Arts & Culture

Scenes from a con: Saturday at Fan Expo Dallas

“Skelevader”: A mashup of Skeletor and Darth Vader at Dallas Comic Con’s Fan Expo
“Skelevader”: A mashup of Skeletor and Darth Vader at Dallas Comic Con’s Fan Expo DFW.com

DALLAS Anthony Daniels prowled the stage gracefully during an audience Q&A at Dallas Comic Con’s 2016 Fan Expo, occasional breaking the grace to go into the awkward walk of C3PO, the fussy droid Daniels has portrayed in all the Star Wars movies. Sometimes he’d jump off the stage to mix in with the crowd, whom he greeted with a series of high-fives, and whose questions he sometimes interrupted in a way that somehow simultaneously lightheared and sarcastically cutting.

But toward the end of his presentation Saturday afternoon, Daniels got a little serious.

“I never really got Star Wars,“ Daniels said to the crowd. “But in recent years ... I began to recognize — and you know, somebody said earlier today, ‘Thank you so much for being part of my childhood’ — I’d begun to get something that I’d never been able to get. You give me — and the other people, George [Lucas], J.J. [Abrams] and the rest — you give us huge affection. And it’s become really quite life-enhancing.”

It was a reminder of why thousands of people would deal with crowds, which sometimes moved shoulder-to-shoulder even in the large exhibits hall of the even more cavernous Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center; why they’d stand in line and pony up bucks for the autograph of a science-fiction star, professional cosplayer or comic-book artist; why they’d come from places like Mississippi to attend what has become one of the top-tier cons in the country.

Because, as the name indicates, Fan Expo isn’t about the celebrities and artists as it is about thh fans. Dallas Comic Con organizers could not give a Saturday attendance figure as of late Saturday night, but it’s safe to say there were thousands of fans.

Some came just as themselves. Others wore T-shirts with movie titles or pop-culture slogans. But many went for the costumes — this year was suprisingly light on Spiderman and Batman outfits (although there were plenty of Heath Ledger-style Jokers, including a few women), but Star Wars was represented in many forms, as were a number of variations from Doctor Who, as well as the occasional Godzilla, Flash, Green Lantern, Teletubby (they traveled in a pack), or character from somewhere farther out in the geek-culture dimension.

Astromech, an R2D2 builders club, had a few working droids on site, but it was the people who took more inventive methods at creating their costumes who often stirred more interest.

Paul Hightower, a defense contractor from Houston was there with three children, one of whom was dressed as R2D2 and another at BB8, the roly-poly droid from The Force Awakens. Their helmets were made from papier-mache, BB8’s eyes were taken from Minion characters the family bought at a Party City and antenna made from parts of a golf bag, and moved droidlike with the help of a modified Big Wheel.

“There were two wheels on the side,” Hightower said. “One of them broke. It just couldn’t handle the stress. But they’re built around antqiue bicycle wheels we got at an antique bicycle store.” R2D2 was built atop a scooter and had very R2-like movements. including the rotating head.

Chris Buccambuso of Frisco looked like he was wearing a TARDIS, the Doctor Who time-travel ship that looks like a British phone booth. But he was really carrying a wall hanging he’d made for his daughter Katie’s 18th birthday. It had been signed by Peter Capaldi, the current Doctor, who was one of the celebrity guests at this year’s con.

“I just started with a piece of plywood,” Buccambuso said. “The rest of it was just trim and square dowling and things like that. All the white paint glows in the dark, and its backlit, so when she turns off her light at night, she can still see the windows glowing in the dark.”

He said he’s been to six or seven cons, including the biggest, San Diego Comic Con (it was Katie’s high-school graduation present). But it’s because of his daughter.

“Literally, I’m just the sherpa carrying this around,” he said. “But my daughter’s a big fan of all things comic book. I mean, I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since I’ve been in high school, but I’m more of spectator. She’s the big fan.”

Among the other celebrities who did Q&As on Saturday were actor John Cusack and, in a separate session, his actress sister Joan; comedian Rob Schneider; Curtis Armstrong of the Revenge of the Nerds movies and the Moonlighting TV series; and comic-book writer-artist Frank Miller.

Daniels’ seession, in which he told several amusing anecdotes about mishaps he’d had while wearing the C3PO costume — which has so little peripheral vision that Daniel/3PO frequently — was irreverent and a little raucous, partly a tribute to what Star Wars has meant to his career but also a jab at the scripts’ somewhat leaden lines and such absurdities as how the elite Storm Troopers are all terrible shots.

But he also pointed out that just because you think something absurd doesn’t mean everybody does. He asked the crowd if anyone liked Jar-Jar Binks, the much-reviled character from The Phantom Menace. A few hands went up, to a chorus of groans. But Daniels understood.

“What George was doing with the movies was really giving the young audience something to belong to,” Daniels said. “I’ll meet people now, 25 or 30 years old, who adore Jar-Jar Binks. And they still do, because he’s part of their early memories.”

Fan Expo continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas. One of the more anticipated events is the meeting of Candace Payne, the Grand Prairie “Chewbacca Mom” and the real Chewbacca, Peter Mayhew. Jack Gleeson (Game of Thrones), Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), George Takei (Star Trek) and comic-book writer-artist Todd McFarlane are scheduled to appear. For information and a schedule, visit http://fanexpodallas.com/

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