Rick Fortenberry knows a few things about running a comic book show. After running his first show almost 20 years ago, Fortenberry, along with business partner David Hinson, started up the Charlotte ComiCon in 2002, after Fortenberry had taken 2001 off from the show circuit. That first Charlotte, North Carolina show, "was small but exciting. We moved to a bigger room as the show continued to expand, but we've stayed in this hotel (The Crowne Plaza), over the years," Rick said. When asked about his experience in working with this hotel, which has gone through several name changes, Fortenberry described the experience as, "Wonderful. They have been very helpful and the room set up is perfect or as close to perfect as you can get. It's one of the best experiences I've had."
It's a good thing that the hotel aspect is well done. He estimates that he and Hinson spend close to 40 or 50 man hours prepping for a show, but that the main drive comes from a, "love of comics. From since I was seven years old I've read comics. I took a break for a while, but the John Byrne and Chris Claremont X-Men stuff got me hooked back in. I especially love the Golden, Silver and Bronze Age issues. I don't really read too many new things."
Fortenberry also noted that there have been some interesting trends over the past few years with the comic book conventions he's worked. "In a lot of ways things haven't changed that much. I noticed in the 1990's we saw less and less kids. When I began in the 80's though, half the crowd was under 18. In the last six or eight years, I see a lot more kids and that's good for the hobby." He attributes a lot of that growth and success with younger readers to the superhero movies that are so popular now with various age groups. "Whatever it takes to grow the hobby," he added.
When asked about the economy's impact on comic book shows, Fortenberry offered some surprising opinions on what he was seeing, especially at recent shows. "The economy really hasn't hurt us that bad. I've been through three recessions, and comics always seem to weather the storm better than things like sports cards." I asked him to explain the difference with those two areas and he offered this answer without hesitation, "The comics crowd is a little less driven by economic factors. You can give up buying sports cards and still watch sports. You can't do that with comics."
Even in looking at the ever-emerging world of online and digital comics, he saw that as a "natural part of the growth of the industry. One-fourth of the guests and artists we've had over the years do mostly or completely online comics. It's a natural thing," and not something that he said he was worried about for the future of the comic book show as a whole.
All of those factors certainly seemed to be working in his favor this Sunday, as by 1:30PM the show had already had over 250 visitors, after opening around 10:00AM. "We want dealers to make money, we want people to find good deals, and we really just want people to have a good time."
With incentives such as an hourly raffle for prizes, free Marvel art prints to the first 200 guests and a main charity raffle prize of a CGC 9.8 Amazing Spider-Man #583, Obama variant cover, it's no wonder attendance was high. At the end of the day, Fortenberry felt confident that the show had broken its previous attendance record of over 325 people. Final numbers were not available at press time.
With another show scheduled for July 12th, it's certain that Fortenberry will bring the same enthusiasm, experience and love for comics that his many visitors share when they enter those double-doors and step into a four-color world, even for just a few hours.