February 16th – 18th of 2018 saw the return of Planet Comic Con to Kansas City, Missouri. Once again, fans of every variety of comics, movies, shows, video games, and everything in between descended on the Kansas City Convention Center at Bartle Hall for three days of celebration and a shared passion for fandom.
It seemed like attendance was slightly lower than 2017’s wall-to-wall crowds. Perhaps being held in February as opposed to 2017’s slightly warmer month of April contributed to this. Perhaps it was an issue of increased costs or reluctance to deal with crowds like last year’s that kept people away. Do not take this to mean that Planet Comic Con was deserted, by any means. Indeed, the crowd was vast and enthusiastic, with hundreds turning out for the numerous celebrity panels that occurred non-stop throughout the weekend. And the celebrities on hand were impressive, featuring heavy-hitting headliners such as Jason Mamoa and John Cusack, and including high-profile supporting actors such as Jerome Flynn (Game Of Thrones) and Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter).
The weekend was a particularly fruitful one for fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead, featuring no less than three of its current and former stars, Khary Peyton, (King Ezekiel), Soneequa Martin Green (Sasha), and Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon): three actors who are keenly aware of and have profound thoughts on how much fandom can mean to people and affect them, including the actors themselves.
“I didn’t have time to be a fanboy when I started,” said Peyton – a serious fan of The Walking Dead prior to his casting. “My first fanboy moment was several episodes later when everyone comes to [King Ezekiel’s] Kingdom and I turn around and the entire cast is there… It was like my television had come alive!”
Michael Rooker, on the other hand, felt such enthusiasm for his Walking Dead roll that it drove him to improvise diving out of a moving car at the last moment. “Whatever I do in the scene is what happens in the scene,” he joked. But the veteran actor also spoke seriously about his role in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. “It’s like filming five different movies at once,” he said, referring to the numerous CGI sequences that such a film requires and the multiple takes that come along with them. “You nail it, then you have to nail it again.”
But during the lively Q&A session in which the actor mingled freely with the audience – at times seeming to interview them more than vice versa – he got down to the heart of the fandom experience and what it means to create a film that means so much to so many, stating that he likes “to create that feeling where you’re in the dark cinema and you just forget about everything else.”
It was a sentiment that the audience seemed to agree with.
Another actor very much in tune with what fandom wants and expects is Kevin Conroy who became the animated voice of Batman on Batman the Animated Series and has continued to do so throughout numerous Batman series, games, and films over the last twenty-six years. The Juliard-trained actor views Batman as the great mythological hero of our time and likened the character’s timeless predicament to legendary heroes of tragic theatre such as Hamlet, Orestes, and Achilles. But even such an iconic character is difficult to maintain for twenty-six years, and Conroy looks to the fans to keep himself honest.
“It’s not a question of how much has Batman evolved in twenty-six years, it’s how does the character stay fresh? You can hear someone lying to you easier than you can see them, so fans would know if I were phoning it in.”
One thing that became clear at 2018’s convention is that the creators are every bit as passionate about what they do as the fans who fuel them. John Cusack told tales of the labor of love it was to bring High Fidelity to life and Con Man star and creator Alan Tudyk spoke of staying up most of the night to edit said web series while filming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story during the day.
But it was more than just celebrities telling epic stories of beloved fictional universes that made Planet Comic Con another success, as it has been year after year. Hundreds of vendors specializing in comics, toys, novels, jewelry, clothing, and anything else one could think of filled the vast interior of Bartle Hall. Perhaps there were not more vendors than last year, but at times it felt like it. When booths specializing in cosplay, props, and photo ops were added in it became an affair virtually impossible to see all of in one day, and perhaps not even in three. Fans in attendance have always been overwhelmingly kind, helpful, and generous with one another but this year it seemed that the feelings of goodwill throughout had increased even more. The Kansas City fan community seems to know it has a good thing on its hands with this annual festival and they treat it with the love it deserves.
Obviously it’s no secret that geekdom is big business now. Indeed, it is a multi-million dollar machine. But celebrities and fans alike seem to be in agreement that the fans keep it real and conventions like Planet Comic Con so far seem like they intend to do right by that feeling. A quote by Mr. Cusack himself might best describe just how comic and sci-fi fandom doesn’t lose its way despite now being mainstream entertainment: “Art always finds a way.”