2018 marked the fourth year that The Young Folks’ music editor Ryan Gibbs and photographer-at-large Megan Phelps attended the Rhode Island Comic Con in Providence, Rhode Island. This year the convention was held from Nov. 2 to 4.
This year, we have decided to change up our coverage of this convention and focus on cosplay photos and vendor interviews. Megan’s photo roundup was published earlier this month and can be found here. This piece is the second half of that coverage, Ryan’s vendors roundup, in which we spoke to several of the more interesting and unique merchants at the convention.
Vader’s Vault are a company based out of Georgia that builds replica Star Wars lightsabers. We spoke to owner Alan Johnson about their products, how they build them and how they differ from the official lightsaber replicas and toys.
TYF: How do you make your lightsabers?
Johnson: We start with a design, usually from my sketchbook. Then, we’ll move it over to a computer program like SolidWorks. I’ll do a prototype and decide if we’re going to do a run.
TYF: Have you done all the lightsabers from the Star Wars films and books?
Johnson: Not all of them. It’s sort of a hard thing to prioritize which things you want to do and what things you think will sell. You can’t devote a bunch of resources to producing a bunch of something if it’s going to sit. Some of the book stuff, the comic book stuff or even the video game stuff, is appealing and we do try to concentrate on some of those. Obviously stuff from the films, we do. We usually do those in limited runs.
TYF: How do you make them light up? What do you have inside the tubes?
Johnson: We have two different kinds of lighting technologies. Our conventional lighting technology is a 12 to 15 watt LED in the hilt that will shine up a fiberoptic film in the blade tube and light it up. Then we have our animated blades, which have up to 288 individual LEDs in the actual blade tube, all controlled by the sound board. Everything is adjustable by the end user; Through an SD card, you can adjust all your preferences and settings and colors.
TYF: What do you think sets yours apart from the official toys?
Johnson: The official toys are made to sort of skim the surface of that nostalgia or that desire for the fan. What sets us apart is that we made the toys that we wanted as a kid and that we still want, because honestly, they don’t compare in their durability and they don’t compare in their brightness or their realism. Ours are totally custom, so we make them more real than what you can buy at Walmart.
TYF: Star Wars has a big appeal, and it seems like every year, there’s another group of kids who fall in love with the movie. What do you think keeps it popular after 40 years?
Johnson: It hits on a lot of the different points that attract people any kind of movie. You’ve got fantasy elements, that dichotomy of good vs. evil, you’ve got different heroes that you can aspire to or relate with.
Also based out of Georgia, Fanboy Glass sells D20 dice for Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games. The company sources these dice from a manufacturer in Minnesota. Dice were everywhere at the Comic Con, owing to rise in popularity in pen & paper RPGs, and we asked Fanboy Glass’ Monique Huffman about her products and which stones work best as dice.
TYF: What is the popular kind of dice that you sell?
Huffman: Honestly, the most popular ones that we sell are the bloodstone dice. They have the most variation within the individual sets. People just love the coloring on them.
TYF: What is your personal favorite?
Huffman: I love labradorite. They’ve got a blue, iridescent shimmer to them. They’re also known as blue moonstone, so they have that rainbow shimmer, as well as the color variations.
TYF: How was it figured out that these specific gems and stones worked best for dice?
Huffman: It’s mostly dealing with the strength of the stone itself. You don’t want to use a brittle stone for dice, because you want it to be able to hold up to being able to be used. Agites, specifically, work really well. Quartz stones also work really well because they’re not brittle and they’ve got a lot of strength in the stone.
TYF: Are there certain stones that don’t work with dice?
Huffman: Amber and opal. You can’t use either one of those because they’re so brittle. The minute you try to roll them, they’re going to start cracking.
TYF: How many conventions do you go to a year?
Huffman: My husband and I do about 35 conventions a year. This is what we do full time.
TYF: What makes this convention stick out among the 35 that you go to?
Huffman: For me, it’s actually coming back home. I’m originally from Rhode Island.
