HUDSON ญญ Throughout elementary and middle school, Austin Gomez understood what it was like to be bullied.
Picked on for being of smaller physique and of a mild temperament, Austin was delighted when he picked up his first Spider-Man comic at his local library and discovered that the protagonist, Peter Parker, was just like him.
“Spider-Man is reflective for me,” Austin said. “He was weak and skinny. When I saw him I thought of myself and thought he’s just like me.’ ”
Instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider and granted superpowers, Austin has superpowers of his own- the ability to regularly organize an event where kids like him can fit in and attend without fear of judgement for the way the look or what they like. Last October, Austin headed up a small committee of teens that held it’s first mini “comic con” at the Hudson Regional Library for Pasco teenagers who might not otherwise have the means to attend the bigger, expensive conventions.
“Spider-Man was my childhood hero and still is,” said the 15-year-old Hudson High School student. “If I ever met [Spider-Man co-creator] Stan Lee, I’d thank him. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Last week, Austin and his committee, which includes Hudson High School students Savannha Aretino and Rose Parhm, held their second mini comic con for local pre-teens and teenagers. In one room, avid gamers were pitted against one another in a game called “Injustice,’ a fighting game similar to “Mortal Kombat” that features the superheroes and villain of the DC Comics universe.
In another room, Rose and Savannha headed up a slideshow presentation that gave teens up-to-date information on newly released and upcoming anime television shows, movies, videogames, graphic novels and more.
“This is a place where nerds can be nerds,” Austin said.
The biggest obstacle that prevents kids from attending conventions, Austin said, is money. Although Tampa Bay is home to several relatively-large anime and comic book conventions, like Metrocon and Tampa Bay Comic Con, ticket prices typically start at $20 for a one-day pass for basic access and the price can get close to $150-$200 once you factor in weekend passes, VIP passes and photo and autograph sessions with celebrities, which you have to pay for separately.
For some teens, transportation is also an issue. It can take an hour to get to downtown Tampa from Hudson and some teens and their families don’t have the means to drive there, especially if they’re driving to and from each day of a three-day weekend to save money on hotel costs.
To attend the flagship comic convention, San Diego Comic Con, attendees average about $2,000 for transportation, hotel, tickets and more.
“It’s really hard for kids to go to comic cons,” Austin said.
“It’s really expensive,” she said quietly.
Locally, there are few free events for teens to proudly let their geek flags fly. The Pasco County Library System, however, has had tremendous success with its LAMEcon, which was formed five years ago. Standing for “Library Anime and Manga Enthusiasts,” the free anime convention drew nearly 1,000 attendees last year to the Land O’Lakes Library, at 2818 Collier Parkway. It’ll be held this year on August 2 and 3.
To learn more about how he can improve his own convention, Austin is saving to attend Tampa Bay Comic Con this August at the Tampa Convention Center where he hopes to rub elbows with convention organizers and take notes on events he can incorporate.
In the future, Austin would like to hold the event at a nearby recreation center where there is more space for teens to play games, listen to panel discussions and meet local comic artists and other celebrities. In the meantime, the event will continue to be held at the Hudson Regional Library, 8012 Library Road, Hudson, every five or six months. The teens are planning another one for the summer but the date has yet to be announced,
More more information visit the library’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/HudsonLibrary or call (727) 861-3040.
You can follow Daylina Miller on Twitter at @DaylinaMiller.