Comic & Collectible Spectacular Grows Its Footprint

Caleb Crumlish | November 29th, 2022

Comic & Collectible Spectacular Grows Its Footprint

Culture & Community  |  Arts & Culture  |  Youth Arts Journalism Initiative  |  Comics  |  Annex

Comics3Mike DeCarlo traced his blue pencil over the page. Stroke by stroke, the pointy hair and wicked scowl of Sideshow Bob, the high-cultured villain from The Simpsons, began to manifest under his pencil tip. First the light blue pencil for sketching the general shape, then a charcoal one for the defined linework he’s so known for.

Fifteen minutes into the drawing, and he was just getting started.

DeCarlo’s hand-drawn sketches were among hundreds of items all things geek at the New Haven Comic and Collectible Spectacular, hosted on a recent Sunday at the Annex YMA Club on Woodward Avenue. Since 2011, the convention has been a place for families and avid fans alike to gather and marvel at toys, antiques, and memorabilia of all stripes, including free comics at the door and raffle prizes for the lucky, including prints from DeCarlo himself.

Since the very beginning, organizer Thomas G. Fiore (pictured at the bottom of this article) has worked hard to bring in collectors and vendors from all over Connecticut, as well as a few beyond the state’s borders. He has slowly worked the fair up to where it stands today: a beacon for everyone who’s ever loved a franchise, and some who haven’t too.

“It’s only been about five years since we really got, you know, mainstream,” Fiore said about the process of getting a foot in the door as an established expo. “Before then, most stores, most people, they wouldn’t want to come down… But we got there eventually.”


Eric Bruce of Wierdo Wonderland in Milford. Pictured above is Mike DeCarlo, drawing Sideshow Bob. Caleb Crumlish Photos.

Right out the gate, the convention made it clear what attendees were getting into thanks to Eric Bruce’s table, the first next to the door. Bruce is an art buyer and the owner of Weirdo Wonderland, a venue in Milford dedicated to “Halloween all year,” with toys, masks, horror comics and all manner of posters, many depicting recent iconic slasher films in the classic kitschy style of 50s B-movie posters.

It was clear from Bruce’s manner at the table that his love for everything freaky goes far beyond mere lip service to the giants of the genre: he took the time to describe the intricacies of the Boglin hand puppets boxed and stacked beside him. He showed off a few new puppets from a 2020 release, based on the original 1987 design.  

“He’s a Connecticut native, you know!” he exclaimed of the original creator. The puppets are the wacky and weird brainchildren of Tim Clarke, Larry Mass, and Maureen Trotto. 

Collectors wishing to own the very films many of his products were referencing could choose from a huge selection of VHS tapes, lined up all along one side of his stand. Bruce’s reason for preferring VHS? “The cover art just looks better. Not a lot of people have VCR players, these days, but people will buy VHS just to have them looking nice on their shelf.”


From left to right: Steve Randolph of J&S Collectibles, vendor Paul Econs, and Lauren Trahan of Wilbur & Rose. Bennie Janes of Bennie's book barn is pictured below. Caleb Crumlish Photos.

That nostalgia was very much alive for fans of DeCarlo, who is a mainstay of the comics world. Over a 44-year career as a comics artist, he has inked for everyone from Batman to the Simpsons to the Powerpuff Girls. The inked sheets in the portfolios around him demonstrated the immense amount of careful detail given to every drawing—superheroes and comic covers rendered with painstaking linework, every contour deliberately laid—but even for more simplified works like Simpsons characters, DeCarlo took his time. 

“You know, the simple stuff is just as hard as detailed work — maybe harder,” he said Sunday as he drew. “When you’re working on a drawing with 1,000 lines, if one of them is off no one’s going to really notice. For something simple, though, if a single thing’s off everyone can see it.”

The New Haven Comic and Collectible Spectacular is a family-oriented expo, but that’s not to say there was nothing there for the most passionate of collectors. The most expensive item one could purchase this year? A mint-condition copy of the Incredible Hulk #181 (or INK 181, as the vendors explained), which marked the very first full-length appearance of then-antagonist Wolverine. The price? A whopping $29,000. 

The INK 181 there stood on the shelves of J&S Collectibles, a comics vendor from Putnam, Conn. that had quite an impressive stand. Their table, run by owner Steve Randolph and his partner Steven was laden with cardboard crates densely packed with comics, while the back shelf behind them carried some of their most standout volumes. They ranged from popular faces like Spider-Man and Batman to more obscure names: Moon Knight, the Sub-Mariner, Devil Dinosaur. If an attendee could name it, they could probably find it on their shelves. 

