Hurricane Maria savaged Puerto Rico in September 2017, and in its wake left millions of dollars in damage - with rebuilding continuing to this day, and for many days to come. But just one month after the hurricane's landfall, the organizers of Puerto Rico Comic Con decided that their show must go on.
"Puerto Rico needs this, our fans as well," the show's executive producer Ricky Carrion told Newsarama of the decision. "Cancelling the event because of the hurricane was too easy a victory for the storm, in some way."
And now, Carrion and his staff are undergoing the final preparations for The May 18 through 20 event at San Juan's Puerto Rico Convention Center. With Jim Starlin, John Barrowman, Juliana Harkavay, Casey Cott, and Carolina Ravassa already confirmed, Puerto Rico Comic Con expects 40,000 visitors for this year's event.
Newsarama spoke with Carrion for more on the convention, and his unique situation.
Newsarama: Rikky, let me first ask - how are you and your co-workers doing in Puerto Rico right now?
Rikky Carrion: We’re doing fine. I won’t sugarcoat it, it was hard for a while, especially during the first two months after the storm. The great thing about Puerto Ricans is that we’re strong and resilient, so we have set our minds to get back to normal, no matter what. I have to say that the island’s recovery is much different from what is being reported in the news: yes, there are still areas where there is no electricity and water (about 25% of the Island), but the situation is not as difficult now. Businesses are open, some big events like concerts are sold out. Our staff is doing great as well. Some have left for the mainland in search of new opportunities and still will be coming back to work on our show, because they want to be a part of it, no matter what.
Nrama: It's been six months since the storm, but Puerto Rico is still just beginning to recover. When and how did you come to decision to go ahead with Puerto Rico Comic Con?
Carrion: I think Puerto Rico is recovering way faster than expected, considering the few resources at our disposal. A month after the hurricane, I decided that we were going forward with the event. For me, it was business as usual. Puerto Rico needs this, our fans as well. Cancelling the event because of the hurricane was too easy a victory for the storm, in some way. For me, it was necessary to get back to work, get back to normal. Our event is just what the doctor ordered in this situation: a fun, family oriented weekend, where you can enjoy celebrating geekiness, surrounded by likeminded people, and get away from it all.
Nrama: You’re holding the event at the Puerto Rico Convention Center, which was used as a supply point after Hurricane Maria. Has it re-opened for business?
Carrion: The convention center never closed, even during the hurricane. I know that convention center staff even slept there weeks after Maria. The building did not suffer great damages, only a few that were fixed almost immediately. Shortly after the storm, the convention center was used as an emergency control center, housing local government agencies, FEMA, the U.S. Army, and many other disaster response and relief agencies working on the Island. The convention center is currently open and operating as usual, hosting events, conventions, conferences and others. It’s important to note that because Puerto Rico Comic Con is the biggest entertainment event in the Caribbean; the convention center took measures to ensure that our event remain as scheduled, regardless of the extent to which they were hosting all those agencies and clearing up their itinerary for our show in May. The Convention Center knew it was important for us to return as well.
Nrama: Have the plans changed at all for Puerto Rico Comic Con given the damages from storm?
Carrion: First, we decided that we were going to make the event ticket prices more accessible to more people. That meant not increasing the price of our one-day passes and our VIP multi-. The price of the latter was reduced drastically. We wanted to help all the local and international vendors and artists, so we didn’t alter our exhibit space prices either. After that, we just set our mind to deliver an amazing show under a more conscious budget.
Nrama: How have the guests who are flying in reacted to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico?
Carrion: I have to say that all the special guests that are coming to the show are doing so with great spirit. They know that by being here, they will make people happy, that they will entertain thousands who have endured very hard months, and they just want to make people feel better. Some have written us asking to come for the show just because they are dedicated to helping Puerto Rico in any way they can. Some are even donating any earnings to relief organizations.
However, sadly, this year we’ve also encountered guests who simply didn’t want to come to Puerto Rico or to our show, worried about post Maria conditions. With thoughts and prayers are not enough to rebuild the island; a Facebook post or a Tweet won’t help people get back to normal. We need guests, most of all comic book artists, to come to the Island if they are committed to helping out. Our fans deserve it, just like any other convention in the world. If artists knew the impact of how their fans feel when they meet them, they would definitively would come here to Puerto Rico, knowing how much they could help with just an autograph or a photo. The greatest misconception that some artists have is that they don’t have thousands of fans here at the island: they are wrong!
Nrama: So what would you say to potential exhibitors thinking about signing up for PRCC still?
Carrion: Come to the show; come to the Island. Puerto Rico is still here, just as you last saw it. Come on down, you will be surprised at what you will find. For all of Puerto Rico, the motto is “Back to normal.” Businesses are open, people are spending money, the beaches are still beautiful, the food is still amazing, the culture is more vibrant than ever. I always say: “Come for the show, stay for vacation.” I strongly believe that news being reported on the island has a political agenda, designed so that we can get the aid we deserve as a U.S. territory. The moment that you land here, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much progress we’ve achieved. Our staff is ready to help you before, during and after the event.
Nrama: For people that may be coming to San Juan for PRCC - either from nearby areas, different islands, or from the mainland, what would you tell them about prep for the event?
Carrion: Book your hotel stay as soon as possible! After you have that squared away, just have fun, enjoy Puerto Rico Comic Con, go for food and drinks after, have some fun in the sun, and enjoy our unique culture, music, energy, etc. It’s a weekend that blends the pleasures of a tropical paradise with the wonderful world of geekdom and pop culture.
Nrama: Overall then, what are your big goals for PRCC 2018?
Carrion: My most important goal is to deliver the best show for our 40,000 plus Geekrican fans. They deserve it. We all do. I want to let the industry know that the Puerto Rico Comic Con is still here, and no, not even a hurricane can stop us.