What better way to spend the last rain-soaked weekend in April than by being indoors with thousands of your fellow pop culture fans and convention-goers? That was the scene Friday, April 28, through Sunday, April 30, in Kansas City, Missouri, which served as the home for the best comic and entertainment convention in the Midwest for the 19th year. You’d better believe that if it’s springtime in the heartland, we’re talking Planet Comicon!
This year’s event was an eclectic mix of exhibitors, legends and contemporary print and web comic creators, authors, cosplayers, celebrities, and professional wrestlers. With panels, tabletop gaming, kids craft and activities zones, and vendors galore, there was truly something for fans and attendees of all ages. Programming kicked off with opening ceremonies on Friday at 11:00am, with festivities extending after convention hours and well into the night on Friday and Saturday, before wrapping up Sunday evening.
If Planet Comicon is known for one thing–other than for being the largest annual convention in Kansas City–it has to be that this is a place where everyone is welcomed as part of the geeky throng. The kids area was expanded and moved up to the main exhibition hall this year, where little ones needing a break or tired of standing in line could pull up to a table stocked with all manner of craft supplies. People of all ages, shapes, sizes, skin tones, and genders strutted, stomped, and rolled through the convention center dressed as their favorite characters and letting their inner geek flag fly.
With so much to see (so, so much to see) and so much to do over three days, it’s hard to distill the weekend into a few hundred words. While I couldn’t be everywhere at once, and needing a little time to get my shopping for the family done and to indulge my personal fanboy–I mean fanman–I did try experience as much as possible. Here are a few of the highlights, from this tired GeekDad’s perspective.
Hardest Working Guest (Sprint Edition): Stephen Amell
Though he was only in town on Saturday, the Arrow actor made it a point to sign everything put in front of him and take a little time with every fan. Being a father, I particularly enjoyed the way Amell interacted with the youngest fans who approached him, whether they were too nervous to speak or whether they rambled everything in their cherubic heads. While his abs might get the attention, the guy’s writing hand has got to be in terrific condition to pull off his Saturday appearance. Kudos goes to his handler Jamie (I hope I spelled her name correctly, if not, I apologize) and the Planet Comicon staff and volunteers who kept that line moving all day long.
Hardest Working Guest (Marathon Edition): Clare Kramer
A staple on the convention scene, Kramer is the picture of endurance and energy. Every panel she hosted felts like watching two or more friends just hanging out on the couch and talking about pop culture. Not in the way that you and I talk about entertainment, though, but from the perspective of people who have created and lived through the arts and entertainment that you and I consume, love, and break down. It’s easy to see why she is tapped by convention programmers to host time and again.
Absolute Trooper: Billie Piper
The Doctor Who and Penny Dreadful actress had to endure the worst that springtime in Kansas City has to offer… seasonal allergies. This poor woman was miserable all weekend, yet with copious amounts of hot tea, espresso, tissues, and Germ-X, toughed it out and took time for every one of her many fans that kept her busy the entire convention. I’ve been at conventions where guests have taken their ball and gone home for less, but Piper toughed it out.
Bringing Down the House: John Barrowman
Showing up in a TARDIS dress and leggings that he purchased from a vendor on the convention floor, Barrowman’s hilariously bawdy panel took a turn when the 20-plus feet of stage dressing and scaffolding came crashing down about halfway through the panel. Unhurt and seemingly unfazed (I don’t know how… I wasn’t onstage and I was shaken up), Barrowman made sure that those in attendance were seen to by convention staff and paramedics first before picking right back up without missing a beat, leaving his fans wanting more of the consummate showman. (In the spirit of Barrowman’s panel, I deliberately chose the word “consummate”… take it however you want.)
Needed a Longer Panel: Dan DiDio and Jimmy Palmiotti
One hour listening to the DC Entertainment Publisher and his longtime friend/collaborator talk about their personal history, the comic industry, and rib one another wasn’t nearly enough time. These guys could have easily held court for another hour or more, and I could have sat and listened to it all. Someone reboot the IFC program Dinner for Five and book these two as guests on the first episode, please!
