Outside of Comic-Con International in San Diego, California, there is no bigger convergence of comic book nerds, popular culture geeks, and cosplay enthusiasts than your local Wizard World Comic Con. My local event this year was Wizard World Sacramento Comic Con 2016, held in the vast Sacramento Convention Center. Fortunately, the weather is not as sunny and hot as last year’s event, but it still makes you sympathize with the fully decked out cosplayers (even in an air-conditioned space).
Once again, the exhibitor’s hall was the place to be, to be seen, and to watch other people enjoying themselves as they browsed, shopped, played board games and video games (prizes were available for those entered in the tournaments), ate snacks, and chatted with their favorite artists and celebrities. Organizers crammed more activities in here that they had in separate rooms in previous years. As a result, the large hall was more crowded, but it felt more lively and welcoming.
Having gone to a few of these conventions already, I am no longer overwhelmed by being surrounded by such madness. Instead, it’s actually relaxing to be a part of, because everyone else seems to be comfortable and having fun. I have yet to have a less than positive experience, because almost everyone is courteous and respectful. No one wants to ruin the joy.
The most popular cosplay was Harley Quinn from the upcoming Suicide Squad movie, although I did see someone in a more traditional outfit. I didn’t see anyone dressed as Elsa from Frozen (thank goodness) and not as many Captain Americas or Iron Mans as last year (surprising). There were a few Power Rangers, many Batmans, many Deadpool incarnations, and one giant Colossus (Deadpool era).
While not everyone dressed up to pose for photos, the thousands of attendees had a variety of things to do: sit in on the dozens of scheduled panels and sessions, donate blood, play classic arcade games such as Ms. Pacman or modern video games such as Dark Souls III and Street Fighter V, and watch people playing those video games either up close or on the big screens above the gaming floor.
Most of the celebrity appearances occurred on Saturday, including Billy Boyd (The Lord of the Rings), Evan Peters (Kick-Ass, American Horror Story, X-Men: Apocalypse), WWE Superstar Big Show who also signed free autographs (i.e., really cool), Jewel Staite (Firefly, Stargate: Atlantis), and William Shatner (Star Trek: The Original Series). Captain America: The First Avenger co-stars Sebastian Stan and Hayley Atwell spoke on Sunday. And a few others practically lived at the convention center, like Ray Park (Star Wars: Episode 1, X-Men), Michael Cudlitz (Southland, The Walking Dead), Eddie McClintock (Warehouse 13), Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), Annie Wersching (The Vampire Diaries), and Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead).
The reliably charismatic Boyd gave his best Chewbacca impression, made a couple of Trump University jokes, helped serenade the crowd with the help of an audience member, gave away some vinyl records of his band Beecake, and recounted the time Viggo Mortensen kissed him while filming The Return of the King. Staite reminisced about her castmates and friends from Joss Whedon’s Firefly, her gifts from Nathan Fillion, her favorite Firefly episode (“Out of Gas”), and the fun of being able to act for a living.
Shatner performed a solo Q&A session that mixed some of his one-man show with questions from the audience. He described his charity work with hippotherapy (therapeutic horseback riding), Star Trek (including his practical joke on DeForest Kelley, with the help of Leonard Nimoy, involving toasted bagels), and his currently-in-the-works Christmas album.
Stan probably had the biggest ballroom crowd for his Q&A as many female fans lined up to ask questions that mostly revolved around him as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Solder. Stan described his close friendships with Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie including that infamous car scene in Civil War, his role and sex scene in The Bronze with Melissa Rauch, the running joke of him being Mark Hamill’s son, and his time on Gossip Girl.
Atwell reminisced about her now-cancelled television show Agent Carter and how fun it would be to play the character again, as well as funny pranks on the set. She also talked about her new show Conviction, being a role model for girls and young women, winning Dubsmash Wars, and competing against Clark Gregg on Lip Sync Battle. Danny Fingeroth (Deadly Foes of Spider-Man, The Stan Lee Universe) presented a concise yet extremely thorough 77-year history of Marvel Comics (with pictures) from The Sub-Mariner to the Fantastic Four to Spider-Man to the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
However, not everything was about Marvel, as Michael Klastorin (Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History) spoke in-length about the beloved Back to the Future trilogy, including such things as firing Eric Stoltz as Marty McFly, everyone always wanting Michael J. Fox as the lead character, being pushed by the studio for a second film even though the original movie’s final scene was an inside joke, turning the original 250+-page sequel script into two sequels, and letting the audience know that the rumored musical adaptation was still in the works.
Greg Weisman, co-creator of Disney’s Gargoyles, answered questions about having to pitch the animated series three different times over a couple of years to then-Walt Disney Company head Michael Eisner; why he doesn’t consider the third season as part of the official canon (not just because he wasn’t really involved with it, but because the new producer and writers moved away from the show’s established mythology and character arcs); how the true third season exists only in comic book form; that there’s a possible fourth season in the near future (more of a wink-and-a-nod then a confirmation); how Hill Street Blues inspired the show; and getting so many of the Star Trek cast (e.g., Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis) to sign on to voice characters on the show.
- Boyd repeatedly sang a new advertisement jingle, “Everything’s good at Magpie,” for the audience-recommended Sacramento restaurant.
- According to Staite, Nathan Fillion is a great gift giver.
- Weisman had doubts about whether Gargoyles would ever make its way onto Blu-ray after relatively disappointing sales for the DVD season sets.
- Newegg had a pretty large presence at Wizard World. The online electronics store had computer stations for attendees to try out some of the best computer gear available.
- Stan made an inappropriate comment (and here it is, completely out of context): “There are some advantages in coming from behind. Think about that.”
- Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys), Michael Rooker (The Walking Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy), and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) were among the last-minute cancellations due to film and other scheduling conflicts.
It’s weird that Wizard World Sacramento Comic Con is only in its third year here because the event seems like it has been around forever. Judging by the many Marvel cosplays, I don’t think convention popularity would have exploded without the MCU. However, many of those in attendance seemed to just want to be in a place where so many people were having fun. That’s the real beauty of Wizard World: It exists to bring people together through a shared enjoyment of comic books and pop culture.