Rob Taylor is a digital artist and printmaker, whose pieces were available at the Rhode Island Comic Con on metal prints. His subjects are typically popular culture figures, such as characters from Stranger Things, Jessica Jones, Black Panther and Voltron. We spoke to Taylor at the convention about his work and methods.
TYF: How long have you been doing these pieces?
Taylor: I’ve been doing these for about six years now.
TYF: How do you make your artwork?
Taylor: I’m a digital artist and I start with my design software drawing basic shapes. Layer by layer, I build them up, as well as adding my own original photographic textures. It’s a labor of love. It takes about a week or two weeks to complete a piece depending on what the complexity of the design is.
TYF: What attracted you to metal prints?
Taylor: I’ve been doing metal prints since the very beginning. I worked as a professional photographer for years, and that’s something we enjoyed as an option. I thought that my art being vivid and colorful, with lots of lighting and flares, fit the material. We did some samples, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Definitely the best way to feature my art work.
TYF: What is your most popular piece?
Taylor: Right now, my Black Panther piece is doing really well. Voltron and Star Wars is always good. I’ve introduced some new products this year, like metal bookmarks, which have been going really well; They’re smaller metal prints.
Another artist at the convention this year was Stephen Najarian, whose work prominently features fantasy elements such as castles and dragons. We spoke to him about his methods and why dragons are a major part of his artwork.
TYF: What medium do you work with?
Najarian: I mostly paint digitally in PhotoShop, but I also paint traditionally in oils as well.
TYF: What attracted you to painting dragons?
Najarian: I’ve just always liked dragons, ever since I was a little kid. I’ve always been into fantasy and monsters and demons. Dragons have always been the coolest, baddest thing in fantasy.
TYF: How long does it take you to finish one of these pieces?
Najarian: It all depends. Some of them can take me two or three weeks, and some of them can take me several months.
TYF: What is your most popular piece?
Najarian: This one (points to the piece posted to the right)
TYF: Why do you think it’s been that one?
Najarian: I ask people, and they tell me it’s just the colors. They like the colors. It’s a really strong, iconic image: A big dragon breathing lightning.
TYF: What is your favorite dragon in popular culture?
Najarian: Smaug. He’s the first and best. He is the dragon that is the standard for what all other dragons are [compared]. That was one of my first introductions to dragons; In third grade, my teacher would read us The Hobbit.
Before we left the convention, we wanted to talk to one more vendor about the immense popularity of dice this year. We spoke to Mike Addison of Milton’s Emporium about the dice from Sorensen’s Precision Diceworks that he sells at his booth at conventions around country. In addition to dice, The Georgia-based Addison also sells leather steampunk accessories at his booth.
TYF: Why do you think dice are so popular this year?
Addison: Dungeons and Dragons became popular again because of the show Stranger Things. It’s been a real popular thing and there’s been a big resurgence in the last year and a half.
TYF: Why do you think Stranger Things was what really turned Dungeons & Dragons around for a younger generation?
Addison: It’s obviously a very popular show, and the whole theme is about D&D in real life. As a result, a whole new generation has been exposed to Dungeons & Dragons, which is really great. It’s a great cosplay opportunity for some folks.
TYF: What has been your best selling dice?
Addison: We have 42 different varieties of metal dice, and who knows how many acrylic dice. The metal dice have been the most popular in general, and the ones that have a recessed, high relief, old fashioned wizardy type of look – we call them wizard dice – that one’s of a big sellers
TYF: Do you make the dice yourself or are you more of a retailer?
Addison: We have Sorensen’s Precision Diceworks. We’re the first retailer to offer them in the United States.
TYF: What makes them different from something like Chessex dice?
Addison: Chessex does not make metal dice, they make acrylic dice. Metal dice weigh a lot more, and feel amazing when you hold them. You got a half pound of dice in your hand when you get a full set of seven D&D dice. The Precision dice, they’re spin tested and they’re proven statistically to always be equal and fair and safe rolling.
TYF: How many times have you been at the Rhode Island Comic Con:
Addison: It’s our first time.
TYF: What do you think of the convention?
Addison: It’s a long drive from Georgia (laughs). It’s a great place.