In coming months, you won't have to travel far to hobnob with Hobbits, schmooze with celebrities or cavort with comic book creators. North Texas has plenty of opportunities for fans to get their geek on this spring.
Dallas Comic Con, an annual gathering of sci-fi, fantasy and comics aficionados, is beaming down to the Irving Convention Center in May. More than 25,000 fans are expected to attend "Texas' biggest pop culture event," which will feature appearances by the likes of William Shatner, LeVar Burton, Nathan Fillion and Brandon Routh.
While it's the comic book crowd equivalent of the Super Bowl, Dallas Comic Con is hardly the only geek game in town. Pop-culture stores dot the landscape, and such "nerdvana" conventions as A-Kon and All-Con, both of which are held in Dallas each year, routinely draw huge crowds.
Geek culture isn't a recent phenomenon in the area -- retail magnate Buddy Saunders opened his first Lone Star Comics store in Arlington in 1977, and local comic book and sci-fi conventions date back a decade or so before that -- but it is more mainstream and more socially acceptable than ever.
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Ron Killingsworth, owner of Collected: Your Pop Culture Headquarters, a new comic book store in southwest Fort Worth, credits Hollywood.
"Between all of the profitable and record-setting movies, top TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and The Walking Dead, comics are reaching an increasingly large audience," he said. "The industry has also helped, with events such as Free Comic Book Day that reach out and draw new people into the art form."
Killingsworth said his store plans to celebrate Free Comic Book Day, May 4, in style.
"We'll have free comics, of course, but we'll also have food and drinks all day, appearances by local and national writers and artists, costumed characters, and more," he said.
In the world of comic book retail, Killingsworth is a Fort Worth institution, opening his first store, Heroes, in 1984 and expanding it to a three-store chain before closing down in 1996.
He says the business is much different today than it was two decades ago.
"Back in the day, most of our customers came in either as couples or alone," he said. "Now we have large groups of friends, or several couples coming in together as a social outing. We have customers now that get together on weekends, play video or board games, watch movies, bring their comics and have geek-out reading parties. It is a much more social hobby now."
Technology has changed the scope of geek culture, as well.
"With the Internet and social networking, there is more of a sense of community in the industry," Killingsworth said. "Plus, customers can keep up with industry news, new releases, reviews and all manner of information on a near-instantaneous basis through such sites as ICv2 [www.icv2.com] and Comic Book Resources [www.comicbookresources.com]."
Traditional comic book heroes, such as Batman, Spider-Man and Superman, are staple commodities at Collected, but Killingsworth points to items based on popular TV shows as some of the bigger sellers in his store.
"We haven't been open long enough to establish real trends," he said, "but so far have been very happy with sales on Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Adventure Time [a Cartoon Network show] and Walking Dead books and merchandise."
Over the next couple of months, casual and hardcore fans alike can mark their calendars for these pop-culture offerings aimed at sci-fi fans, horror hounds and fantasy fanatics.
April 13: North Texas Comic Book Shows
To get warmed up for the multimedia extravaganza that is Dallas Comic Con, head over to the DoubleTree hotel in Dallas for the latest installment of North Texas Comic Book Shows, a quarterly mini-con offering comics, action figures and other items for sale. In addition, Lone Star Comics will be on hand to purchase up to $200,000 of comics from fans.
"We are excited about the show addition of Lone Star Comics," event coordinator Chris Latshaw said. "If you have comics that you want to sell, bring them to the show and turn them into cash."
April 15: Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines
This documentary on PBS, covering Wonder Woman and other fighting fantasy females, "looks at how popular representations of powerful women often reflect society's anxieties about women's liberation." Interview subjects include Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem and Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman in the popular 1970s television series.
Andy Mangels, curator of WonderWomanMuseum.com and founder of the charity event Women of Wonder Day, is looking forward to the airing of Wonder Women, especially the Carter interview.
"Lynda Carter was the living embodiment of the character," Mangles said. "She was so clear and guileless in the role that she made you believe she was actually Wonder Woman."
