Great Lakes Comic Convention celebrates 10 years of comic culture

Kurt Anthony Krug
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit native Jim Starlin admitted he’s surprised at Thanos’ popularity, believing his stories for Marvel Comics too esoteric for mass-market appeal.

Thanos was portrayed by Josh Brolin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which included 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” 

“Who would’ve thought? (Thanos) didn’t have the sales X-Men did, he didn’t have the following Spider-Man did,” said Starlin. “He’s always been a cult-character. He had his following but nothing I would’ve thought anyone would’ve chosen to make a movie of… but I’m pleased as hell that they did!”

Starlin will be one of many guests to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of this year’s Great Lakes Comic Convention, Friday and Saturday at the Macomb Community College Expo Center in Warren. Convention coordinator and founder Mike DeSantis wanted guests from each previous year to join in the fun.

Detroit native Jim Starlin, who created the villain Thanos, will make his first appearance at the Great Lakes Comic Convention in Warren Feb. 21-22.

“I’m proud of how the (GLCC) has grown over the years. I’m happy with how the show’s been received by our attendees and the community,” said DeSantis. “We’ve made every effort to bring back at least one guest from each of the years we’ve run the (GLCC). In the first year, we didn’t have any guests appear, but we did for each year after that. So, with one exception, we have guests representing every single year of the show. Then, we took things a step further and brought in more guests for 2020. We’re very excited about all our guests this year!”

Thanos, the "Big Bad" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was created by artist/Detroit native Jim Starlin. Starlin first conceived Thanos during a psychology class at Oakland Community College.

This year’s guest list at the GLCC also includes iconic artist Jim Steranko, who was a conceptual artist for 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”; Tom DeFalco, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief from 1987-94; voiceover actress Katie Leigh, known for “Muppet Babies” and “Dungeons & Dragons”; actor John Davey (TV’s “Shazam”); Bongo Comics co-founder and Detroit native Bill Morrison; and wrestler Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat.

“That says something about the event, too,” said DeSantis. “The guests are willing to come back. We’ve got attendees who look forward to coming back year after year, and we also have guests who (want) to return. Again, I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve with the (GLCC).” 

This year marks the GLCC debuts of Starlin, DeFalco and Leigh.

A Berkley High School alumnus and Vietnam veteran, Starlin conceived Thanos during a psychology class at Oakland Community College. A cosmic despot, Thanos’ desire is to achieve omnipotence, which he has in several tales by Starlin – most notably 1991’s “The Infinity Gauntlet,” which was adapted in “Endgame” and 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Starlin had a cameo in “Endgame,” now the highest-grossing movie of all time. He appeared in the support group with Captain America (Chris Evans) and “Endgame” co-director Joe Russo. He claimed the cameo was a happy accident.

“When they started filming ‘Infinity War,’ the Russo brothers put out this video showing the start-up of the film. Among the shots in this video was a copy of ‘The Infinity Gauntlet’ trade-paperback with all these writers’ notes sticking out. I put that on my Facebook page (and) kiddingly, I added… ‘I’m ready for my close-up.’ I thought nothing of it. A few weeks later, a producer from Disney calls me — ‘The Russos are really having trouble finding you. They want you to do a cameo.’ That’s basically how it came about,” he recalled.

Thanos has become a staple in pop culture. He even appeared as a couch-gag during the opening credits of “The Simpsons.”

“Gee, what can I say about that? That’s cool,” said Starlin. “It’s surreal. I’m still having trouble when I’m watching ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ (and Colbert) does a Thanos or Infinity Gauntlet joke. It’s never what I ever expected. I’m just enjoying my 15 minutes of Andy Warhol fame these last few years while it’s going on and trying to ride with the waves.”

For DeFalco, the GLCC is an opportunity to see his fellow creators and talk to fans. He’s had lengthy runs as writer on Marvel’s “Thor,” “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Fantastic Four,” and his co-creation “Spider-Girl,” the longest-running Marvel super-hero title with a female lead.

Tom DeFalco, who served as Marvel Comics' editor-in-chief from 1987-94, will make his debut at the Great Lakes Comic Convention Feb. 21-22 in Warren. Photo: Hildy DeFalco.

“I had a blast working on ‘Spider-Girl’ for so many years and am pleased that she is still fondly remembered,” said DeFalco. “I love talking to fans and listening to their stories, learning what comics they loved and why.”

Leigh — who’s played Connie Kendall on the faith-based radio drama, “Adventures in Odyssey,” since 1987 — spoke about playing Sheila the Thief on the 1983-85 “D&D” cartoon, based on the role-playing game of the same name that co-starred Donny Most of “Happy Days.”

“It was one of the first cartoons I was a regular on, so that was exciting, especially to have a lead role. I was also excited to work with (Most),” she said. “Looking back, Sheila was definitely a strong role model for girls. I don’t think there were very many strong female characters on TV at that time — you had more in cartoons than live-action... She looked after her younger brother. She didn’t wear a skimpy outfit — it was practical. She was thoughtful.” Leigh’s looking forward to the GLCC. She will also visit family while in Michigan.

“I’ll go anywhere anybody wants to have me. I’m happy to be around people who are happy to be around me. Who wouldn’t be?” said Leigh. “I just love meeting the fans and hearing their stories. I love giving and getting hugs. I always learn something, and I always make new friends.”

Voiceover actress Katie Leigh, best known for her work on the animated series "Dungeons & Dragons" and "Muppet Babies," will make her first appearance at the Great Lakes Comic Convention in Warren Feb. 21-22.

This year is Steranko’s third time at the GLCC. In his storied career, Steranko has been a stage magician, escape artist, illusionist, and artist. He earned renown by implementing a combination of surrealism, pop art, and graphic design into the comics medium. He was also a conceptual artist on 1992’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” He’ll speak about working with the late Marvel godfather Stan Lee and director Steven Spielberg at a panel Feb. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

“I’ve appeared at more than 400 pop-culture events around the world, but I don’t think I’ve ever confronted a more congenial or knowledgeable crowd than the fans and friends I’ve made at the (GLCC),” said Steranko. 

“Whether the subject is films or animation or comics, I know the discourse will always be sharp and informed… I keep returning to this event because it grows impressively every year – with well-stocked dealers, enthusiastic attendees, and interesting guests – which is a barometer of success. GLCC also embraces a family atmosphere, which I condone because little kids love super-heroes and villains just as much as the grown-up kids…. We’ll rock GLCC this year!”

The Great Lakes Comic Convention

5-9 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday

Macomb Community College Expo Center

14500 E. 12 Mile in Warren

Tickets: $15 to $25 and can be purchased online or at the door. Children, ages 10 and younger are admitted free. Parking is free. Visit