HANNIBAL, Mo. — Brandon Ward is a 1996 graduate of Hannibal High School now living in Springfield. But on Saturday, he was back in his hometown looking like he stepped straight out of a "Captain America" movie.
Ward wowed many onlookers in the crowd at Saturday's inaugural Big River Comic Convention, held in the Tabernacle of Praise recreational complex off West Ely Road.
Ward was wearing a perfect-looking Captain America costume, including helmet and mask, that gave him an uncanny resemblance to Hollywood actor Chris Evans, who portrays Captain America in a series of movies based off the Marvel comic book character.
Ward also carried an authentic-looking Captain America shield on his back as the sauntered through the cavernous convention hall, which was filled with people wearing costumes based on their favorite comic book, science fiction, fantasy or superhero characters.
Ward fit right in and was having a blast.
"I've liked the Captain America character ever since I was little, and then the movies came out, and I just really like what Chris Evans has done with the character," he said.
"This gives me a chance to be a huge nerd," he added. "I'm a 41-year-old dude standing here in a Captain America outfit. I stopped caring what people think a long time ago."
Ward, who attends similar conventions in larger cities, said he wanted to be a part of Hannibal's first ComicCon -- an event organized by another Hannibal native, Darin Logue.
"I heard about Darin putting it on and all the heart and soul he's put into this, so I realized I wanted to come up and help support this," Ward said.
"This area doesn't get this kind of stuff, so having it up here is awesome. And the turnout is amazing. This has been packed wall-to-wall all day long."
Hannibal Mayor James Hark, who served as a judge for many of the contests held throughout the day, said he, too, was impressed with the first-time convention.
"What a turnout," he said.
Hark said he kept running into people from Quincy, Ill., Palmyra, Monroe City and other outlying towns. "This is really a regional draw," he said.
Even the vendors had good things to say about the show.
Dan Long of Pittsfield, Ill., manned a booth where he sold oversized letters of the alphabet wrapped in comic book paper -- a business he started seven years ago.
"You've got people from all over the region coming in," Long said. "It's a good crowd, and it's been steady, too. Usually you've got to go to St. Louis for something of this scale."
The BRCC attracted a wide array of people of all ages. Among them was Grace Lowney, 17, of Hannibal. She came dressed as a character she called "Star Lady" and ended up winning an afternoon costume contest for novices.
"I'm kind of blown away. I didn't expect to win," she said.
Lowney decided to attend the ComicCon because "it just sounded really fun," she said. "It's been pretty inspirational, too."
The show featured more than 60 vendors selling products or touting services. It also featured appearances by artists and authors who have helped bring comics and superhero characters to life.
One special guest was Bishop Stevens, a former professional wrestler who is now an actor. He has appeared in such TV shows as "Empire," "Chicago P.D." and "The Walking Dead." He also played roles in eight movies that came out in the past 12 months.
"I'm actually doing better as an actor than I did as a wrestler," he said.
Stevens, who lives in St. Louis, said he frequently attends conventions like this because he likes to meet the public. He said the BRCC was impressive as a first-time convention.
"This is really awesome," he said. "They did a heck of a job putting this together, and it looks like the community has really come out to support it."
Also showing up was Lonnie Johnson of Perryville, who spends his weekdays working as a Perry County sheriff's deputy and spends his weekends dressed as Superman to help run a charity organization called Heroes for Kids.
Standing 6-foot-4 in his blue bodysuit with red cape and red boots -- with a shock of black hair curling across his forehead, just like the Man of Steel -- Johnson spent Saturday signing autographs and trying to raise money for the families of firemen and law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
"They are our real-life heroes," he said.