MYRTLE BEACH, SC — The comic book convention: where fans of all different kinds of comic books, television shows and movies can come together under a common banner.
It’s a place where dressing up as your favorite fictional character on a day not known as Halloween is accepted based solely on your love of the source material. People get the chance to meet the men and women who create their heroes, picking their brains for information they’d otherwise not attain. XCON VI is one such attraction, and it’s come to Myrtle Beach.
The project was co-founded by Robin Roberts and Steve Haines six years ago, and both are considerably proud of their work.
“XCON is a labor of love,” said Roberts. “It is a tremendous amount of work, but when you see how many people come out and have a great time it’s all worth it.”
“The idea came from a conversation I was having with my friend (now partner) Robin Roberts about my frustration that we had no conventions at the beach, or even in this part of the state,” said Haines when asked about the creation of XCON. “We concluded that this was, in fact, ridiculous, and started planning the first XCON.”
It was this idea, in conjunction with the dogged efforts of both men, that lead to the creation of XCON in 2007.
“Once I get a good idea I have to pursue it and test the hypothesis,” said Roberts. “I am happy to say our little experiment is doing very well.”
Haines and Roberts have logged serious hours working on XCON over the years, and both view the convention as a year-long effort.
“I personally put in between 20 to 30 hours a week throughout the year,” said Roberts, before adding, “Until we get closer to show time; then there is no time to sleep.”
“XCON for me is pretty much a 24/7/365 type of thing,” said Haines. “I’m not the only one, either. It’s a massive undertaking for myself, partner and the massive group of dedicated volunteers that help us put on this event each year.”
In fact, while Roberts and Haines are responsible for its management and operation, XCON can’t run with just two men.
“XCON is entirely run by volunteers, including myself. We have a training program for volunteers,” said Roberts. “I have to admit we have some amazing friends of XCON out there who give me great advice and assist when they can.”
Even though it’s a much bigger event now, Haines and Roberts remember the early years with a certain fondness, and both attribute multiple factors to that feeling.
“In some respects it was easier back then,” said Roberts. “To compare then and now, it would be obvious to most that the crowds are much bigger, the celebrities are more numerous, the games, contests, panels, vendors and outside events are bigger and better.”
“I believe it was a little easier, since we didn’t know what we were doing,” Haines added. “The first show was assembled in just a few months and while being much smaller in scope than the show we are currently producing, had essentially the same ‘bones.’ ”
That’s not say that the convention is only for Myrtle Beach natives. In fact, to hear Roberts and Haines talk about it, quite the opposite is true.
“Last year we had approximately 65 percent of our attendees from out of town,” said Roberts. “Our numbers have definitely grown.”
Haines reiterated this sentiment.
“The convention has actually grown quite a bit,” he said. “We are focused on out-of-market advertising to bring in fans from all over the southeast, while still doing special ‘treasure hunt’ newspaper promotions and billboard ads for our locals.”
Roberts went on to discuss the convention’s most immediate future.
“By next year, XCON will become a week-long Myrtle Beach event,” he said. “It will still be three days at the convention center, but there will be events all over town for several days leading up to the weekend. We have so many local attractions and venues jumping on board with us to organize special XCON-related events.”
Of course, celebrity appearances are a staple of conventions like XCON VI, and Roberts and Haines don’t slouch when it comes to their guest lists.
“We’ve had some great guests over the years,” said Haines. “Bob Camp has actually been with us every year now.”
One of Camp’s most famous creations is a favorite among 20-somethings to this day, and it goes by the name of “The Ren & Stimpy Show.”
The iconic animated tandem of an ornery Chihuahua and a dumb, but loveable red cat had a show on Nickelodeon in the early to mid-1990s.
Mentioning Camp gives Roberts pause to discuss just how important his contributions have been over the years.
“Bob Camp has been coming to XCON since the very beginning. We are giving him a special award this year to thank him for his loyalty to XCON,” said Roberts. “He is truly a friend.”
“We’ve also had Doug Jones from TV’s ‘Falling Skies,’ ‘Buffy’ and the ‘Hellboy’ movies,” said Haines. “Jonathan Hickman of Marvel and Image comics fame, Margot Kidder from the original ‘Superman’ films, just to name a few.”
Haines didn’t stop there, as he decided a little tease for the future was in order.
“Having just come back from Chicago on a scouting mission,” said Haines, “I can tell you to look out for more ‘Power Rangers,’ cast from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ ”
What can first time attendees like Matt Morris, 26, hope to see at XCON VI?
“I wanted to attend the event last year, but found out about it on such short notice,” said Morris. “I originally wanted to go because ETCO from ‘Ghostbusters’ and the ‘Back to the Future’ DeLorean were going to be on display.”
Morris knows he’ll get the chance to see those vehicles again, as they’re making a return appearance this year, but he’s also excited about certain guests as well.
