Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Comic book expo with ‘in-your-face appeal’ held in Opa-locka

Jabez Tooks strikes a pose in his favorite anime costume at The ARC, Arts & Recreation Center in Opa-locka on Dec. 29.
Jabez Tooks strikes a pose in his favorite anime costume at The ARC, Arts & Recreation Center in Opa-locka on Dec. 29. For the Miami Herald

Comic book lovers across South Florida gathered Friday at The ARC, Arts & Recreation Center in Opa-locka for the first South Florida Comic Book and Sci-Fi Expo.

“A lot of these events happen in areas outside of the black community, they are on the Beach, they are downtown [or in] convention centers,” said expo co-founder Jeff Carroll, on why he wanted to create the expo. “We wanted to have something that had more of an in-your-face appeal. We are on the cusp of “Black Panther,” the movie. And everybody is asking questions. I have been a science fiction writer now for 9 to 10 years and it has just been really exciting … so now is the appropriate time to have something like this.”

The nonprofit Opa-locka Community Development Corp. was instrumental in bringing the expo to Opa-locka. The daylong event featured a panel on science fiction and vendors for sci-fi fans to connect with each other, buy collectable comics, action figures and books.

“As a kid, honestly, I would attribute it to watching “Batman,” the animated series,” said Olinda Roman, a vendor at the event, of how she became a collector of vinyl dolls. “I just wanted to collect everything Batman and Spider-Man.”

Eleven-year-old Jabez Tooks, one of the younger attendees of the expo, said he came on the recommendation of a relative.

“My grandma said that there were some anime things and there was sci-fi and I thought it would be fun so I decided to join her,” Jabez said. “It was about fifth grade when my friend introduced me to it [sci-fi] … I just remember getting into it ever since then.”

A big part of expo was centered on promoting the genre in the black community, and giving fans of the culture a voice and a venue where they could enjoy the content in their neighborhoods.

Troy Bernier, the expo’s co-creator, also began the Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival. He said science fiction can be a vehicle to address issues in the black community.

“I have been a huge fan of science fiction ever since I was a little kid,” Bernier said. “In order to tackle a lot of our day-to-day problems we use science fiction to try and understand how to deal with our day to day.

“I have known Jeff Carroll for about 15 years now. I also used to run the Boca Raton Nerd Night and he [Carroll] came and gave a talk on how to solve Black Lives Matter. And in his lecture he basically enlightened us to the fact that the reason why people may do the things they do is because they cannot imagine their future.”