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Geek couples celebrate Valentine’s Day and Dallas Comic Con Fan Days

Comic Con Attracts Thousands Including Catherine & Cole Houston

Arlington toy collectors Catherine and Cole Houston will join thousands of comic, sci-fi and action fans at the Dallas Comic Con Fan Days (Feb. 13-14) at the Irving Convention Center. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley
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Arlington toy collectors Catherine and Cole Houston will join thousands of comic, sci-fi and action fans at the Dallas Comic Con Fan Days (Feb. 13-14) at the Irving Convention Center. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley

Peter Parker and Mary Jane. Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Batman and Catwoman.

Male-female couples have always been a part of comic books, but such real-life couples have not always been a big part of comic book conventions.

At the old Dallas Fantasy Fairs (1982-1995, hosted by the late Larry Lankford), men dramatically outnumbered women, and the stereotypical image of a comic book fan was a sub-literate, anti-social loner who, to paraphrase William “Captain Kirk” Shatner’s infamous Saturday Night Live appearance, has never “kissed a girl.”

Ron Killingsworth, co-owner of Collected, a North Texas chain of comic book stores, remembers the era well.

“There were maybe 10 or 12 fangirls who would go to the Dallas Fantasy Fair during the ’80s,” he said. “These days, at Dallas Comic Con, attendance is approximately 50/50.”

According to Killingsworth, the wide acceptance of comic books and the presence of celebrities at the conventions have made the geeky gatherings more socially acceptable and more female-friendly.

“Those things make it easier for guys to convince their girlfriends and wives to go to comic cons,” he said.

“Plus, between all of the profitable and record-setting movies, top TV shows such as Big Bang Theory and The Walking Dead, comic books are reaching a wider demographic than ever before.”

At this weekend’s Dallas Comic Con Fan Days, thousands of people — many of them celebrating Valentine’s Day weekend as a couple — will flock to the Irving Convention Center to mix, mingle, shop for collectibles and meet celebrities, including Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy from Arrow; Danielle Panabaker and Robbie Amell from The Flash; and John Schneider, Tom Wopat and Catherine Bach from The Dukes of Hazzard.

If you’re 19 or older and looking for your superhero soulmate, you can participate in a little speed dating, which is free for Comic Con attendees all day Saturday and Sunday.

If you doubt that comic books, Dallas Comic Con and nerd fandom in general can be romantic (of even if you don’t), kick back, open a box of chocolates and consider the following “happily ever after” stories by five area couples, each of whom has bonded over their love of caped crusaders, dark-knight detectives and men and women of steel.

Cole and Catherine Houston

Married in 1988

Superhero headquarters: Arlington

Geek cred: Their first conversation included a discussion of Catherine going to see Star Trek’s DeForest Kelley give a talk; Cole runs the Convention Awareness Project (conventionawarenesstx.blogspot.com), a website listing all the pop culture cons in Texas.

Before Cole and Catherine Houston met in 1986 in the University of Texas at Arlington film department, Catherine had never read a comic book. In contrast, Cole has been immersed in comics since he was a young boy.

“My earliest memory of comic books was a big brown grocery bag filled with dozens of old comics a babysitter brought my brothers and me,” Cole said. “That kept us well entertained and distracted and became our first serious collection.”

Fortunately, Cole didn’t hold Catherine’s lack of comic book knowledge against her.

“When we were dating, and I came over to his apartment for the first time, he had quite a few comic posters on the walls,” Catherine said. “I studied a group shot, pointed at one character [the pointy-eared Prince Namor, aka the Submariner], joked with him and asked, ‘So, is that AquaSpock?’

“At that moment he made the most crucial of fanboy decisions. Instead of correcting me and giving me a lecture on Prince Namor, he said, ‘Yes, it is.’ And that’s how you get a girlfriend!”

To introduce Catherine to the wonders of his world, Cole lent her the first two issues of the then-new “Watchmen” series, the critically acclaimed magnum opus written by Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons.

“When I asked about the rest of the story, he said it was published one issue per month,” Catherine said. “That’s just cruel! When we did go to pick up the next one we bought two copies, and I made him drive so I could start reading on the way home.”

Catherine reads comics such as Bill Willingham’s “Fables,” which “aren’t just fights with dialogue separated by moody retrospection,” while Cole eagerly awaits the next collected edition of Image’s “Saga,” a space opera/fantasy series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples.

They enjoy watching the various Marvel movies together, such as The Avengers and X-Men: Days of Future Past, as well as the TV series The Walking Dead, which is based on the Image comic book series.

For much of the two decades Cole and Catherine have been together, they’ve gone to local conventions, not only as attendees, but also as vendors. Their love of comics and comic culture, which Catherine called “empowering, enriching and soul-feeding,” has strengthened their relationship in both obvious and subtle ways.

“When I’m at my day job and encounter something that makes me laugh out loud because it evokes something only a fellow fan could appreciate, I want so desperately to call Cole and hear him laugh,” Catherine said. “He would counter with an even better joke which would make my heart happy.”

