If you want an idea of how the once-fringe world of comic books, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror has infiltrated the mainstream, you can see it in the Funko Pops. The collectible vinyl figures have exploded in popularity in the last several years; the hundreds of characters represented in Funko toys — in the same big-eyed, wide-faced style — include everyone from Batman to Prince to the Night King.
Funko Pops were all over the place at the Days of the Dead horror convention at the Plaza June 7-9 and the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center June 14-16, and both events drew impressive crowds, albeit on different scales. Days of the Dead put on its first event in Vegas after staging successful conventions in cities including Atlanta and Chicago, and the convention felt a bit like an experiment, from its location to its guest lineup to its collection of vendors. In the Reels of the Dead film festival room, I was sometimes the only person watching the program of horror short films, but there was a substantial audience for events like the costume contest, tattoo contest, and makeup-effects showdown in the main ballroom. And the exhibition floor was bustling the entire time I was there.
Local filmmaker Drew Marvick (Pool Party Massacre), a veteran of the horror-convention circuit, said that he had no idea whether to expect anyone other than his friends to show up, and was pleasantly surprised at the turnout.
“In the past, horror conventions and sci-fi and fantasy conventions, all geek-culture conventions, it was a really niche audience that would come to it,” he said. “You would see the same people at every convention. Now, with the popularity of these huge blockbuster horror movies and franchises like It coming out, now you're getting the everyday person dressed as Georgie from It, coming and bringing their kids and parading them around.” Indeed, Georgie from It was one of the highlights of the costume contest, alongside Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and a version of Jason Voorhees with Golden Knights-themed hockey gear.
At the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Convention, now in its seventh year, the crowds were larger, the vendors more plentiful (occupying an expanded space over the previous year), and there were entire booths devoted solely to Funko Pops.
“I feel like there is more excitement this year, a little more energy this year,” Jay Bosworth, owner of local retail chain Maximum Comics, said. “I’m seeing a lot more children at the convention this year, and families, which to me is a testament that the community’s growing beyond just the fanboys and fangirls. It’s fan families now.” ALVCC has established itself as a fantastic showcase for independent artists, and not only the ones who focus on creating fan art of popular characters.
Joanne Zamudio of local arts group Artistic Flavorz had a presence at both Days of the Dead and the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Convention with her pop-culture art, which she displays at conventions around the country, and while she was disappointed in the foot traffic at Days of the Dead, she sees Vegas overall as a burgeoning market for genre conventions.
“Vegas is definitely growing, and we’re actually seeing people from L.A. come here to do these conventions,” she said. For local artist Justin Legaspi, making his first convention appearance, there was no trouble reaching fans with his original creations. “With all the things here, there’s something for everyone, so I just put it out there,” he said.
The Amazing Las Vegas Comic Convention’s costume contest even included some costumers’ original characters, alongside standbys like Supergirl, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man. Possibly the only fan of the Netflix original film Bright showed up as an impressively detailed orc from the much-maligned Will Smith movie. One great thing about these events reaching the mainstream is that it provides an even bigger niche for properties that are still comparatively obscure. Every indie creator has the chance to inspire cosplay and fan art if they reach the right audience.
At Days of the Dead, prolific local filmmaker Joe Lujan, who’s working to build his own superhero universe with his Immortal Wars movies, recalled meeting Immortal Wars supporting actor Eric Roberts at a convention in the days when he was just a fan. “I was in line for two hours to meet him,” Lujan said. “If it weren’t for that convention, I probably would have never had the opportunity, and now I’m working with him.”