WATSONVILLE—Starting an event centered around comics, art, fantasy and the collectibles that those realms inspire was something Francisco “Paco” Estrada had first dreamed up when he was elected into the Watsonville City Council in 2018.
The idea was, Estrada says, to give kids—and adults—a safe space to “nerd out,” connect with like-minded people and create communities of collectors, something that he says he wishes he had as a child growing up in Watsonville.
“When I was young, I would’ve loved to have someone tell me, ‘Hey, you’re not weird. That’s cool.’ Sometimes you need that. That feeling like you’re not alone,” he said.
The former mayor hopes the inaugural Nerdville, Watsonville’s first-ever comic-con-style event, can fill that void. The celebration of comics, art and collectibles is set for Sunday at the Gene Hoularis and Waldo Rodriguez Youth Center in downtown Watsonville.
It will feature a panel of local collectors and artists as well as several vendors representing a variety of fields, including anime, comic books, cards and action figures.
Friends of Watsonville Parks and Community Services (Friends), a small nonprofit that supports the city of Watsonville’s recreation programs, is organizing the event, with help from the City, Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) and the Community Health Trust of Pajaro Valley.
The event will run from 10am to 5pm. Tickets are $7 and are available through Eventbrite.com or at the door. People that show up in cosplay, or members of local nerd-related groups get in for free. PVUSD students also get in for free with proof of ID.
In addition, Estrada says, they’re encouraging their vendors to have items at all price ranges. Organizers want everyone who attends to have the chance of feeling what it’s like to collect. They will also have various raffle prizes, including rare comic books and collectible cards.
Estrada says that Nerdville is the start of a greater effort from the City to meet the demand of residents who have long asked the municipality to help organize more weekend events for young people. He also hopes the event will turn into a bi-annual occurrence, and an outlet for young people who, like him, are passionate about superheroes, comic books and action figures.
As a kid, collecting was a way for Estrada to spend time with his older brother, who, unlike his dad, an immigrant from Mexico, understood why a pricey Spider-Man comic book or action figure wasn’t “garbage.” Eventually, his passion for comic books and action figures blossomed into lifelong friendships at school, and an obsession with collecting them. The last time he took inventory of his action figures and memorabilia a few years ago, Estrada counted more than 1,100 items. That includes replicas of Captain America’s shield and mint-condition action figures still enclosed in their packaging.
His collection has undoubtedly grown since then, Estrada says, as he’s nabbed other items off the web and at comic-cons over the years. Attending those events and others, he says, inspired him to bring something similar to Watsonville’s kids who may have always wanted to go, but never had the opportunity.
“I think of it as the Disneyland experience. I didn’t go as a kid, but I wish I did. Same thing here,” he said. “I don’t want kids to feel like they can’t have things like this in their town. They can. It just felt like somebody had to take up that crusade.”
Enter Friends and the city of Watsonville, which is waiving several fees and helping the nonprofit hold the event at the community center. Friends founding board member Maria Orozco says that although she is not clued into comic books, Pokemon or other hallmarks of nerdom, she sees a strong need to support this slice of Watsonville’s young people, the majority of whom are of Latinx descent.
Although blockbuster comic book movies have largely become part of the vernacular, other groups that might be interested in anime, for instance, still face some ridicule at school, says Orozco, who is also a PVUSD Trustee. It’s important, she says, to not only show those kids that they have a place where they belong but to also give them an opportunity to share their passion with their parents—or whoever they choose to bring with them to the event.
“I look at this as a family event,” she says. “It’s a chance for young people to connect with the rest of their community, yes, but also with their family.”
She added: “We need some positivity in the community right now, and I think that this is an opportunity to provide something like that. I think we’re all in agreement that we need more youth-centered activities, family-centered activities.”
For information on Nerdville and Friend of Watsonville Parks and Community Services, visit friendsofwatsonvillepcs.org.