By the fans, for the fans; FantastiCon is on a mission to keep geek culture fun without breaking the bank

A group of cosplayers pose for a photograph at a past Fantasticon.

In 2013, two childhood friends and longtime comic book enthusiasts set out to organize a convention for pop culture fans who couldn't afford to attend more expensive shows.

Now, after five years of successful events across Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, FantastiCon is reaching a new community of fans by coming to Mount Pleasant.

"We wanted to do a show that was more family-friendly and affordable," said Joe Nieporte, president of Funfest Events and one of the co-founders of FantastiCon. "We still offer everything the bigger shows do, just on a smaller scale and at a more affordable price."

FantastiCon will take place Saturday, Nov. 11 and Sunday, Nov. 12 at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort Entertainment Hall. Saturday passes cost $7.50 in advance and $12 at the door, Sunday passes are $5 in advance and $8 at the door. Two-day passes are available in advance for $10.

After a "one-time" show in 2009 at the Emerald Theatre in Mount Clemens, Nieporte and his business partner, comic artist and publisher Martin Hirchak, organized the first series of FantastiCon shows in Metro Detroit in 2013, and the show has continued ever since. 

Nieporte has worked in the entertainment business his entire professional life. Before becoming president of Funfest Events, Nieporte owned the Emerald Theatre for 10 years, managed the State Theatre in Detroit (now called The Fillmore) throughout the 1990s and managed bands in the 1980s.

In the early days of comic conventions, before "geek culture" developed the mainstream popularity it enjoys today, admission was less expensive.

"Shows went from being $10 like they were 15 years ago, to being $50 just to get in," Nieporte said. "If there's somebody from one of the 'Star Wars' or 'Star Trek' movies, or an actor from 'The Walking Dead,' that's another $40 or $50 to get an autograph and another $50 to get a picture with them."

A big reason why some comic conventions are expensive is because they focus heavily on getting big-name stars to attend, Nieporte said.

Setting the stage

Soaring Eagle approached the organizers of FantastiCon earlier this year to discuss bringing the convention to Mount Pleasant. 

At first, Nieporte said, they were hesitant to bring the show to Mount Pleasant because they've never held a convention at a casino before – previous FantastiCon shows were all held in convention centers.

"I didn't know what to expect from a casino, though (Soaring Eagle) has been great to work with," Nieporte said.

This FantastiCon will need to draw more than 2,000 attendees during its two days to be considered successful, Nieporte said. 

As of Wednesday, Nov. 8, Nieporte said the Mount Pleasant show has sold more advance tickets than any previous show, and Funfest Events expects between 2,000 and 3,000 people to show up. Nieporte said he has every intention of bringing FantastiCon back to Mount Pleasant as a yearly show if the demand is there.

Nieporte and the other organizers are expecting a "very good show" for the Mount Pleasant event, he said. 

FantastiCon will feature eight special guests from throughout the entertainment industry, including:

  • Comic book artists Arvell Jones, Scott Rosema and Jason Moore
  • Michael L. Peters, author, illustrator and publisher of the graphic novel "Crescent City Magick: Welcome to New Orleans"
  • Joe Cooley, a professional magician from Bay City
  • Matthew Atchley, a professional artist known for his illustrations of film and television characters
  • Daniel Philips, a makeup special effects artist who has worked on films like "The Hobbit" and "Oz the Great and Powerful"
  • Actor Eugene Clark, best known for his role as the zombie 'Big Daddy' in "Land of the Dead"
  • Tugg the Superhero Dog, a celebrity bull terrier who became famous after being rescued from abuse by police officers in Fort Worth, Texas

There will also be an appearance from members of the Star Wars 501st Legion, an international volunteer group known for creating and dressing up in screen-accurate replica costumes of villains from the "Star Wars" film series. 

Members of the Great Lakes Ghostbusters Coalition, a Michigan-based community of "Ghostbusters" fans, will also be present.

Life-size replicas of the DeLorean Time Machine from "Back to the Future" and KITT, the car from the "Knight Rider" television series, will be featured. A trivia contest will also take place, as well as two cosplay contests — one each for adults and children.

Geek culture in Mount Pleasant

FantastiCon may be the first convention of its size to come to Mount Pleasant, but the city is already home to a passionate, tightly-knit pop culture fandom.

Alma freshmen Amber Matthews thinks a FantastiCon could bring more attention to fan culture in Mount Pleasant. A fan of science fiction, fantasy and cosplay, Matthews has attended the AlmaCon event in her hometown.

"(Conventions) can be a nice distraction from day-to-day life," Matthews said.  

Michael Travis-Shuler has owned Hall of Heroes, Mount Pleasant's only comic book store, since 2005. Travis-Shuler believes the "nerd" community in Mount Pleasant is sizable, especially given the city's size.

"(FantastiCon) would be a way to bring awareness to the pop culture community," Travis-Shuler said.

After The Frozen Orc, a card and game shop formerly located on Mission Street, moved locations in August, Hall of Heroes now shares a monopoly on Mount Pleasant nerd culture with Game On, which came to the city in August 2016.

Luke Bishop, a Harrison native, has been an employee of Mount Pleasant's Game On since it opened. With two other locations in Michigan, the store's opening in Mount Pleasant was inspired by the community's need for a dedicated venue for tabletop games, specifically the collectible card game "Magic: The Gathering."

"It's a pretty big community here, a lot more than I thought when I originally moved here," Bishop said. "It's a tight-knit community as well. A lot of people are really helpful when people come in trying to get into newer hobbies."

Bishop became interested in "Magic" in high school after a professor at a college he was visiting taught him how to play the game. Having attended Grand Rapids Comic Con in the past, Bishop thinks a FantastiCon could be beneficial for Mount Pleasant's community.

"I went in (to Grand Rapids Comic Con) a little iffy because I wasn't sure if I would like it, thinking, 'it's all nerd stuff,'" Bishop said. "But I liked it – it was a pretty sweet experience. I think its a good thing for the community." 

Though he hasn't attended similar events in the past, Clinton Township senior Marcel Pigeon is interested in FantastiCon due to its more affordable nature.

"Everybody says they're a 'broke college student' and nobody wants to do something that costs too much money," Pigeon said. "($10) seems like a perfect price. How can you say no?"

By bringing shows to smaller communities and markets that don't often see conventions of this scale, Nieporte believes FantastiCon is a great way to celebrate pop culture fandom.

"We get a lot of support and a lot of 'thank yous' from some of the people that come to our shows," Nieporte said. "They're are very affordable, and we put on a good show – we have all the elements that you can have in a show.

"What we're about is making it affordable and bringing these shows to smaller markets that don't have events like this."