There has never been a better time to be into nerd culture. Superheroes dominate the movie theaters and TV lineups. Sci-fi novels are being mined for Netflix and Amazon streaming services. And Comic Cons are drawing huge crowds in cities around the world.
Here in Tucson, Mike Olivares is prepping for the ninth annual Tucson Comic-Con this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 4-6.
The founder and director of the con, Olivares was born in Tucson and grew up in the southwest side. The youngest of three, he didn’t find it that easy to find comic books when he was growing up.
His first introduction to fantasy culture was the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.
“My cousins would come down from California every summer and we would play Dungeons & Dragons,” Olivares said. "Maybe that left a little spark in me when it came to things like fantasy.”
But in middle school, he discovered comic books.
“I was really into art when I started going to Mansfeld,” he said. “Then I started getting into comic book art.”
His first comic book was given to him by his older brother.
“It was an Amazing Spider-Man,” he remembers. “I wanna say it’s either (issue) 38 or 48. I can’t remember the dang number.”
He was hooked. He started collecting comics and, eventually, decided to launch a Tucson Comic-Con.
"My whole thing was, why don't we have one?” he said. “Maybe I'll start one."
At the time, regional conventions got much less attention than the big cons, such as the ones in San Diego and New York. In 2007, the first Tucson Comic-Con was held for one day at a Four Point Sheraton.
"It was in this small meeting room in the back, maybe about 500 people showed up to the first one," he remembered.
That year they had a couple of guest artists and writers, but Olivares was always focused on Tucson.
“Besides Image and Marvel, you don’t think that there’s people creating comics books on an indie platform,” he said. “I was just as excited to know that we had indie companies here in Tucson.”
This year, the Tucson Comic-Con is a weekend-long affair at the Tucson Convention Center with various celebrities and artist and an expected 10,000 attendees.
Olivares describes the con being a yearlong job now, without pay: “A labor of love for sure.”
He has taken on Francesca and Brian Pulido as partners and directors of the Con. The Pulidos have been working in the comic book industry for the last 25 years, with their own property Lady Death, which was relaunched on Coffin Comics also owned and operated by the Pulidos.