The comic book convention scene is much different now than it was in 1983, when I first started going to Larry Lankford’s late, lamented Dallas Fantasy Fairs, which had begun a year earlier. Back then, the Dallas Fantasy Fair was one of the biggest comic cons in the country, drawing around 2,500 fans. According to some reports, only San Diego Comic-Con and Chicago Comicon were bigger, the former bringing in around 5,000 people (grown to more than 160,000 today).
Compare that to my experience over the weekend at Fan Expo Dallas, where close to 50,000 fans (according to pre-show estimates) converged on the Dallas Convention Center. In the old days (the last Dallas Fantasy Fair was in 1996), comic books were king—most of the guests were comics-related, and most of the vendors sold comic books.
Nowadays, movie and TV celebrities have taken over the bigger comic cons. There are still plenty of comic books for sale (along with action figures, trading cards, T-shirts, and the like), but today’s shows have a different, more corporate, more mainstream vibe than those older, more intimate shows, where you felt like you were part of a secret society.
Before this column devolves into a “get off my lawn” type of rant where I lament “the good old days,” where we would stay at the Dallas Fantasy Fair all weekend without renting a hotel room (the back row of the all-night film room made for a good place to sleep), I’ll try to stay focused on the here and now of Fan Expo Dallas.
Both of my kids were home from college for the event, so that meant I would likely have a great weekend no matter the quality of the convention.
We set out Saturday morning and arrived a few minutes after the show opened. We had media passes, so we didn’t have to hassle with getting tickets, but we still had to wait in a pretty long line just to get in (lines for pretty much everything else were long as well).
After taking a brisk survey of the vendor’s room, we made a beeline to the celebrity area, where several rows of movie and TV stars were meeting, greeting, and taking pictures with fans. One reason my son Ryan wanted to go to Fan Expo was to collect autographs for Hearts of Reality (www.heartsofreality.com), an annual non-profit charity event that helps support Give Kids the World. Located in Orlando, Give Kids the World provides children with life-threatening illnesses and their families an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando to visit the area theme parks.
With paperwork in hand, and with my daughter Katie and I acting as backup support (at least part of the time), Ryan waited in each line, bravely approaching the celebrities’ handlers, managers, etc., telling them what he was doing, explaining the charity to them, and hoping they would comply.
Much to our delight, a number of celebrities happily agreed. Among others, Ryan collected autographed glossies from such Hollywood types as Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter), James Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Khary Payton (King Ezekiel from The Walking Dead) and Robin Lord Taylor (The Penguin from Gotham). Several cast members from The Rocky Horror Picture Show also complied, including Tim Curry (Dr. Frank-N-Furter), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), Nell Campbell (Columbia), and Barry Bostwick (Brad).
Each autographed photo Ryan collected will be auctioned off, and 100% of the proceeds will go to Hearts of Reality. While Ryan won’t benefit monetarily from the autographs he collected, he was the benefactor of a super fun day talking to celebrities, in addition to the good feeling one gets from charitable works. Even some of the celebs who didn’t fork over a photo were a blast to speak with. For example, Rocky Horror cast member and rock and roll icon Meat Loaf didn’t donate a signed pic, but it was pretty cool talking to the legend up and close and personal.
Speaking of Meat Loaf, the highlight of Saturday for me was attending his Q&A panel, where he waxed eloquent about his long career, which includes numerous movie appearances, a brief stint with Ted Nugent (he sang lead vocals on five tracks on Free-For-All), and collaborating with lyricist Jim Steinman on several records, including 1977’s Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Not only did Meat Loaf tell interesting stories, he was downright hilarious, such as when he mimicked his “moronic” self being absolutely star-struck and unable to speak when he met Elvis Presley and John Lennon (on separate occasions).
Since the floor was open to questions, I tossed out one of my own, inquiring about where he got the idea for combining operatic vocals with rock and roll. Meat replied, “No one. I didn’t want to copy anyone else. I didn’t want to sound like anyone else.” A little later he said, “The only other people who could do what me and Jim Steinman did were Brian May and Freddie Mercury of Queen and Pete Townshend with The Who.”
All in all, Saturday was a blast, and I even found some graphic novels for $2 each, a small stack of old MAD magazines for $2 each, and a large stack of recent Marvel and DC comic books for 75 cents each. I bought these things to resell in my antique mall booth, but I did find one item for my collection: an official Tron joystick (1983) for the Atari 2600 for only $10 (they go for about $25-$30 on eBay).
Ryan and I had decided not to go to Fan Expo on Sunday, since we were both exhausted, and since Ryan figured he had collected about all of the signatures he could. However, Katie talked us into going by insuring us that we would have fun, reminding us that she had driven five hours from Lubbock just to go to the convention, and telling us we’d be crazy to miss the Rocky Horror Picture Show panel scheduled for that afternoon.
It was raining like crazy on our way to the show Sunday morning. While driving in those conditions was a hassle, I was glad I was at the helm and Katie wasn’t driving there by herself. I’m sure she could have handled it, but, even though she’s 19, I’m not ready to give up the role of protective father just yet.
As Katie predicted, we had an amazing time on Sunday, and Ryan even managed to snag a few more charity autographs. The highlight was meeting Jason David Frank, the original Green Ranger in multiple seasons of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. We’re not really Power Rangers fans, but we immediately became huge Jason David Frank fans when he signed FIVE photos and insisted that we pose for a picture with him free of charge. His energy and generosity were awesome.
The coolest part of the entire weekend, as Katie predicted, was indeed The Rocky Horror Picture Show panel. With no need for a moderator, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell and Barry Bostwick kept a room full of fans mesmerized and howling with laughter. If you’ve seen Rocky Horror at the theater or on DVD, you can imagine some of the ribbing Quinn and Campbell gave Bostwick about his “tighty-whities.”
The panel was poignant as well. During one especially moving moment, a young woman said that watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which is a musical about a “sweet transvestite from Transylvania,” saved her life. Feeling suicidal after her parents had rejected her when she came out as gay and transitioning, she watched the film, and it gave her some measure of comfort and a sense that she wasn’t alone.
I’ve got many more stories to tell about Fan Expo Dallas 2017, such as James Marsters bursting into song at his panel, but those will have to wait until another day.
You can donate to Ryan's Give Kids the World page HERE.