Young Hunter Dodson is pictured here with (l-r) Foundation for Autism Resources founder Shana Ritter; his mother, Debbie Dodson; and his uncle, Billy Cooper, founder of the Indiana Toy and Comic Expo. Photo by James Kellar


“If it’s geeky and nerdy, we’ll have it,” says Billy Cooper, founder and promoter of the Indiana Toy and Comic Expo (ITCE), which will take over the entire Bloomington/Monroe County Convention Center on Sunday, August 27.

Cooper says that the expo, now in its fifth year (and its third year in Bloomington), is a “love letter” to his father, who helped him appreciate reading by sharing comic books with him.

It’s also a way for Cooper to pay forward a service rendered to his family. Cooper’s nephew, Hunter Dodson, 7, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. His mother, Debbie Dodson, says that just two years ago, Hunter had trouble reading, writing, and interacting with others. The family moved to Greencastle to be close to Cooper, who wanted to help. After moving, they discovered the Foundation for Autism Resources (FAR), a Bloomington-area organization that connects low-income families with resources to help children with autism.

FAR Executive Director Shana Ritter, who will host an information table at the expo, says that FAR’s niche is “providing a direct impact in children’s and families’ lives.” In the Dodson’s case, that meant subsidizing the insurance needed to get Hunter therapy. Now, Dodson says, Hunter reads, writes, and converses. “He’s looking forward to the first grade,” she says.

The expo will host 50 vendors of collectible toys, games, and comics, plus 24 comic and costume artists. For the first time, the expo will hold a silent art auction offering original sketches, paintings, and sculptures of superheroes and other pop-culture icons, with proceeds benefitting FAR.

Says Cooper, “If I can give back even a fraction of what Shana has given Hunter and help local kids, I’m going to do it.” This will be the third year that ITCE has donated to FAR.

Hunter’s favorite superheroes? The Fantastic Four and Guardians of the Galaxy. “He can name them all,” Cooper says.

Expo hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The auction begins at 3 p.m. Admission is $5; kids get in free with a paid adult admission.

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