“We’ve shared many adventures together,” Cole added.

Travis Hawvermale and Jamie Buckley

Dating since 2011; engaged in 2015

Superhero headquarters: Fort Worth

Geek cred: Travis and Jamie got engaged at Dallas Comic Con.

Jamie Buckley attended her first Dallas Comic Con in May 2012.

“It was fast-paced, dizzying and exhilarating,” she said of the event, which she experienced with her boyfriend, Travis Hawvermale. “There was so much to see, so many things on display, so many different costumed people you could take pictures with and a huge variety of guests.

“I absolutely loved it!”

Hawvermale had previously been to Gen Con in Indianapolis, so he had some idea of what to expect, but he was doubly impressed by what he saw from North Texas’ premier fandom festival.

“Comic Con is a whole new world,” he said. “The costumes, photo ops and vendors are fantastic, and the culture is amazing. When you walk in the doors, race, status and personal philosophy no longer matter — you become part of the family: a weird, nerdy, geeky, funny-dressing family.

“You can stop anyone and have your picture taken with them, or hand them your camera to take your photo. Being able to share that with Jamie was awesome.”

Hawvermale grew up during the 1980s reading such comic books as Marvel’s Alpha Flight and DC’s Atari Force, and he liked the popular cartoons and toys of the era.

“One of the coolest Comic Con moments was when we found a vendor selling toys we used to play with,” he said. “To have a He-Man or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figure that you haven’t seen for years in your hands again is a great feeling.”

These days, Hawvermale is a sci-fi buff, feeding his inner nerd by watching such highly regarded shows as Firefly, the new Battlestar Galactica and, most notably, Doctor Who, which Buckley calls the “biggest fandom” she and her fiancé share.

On Oct. 17, 2015, Hawvermale proposed to Buckley in front of a Dr. Who TARDIS at Dallas Comic Con.

“To keep it simple, the TARDIS is a craft that travels both time and space,” said Hawvermale, explaining Doctor Who’s preferred method of traversing the universe. “The Doctor usually has a traveling companion or two, and of course, we would join him if he asked us.

“What better way to begin a new life together than in a time machine where your love could last till the end of time, and then back to the beginning? That would truly be a timeless love story!”

Buckley added, “It seems perfect to me that that’s how Travis decided to propose — in a setting that we both equally enjoy that also reflects who we are.”

Jeff and Lori Parks

Met in 2013; married in 2014

Superhero headquarters: Forney

Geek cred: Jeff and Lori got married at Dallas Comic Con.

Captain America is a Marvel Comics icon, while Batgirl bats for the other team, DC Comics, but that didn’t stop them from getting married.

No, it wasn’t a cross-company publishing event. Rather, it was the joining of two likeminded people who decided to join their lives “in a way that celebrates our unique love,” said Jeff, who said his vows in a Captain America costume. Lori, his bride, donned Batgirl garb.

“When Jeff proposed a Dallas Comic Con wedding in costume, I balked at first,” Lori said. “But then I realized Jeff’s reasoning was right. Anyone can go to the everyday justice of the peace and have an everyday wedding. There was nothing mediocre about our love, so we pulled out all the stops.”

Lori’s best friend, dressed as a Jedi Knight, officiated the wedding, and Jeff’s daughter, dressed as Elsa from Frozen, was Lori’s maid of honor. They were surrounded by friends and other cosplayers (someone who dresses up as a favorite character). After the ceremony, the happy couple danced the “Batusi,” a go-go dance created for the 1960s Batman TV show.

“It was truly glorious,” Lori said.

Jeff, who began reading comics at age 8, and Lori, who discovered the joys of sequential art (images in sequence as in a comic book or graphic novel) as an adult, met one another on the Plenty of Fish online dating site, and it was love at first byte.

“We texted back and forth all day, exposing all the geeky, nerdy facets of ourselves,” Lori said. “We planned a date for the upcoming Friday, but neither of us could wait, so we met in person that very night. The sparks flew when we saw each other face to face.”

The pair was “inseparable from that first moment” and got married after dating for a year.

If you go to Dallas Comic Con this weekend, you can meet Jeff and Lori and ask them further details about their superhero wedding as they will have a vendor booth at the show. Together they run Parks Sabers (www.parksabers.com), where they sell lightsabers, Star Trek items and comic book-inspired hammers, shields and leather jackets, all of which Jeff designs and manufactures himself.

“Next to Disneyland, Dallas Comic Con is the happiest place on the planet,” Lori said. “Next time you visit, look around at the people. Everyone is smiling, and everyone is having a great time.”

Weldon Adams and Ginger Luellen

Dating since 2014

Superhero headquarters: Dallas

Geek cred: Industry veteran Weldon is a comic and animation art specialist at Heritage Auctions in Dallas; Ginger has more than 100 autographs in her collection, including Stan Lee, whom she met at a Dallas Fantasy Fair 30 years ago.

As a female comic book fan during the 1980s, Ginger Luellen felt she was the “odd person out.”

