely consistent with what we do here."
Shableski said he worked with Ormsbee to ensure that the comic con programming would have academic relevance.
"We checked off a list of all these areas where the comics medium is associated with Penn College academic programs, whether it's graphic design, video game design, computer science, business, or English," Shableski said. "It was amazing how quickly we connected the dots on this. It was like serendipity."
"We think it will be a wonderful way to introduce people to Penn College and to many of our academic programs," Ormsbee added. "Also, it will introduce people to new ways of teaching and learning with this particular format."
According to Shableski, the event has something for everyone.
"We have this combined approach to the programming so that it applies to you, whether you're a student of the arts, a would-be creator, a fan, a teacher, or a librarian. We want to create a shared experience so that no one in the room is left out of the conversation," Shableski said.
More than 50 panels and guest lectures will be held over the course of two days. These presentations will address a range of topics aimed at students, fans, educators and librarians. Some of the panels include "Building Your Comics Team," "Hem, Tape and Glue Guns: The Art of Costuming on a Budget" and "Understanding Manga and Anime," to name a few.
Apart from the various panels and presentations, the Wildcat Comic Con consists of many other events, including author luncheons, book signings, various cosplay events (short for "costume play," in which comics fans dress up as their favorite characters), a masquerade ball, video game contests and demonstrations, an animation film festival, a vendor hall and much more.
Ormsbee said that she thinks the Wildcat Comic Con will attract people from all over the region.
"We think it's going to be a wonderful community event well beyond Lycoming County. We're hoping for a wide range of participation that really expands the notion of community around this particular format. All of the programs will be of interest to a lot of people and they all have great value. I also want to underscore the level of talent that will be coming here to Williamsport. This is the Home of Little League, and we want to make it the Home of the Wildcat Comic Con, too."
Shableski said they are "cautiously estimating 1,700 people" to attend over the course of two days. "It's gone viral," he said. "It gets bigger every time we look at it."
For more information and to buy tickets or register for the convention, visit wildcatcomiccon.pct.edu.