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Comics convention draws a colorful crowd

Some dress up. Some sell. Some just pore over pictures.

It has wizard in its name, but there's nothing to suggest a Harry Potter-esque focus on wands and cauldrons.

It has a seminar on coloring comic books, but it starts with Monet's Woman With Parasol and a half-hour of still frames from Bambi.

It has a family-friendly atmosphere, but there's a booth for an online porn site.

The three-day Wizard World Philadelphia Comic-Con at the Convention Center, the 11th Wizard convention here, is at once everything a comic convention sounds like and at times nothing like it at all.

It is one in a series of gatherings hosted by the comics magazine Wizard that pack convention centers in Chicago and New York.

The convention was expected to draw about 30,000 entrants before ending tonight, Wizard Entertainment spokeswoman April Wiggins said. And, yes, some of the old expectations hold true about the participants, many of whom were lavishly costumed as their favorite characters.

"There's definitely a pecking order," Jon Vigile, 26, of Norristown, said yesterday. "There's guys like me who collect comics and have a couple nerdy T-shirts. Then there's that dude dressed like Two-Face over there."

Sean Murphy, 24, of Morrisville, already has a handful of convention appearances under his belt. Portraying a DC Comics character with an elaborately stitched black-and-yellow top piece, complete with leggings and a rag-doll wig, he said his biggest thrill was fans recognizing his likeness and taking photos.

"I think there's definitely skill levels," he said about the costume scene. "Newer people, they'll come next year and have improved."

For those who still harbor images of white men in their late 20s seeking mint-condition issues of Spider-Man to pore over in their parents' suburban basement, the convention was not entirely affirming.

Sue Wisler, 42, of Souderton, and Sheri Cavanaugh, 50, of Sellersville, have been coming to Wizard World in Philadelphia since it started here.

"Of all the people here, about 5 percent are women," Cavanaugh estimated. "And of those, about 95 percent are girlfriends. The other 5 percent are Sue and I."

Sitting alongside other comic artists shopping their works, Darius Corry, 24, and Chris Clarke, 23, two students from the historically black University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, were working on sketches. They are on track to become the school's first graduates with a sequential-arts major.

"It's encouraging to see people of color who are really interested and come by and take a pamphlet," Clarke said. "It lets you know there are people who are unique, who are different. . . . We don't just make rap songs."

More than a comics fair, the convention draws business interests from the cultural periphery.

Towering T-shirt booths and action-figure merchants dot the room. Suicide Girls, an online pin-up site with an emphasis on girls adhering to a punk, goth, or indie aesthetic, had a booth at the front of the room.

"What goes together better than comics and Internet porn?" asked Karma Suicide, a 30-year-old representative from Horsham using her online name.

At one end of the convention hall, television and movie celebrities who have played comic-book characters are available for photos - for a price.

Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk on TV and the silver screen, said he had lost track of how many fans had fronted $30 to pose with him in a picture.

But for some, it was just about the comics. In a morning seminar, Peter Steigerwald, a colorist for Aspen Comics, compared his passion to the pride that Claude Monet took in being a colorist.

Though he has animated the high jinx of protagonists in series like The Adventures of Superman and Witchblade, he went slide by slide through "one of the best movies out there, color-wise": Bambi.

Each frame seemingly a minor masterpiece, Steigerwald talked fastidiously about the film's use of high contrast in making its characters stand out, and the use of "subjective color" that conveys the emotion in a scene through different tonal palettes.

"There's a nobility in our work," he said.