The 2014 Lexington Comic Con in only it’s 3rd year is exploding at an unheard of rate. Last year’s Con drew an estimate 10,000 visitors and this year’s attendance was expected to double. No official numbers were posted but after spending all 3 days at the convention it was clear that 20,000 or more walked the convention floor in 2014. For a city the size of Lexington that is an excellent number with a geographic range that drew fans from Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virgina with some who travelled from as far as Atlanta, Columbus and Chicago. A Con that has grown exponentially in a vert short period of time certainly did so with some growing pains as well. Not only did the Con settle in to downtown Lexington, KY but on Saturday alone there was a St. Patrick’s day parade, a music tour called Winter Jam and a dance competition all within the same venue and with a few blocks. But through all the congestion, traffic and waiting, the Con was a smashing success.
When the Con began 3 years ago the big draw was the appearance of the original Mighty Morphing Power Rangers and while the draw is still a strong for fans the media guests and comic creators are slowly gaining traction. Along with superstar Power Ranger, Jason David Frank, yellow ranger Karan Ashley and black MMPR Walter Jones, Lexington and the comic convention circuit saw a first ever Con appearance by one of the best known and until now elusive original Pink MMPR Amy Jo Johnson. But the normally heavy Power Ranger crowd had to make room for an onslaught of Star Trek fans. Not one but three big name original Star Trek alums made an appearance this year with Capt. James T. Kirk (and Kentucky resident), William Shanter, Sulu and twitter legend, George Takei and Lt. Uhura, Nichelle Nichols. But one of the longest lines for signing was from Walking Dead star and Lexington native who plays Carol, Melissa McBride. Unfortunately for fans McBride had to leave early on Saturday due to a live spot of the Talking Dead on Sunday evening but she spent almost all her available time meeting fans, signing and taking photos. Nerds and geeks alike were treated to the appearance of two of the most famous nerds around, Revenge of the Nerds stars Robert Carradine who played Lewis Skolnick and Curtis Armstrong who played Booger and who both currently host the TBS reality show King of the Nerds. Other notable TV and film stars present this year included longtime character actor Christopher McDonald best known as Shooter McGavin in Happy Gilmore, Lou Ferrigno, Mick Foley, well known voice actors, Tom Kane (Yoda; The Clone Wars), Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Darkwing Duck) and Robert Jackson (Ghost Face; Scream). Well known cosplayers attended such as Ani-Mia, Nicole Jean Marie and Soni Aralynn.
Comic book creators made their presence known as well this year with such legendary guests Jim Steranko, Bob McLeod and Allen Bellman. Current and rising comic creators made their way to Lexington as well. I spoke with both writer, Robert Venditti (X-O Manowar, Green Lantern and upcoming Flash) and writer/artist Tim Seeley (Revival, Batman Eternal, Hack and Slash). Both Venditti and Seeley were great to their fans and very gracious with their time.
Some strange, funny and touching events happen on the con floor and this year was no exception. Tim Seeley made a deal with a fan for a trade for an original sketch of Snake Eyes. Instead of simply buying the sketch Seeley offered the fan the sketch in exchange for a Subway sandwich. Who got the better end of the deal is up for debate but needless to say the fan had to wait at least an hour to get to the counter in the crowded food court but wound up with a fairly cool original piece of art for the cost of a footlong!
Amy Jo Johnson pulled a Bryan Cranston-esque move on Saturday. Brian Cranston walked the San Diego Convention floor wearing a Walter White mask to remain anonymous and enjoy the con floor with fans. Now while the Pink Ranger isn’t nearly in danger of being mobbed on a con floor she did manage to dress in a Spider-Man outfit, strap on a long wig and accompanied by a friend dressed as Venom walked the floor and stopped for pictures along with the thousands dressed as their favorite character. Mind you, Johnson’s attendance was a special ticket only event and she was never scheduled to do any meet and greets on the convention floor. I admit I was rubbed the wrong way by Johnson’s private event but went a long way redeeming herself by pulling the Spider-Man costume gag. Even I didn’t recognize her the multitude of times I passed her that day and of all the photos I took I missed that one. Well played, Amy Jo, well played!
Cosplayers and costumed fans were off the chart this year! While professional and well-known cosplayers did some amazing things the average fan were awesome. My vote for the most imaginative cosplay was a guy dressed as Sweet Tooth the long running original character from writer/artist Jeff Lamire, I was blown away by the out of the box thinking there. More memorable costumes were a spot-on detailed version of Mysterio, the plethora of Deadpool’s but one exceptional Uncanny X-Force gray Deadpool. Fans went all out and the sheer amount of comic book geekdom that made their way through the isles reaffirmed my hope for a strong and growing comic book fanbase.
Finally on Sunday morning, prior to the floor opening, the Star Wars 501st Legion did what they do best. A young boy in a wheelchair is flanked by Stormtroopers and Darth Vader. The boy was presented with a mountain of Star Wars toys and collectibles while a crowd armed with cameras looked on in amazement an joy. After the presents the boy was wheeled before Vader and his troops and lead a procession through the con floor to visit all the vendors who gave with charitable abandon. the 501st help make kids dreams come true and as a fan I was truly honored to witness it.
While the Lexington Comic Con has exploded in size it has it’s share of complaints and growing pains. This is not unexpected but must be pointed out. The biggest complaint of Saturday was the lack of parking and organization. For those who bought the VIP tickets they were rewarded with early admittance and a private 4 hour con experience on Friday night. Those who did told me it was well worth the money. The problem was for those who pre-purchased their tickets. The confusion and congestion was so bad the those who did pre-pay waited for upwards of an hour to get in while those who simply walked up and got their tickets that day walked right in. I’m not sure why this all happened but more than one person expressed their anger and frustration to me personally. William Shatner was 2 hours late on Saturday which also rubbed fans the wrong way. Even though the venue was nearly twice the size of last year the congestion in the isles and at vendors booths seemed equally as bad on Saturday afternoon. Parking was another serious issue. The back lot was partially blocked off to make a waiting area for fans attending Winter Jam, a christian music tour, in next door Rupp Arena, decreasing the amount of parking by at least half.
Honestly one of my biggest beefs with this Con is that it is still more of a pop culture event than a comic book one. As the Power Rangers began as the main draw, I certainly am beginning to see a shift and have high hopes that more high profile comic book creators see the draw and appeal this con has for comic book fans. I met a ton of them now let’s just hope Lexington can address that growing need.
While the Lexington Comic Con had it’s problems, those were far outweighed by the good. Lexington is a small town but fans come out in droves to be in the comic book environment and the majority of fans expressed a positive and exciting experience. With the overall success of this year’s event, 2015 looks to be even bigger and better!