Lexi Angel, 30, poses for a photo cosplaying as Pinkie Pie from “My Little Pony: Equestria Girls” at Catalyst Café in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Angel is speaking on a panel called “Body Positivity In The Cosplay Community” at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Lexi Angel, 30, poses for a photo cosplaying as Pinkie Pie from “My Little Pony: Equestria Girls” at Catalyst Café in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Angel is speaking on a panel called “Body Positivity In The Cosplay Community” at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Annual nerd migration draws locals to Emerald City Comic Con

Geeks from across Snohomish County are in the tractor beam for the state’s big comic and pop culture convention in Seattle.

SEATTLE — Nearly 100,000 people are expected to descend upon Seattle this week for the 20th annual Emerald City Comic Con. The largest convention of its kind in the state will be held Thursday through Sunday at the newly expanded Seattle Convention Center.

Businesses and artists from across Snohomish County will have vendor booths at the con, and several locals are hosting game tournaments, panels and other activities.

Kel Skonberg, 33, of Marysville, called ECCC “a highlight of my year.” This is the sixth ECCC for the freelance audio and video editor. It’s a place where Skonberg can gather with other fans of their favorite shows and see friends visiting from out of state.

“During the pandemic I lost touch with a lot of my local friends,” Skonberg said. “So it’s really neat having these opportunities to meet up with folks who are coming from all over.”

Here are some of the most noteworthy events and local people who will be at this year’s Comic Con.

Celebrity meet-and-greets

Actors, writers, artists and other performers will be at ECCC for fan meet and greets, photo ops and autograph signings. This year’s guest of honor is actor Mark Ruffalo, aka “The Incredible Hulk.” Another superhero in attendance is Stephen Amell, who played Green Arrow on TV for eight seasons.

Fans can pay to meet actors like James Marsters, who played Spike in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” along with Matthew Lillard, who is best known for voicing Shaggy Rogers in “Scooby Doo” animated shows and movies.

David Tennant of “Doctor Who” fame, “Matilda” star Mara Wilson and several actors from the shows “Twin Peaks” and “The Mandalorian” will also be there.

Skonberg wants to grab an autograph from three actors from the show “Our Flag Means Death,” specifically Vico Ortiz. They plan to give the actors a small painting they made in appreciation.

“Vico Ortiz is one of the first nonbinary actors that I’ve ever seen in a show that I’ve really connected with,” Skonberg said. “And so being able to get an autograph from them, and meet them, means a lot to me.”

Exhibitors

ECCC lists 779 exhibitors on its website for this year’s con, selling anything and everything a geek or nerd could want. Several of those vendors are local businesses, including Phantom Zone Comics in Lynnwood (Booth No. 10119), Bobakhan Toys in Everett (Booth No. 10829) and Everett Comics (Booth No. 10228). Twin sisters and comic artists Kelly and Nichole Matthews, of Lynnwood, will be at Booth F-22 under their online handle KickingShoes.

Jessica Houston, 32, of Snohomish, will staff Booth No. 11710 under the name Snohomish Sandcarving. Houston specializes in engraved mugs and glassware and believes her “quirky stuff” is a good fit for ECCC. She anticipates her “Last of Us” themed merch to be a hot-seller due to the new HBO show, but is trying her best to be stocked up on everything.

“I’m not sure exactly what to expect,” Houston said. “So I’m just working like crazy trying to get everything ready and make sure I have enough.”

Gaming

ECCC will have demos for video games, live-action role playing games, miniature figure games and more. Matt Zaremba, 45, owner of Zulu’s Board Game Cafe in Bothell, organized several board and card game tournaments. Players can duke it out for prizes on level four in the Terrace Suite Lobby, a space Zaremba said is “arguably the best room” at the con, as it overlooks the rooftop garden.

Zaremba organized more than 20 demo tables where people can learn to play games like “Magic: The Gathering” and “The Pokémon Trading Card Game.”

Game designers from Catalyst Game Labs will demo the board game BattleTech, which Zaremba said is a rare opportunity and “for people who care, it’ll be amazing.”

The game Zaremba is pushing the hardest this year is “KLASK.” The Danish game is like air hockey but smaller and with magnets. The winner of the “KLASK” tournament will receive a custom 2023 ECCC “KLASK” board.

The game is one of many Zaremba picked up at The Essen Game Fair in Germany. Zaremba scoops up new games at conventions overseas and showcases them back home before they’re officially released stateside.

Seattle-area players of the medieval combat live-action role-playing game Amtgard — which has a lively LARP chapter in Mill Creek — will set up on level three in the Garden Lounge. They’ll have an armory of 300 foam swords people can try out, plus different events hosted throughout the con.

“We’re going to bring people in there, show them how it’s done,” said Amtgard player James Woods of Seattle. “We’ll have hundreds of noobs just fighting all the time.”

