Checking out Dallas Comic Con’s Sci Fi Expo

Posted 11:59pm on Saturday, Feb. 08, 2014

It didn’t take long to spot Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern at the first day of Dallas Comic Con’s Sci Fi Expo. They were all hanging out together in an Exhibits Hall at the Irving Convention Center, and have been coming to cons for about three years.

We were, however, a little surprised at Superman’s alter ego. Not mild-mannered reporter -- but rancher.

“My real job is I actually run cattle and chickens,” said Andrew Bates of Fort Worth, who says he’s come as the same superhero for three years. “In May, I’m changing my outfit. I’m actually going as the original Penguin.”

That will be at the big Dallas Comic Con, which will be at the Dallas Convention Center this year after several years at the Irving Convention Center. The Sci Fi Expo is a relatively smaller, science-fiction-oriented convention, although it hardly seemed small with overflow crowds for Q&A sessions and thick pedestrian traffic inside the Exhibits Hall.

Bates was accompanied by Michael Barboza of Mansfield, who was the Green Lantern, and James George of Arlington, who was Batman. George said that they were late bloomers when it came to cons and geek culture -- and Barboza quickly corrected him.

“Y’all are late bloomers,” Barboza said good-naturedly. “ I was not. I was the nerd that kinda got them hooked.”

“We see all the superhero movies when they come out,” George interjected. “We’re first in line, but we’re not going to admit that to anybody else.”

Barboza, who works at Wal Mart, says that his co-workers think that his geekery is kinda cool. George, who works for John Peter Smith Hospital, says his co-workers aren’t familiar with his geek side.

“I’m wearing a mask for that reason,” George quipped. “We started with comic books, and Ninja Turtles were my very first action figures. We actually never grew out of that stage, and none of us have girlfriends because of that.”

There were, however, plenty of women -- many of them in costume -- at Sci Fi Expo (”Maybe I’ll find a hot Lois Lane,” Bates joked.) One of them was Marla Massey, a card-carrying cosplay artist who was dressed as April O’Neill, a reporter character from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series.

“Girls can be just as nerdy, and it’s annoying when people are like, ‘Oh, they’re not real nerds, they’re just faking it,’ ” said Massey, a bartender interested in a marketing career. “That’s just not true. I’m probably more nerdy than he is. I just enjoy superheroes and video games and comic books.”

“He” was Massey’s companion, David Palmer, a 30-year-old financial adviser from Dallas who was dressed as Casey Jones, another Turtles character -- as Palmer explained it, a pro hockey player who got injured and became a vigilante. “He never really knew martial arts, so he just hit people with things,” Palmer said from behind his hockey mask. “Hockey stick, baseball bat, golf clubs, all that stuff. So he carries a weapon bag.”

That explained Palmer’s weapon bag, which seemed like a particularly deep, niche level of geekery. But Palmer explained that, too.

“You’ve got all these kids that grew up as nerds,” Palmer said. “You have kids that grew up playing video games, or grew up watching cartoons. So you’ve got a different adult culture, because you’ve got all these 25-year-olds that played video games and watched Power Rangers and just never grew out of it, because we didn’t have to.”

Massey (who says she never saw the original Ninja Turtles cartoon ) and Palmer planned four costume duos over the two-day fest -- including Han Solo and slave Prince Leia, later on Saturday. They say they’ve been to about a dozen cons together.

“I’ve been to so many of these as slave Leia that when I change into it later today, everyone will know who I am,” Massey said. “I had to start my own [Facebook] page because so many people wanted to tag me and stuff. I like the skimpy costumes. If you got it, flaunt it, why not? And most of the comics are designed by men, so they’re kinda skimpy costumes anyway. This [April O’Neill costume] is probably the most clothes I’ve worn.”

One of the artists at the show was Chris “Oz” Fulton, a Dallas-based artist and tattooer who doesn’t do comic books but does related trading cards and covers. Fulton travels to cons all over the country, but says that the Sci Fi Con is one of his favorite.

“It’s the atmosphere,” Fulton says. “It is my home crowd, but it’s got a better vibe to it than most of the other shows. This is always about the art and the people more than it is about TV shows and movies.”

Not all the attendees were local. Alycia Lavender, who was dressed in a hat, blouse and skirt modeled after a TARDIS from Doctor Who (complete with small flashing phone box on the hat), came up from San Antonio with friends Vanessa Gale (dressed as a female version of the David Tennant Doctor Who) and Bryan Cole (dressed as Clark Kent on the cusp of becoming Superman). Gale designed Lavender’s outfit, which took about eight hours to put together -- a couple just for the light on the hat alone.

“I’ve been doing this for about eight years now,” Gale says. “I love the cosplay. It’s my favorite part. I never do the same costume twice. I’ve done Jessica Rabbit, Poison Ivy, Doctor Who. I think we’re into it more than the guys are because it has an extra facet for us. We can do the fashion and it not be too weird. It’s fun, and you get to play dress-up. Who doesn’t love that?”

Speaking of Doctor Who, at least a dozen -- and maybe 20 -- attendees were dressed as Matt Smith’s bowtie-sporting, tweed-jacket wearing, fez-loving incarnation as the eleventh Doctor on the long-running British hit, whose lead character regenerates every few years.

Those Doctors and plenty of other Doctor Who fans turned out for a packed Q&A with Sylvester McCoy, who played the seventh doctor, and Karen Gillan, who played Amy Pond, the traveling companion of Matt Smith’s Doctor. The show celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, and owes a lot of its staying power to fandom passed down through generations.

“I watched it because my mother is the biggest Doctor Who fan,” Gillan said in response to a question about whether she was a fan of the show before she was cast in it.

McCoy added “ "I had no idea it would go on this long ... It was 30 years when I did it and that was astonishing."

That panel was followed by one of this con’s biggest “gets,” Richard Dreyfuss, the star of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and many less geek-culture movies. Dreyfuss had strong opinions about directors (”Steven Spielberg is the only one of that generation who plays in every genre. ... George Lucas has been making one film for 30 years”), television and free speech ("When did we plant our flag on how many times you can say f--- in prime time?") and what he sees as a flawed education system and a lack of civic awareness in the United States.

But he wasn’t without humor. Asked what motivated him to appear in 2010’s Piranha 3D, Dreyfuss shot back, “Money.” Later, summing up his career, he said: “ "I wanted to have a great body of work. And that's something I think I achieved. Until 'Piranha 3D'.”

The Sci Fi Expo continues 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Irving Convention Center. Q&A sessions will include Nakia Burrise ( Might Morphin Power Rangers), Karl Urban (the latest Star Trek movies), Peter Weller ( RoboCop and a slew of other projects), the cast of the former Syfy series Warehouse 13, and a “Bionic Q&A” with former Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors and Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner. For information, visit the show’s website or Facebook page.

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