Fantasy, flair and geekdom blur the lines at this year’s comic book convention

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EL PASO — A man in a panda costume walks lazily into a conference room where other people are dressed up as Storm Troopers, Iron-Man, and Pokémon characters and sits down with leisure waiting for the next panelist to arrive. Costumes are a regular sight at a comic book convention, however the panda still elicits an “Oooh! A panda!” comment from a small girl in the crowd.

Soto creator of Capitán México. (Luisana Duarte/Borderzine.com)

Soto creator of Capitán México. (Luisana Duarte/Borderzine.com)

The conference room, located in the El Paso Convention Center was part of this year’s El Paso Comic Con (ep-con). Hosted September 14th through 16th, EP-CON gathered people in El Paso for the third consecutive year to celebrate both comic books and pop culture. With guests ranging from comic book creators and illustrators, avid comic book and memorabilia collectors, to kid’s shows celebrities, EP-CON brought entertainment for everyone in the borderland.

As the name states it, EP-CON brings together comic book lovers and creators from around the country, as well as some local talent. Valeria Contreras, an El Paso native currently studying art and economics at The University of Chicago is the creator of Valcon Comics. “I started drawing comic books when I was 11 years old and self-published my first at 17,” said Contreras. Her booth’s energy, replicated in her clothing and blue-feather headwear gives a hint of her book’s theme. “These are educational comic books that teach kids about values,” Contreras explains. Her first comic book, ‘Jamie’s Jungle’ deals with environmental issues.

Valeria Contreras, founder of VALCON Comics. (Luisana Duarte/Borderzine.com)

Valeria Contreras, founder of VALCON Comics. (Luisana Duarte/Borderzine.com)

Education is also one of the motivating factors for Chuck Larntz, president of 7000 B.C. comics. As an independent comic book collective from Albuquerque, New Mexico, 7000 B.C. promotes literacy and conducts free workshops in libraries in Albuquerque. The collective also helps artists publish their work. Larntz explained that the creators of comic books don’t always have enough money to produce their works of art. “Each comic book costs around $5 to produce, and when an author can’t pay for that, they can print it in ‘String and Jaws’, a collection of works by many different artists,” said Larntz.

Cosplay, people dressed up as a character from a book, video game, or movie, is another big part and a common sight in comic book conventions. In a way it helps differentiate veterans from newcomers at these events.

Felix, dressed up as Zelda’s hero, Link and Javier, as the Star Wars’ Sith, Darth Maul, said that it was their first time visiting EP-CON, “We heard about it last time,” said Felix. “We’re closeted nerds, big time. We don’t show it, but… it’s like, ‘we should go,’” he explained between laughs.

Jaime 'Jimmy' Portillo, creator of Hell Paso. (Luisana Duarte/Borderzine.com)

Jaime 'Jimmy' Portillo, creator of Hell Paso. (Luisana Duarte/Borderzine.com)

Brothers Brandon and Maxx Abeyta also participated in EP-CON with their own costumes. Of this duo, Brandon representing Dr. Who was the one answering all of the questions. His brother Maxx, took very seriously his part as ‘Slenderman’, a tall and thin mythical creature with no face.

However, on the other side of the spectrum, Karina and Claudia, freshmen students from Eastwood High School and Loretto High School respectively, went to EP-CON in hopes of meeting Crystal Reed, who portrays Allison Argent in MTV’s ‘Teen Wolf’. Although they had come only to see Reed’s panel and visit her booth, they walked around the different rooms admiring everything the event had to offer. “I’m extremely confused by everything else that is going on,” said Claudia about the number of people walking around in Cosplay.  “People seem really gung ho about dressing up and everything” Carina said, “For sure I’ll come back next year if there’s interesting people.”

Angel and Diego, math and mechanical engineering majors at UTEP, explain that   for them, as well as for many other people, one of the main attractions of comic book conventions are the celebrity guests. “I like Batman and Star Wars,” said Angel, “Last year the guy who played Chewbacca [Peter Mayhew] was here.” Added Diego, “Maybe that’s why this year it’s so empty. A lot of people were expecting Darth Vader to be here.”

David Prowse, the man who plays Darth Vader, was scheduled to come to this year’s EP-CON, however he cancelled a few days before the event, causing disappointment among many of the event’s fans.

Celebrity guests that did attend include Tyler Mane (X-MEN, Halloween), Edi Gathegi (X-MEN: First Class, Twilight), Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight, Dr. Who), Sam Tan (The Hunger Games), as well as comic-book realm personalities like Arthur Suydam, Joe Jusko, and Mark Texeira.

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