ONTARIO — Hundreds of comic book artists, costumed characters and memorabilia members poured into the Western Treasure Valley’s inaugural Comic Con at Four Rivers Cultural Center Saturday.
The Border Town Comic Con was designed to gather local comic enthusiasts together for something “new and different,” according to Peter Lawson, who stepped up to help with the logistical side of the event. This is the first type of event to be held in the area and was created by Randall Kirby, a longtime resident of Ontario and the creator of Bop Comics.
Kirby has been collecting comics since he was in grade school and has amassed more than 14,000 in his collection. He said he chose to pursue a career in comics. Following art school, Kirby landed jobs with publications and also did self publishing.
Before the event, Kirby raised funds to supplement a grant he received to put on the event. Local organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and Treasure Valley Community College helped spread the word as well. Kirby said he heard several people were interested in attending and that many were going to dress up.
Kirby said he was hoping for a good turnout so that the event could continue on in the future. And he got it.
Several attendees, like Kitty Waite, traveled from as far away as Boise to attend the event. Waite said she has been in the “con scene” for 13 years, and was dressed in her signature Spider Woman costume, which she originally created for a charity event. People requested pictures with her as she circled through the space.
“I grew up when this kind of stuff was frowned upon and we were bullied, and I do whatever I can to try and promote a community where people are safe and can be themselves and express themselves in a fun and creative manner,” Waite said of why she attended. “Don’t ever be afraid to be yourself.”
Lawson, of the Ontario Food Bank, said he is excited about having something unusual in the community that families can attend.
“One of the things that is great about it is it’s raising awareness about all these other characters and stories that comics can be; there’s really so much more involved than Superman or Batman,” Lawson said about the event.
In addition to vendors, the event featured panels to discuss comic book art, comics as literature and how to get published.
The main feature, though, focused on comic book artists and writers who grew up in Malheur County including Jon Keithley and Shanae Lavelle.
Keithley and Lavelle both grew up and attended school in Malheur County and said they fell in love with the craft at an early age. For his senior project, Keithley shadowed Kirby for his last year of school and learned about the art of comic books from creation to publication.
Lavelle’s passion began with a little-known Wonder Woman comic that came in a box of cereal.
“As a girl I was like, ‘Oh good, there’s something for me out there,’” Lavelle said.
The two met in Ontario about 10 years ago and began creating comic books under the name Mystery House Comics, which was based on the house where they met with many other friends who contribute to the business.
“We both had our roots in comics as kids, and as we were young adults and we just never let go of it. And then through the years… you finally decide that this is something I still really love and want to do something with it,” Lavelle said.
The duo, now based in Boise, hold gatherings with local comic writers, artists and enthusiasts to pass on knowledge of both the creation and the process of getting published, as Kirby did for Keithley. They also pair up writers and illustrators under a common theme to create a book which they then publish.
“Every step of the way we kind of had this mission of passing on everything we’ve learned,” Keithley said. “The example was set for me from someone else… so it’s really important to me to not stop showing other people.”
The two said they were excited about the event being hosted in Ontario because there was nothing like this available when they were growing up in the Western Treasure Valley.
“These very specific interests weren’t being addressed for us,” Keithley said.
“Sixteen-year-old me is so freaking out right now,” Lavelle said, with a laugh. “If this would have happened when I was in high school, it would have been the event of my year. And I’m hoping that it is that way for other people around here. We’re just so happy to be here.”