Carrying around a black leather “Back to the Future” backpack with a Baby Yoda doll sticking out from the top, Brian Wilson was the first to get into the Main Exhibition Hall at Howard County Fairgrounds.
The Keymar resident had a couple things in mind Saturday — getting some behind-the-scenes video of the event’s setup and buying toys from some of his favorite shows such as “G.I. Joe,” “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and “Demon Slayer.”
“What’s not the appeal?” said the 40-year-old who works in concrete and construction as well as at Eternia Dreams Toys and Collectibles, a comic book store in Taneytown. “You never know what you are going to find. I’m passionate about this.”
For the expected 700 people that attended the annual Galactic Con, the Saturday event was an opportunity to gather in person as a community.
Advance sales for the event this year were the most in its history, according to Galactic Con organizer Joe Manzo. The 125 vendor tables was also a high number for the event, he added.
“People are looking for something to do,” said Manzo, a Middletown, Delaware, resident who also hosts a sister event with his wife, Sapphira Gratz, in Delaware each year. “After being here for three years the word is out. With things opening up, we’re back to business. People are ready to shop.”
Independent comic book vendor Dan Nokes was not surprised by the turnout.
“People have been sheltered in for 18 months. I had a good inclination that people would be back out,” said Nokes, a Richmond resident who owns 21st Century Sandshark Studios.
With successful television series such as “Wanda Vision” and “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,” and with a slew of conventions and events focusing on everything from anime to comic books, conventions are a hot commodity.
Manzo estimates that there are more than 1,000 similar conventions a year.
Comics and graphic novel sales, both print and digital estimates, in North America topped $1.2 billion in 2019, according to Comichron, the world’s largest public database of comic book sales figures.
“We grew up with a smattering of really bad superhero movies,” he explained. “Now it’s saturated with good stuff. It’s good for me. I watch everything. Everyone has something they like.”
He added: “If you were a nerd for liking it back in high school or college, it’s popular now.”
Attendees Saturday dressed in everything from vintage “Star Trek” uniforms to head-to-toe Boba Fett, a bounty hunter character from “Star Wars.”
Theresa Mayo, a Dundalk resident, showed up dressed in an orange-and-green cheerleading uniform worn by one of her favorite characters, Ochaco Uraraka, from the anime series, “My Hero Academia.” Her boyfriend, Nick Cremona, dressed as Heisenberg from the video game “Resident Evil 8.”
She said; “We were very excited to come out after a long pause from COVID-19. That’s the cool thing about Cons. Everyone from your friend’s group can wear what they want.”
Brandon Coenen, who co-owns the comic book shop Red Bandana In Milford, Delaware with his wife, Katie, has been attending the Con since the first in 2016.
On Saturday, the couple brought more than a couple thousand pieces — including toys and a number of rare comics worth more than $1,250 each. He expected to sell a couple hundred pieces.
“A lot of this is about the connection,” he said. “If I sell one of those [expensive comics], that would be amazing.”
For Katie Coenen, who usually judges the cosplay costume competition, seeing the younger attendees enjoying the event is always the highlight of the day.
“All of the kids are so equally passionate about who and what they are and what they are wearing,” she said. “At that age it’s such an innocence. Their eyes light up. It makes me so happy.”
She added: “I’m thrilled the community is here. Last year was really hard. But safety first.”