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With the success of movies like “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” and “X-Men,” comics have moved further into the mainstream. Inspired by that success, comic and pop culture aficionados have started up their own local trade shows or conventions, more commonly known as cons, to reach an audience looking to satiate their geek fix. Big cons like San Diego’s Comic Con are being replaced by smaller, more intimate events.Denver had its inaugural con in 2012, and it was an overwhelming success. More than 28,000 people attended the event, which attracted the likes of Bruce Boxleitner (“Tron”), Aaron Douglas (“Battlestar Galactica”) and Kristin Bauer (“True Blood”) along with a host of comic book, video game and cartoon artists.  This year, the Denver Comic Con looks to be bigger and better than ever. The projected attendance is 30,000-40,000 and the guests are a who’s who of geek culture, led by Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner (Shatner is a replacement for Stan Lee, who was originally scheduled to appear). To prepare for this year’s DCC, I chatted with co-founder Charlie La Greca to learn more about the Denver event and see what attendees can look forward to.The Gazette: Why hold a Comic Con in Denver and who’s organizing it?Charlie La Greca: For the purpose of celebrating imagination, creation, art, literacy, comics, the legends, its heroes, the next generation of learners, and all things geek. Who doesn’t deserve that?My oldest friend, Frank Romero, and myself founded the DCC and Comic Book Classroom. Frank and I grew up together in Denver and spent many a hot summer day riding our bikes the lengths of suburbia in search of the best places to find comics. We both worked in comics, he on the retail end, managing and opening stores for Mile High Comics, and myself as a cartoonist for publishers such as DC, Disney and Nickelodeon.

Gazette: What is Comic Book Classroom and what is its relationship to Denver Comic Con?La Greca: Comic Book Classroom is a non-profit organization that teaches literacy, arts, and empowerment in socioeconomically challenged neighborhoods through the use of comics and graphic novels. Denver Comic Con and CBC are one and the same — and the con is a benefit for CBC. The idea for CBC was birthed in a very late night geek-fueled discussion between Frank, myself and old friends while pouring over my dusty comic collection in my parent’s basement.

Gazette: Aside from size, what would be the main differences between the San Diego con and the Denver con? What about similarities?La Greca: Our focus is on community, arts, education and the next generation. The entire show is a benefit for CBC. The center and largest portion of the convention floor is dedicated to an area called, The Comic Book Classroom Corral, where attendees can meet graduates of our program who will be selling their comics and sketches right next to the pros. The Corral also hosts many creative activities and events every hour for kids of all ages.The other aspect that makes us different is the sheer size. DCC is much smaller but it’s a charming show with lots of heart and passion. We pride ourselves in rooting our show within Colorado and the West. By incorporating these aspects that are indicative of our local region, it creates a unique experience all our own.Similarities? Many don’t realize the basic structure of Comic Cons across the globe has not changed much from the first New York Comic Con in 1964. We all have panels, workshops, cosplay (costume play), costume contests, guests from comics, TV and media, and, of course, geeks gathering from all walks of life. Other similarities are the geek spectacle and sheer creativity pouring out in every level, echoing through the convention halls and cascading into the city streets.

Gazette: You’ll be holding an event to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Superman. What exactly does that entail?La Greca: We’ve arranged a slew of programming around Superman as well as a line up of greats that have worked on Man of Steel comics, such as Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, George Perez, Jon Bogdanove, Joe Kelly, Phil Jimenez, Steven T. Seagle, Dexter Vines and Jamal Igle. We have also created a new type of guest, not seen at another con, The Ultimate ‘Super’ Fan Guest. It was created after hearing a touching piece on NPR about avid Superman fan Mike Meyer, whose collection was picked apart by an old nemesis. This prompted us to realize that we honor guests from comics, TV, animation and film but what about the fans who make this all possible? In honor of Superman’s 75th, Mike was the perfect choice.

Gazette: Who are some of the other big name artists and guests you’ve secured this year?La Greca: There are just so many and the amount of comic guests and stars attending this year’s con is through the roof. George Takei of “Star Trek” fame will attend. We recently announced the sixth doctor, Colin Baker, along with Daphne Ashbrook from the hit BBC series, “Doctor Who” and from the original “Star Wars” trilogy, we have Peter Mayhew also known as our favorite furball, Chewbacca. And we still have a few more yet to be announced.   

Gazette: What about local artists or guests? How is Colorado represented at DCC?La Greca: Colorado is represented incredibly well, especially with local boys done good, such as Steven T. Seagle (creator of “Ben 10”and writer for “Uncanny X-Men”) and Dee Bradley Baker (“Phineas and Ferb,” “SpongeBob Squarepants”), (both) returning to the Mile High City after much success in Hollywood. Local top talent, J. Scott Campbell (“Spider-Man”), Zach Howard (“The Cape”), and Mike Baron (“Nexus,” “The Punisher”) will be on hand, as well as a vast group of amazing talent both established as well as up and coming.   

Gazette: Are there activities going on outside of the three-day event itself? Are there things for people do when the show is closed?La Greca: Absolutely. There is a ton of after-hour programming, starting with gaming which runs until 11:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday nights. It includes, video games, Magic: The Gathering, RPGs (role-playing games) and miniatures. There is also the highly anticipated Cosplay Shindig Costume Contest and Rock Comic Con, and an evening of nerd rock, both happening on June 1. And for the film fanatics we have screenings going on after con hours in our Reel Heroes Film Series and Mile High Sci-fi Comedy show. There is something for everyone after hours and it only keeps growing.

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