MomoCon in Atlanta: Big business for artists, haven for fans

Some 50,000 attendees expected this weekend for fest devoted to anime, manga, gaming and more. ‘You don’t know just instinctively how powerful a fan is,’ one artist says
Marcus Williams, a visual comic artist poses with a framed poster of his comic book series Tuskegee Heirs at his home studio in Snellville on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

Marcus Williams, a visual comic artist poses with a framed poster of his comic book series Tuskegee Heirs at his home studio in Snellville on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

Confusion. That’s the first emotion Atlanta-based graphic artist Marcus Williams felt when he saw someone at a fan convention cosplaying as one of his original characters.

Then, delight. The feeling now overcomes him every time a fan approaches his booth and says they’ve come just to see his work. Williams is one of the two artists behind futuristic sci-fi comic Tuskegee Heirs, which pays homage to a group of Black military pilots and airmen who fought in World War II. He also has a hefty body of fan art, where he reimagines familiar comic characters like Miles Morales or Erik Killmonger.

“I’m a grown man, but I blush every time,” Williams said, who works under the moniker MarcusTheVisual. “Every time I hear it, I don’t know how else to be but humbled.”

Williams is preparing to present his work this weekend at MomoCon, one of the largest fan conventions held in Atlanta — and the Southeast at large. It’s a four-day annual affair that opened Fridaydowntown, catering to fans of anime, manga, comics and video games. Attendees flock from all 50 states, along with countries as far as Sweden, Vietnam and Liechtenstein, among others.

MomoCon bookends the busy Atlanta summer along with the annual sci-fi and fantasy-themed Dragon Con on Labor Day weekend.

On the MomoCon programming schedule is a whirlwind of offbeat events. Workshops dedicated to making Japanese folding fans or making food art. Wrestling matches. Gaming tournaments for Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Super Smash Bros. Autograph signings from voice actors like Linda Larkin, best known as Princess Jasmine for “Aladdin,” or Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in “The Little Mermaid.” And that doesn’t even address the licensed (and unlicensed) after parties.

About 50,000 people are expected to attend, a record for the convention, which has seen its attendance increase over the years, according to the MomoCon organizers.

Costumes are encouraged at Momocon. You’ll see everything from Pokemon to superheroes to animated favorites while walking through the exhibit hall. Courtesy of Momocon Facebook

Credit: Courtesy of MomoCon Facebook

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Credit: Courtesy of MomoCon Facebook

These types of conventions are big moneymakers for the artists involved, who bring anything from handmade figurines and stuffed toys to rare editions of manga and prints of original concept art. It’s a rare opportunity for artists to sell fan art using copyrighted characters. (At conventions, intellectual property holders generally overlook the sale of merchandise using their characters for, well, a number of reasons. Bad press is one.)

Between travel costs, lodging, the expenses incurred by putting together elaborate cosplay and buying merchandise from artists at the show, MomoCon is a big spend for many of the attendees.

But it’s a willful one. Attending a fan convention is one of few times a year people from all across the country can connect in-person over their shared interest, and find artwork, costumes and other ephemera related to their favorite media. For both of these reasons, attending is priceless for some. It’s no different from taking a vacation with old friends to Disney World or the Super Bowl.

“Everyone there likes anime,” said David Ross, a content creator from Louisville, Kentucky. “But being able to talk to people about your [favorite] anime and your [favorite] manga? It just makes it worth it.”

What is MomoCon?

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Ross typically spends $800 to $1,200 to attend MomoCon, depending on how lavishly he wants to live it up. Sometimes he’ll fly first class to the convention and share a giant rental house with a handful of friends. Other times, he’ll drive the six hours to Atlanta and stay with family in town.

But what stays consistent every year is how much he’s willing to spend on merchandise at the convention. Ross collects manga, and scours for rare editions he cannot find elsewhere. He will also seek out posters, stickers and other memorabilia emblazoned with the characters he loves. Ross will typically cap his spending at $300.

The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates this year’s convention will have an economic impact of $34.6 million on the metro area. This number includes spending on dining, transportation and equipment by attendees, exhibitors and organizers.

Marcus Williams, a visual comic artist holds copies of his comic book series Tuskegee Heirs at his home studio in Snellville onWednesday, May 22, 2024. (Natrice Miller/ AJC)

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One year, Williams, the Atlanta illustrator, walked away from the convention with over $6,000 just from selling 11-by-17 prints of his artwork. This figure doesn’t include the money he made from commissioned drawings at his table.

But making money isn’t the only reason Williams will attend fan conventions. It’s a way to market himself, reach a new audience and meet customers face-to-face. Those interactions have led to new business opportunities.

“If you’ve succeeded in selling yourself as a creator, you’ve made a fan,” Williams said. “And that’s where the big money comes in. They’ll market and promote you. They’ll tell their friends, families and people they work for. You don’t know just instinctively how powerful a fan is.”

There’s a communal transaction that happens at conventions in addition to a monetary one, said Ethan Tussey, the interim director for Georgia State University’s School of Film, Media & Theatre, who studies the media industry. Exchanging items not just for the purpose of earning money, he said, but passing along a shared interest.

“People make a living crafting costumes for people who want to cosplay or creating fan crafts on Etsy,” Tussey said. “But it reflects the sensibility of a gift economy — that I’m going to bring this VHS copy of Doctor Who and give it to you, because you see the world the way that I do.”


When: Continues Saturday, May 25 to Monday, May 27

Where: Georgia World Congress Center, 285 Andrew Young International Blvd

Cost: $45-60, depending on the day of attendance; $100 for a 4-day pass

Parking: Parking is available at surface lots and parking decks all around the Georgia World Congress Center. Check ahead, as some may be sold out. MARTA is recommended.