“I’m especially excited for Michael Rooker and Iron E. Singleton of ‘Walking Dead’ fame to be there,” said Morris. “I’d really like to meet Michael Rooker. Not only is he the guy you love to hate, yet hate to love from ‘The Walking Dead,’ but he was also the antagonist to Tom Cruise’s Cole Trickle in ‘Days of Thunder.’”
Celebrities aren’t the only thing fans like Morris can look forward at XCON VI. The convention features various contests and games for attendees of all ages.
“We have a Games Galore, ranging from ‘A Star City Games Super IQ,’ which is a ‘Magic: The Gathering’ tournament with at least $1000 in prizes,” said Roberts. “We also typically have several table top games and tournaments, including ‘Warhammer,’ ‘Warmachine,’ ‘Heroclix’ and more.”
“We have XCON-exclusive contests and games that we have developed, including our now-famous Nerd Dating Game,” said Roberts.
It’s got to be pretty popular, because while Roberts is high up on everything at XCON VI, he made a special note of this contest. Roberts said, “Everyone should sign up early for that one.”
Roberts also made mention of sketching contests that should excite artists of all ages.
“Industry professionals from comic books will draw along with you and judge the work,” he said.
If you’re not a fan of comics or contests, there is always the safety net known as cinema.
“We have two film festivals running concurrently,” said Roberts. “One is known as ‘Killuride’ and it is an independent horror film festival. We get entries from all over the country.”
And for those who prefer animation to real life?
“We also have an anime film festival showing some of the newest, and sometimes never-seen-in-the-USA anime,” said Roberts. “Funimation has been an amazing sponsor of this film festival each year.”
Even if you just want to dress up as your favorite comic book hero or a villain from your favorite TV show, there’s a contest for that, too.
“We have several costume contests throughout the weekend,” said Roberts. “There have been many memorable costumes. We have a local artist who has made a life-size functioning replica of Dalek from the BBC show ‘Dr. WHO.’ ” Roberts calls the replica something that is “simply amazing and not to be missed.”
“I will not be in costume, but I admire the people who are. I know the people that do are very dedicated and enthusiastic about what they’re making and how the finished product comes off,” said Morris. “I admire that level of commitment and attention to detail. If I had the time and the resources, I definitely would dress up. But for now, I’ll be that annoying person asking them if I can get a picture of them in their crazy costumes.”
It’s possible that if he could, Morris would dress as his favorite comic book character.
“I really like Whiplash from ‘Iron Man,’ ” said Morris. “Villains are more entertaining than heroes. I feel like they get to act out in ways we’re not allowed to, which makes them appealing to people.”
Now, once the convention itself closes for the day, it’s not all over. There are tons of events around Myrtle Beach for people to attend. There’s a VIP-only Art Show at XCON Comics inside Palmetto Studios. There’s an album release by self-described “Nerd Core Rapper” Steve Tibbs at Medieval Times. After-parties aren’t in short supply, either.
For those worried about what to do with the kids, Roberts had some words to set your minds at ease with at least one option.
“We have set up a slumber party at Magiquest,” said Roberts. “Parents can drop off their kids at Magiquest with a sleeping bag, and the kid will get to play the quests all night long with breakfast in the morning before they are picked up by their parents.”
As far as rules go at XCON, there aren’t too many, but Roberts wanted to remind attendees that these rules are in place for the betterment of all attending.
First off, there is a dress code.
“If you think your grandmother might be offended by what you are wearing, don’t wear it to XCON,” said Roberts. “We will not be rude to you, but we will ask you to go change and come back.”
The second rule is perhaps the most important as far as safety goes: no functional weapons.
“Some costumes require swords, etc., and if they are usable weapons, we will peace bond them,” said Roberts. “If you remove the bond, you will be asked to take the weapon to your car immediately.”
The third rule is one Morris actually hinted toward in his interview without realizing it.
“We have a simple rule about photographing other fans,” said Roberts. “The rule is: Ask first and don’t ask for poses that your grandmother wouldn’t approve of.”
Fourth, and this one’s pretty obvious given the lack of an age limit on XCON, is to watch your language. It’s a public setting and people of all ages will be in attendance. The XCON staff have been trained to keep an ear out for inappropriate comments, and will politely remind attendees to be respectful of others.
The fifth rule is the one Roberts and Haines want every single fan in attendance to remember. It is easily the most important and should be adhered to by all without exception.
“Have fun,” said Roberts.
“Most of the rules are pretty straightforward,” added Haines. “We can all get along, be respectful of one another and still have fun!”
If you go
What: XCON World VI
When: May 17-19
Where: Myrtle Beach Convention Center, 2101 Oak St., Myrtle Beach
How much: $15 in advance for three-day pass, $20 at the door; kids under 12 get in free