From wizard staff to proton pack, cosplay to comics, third annual MuskeCon showcases Muskegon’s nerd power

[Left to right] Samantha Johns, Kiel Reid and Melissa Waggoner strike a pose at MuskeCon. Photo by Anna Gustafson
Muskegon was made nerd again.

The third annual MuskeCon drew a diverse crowd (think: R2-D2, steampunk designers, comic book illustrators, and a whole lot more) to the Holiday Inn in downtown Muskegon on Saturday—and, from artists and gamers to toy collectors and the event’s organizer, the attendees embraced the ever-growing convention as a proud showcase of the city’s nerd power.

“It’s great seeing the nerd community come out in this town,” said Will Gust, a Muskegon resident who hosts the Geekly Gab and Nerdical Nonsense podcast.

That word—nerd—surfaced time and again throughout the day-long event, from the cosplay contest to the vendor booths, which makes sense with a convention that has a slogan of “make Muskegon nerd again.” But it’s more than just a quirky motto: it’s an enthusiastically multilayered, and sometimes even downright poignant, celebration of a creative community that encompasses a vast range of fans, artists, writers, gamers, and more. From children sporting superhero attire to adults who have been comic artists for decades, MuskeCon is a way for people to raise their wizard staves, strap on their proton packs and pave the way for a world filled with the supernatural and the fantastical, the curious and the outlandish. For a world filled with the artists and the writers who wield their pens and paintbrushes and remind us all to see the adventures that happen in the everyday.

It’s a day where anyone, no matter what they may be battling in their lives, can be superheroes.

Children contestants at the cosplay competition. Photo by Anna Gustafson

“It’s an amazing event,”said Jimithy Ricklefs, a graphic artist who designed this year’s MuskeCon badges, poster, and more. “We need more events like this that are family based. There’s something for everyone, from toddlers to seniors. And it’s grown exponentially.”

It has indeed grown. About 1,200 people attended the first year, 1,800 individuals came last year, and this year was expected to top that.

“There are cons in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Kalamazoo, Traverse City—I thought it would be really fun to have a con here in Muskegon,” said Pete McCarthy, the founder of MuskeCon. “When we were planning it that first year, I said if I hit 500 people, I’d be over the moon ecstatic, and if we got 1,000 people I was going to lose my mind. We got 1,200.”

“We grew in year two, and it’s only gotten more popular since then,” continued McCarthy, a full-time firefighter who also co-hosts a popular podcast, called My Wife is Going to Kill Me, that focuses on toy collecting, comics, movies, and more.

MuskeCon organizer Pete McCarthy. Photo by Anna Gustafson

Plus, it allows those in the local gaming and comic worlds to network and meet kindred spirits.

“MuskeCon acts as a beacon for those who haven’t been involved in the gaming community,” said Kiel Reid, who owns the Griffin’s Rest, a gaming store that opened a little more than one year ago on Third Street in midtown Muskegon. “They can find out about places that are right around the corner from them.”

Reid noted he met several local artists whose work he’s going to start carrying at the Griffin’s Rest, which operated both a booth and a gaming room at the convention.

Alex Bernhardt, a Muskegon resident who runs a B movies series at the Griffin’s Rest, said he’s been thrilled to watch the convention grow and draw a crowd from throughout the region.

“It brings a lot of unusual traffic,” he said. “People who would normally hang out in Grand Rapids come here.”

The ever-increasing number of people too is emblematic of a growing gaming and comic culture in Muskegon in general, attendees said.

Phil Mitchell has been collecting Legos since he was a child and now travels throughout the Midwest to sell them. Photo by Anna Gustafson

“It’s becoming bigger and more involved,” Scott Rosema, a Muskegon-based artist who has worked for Marvel, Archie and DC Comics, said of the local comic community. “You have Lange’s [Comics and Collectibles] at the Lakes Mall, the Griffin’s Rest is a wonderful gaming core, and there’s the con. We’re starting to find each other. It’s wonderful.”

As MuskeCon continues to grow, fans and vendors said they’d love to see it evolve into a multi-day event.

“Hopefully it ends up being bigger than one day,” Ricklefs said. “It’s growing so fast, and, with the incoming convention center, it can grow even further.”

For McCarthy, he says he plans to continue to grow the con organically so it doesn’t get too big, too fast. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t dream of it being the con of his fans’ dreams.

“That’s my dream; I’d love to have it at the L.C. Walker Arena,” McCarthy said of the recently renovated venue in downtown Muskegon. “To me, it’s important to build some roots and staying power. I’d much rather have years to grow by a couple hundred people a year to the point where we’re getting big numbers in the door. We’re heading in the right direction.”

Check out more photos from MuskeCon below.

Artist Naomi Montgomery, a Grand Rapids-based illustrator, first got into the comics world because of her dad, Mike Montgomery, a professional comic book artist.

Will Gust, left, and Jimithy Ricklefs at their MuskeCon vendor’s table.

A MuskeCon poster, drawn by Jimithy Ricklefs.

Ghostbusters Greg Peterson, left, and Tim Cole won the adult cosplay contest.

Audience members gather for the cosplay contest.

A wizard works his magic.

Part of the wizard’s staff.

Artist Scott Rosema was born and raised in Muskegon. A freelance illustrator, Rosema has worked for Marvel, DC, and Archie Comics, as well as for a variety of other companies, including Disney and Warner Brothers.

Laurie Hundt, left, gets her face painted by Jenni Bush, an artist and owner of Funny Face Face Painting.

Phil Mitchell speaks to customers at his Legos table. A Kalamazoo resident and owner of Michigan Toy King, Mitchell travels throughout the Midwest to sell Legos.

Some of Phil Mitchell’s Legos.

Kandas Rodarte and her husband, artist Shane Rodarte, sold Shane’s artwork at MuskeCon. The Rodartes recently moved from Texas to Muskegon.

Artwork by Shane Rodarte.

A MuskeCon t-shirt.

Artist Sita Navas, the owner of Retro Nerd Studio, recently moved from Arizona to Muskegon.

Lynn Frisinger, of the Muskegon-based Deadwood Productions.

Lynn Frisinger’s hat.

Elizabeth Jackson, along with Michael Reinhardt, owns Deadwood Productions, a Muskegon-based theater company that does set and lighting design, provides steampunk items for performances, and more, at her convention booth.

Contestants in the cosplay competition.

Cosplay contestants.

Mike Brandes, an artist and graphic designer based in Wyoming, Michigan.

Artwork by Mike Brandes.

MuskeCon organizer Pete McCarthy.

Story and photos by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with Anna by emailing or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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