Chris Cicero’s day job is in IT, but he moonlights with Batman and Deadpool.
The lanky 29-year-old entrepreneur is prepping to present his third annual comic convention at the Doubletree Hotel on U.S. 202 in November. Thy Geekdom Con II drew 800 fans to the Crowne Plaza in Claymont last year.
Billed as “a celebration of all things geek,” this year’s show will feature comic book panels, artists, board games, video-game tournaments, anime, game-centric crafters, cosplay contests and FGC. Non-geeks may need some scaffolding to understand “cosplay” and “FGC,” although both are popular enough to have warranted stories in the Wall Street Journal.
Cosplayers dress up as their favorite characters and frequently do battle with four-foot foam hammers and swords of jumbo proportion.
“FGC” stands for the fighting game community, an e-sports subgroup so serious about their video games that there’s bracketing involved.
Thy Geekdom Con bulks up every year. Cicero grew it from a small Wyndham over the Pennsylvania line in 2014 to 10,000 square feet at the Crowne Plaza in 2015, to this year’s 14,400-square-foot venue.
And, by keeping a close eye on costs and leaning on family and load-bearing friends for help, he’s already covered this year’s costs with past profits.
“We keep overhead down,” he said. “The priority is getting a nice venue people are going to enjoy. A lot of people try to get a dinky venue. That’s not going to work. There’s no need to overspend on things. We know people just want to have fun.”
“The rest is keeping it in the family. We don’t have to pay people much money. And, right now, we don’t pay for any celebrities because, a lot of times, [organizers of other conventions] get people but they don’t get enough people to warrant paying for them,” he said.
Thy Geekdom passes on national celebs, but it does feature authors and comic book experts and popular draws like Jeff Jordan, who bills himself as “the world’s tallest hypnotist” at 6 foot, 8 inches.
Running a fandom convention is a zipper merge of Cicero’s interests and his business management classes. A native New Yorker, he started playing video games on the wall of screens at F.A.O. Schwarz’s flagship store at age 4½. After he saw “Star Wars,” he took up fencing. His family took a road trip to Forest Hills, the Queens neighborhood where the fictional hero Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider Man, grew up.
“I played too many video games growing up,” Cicero joked. “I have a lot of comic books. A lot of movies. I have video-game paraphernalia. Life-sized weapons from video games. Resin replicas. I’m a collector.”
The biggest difference between his day job and his weekend job: “When you go to work in an office, you know pretty much what you’re going to do that day.”
During the April-to-June and September-and-October convention seasons, a con organizer can find himself face-to-waist to a hulking cosplay character or checking to make sure weapons are foam.
Jackie and Peter Cicero are their son’s business partners, and their influence is obvious. It was Jackie Cicero who chose a top-notch venue from the get-go.
And Thy Geekdom is a family event, so profanity is banned.
Ditto the woman who wanted to do burlesque, which was cool, but insisted on wearing only pasties and a merkin, which was not.
And, at a con where more than half the attendees come in costume, ditto on derisive comments on anyone else’s cosplay. “Some of the cosplayers get uptight. They say, ‘Oh, you can’t be this character because this character isn’t short and fat.’ If that happens, we give you the boot,” Chris Cicero said.
Nationally, con-goers spend between $100 and $500 at fan events — in addition to the cost of tickets, parking and food, so Thy Geekdom features a variety of vendors who pay $55 for tables.
One head-turner at last year’s vendor section was the dead-baby doll — baby dolls professionally painted to look dead. Their opaque eyes are lifeless. Some have fangs and drops of blood on their chins. “You’ll see people proudly going through the whole convention with those dolls,” Jackie Cicero said. “I asked one woman, ‘You bought one of those dolls?’ she said, ‘Oh, yeah, I collect them — in my bedroom.’ I appreciate the work they put into it but … ”
Kevin Helmes, who sold green-screen photos of cosplayers at both Thy Geekdom Cons, said Cicero’s convention crowds were slim to start out but they’re getting better every year and his prices — $75 for a 10-by-20-foot space — are very favorable. “I’ve looked into cons where they wanted me to spend $300 a day, and another one where they wanted me to rent out my own personal hotel room and also pay them for a hotel room,” Helmes said.
With last year’s ticket price at $5 and this year’s at $10, the Ciceros try to keep the event affordable to millennials in a slumping economy. Most fandom conventioneers are 18 to 35.
Running a con is not all fun and games: “It’s more work than people think. The weekends are spent at other conventions, either talking to potential attendees or vendors or whatever,” Chris Cicero said. “It’s all the time, especially on Facebook. There’s no 9-to-5. I could be eating and somebody messages me. I stop what I’m doing. I’m OK with that.”
Three years ago, Chris Cicero was just one of the two-thirds of all millennials who want to start their own businesses. Now he’s a business owner.
“When you’re working a job, you’re not in control of your own fate. I find that the workforce is more about the big companies, not as about you as a person,” he said. “When you do your own business, it’s the best interest of me — Chris. And I know I’m not going to get randomly laid off.”