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Who needs Comic-Con when two more superstar-accessible conventions can delight geeks on the same weekend?

<p>Artist Frank Quitely autographs a program for Nathan Hendrix Jr. during MorrisonCon at the Hard Rock hotel-casino. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES</p>

Artist Frank Quitely autographs a program for Nathan Hendrix Jr. during MorrisonCon at the Hard Rock hotel-casino. PHOTO: BILL HUGHES

It’s really quiet at the Hard Rock Hotel. You could walk by the convention hall entrance and not even notice a comic event happening, let alone know the guests paid $500-$700 to be here. No, there’s just a single table next to the bar — with two rooms beyond that, one for panels and another hosting signings, an art gallery and a theater — welcoming attendees to what might equate to a pop culture religious experience. This is Morrisoncon, one of two comic events going down in Las Vegas the weekend of Sept. 29-30.

Morrisoncon is centered on Grant Morrison, a writer who has both defined mainstream characters such as Batman, Superman and the X-Men, and created such off-the-beaten path works as The Filth, The Invisibles and Kill Your Boyfriend. He’s the comic world’s space deity, and he’s brought a carefully curated group of industry friends with him to flavor the weekend.

The event is exclusive, a convention in the loosest term, in which attendees don’t stop for cosplay photos, though there is a self-proclaimed witch inviting guests back to her hotel room. The creators are friendly and ready to talk with fans. “They’re so approachable, they’re like your best friends,” says one attendee. “It’s just a more intimate encounter with these people.”

Morrisoncon spans the whole weekend, and every night someone has a story about hanging outside a club, catching a smoke with their favorite artist or jamming. This isn’t the convention where you debate whether Hulk or Thor is stronger. This is the convention where a renowned artist like Darick Roberston tells DC Comics co-publisher and legend Jim Lee to “go fuck yourself” as a term of admiration. Where a random hello spawns a discussion about Philip K. Dick’s religious experiences and Appalachian linguistics. It’s creative and meta.

The stars align a few miles down Paradise Road, where another convention is being held, the kind people have tried to put on before and failed. This time, there is an active crowd roaming the floor, happy to be here. This is the Las Vegas Comic Expo, which is more traditional in layout and design. There are shop booths found at every corner of the Riviera Convention Center, as well as an artist alley. Most of the locals love the experience. For some, this is their first convention because San Diego’s Comic-Con is too expensive and quickly sells out. Kids can be found latched onto their parents, amazed at seeing Batman and Bane in person. And there’s a lot of cosplay.

Saturday packs them in (as does Sunday) yet you can still meet famous artists and even request a sketch or autograph. The local retailers are generating buzz and drawing mixed crowds of resident and visiting guests. “Traffic flow is great, people are spending money,” says Ralph Mathieu of Alternate Reality Comics. “[It’s] a really great lineup of talent for a first year show.” Alternate Reality, Pop! Goes The Icon and Comic Oasis are just a few of the many Las Vegans packing the show’s expo floor.

Even for a larger show, the Las Vegas Comics Expo provides a similar level of intimacy as Morrisoncon. Fans told stories of creator encounters and made plans for next year’s edition.

Neither convention seems to go after the other’s crowds; the two are like a bass and rhythm guitar cranking out a jam. It’s the kind of four-color cosmic coincidence that would make the graphics gods proud.