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Creator of the CON


Rose City Comic Con is the brainchild of a Canby man who wanted to give the world a little taste of what Portland can produce via word, art and the comic book

Few people know that one of the largest pop culture event in Oregon was created, developed and is run out of small town Canby.

by: JOHN BAKER - Canby's Ron Brister looked around at all the comic con events nationally and wondered why there was no event in the Portland area. So, he took care of it by creating Rose City Comic Con last year.Long-time Canby resident Ron Brister knows, though. He’s the driving force behind Rose City Comic Con, a pop culture delight that highlights words, art and creativity in one fun, family-oriented package.

It’s about comics, man. But it’s about more than that. And yes, dressing up as a super hero or comic book figure is just fine. That’s the way this “con” rolls.

Created in 2012, this year’s second edition will be Sept. 21-22 at the Oregon Convention Center and is expected to see a dramatic increase in attendance from last year.

“Last year we were in a smaller space and it was our first year, so we were hoping for 1,000 people,” Brister said. “We ended up with 4,100 that first weekend.”

The formula Brister and his army of friends, family and volunteers are using must have made an impact because ticket sales for this year have already surpassed last year’s total attendance.

“This year, I think we could be north of 15,000 with perhaps as many as 22,000 at the top end,” Brister said.

Why the growth in a convention that, to the outsider, seems to be nothing more than comic books, T-shirts and memorabilia? Because it covers so much more than Conan, Wolverine and the latest incarnation of Superman. And people like that.

“Comic cons are interesting because you have a group of people that feel secure in a large cluster of people,” Brister said. “It provides them a way to raise their geek flag with some pride. Television shows like “Big Bang Theory” or “Myth Busters” has taken science and made it cool. So many stereotypes have been broken down and at an event like ours, there really is something for everybody.”

How it all started

While Brister has done some comic book collecting in his time, the concept for Rose City Comic Con actually started with his son and a trip to San Diego for what many consider the holy grail of cons — Comic Con International. It is an event that has blown up in size, scope and, in some ways, lots its intimate feel for the casual fan.

“My son and I went to the San Diego event and I noticed he wasn’t having a lot of fun,” Brister said. “Then, we went to the Emerald City event in Seattle and he seemed to really like that. So, I asked him what the difference was and he said there were not enough comics and no toys.”

Commercialization versus a more grass roots approach to comic books, art and artists seemed to be in play.

Additionally, Brister was running into people he knew within the comic and art industry. Portland has one of the nation’s strongest and most vibrant comic-writing-design-art scenes in the nation, but had nothing to show for it in terms of a convention.

“So I said, why don’t we have a convention?” Brister said.

With $500 in his pocket and a willing partner in the Emerald City Comic Con, the Canby resident set about working to fill a hole he felt existed — bringing a world class family-friendly comic-driven event to Portland.

In late August, early September 2011, the road to the first Rose City Comic Con began. Calling on family and friends to help, as well as drawing on resources from the Emerald City folks, the first Rose City Comic Con began to take shape on a tiny computer in his living room.

“I think what became obvious was that the San Diego event had become so media driven, so big that it had ceased to be a family event,” Brister said. “The other thing I wanted was to get my son and his friends interested in art or writing and the comic world has a ton of that. At the end of the day, we want to put on a fun family event that looks at the entire medium of art.”

A little competition

While Rose City is working to establish itself in the psyche of the region’s faithful, another comic con showed up in Portland in February.

Wizard World’s Portland Comic Con offered a different taste for ‘con’ enthusiasts, but Brister is confident the two can coexist — and Rose City can thrive.

“They are a little different animal in that they are a public company and have shareholders to answer to,” he said. “Wizard World has a kind of formula in what they do and travel all over the country putting shows on. People I’ve talked to find their shows are kind of hit or miss.

“Truthfully, I don’t see why, if they continue, we can’t both do well,” he added. “We have different schedules and I think the interest from the area is certainly there.”

He also pointed to affordability as a key difference between to the two shows, while noting they can both survive in the Portland market if they choose to stay.

“Are they long for Portland?” Brister said. “Wizard World is kind of the equivalent of a big box store and Portlanders aren’t really fans of those. They do fit a need, but seem to be more media driven and interested in selling celebrity opportunities. Again, they have to make money for their shareholders. We just want to put on a fun comic con. But I think we can coexist. We’ll see.”

On the job

Little did he know that when he sought to create an event that meets the needs of geeks and families alike, he’d create a fun, colorful, event-filled comic con monster. As the director of the event, he’ll fill his two days with solving problems, making decisions, greeting guests and generally be the commanding general for an army of volunteers.

“In general, my job when it all starts is to make sure things run as smoothly as possible,” he said. “We have two dozen department heads – for the most part all family and friends. And, our partners out of Seattle leverage their wonderful help and we all just get it done.”

While last year’s success was exciting, this year’s anticipation means that Rose City Comic Con will take up a lot more room a the convention center and the logistics will be tougher. Brister said his crew is up for the task and that he’s excited to see what the second incarnation of the event looks like.

“I’m just a guy with some friends who doing something they enjoy doing,” he said.