Charlotte's Heroes Convention grows, marks 32nd year

Once considered a symbol of nerdiness, comic books are cooler than ever. Comic book superheroes break records at the box office and on television, where TV’s geeks are its biggest stars and every series from “Supernatural” to “Doctor Who” wants (and gets) the comic book treatment.

The popularity of comic book conventions has followed suit, with record-breaking attendance. The Heroes Convention (aka HeroesCon) – taking place this weekend at the Charlotte Convention Center – is now 32 years old, and has expanded from 100,000 square feet in 2012 to 200,000 square feet last year.

This year’s HeroesCon is packed with events, panels, vendors and more. Check out some of the weekend activities here:

Exclusive ConArt (aka a ConBack): The big news is HeroesCon will display the first new work from “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson in nearly 20 years. Watterson, who retired after completing the strip in 1995, secretly collaborated with artist Stephan Pastis on Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine” strip. Their three original strips will be displayed this weekend before being auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting the Michael J. Fox Foundation. A panel Friday will discuss how the art was created and how it premiered in Charlotte.

The Guest List: HeroesCon’s guest list would fill a small phone book, but notable names include “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” co-creator Kevin Eastman (a new TMNT film bows in August) and artist Bill Sienkiewicz (“Elektra: Assassins,” “Marvel’s New Mutants”), who is guest of honor at Saturday’s Inkwell Awards.

Heroes and Anti-Heroes: Marvel, DC, Archie, “Archer,” “Love and Rockets,” “Sex Criminals,” Valiant, Western comics, horror, pulps and, of course, the lesser-known independent comics of Indie Island will all be well-represented in panels and on the con floor. Other special events include the 20th anniversary of TwoMorrows Publishing, as well as a tribute to artist Jack Kirby and a memorial for Nick Cardy.

EduCon: Fledgling artists and writers interested in careers in comics can learn all about the biz with panels and discussions on inking, penciling, writing, humor, comic strips, sequential art and coloring, as well as four technique-specific workshops on topics like anatomy and animal drawing presented by the Savannah College of Art and Design. Other seminars cover teaching comics and comics in journalism. Elsewhere, panelists discuss timely topics like LGBT characters, censorship, online comics, transitioning from online to print and self-publishing.

CON Cosplay: Cons equal costumes, and cosplay – short for “costume play” – is on the rise. Join SyFy’s “Heroes of Cosplay” star Riki LeCotey (who has worked in makeup and effect on films like “X-Men: First Class” and TV’s “Teen Wolf”) and other cos-enthusiasts for a panel discussion and Q&A before showing off your cos-work at the costume contest Sunday.

CONTests: In addition to costume contests for both kids and adults, 20-minute quick-draw contests for all ages take place daily.

CONCause: The fourth annual HeroesCon/Team Cul de Sac Drink and Draw in the Hilton lobby Friday features superhero-themed drinks, live art, live music and a chance to purchase original art in a more intimate setting than the convention floor, while mingling with some of the guests to raise funds for Parkinson’s disease research.

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