Since it began in 2002 with about 5,000 attendees, Dallas Comic Con has been growing, and in 2011, when it moved from Richardson to the Irving Convention Center — closer to the center of DFW and more convenient to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport for out-of-town guests — things really took off.
“All of a sudden, the audience tripled to having 12,000 or more,” co-founder Mark Walters told the Star-Telegram last year. “Then [in] May 2012, we had 22,000, and [in 2013], it was 25,000.”
With that growth came traffic jams — if you got there at the wrong time, it could easily take an hour just to get into the parking lot — as well as crowds at the door and sardine-packed people queuing up for autographs with the likes of William Shatner and LeVar Burton.
In 2013, Walters said the convention would probably have to look for a new venue in a few years — but the change happened sooner than that.
This year’s convention, which runs Friday-Sunday, will be at the Dallas Convention Center (officially the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center), which has a million square feet of space, as opposed to the Irving center’s 275,000 square feet.
Crowds are a given at cons, and this year’s lineup — which include a 30th anniversary Nightmare on Elm Street reunion, a reunion of most of the cast of the cult TV series Firefly, and a Q&A with Star Trek: The Next Generation stars led by none other than the original Trek’s Shatner — has a lot of drawing power. But organizers believe the new venue will provide some additional breathing room.
“The Dallas Convention Center is not only larger, it has better common spaces to manage crowds and lineups,” says James Armstrong, event coordinator for Fan Expo HQ, which presents several cons, including Dallas Comic Con. “We were very conscious of that, because throughout our experience, it’s a problem that can really put a damper on the experience. So we’re going to try to mitigate problems ahead of time as much as we can.”
Armstrong says organizers are preparing for such peak times as Saturday morning, the first full day of the con, when the doors open and hundreds of attendees want to enter at once. Recent Dallas cons, including the related Sci-Fi Expo in February in Irving, have attracted visitors from as far as San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
The cons bring in guests such as comic-book artists and writers, as well as celebrities from movies, TV shows and even rock music, but they also are a boon for exhibitors selling comic books, games, T-shirts and other pop-culture memorabilia right down to vinyl records. Armstrong says the increased space also allows for more exhibitors.
“If you don’t find it on our exhibit floor, chances are you’re probably not going to find it,” Armstrong says. “It’s really leaps and bounds above what it’s been in the past. Part of that is due to the changing scope of the show. So we’re covering a lot more bases with the guest list, and coming with that comes new exhibitors.”
This year’s guest list includes Nightmare’s Robert Englund (aka Freddy Krueger) and Heather Langenkamp; more than a half-dozen TNG stars including Burton and Texas’ Brent Spiner (but no Patrick Stewart); a similar number of Firefly stars, including Nathan Fillion and Summer Glau (it was nearly a full reunion, but Alan Tudyk and Morena Baccarin had to cancel because of scheduling conflicts); The Walking Dead’s David Morrissey, Michael Rooker and Emily Kinney; Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd; Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s Judge Reinhold; and Marvel comic-book legend Stan Lee.
Oh, and Alice Cooper.
“Alice is great,” Armstrong says of the shock-rocker. “He really has a real connection with his fans. He loves doing these things. He’s right in there and just has a great time. Because he’s sort of the godfather of shock rock, I think people are really taken aback by his good nature when they meet him. Especially when he speaks about golf.”
Dallas Comic Con also has a growing reputation for its cosplay — fans showing up as their favorite characters, some competing in contests and some just dressing up for fun. At 3 p.m. Saturday, there’ll be a Cosplay Red Carpet providing plenty of photo ops.
But if this is your first con, be aware that a costume is not required (you’ll see a lot of amusing T-shirts, too, but even those are optional). People in costume are very popular on social media sites such as Twitter and Pinterest, which in turn generate more interest in cons. And apparently generate some confusion, as well.
“We were at another event recently, and I was talking to some folks in that town that were not attending the event,” Armstrong says. “They actually said, ‘I wish I had a costume so I could go to the event.’ I said, ‘You don’t need a costume to go to the event.’ ‘Well, all I see, picture-wise, is people in costume.’ It’s not mandatory. You don’t need a costume to take part. But we do encourage it.”