PalmCon 2015: Comic book lovers invade West Palm Beach

…or at least Palm Beach County Convention Center.


Like never before in Palm Beach County, geek is good, and “nerd” is the word.

Consider: This Saturday and Sunday, PalmCon — a comics and collectibles show — will draw thousands to Palm Beach County Convention Center.

A cult movie series is luring audiences hungry for 60-year-old monster flicks to Lake Worth. And a West Palm Beach tattoo parlor is decorating its walls with images inspired by wizards, Pac-Man and Transformers.

Geekdom has gone mainstream, says Martin Pierro, the 42-year-old founder of PalmCon. “When I was a kid, I was the only guy I knew who watched ‘Dr. Who.’ Now it’s a huge phenomenon.”

And how. Three of the four biggest box office opening weekends of all time were tallied by movies based on comic books: “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Iron Man 3.” (In the No. 1 spot: “Jurassic World.”)

The most anticipated fall movie releases include Danny Boyle’s biopic of Steve Jobs and, of course, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “The Big Bang Theory,” the CBS sitcom about physicists, remains a top TV draw.

When Pierro was a teenager, the local comic scene was limited to a couple of stores and occasional shows at the old Cross County Mall. Loving comics could be lonely.

“Back then there was no Internet,” said Pierro, a Lake Worth comic book publisher. “You had to go to those shows to meet people who were into your hobby.”

Longing to recreate that feeling of camaraderie, Pierro launched PalmCon five years ago in a single room at Lake Worth’s American Polish Club. Attendance has grown steadily every year since.

This year’s offerings will include:

  • Celebrity guests like actors Matthew Wood and Catherine Taber (both of whom have performed in various “Star Wars” vehicles), Chris Harrelson (a featured zombie on “The Walking Dead”) and legendary comic book artist Jose Delbo (“Wonder Woman”);
  • Costume contests for adults and children;
  • An ersatz arcade of old-school video games set up for free play and tables for playing board games like Robo Rally, Battlestar Galactica, Alien Frontiers and Roll for the Galaxy;
  • A Batmobile, a TARDIS and a “Ghostbusters” car;
  • Seventy-five vendors, multiple panel discussions and an “artists’ alley.”

 

“I call it the Disney of comic shows in that we try to include everybody,” Pierro said. “We don’t just try to focus on the twentysomething crowd where the money is.”

In conjunction with PalmCon, Morbid Movies will screen “Godzilla” at Movies of Lake Worth at 9:30 Friday, Sept. 25. The 1954 Japanese film is the fourth offering by the nascent grindhouse club founded by Juno Beach’s Michael Favata.

When West Palm Beach’s Carefree Theatre closed after sustaining roof damage during Hurricane Wilma in 2005, the alternative movie scene took a decade-long hit, said Favata, who enjoys what he calls “pretty much the general geeky stuff” like comic books, horror movies and Magic the Gathering.

Favata finally took it upon himself to rectify that, and so far he’s arranged one-time showings of “Evil Dead 2,” “Battle Royale” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” “It seemed like all the screenings like this were in Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Lauderdale,” Favata said. “Nobody really did it in Palm Beach County.”

People have always wanted “to express their love for nerdy culture,” says Amanda Linton, who owns, with husband JR, West Palm Beach’s Ink and Pistons Tattoo and Piercing, and curates the parlor’s annual Nerdore art show. “It’s just easier now that it has become more mainstream it’s considered cool to be into nerdy things. People aren’t afraid to let their geek flag fly anymore!”

And gaming isn’t limited to comic book stores anymore, although Past Present Future Comics in West Palm Beach offers 11 regularly scheduled gaming opportunities in a typical week.

At Lake Park’s Brewhouse Gallery, for example, each Tuesday evening is “Board Game Night.”

“We’ve had people bring in their own games or just use the ones here,” says owner A.J. Brockman. “Some of the more popular ones include Cards Against Humanity, Pictionary and our retro arcade games as well. We even had some people bring in more complicated set-ups like Dungeons & Dragons, Risk and Magic the Gathering.”

All of this is welcome news for 33-year-old Alison Berrios of Palm Springs, who grew up in Palm Beach County and has watched the geek scene become more inclusive.

“It was definitely a boys club even when I was in high school,” says Berrios, who carries an R2-D2 lunch box to work and will sell handmade “Star Wars” character hats at PalmCon. “Now it’s so much more accepting for everybody. … There are definitely more places to go. People are just more open-minded than they were back then.”

The appeal of events like PalmCon, says Berrios, is “you can’t go to the mall and get this experience. It’s special, and it’s a bonding experience with other geeks.”



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