Editor’s Note: This piece is written by guest contributor, Neil Figuracion.
Thousands of nerds converged last weekend in the heart of Kansas City. Fans dressed as their favorite comic book heroes, video game icons, and cartoon legends came from as far away as the coasts. Many of them identify as Trekkies, Whovians, Browncoats, Otakus, Gamers, or Steampunks, while others have count themselves among the unlabeled masses. The convention center at Bartle Hall may never have seen such a motley assortment before Planet Comicon. The two-day comics convention recently moved to the new venue, roughly doubling the floor space of its previous location. That might have been seen as a pretty big risk. However, if the event could be judged by attendance alone, it has been a roaring success. It does well by other yardsticks, too.
For the uninitiated, Planet Comicon covers all of the bases one would typically find at a fan-fest. The enormous dealer room boasted a two story tall t-shirt tower, several rows of comic book dealers, and other folks dealing their wares. One section of the hall was their “artist’s alley,” in which artists both professional and amateur sold their works. Along the opposite wall was a section set aside for autographs and meetings with actors from fan-favorite shows and movies. The convention drew quite a few cosplayers, fans who enjoy wearing elaborate costumes, mainly inspired by their favorite entertainments.
In the theaters the convention hosted panels on both days, featuring the requisite how to break into comics discussions, or information about how to get started in cosplay or steampunk. A dedicated board game room gave players a chance to meet new friends while resting their feet.
Most popular were the panels that featured several geek-a-licious celebrities, including George Takei (Star Trek), Adam Baldwin (Firefly and Chuck), and Nicholas Brendon and Clare Kramer (both from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
Nerd-land is a diverse kingdom. As Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: Next Generation, Big Bang Theory, Tabletop) proclaimed at his panel on Saturday afternoon, “Being a geek is not about the things that you love. It’s about how you love that thing.” He referred to a sense of community and a special connection. When two fans meet and learn they have something in common they recognize an instant bond. Wheaton’s proclamation could be read as a motto for the weekend. Nerds know what excites them and they’re moved by sharing that excitement.
One of the ways that this love is shared is by heritage. Parents can be seen taking a load off their feet as their children read old Harvey comics. Others choose to dress in ensemble, like Superman and Batman families. The geek love that Wheaton referred to is now multi-generational. It’s a legacy.
Planet Comicon wasn’t only an event for experienced nerds. There were a large number of first-time fans who hadn’t ever visited a large-scale fan gathering. This isn’t surprising either, since the event appears to have doubled its audience. The move to Bartle Hall perhaps drew many who’d never previously considered visiting a pop culture conference.
Two such first-timers were sisters Sara Bowman and Bobbi McDaniel from Overland Park, Kansas and Nevada, Missouri respectively. Sara calls herself a Trekkie while Bobbi enjoys Dr. Who and hand-crafted works like the Steampunks might make.
Sara had no idea what to expect as she entered. “You get up the escalators and Boom! You’re in the middle of it all!” She was elated at what she found. “It’s like a big street fair, but for nerds. And I love it.”
Bobbi was also enthusiastic. “It’s like I’ve found my people. It’s like I’m home.” She was excited by all the costumes. “The cosplayers kind of made my life. I got hugged by Captain Jack Sparrow. Wolverine put his arm around me!” Sara was also intrigued by the cosplayers. As a Trekkie, she was surprised to find herself drawn to those dressed as Star Wars villains. “Something about those storm troopers. I want to touch their guns.”
While their tastes in TV shows may differ, they do agree that they had a wonderful time at Comicon. When asked about what drew her to the convention in the first place Bobbi realized, “I came for the enthusiasm!”
If there were any grumbles about the convention, they were minor. Even though the convention had double the floor space of the previous year, there were occasional human traffic jams. However, the convention center has room enough that Planet could easily expand the space in the future. As Chris Grine, creator of the fantasy adventure graphic novel Chickenhare remarked, “Everyone was caught off guard by the success of the event.”
Though Planet Comicon has been running for nearly fifteen years, this event feels like something fresh and new. With a great start at an excellent new location and plenty of room to expand, the future looks bright. It seems that pop culture fans from all around will have a great new destination in the Midwest!