Nerds rejoice! Portland prepares for comic convention

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PORTLAND — Somebody had to do it.

That’s why the owners of Coast City Comics said they’re staging the city’s first-ever comic convention – dubbed, appropriately enough, the Coast City Comic Con, or “C4” for short – from Nov. 11-13 at venues throughout downtown. 

Tristan Gallagher, who co-owns the 3-year-old comic shop with Chad Pennell, said Portland is a perfect spot for a comic convention. The city’s reputation as a young, creative regional hub makes it a perfect place for a celebration of nerd culture, he said.

“We live in a very hip, very interesting town,” Gallagher said. “Hipsters and nerds, as far as demographics go, are microns apart. Hip kids wouldn’t have iPads if some nerd didn’t dream it up. No one would know how to take care of their fixed-gear bikes if some nerd hadn’t done it already.”

The name “comic convention” can be misleading because many, including the bigger conventions held every year in New York and San Diego, long ago branched out to include more than just comic books. Comic conventions now are get-togethers for fans to attend events like signings, panel discussions, movie premieres, costumes contests and more.

Gallagher said C4 would be about more than just the paneled pages of the X-Men and Justice League. C4 will serve as the launch party for a new book, “The Exigesis of Philip K. Dick,” and will feature a panel discussion about the influential science fiction writer.

The convention was also chosen to host the East Coast premiere screening of the documentary “Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts.” Ellis is the author of the comic series “Transmetropolitan,” and worked for years as a writer for both DC and Marvel, the comic industry’s two publishing powerhouses.

The con will also play host to panels on cryptozoology, self-publishing and guerrilla film making. Another will tell aspiring writers and artists how to break into the comics industry.

C4 guest speakers include Maine comic writers and artists Ray Dillon and Renae De Liz, a Cape Elizabeth couple who worked together to publish the bestselling comic “The Last Unicorn.” Independently, Dillon has worked for Marvel and DC, and De Liz recently raised more than $100,000 online to self-publish “Womanthology,” a collection of comics by featuring 140 women artists and writers.

Fellow Maine creators Ben Bishop and Alex Irvine, former Marvel editor Andy Scmidt and former Cracked magazine editor Mort Todd will also take part in discussion panels.

Rounding out the three-day schedule are two concerts, video game tournaments, a costume contest, horror movie screenings with appearances by the directors, and artist and vendor tables.

And it was all put together in just three months.

“We talked to other people who have put on conventions and they asked us how much time we had,” Pennell said. “When we told them three months, they were like, ‘What are you, nuts?'”

If the schedule of events seems a little schizophrenic, that’s OK, Gallagher said. He’s betting that fans of Warren Ellis will be familiar with earlier authors such as Philip K. Dick, that comic book nerds and video game geeks aren’t really that different, and that everyone likes to dance, listen to music and watch movies.

The diverse schedule is also what separates Coast City’s comic con from other annual events, Gallagher said. Other Portland nerd cultural institutions include the Maine Comic Arts Festival, which focuses on self-published authors, and PortCon, an annual anime convention.

Coast City Comic Con kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, with a “Nerd Rave” featuring Portland party-metal band Waranimal, disco act Heloise and DJ Ponyfarm at SPACE Gallery. Tickets, for either the whole weekend or specific days, are available online at or at the door.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements

Coast City Comics will hold its first-ever comic convention from Nov. 11 through 13. Tickets are $10 for day passes, $20 for all-access weekend pass or $30 for the weekend pass and a limited edition T-shirt. For more information, visit

Tristan Gallagher has been planning the Coast City Comic Con, Portland’s first comic convention, for three months. The convention will feature panel discussions, movie screenings, book releases, video game contests and more. The con kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, with a concert at SPACE Gallery featuring Waranimal, Heloise and DJ Ponyfarm.

For the love of comics

PORTLAND — In the three years since it opened, Coast City Comics has seen intense growth and change.

The business has moved into a shop at 634 Congress St. (the former Urban Hardware) twice the size of the original store, and merged with co-owner Tristan Gallagher’s two other businesses, the Funbox Monster Emporium toy store and the T-shirt printshop Trisara-Tops.

Meanwhile, the comic shop’s founder, Gerald Von Stoddard, left the business earlier this year to pursue a writing career.

Still, owners Gallagher and Chad Pennell said the shop has seen increases in comic sales every month and regularly attracts customers and artists from all over New England.

Coverage from regional newspapers, blogs and TV stations – not to mention guerrilla marketing such as stationing a storm trooper with handbills for C4 outside a concert at Asylum last month – have made Coast City a darling of the nerd landscape.

The Coast City owners said their attitude toward their industry is different from a lot of the old-guard comic shops throughout the country, and that’s driven their success and helped them add the Coast City Comic Con to their already full plate.

A lot of other, older shop owners complain about publishing schedules and wax nostalgic about the “Golden Age” of comics, Pennell said. Changes in publishing have hit comics just like the traditional book industry, with cheaper-to-produce digital publications poised to take over as soon as readers accept them.

“So they want to sit around and complain about comics all day,” Pennell said. “I hate to say it, but it feels like a very negative approach to the business, whereas we’re trying to take a positive approach. I’d like to think we’re in it for the right reasons.”

What are the reasons?

“We love comics,” Gallagher said. “That’s really it.”

— Mario Moretto