'HurriCon' event benefits Bethany Congregational Church in East Rockaway

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When his church needed hi support three years ago, David Donovan turned to one of his biggest passions — comic books — to help it by coming up with the HurriCon convention fundraiser. The event has since grown every year, helping support Bethany Congregational Church in East Rockaway.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Bethany opened its doors as a relief center for those in need. In the six months that people came to its gymnasium to drop off and collect donations, the floor was heavily damaged and needed repairs. During Sandy, the Grant Avenue Firehouse served as a refuge for people in need, but once the donations kept growing, Bethany leaders offered the church as a drop-off site. With the storm spreading a mix of dirt, oil and sewage outside, people dragged it all in on their shoes as donations from the Red Cross and United Way came pouring in.

In 2018, with the help of his wife, Linda, Donovan hosted a comic book convention, which raised enough money to pay for half of the new floor. The church, built in 1885, still needs several upgrades, so Donovan has made the event an annual outing (excluding last year because of the coronavirus pandemic), and the third one on Nov. 13 raised more funds than the previous two.

“The relief center benefitted the people in the area during Sandy,” Donovan said, “so my main job was to get the word out to them that Bethany was there for you and now Bethany needs some help, so come out and support Bethany. There were a lot of people from the local community there. Without the support of the community, the show wouldn’t be successful at all.”

Donovan, 61, said he has collected comics since he was in his early teens. He has been a parishioner at Bethany for more than 50 years. He was confirmed at the church, has taught Sunday school classes there and was the editor of the Bell Tower Bethany newsletter for many years. Donovan has also been a church moderator, preacher and reader, and is now on its board of trustees. He lived in East Rockaway for most of his life and graduated from Rhame Avenue Elementary School and East Rockaway High, and though he now lives in Rockville Centre, the church still plays a major role in his life.

HurriCon featured 32 vendors and several special guests. Donovan said more than 100 people came to the show, and there was an influx of visitors all day. The vendors sold comics, action figures, books, artwork, Funko Pops and more. Guests included John Hartt, an East Rockaway alumnus and pop-up artist from Virginia; Keith Williams, an artist for DC and Marvel comics; Michael Jan Friedman, a Star Trek novelist and writer for DC Comics; and Sean Jackson, who has created books of hand-drawn mazes, including his newest creation, “Star Wars Mazes,” which features mazes based on film scenes.

Bethany charged a $5 admission for the event, and children who wore costumes got in free. The church also fundraised by selling tables for vendors. While Donovan did not disclose how much was raised, he said the funds would help Bethany fund window and painting upgrades, as well as other renovations.

The Rev. Mark Lukens lauded Donovan for creating the event, and said he spreads good will and is humorous.

“It was a lot of fun, and we had a lot of people from the community in,” he said. “We did better than we thought in terms of raising money, which we always need. It was a wonderful event, and after the pandemic and everything, to get all these great artists in, mostly local, but all of them great, we really enjoyed it.”

The event also featured a “walking taco,” which Donovan described as a taco in a bag, and one parishioner brought homemade seafood bisque for attendees to enjoy. Church volunteers helped collect donations at the door, prepare food and organize raffles.

Donovan said his favorite comic book characters include Batman, the Ninja Turtles, The Thing, Ben Grimm the Flaming Carrot, an independent character, and Reed Flemming, who is “the world’s toughest milkman.” He added that he hoped to continue to make HurriCon an annual and welcoming event.

“When I went to comic conventions in the ‘70s in Manhattan, we were a very small group and we were kind of an outcast group,” Donovan recalled. “Now, fast forward how many years, the comic community has exploded. It’s in all types of media. It’s the biggest films and some of the biggest television shows. What I’ve tried to accomplish with HurriCon is to make it an inclusive thing. Everyone is welcome there.”

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