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Fan Expo Dallas: Meet stars from 'Stranger Things,' 'Walking Dead,' 'Back to the Future'

Several members of the "Stranger Things" cast will be in attendance at Dallas Fan Expo, including Caleb McLaughlin, far left, Gaten Matarazzo, second from left, and Sadie Sink, right.
Several members of the "Stranger Things" cast will be in attendance at Dallas Fan Expo, including Caleb McLaughlin, far left, Gaten Matarazzo, second from left, and Sadie Sink, right. Courtesy of Netflix

Fan Expo Dallas is looking more and more like Comic-Con International: San Diego, the Super Bowl of geeky gatherings. This year's expo celebrity guest list reads like a who's who of Hollywood.

Want to hobnob with the kiddie cast of “Stranger Things”? You got it. Want to ask Batman where he gets those wonderful toys? Val Kilmer may just have the answer. Want to get your picture made with “Back to the Future” stars Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd and Tom Wilson? Have at it.

That's a pretty impressive lineup for an event that has its roots in the relatively humble Sci-Fi Expo of the 1990s.

Held this weekend at the Dallas Convention Center, Fan Expo Dallas also features such stars as Jeff Goldblum, Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens and Jason Momoa (Aquaman in “The Justice League”), among many others, including tough guy Chuck Norris.

One interesting subset of guests at Fan Expo Dallas is the voice actor. At this year’s event, video game fans can meet Charles Martinet, the voice of Nintendo’s Mario since 1990, and Jonny Cruz and Chris Parson, who voiced characters in the popular first-person shooter “Overwatch.”

If you enjoy Disney animation, especially the company’s fabled princesses, Fan Expo has you covered. You can meet Paige O’Hara from “Beauty & the Beast,” Susan Egan from “Hercules” and Linda Larkin from “Aladdin.” Best of all, Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,” is going to sing “Part of Your World” live.

Voice actors tend to be very approachable at these types of shows, perhaps because they labor in anonymity for most of the year and are happy to be acknowledged for their work.

“Nobody recognizes you walking down the street,” says Rob Paulsen, who will appear at Fan Expo all three days. “Once they find out, it’s nothing but happy. Everybody gets very excited when they discover I’m a Ninja Turtle or whatever. It’s utterly validating.”

Paulsen, who voiced characters on such cartoons as “Animaniacs,” “Pinky and the Brain,” “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” and “The Simpsons,” loves doing comic cons and meeting fans. While he appreciates the extra money public appearances bring, that’s only part of the equation.

“I want to talk to everyone,” he says. “They don’t have to buy an autograph; they don’t have to pay for anything. I want to meet people and shake their hands and sometimes give them a big hug.”

Paulsen says his favorite part of doing conventions is when he meets people who have been deeply affected by the characters he voices.

“There are people who say, but for ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Pinky and the Brain,’ but for that, my childhood would have been a mess,” he says. “That is an incredible experience to meet somebody who is in their 40s, and they get a little teary and say, ‘I gotta tell ya, man, I don’t even know how to explain what "Ninja Turtles" meant to me and my brother when my parents went through a divorce, or my mother had ovarian cancer and had a very difficult time with chemo, and we would watch “Pinky and the Brain” to laugh.’”

Voice actors charge $30 to $50 for autographs, and that typically includes a photo, but the more well-known stars charge more. Charlie Cox, who plays Matt Murdock/Daredevil in Marvel’s “Daredevil” on Netflix, charges $70 for a photo op and $60 for his signature.

Fortunately, if you don’t want to lay out the cash, you can simply stand in line and meet many of the celebrities for free (with your paid admission to the show), maybe shaking their hands and telling them how much you enjoy their work. You can also attend most of the celebrity panels and Q&A's for free. (“Back to the Future” is an exception — you must purchase a ticket.)

Over the past few years, celebrities have nudged actual comic books and comic book creators out of the spotlight at the bigger comic cons, and that’s certainly true of Fan Expo Dallas. Celebrity appearance fees mean higher ticket prices and more expensive vendor booths.

Certain bigger comic book stores in the area still set up at Fan Expo, such as Collected Comics in Fort Worth and Duncanville Books, but most smaller outfits and people simply wanting to pare down their collections have been priced out of the market, opting instead for some of the smaller shows in town, such as ArlingCon, a free Arlington Public Library event that will be held June 30 at UTA’s University Center.

The expansive Fan Expo vendors’ room still offers plenty of merchandise, including graphic novels, T-shirts, action figures, and new and old comic books, but the product mix isn’t as eclectic as it was in years past, and overall it has more of a corporate vibe.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of fun to be had. In addition to star-gawking and shopping for geeky gear, you can mingle with cosplayers walking the floor, most of whom will be happy to pose with you for a free selfie.

Cosplay participants walk the red carpet at Dallas Comic Con's Fan Expo on Saturday, June 4, 2016. (Star-Telegram video by Robert Philpot)

You can also get your picture made with the DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” attend a live voice actor script reading (Fan Expo promoters promise this will be hilarious), check out the costume contest, attend workshops and seminars, meet award-winning and best-selling authors, do a little Fan Expo speed dating, and meet and commission art from an assortment of comic book creators behind the exploits of such characters as Batman, Superman and Daredevil.

Brett Weiss is the author of nine books, including The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 and Retro Pop Culture A to Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films.

Fan Expo Dallas

  • 4-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

  • Dallas Convention Center

  • 650 S. Griffin St., Dallas

  • $25-$89; kids age 5 and younger get in free

  • fanexpodallas.com
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