FORT WAYNE – The evil Darth Vader and a pair of Star Wars storm troopers posed for photos, even though Chewbacca casually walked by. There was a Captain Marvel sighting. Women were dressed as cats. Men dressed as aliens and Batman. And these were just some of the paid attendees who roamed the spacious Grand Wayne Center ballroom, where the annual Appleseed Comics and Art Convention opened its two-day stint Saturday.
Clustered among six long rows of tables, an estimated 100 comics artists and writers have their work on display, covering superheroes, supervillains, cowboys, detectives, gruesome monsters of all species and cute animals.
For the connoisseur of comics, unique art and strange characters (both walking about and on a page), the convention continues at 11 a.m. today.
“The biggest market is the existing comic book fan, but who that fan is is changing,” convention organizer Zack Kruse said. “Ten years ago, my demographic would have been guys my age, in their early 20s to 40s. Now, it's more than 50 percent female. It's really changing.”
Among the changes remains the classic timelessness from Jim Steranko, the convention's most notable artist.
Steranko, 75, found national acclaim in the 1960s comic “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and his work with Marvel Comics. As a conceptual artist, he contributed to the films “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Bram Stoker's Dracula.”
His work has been shown in the Louvre in Paris, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Sydney (Australia) Opera House.
While most of the artists sat behind just one table, a portion of Steranko's work was displayed across four tables. He had Captain America posters and prints and books and small cards – all for a price.
Across one of the tables, a bespectacled man was buying a black and white drawing with an accompanying autograph.
“Captain America 111 just blew me away,” the man named Byron told Steranko of the March 1969 Marvel comic book for which Steranko drew the cover. “Back then, I could tell it was something special. When I was a little kid, that was my favorite character.”
“It's still my favorite character, can't you tell?” Steranko said, motioning toward a Captain America poster.
“I've got that hanging on my wall at home,” Byron said.
The thin man in the cream-colored suit says he won't comment on other artists' work. “I find that to be a dangerous thing for me, because I'm liable to tell you the truth, and make even more enemies than I have now.”
He has not only seen the “golden era” of the comic book industry, but he was in the middle of it.
And as for the future?
He holds up a small booklet to illustrate.
“The day of the pamphlet is over,” Steranko says. “Everything today is electronics; that's where comics really are going to expand and grow. I think these old fashioned comics are just the tip of the iceberg. They're going to expand into an incredible form.”
Today's form is the Internet; Web pages that a great percentage of the 100 or so of the convention's artists and writers are using.
Matt Gross, a Plymouth native who resides in Fort Wayne as a freelance artist and graphic designer, has a weekly “Webcomic” at www.caaats.com.
“It's an all-ages comic that I started back in 2011,” he said. “I've been doing comic conventions for about a year. And I started to realize that a lot of families come to shows, and you see a lot of kids walking around with their parents, and I really wanted to get something positive for families that they can pick up.”
Meanwhile, two unknown superheroes in red capes walk past.
“Think about how many arts events we have in this city,” Kruse said of the growing popularity of the convention.
“This is a very arts-driven community, and a lot of people who come to the show who aren't existing comics fans, they come to it because they're at least intrigued by the art and the medium and that sort of thing. That's a big part of it.”