Kansas City, Missouri was the place to be the weekend of March 29 through 31. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Midwest Regional held its Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds at the downtown Sprint Center. Only blocks away, tens of thousands of cosplayers, families, and fans attended Planet Comicon Kansas City‘s 20th-anniversary convention, breaking attendance records and making it the biggest and best event in the show’s history.
Planet Comicon attendees could tell right away that this year’s event was going to be a big one. While I’ve not been given the official attendance numbers at this time, discussions I had with long-time crew, volunteers, and repeat guests all felt that the attendance on Friday, March 29 rivaled that of Saturday attendance figures in recent years. As one would expect, Saturday was the busiest of the three days, with a number of attendees arriving in snowy conditions before the exhibition floor opened and staying well into the evening, when the party moved from the convention hall to Kansas City’s downtown Power and Light District.
In years past, it has been easy to look at the list of guests and identify which were likely bringing in the crowd. When around 70,000 fans set the previous attendance in 2016, it was during Stan Lee’s final nationwide convention tour. At other times, it has been a combination of individuals, like Stephen Amell, John Barrowman, or Jason Momoa. Rather than a major celebrity with a “hot” TV or film project, guests showed up in droves to meet with themed groups of guests, such as Dean Cain, Tom Welling, and Michael Rosenbaum, or Cary Elwes, Wallace Shawn, and Chris Sarandon from The Princess Bride, or Bonnie Wright and James and Oliver Phelps from the Harry Potter films.
In addition to long lines to meet the celebrity guests, attendees shopped at the vendor booths that packed the floor and met with some of their favorite classic and current authors and comic creators. Folks lined up to meet icons like Chris Claremont and Jim Starlin, then headed over to current favorites like Jason Aaron and Babs Tarr. Panel rooms were packed—some standing room only—such as the “Remembering Stan Lee” panel I had the honor of moderating with guests Chris Claremont, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti. The video from the panel, filled with their memories and stories of Stan Lee, is below.
For many, the highlight of the weekend is Planet Comicon’s cosplay contest, held on Saturday evening. Year after year, the cosplay scene in Kansas City has grown in breadth and depth. Veteran cosplayers consistently have to up their game as folks new to the craft enter at a much higher level of skill, thanks in part to the attention the growing hobby has received in recent years. Many were left in awe as the Novice category participants took the stage, with the night’s favorite coming from among the first-time participants. Images from the cosplay contest can be found in the photo gallery below.
In addition to an estimated economic impact of an estimated $9.5 million to area businesses, Planet Comicon hosted a number of live drawing panels, where celebrated artists teamed up to create one-of-a-kind drawings that will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting HERO Initiative, which helps comics creators in times of medical and financial need and helping them return to work once the crisis has passed.
That sense of community and of helping others is what defines Planet Comicon. People stopping cosplayers, not just to take pictures, but to help straighten a piece that has gotten crooked or repair a piece that is falling off that the cosplayer hasn’t noticed. People giving up their seats without being prompted so the elderly and those with kids can sit and enjoy a panel. While on the floor, I happened upon a middle-aged man with three pre-teen to teenaged kids stop and give his fast pass tokens to a tired looking younger father with three kids aged from an infant to no more than five or six years old, saying that he’s been in that younger father’s shoes before.
Planet Comicon Kansas City has announced that next year’s event will be held on March 20 through 22, 2020. If you are in the midwest next spring, bring your family and friends and ring in the vernal equinox with tens of thousands of pop culture geeks and enthusiasts just like you!