Superheroes and “Star Wars” storm troopers guarded the doors Sunday at the Portland Expo, where hundreds of comics fans, young and old, flocked to show off their best costumes, trade rare comic books and celebrate a growing community in Maine.

The annual Portland Comic Expo is organized by Casablanca Comics, an Old Port fixture that has held conventions in the basketball arena for five years running.

Rick Lowell, the owner of Casablanca, said he wanted to give Mainers a taste of older, larger conventions – like Comic-Con International in San Diego – without having to leave home.

Amy Yanofsky of Eddington 15, left, and Madyson Tortorella of Waterville, 14, pose with some of their purchases at Portland Comic Expo 2019 at the Portland Expo on Sunday. Yanofsky was dressed as Mikan Tsumiki and Tortorella as Chihiro Fujisaki, both from the video game Danganronpa. Ariana van den Akker/Staff Photo Buy this Photo

“Some people, they may have heard of Comic Con in San Diego or New York, but they aren’t able to get down there,” Lowell said. “We wanted to have something like that for local comic fans.”

And when it comes to comics-world fandom, if there’s a nationwide version of it, Maine probably has its own.

Near the back of the hall, men wearing tan jumpsuits and circuit-sprouting backpacks posed as the heroes from “Ghostbusters,” a 1984 movie about poltergeist-hunting scientists that has drawn legions of loyal fans.

One Ghostbuster, Brian Austin, said that the Maine Ghostbusters are one of many chapters around the country licensed to use the film’s logo and imagery to entertain fans and support charities. The group visits conventions and events all over Maine, delighting kids and soliciting donations for the Center for Grieving Children.

“Rather than being just a couple guys running around with proton packs, we figured: Why not make it for a good cause?” Austin said. “And what better cause than this?”

Austin’s colleague Derek Saucier is a mechanical engineer who welded together his own proton pack – nuclear-powered backpacks used to overpower and capture ghosts.

Flip one switch, and the device emits the whoosh of an energy ray, along with lights and vapor. Flip another and it plays the “Ghostbusters” theme.

The lights and music drew over a gaggle of kids, one of whom pointed at a box painted in yellow-black caution stripes. In the film, it’s a trap for troublesome ghosts.

“Who’s in there?” the boy asked.

“Stay Puft,” Austin said, referring to an evil spirit from the film who terrorizes New York in the form of a giant marshmallow man.

The children’s eyes widened. “Oh, you don’t want to let him out,” one said.

Many other adults celebrated their fandom by sharing it with kids at the Expo on Sunday.

Near the Ghostbusters, Batman and Batgirl took a break from meting out vigilante justice to take photos with young fans.

Mollie Dinsmore, a hospice care nurse, and her husband, Keith, play the duo. She said she loves how kids’ eyes light up when they meet their comic book heroes come to life.

“Especially for young girls,” she said. “I want them to feel beautiful and empowered.”

The Dinsmores call themselves the Old Port Batman and Batgirl – besides visiting conventions, they also wander the Old Port on Saturday nights, taking photos and mingling with partygoers.

The comic convention is also an opportunity for behind-the-scenes types to meet fans.

Standing behind a booth, local artist Paul Pelletier showed off sketches for his superhero comics, including Aquaman and the Hulk. A Lewiston native, Pelletier said he worked odd jobs for years as he climbed the ladder of the comic book world.

In 1991, he left his job at a shoe factory to work full time as an artist. Since then, he’s become a creator of nationally distributed comics – while also watching the local fandom grow around him.

“It’s just great to see how the comics community has grown and flourished in Maine,” he said.


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