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Joliet Area Historical Museum becomes hub for comic books, fantasy art

The Joliet Area Historical Museum was transformed Sept. 23 into a hub fit for fans and creators of comic books and fantasy art.

In its second year under its current name, the Galaxy Comic Book and Fantasy Art Expo took over the museum to create a space for people to come together.

From an artist demonstration to a live podcast taping and trivia contests to panel discussions, the convention featured a plethora of activities for people to enjoy.

“I think we have a nice, steady flow of traffic,” said Jody McQuarters, expo founder and organizer. ”There’s not a big mob scene at one time. It just steadily comes in throughout the day.”

The idea behind holding the expo started when McQuarters was helping the Joliet Public Library to put on its annual Star Wars Day.

“I had so much fun with that, and I go, ‘You know what I’d like to do my own comic book convention,’” he said. “After I figured out what I wanted to do keeping [the experience] like it was when I was a kid, I put the puzzle pieces together [and] I started seeking out the artists.”

The appreciation McQuarters has received from fans of his convention is amazing, he said.

“They said, ‘Wow, this is a great show,’ and word spread from there,” McQuarters said. “They come back every year now.”

On average, the Galaxy Comic Book and Fantasy Arts Expo brings in between 200 and 500 people.

Attendee Lee Giernoth said he is glad he decided to drop in for the convention with his family.

“We came all the way up from Lake Villa,” he said. “[My son’s] really excited about the superheroes.”

This year was Giernoth’s first time attending the expo.

“I am [a big fan of comic books and superheroes] just from being a kid,” he said. “The superheroes that I liked, [my son’s] really enjoying. [I’m] trying to get him connected with some of the stuff that I used to like and the toys.”

The expo featured more than 40 artists, writers and other special guests this time around.

Rafael Nieves, formerly of Marvel Comics, greeted fans and aspiring creators as they approached his booth.

“I love talking about comics and not only the media, but the business of it, as well as the technical aspects,” he said.

During his time with Marvel, Nieves worked on a book called “Hell Storm,” which is a reimagining of the old “Son of Satan” comic from the 1980s.

“That was fun,” he said. “I did about six issues of that.”

Nieves picked up an interest in writing for comic books seeing the way his brother was drawn to reading them.

“I loved the idea of writing stories that bring people in and engage them, and I love writing horror because I like how you can take ordinary people, and put them in extraordinary situations, and watch the way they react,” he said. “You know, superhero comics are all about us being better than we are. Horror comics kind of show us at our very worst. I love holding up the mirror to society to ourselves. It’s cool because you can do all kinds of emotional things with comics, and you don’t have to have a big action scene on every page. You can build excitement and drama and mystery and terror, and it’s fun. It’s fun manipulating the reader that way.”

Nieves encourages anyone who is passionate about entering the comic book industry to pursue it, and went on to say it’s a great time to get started.

“Publishing comics is infinitely easier than it was when I started, and I’ve been self-publishing comics for almost 25 years,” he said. “If I had the resources then that young people do now to create comics, I’d be making them everyday if I could. It’s exciting.”

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