Wednesday, February 8, 2023

M.A.C.K. 2016: An Unconventional Convention


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Story by Matthew Burnette // Contributing Writer | Photos by Michael Patton // Staff Photographer

Captain America, a Ghostbuster and Green Arrow.

Though usually only together in an intense fever dream, these were only some of the characters seen wandering the halls during the fifth annual Murfreesboro Anime and Comic Kon at the Clarion Inn & Suites Saturday and Sunday. The usually quiet hotel was energized as fans, some in costume and some not, came together with artists, writers and celebrities to immerse themselves in the many facets of pop culture.

From movies to TV and comics to anime, every entertainment need was satisfied at the M.A.C.K. Comic dealers filled tables with boxes of books for fans to look through, and many vendors sold merchandise from popular franchises like Star Wars and The Avengers. Even anime fans were represented by many of the cosplayers in attendance. There were also many panels throughout the weekend covering such topics as steampunk, professional wrestling and cosplaying. Aspiring artists and entrepreneurs also displayed their unique products during the convention.

Though the event may seem small to first-time visitors, co-creator Marc Ballard says it’s the perfect size.

Marc Ballard Murfreesboro Anime and Comic Kon
Marc Ballard, co-organizer of the Murfreesboro Anime & Comic Kon in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (MTSU Sidelines / Michael Patton)


“We have actually kept it the same size; we don’t want it to get bigger,” says Ballard. “It’s very intimate and family friendly.”

Though he doesn’t mind more people attending each year, Ballard notes that the small size allows the convention to charge a $10 admission fee for an all-inclusive experience for fans.

Though a whole story could be written about just the fans, many notable people were in attendance such as comic artist Nathan Massengill, who is most recognized for his work on the Justice Society of America and the first Deadpool ongoing series in the mid-nineties. While the hype increases for the upcoming Deadpool film, Massengill has high hopes.

“A lot of Deadpool fans seem to be behind it, and Ryan Reynolds seems to be a fan,” he says. “I think the upcoming movie is going to be pretty amazing.”

Massengill’s career started in the early ‘90s. He inked an issue of Jaguar for DC before penciling a character that would stand out to this day.

“Wonder Woman is my favorite character of all,” he says. “She’s probably the most unique and interesting iconic figures in America to me, far beyond comics.”

Massengill has worked on many iconic figures, such as the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Batman, over the years and cites Batman as his favorite character as a child.

“I use to take the Adam West ‘Batman’ as high drama when I was five years old,” says Massengill. “I thought, ‘Wow, how will they escape this dastardly trap’.”

He’s also known for his technique as well. While most artists use pens for inking, Massengill uses a brush, instead.

“It gives a different aesthetic feel to work,” he says. “Often people hire me for my work with the brush.”

Massengill also started his own series back in 2013 titled Viscera, and he runs SuperPowered Studios in Huntsville, Ala. with fellow artists Kevin Stokes and Lynn Day. When he’s not busy with that, he likes to visit the conventions to interact with fans.

“It’s always about the people,” says Massengill. “[Conventions] have always been like a place that I felt at home.”

Another notable guest was voice actor Louise Dorsey. Dorsey was the voice of Jetta in the ’80s animated series Jem, which was based on the popular comic book series Jem and the Holograms. Though it may be her most recognizable role, she didn’t expect to get it. She had never done voiceover work before, but was urged to do so by her agent.

Louise Dorsey Murfreesboro Anime and Komic Kon
Louise Dorsey, right, appears at the Murfreesboro Anime and Comic Kon in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (MTSU Sidelines / Michael Patton)


“I went in a booth in William Morris and did my thing and thought ‘Ugh, that sucked’ and went home [to England],” says Dorsey. “They called me in England and said ‘you’ve gotta come back, you’ve just got one of the big roles in the show,’ so I came back and had the best time of my life.”

Aside from Jem, Dorsey has also lent her voice to projects ranging from books to the outgoing message for the doctor’s office on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. She also toured as a singer for seven years, which isn’t very surprising considering Dorsey’s father is famous pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck, who gave her her first shot at performing.

“My first gig was at the Hollywood Bowl with him and 100 musicians behind me,” she says. “I tripped on the speaker on my way out, but it was amazing.”

Eventually, Dorsey found a home in Tennessee, along with her daughter, who attends conventions with her. Though “Jem” has been off the air for nearly thirty years, it’s remained popular among fans, which leaves Dorsey feeling very humble.

“My dad is celebrating 50 years coming up of being famous, and that is awesome,” she starts. “But for just doing a little part in a show and still being remembered, I’m very grateful.”

Also in attendance was James Neathery, a steampunk artist who competed on the Game Show Network series Steampunk’d.

James Neathery Murfreesboro Anime Comic Kon
James Neathery appears at the Murfreesboro Anime and Comic Kon in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. (MTSU Sidelines / Michael Patton)


“We were given a certain room of house like we had just a few basic things in it,” says Neathery, “We had to steampunk the room, the appliances, the furniture, the walls, we had to make it all steampunk related, but every room was a different theme.”

Though Neathery didn’t win Steampunk’d, he continues his hobby, which he took up back in 2011. Neathery sells watches and jewelry that he makes himself without the help of machines. When he’s not busy making things, he works as an x-ray tech and travels to different conventions.

“My wife actually got me a steampunk watch for my birthday, and I liked it so much I took it apart to see how it was put together, and decided I wanted to make my own,” he says. “People saw the watch that I made and they wanted me to make one for them, so I started making a whole bunch of different ones.”

Events like the Murfreesboro Anime and Comic Kon offer fans, celebrities and aspiring artists and entrepreneurs the opportunity to converge and celebrate what they love. Conventions like the M.A.C.K. are necessary, especially in a world where obsessing over pop culture is gradually becoming the norm. As Marc Ballard puts it:

“There’s nothing more chic than geek.”

See Staff Photographer Michael Patton’s photos from the convention below:

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To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon, email

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