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.
“Brian and Francesca have been helping me give it more of a professional feel,” Olivares said. “If you’ve gone to other bigger conventions you notice things like signage and programming. Stuff that should be easily accessible to attendees, but they are actually helping me streamline.”
The Pulidos have also helped in bring in more media and guests to Tucson. Olivares called Brian an industry vet that people know professionally and that gives the Con a more legitimate feel.
“We always get that question every year. ‘Hey! Are you gonna have any celebrities?’ And for a long time I was very against the celebrity aspect. But over the years I’ve kind of learned that it’s not necessarily my show anymore.”
Having almost 10 years of running his own comic book convention gave him the opportunity to work with a celebrity.
Oliver was hired by actor Alan Tudyk to help promote his show Con Man which Tudyk writes, directs and stars in.
Tudyk plays the struggling actor Wray Nerely, who starred in a canceled science-fiction series that went on to become very popular. Nerley then has to travel around the country and appear in comic convention to support himself.
Con Man was crowdfunded through Indiegogo and raised a total of $3.1 million. It premiered on Sept. 30, 2015, on Vimeo and is set to have a second season later this year. The show is a parody of Tudyk’s own life, who stared in the space western Firefly that was cancelled and became a cult classic.
“It’s kinda like what I do for Tucson Comic-Con. I set up this whole event and I make sure that everything goes well within the event,” said Olivares describing his position as Convention Director for Con Man Production. “ In this case, it’s just in this 10 by 10 booth.”
Olivares is also responsible in coordinating with the convention Con Man is appearing in and with the media.
Next year will mark the 10th Tucson Comic-Con, which Olivares said is nice milestone in a what is becoming an oversaturated convention circuit.
“There’s a convention almost every weekend,” he said. “Which is cool and awesome! But it’s also kinda watering down the market in a sense where people really have to pick and choose which conventions they are gonna go to.”
But that doesn’t seem to faze Olivares because he believes he has accomplished what he always wanted to do with the Tucson Comic-Con.
“Ten years,” he said. “People are really gonna know about Tucson and Tucson ComicCon and I want Tucson to get that recognition in the comic book industry and in the convention circuit.”