SOUTH PORTLAND – When plans were unveiled earlier this year to stage a 5K Color Run on South Portland’s east end, it was cheered by city councilors, who said the city needs a “signature event” of its own in order to break free of the shadow cast by its larger neighbor.

That perception was bolstered this summer when Bon-Ton posted giant signs at its grand opening at the Maine Mall, announcing its delight at being in “Portland.”

But another event is coming this weekend to the Double Tree Hilton across from the mall, an event that will run a close second to the Color Run in terms of attendance and promises to come in just as many hues. It’s a convention, but its 2,000-plus attendees won’t be business people dressed in neckties, pantsuits and Hello-My-Name-Is stickers. This is a comic book convention, and that means masks, capes and – yes, let’s go there– underwear on the outside.

The Coast City Comicon, which is gaining in popularity and expects almost double the attendees this year, is sponsored and staged by Coast City Comics, located on Congress Street in Portland. Although the event is only in its third year, it is billed as the largest pop culture spectacular north of Boston. That growing notoriety is not only good for comic book fans, but for the city since the event is a regional draw.

“We started this because we just hadn’t seen anything like this anywhere around here, and I hate driving to Boston and I really hate New York,” said Coast City co-owner Tristan Gallagher. “Going to conventions there that were so overcrowded was such a bummer.”

In addition to comic books for sale and convention attendees dressed as their favorite super-heroes – a practice known to hipster geeks as cosplay – the Coast City Comicon boasts a wide array of draws, from appearances of name creators like “Daredevil” writer/artist Lee Weeks, Batman Inc. artist Chris Burnham and Yanick Paquette, currently working on “Wonder Woman: Earth One” for DC Comics.

But the guest list also crosses over to film and TV, with fans able to mix with Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy – the voices of Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo from the cult-favorite parody show, “Mystery Science Theater 3000”; “Dark Shadows” veteran actress Sharon Smyth Lentz; and Gunnar Hansen, famous for playing Leatherface in the classic horror movie, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

And when Gallagher promises fans can meet their favorite personalities, he and his con conspirators, Coast City co-owner Ross Kearney and store manager/event coordinator Jarrett Melendez, mean just that.

“We want this to be a more active and immersive convention,” said Gallagher. “You’ll notice that all of our guests are there doing stuff as opposed to just being there, signing an autograph, and leaving.”

The Coast City Comicon boasts 37 events and panels, not counting the six film festival movies, from panel discussions on “G.I. Joe” comics with series creators Tim Seeley and Mike Norton, searching for haunted houses in Maine, how to create and market your own comics, a kids drawing expo with the talent behind “Adventure Time,” along with a skate boarding demo, a costume contest, a Super Lucha Explosiva live wresting match, and a Leatherface Chili Cook-Off.

What’s that, you say, a chili cook-off?

“We’re tired of the conventions that just plop movie stars behind a table and have them sign stuff,” said Melendez. “We like being able to provide a more intimate experience for fans. We don’t want people to just get herded through a line and shoved away before they can even say hello to an idol of theirs like Gunnar. Here, you can say hello, and even taste chili he made. You can’t get that at cons like New York or San Diego.”

“Having Gunnar there and having him do something ‘stupid’ is the kind of thing that we want, to make this less passive than the usual con,” said Gallagher. “Instead of just stuff for sale, we want it to be about experiences. We want people to be able to say, I was there when X happened, or Y happened.”

The Coast City crew say they are “unbelievably surprised” at how far their show has come in a short time, based on their event philosophy of maintaining a small event, but with a wide array of celebrity activities, along with once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

The first convention in Portland drew about 700 fans. Last year, Coast City was recruited by the Double Tree to come to South Portland. That show drew more than 1,200. This year, advance ticket sales have Gallagher hoping for 2,000 attendees.

“We thought it was unbelievably out of our realm to do what we did our first year, he said. “I can’t even believe how far we’ve come in three years.”

A CLOSER LOOK

The third annual Coast City Comicon takes place from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 9, and Sunday, Nov. 10, at the Double Tree Hilton, at 363 Maine Mall Road in South Portland. For information on the event schedule, visit www.coastcitycomicon.com online.

One of the organizers, Ross Kearney, is excited for this weekend’s third annual Coast City Comicon, which is gaining in popularity and expects almost double the attendees this year. Here he stands behind a rack of comics at Coast City Comics, located on Congress Street in Portland, which is sponsoring and staging the event.Theo Katzman from Stratham, N.H., was visiting the Coastal Comic store around Halloween, dressed as Rorschach from the Watchmen comic book series.


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