ATLANTIC CITY — Garden State Comic Fest drew about 5,500 people over two days to the Showboat Atlantic City, and one of the show’s organizers says it will return in 2019.
“We worked very hard on this show, and we threw a lot at it,” said Dave O’Hare, who runs the show with Sal Zurzolo. “Two days before the show, obviously, the weather started calling for 9 inches of snow. We did see a drop in ticket sales at the last minute, (but) all in all, I think the weekend went very well.”
The first-year show, held April 7 and 8, filled the Showboat’s former casino floor with a mix of celebrity guests, comics creators, cosplayers and vendors. Headliners included actor Eric Roberts, known for roles in “The Dark Knight,” “The Expendables” and some Lifetime TV movies, actress Summer Glau, who starred on TV’s “Firefly,” and comics veterans such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman and 1960s Marvel artist Jim Steranko.
One thing that may change next year will be the timing of the show, said O’Hare, of Wharton, Morris County.
Nationally, a number of major comic conventions took place the first full weekend in April, including C2E2 in Chicago, Fan Expo Dallas and Silicon Valley Comic Con in San Jose, California. These shows generally compete for the same pool of guests and can compete for vendors and attendees, depending on what they offer.
“When you’re competing against that many, it ends up hurting your national vendors,” O’Hare said. “You can’t blame them for choosing a known show against a non-known show.”
But O’Hare and Zurzolo have a track record. In addition to the Atlantic City show, they operate Garden State Comic Fests at the Mennen Arena in Morristown, Morris County, in July and at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, Ocean County, in May, as well as C3, a cosplay convention, also in Morristown. Garden State’s Morristown show drew about 7,000 attendees last year.
Garden State is the third attempt to establish a geek-culture convention in the city in as many years. The Atlantic City Boardwalk Con brought more than 15,000 people to the Convention Center in 2016, its second year, but did not return in 2017. Instead, a gambit called the Atlantic City Fan Xpo opened up shop inside the Showboat, offering a different-themed geek-culture convention every weekend during the summer starting Memorial Day weekend. That halted operation after three weeks.
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Showboat’s owners said they were pleased with the Garden State show and plan to offer other themed events throughout the year.
“We found this event to be a huge success, and we are proud to have been able to host such a large and diverse convention for people of all ages,” said Brandon Dixon, chief operating officer of Tower Investments, the company that owns the Showboat. “We are also thrilled to have a strong lineup of family-friendly events happening at Showboat in the coming year, including the Halloween Boardwalk Empire, Atlantic City’s first ever FamilyCon and the city’s very first Vegan Food Festival.”