As Durham settles into November, an ensuing buzz of excitement suffuses through the self-proclaimed “geek” community — as with winter, North Carolina Comicon: Bull City is coming. It will be held at the Durham Convention center from Nov. 10 to 12. Rife with “Supernatural” cosplayers and Deadpool impersonators, the convention prides itself in being “the ultimate celebration of comics and pop-culture in the Triangle.”

Special guests will include “The Flash” actor Michael Rowe, “Rick and Morty” cartoonist Tini Howard and “Steven Universe” actress DeeDee Magno Hall. Orchestral folk-pop musician Dante High, hip-hop pioneer Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and electric group Starkiller compose the convention’s music lineup. Previously, NC Comicon has hosted “Dr. Who” actor John Barrowman (Captain Jack) and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way.

The comic convention, a proverbial meeting of the tribes, is the culmination of all things pop culture. It is an avenue for “geek culture” to manifest itself vis-à-vis cosplay and other creative mediums. Duke first-year Darien Herndon plans on partaking in this year’s festivities, namely the cosplay contest.

“Cosplayers are dedicated to a specific fandom and I am mostly drawn to Comicon for the cosplaying aspect, as well as the ability to showcase my own costume,”  Herndon stated. “I am especially excited for the cosplay contest as both a participant and a spectator — I plan on cosplaying two different Disney characters: Belle and Pocahontas, the latter being an homage to my Native American background.” 

As a high school freshman, the idea of a comic convention fascinated me. To be surrounded by individuals with the same interests as me and to unify in unabashed “geekiness” with fellow members of self-identifying fandoms seemed like an idyllic getaway from my socially rigid peers. 

In a way, it is — as Herndon put it, “These conventions serve as a way to meet new people with similar interests and to cultivate new friendships, as well as an outlet for creative self-expression and engagement with some of the creators and artists [who] bring films and comics to life.”

But while many find solace in these conventions as places where they can express and be themselves, questions arise as to whether these conventions exploit and profit from fan enthusiasm.

Comic conventions originated in the 1960s, initially to bring greater exposure to both niche and more popular comic book series. Fans would gather to meet creators, experts and one another and they were usually modest affairs organized by local enthusiasts. Since then, comic conventions have been widely commercialized, overrun by glossy entertainment machines including Marvel, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros.

These conventions are not shying away from their transformation into corporate monoliths but, rather, fully embracing it — North Carolina Comic Con’s statement asserts that the convention is “better, badder, bigger and can’t wait to show off!” But is this at the expense or the benefit of the fans?

“I do think that certain people take advantage of their fans,” Herndon said. “For example, ‘The Flash’ actor Grant Gustin charges sixty dollars per autograph, and other stars do this as well — often with even higher prices.” 

To fans, notable guest appearances are the crux of comic conventions, often justifying spending hundreds of dollars on ticket packages and photo-ops for a chance to see their favorite stars. To capitalize on the obsessive nature of fandoms, entertainment corporations employ aggressive marketing techniques in the form of ubiquitous fan merchandise — from Brony beanies to Batman bobbleheads — and exorbitantly expensive autograph and photograph packages. The easily-amused Comicon-goer who is fascinated with the myriad of “geeky” commodities offered allows corporations to foster an environment that encourages increased consumption of these goods.

After a few hours milling about a comic convention, cognizant attendees may find themselves jaded by the endless stands toting Justice League mugs and Elektra action figures. One may question whether conventions even differentiate between the identities of “consumer” and “fan” — the two words seemingly becoming synonymous. Eschewing consumer activities may leave some wondering if there is any other point to these conventions.

On the contrary, disillusioned fans still see merit in aspects of conventions that hold true to their roots and history. Panels featuring the artists and writers for niche comic books and film screenings of geeky cult classics, often included in the entry fee, unify die-hard fanatics.

“Comicon features a wide variety of original artwork, authors promoting their books, film trailers, comic book creators, independent makeup artists and photographers. Fans attend these conventions to appreciate these artists’ works and find enjoyment in expanding their knowledge of popular culture,” Herndon added.

Panels in this year’s convention range from “Strong Female Characters in Popular Culture” to discussions on Protest Art and “Superhero Science” in Cinema One (the arguable equivalent to San Diego Comic Con’s coveted Hall H). Rick Veitch, cartoonist of cult comics including “Maximortal” and “Brat Pack” will be in attendance and screenings of the 1982 film “Creepshow” and the 1966 film “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” among others, will be available to attendees.

Perhaps at least slightly comforting to capitalist critics is the prevalence of local artists and craftspeople, unaffiliated with large corporate entities, who frequent NC Comicon and have a passion for their work. Herndon expressed reservations about target-marketing within comic conventions but ultimately felt that fans can retain a level of autonomy when navigating such promotion-heavy environs.

“I don’t really feel much pressure to buy merchandise from the franchises, and many vendors at Comic Con are local artists, so I wouldn’t mind supporting their craft,” Herndon said. “With that, marketing plays a huge role in Comic Con in my experience — especially for upcoming movies — and it primarily functions to market to fans directly.”

In the eyes of fans, it may be better to embrace the pleasures of comic conventions rather than subvert the ills. Perhaps treading trite platitudes, comic conventions at their core serve to bring together a plethora of diverse individuals to celebrate their “geekiness” and connect with like-minded individuals. Though some may feel Comicon has strayed too far from its roots, pop culture fanatics will always have a place to converge annually as long as pop culture retains its relevance.