Tom Rasch wasn’t bitten by an irradiated spider, caught in a blast of gamma radiation or even forced to build a weaponized iron suit to escape a terrorist encampment.
The former Rapid City resident got his superpower from a pencil and a little imagination.
“What if you took the 'Batman' story, gave it a little bit of tech from 'Iron Man' and dropped it in the middle of the 'Star Wars' series?,” said Rasch, talking about his recent "Black Alpha" comic series.
"Black Alpha" and Rasch will beam down to Rapid City Friday through Sunday for the fifth annual South Dakota Anime Convention at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
SoDakCon, as it is affectionately known, is a celebration of "geekdom," said founder and executive director Shareece Tatum of Rapid City.
The event will feature anime voice actresses, table-top game creators, cosplay (costume play, or a kind of performance art in which attendees act out scenes from favorite stories), and a professional fashion designer, Tatum said.
Fans of comic books, "Star Wars" movies, "Star Trek" TV series, anime, video games and more will find a place at the convention, she said. SoDakCon gives Rapid City’s comic and anime fans the ability to come together to geek-out for a few days, Tatum said.
“There are so many of them, but they’re all hidden, and they’re the people you would least expect,” she said. “Our attendees' ages range from zero to 98."
A Central High School graduate, Rasch's "Black Alpha" has been featured on the Emmy Award-winning CBS-TV show "The Big Bang Theory," and it will also appear later his month as a comic series in USA Today.
A former artist for Marvel Worldwide Inc., which used to be known as Marvel Comics, Rasch will host a panel called Behind the Artist with Tom Rasch, at 4 p.m. Saturday. During the panel, Rasch will reveal how he got his foot in the door at Marvel — home to such alternative superheroes as "Spider-Man," X-Men," "Iron Man," "Thor," "Silver Surfer," "Fantastic Four" and many others — and how he got where he is today.
“Getting a call to work for a comic book, something like Marvel, is big; the equivalent of an actor getting a call to work on a TV show,” he said.
Rasch said he has come a long way from the days of doodling in the corners of his homework, daydreaming about distant worlds. He has worked on Marvel's "Punisher" comic series, is currently a concept designer constructing scenes for video games and movies, and has launched his own comic book series.
“Everything I’m doing now," he said, "I’ve had these dreams since I was a kid, and everybody in high school knew I wanted to do this, and I never gave up on my goals.”
Rasch said the concept for "Black Alpha" originated in the 8th grade. He said as a young artist and comic book lover, he wanted to draw his own characters and storyline. In middle school, Rasch knew he wanted to set his comic series in space with a “cool” spaceship.
“I created a character that I could personally relate to and most people can relate to,” Rasch said. “On the wrong side of the tracks and he gets this gift, and through experiences learns that he can use that gift to do good.”
Downtown Rapid City's Storyteller Entertainment owner Jordan Bade said Rasch spent a lot of time in his comic store in middle school and high school wading through the stacks of comic books neatly filed in the shop.
In the middle of an intense game of "Legend of the Five Rings," a samurai sword card game, earlier this week, Bade said he's had quite a few people in his comic store asking about the convention.
"It sounds like a great idea," Bade said, as he laid down an attack card. "It's great to have 'cons' in Rapid City."
Bade's opponent, Andrew Young, said he had attended quite a few comic conventions in Texas before moving to Rapid City. An avid fan of "Green Lantern" and "Red Hood," Young said he's not really an anime fan and probably wouldn't attend, but his wife would.
"Its just people hanging out having fun, that's basically what it is when I go," Young said.
With stacks of comic books featuring "Wonder Woman," the "Avengers," "Punisher" and "Green Lantern" lining the walls of his store, Bade, too, is more of a traditional superhero guy, rather than an anime aficionado. However, it won't keep him from attending the convention, he said.
"They were talking about running movies and games, so it's not exclusively an anime con," Bade said.
The SoDakCon is the only anime- or comic-con within a six-hour drive from Rapid City, founder Tatum said.
It is also only one of two anime conventions held in South Dakota, the other being in Sioux Falls, she said.
“There are none in North Dakota and none in Wyoming. There’s one in Montana and a couple in lower Canada,” she said. "I still run into people at the supermarket, where I’m like, ‘I run the anime con,’ and they're like, ‘Wait! There’s an anime con here?’”
Getting special guests such as Rasch to come to Rapid City for an anime convention can sometimes take a superhuman effort, involving aggressive networking, Tatum said. But the bigger the convention gets, the more that people contact her and tell her they want to come, making it that much easier, she said.
Comic conventions are like a small town, Tatum added. There is an acceptance in the anime/comic world, where people can spend a few days exploring and socializing with new people over something they all enjoy, she said.
“It's for anyone that has a passion for just about anything, really,” Tatum said. “No matter what you’re passionate about, there will be something at this convention for you.”