Anime, games and more: Ocala Comic Con returns


Jim Cembrook as Darth Vader and Roger Paul as a stormtrooper sit at the bar during the 2013 Ocala Comic Con held at Hilton Ocala. The 2014 event runs Saturday and Sunday at the same location.

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Published: Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 1:13 p.m.

Ocala moves into the center of the fantasy universe this weekend.

Facts

Ocala Comic Con

What: Annual fantasy convention
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Ocala Hilton, 3600 SW 36th Ave., Ocala, off College Road at I-75
Cost: $15 daily
Info: www.ocalacomiccon.net

Welcome to Ocala Comic Con II, two days of comic books, anime, “My Little Ponies,” video games, cosplay, board games, Imperial stormtroopers, Pikachu and more — brought to you by a couple of 25-year-olds who visited another fan convention and left thinking, “How difficult could this be?”

How difficult? Well, it’s only consumed their every waking moment for the past few months — and they’ve got between $30,000 and $40,000 of their own money on the line. Though Christopher Major and Donald Gualandri now know just “how difficult,” they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m a fan,” said Major last week after the two inspected a new exhibition pavilion making its debut this weekend in back of Hilton Ocala. Having a fan convention here “saves me having to drive.”

But others will drive; as many as 5,000 other fans of science fiction, fantasy and animation could flock to this fan con’s sophomore year, from as far away as Miami and Savannah, Georgia, even Vermont. The gathering engulfs Saturday and Sunday.

And they’ll get to meet some actual heroes of this universe: among them voice actors David Vincent and J. Michael Tatum; actor Theodus Crane from “The Walking Dead”; manga and anime illustrator Mitsuhiro Arita, making his first return to the U.S. in 14 years; comic book artists Pat Broderick, Austin Janowsky, Jeff Dekal, Ocala’s own Laura DePuy Martin — a 1989 Vanguard High graduate who worked for DC and Marvel Comics and picked up a pouchful of comic book industry awards.

Ocala Comic Con will weave inside and outside the Hilton. There will be the new pavilion, as well as the cavernous Churchill Ballroom and other side rooms that will be jammed with 100 exhibitors and vendors selling “nerd-ware” from anime action figures to comic books, costumes to photo sessions, organizers said.

A large chunk of the fans coming are likely to be cosplayers, folks who dress up as characters from any of the realms of comics, anime (stylized Japanese animation), video games, sci-fi movies and TV. This is normal; cosplayers from masters to beginners say coming in costume is the best way they know to get into the spirit.

This is their escape from the fast-paced, impersonal world beyond the hotel doors.

Plus, it’s a cherished tradition dating back to 1939 when Forrest J. Ackerman and Myrtle R. Jones showed up in costume at the first World Science Fiction Convention.

Planning to attend is Gainesville cosplayer Erin McConnell and her daughter, Skylar Mojica. “Any time there is a con near us it’s a big deal,” she said.

Of course, with the word “comic” in its name, it’s a pretty sure bet that comic books will get a lot of attention at this con.

“Well, it is a comic book convention,” Major said. “Even anime comes from manga, which are Japanese comic books” — which could explain why Gualandri said the name “ ‘Comic Con’ just felt fitting.”

Gualandri, who moved to Ocala from Gainesville in 2004, said as a kid he was “more into movies and television shows” as well as Pokemon — one of the first Japanese anime TV series and video and card games to capture the attention of American youngsters; its icon character, Pikachu, even is a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Going to the Tampa Comic Con with Major a few years back convinced Gualandri there might be an Ocala niche for such a fan con.

“We saw a lot of people there,” Gualandri said.

“So we thought we’d give it a try,” Major added.

His mother, Cheryl Major, said she’s proud of what the two have accomplished. “Last year was the first time, and they didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “They did good.”

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