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GrandCon's inaugural year draws large crowds

The first year of GrandCon brought in unexpected attendance, donated to charity and allowed for one on one experiences with legends in the comic and game industry.

GrandCon Links and Notable Guests

West Mighican Table Top Gamers
The WMTTG offers a way for gamers to meet and socialize. 

Sterling Heibeck, Grand Rapids game designer and founder of DarkTier Studios is funding his newest game, Cardomancer through Kickstarter.

Drunk On Comics 
Grand Rapids podcasters Derek Becker, Kevin Vlietstra and Matt & Tony McKayand review comics with a touch of humor and hops. 

Tim Kenyon
Michigan based of Capstan Comics and writer of the graphic novel series Endtime.

Kait Mayne
Michigan artist and Kendall College of Art and Design graduate creates and sells nostalgic fan art.

Michael L. Peters
Midland based artist whose work has appeared in Image Comics, Caliber Comics, Heavy Metal Magazine, and many others. He's currently working on his own series Crescent City Magick.

The Procurator
An online character sheet maker from Sterling Heibeck. 

Nicholas P. Meyers
A Michigan comic artist and writer of Seedlings and other graphic novels.

Mick McKay
Michigan publisher and creator of the world of Wordishure books.

Players try a game at the exhibition hall before purchasing.

Players try a game at the exhibition hall before purchasing. /Amber Jane Pontius

Co-founders Brian Lenz and Marc Specter.

Co-founders Brian Lenz and Marc Specter. /Russ Pontius

Silas Bromley plays a large scale version of King of Tokyo.

Silas Bromley plays a large scale version of King of Tokyo. /Amber Jane Pontius

The inaugural year of GrandCon surprised its creators Brian Lenz and Marc Specter with a much larger turnout than expected.

"We had a huge amount of community support. This whole thing was predicated on being received by the community," says Specter, "and it happened far in excess of what we could have hoped. It's crazy, we didn't know if anyone would show up."

"Marc says that lightly," Lenz adds,"We knew there would be a few. We were thinking two or three hundred, maybe up to 500 would be our numbers. We're pushing nearly 1500 up to the weekend as far as attendees."

Frank Belter of MSTB Gaming, who handled badge and event sales for GrandCon and tracked attendance numbers, says the creators had an incredible first year.

"First year conventions, especially regional ones, only get 80 to 120 people,” he says “And that's it."

The Prince Conference Center overflowed with eager gamers, families, artists and comic collectors. The show boasted 55 exhibitors and artists, and over 200 events. Additionally, Lee Maile’s GenCon Games Library, containing $15,000 in board and card games, was available, allowing attendees to try games before purchasing them.

"We outgrew Prince Conference Center about three months ago," says Specter, "We've been turning away people from our vendor room and artist gallery for three months."

The collection of special guests comprised the greats of gaming and comics, including Ed Greenwood, Andrew Pepoy, Michael L. Peters and Tracy and Laura Hickman.

"Just getting to network with all the different authors, all the amazing artists and all of the different fine arts people that are here is amazing," says conference attendee Erin Wiseman-Parkin, "To come here and see the interaction at such a personal level is amazing."

Specter and Lenz reached out to industry veterans to bring speakers to GrandCon.

"I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of them and build the rapport and relationship that we wanted for GrandCon," Lenz says. "They're here, they're having a fantastic time and many if not all of them will be back again."

"We were very charmed by Brian [Lenz]," says Tracy Hickman. "There is just something about Brian that is endearing to us and impressed us, and so we agreed to come and threw our rulebook out the window. We wanted to help and support him here."

"He explained that it was the first one," says Laura Hickman,"and we were excited to hear that."

In supporting GrandCon, the Hickman’s hosted a charity fundraiser event aptly named The Killer Breakfast, an improv event in which players attempted to survive as long as possible on stage. Charity is one of the things Specter and Lenz kept in mind while designing the conference.

"From the beginning," says Specter. "We knew we needed a community to support us. And it’s a little cliche but we always wanted to have a pay it forward mentality."

As a result of that mentality, the Helen Devos Children’s Hospital Foundation will receive one dollar from every badge sold.

"Last year in October, with the help of Schuler Books & Music, we put together an event that raised $3400 with a 24 hour game-a-thon," says Specter. "This year GrandCon was our game-a-thon."

With the close of GrandCon 2013, plans are already underway for next year. The convention is slated to take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Convention Center on September 19-21. Organizers advise those interested in attending to follow the GrandCon website for information regarding pre-registration.

"Its been wonderful to see the families with their kids walking through the door whether they are just coming in to check us out or actually coming to play the games," says Lenz. "Thank you, all those that have showed up. We can't thank everybody enough."

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