By Lillian Linscott
Opening day of Grand Rapids Comic Con was busy and full of excited enthusiasts. There are still two more days left to enjoy the excitement. The event is held at DeVos Place, located at 303 Monroe Ave NW.
The convention features tables of vendors selling a variety of items, from t-shirts and buttons to hand-crafted leathers and jewelry. Alan and Nicole Klem work with leathers, crafting custom book covers, leather garments, belts, satchels and more.
“I was working nights and got sick of it, a friend owned the company, and I asked if he wanted help,” Alan Klem said. “That was 12 years ago, now I’m the lead designer. I decided that I’m gonna be happy being creative.”
Alan Klem proposed to Nicole Klem with an American first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s, “The Hobbit” and now they work together attending multiple comic cons across the country.
“I love, love, love events like this, they are very inclusive,” Nicole Klem said. “People with social anxiety, autism, people that don’t fit in in the ‘’real world’ fit in here. It gives me hope for the future seeing young kids being okay with everyone, and I hope that bleeds into the real world.”
There were many people attending the event as a family. Melissa Marshall, 30, of Grand Rapids, was dressed as the 11th Doctor from the classic Sci-Fi British show, “Doctor Who,” and was joined by her mom.
“It’s a really inclusive community, lots of different genres and ethnicities,” Marshall said about the event. “Anybody can enjoy it.”
At the convention there were many large organizations that dedicated their time to raising money for charities such as Make a Wish, Toys for Tots, the American Cancer Society and more. They dress up and go to hospitals to bring smiles to children’s faces and send packages to kids across America from their characters, like Batman.
One of these groups is the League of Enchantment. They are a cosplay outreach group with over 60 members ranging in ages from four to over 60. Their main goal is to make the community a better place.
“People who don’t cosplay or come to cons need to understand that it’s more than mere dressing up,” said Shamus Smith, president of the League of Enchantment. “It’s for helping kids, we try to give them some happiness. Everyone in the league loves what they do.”
Smith also involves his family in the league, bringing them to conventions and charity events. Smith’s son, Evan, 15, attended the opening of the convention wearing a “Golden Freddy” mask that he built.
“When my dad became a part of the league I thought it was a really cool idea, and I got to start doing stuff that not many other people could do,” Evan said. “I got to share a lounge with a girl that was an ewok in Star Wars and the guy that voiced Optimus Prime on the animated show.”
The Kalamazoo Ghostbusters were also in attendance hoping to raise awareness of their organization so others can get involved. Chris Jenkinson, dressed as Beetlejuice, walked around speaking with multiple people and bringing smiles to faces. His collegue, 55-year-old Dan Holroyd leads the Kalamazoo Ghostbusters and the Great Lakes Ghostbuster Coalition. He said the organization has changed many of their lives.
“Seeing kids with anxiety and special needs feel more confident, taking pictures and talking to people as a ghostbuster is wonderful,” Holroyd said. “The more you see this, the more you know you are doing the right thing. We love doing it. We get together, try to share a smile and pay it forward with our fandom.”
For those looking to update their library there are authors at Grand Rapids Comic Con selling their books. Andrea Jones, from Mississippi, wrote the award-winning “Hook and Jill” saga, finding inspiration in the “Peter Pan” motion picture and her own life experiences and challenges. Jones was willing to share advice with prospective authors.
“So many people feel like they want to write then worry about it not coming,” Jones said. “I always tell them that when the book is ready to be written you can’t not write it. Editing is never done, you think it’s done and it isn’t.”
Local author, Bryan Donihue, creator of the “Nights Bane Trilogy,” found his inspiration through a role-playing game he created with a group of friends. He has been coming to the Grand Rapids Comic Con for three years and is a guest this year.
“I just started typing and telling the story on paper and decided to publish it,” Donihue said.
Many vendors and attendees were dressed in costume, or cosplay.
Alexandra Howe, 21, from Grant, Michigan, who was dressed as Amy Pond from “Doctor Who” said she chose that character because, “she is someone I aspire to be, she has a certain fire.”
Artists specializing in a variety of mediums were also in attendance, either selling their art or just showing it off. Some draw, others paint, Kurt Zimmerman builds robots. When he first saw “Star Wars” at the age of 23, R2D2 was on screen first and “jumped out” at him. Now at the age of 63, Zimmerman has built multiple bots and brings them to hospitals and schools.
“Kids in hospitals don’t have much to smile about, and I want to make them smile,” Zimmerman said.
The convention continues on through Sunday. For a full itinerary click here.