Arielle Kelton-Wafstet, 27, poses for a photo cosplaying as Misa from “Death Note” at Catalyst Café in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. She will be attending Emerald City Comic Con this year. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Arielle Kelton-Wafstet, 27, poses for a photo cosplaying as Misa from “Death Note” at Catalyst Café in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. She will be attending Emerald City Comic Con this year. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Cosplay Central

Events like ECCC are filled with people who cosplay, which means to dress up as fictional characters from shows, films, comic books and video games. One of them is Beki Knox, 40, a massage therapist from Marysville who has cosplayed since 1997.

She said her best known cosplay is of the Marvel superhero Thor. Some people attend conventions just to show off their outfits.

“You could just dress up at Halloween, but that’s one day a year,” Knox said. “Having conventions gives you the opportunity to dress up as more characters and be immersed in the fandom.”

Cosplayer, burlesque and drag performer Lexi Angel, 30, of Everett, will be attending ECCC this year dressed as Pinkie Pie from “My Little Pony: Equestria Girls.” Angel started cosplaying as a teenager and said the hobby has grown to include a wider variety of people since then.

“There was a period of time where it wasn’t necessarily the most popular thing in the world,” Angel said. “Now, so much of this stuff has become mainstream, that people you wouldn’t even expect to attend cons would go.”

Attendees are sure to see cosplayers as they walk about the event, or they could watch some of the best compete Saturday in The Cosplay Central Crown Championships. The winner receives a cash prize and a chance to compete in the U.S. final in Chicago.

Panels

Panels are another con staple. ECCC on its website lists 750 different speaking events and screenings happening throughout the four days.

Knox is hosting two of them: Body Positivity in the Cosplay Community and RWBY Sing Along!

Speakers at the Body Positivity panel will share harassment horror stories. The goal is to build solidarity among folks who have had negative experiences with cosplaying and show they’re not alone. Speakers will discuss ways to support people of all different body types who want to dress up.

Angel, who will also be speaking on the Body Positivity panel, wants a world where people aren’t afraid to dress however they like.

“We’re all adults that like to dress up, and that in itself is a childlike thing. So it seems silly to me when the people are gatekeeping,” Angel said. “As a plus-sized person and a disabled person, I don’t always fit the description of certain characters, but I still dress like them. It’s all about having fun.”

Knox’s other panel will bring people together to watch music videos of songs from the anime show “RWBY” and do group karaoke. People dance and some attendees come dressed as characters from the show.

The Body Positivity event will be on Friday at 5:15 p.m. in room 443 and the “RWBY” singalong will be 6:30 p.m. that same day in room 420.

Lynnwood’s Matthews twins will speak at the Writing & Illustrating for Tweens panel at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in rooms 340 and 341. The duo has drawn 14 graphic novels to date and are working on the graphic novel adaptation of the “Magic Tree House” children’s book series.

Artist Alley

You can find graphic artists like Todd Rayner, 48, of Arlington, visiting Artist Alley. It’s here comic creators set up shop to autograph books, sell their works and meet fans and fellow creators like Rayner. The ECCC online lists 379 artist booths to be at this year’s con.

Since 2018, Rayner has self-published an indie comic series called “Icepick” and crowd funded printing through Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Originally Rayner created these comics by himself, but over the years he has hired other artists to work on the project. Rayner decided not to have a booth at ECCC this year, but plans to attend and try to recruit people there who match his art style for future projects.

Rayner enjoys the “surprise factor” of Artist Alley. Some artists cancel and get replaced last minute, so there’s an air of mystery surrounding who’ll be there.

Rayner has attended ECCC off and on since 2012, and in that time, he said the convention has become less about comics and more about pop culture.

“It has shifted definitely towards more celebrity focus, and that gets a different crowd,” Rayner said. “It’s not good or bad. It’s just different.”

Artist Alley is the biggest draw for Skonberg and where they spend most of their money to collect indie comics, zines, short stories and art from local creators.

“We have so many art prints that we still need to frame from years past,” Skonberg said.

If you go

Emerald City Comic Con is held Thursday through Sunday at Seattle Convention Center Summit Building, 900 Pine St., Seattle. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., except Sunday, when it ends at 5 p.m.

Thursday tickets are $42.75, with the other three days costing $62.75 each. There are also several ticket bundles and packages available online at emeraldcitycomiccon.com.

Speaking to those who have attended before, the No. 1 piece of advice given for first time attendees is to drink plenty of water. It’s easy to get dehydrated with all the walking. Don’t forget to take snack breaks and to plan things out ahead of time as several events happen simultaneously. It’s impossible to hit up every panel, but some events are filmed and posted online.

And some words of wisdom from Rayner: “You are probably going to spend more than you want.”

Eric Schucht: 425-339-3477; eric.schucht@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @EricSchucht.

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