When Nathan O'Brien made the move from Seattle to Spokane more than a decade ago, he was shocked to discover that the Lilac City had nothing even remotely close to the Emerald City's comic convention, a three-day geekfest that annually attracts tens of thousands of fans.
Locals told him nothing like it had been held here for at least 13 years. So he decided to do something about it.
"[In Seattle], you can easily go to four to five shows a year, and to come over here and there was nothing, I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this seems wrong.'" O'Brien recalls. "Going to some of these other shows in Seattle, I got to meet the artists and professionals and had seen them time after time, so I knew I could talk to some of them to get them to come over here and take a chance on a first-year show."
That first year, in 2007, about 300 people showed up to browse 18 vendor booths at the event on Gonzaga University's campus. A few years later, O'Brien moved Spokane Comicon, as it was then called, to Spokane Community College's Lair. Last year, the con — rebranded as Lilac City Comicon — graduated to the big exhibit halls of the Spokane Convention Center.
"When I first started doing it, I never imagined it going 10-plus years," O'Brien says. "It's not even close to as big as Emerald City [Comicon] or San Diego, but it fits for Spokane because it's affordable and fun. People look forward to it — I've run into people who've gone almost every year since year one or two."
Last year, Lilac City Comicon hosted 115 vendors and welcomed 4,200 guests. For its big 10-year anniversary, O'Brien has doubled the size of the show floor to host more vendors, artists and other guests across 50,000 square feet.
This year's special guests include major professional comic book artists, a YouTube channel star, professional cosplayers and actors, many from the Inland Northwest. To preview the show, we talked with three locally based pop culture contributors, all featured guests for its 10th year.
Alaska Mauve (cosplayer)
To look more like Game of Thrones' Daenerys Targaryen, Alaska Mauve dyes her long locks the same silvery, platinum blonde as the Mother of Dragons character. Getting her start in creative fashion as a model (which she still is), Mauve, 23, entered the world of cosplaying a year and a half ago.
"I think people are getting more comfortable with geekiness," she notes. "Being a nerd is not something to be ashamed of anymore. You can be excited about being smart and being a fan of more cerebral entertainment."
In addition to her three different Daenerys costumes, which she'll showcase at the Comicon, this Spokane native has also created an ensemble based on the Sucker Punch film character Babydoll. Other costumes in her repertoire include one of the wives from Mad Max: Fury Road and Kaylee from the sci-fi show Firefly.
"Every time I wear my costume in public places, people have been incredibly kind to me," she says. "I don't think Spokane is unkind to cosplay, they're just not used to it."
Meet Alaska at table G5, and take photos with her in the Cosplay Lounge from 2-3 pm. See her work on the Facebook page "Alaska Mauve" and on Instagram @alaskamauve.
Colton Worley professional (comic book artist)
Working as an artist for pulp comic house Dynamite Entertainment since 2009, Colton Worley's work has appeared in titles such as The Spider, Dracula, Kato Origins and Battlestar Galactica. After growing up in Spokane, Worley studied graphic design at Spokane Falls Community College, and then worked a few "normal, everyday jobs for a few years."
That all changed when he decided to send out some samples of his work to various comic book publishers.
"I sent out a whole mess of them, and Dynamite was the first one to respond and asked for more samples," Worley says. "They asked me to do Dracula and I said 'Sure.' I've been working for them ever since."
At Lilac City, Worley will have a table selling prints of his work, along with comic books he's illustrated. He'll also do sketches for fans; he looks forward to meeting them and hearing their opinions.
Meet Colton at table G2, and see more of his work on the Facebook page "Artist Colton Worley."
Rayce Bird (special effects makeup artist/creator)
Rayce Bird conjures up monsters for a living. Sort of.
The Idaho native describes his work as "more in the monster-making and creature realm than anything else. Most of my stuff has an alien vibe, but I also do more of the friendly stuff."
By friendly, he means creatures that look more goofy than scary. Bird got his big break thanks to a stint on Season 2 of the Syfy reality TV competition Face Off, which he won. He's since gone back to judge and mentor other competitors for later seasons.
While many of his creations have been for movies he says no one's heard of, Bird is currently working on several concepts for projects he can't talk about publicly yet. When he's not working on special effects projects for the screen, Bird teaches design and visualization at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
Of all the cons and related events he's been to, Bird looks forward most to attending Lilac City as an exhibitor each year.
"The whole feeling and mood of it is very down-to-earth and more like a community," he says. "It has more heart to it than the other cons... Here, you feel like you're a part of the program — like you're amongst family."
Meet Rayce at table G9, and see more of his work at raycebird.com. ♦
Lilac City Comicon • Sat, May 14, from 10 am-5 pm • $5/ages 5-12; $12/ages 13+; $25/VIP • Spokane Convention Center • 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. • lilaccitycomicon.com