We decided to do something out of our comfort zone this weekend so we packed up the car with our most nerd-friendly apparel and headed to Columbia for a weekend of comics and hip-hop at the Cola-Con.
When we arrived on Friday, there could have been crickets. We actually thought we were at the wrong convention center because no one was walking in or out. Granted, we were there at 2 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, but we have to say we were expecting more. Cola-Con might’ve outgrown the Museum of Art from its first two years, but the Columbia Convention Center seemed to swallow the event whole.
Twenty-some vendors clustered together in the center of the room displaying their comic books, graphic novels, custom drawings, graffiti artwork, and jewelry, but trying to find over a couple dozen event-goers was a difficult feat. We did manage to see a half-naked woman being painted as a superhero, but not many people were paying attention to her. Some elementary school kids seemed to have conned their parents into taking them on a school day, and die-hards ventured table to table to see the wares. Chalking it up to the time of day, we escaped to a restaurant that sold sushi and tacos (wonders never cease) and made it back in time for the “Going to War to Make Comics” panel.
One of the first panels of the convention, it started about fifteen minutes late with a lost, and never found, moderator. “We weren’t even sure this was going to happen, it’s so early in the day,” explained War is Boring writer David Axe. The lack of audience made it really easy to talk to the panelists about their times in Afghanistan and Syria, but it also made for many uncomfortable silences.
Attendants filled up half the room for the Blaxploitation panel later that day. Cola-Con founder Preach Jacobs moderated the discussion of the evolvement of black artists in media and the struggle between telling a personal story and the collective community’s story. While the talk continued, a DJ could be heard in the grand room starting his set, more vendors moved in, and people were arriving for The Foreign Exchange. It made us more hopeful for the Con’s chances.
On Saturday, Preach Jacobs talked to us about the convention’s seemingly slow beginning. “This is only our third year. Other cons have been going on for years and have a reputation where people take off of work and school to go. We’re not there yet. We’ve also received push back about our hip-hop description — not from all sides but it’s there. It’s an uphill battle.”
Meckkeh, a teenager, explored the booths with his best friend and had his hands full with drawings and comics he had just bought. “He’s actually the one [pointing to his friend] that got me into comics when I was really young. I’ve been following it ever since.”
Jake Williams of Sentinel Sheep Studios lit up when we talked to him about his art. He was surrounded by stylized renderings of his favorite superheroes while he inked a picture of Spiderman in a sticky situation. “In second grade I had a friend that got all the girls’ attention because he would draw pictures of Jem for them,” he said. “I wanted that so I started drawing because I was jealous.”
We walked into the convention hall one last time before heading home. The painted girl had multiplied into four superhero vixens, the vendors were busy showing off, and the attendees began milling around, waiting for Dead Prez to perform. All was right in the city of Cola and it was time to head back home. CCP, up, up, and away!