“I used to get the stare-downs when I would enter [the chain] Lone Star Comics,” she said. “I would feel so odd going into a comic store filled with guys, run by guys and stocked by guys.”

Over the years, “things got better” as “more women got interested in comics and cosplay,” she said. “I started to see more ladies at the comic cons, and not just because they were dragged there by their boyfriends. Now, it seems there’s an equal number of female and male attendees at the cons. Such a change from 20 to 30 years ago.”

Luellen, a huge fan of the X-Men’s Rogue (played in the movies by Anna Paquin), credits Hollywood for the gender equalization of the industry.

“With all the superhero movies out there now, people not ‘in the know’ originally are now familiar with the characters we, the enthusiasts, grew up on,” she said. “It’s now socially acceptable to like superheroes.”

Luellen met Captain America fan and longtime industry advocate Weldon Adams, who began reading comics when he was 6 years old, through an online dating service. His profile headline was “Professional Geek Seeks Nerdy Girl.”

“We hit it off right away,” Adams said. “On our first date, Ginger looked me straight in the eye and started telling me about all the conventions she has gone to, she showed me photos of her getting signatures from celebrities, and she said that she never misses a new episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Both Luellen and Adams have interests apart from one another (she likes photography and holiday crafts while he enjoys listening to blues music and singing karaoke), but their “shared love of comics and science-fiction works helps us to bond and understand each other,” Adams said.

“Having similar interest definitely helps strengthen the relationship,” Luellen added. “And it gives us something to talk about all the time.”

Adams believes the influx of women into comic book culture is a win-win situation, especially when it comes to relationship building.

“I’ve seen many marriages form over a common love of geekery,” he said. “I know a couple that met because they were both cosplaying Indiana Jones characters at the same show. Decades of marriage and two kids later, they are still crazy in love and happy. Fandom is good.”

Adams has a super busy work schedule right now, but he’s taking time off this weekend to spend a romantic evening with Ginger.

“We are looking forward to spending our Valentine’s Day watching [the new Marvel movie] Deadpool,” Ginger said. “I can’t imagine anything more romantic than that!”

John Petty & Judy Lloyd

Married in 1997

Superhero headquarters: Lewisville

Geek cred: John wrote a book called Capes, Crooks & Cliffhangers: Heroic Serial Posters of the Golden Age; Judy let John decorate their house with his collection and admits that it’s “pretty cool and looks pretty good.”

As much as he loves such iconic characters as Batman, Captain America and Iron Man, John Petty’s favorite superhero has always been DC’s relatively obscure Mister Miracle, aka the “world’s greatest escape artist.”

“I remember buying the first issue off the stands in 1971 when I was 9,” he said. “I was struck by the cool, garish costume, and the fact that the main character was an amped-up version of Houdini.”

Petty, a self-described “sucker for storytelling,” was so enamored with Mister Miracle that during his 30s, he supported himself as a magician and escape artist, “even performing the upside-down straightjacket escape.”

One thing that Petty couldn’t escape was the clarion call of romantic love. He met his wife, Judy Lloyd, at a summer solstice event in 1995, where he used superhero metaphors (Superman as Gemini, Batman as Scorpio, Captain America as Cancer) in a presentation on “Contemporary Signs of the Zodiac.”

“Our first date was going to see First Knight, and somehow the relationship survived that disastrous choice,” he said, referring to the much-maligned King Arthur film starring Richard Gere and Sean Connery. “We made things official in 1997 and have been together ever since.”

Lloyd, who grew up reading such humor titles as Richie Rich, Little Lotta and Donald Duck, has been in a wheelchair since right around the time she met Petty. Immersing herself in the four-color adventures of men and women in tights has provided a nice escape from the chronic pain she suffers as the result of a nerve disorder.

“When I met John, I was in a period of depression, lamenting all of the things I could no longer do,” she said. “John and I started going to comic book conventions together and having so much fun.

“It’s one thing that has never had to change as I become more and more disabled.”

In addition to reading comics and going to conventions, the couple enjoys handing out comics on Halloween each year (“We’re the most popular house on the block,” Petty said) and watching comic book-related TV shows together, such as The Flash and Gotham. However, Lloyd admits that she’s more of a casual fan and “not as into the whole comic book culture” as Petty is.

“I’m into my husband,” she said. “I am interested in what makes him happy. I really enjoy watching him light up while talking about his love of comics. I’ve learned a lot by listening to him talk about the relationship he had with his father as they shared the old Batman TV show.

John and Judy Petty talk about their comic collection and the fun they have attending Dallas Comic Con. (Video by Rodger Mallison)

“He goes on and on, but it’s adorable, and I love it.”

Brett Weiss is the author of the “Classic Home Video Games” series (McFarland Publishers) and of “The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987” (Schiffer Publishing); www.brettweisswords.com.

Dallas Comic Con Fan Days

  • Irving Convention Center, 500 W. Las Colinas Blvd., Irving
  • dallascomiccon.com
  • 10 a.m.-7 pm. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
  • Admission: $45 Saturday, $35 Sunday, $65 two-day pass, $5 for ages 6-12 with adult ticket
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