Roanoke's Big Lick Comic Con, happening this weekend, becoming destination event

Sean Astin of 'Rudy,' 'The Goonies' and 'Lord of the Rings' headlines

ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke's Berglund Center will overflow with superheroes, video game characters and even some TV and movie costumes so good you'll do a double take at the Big Lick Comic Con happening this weekend.

What started as a small, homegrown get together is turning into something big, bringing in participants from up and down the East Coast. Comic cons are a celebration of all things geek and the event is becoming a signature one for our area adding a nice injection to the economy along with it.

Roanoke's Grandin Theatre is one of those businesses feeling the boost. The Grandin is almost as Roanoke as the Mill Mountain Star and Grandin Theatre Foundation executive director Ian Fortier takes pride in making it a destination for locals and visitors alike.

"We're really pleased that we have people come to town and we know that we have partners who we work with that are responsible for bringing people to town," Fortier said.

The Grandin is a sponsor of Big Lick Comic Con, the fifth con is slated for this weekend. JD Sutphin of Big Lick Entertainment makes it happen and has been excited by the growth.

"It's crazy because we went from our first event around 1,700 people in August 2017 to now anticipating around 7,000 plus" Sutphin said.

In just over two years, a total of four cons, the celebration of everything nerd and geek has become a magnet for young adults and families and vendors looking for a slice of the pie. Those selling everything from classic comic books to 3D printed items come from as far as California to get access to these potential customers, and the attendees come from up and down the East Coast.

"We were impressed when we saw people come from 30 or 45 minutes away, maybe Lynchburg, making the trip into Roanoke," Sutphin said. "But now it's like Indiana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida."

About 20%, or 1,500 people, are expected to come from far enough away this time around to spend multiple nights in local hotels, eat and shop out in town. It's no San Diego Comic-Con, one of the biggest cons in the world, but it's also under $20 to get in.

"Really the majority of the folks that come to this event are families, they're bringing the kids and having a lot of fun" Sutphin said. "People are seeing that it's really not that expensive to come have a weekend in Roanoke as opposed to go to Chicago and yes they're might be bigger guests but that could be Disney World level expense, but here is a better value."

Big Lick Comic Con has carved out a niche matching people with the right amount of entertainment and excitement at the right price. And that doesn't mean you get D-list celebrities. Sean Astin headlines this weekends event, easily the biggest name they've had. Astin stared in "Lord of the Rings," "Rudy" and cult classic "The Goonies," which will be screened in a VIP showing at the Grandin Theatre Friday with the actor himself.

"It's great for the economy, it's great for the impact on the city, it's great for the businesses that surround it and support it so we're pretty excited about the relationship," Fortier said.

Tickets are still available for Big Lick Comic Con and kids under 10 years old are free. Foam and cardboard weapons are OK, but real weapons, functioning or not, are not allowed.