November 30, 2021

Cherry Capital Comic Con Strikes Back

Fans of Spiderman, Pokemon, My Little Pony, and Vader’s Fist, unite!
By Ross Boissoneau | Oct. 23, 2021

Legions of good, evil, and the artists, authors, and voice actors that bring them to life will converge for what is likely Cherry Capital Comic Con’s most anticipated sequel.

The locally founded convention dedicated to superheroes, cartoons, and comic books, and their creators and fans returns from its one-year hiatus this week, and organizers hope the depth and breadth of this year’s event — Oct. 29–31 at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Traverse City — makes up for losing last year to the pandemic.

Attendees can expect insider panel discussions about the comics industry, plenty of cosplay — with a costume contest for adults and one for kids — a karaoke after-party, a silent auction, photo opportunities with elite clone troopers from the 501st Legion (the worldwide Star Wars costuming organization, aka Vader’s Fist) and some local Ghostbusters.

Legions of vendors will also storm the convention to sell comics from major publishers and independents, along with toys, T-shirts, and various collectibles.

Not a fan of comic books or superhero movies? You might be one of the few in the area. When the first Cherry Capital Comic Con (C4) launched in 2009, it drew around 700 people, and it’s grown every year since. Michael Akerly, co-owner of Top Comics in Traverse City and one of the founders of C4, says the event sees about 400 to 500 new attendees each year; its biggest year topped out at over 4,000.

That’s not bad for an event that started as a casual conversation among friends hanging out at Top Comics. Rob Humphrey, now the convention’s executive director, was one of the crew spitballing the idea of a comic book convention inside the shop that day.

“To be honest, that whole time frame is really a blur,” he says of the convention’s initial impetus. “I think we all realized there was something there, and a number of siloed conversations moved forward — with one of us chasing down vendors, another working on radio and advertising, and Mike [Ackerly] having connections to the venue and establishing a partnership with one of our first guests.

“Once we all realized that things were moving forward, we coalesced around Mike, who really was driving the event to become reality.”

Akerley says when he was approached by his fellow comic book enthusiasts, he decided to “take a shot.” Today he is recognized as the founder of the event and serves as the C4 event coordinator.

There’s certainly a lot of coordinating. For a niche convention in an off-the-beaten-path place like northwest Lower Michigan, C4 draws a lot of special guests.

“In the past, we’ve had Billy West (Futurama, Ren and Stimpy voice actor), Brian O’Halloran (an actor from Kevin Smith’s films), Tony Moore (co-creator of The Walking Dead), Jim Steranko (legendary Marvel creator), Tony Isabella (DC Comics), Mike Grell (DC Comics), Angel Medina (famous for his artwork on Spawn and Spider-Man), and many more,” says Humphrey.

This year, he says, is no less impressive: “We have an amazing lineup.”

Ryan Stegman (Venom, Spider-Man, Avengers), Veronica Taylor (voice of Ash from Pokemon), Steve Lavigne (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Bill Morrison (Disney, Futurama, The Simpsons), Garrett Gunn (Good Boy, Warcorns), Jason Moore (MOTU, Evil Ernie), Jay Fosgitt (Bodie Troll, My Little Pony, Marvel), and Angel Medina will be making a return.”

The talent drawn to the Traverse City convention is no accident. Whereas some cons across the country emphasize the pop culture celebrities who star in superhero movies or sing in the soundtracks, C4 keeps the emphasis on comic books, cartoons, and their creators.

“[The Cherry Capital] convention, in particular, is about comic books,” says Nathan Dean, a member of the local Cherryland Ghostbusters (see related story) and a longtime comics enthusiast.

“It’s not just Marvel and DC,” he adds. “There are a lot of independent artists and writers [at C4].”

Dean and a number of his fellow Ghostbusters will be on hand at the convention, but

they won’t be the only movie fan group there. Members of the Great Lakes Garrison of the 501st Legion will be on hand as well. The Star Wars enthusiasts group boasts over 14,000 members globally, divided into over 100 garrisons in over 60 countries.

Their costumes represent a variety of characters, good and bad, and are reviewed for screen accuracy under specific guidelines. Though not part of Lucasfilm or its parent company, Walt Disney Studios, members work closely with both production companies to ensure accuracy.

Alan Tong, one of the local garrison’s public relations officers, says he anticipates approximately 20 members of the 130 members of the garrison will attend the convention.

“We’ll have a table and booth, with props, print information, droids,” he says.

If you feel like your Stormtrooper costume isn’t getting the wear you’d hoped, consider joining; Tong says the group often recruits new members at such events. Anyone can join the 501st Legion as long as they are at least 21, follow a prescribed set of rules for their costumes, and participate in at least one event each year.

The Great Lakes Garrison troops to a variety of events, from fundraisers and hospital visits to reading events, parades, even weddings. (It’s even appeared with symphony orchestras and Weird Al Yankovic.)

 “I’m 55. I’m one of the few [members] to see Star Wars’ first run. We are constantly recruiting younger people,” says Tong. 

Humphrey says C4 is purely about affection for comics and the world of fantasy, for kids and adults, fans and creators.

“We do this for the love of the medium, and all of the people who enjoy it. There is something magical about seeing a creator who works tirelessly to bring their art to life get their big break,” he says.

Perhaps best of all for northern Michigan, C4 is a totally family-friendly event and atmosphere. Attendees range in age from youngsters to senior citizens. Women and girls have become more visible in the industry, according to Akerley, on both the production side as writers or artists and as consumers. While the first few years of C4 were skewed heavily toward males, he wanted to make sure it didn’t feel like a boys’ club. Subsequent cons have been more evenly balanced, both in terms of attendees and special guests.

“It has really become a large family gathering. Everyone belongs here and can find something that speaks to them,” says Humphrey. “We thrive on being a destination for people to find others who share their interests and build new friendships. Comic conventions are a unique blend of people finding common ground through their fandom.” 

The Cherry Capital Comic Con will be at the Grand Traverse Resort Friday, Oct. 29–31. A day-long badge starts at $5 per person for Friday; a badge for the entire weekend is $25. See to buy tickets and learn more.


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