Comic fans gather at Toy Con

It started simply enough.

Mike Holbrook, toy shop owner and frequent attendee of various conventions around the state as a vendor, was getting tired of always having to travel to other cities in other states to sell his wares. He sold his personal toy collection to have enough to rent out Grace Pavilion at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, the biggest place he could find, and used his personal contacts to get vendors and sellers there.

The result was Santa Rosa Toy and Comic Con, Toy Con for short, the only con of its kind in Santa Rosa, and largest in the entire Bay Area. Saturday was its fourth year and the largest yet, thanks to new additions and events.

Grace Pavilion at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds took center stage, with vendors from all over the Bay Area lining the isles. Stores local to Sonoma County, such as The Brick Hut, Outer Planes Comics and Games, and Yay 4 Anime were there, with comics and toys for sale. Prices ranged from five dollars to over $100, depending on the quality and rarity of the items.

 Local fan groups, such as the Bay Area R2 Builder’s Club and the Bay Area Ghostbusters, showed up in full costume and with props ready to pose for pictures. The con also had free video games to play, hosted by the store Once Upon a Game in Finley Hall. The games ranged from the very old - “Donkey Kong Jr.” for the original NES - to the more recent - “Injustice: Gods Among Us” for current consoles. The same room also hosted a live wrestling event at noon.

Outside at Shade Park was live action role-playing that lasted all day, as well as disc golf.

Several teachers and alumni from Sonoma State University were involved as well. Jim Liebich, a fencing instructor at Sonoma State, was giving free fencing lessons to kids outside next to the LARPers. 

“I have a friend who is an artist, a comic artist,” Liebich said. “[He] does this great comic that’s called ‘Kid Beowulf’… he fences at [my] fencing club, and he told me about this and suggested I try it out.”

Also in attendance was Emily C. Martin and Brett Grunig, both graduates from Sonoma State’s fine arts department. The husband-wife team gained recognition for their work on the Eisner-nominated comic “Princeless.” They jointly run Megamoth Studios, the name for their classes on art and comics, located in two locations at Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park in the Arts Center. This is their third year at Toy Con.

Martin and Grunig first heard of Toy Con when Holbrook approached them at another con they were attending as vendors - FanimeCon or WonderCon, she doesn’t remember which. Martin said she likes Toy Con because it’s local to them, more personal than larger cons, and more accessible to fans of all ages. “It’s great to have shows that are kid-friendly, because a lot of ComicCons - you know, there’s really a reputation they’re battling with that they’re not kid-friendly,” Martin said.

“Conventions are a really great for that crew of kids to find their peers and be face to face with them, not just on internet forums and things like that,” she said.

The Showcase cafe was host to four separate panels, each staring someone with a background in movies and TV.  Australian actress and former Pink Power Ranger Catherine Sutherland talked about her appearances on the show, her future projects, and her disbelief that a cheezy kid’s show is still remembered by so many. Voice Actress Veronica Taylor answered fans’ questions about her time as the voice of Ash Ketchum from Pokemon. She insisted, to the disappointment of many, that Ash and Misty were too young to be in love. Phil Lamarr, who played Marvin in “Pulp Fiction” and voiced characters from a number of shows including “Futurama” and“Samurai Jack,” cracked audiences up with his dead on impersonations of Eddie Murphy and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Lamarr also gave his experiences behind the scenes. Finally Vincent Ward, best known as Oscar from “The Walking Dead,” spoke about his long road to acting, emphasizing how important it was to take risks and never quit.

The event wrapped up with a cosplay contest hosted by Fandom Workshop, a local show focusing on various fandoms. There were cosplayers of all ages, ranging from a mother-son cosplay of Doc Brown and Marty McFly, several Harley Quinn outfits from “Suicide Squad,” Mad Max and an impressive Xenomorph costume. There were entries for beginner, intermediate and advanced, with winners in each category receiving a trophy and a bag of treats.

Holbrook is already planning for the next Toy Con. 

“Next year, we’re actually growing,”  he said. “I get [the] Hall of Flowers too, so it’s going to be even bigger.”

 “It’s the only thing we have in Santa Rosa,” attendee Raichill Norgrove said. “I highly recommend it.”