MANCHESTER, NH – The atmosphere outside the Expo Center in Manchester next to the Doubletree Hilton hotel on Saturday morning was bursting with activity. A line wound through the entrance three to four rows deep. The attendance was far greater than Friday afternoon and evening, as many people sought to get their tickets at the moment. Convivial conversation drowned out almost all other noise as attendees waited patiently in line.
Staff members wore red shirts with the phrase “Red Shirt” on them, a reference to the original Star Trek’s weekly guest stars wearing red uniforms, whose characters would often be killed. Sunlight streamed in through the windows at the Expo Center while people came and went, with Double Midnight Comics featured heavily on the event’s program.
Double Midnight Comics opened its doors in 2002 following the closure of a similar shop in town. Scott and Chris Proulx wanted a place where people could come and enjoy nerd culture in a relaxing atmosphere. This desire led them to start New Hampshire’s first comic convention, called Granite State Comic Con, in 2003.
Photos by Winter Trabex
For the first few years, Proulx confessed, it was a “labor of love.” The events were not as popular as they are today, nor as profitable. The trajectory of Granite State Comic Con follows that of Worldcon, the world’s oldest entertainment convention. Both events had modest beginnings and have since grown in both size and scope.
“We used to shop with a friend of ours, he had a store named Storytellers in Pinardville,” said Proulx, a co-founder of Double Midnight and comicon floor manager. “He had shut down for family reasons…we had no place to shop. We wanted a very family-friendly store, so the three of us, myself, my brother Chris, and my partner Brett, we started with very little knowledge. This was before The Walking Dead or the Spider-Man movies.”
This year’s guests included Mick Foley, a writer and retired professional wrestler, Julian Glover, an actor with both Star Wars and Indiana Jones to his credit, as well as Judith Hoag, who is known for a role in the 1990 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as Armageddon.
Mick Foley, in particular, expressed a history and fondness of New Hampshire, which has at times caused him to volunteer in the role of Santa Claus in Littleton, NH. He makes a point to the White Mountains every year, volunteering his time at various places along the way.
During a panel on Saturday, Foley recalled a memorable match at a New Hampshire college.
“I was reminiscing with the Road Dogg a couple of days ago about December ’97 match where he and Billy Gunn threw me off a stage onto a table. This was at a college in New Hampshire. When they threw me off, I thought my problem was, it was too far away, and I was not going to make it. Then, in mid-air, I realized my problem was I don’t believe I’m going to land on the table, that I’m going to overshoot it which is the worst possible situation. Instead, I hit it about there (on the end), so it didn’t have this dramatic breaking of the table which actually breaks your fall. You had a table leg that bent and deposited me hard on the concrete floor. So I was hurting for several weeks after that. But it looked good on TV.”
Foley also talked about his love of the Granite State.
“I’ve been coming with – it’s been me and various family members,” Foley said. “I have come on vacation to the White Mountains every year for twenty-six consecutive years.”
He concluded, “We didn’t tend to hit New Hampshire very often. Honestly, I wish we had. I love it here.”
Innumerable other guests and vendors appeared at Comiccon. Stalls included used comic books at fifty cents a piece, video games and consoles, imported Japanese stuffed animals and food, negatives of comic books, large stuffed animals in the shape of a d20 die, swords and knives, as well as costume items.
Due to a scheduling conflict, the gaming and panel areas of the convention were closed Friday. When they opened Saturday, a variety of tabletop games were available to try. Star Wars robots beeped in the background while costumed people of all kinds roamed about.
Costumes ranged from anime to science fiction to comic book heroes to a unique costume of Quail Man, a character from the 1990s TV show Doug. A comedic magician named Mark Pinkstein entertained crowds while passing through different costumes of Doctor Who, Emmett Brown from Back to the Future, Newt Scamander, Loki, and Indiana Jones.
One game I had the opportunity to try was called Evil High Priest. The game was about rescuing inmates from an asylum in order to summon monsters and unlock various Lovecraft-inspired monsters. Evil High Priest, as I came to understand it, was called an asset placement game.
Other games were available, around which people played and congregated. At other times, people took pictures of each others’ costumes. A group of Star Wars enthusiasts held sessions explaining how to build armor featured in the Mandalorian.
“We wanted to make something that would keep people here, keep them coming back for the second day,” Proulx said. “We needed to create panels, we needed to have events, we needed to bring in cosplay groups and things like that. If everyone didn’t have a chance to see everything in one day, they needed to come back for a second day.”
Proulx continued, “I think adding the Friday went very well. A lot of people were very happy. It was kind of an experiment for us. Everybody was very understanding and accommodating; it was great.”