BenniesBookThough many of the vendors featured at the expo were veterans making the next of their many appearances there, there were also newcomers with fresh ideas and merchandise to show off. Take Lauren Trahan, a local artist and crochetier, and the owner of Wilbur & Rose, which produces delightful amigurumi plush toys for a variety of fandoms. Her stand was a stand-out amongst the crowd, kitted out as it was with adorable blank-eyed creations. Button-eyed replicas of some of cinema history’s most famous slashers sat to the right, with little facsimiles of critters from Pokémon and Sailor Moon carefully arranged in a rack on her left.

“This is my first time here at the expo,” said Trahan, although she has been present at a number of horror and fandom conventions alongside her work in the past. Her handmade creations stood out vividly from the antiques and ancient memorabilia at the majority of other vendors. “I just like getting to share my hobby. I get people coming up to me and saying things like ‘Oh, I love these, this is so adorable,’ it’s always nice to hear.”

Trahan wasn’t the only specialist at the expo, either. Seated directly across from her was Benjamin R. James, owner and eponym of Benny’s Brick Barn, a purveyor of specialized and rare LEGO pieces and sets from New York. James’ stand was accompanied by stands with hundreds of tastefully-lit LEGO minifigures, each for sale individually at different prices and running the gamut from modern models with specially-molded pieces to classic originals, with their simple faces and unassuming clothing.

Like Trahan, James was aware of how his choice of merchandise had him stand out from the crowd, for better or worse. “It’s sort of a catch-22… I’m the LEGO guy, y’know, and people know me for that. But it also means that I can be seen as a one-trick pony,” he said. Despite those anxieties, his collection had plenty of pieces on display with historical merit, such as an astronaut in a simple black suit that stood in the center of one of his panels. 

“The black spaceman’s one of the last color variants of the classic spacemen figures released,” James said as he pointed the model out. “They stopped making those sets pretty soon after, so there aren’t as many sets with these ones as with the other colors.” 

Even then, the spaceman didn’t hold a candle to the most valuable minifigure James had ever possessed—a LEGO policeman that was the first kind ever made. 

“Back then, the minifigures didn’t even have stuff printed on the torsos — it has a sticker with the coat buttons instead,” he said. The policeman wasn’t on sale at the expo, but a special anniversary recreation was for 25 dollars, complete with a tile printed to match the original set’s box.


Self-described hobbyist Matthew Anderson.

Most vendors at the expo were there on behalf of their businesses, but that wasn’t the case for everyone. Self-described hobbyist Matthew Anderson had his table in the far corner of the building, with his own selection of action figures and collectibles from a variety of movies and TV shows for sale. He’s not a full-time collector, he said: “it’s a side thing for me.” As a kid, Anderson got into collectables when he started selling pieces in his own collection for pocket change. His main job is as an art director, and he actually was the one to design the flyers and posters advertising the New Haven Comic & Collectible Spectacular. 

“My first time here was in June or July,” he said of past fairs. “I think the best part of it is the camaraderie with the people here… Some people think that these interests, in collecting, in comic books and the like, can be a geeky thing — but here, nobody’s judging anyone. Everyone’s here for the same thing.”

Anderson is a close friend of Fiore’s — but so was everyone there, it appeared. As the organizer bustled around the club building, taking calls and talking to vendors and customers alike, being closely acquainted with him seemed like the rule rather than the exception for everyone there that day. Indeed, Fiore could be regarded as the face of the fandom scene in New Haven.

Comics4“This building, the Annex YMA — in the 80s, my aunt was the one hosting events here. I’d wander around back then, when it was sports conventions and the like… Now I’m the one hosting,” he said. “With the convention getting bigger every year, there’s this idea that we’d need to expand the venue — but I still want to keep it here in the club, here in New Haven. It’s always been part of the town… Plus, I live here, so this way I don’t have to drive so far for it!”

Between calling in orders for lunch for the hard-working vendors and watching over his own corner stuffed with items from all the media he loves (Ninja Turtles, Star Wars and G.I. Joe, for those wondering), Fiore took a moment to hold another drawing done for the convention by DeCarlo — the Marvel superhero Jack of Hearts, standing in front of a Yale building. 

“The reason it’s him is because he’s from New Haven, too, in his backstory… This was going to be a raffle prize, but I think I might keep this one.”

Learn more about the New Haven Comics & Collectibles Spectacular here. Caleb Crumlish is a graduate of the second cohort of the Youth Arts Journalism Initiative. He is now a student at Yale University.