By WILLIAM PAINE
Six years ago, Gary Bryant, who works at New River Community College’s library, found a Publisher’s Weekly article on his desk about comic book conventions, commonly known as comic-cons, or comic cons. Sandy Smith, library coordinator, was well aware of Bryant’s love of comics, so it wasn’t surprising that she might leave an article about these popular conventions on his desk.
For Bryant, though, this wasn’t a random article but an invitation. That day, Bryant came into Smith’s office and said, “Hey, let’s try it!” That’s how New River Community College Comic-con was conceived.
“I got into comics at an early age and never got over the sickness,” Bryant admitted. Growing up in Glasgow, he watched Superman on his family’s black and white television and soon started collecting comic books featuring Superman, as well as other characters possessing super powers. Much of Bryant’s attraction to comics had to do with art. As a youngster, Bryant made drawings of his favorite superheroes, a pastime he continues to this day.
Bryant attended Madison College (now James Madison University) and worked at the school’s library. After graduating with an art degree in 1975, Bryant attained employment at the Rockbridge County Library. During this time, he submitted drawings that were published in the editorial page of a newspaper based in Lexington.
In 1980, Bryant began working in the design department at Burlington Carpet Factory in Rockbridge County. He designed carpet patterns. The factory job paid well, but “It just wasn’t creative in my way of thinking because, I like drawing people and monsters and things like that.”
When a job became available in the library at New River Community College’s in 1985, he applied, was accepted, and has been working and living in Dublin ever since. In some ways, it wasn’t a big change. “Moving here was sort of like coming to Glasgow. Pulaski was sort of like Buena Vista and Radford is sort of like Lexington. It’s like I moved to the same kind of general area.”
Working at the circulation desk at NRCC, Bryant takes a little flak from time to time. “Some people are very happy and some are not. If they get overdues they may not be happy but we just try to take care of them and straighten it out as friendly and quickly as we can.”
All in all, Bryant enjoys his work as a librarian. “I like it when you find something people are looking for or you show them something that they didn’t even know we had. You know, making people happy.”
But it’s NRCC’s annual comic-con that really sparks his passion.
So, what happens at such an event?
“Comic-con is just a bunch of comic book fans coming together enjoying the same thing and not seeming like they are the nerds or the geeks. Everybody’s the same at comic-con and you find out that a lot of the people you wouldn’t think are nerds, are nerds. Some people dress up in costume so it’s an interesting thing. I’m going to a big one this weekend in Charlotte. That’s a three-day convention and it’s big,” he said.
Though not as large as comic-con gatherings in Charlotte or San Diego, attendance at NRCC’s Comic-con has seen steady growth. The first year, Bryant expected to see 300 attend and was surprised to count 500. Last year’s event drew 1,500 people, many in costume.
Those attending a comic-con can expect variety. “We have vendors where you can buy comics and toys and collectables. We have comic book writers and artists. We have people that are self-publishing comics. We have science fiction and fantasy writers and we have film guests sometimes,” he says.
The event’s centerpiece or theme comes in the form of panel discussions presented by well-known figures in the comic world. “We have panels during the day where the guests talk about different subjects,” Bryant said. “This year, Michael Euri, who was the editor of Back Issue Magazine and Retro Fun Magazine, is going to do an “80 Years of Superman” panel for us. He did one last year on black superheroes and it was great.”
Superman first appeared in Detective Comics (now DC Comics) in June 1938, after appearing in several TV shows and films. The caped crusader is still going strong with plans in the works for yet another movie.
This sits well with Bryant, who has always appreciated the defender of truth, justice and the American way. “I think Superman represents good. That’s my problem with the new movies. They’re too dark,” he said. “That’s why I like Christopher Reeves’ movies. He had a sense of humor and, after all, his powers are based on sunlight, unlike Batman who is supposed to be in the dark and grim. Superman is supposed to be in the light and people can trust him even though he’s an alien.”
This year, NRCC Comic-Con is in October and will be spread out among four large campus buildings. “I definitely could not do this by myself. It takes a village to put this on because we start working on the next one right after the last one ends,” Bryant said.
Presenting one of these comic conventions at a community college is a complex and quirky endeavor, so why do it at all?
“It brings people in who have never been here before,” he explains. “They see what our school is like. They realize that it’s more than just academics. We have a wide range of ages too. We have young kids and older people that remember comic books or maybe it’s a grandparent bringing their child into the show. …We’ve had people come here who have never been here before saying, ‘Wow, you have such a beautiful campus.’ So, it’s just a way to get NRCC out there and have some fun.”
NRCC Comic-con 5 is Saturday, Oct. 27, 10 a.m. to 4p.m.