By Gary Dowell
This year’s Dallas Comic Con represented a transition of sorts for the 13-year-old event, and a wholly successful one at that. Much like other similar events, Dallas’ annual gathering of geeks has expanded from a relatively small gathering of a few thousand die-hard comic book and genre fiction fans to a weekend-long pop culture-fueled gathering of about 50,000.
The Comic Con’s growth is best illustrated by its movements. As recent as three years ago it had bounced around from Plano to Richardson, gradually filling the small suburban civic centers; by last year it had tripled in size and moved to the Irving Convention Center, which it quickly outgrew. Three months ago, C2 Ventures, the company that runs the Dallas Comic Con, Fan Days and Sci-Fi Expo, was purchased by Swiss publishing company Informa, which runs a number of other expos.
As of this year it has set up shop in the sprawling Kay Bailey Convention Center in downtown Dallas. It’s a welcome and much-need change; the Center was better suited for the huge crowds the DCC now pulls in, and it literally gives attendants room to breath. The Irving Convention Center’s cramped vertical design made attending the Con and its sister events a nightmare. At the Sci-Fi Expo in February, lines quickly tangled and ground to a halt as did the escalators, which broke down due the sheer number of people commuting from the dealer booths downstairs to the Q&A/panels upstairs. The auditoriums were too small to accommodate the hordes; a trekkie, whovian, or browncoat could wait in line for an hour or more, only to be turned away at the door due to lack of seating. Which could be a truly heart-rending experience for your average fanboy/girl.
DCC has always drawn an impressive array of celebrities, artists, vendors, and other guests from the worlds of comic books, TV, and film. This year, they pulled out the stops. Panelists included such icons as Marvel Comics co-founder Stan Lee, horror movie icon Robert Englund, pioneering shock-rocker Alice Cooper, and (original) Godzilla star Akira Takarada. Current cult faves David Morrissey and Michael Rooker, late of playing memorable villains on The Walking Dead, pulled in a crowd of approximately 3,000 late Saturday afternoon.
That could be considered on the small side after Sunday, which filled the roughly 5,000-person capacity of Hall D with spectators for two mega-panels/cast reunions. One featured seven cast members of Star Trek: The Next Generation in a spirited Q&A session moderated by none other than William “The Shat” Shatner. The audience questions were mostly softballs and the guests — Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Levar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby, and John DeLancie — spent much of the hour trading mock verbal jabs.
The other major panel featured most of the cast of Joss Whedon’s popular science fiction TV series Firefly. Though short-lived — it generated one 14-episode season and a feature film — it maintains a large and loyal cult following that would make Jim Jones green with envy. All of the original cast except Morena Baccarin (Homeland) and Alan Tudyk (Frozen) were in attendance, though the latter called in briefly from Australia. Whedon himself sent his blessings via a short video clip for the event, recorded on the set of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Saturday’s festivities climaxed with a perfectly surreal after party at the South Side Music Hall that included live karaoke with a live backing band. Truly, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a grown man in an Underdog costume sing the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia”.