Growing up in Anniston, city native Keith Wahl didn’t have an outlet to express what he called his “nerdiness.”
“When I was younger, I had a close group of friends who were interested in the same things, but we were kind of ostracized,” he said Saturday at the sixth annual Annicon. “This is a safe place where young people can come, have fun and be celebrated for their differences.”
Wahl, now a spray paint artist, comes to conventions like Annicon to sell his art, to support other artists and to support a local event, he said.
Annicon, an Asian cultures festival, started by humble means, said Kelly Barkwell, Annicon planning chairwoman and volunteer coordinator. She said that each year attendance has nearly tripled but the first year “maybe 50 people attended.”
“We held it at the public library the first three years,” Barkwell said. “There are conventions in Huntsville, Montgomery and Atlanta but there wasn’t anything in east Alabama. There wasn’t any kind of cultural outlook like this.”
Last year, Annicon saw about 1,800 visitors, Barkwell said.
“We bought 1,500 wrist bands and ran out by 3 p.m.,” she said laughing. “I’m not sure if we’ll triple this year because that is a lot of people but I expect our numbers to increase again.”
The event is free and Barkwell said organizers hope to be able to keep it that way.
“The goal from the start was to make it accessible to everyone,” she said.
Like Wahl, many of the 57 vendors and and visitors at Anniston’s City Meeting Center were local.
“We try to encourage our local craftsmen and women to participate because we want to promote local businesses,” Barkwell said. “There are several vendors from elsewhere too, though.”
Bryan Silverbax, a professional sketch card artist from Marietta, Ga., drove an hour and a half to participate, he said.
“This is my second year at Annicon and I’m enjoying it just as much as last year,” he said.
Silverbax draws baseball card-sized Marvel characters for a company that then places them inside packages of commemorative cards.
“So one in every 100 packs may have a hand-drawn card from me,” he said. “I’ve been paid to draw Wolverine, among others.”
Tabitha Kush drove from Asheville, N.C., to sell her crocheted critters.
“I’m making an angry jellyfish,” she said, chuckling. “I’m not sure why they’re angry but they keep telling me I know why they’re upset.”
This year was also Kush’s second year selling at Annicon, she said.
“I participated last year on a total whim,” she said. “They had a representative at another convention and they told me about it and I thought ‘why not.’”
Kush said she came back because ‘it is a great place to have a convention and it’s a great crowd.”
Several county residents stopped by the convention dressed as their favorite characters.
Garrett Harrelson, from Alexandria, dressed as Negan from the TV series The Walking Dead.
“It’s a great place to come and see all the people with different hobbies,” he said. “It’s always fun to see what creative minds come up with.”
Still in-state but much farther away, Bianca Doyle drove about two and a half hours to get to the event, she said taking a break from applying her lipstick. She came from Trinity, in Morgan County.
Doyle, who was told about the convention from a friend in Calhoun County, said she was excited to visit for the first time.
“It seemed like fun,” she said. “It’s a free convention, costumes, and I had a free place to stay. So far it’s been great.”
Dressed as Anna from the movie Frozen, Doyle said Annicon had a very welcoming atmosphere.
“It’s a great place to not have to be shy,” she said. “I’ve been able to jump right into costume and people are so complimentative of my outfit.”