Ocala Comic Con returns: Small businesses participate for fun and financial gain

After COVID-19 canceled last year’s event, Ocala Comic Con returns on Sept. 11 and 12 at the World Equestrian Center.

Comic book creators, animators, cosplayers and fans of the genre will gather at what organizers called “Florida’s largest comic con.”

Many local vendors will also be on hand, selling their wares and hoping to earn new customers.

Austin Berger owns and operates Vibranium Comics and Gaming, which deals in comics, new and old, as well as popular card games such as Pokémon and Magic.

“More people hear about our store when I’m [at the Ocala Comic Con],” said Berger. “We also sell things that we wouldn’t normally sell in store.”

Customers who attend conventions or “cons” treat them like mini-vacations. And like vacations, people are more likely to spend a lot more money, said Berger, who’s been in business for four years.

Scott Gencarelli, owner of Vintage Toy Universe in Ocala, deals primarily with toys from the 1960s to the current day.

“We’re a pretty unique store,” said Gencarelli. “We have anything from Funko Pops to Hot Wheels, all the way down to video games and autographed memorabilia.”

While he’s there for business, Gencarelli enjoys the Ocala Comic Con environment.

“I love seeing all the cosplay,” said Gencarelli. “And I like to see all the famous artists.”

This year, Ocala Comic Con features voice actors including Kyle Herbert (Wreck-It Ralph, Street Fighter) and Neil Kaplan (Transformers); comic book artists Clay Mann (Superman, Batman) and Mike Spicer (Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing); and actors Johnny Yong Bosch (Power Rangers) and Steven Anthony Lawrence (Cat in the Hat).

Austin Marlin, owner of Retro Rat based out of Largo, hits cons all over Florida. But this is his first time attending Ocala Comic Con.

“We will travel anywhere within the state for these cons,” said Marlin. “Next month we’re doing a con in Fort Myers. We’ve done multiple shows in Orlando. We’ve done multiple shows in Lakeland and Kissimmee. We’ll go anywhere.”

Retro Rat, like its name suggests, deals in anything and everything retro, including toys, comics, video games, memorabilia and clothing.

“Pretty much any kind of childhood nostalgia,” said Marlin.

Marlin feels participating in cons, regardless of where they are, helps consumers get a better sense of what his business has to offer.

“It gives us great exposure so that the next time they’re in the Largo area, they’ll come and check us out,” he said.

He even keeps a secondary inventory to sell at conventions.

“About 90% of what we bring to cons, if you come to our store, you’ve never seen it before,” explained Marlin. “It’s like, ‘You like what you see here? Check out our store.’ It’s a nice hook for both our regular customers and the new customers we might make at a con.”

For some vendors, it’s not just about selling but buying new items as well.

“My favorite part is basically just looking down and finding what I can find,” said Berger. “I always love to hunt. And it is finding certain things, certain comics that I can turn around and sell for myself or keep for my own personal collection.”

“With COVID last year,” Berger continued, “and no events whatsoever, it’s really good to get out and meet people again.”

Ocala Comic Con co-owner and event organizer D.J. Gualandri said, due to the current surge in cases, masks are mandatory at the event.

“With the amount of attendees coming,” said Gualandri, “mostly from the Central Florida area, we are hoping that all of our vendors benefit.”

But for vendors like Marlin, having fun is also part of the plan.

“You meet a lot of different individuals from all kinds of walks of life,” said Marlin. “And you get the enjoyment of meeting a lot of different people from so many different backgrounds.”

Gencarelli agreed.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “This is our passion. We have fun. We’re the kids that never grow up.”

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