Mark Walters remembers how, nearly two decades ago, when he first started working at and then putting on comic-book conventions, his parents were a little worried about his future.
“There were concerns and conversations through the years,” he says with a laugh. “[They’d say] ‘That can’t be your sole source of income’ — and now it is.”
For Walters, 38, the trajectory of his career has mirrored the rise of local geek culture, where conventions have moved out of hotel ballrooms and into sprawling spaces like the Dallas and Irving convention centers. Not only is he one of the organizers of such major local events as Dallas Comic Con, Science Fiction Expo, and Fan Days, he also runs bigfanboy.com, a movie-oriented website that offers the latest news and reviews as well as the chance for fans to attend advance screenings in Dallas, Oklahoma City and Albuquerque. (At those screenings, Walters often shows up to introduce the film and give away prizes.)
Walters’ inspiration began back at Dallas’ Jesuit High School. “I read Mad and Cracked and immersed myself in comic books with a vengeance,” he recalls. “I transferred to W.T. White [High School] and I really enjoyed the public school experience a lot more. There was this whole world I was missing [at Jesuit] because most of what I was into was more appreciated [at White].”
Walters began working for area comic-themed conventions and eventually began staging them. In 2002, he teamed with another convention promoter, Ben Stevens, who had been doing the Science Fiction Expo, to stage Dallas Comic Con. “It was silly for us to do two shows when we could combine,” says Walters, who is listed on the Comic Con site as event manager. (Philip Wise, who runs the Star Wars-themed theforce.net and rebelscum.com, is also listed with Stevens as owner/producer.)
The three shows they produce overlap thematically but have some differences.
“We have a lot of customers who come to every event we do. A large portion of the fan base is at every show,” he says. “If you want to see comic-book creators and guests, all three shows have that, though the Science Fiction show is more heavily focused on science fiction, Comic Con is definitely heavy on comics, and Fan Days is more of a mix.”
But throwing in his lot with Stevens meant that being a comic-book geek became his full-time job. “[Before], this was something I could do in my spare time with a month or two of planning,” he says. “Now, each one takes four or five months of planning.”
As for whether the interests in all things geek will peak and decline, Walters is not too worried. “When something gets popular, it’s only a matter of time before it implodes,” he says. “ The Walking Dead is insanely hot but there is only one direction to go and that’s down. With comic books and comic-book culture, there is a cyclical aspect to it. If it fizzles out and dies down, it will come back.”
Right now, he must plan for the next Fan Days event, Oct. 4-6. And these days, he doesn’t hear any complaints from Mom and Dad.
“My mom runs media check-in when you come to the show,” he says. “I try to keep her involved and [I] want her to see what’s going on. She sees all the people come in and sees what’s behind this and what drives it.
“My dad sometimes comes to the shows,” Walters adds. “But he’s a bit overwhelmed by the crowds.”