Before becoming a co-owner and organizer of the Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette, Greg Hanks was, first and foremost, a fan.
"I look around my office right now, and I see a bunch of wrestling belts, a Pee-wee Herman doll and a stack of comics I need to read," Hanks said. "I love this stuff. I feel like I'm cheating the system because what I do is so much fun."
With the Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette, Hanks and co-owner Jay Branch have organized an event that's now 5 years old and full of family-friendly fun. This year's Comic Con runs Saturday and Sunday at the Cajundome Convention Center.
In addition to the annual panels and costume contests, scheduled guests include Kevin Sorbo, of USA Network's "Hercules," wrestling icon Mick Foley, and Lafayette comic book artists Rob Guillory and Kody Chamberlain.
"As long as they're willing to do it, Rob and Kody will always be guests," Hanks said of the nationally-known artists. "It's been really awesome to watch how things have gone for them. We probably wouldn't be in Lafayette without them."
Though Hanks and Branch operate AVC Conventions in Mississippi, the co-owners started organizing a Louisiana-style Comic Con in 2015 in Bossier City. After the Bossier City Comic Con, Chamberlain and Guillory discussed bringing the event to Lafayette with Hanks and Branch, and the event has been a hit in Cajun Country ever since.
"Rob and Kody are our ambassadors when we're not there," Hanks said. "They've told a lot of people about what we do. They understand the bigger picture and recognize the economic impact of the show to the area."
While fans will no doubt line up to get autographs from guests and participate in Q&As, the Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette offers a smaller, more personal and family-friendly atmosphere.
"My goal from the beginning was to put on a show that I could bring my kids to," Hanks said, mentioning what attendees can expect to see this year. "There is a lot of Cosplay, but it's not required. There's a costume contest on Saturday, and there's table-top and video games."
In addition to the comic books and pop culture items, the Comic Con has a vendor area that Hanks describes as a "geeky flea market."
"The vendors sell anything from comic books to shirts to handcrafted items," Hanks said. "For us, the definition of an artist is someone who makes something with their own hands; so we have a variety of things available."
While Hanks still gets a kick out of booking big-name guests, he said the best part of the event is seeing attendees interact with celebrities and their heroes.
"I always tell fans that it doesn't cost anything to go up to a guest and say hello," Hanks said. "There is some time when you can catch the guests and the line isn't super long. I've never seen someone discouraged from saying hello. That's great. And sometimes, that's all that people want to do. Those are the moments I love seeing.
"At the end of the day, I might be making someone's day, or year — that's crazy to me."
Louisiana Comic Con — Lafayette 2020
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Cajundome Convention Center, 444 Cajundome Blvd., Lafayette
$25 per day/$40 for the weekend. Military discounts available at the box office. Ages 10 and under are free (limit two per paid adult).
Scheduled guests include Kevin Sorbo, Mick Foley, Stephanie Young, Kevin Conroy, Jason David Frank, Brett Cullen, Rob Guillory and Kody Chamberlain.