There was a time when sci-fi and fantasy games such as Dungeons & Dragons, comic book superheroes and related collectible toys were the stuff of geeks and nerds.
Now, those media are a dominant source of inspiration for the American entertainment industry, where the term blockbuster has become synonymous with aliens, zombies, wizards and muscle-bound or curvy individuals in thin, mesh kevlar suits.
It's no surprise the realm of the nerd is about to explode on the local scene with Santa Rosa Toy Con, a geek-fest fashioned after the hugely popular San Diego Comic-Con and the former San Francisco WonderCon.
The event, organized by collectible-toy dealer Mike Holbrook of Rio Nido, is Saturday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds' Grace Pavilion.
The first of its kind or size in Sonoma County, Toy Con is expected to draw thousands and will feature the works of local comic book artists, rare toy collections, horror film actors and actor Lou Ferrigno, who played The Incredible Hulk in the 1970s and '80s TV show.
It will also feature panels, costume contests and merchants selling cards for collectible card games such as "Magic: The Gathering." Members of the 501st Legion, who dress up as characters from the "Star Wars" universe, will attend.
While events such as WonderCon, which left San Francisco for Anaheim two years ago, and Comic-Con have increasingly become promotional platforms for Hollywood blockbusters, Holbrook said Toy Con is an attempt to recapture the original spirit of the once-obscure sci-fi and fantasy conventions.
Holbrook said he had originally planned to make the event an old-school toy show. But it didn't take long to learn that many in the North Coast wanted more, and, besides, toys have always been a big part of events like Comic-Con.
"Kind of without even expecting it, it's grown huge," Holbrook said. "I mean I've had to sell my whole toy collection just to finance this thing ... Advertising isn't cheap, getting celebrities isn't cheap."
Since February, Holbrook has shipped a couple of hundred packages of toys a month — sometimes a hundred a week. He's sold more than $24,000 worth of his best pieces, including his rarest collections, toy prototypes, even his childhood Star Wars, Transformers and GI Joe toys.
Holbrook, 36, grew up in San Leandro, but moved to Rio Nido in 1999. His family originally was from Healdsburg and he currently has relatives in Forestville.
He tried taking computer classes at Empire College and culinary courses at Santa Rosa Junior College, but couldn't get into those subjects.
A few years ago, he started buying items seized from storage units at auction and found that the things that sold the most were military items such as knives, swords and medals, antiques and toys. His specialty soon narrowed to toys and he started selling everywhere he could, from eBay to local flea markets.
He said that in Sonoma County, there's a big market for Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Generation 1 Transformers, Redline Hotwheels from the '60s and '70s and other collectible toys.
The motivation to launch a convention in Sonoma County came earlier this year, when he tried and failed to purchase a ticket online for this year's Comic-Con. The event sold out in about an hour and a half.
He said he was also angry that WonderCon had left the Bay Area.