Details: 10 p.m. April 15, KERA/Channel 13
April 17: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe No. 1
Written by Keith Giffen (Justice League) with art by Pop Mhan (Batgirl, The Flash), He-Man and the Masters of the Universe will be an ongoing comic book series starring the blond, muscle-bound sword-slinger. It will be more violent and have more substantive storylines than the popular 1980s cartoon, but nostalgia fans should enjoy it.
"DC Comics is bringing He-Man back big time," Killingsworth said. "This one has geek culture written all over it.... It's based on the show so many of my customers grew up watching."
May 3: Iron Man 3
Robert Downey Jr. returns to the title role in Iron Man 3, which also stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Iron Man associate and love interest Virginia "Pepper" Potts. Tony Stark's world is torn asunder by Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley.
The multipowered Mandarin, who first appeared in Tales of Suspense No. 50 (1964), is hardly a household name like the Joker or Lex Luthor, but he's Iron Man's archenemy in the comics, so fans should expect a superpowered showdown of epic proportions. According to Killingsworth, "One big difference is that the movie Mandarin is a terrorist, making him more relevant to mainstream audiences."
May 3-5: Texas Frightmare Weekend
As gory as it is geeky, the annual Texas Frightmare Weekend is set to infest the Hyatt Regency DFW hotel. In addition to learning how to survive the zombie apocalypse, convention-goers can see such films as Maniac, starring Elijah Wood, and Christmas With the Dead, adapted from a story by Texas native Joe R. Lansdale.
Like Dallas Comic Con, Texas Frightmare Weekend is a star-studded affair. Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright will be on hand for an Alien (1979) reunion, while The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal, Chandler Riggs, Nick Gomez, Lew Temple, Vincent Ward and Norman Reedus will discuss their battles with biters and other such topics.
Details: Hyatt Regency DFW, 2334 North International Parkway, DFW Airport. One-day ticket $25, $30 at the door; free age 12 and under (with paying adult); weekend pass $65. www.texasfrightmareweekend.com.
May 4: Free Comic Book Day
In addition to Collected (817-945-1722), various area stores will be offering free comics (and other perks) to customers. They include Lone Star Comics (817-860-7827) in Arlington, Hurst and Fort Worth; the Sci-Fi Factory (682-231-3228) in Fort Worth; Y2Komics (817-263-5888) in Fort Worth; Generation X Comics and Games (817-540-5556) in Bedford; and Cosmic Comics and Cards (972-264-0617) in Grand Prairie.
"It's our 30th anniversary, so Free Comic Book Day is going to be huge for us," said April Rubino, manager of Cosmic Comics. "We're going to have face painting, a bouncy house, a live band, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, sketch artists, and more, and it's all free."
May 17: Star Trek Into Darkness
Into Darkness is the sequel to 2009's Star Trek, with J.J. Abrams returning to direct and produce another untold tale of Kirk, Spock, Uhura and the gang. According to the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), "After the crew of the Enterprise finds an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one-man weapon of mass destruction."
"I love it," Killingsworth said. "I love what Abrams is doing with the 'Star Trek' franchise, and I can't wait to see what he does with Star Wars."
May 17-19: Dallas Comic-Con
Dallas Comic Con dates back to 1994, when founder and producer Ben Stevens opened the DFW Toy Show in a small hotel in Dallas. The convention moved to Plano shortly thereafter and, as of May 2011, has settled into its newer, nicer, more spacious home: the Irving Convention Center.
"By moving to a more centrally located facility in the Metroplex, we have seen growth from 3,500 fans to well over 20,000," Stevens said.
Details: Irving Convention Center, 500 W. Las Colinas Blvd., Irving. One-day ticket $20-$35 (prices go up after April 15), $5 ages 5-12, free age 4 and under; weekend pass $50. www.scifiexpo.com/DCC/Home.html.
Former comic book store owner Brett Weiss is the author of the "Classic Home Video Games" book series.