Valley Comic Con Returns to Wasilla
One of four rooms at Everett’s/Mat-Su Resort filled with vendors and attendees at the second annual Valley Comic Con.
More than a week before Halloween, costumed revelers stalked the halls of Everett’s and Mat-Su Resort just outside of Wasilla. They were attending Valley Comic Con, returning for a second year, making it an annual event.
Friendly Neighborhood Con
In addition to vendors selling comic books, naturally, the convention had space for local artists, apparel and toy merchants, and tabletop gaming. Saturday culminated with judging costumes made and worn by amateurs; Sunday welcomed professional-level cosplayers, some competing for a grand prize package worth $1,000.
Before the doors opened, about 300 tickets were pre-sold, according to Luis Nieves, co-owner of Aegis Comics of Alaska, the lead sponsor of the event. This compares to just 45 pre-sold for the inaugural Valley Comic Con last year, which ended up attracting about 500 attendees. The reprise exceeded that with more than 700 paying attendees, plus an uncounted number of children under 10 admitted for free.
Featured artist Michael Provo, who is based in Alaska but travels to cons nationwide, has been to events with more than 100,000 attendees, like MegaCon Orlando and C2E2 in Chicago. At such cons, “Artists Alley” might have hundreds of tables; in Wasilla, Provo has barely a handful of neighbors. “The bigger ones, you tend to get passed over because there’s so much to look at,” Provo says, “so I actually like doing small ones like this.”
Aegis Comics of Alaska opened in downtown Wasilla in 2019, giving the Matanuska-Susitna Borough its own specialty shop selling new and vintage comics. Fairbanks and Juneau each have their own shops, and Anchorage has two locations for Spenard stalwart Bosco’s, which co-sponsored Valley Comic Con.
Despite the presence of established vendors, most of the comics for sale are from private collections. One of those belongs to Mike Lajoie, who works for the American Heart Association by day, but his alter ego is the co-owner of Arctic Comic Con, which he started in Anchorage in 2018. He’s friends with Nieves, so they support one another’s events.
The convention gives Lajoie space to unload his stash of comics. “I buy entire collections,” he explains. “I keep what I want, and what I don’t want or care for ends up in these boxes or on these displays.” Lajoie has boxes of bargains for $2 apiece (cover price, adjusted for inflation), each issue protected by a plastic sheath; displayed proudly above the boxes are “key” issues (title premieres, debuts of artists or writers, or first appearances of popular characters) which sell for $20 and up.
If he sells enough, someday Lajoie can afford his “bucket” book: the first appearance of Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #39 from March 1963. “I was a big Iron Man fan, so I’ve got a complete run of Iron Man,” he says. “First appearance is thousands, tens of thousands of dollars.”
At the next table, George Eppler is unloading forty years’ worth of comics at his first convention. “I like to go to garage sales and find ‘em cheap,” he says, and some of his key issues are on sale for more than $100. Eppler grew up in Wasilla as a collector, so he’s glad Luis and Amie Jo Nieves have brought a shop to the Mat-Su.
Rickey Harrison’s offerings include mostly paperback-bound compilations, the kind sold in bookstores. “Just trying to get rid of some of my collection to make room for other things and pass off the good deals to everyone who shows up here,” says Harrison. He’s willing to haggle, more interested in having a good time than turning a profit.
A variant cover of Postmasters, published by Source Point Press in Michigan, painted by Alaskan artist Michael Provo to be sold exclusively at Aegis Comics of Alaska.
The con gives collectors an opportunity to monetize their hobby. “I don’t have the overhead of a shop, and I just show up for these special events,” Lajoie says. “Occasionally I’ll sell online, but I don’t dedicate a lot of time to it.”
A table stacked with boxed action figures looks like Santa’s workshop (if Santa Claus only makes licensed pop culture characters), but they belong to a collector who goes by Jaybo Trooper. “I have a lot of Star Wars—TVC [The Vintage Collection] and Black Series—and a little G.I. Joe [reissues of the ‘80s figures]. I have some Funko Pops and a little other stuff sprinkled here and there.” This is his first convention after he started selling his surplus action figures earlier this year.
And none of them have ever been outside of the packaging, he says. “Seventy-five percent of collectors take them out; us other weird 25 percent don’t,” Jaybo says. “I like the presentation of it. I don’t know why; I just do.” Boxes with plastic windows are becoming a rarity, he explains. “Hasbro is moving to no plastic, so it’s just cardboard you’re looking at, and I will stop collecting when Hasbro does that. That’s gonna be a sad day for me.”
Art is Provo’s profession, not his hobby, so conventions are part of his job. The next table over is another freelance artist, Ben Harvey, visiting from Philadelphia. “I love comparing notes with other artists,” Provo says. “I see Ben [Harvey from Philadelphia] a couple of times a year, and if we talk, it’s online.”
Assorted dice sold for $1 apiece by Game Theory in the gaming room at Valley Comic Con.
One table at the con had nothing for sale. It was reserved for outreach by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. As a veteran of the US Coast Guard, Luis Nieves makes sure that fellow military vets are taken care of.
Nieves invited another Coast Guard veteran to set up a table to sell books. Anchorage author Richard Griffith has self-published twenty-seven novels since he started writing seven years ago. “Got a little bit of everything,” Griffith says. “I have urban fantasy and monster hunters and zombies, superheroes, futuristic sci-fi, and modern sci-fi. I don’t fit into one genre. I even have a few mystery books out.” Most of his sales are through Amazon or distributed personally through events like Valley Comic Con.
Aegis Comics found space at the convention for a neighboring business, Game Theory, which opened in the same building on Swanson Avenue about a year earlier. “We have a little nerd corner,” says Jenna Launer of Game Theory. “We always send people over there; they send people to us.” Launer says Nieves even made sure Game Theory was okay with Aegis Comics adding gaming accessories to a branch location inside the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Main Exchange.
As the convention wrapped up Sunday evening, the grand prize in the professional division of the costume contest went to a cosplayer dressed as a mash-up of Batman and the Joker, inspired by an action figure. The winner claimed an 18-inch statue of Catwoman (of the Michelle Pfieffer variety) and a complimentary photo shoot by another of Aegis Comics’ neighbors, Michael Ray Photography.
The general manager of Everett’s / Mat-Su Resort, Amber Glasser, was happy to have people in the building, as the hospitality industry is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. “We love having everyone here,” Glasser says. “It’s amazing. It feels great. The community’s amazing, so it absolutely works.”
Architecture & Engineering Special Section + Small Business
In the February 2024 issue of Alaska Business, we engineered a special section that inspects the many ways architecture and engineering enrich our lives, from creating beautiful and functional spaces to crafting functional and safe transportation corridors. In addition to the built world in which we live, this issue celebrates small businesses and the many functions they provide, whether they're developing tools in the healthcare industry or opening new dining locations.