In a world crying out for heroes, one Sacramento convention will stand for the powers of the hammer, the zombie-killing crossbow and the mighty pen.
The inaugural Wizard World Sacramento Comic Con, running March 7-9 at the Convention Center and Hyatt Regency, will feature Thor star Chris Hemsworth (March 9 only), Walking Dead actor Norman Reedus (March 8 and 9) and 91-year-old film producer and longtime face of Marvel Comics Stan Lee (March 8 and 9).
Convention stalwarts William Shatner and Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead) appear on March 7 and 8.
Fans can pay a bundle ($400 for Hemsworth, $275 for Reedus) for VIP passes that include three-day admission, autographs and photo ops. Or they can pay a daily $35-$45 admission fee to mingle with fellow fans, attend thoughtful panel discussions and try to secure a seat at the big stars question-and-answer sessions.
(Or in Reedus case, catch of glimpse of him at his autograph booth, since hes not doing a Q&A.)
Sacramento Comic Con is unrelated to Comic-Con International, which each July offers the worlds most famous pop-culture fan event in San Diego (and trademarked the hyphenated version of the generic term for comics conventions). But it is related to 15 other conventions that parent company Wizard World has or will put on this year in the United States.
Thats double the number of events Wizard World, which began with the Wizard World Chicago convention in 1997, held in 2013. But the demand is there for expansion, Wizard World CEO John Macaluso said.
The landscape of popular fiction and sci-fi is changing right in front of our eyes, Macaluso said by phone from Southern California, where Wizard World is based. Look at the movies that are grossing all the money. Its all Marvel The Avengers and Thor. Look at all the media attention that happens for the San Diego show. All of that is good for the whole business.
Sacramento Comic Con, Wizard Worlds only California event this year, is part of a 2014 expansion that includes Louisville, Ky., Minneapolis and Atlanta.
We concentrate on the cities that we feel like there is a need for a company to come in and put on an event that can draw thousands of people and give the attendees a great time, Macaluso said. You go by population, and you take a gamble.
The gamble seemed to pay off, Macaluso said, as quickly we had an onslaught of people looking to buy tickets. (Three-day passes long ago sold out).
Wizard World also chose Sacramento because the Sacramento Convention Center and the (Convention and Visitors Bureau) has bent over backward for us, Macaluso said. You also pick a lot of the places that you go from the hospitality that you get.
This years con will take up only part of the Convention Center, but a confident Macaluso said he already has booked the whole Convention Center for next years convention.
Healthy showings by other fan events in Sacramento indicate Wizard World can do well here. Long-running quarterly convention Sac-Con expects 2,000 attendees Sunday at the Scottish Rite Center (see sidebar). In January, the locally produced, twice-yearly SacAnime drew 14,000 people to the Convention Center during a three-day run. The more star-studded Sacramento Comic Con likely will exceed SacAnimes numbers, said Mike Testa of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Testa called the arrival of Wizard World, a company with a track record of presenting this kind of event, a coup for Sacramento. The Convention and Visitors Bureau has estimated the cons impact from conventiongoers dining out, shopping and staying in local hotels at $2.3 million.
Talent-wise, the Sacramento event goes heavy on The Walking Dead. In addition to Reedus, Dead veterans Michael Rooker, Laurie Holden and Jon Bernthal also will appear at the con.
The AMC horror-drama series, based on a comic book, embodies the 21st century merging of cult and mainstream that allows a company like Wizard World to put on 16 pop-culture fan conventions in a year.
Dead drew 15.8 million viewers to its mid-fourth-season premiere Feb. 9, including more viewers ages 18-49 than watched the Sochi Winter Olympics that night.
Dead and genre shows like it have generated new and ardent online fan communities and thus produced more customers for conventions.
When Evil Dead star and author Campbell (If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor) began appearing at conventions in 1988, only comic books, horror films, Star Trek and Star Wars inspired a level of fan enthusiasm great enough to start or populate conventions.
They used to be really small and some of them were embarrassing, said Campbell, 55, who ranks up there with Lee and Shatner among fanboy beloveds. Now, they are almost corporate. You feel like, Man, if I dont perform, my promoter is going to drop me. Before, I felt like they were lucky to have me.
Campbell, whose following increased with his role as former intelligence operative on the 2007-13 USA series Burn Notice, has worked enough conventions to know a simple Q&A session will not satisfy his fans.
I try to put on a show, he said. Its not at the Wayne Newton status yet, but its getting there. He bills his March 8 appearance as Bruce Campbell vs. the Audience.
I will get money out, and we will do trivia and (other) contests, Campbell said. Sometimes we will do little (movie) scenes.
He could get the sessions up to Newton level, Campbell said, if every conventiongoer would get in the spirit and don a costume.
Basketball shorts dont cut it. I want to see people dressed up as Wookiees.
Campbell touches on an aspect of modern fan conventions that has little to do with celebrity autographs or photo ops: cosplay (or costume play), which has risen in popularity as fandoms have increased.
On March 8, the convention will hold a costume contest and a masquerade party at which foam-muscle Batmen can dance with female Banes. Sacramento Comic Con also will devote panel discussions to sexuality within cosplay and the art of cosplay filmmaking.
The event also will showcase big names in the comic-book world, including Spider-Man co-creator Lee and longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont.
Sacramento Comic Con panels will delve into convention-culture topics such as bullying at conventions (if a nerd cant go undisturbed at a comic-book gathering, then where?) and the role of women in geek culture.
Other panels will take on the art of comic-book inking and the sociocultural relevance of the year 1939 in popular entertainment. Batman, Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz all were introduced in 1939.
Sacramento Comic Con, in short, will serve every level of fan, from those who simply want a look at the handsome Hemsworth to others seeking to go deep, deep geek.
Call The Bees Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.