Comic book fans convene for Athens’ 1st convention

Rows of comic books align the walls of the Wizard’s Guild located at 19 W. Washington St. The comic-book store is hosting the first-ever Ratha Con, Athens’ very own comic convention, from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Athens Community Center. (Sam Owens | Staff Photographer)

Nowhere in rural Southeast Ohio looks anything like a scene out of Star Trek, but that doesn’t mean residents can’t pretend it does for a day.

Saturday marks Athens’s first comic book convention, called Ratha Con — a play on the title of sci-fi sequel Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan — hosted by a local comic shop and ARTS/West.

For someone who has never stepped into the Wizard’s Guild on West Washington Street, discovering Athens’ comic book culture might come as a shock. In reality, Southeast Ohio has more than a dozen comic artists — some self-publishing, others hobbyists — who are set to attend this weekend’s event.

“This should be welcoming, fun, artistic and exciting,” said Emily Prince, president and director of ARTS/West. “Our comic convention is way more comic-centered and local than others. We are featuring what we have here.”

More prominent conventions such as San Diego’s and Chicago’s Comic-Cons feature sci-fi stars and celebs who fill famous comics with their art. The Athens version will offer a smaller-scale version of that Hollywood social scene with its own local celebrities, whose names embellish the Wizard’s Guild’s shelves.

“The special-guests thing is expensive, and we’re hoping to have that once we build this up,” said Sam Berlin, a five-year Wizard’s Guild employee and coordinator of the upcoming event.

Stephen Richter, who just opened an exhibit on West Union Street called Existential Fish and is holding regular kids’ comic drawing workshops; David Canario, former Wizard’s Guild employee; and Sandy Plunkett are just a few of the artists and writers who will participate in panels about turning comics into film and V for Vendetta as it relates to OU’s apocalyptic-focused, first-year experience program.

Though there are almost 100 comic-book stores in the state, only a few will be setting up their collections at Ratha Con. Berlin said a common problem with conventions in this digital age is that publishers are providing easier access to back issues through the Web.

“There used to be a lot of little conventions like this before Wizard (a comic publisher) bought them all out and Hollywoodized them,” Berlin said.

Even with just targeting comic-book readers in the region, Berlin expects a few hundred attendees and hopes to match the more than 400-person attendance at Marietta’s River City Comic Con last year.

“A lot of people who read comics don’t get to hang out in large groups,” said Plunkett, author and artist of The World of a Wayward Comic Book Artist. “They are in their elements at a comic-book convention because they get to meet other readers and writers.”

Most comic book artists are too passionate about their talent to simply call it a hobby, Plunkett said. So conventions such as Ratha Con — despite their size — give starting artists an arena to showcase their work.

Berlin said about a third of regular visitors at the Wizard’s Guild are OU students, and a handful of those OU artists will be set up at the Athens Recreation Center Saturday doing on-the-spot drawings for Ratha Con-goers.

Besides artists and vendors, this convention will feature the Athens-based Steampunk Ballet and a short game of Humans vs. Zombies in synchronization with the day’s sci-fi theme.

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