Jon and Jackie Woodard / Courtesy photo
Jon and Jackie Woodard have lived in Northwest Arkansas for a little over a year, but they are already filling a pop-culture void in the area by hosting the Arkansas Art Pop Comic Expo on Friday and Saturday (June 9-10) at the Jones Center for Families in Springdale.
This is the third comic expo the Woodards have put on. The first two were in Jonesboro in 2014 and 2015, but when they moved to Northwest Arkansas for work, bringing the expo west was a natural.
“We had wanted to do a show in Northwest Arkansas from the beginning,” Jackie said. “When we moved here for my job with Cox Communications, we began planning. It took a year to get it all organized, but we are excited for this weekend.”
The event runs from 2-9 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Jones Center. Tickets are available at the door or can be bought online at artpopcomicexpo.com until Thursday.
One-day passes are $15 for adults and $10 for children. Two-day passes are $25 for adults and $15 for children. Entry is free for children under 6.
Featured guests are IDW, Marvel, and DC comics artist Tom Nguyen, make-up artist and “Face Off” contestant Keaghlan Ashley, and actor Vernon Wells, who played in “Commando,” “Mad Max 2,” and Power Rangers Time Force.”
All three will conduct panels on Saturday and will also be available to visit with attendees at their booths throughout the course of the expo.
The show will also feature retailers selling collectibles and memorabilia running the gamut from sci-fi, comic books, art, books, toys, and video games.
Cosplay by guests is welcomed and encouraged, but real weaponry is not allowed for safety concerns. Please consult the event website for Cosplay rules. Springdale police will provide security for the event, Jackie Woodard said.
The cosplay contest will be at 6 p.m. Saturday. Entry is free. There will be adult and children’s categories, judged by Ashley.
“We’re wanting to create a family atmosphere for the show,” Jackie said. “We have some rules about the costuming and what’s sold, just to keep it safe for children and families to enjoy without worrying about seeing a lot of gore or skin that you can see at some shows.”
Jon is an artist and the couple, who will be married 10 years this December, travel to comic conventions across the country and run a booth selling his art and visiting with fans and other professionals. The Arkansas Pop Art Comic Expo grew organically out of those experiences.
“We have so much fun at the shows that we wanted others in our home state to be able to have the same experience,” Jackie said. “We thought hosting a con would be a great way to share what we enjoy with many like-minded fans in Arkansas.”
While comic-book and genre culture is bigger today than ever, the Woodards feel a convention allows fans to nerd out in a safe and diverse environment.
“Everyone that comes to a con understands,” Jon said. “Our guests are fans, too. It’s just a great experience to be with others that enjoy similar things whether it’s comics or sci-fi, anime, video games, books. We think the show will have something for just about everyone.”
The Woodards didn’t even know that they both loved comics and the surrounding culture until they were married a couple of years.
“It was something we both loved as kids, but had but to the side,” Jon said. “But one year, I suggested that we go to Chicago for a Wizard World comic convention.”
Jon thought selling Jackie on attending a comic con might be difficult, but she bought in quickly.
“When we got to the show, it didn’t take long to figure out she was a bigger fan than me,” Jon said with a laugh. “Now, she has a lot more collectibles than I do.”
Jackie became a fan of anime and the X-Men cartoon characters growing up in the Dominican Republic. She became a fan of comics when “The Death of Superman” storyline from 1992 captured here imagination.
“Anime and comics are just a great way to escape from the norm,” Jackie said. “They take you to fantastic worlds and let you take your mind off real life for a short time.”
Jon’s cousin got him interested in comics when the cousin moved from California to Arkansas.
“He had all the [Kevin] Eastman and [Peter] Laird original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics,” Jon said. “Those comics moved away from the traditional Marvel and DC stuff, spoofing the X-Men and Daredevil. I really got interested in them and began drawing. I was also a big fan of Bill Watterson’s strip ‘Calvin and Hobbes.’ It was such a great period for comics. I was hooked and began drawing characters and comics for the kids at school.”
Once Jackie and Jon discovered their common interest in comics, they scoped out the convention landscape at a few other shows, and then began to set up their own booths at the cons, immersing themselves even further in the comic convention culture.
“It’s a fun way to enjoy what we love and spend time together,” Jackie said. “It’s great to see all the peoples faces and the smiles when they look at Jon’s art. Just the joy and excitement fans feel at a con. It’s a real getaway.”
The Woodards aren’t sure what the attendance at the show will be like at this weekend’s show.
“We’ve heard that it’s more of a walk-up crowd for events in the area,” Jon said, “but we have sold tickets online to people from Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas. What’s exciting is that Northwest Arkansas has such an open-minded, diverse, and accepting culture. People like to see and experience new things. We think that’s in our favor. Word-of-mouth from this show, should allow us to grow in the future.”
Jackie said the con’s guests are looking forward to experiencing Northwest Arkansas, too.
“The guests that we have coming in are excited to see the area and visit Crystal Bridges and to see what our wonderful area has to offer,” Jackie said.