Tampa Bay Comic Con returns this week, and local shops are here for it

Tampa Bay Comic Con, like most other pop culture conventions in 2020, was canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

click to enlarge The 2019 Tampa Bay Comic Con. - Photo by Chris Fasick
Photo by Chris Fasick
The 2019 Tampa Bay Comic Con.

After more than a year of closures and cancelations, comic conventions are finally returning. Tampa Bay Comic Con is one of them, and it’s back this weekend at the Tampa Convention Center.

“It was a hard time for all of us during the pandemic, especially for convention fans,” said Jamie Kautzmann, a spokesperson with Tampa Bay Comic Con. “It was really hard to not have that connection…to kind of let our freak flag fly.”

Tampa Bay Comic Con, like most other pop culture conventions in 2020, was canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Though it was a matter of health and safety to prevent the spread of the virus, cancelations were an especially tough blow during summer’s convention season.

Tampa Bay Comic Con
Friday-Sunday. July 30-Aug. 1
Tampa Convention Center
333 S Franklin St., Tampa

Conventions—and the artists, creators and businesses that filled them—had to adapt quickly amid all the pandemic-related changes. Much of that included pivoting to online sales and reaching fans through social media instead of in packed guest panels and at booths covered in white boxes full of comics.

“I feel like the time inside, especially for creators and artist…there was a big growth of creativity,” Kautzmann said. “We saw a lot of cool cosplay on social media. People had to find a way to make something with nothing.”

Local comic shops and other businesses likewise had to reevaluate their workflows and business models amid the pandemic, including in many cases shifting completely online during early shutdowns. Emerald City Comics in Clearwater was closed for weeks last year, but owner Neil Johnson prioritized keeping all his staff employed and retooling the shop’s website for online shopping.

“I’m very blessed that we’ve had the ability to take care of people,” he said. “The past year has been a horrible year for almost everybody, but it’s been good business-wise for us. It was like the perfect storm: people staying at home looking for games or books or things to do.”

Johnson said the absence of conventions gave the shop the opportunity to not only connect with customers around the country but also to host celebrities in-store. Recently, the store hosted Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld and former Power Rangers Walter E. Jones, Catherine Sutherland and Nakia Burrise. On Aug. 7, Emerald City will host Dominic Pace, who played the bounty hunter Gekko in “The Mandalorian.”

“There’s been no shows, so we started getting calls from celebrities that usually run the convention circuit now appearing at the store,” Johnson said. “They’re now getting one-on-one…attention from all the fans coming to see them.”

Emerald City Comics will have a booth this weekend at Tampa Bay Comic Con run by a friend of the shop selling his wares and giving out freebies on behalf of the store. Johnson said he’s happy conventions are coming back because fans are “jonesing” to get back to con life.

Dino “Coach” Leto, CEO of Agents of Slabs, is also excited about the return of conventions and is encouraged by how well local shops and the comic industry fared during the last year. Agents of Slabs is based in Tampa and facilitates professional comic book grading for comic shops and individual collectors.

“(Shops) communicated to me…they actually had some of their best months in years,” Leto said. “People were bored and wanted something to do. At home, they said ‘hey, let’s re-bag and re-board my collection; this book is worth something maybe I should get it graded.” 

According to estimates from pop culture trade news sites ICv2 and Comichron, the comics industry hit a high in 2020. Sales of comics and graphics novels in the United States and Canada increased by 6% from 2019 sales for an approximate total of $1.28 billion. A Hollywood Reporter article found many of the top comic book publishers were surprised by the resiliency of the industry in such a fraught year. Fans turned to collecting and finding new stories to entertain and inspire them amidst months of quarantine and isolation.

Agents of Slabs is also setting up at Tampa Bay Comic Con this weekend as well as at a convention in Connecticut. Tampa Bay Comic Con is the second convention Agents of Slabs will do this year after an event in June in New Jersey. Leto said it’s been great to connect with fans and customers in person again. He said he also missed seeing his “convention family” who he’s been traveling and staying with for years.

“I’m a comic book fan; I have giant comic book collection. I like to go and rummage through boxes at shows,” Leto said. “Comics are great, the business is great, but it’s the people I look forward to the most.”

Tampa Bay Comic Con runs Friday, July 30 through Sunday, Aug. 1 at the Tampa Convention Center. Friday and Sunday single-day tickets are $30 and Saturday tickets are $40. A three-day weekend pass is available for $60.

Celebrity guests include *NSYNC’s Joey Fatone, Daniel Logan (Boba Fett in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones), David Ramsey (Arrow) and voice actors Greg Cipes, Caitlin Glass and Eric Vale. Comic Con will also have comic artists Omar Francia, Tim Jacobus, James Martin, Rags Morales, Dan Parent and Larry Welz. Beloved Star Wars author Timothy Zahn is also attending.

For tickets and more information about Tampa Bay Comic Con, visit here.

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About The Author

Chelsea Zukowski

Freelance contributor Chelsea Zukowski is a Tampa Bay native who started her journalism career in 2014 at the Tampa Bay Times, working her way up from editorial assistant to entertainment reporter and copy editor. After four years in print, she moved on to broadcast as a digital producer with 10 Tampa Bay-WTSP,...
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