Riding Fandom: Granite State Comic Con getting the band (of comic fans) back together this weekend

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Cosplayer Christopher Lavallee of Manchester dressed as Cobra Emperor Serpentor from GI Joe during GraniteCon 2019. Photo/Ryan Lessard

MANCHESTER, NH – After a year of no comic conventions, they’re back – with special safety COVID-19 safety precautions in place – and Granite State Comic Con (also known as GraniteCon) is among them.

This year will be unique for the way panels and group activities will be spaced out, masks will be required for everyone, with hand sanitizer stations placed throughout the convention center, and a handful of celebrity guests who had signed on for last year’s 40th anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back theme.

GraniteCon is going to be at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel convention center in Manchester on Saturday, Sept. 18 and Sunday, Sept. 19. Admission is $25 for Saturday and $20 for Sunday.

Double Midnight Comics co-owner and GraniteCon organizer Scott Proulx said they started planning last year’s convention not knowing if it would happen.

“I think it was kind of February, March that we started talking about what we were gonna do,” Proulx said. “We were kinda hesitant, we weren’t sure where the pandemic was going, we weren’t sure what people were comfortable with.”

John Ratzenberger, who was a regular on the sitcom Cheers, an extra in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and the iconic voice of the Abominable Snowman in Monsters Inc. and Hamm from Toy Story, and several other Pixar characters, will be one of the celebrity guests at GraniteCon 2021.

They started booking guests like John Ratzenberger and Ray Hasset, who both played rebel soldiers at Echo Base in Empire Strikes Back, as well Mark Capri, who played an imperial officer and Julian Glover, who played imperial General Veers. (Glover, Hasset and Star Wars comic artist Dave Dorman ultimately had to cancel their appearance this year.)

Assistant Yoda puppeteer Dave Barclay was recently announced as well.

Eventually, the decision was made for the organizers when other DoubleTree events started getting cancelled and the state set size restrictions on public events, Proulx said, and GraniteCon 2020 never happened.

Cosplayer Dave Mason of Hooksett as Marvel character Groot with Jyoti Amge, the shortest woman in the world and a celebrity guest, at GraniteCon 2018. Photo/Ryan Lessard

Now that GraniteCon 2021 is nearly upon us, it bears the artifacts of bookings and themes carried over from the original plans for 2020, plus the trappings of a post-COVID world (masks, sanitizing stations, etc.)

Proulx said the guests coming this year are mostly from the region, to make sure they don’t have to travel far, and the small size of the convention has put some of them at ease.

“Ours being on a smaller scale, they’re more comfortable with that, knowing that we’re not going to pack everybody in shoulder to shoulder,” Proulx said. “We wanted to really keep it local. It’s the same with our comic guests.”

He said they got some blowback on social media for creating the mask rule, but the positive feedback outweighed the negative, he said.

“We really debated having people show their vaccine cards, but we want to make sure everybody is safe. Rather safe than sorry,” Proulx said.

In order to spread things out and make it easier for social distancing, organizers took a vendor section that’s usually found in the Armory room and removed it so they could make more room for Kids Con New England activities and cosplay photo booths with groups like Princess Palace, the Massachusetts Ghostbusters, The Finest (a GI Joe and Cobra cosplay group), the 501st Legion and Alderaan Base Star Wars cosplayers and the New England Brethren of Pirates.

The board game lounge will be in the Armory as well, and there will be no video game lounge this year. 

GraniteCon 2019 was Teenage Mutant Ninja-themed. The hotel bar was decorated with this custom balloon art to greet TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman and others. Photo/Ryan Lessard

There will be fewer guest panels and the panels will be held in larger rooms.*

In the main convention floor, they will have one of the largest artist alleys in New England, as usual, Proulx said, and hope to give room for a lot of vendors so comic collectors can pick through a wide selection of aftermarket comics.

“We’re really trying to push the comic vendors. We’re trying to get as many of those as we can on hand,” Proulx said. “We want to make sure that we’re comic-focused.”

The artist alley will feature a ton of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles luminaries, similar to GraniteCon 2019, such as Jim Lawson, Steve Lavigne, Freddie Williams II and Ben Bishop. Ron Marz, Joel Christian Gill, Keith Champagne, J.K. Woodward and others will also be on hand.

The access badges this year feature cover art of various books published by Black Caravan, a locally-based imprint of Scout Comics helmed by Rich Woodall of New Hampshire and Joseph Schmalke of Maine, who will be there selling their books and exclusive image variant covers.

Sunday will have more of the kid-friendly activities such as a sketch-off with artists, and a kid’s costume contest. The adult costume contest will be on Saturday.

Wild Bill’s will be serving soda, and there will be a free COVID vaccine clinic available for folks to walk in without an appointment. All three approved vaccines are available. 

Great North Aleworks of Manchester brewed a special beer for the event called the Abominable Snow Cone Shandy, a reference to Ratzenberger’s character in Monsters Inc. It will be on tap at several downtown bars and restaurants.

Again for safety reasons, GraniteCon is not selling any VIP ticket levels or hosting any post-convention events.

Proulx said they’re not capping attendance since they never reach the building’s fire capacity in a normal year, and they expect attendance to be lower than a normal year due to people choosing to avoid crowds. 

“We totally get it,” Proulx said.

They’ll have a private security firm on hand to deal with any attendees who are not cooperative. 

GraniteCon held its first convention in 2003 with just a single panel room and one day. They later moved to the Armory. Eventually, they grew to take over the entire hotel convention space and have been a two-day event for roughly the past decade.

The first Double Midnight Comics store opened in Manchester in 2002, and they’ve had a Concord location for the past eight years. Co-owner Chris Proulx recently announced that the Concord store will be relocating on Oct. 1 from their Main Street location to 341 Loudon Road.

The move was necessitated by the building owners wanting the space to expand the Draft Sports Bar & Grill / Concord Casino, but Chris said the new location has a much better parking situation.

*Disclosure: The writer of this article will be participating in GraniteCon as a paying guest in artist alley and a panel featuring indie comic creators.