Needed a Better Timeslot: GeekDad: Raising Generation 2.0
Who books a panel on geeky parents raising geeky kids and doing geeky things together at 3:30pm on Friday, when those geeky parents are picking up their geeky offspring from school or waiting for their geeky kids to get off the bus? That said, Games Editor Dave Banks and I appreciate everyone who made it out to our panel. While there may not have been a lot of you in attendance, you were a truly engaged crowd with some excellent questions during the panel and we had some great discussions after the panel. We can’t wait to see all of you and many more next year!
Sharpest Wit: Carole Barrowman
The Scottish-born English professor, author, columnist, and sister to professional ham John Barrowman, Carole is an absolute hoot. Seriously, someone should have set up a video camera followed Carole around all weekend, livestreaming her panel and her interactions with her fans and brother. I don’t know whose idea it was to place Catherine Tate on one side, John Barrowman in the middle, and Carole Barrowman on the other side, but give that person a raise.
Coolest Cat at the Con: Teddy Sears
For whatever reason, Sears and I crossed paths a lot. Yes, the guests are generally accommodating to the people paying for photos and autographs, but every time I came across Sears, he seemed to be taking just a couple of minutes longer with his fans, and really getting at whatever level they were speaking from as fans and talking their language with them. I never saw him looking harried or hurried or the slightest bit put off. We chatted a little on the way out the door (about how nice some hot tea sounded and about catching the hockey game) on Saturday, and then again Sunday morning (about how his Caps got smoked). I can’t say it enough; most chill guy you’ll ever meet on the convention floor.
Judge Me by My Size, Do You?: Spencer Wilding and Ron Perlman
You know Wilding as the latest man in the Darth Vader suit, or as the prison guard who jacked Star-Lord’s Walkman in Guardians of the Galaxy. The man is a giant. You know Perlman as… the legendary actor behind your favorite characters from film, animation, television, and video games. Surprisingly, shorter than I expected.
You Can’t Put a Price on This: Neal Adams and Jim Steranko
Where but at a comic and pop culture convention can you be privy to conversations between two legendary comic creators? These two guys together talking about the industry could have carried a panel, but why go off into some room when you can have a conversation in Exhibitor’s Alley for anyone who happens by to listen to and engage in? Just one of the many priceless experiences you get when walking the floor at Planet Comicon.
The Best Thing You Saw: Cosplay
I met a lot of people last weekend. A lot. Guests of the convention. People I have only known tangentially, like Kung Fu Robot creator Jason Bays. Other members of the media covering the event, like a group of K.C.-area high school journalism and broadcasting students and their teacher. Matthew, the event photographer from Arkansas. Merissa, the college student from Kansas and contributor with Nerd Barrage, rooting for her friends in the cosplay contest. Bill, who flew out from the Bay Area to help make Planet Comicon a success once again. The countless parents and kids I spoke with. The Lord of the Rings cosplay group who I never knew existed, even though I am practically neighbors with them.
My go-to question whenever I met someone new at Planet Comicon was, “What is the best thing you’ve seen today/this weekend?” Not the coolest, the funniest, the most unique, the most <insert adjective here>. The best. It’s a question that causes people to pause. “Best” is a big word.
Not once did I get an answer that involved a celebrity or guest of the con. No one said it was a panel (not even the GeekDad panel, unfortunately). I can count on one hand the number of responses that referenced a cool piece of art. Overwhelmingly, the answer involved cosplay.
“Did you see the little girl dressed as Princess Leia pulling an R2D2 behind her?”
“I saw this one guy dressed as…”
“There was this lady in this costume…”
Far and away, the best thing that people saw at Planet Comicon 2017 was the cosplay, both on the floor and at the Cosplay Contest after hours Saturday evening. I’m not a cosplayer; I’m a cosplay spectator. I love walking the floor and coming upon a small group huddled together, sharing tips and examining one another’s outfits. I love seeing strangers with similarly themed costumes squeeing like long-lost friends and taking selfies together because one dressed as Spider-Man and the other dressed as Mary Jane (snapped neck and all). I love people working it on the stage for a panel of judges and a raucous crowd who love the contestants just for giving it a go.
In other words, the best part of Planet Comicon is you, the people who dress up, show up, and continue to make this the place to be for entertainment and pop culture enthusiasts every spring. I dedicate the photos in the rest of this post to you. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next year!