This weekend at the Austin Convention Center, you can relive your childhood fantasy of wrecking your bike and becoming an expensive cyborg by seeing interviews with Lee ‘Six Million Dollar Man' Majors, Lindsay ‘Bionic Woman' Wagner and Richard ‘the guy who played Oscar Goldman' Anderson.
Indeed, the TV and movies watched by kids is a big theme. Adam West and Burt Ward, aka Batman and Robin circa 1966, will be there. You might be able to score an autograph from Lando Calrissian himself, Billy Dee Williams. (And no, you probably would not be the first person to ask him to sign a bottle of Colt 45, so don't do that.) ‘Ghostbusters' Ernie Hudson will be there, as will ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer' stars Nicholas ‘Xander Harris' Brendan, Claire ‘Glory' Kramer, and James ‘Clem, the nice demon with the giant ears' Leary. There's Boomer from the original ‘Battlestar: Galactica,' Gil Gerard and Erin Gray from ‘Buck Rogers' and Patricia Kara, suitcase No. Nine on ‘Deal or No Deal.'
Welcome to Wizard World Austin. For some, it's the first comic book convention Austin's hosted in years. But the company bills it as a ‘pop culture convention.' This sort of combination — between comics culture and the celebrity autograph circuit — can drive serious comics fans to distraction.
Wizard World president Gareb Shamus doesn't see a problem. ‘We're not doing one to the detriment of another,' Shamus said. ‘It just so happens that we have a lot of access in the celebrity world. In reality, we still have a lot of amazing comic book talent who comes to our shows.'
This is a fair point. Plenty of dealers will be tabling at the show, while veteran comic book artists such as Michael Golden, Mike Grell and Joe Madureira will make appearances and there will be a huge ‘artist's alley' with lots of smaller-name cartoonists doing sketches.
But this is, as Shamus puts it, ‘a celebration of everything fun and exiting in the pop culture world,' not just a comics convention. Shamus, a sports card fan and the founder and CEO of Wizard World, launched the comic book fan magazine Wizard in 1991, a time when investor speculation on comic books was hitting an extraordinary high. His company Wizard Entertainment purchased the Chicago Comicon in 1997. By 2005, Wizard World was producing conventions in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Texas. Shamus turned the cons into a ‘tour' this year with stops in places such as Toronto, Anaheim and Austin. (The Wizard World show that was once held in Arlington has been moved to Austin, a perhaps geek-friendlier city.)
Austin comic book writer Matt Sturges takes a diplomatic view. He writes ‘Jack of Fablesm,' ‘House of Mystery' and JSA All-Stars' for DC Comics and has projects in the pipeline from other publishers. He will be at Wizard World Austin and has appeared at its earlier incarnation in Arlington.
‘I think some of my colleagues resent when (conventions) bring in media guests that appear to be competing with comics,' Sturges says. ‘But I honestly have no problem with it. It's just a different approach. The more people who are exposed to comics, the better. People show up and they wanna see Lou Ferrigno and happen to pick up a comic or come to my table, that's great.'
To take the opposite view, if anyone sees cheap reading copies of the 1950s ‘John Carter of Mars' comic or ‘The Brave and the Bold' from the early 1970s, I will be the guy on his hands and knees going through boxes of back issues. And if I happen to get Lee Majors to sing the theme to ‘The Fall Guy' with me, that's just gravy.
Wizard World Austin
When:noon to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Where:Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez St.
Cost:Advance adult single-day tickets are $25; three-day weekend tickets are $45; free for children ages 10 and younger when accompanied by a paid adult (limit two children per adult).
Information and tickets:866-882-5860; www.wizardworld.com/austin.html