SCHERERVILLE | Stormtroopers roamed the Villa Cesare on Sunday alongside the grim reaper, princesses and a man donning a Spider-Man Snuggie.
Organizers for the first NWI Comic Con transformed the banquet hall hidden behind Schererville's strip malls into a community where fantasy and role-playing were encouraged.
Artists filled tables with their comics and sketches as local filmmakers showed previews of their movies during a panel discussion. Vendors sold action figures and players of Heroclix battled each other.
The event was described as a dream for Brian Grabinski, who organized NWI Comic Con with his wife, Kelly Grabinski, and 25 volunteers.
Grabinski, of Schererville, said he has been a fan of comic books since he was 12. Now as an adult, he travels with his children to comic cons around Chicago and is friends with many local comic book owners.
"I just wanted to bring a family-friendly event to Northwest Indiana," he said.
Grabinski said about 200 people bought tickets in advance, but he expected 500 to 1,000 people to show up.
Tony Hernandez, 39, of East Chicago, said he heard about the event through a friend and attended with his girlfriend and nephew. He said he always has liked sci-fi and liked seeing the Stormtroopers in the crowd.
"I like that it's local," he said while wearing a "come to the dork side" T-shirt. "It's not as packed as the ones in major cities."
Chuck Pavoni, 18, of Crestwood, said NWI Comic Con was a more affordable event where he could display his work. He's the creator of "Bro's Alliance," a comic about a boy who finds a magical pencil.
"It's totally blown away any expectations," Pavoni said. "There's a ton of people here. It's great."
Kristin Miller, 32, of Portage, said she wasn't surprised by the large turnout. Miller, who was dressed as a wood elf, said many of her friends are into comics.
Miller didn't participate in the event's cosplay contest but dressed up with her friends who are part of a medieval live-action role-playing group in Michigan City.
Sam Barber, 16, of Crown Point, said Sunday's event was his first comic con. He spent much of the time sitting at a large table playing the two-person game Heroclix, which combines characters from Marvel and DC Comics for a strategic battle.
Sarah Kaczmarzzyk, 13, of Crown Point, was his opponent. Both participate in the Southside Heroclix, which has tournaments at the Amazing Fantasy Comic Shop in Crown Point.
Barber's 26 small figurines on the paper board game inched closer to Kaczmarzzyk's two large figurines and two smaller ones. She sighed and said it was going to be a long game.
"Ghostbusters" Matt Paige, 29, of Michigan City, and Mike Murray, 29, of LaPorte, had a booth advertising their investigations into paranormal activity. They met through an online forum and since 2011 have been showing up to parties and events dressed as characters from the "Ghostbusters" movie in exchange for a donation to a charitable organization.
"I'm happy it's here, you can see from the turnout a lot of people wanted this," Paige said. "It was elbow to elbow (of) really cool like-minded people."