A towering, hissing Predator with blue-striped braids, a walking TARDIS with a blinking light and dozens of Harley Quinn and Joker duos packed into the Sacramento Convention Center on Sunday for Wizard World Comic Con.
“Just from a visual standpoint, I don’t know that I could compare it to any convention that we have in Sacramento,” said Mike Testa, chief operating officer of the Sacramento Convention and Visitor Bureau. “If you happened to be driving down either J or 15th Street (last year), you couldn’t miss the presence of Wizard World.”
That presence has physically grown in the con’s second year: The entire convention center and community center theater were booked for Comic Con, compared to just most of the center last year, which saw 30,000 attendees. This year’s convention is expected to have drawn up to 5,000 more.
A dedicated fan base for convention highlights spanning pop culture, like Dr. Who, The Walking Dead, Power Rangers and classic comic book characters economically benefits cities like Sacramento, one of many across the nation hosting Wizard World cons. This year’s convention is expected to generate $3.5 million in economic activity, up $800,000 from last year, Testa said.
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Katrina Whittier, 24, flew more than 2,000 miles from Tampa, Fla., to meet Norman Reedus, who portrays Daryl Dixon on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” His die-hard fans often sport pins and shirts with the motto: “If Daryl dies, we riot.”
“Oh, I cried,” she said. “It made flying all the way over here worth it to be able to talk to him.”
On Sunday, she was tattooed by GeeksterInk artist Bo Wiltse, who also sells comics in his Las Vegas tattoo shop, Neon City. Wiltse, who completed seven tattoos over the weekend, including Whittier’s Daryl-Dixon-inspired piece, said he doesn’t earn much profit from conventions after travel, health and convention floor expenses.
“You get a lot of exposure. You get to meet a lot of people,” he said. “It’s really fun. Even if I didn’t make money, I’d still do it.”
Humberto Ramos, an illustrator of “The Amazing Spider-Man, “Impulse” and several of his own series of comics, said conventions are just part of the business for artists.
“We take conventions as seriously as anything else,” he said. “Most importantly, it’s the one chance we have to interact with fans.”
For freelancers like Ramos, those missed days of work can take a toll if they don’t generate enough money from a convention.
“The days I’m not drawing my work,” Ramos said, “I’m hoping to get some money from the side job I’m doing.”
Wizard World is one of a few local conventions that run throughout a weekend.
“It’s great news for businesses and hotels from an economic impact standpoint,” Testa said. “They say most shows aren’t this big their first year as this one was in Sacramento (last year).”
Last year, 2,000 hotel rooms were booked in connection with Comic Con attendance, he said.
“Our pop culture right now is celebrating all the things you’ll see in person at Wizard World,” Testa said, “which is part of the reason why it’s so popular.”
Hobbyists like Daniel Lozano, a Sacramento native from Monster Sac Cosplayers, try to come up with bigger and bolder costumes every year, chasing best-dressed awards and more fans. Lozano, who was a Sunday crowd favorite as the Predator, started out years ago doing flips and spins as Darth Maul.
“I’m a celebrity here when I dress up in big costumes,” Lozano, 35, said. “For us, you don’t have to wait in line. Pictures are free. That’s what we love. We love the attention. ... We go bigger every year.”