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Dallas Comic-Con 2014 survives move and transcends expectations

Rober Englund (Freddy Krueger in the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" films) greets fans.
Rober Englund (Freddy Krueger in the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" films) greets fans.
Eric Shirey

Dallas Comic-Con 2014

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I'll be the first to admit my pessimistic attitude when it was announced a few months back that Dallas Comic-Con was sold to FanExpo out of Canada. I felt as if my hometown event was being invaded upon and diluted. How could a company out of Canada know what us hard-to-please folks in Texas really want? After this year's Dallas Comic-Con, I can tell you they know a whole lot about what we Southerners are looking for than you would think.

With the exception of maybe one show, I've attended every Sci-Fi Expo and Comic-Con that's taken place for the past thirteen years. I was there when the events alternated between the Plano Centre and the Richardson Civic Center. I covered the very first show at the Irving Convention Center. The crowds have grown steadily bigger, but not the way most ones gradually do. Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems like the crowds have multiplied overnight so to speak. What started out many years ago with 1500 attendees shot up to around 50,000 at the latest event.

I immediately noticed the vast amount of room to grow the Dallas Convention Center provides the Comic-Con. Even with 50,000 people going in and out of different areas, things kept moving a lot quicker than they had in the past. My friend stood in line for only two hours on the busiest day (Saturday) to get Stan Lee's signature. Anyone who's attended the past events at the Irving Convention Center will tell you that's not as long of a time as it sounds in the grand scheme of things.

The big names to corral comic book fans in were Marvel creator Stan Lee, Forever Evil artist David Finch, and Amazing Spider-Man penciler Dan Slott. I was there to meet Finch, Swamp Thing illustrator Yanick Paquette, Swamp Thing co-creators Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein, and All-Star Western writer Jimmy Palmiotti.

Bernie Wrightson is also well known for his illustrated "Frankenstein" book published through Dark Horse. I've been looking for a copy of the book for a long time and he happened to have copies of it for sale at his booth. I was even more eager to snatch it up when I noticed it was the Italian version. I have deep Italian roots and was so excited to get to pick up a signed copy from him.

Yanick Paquette shared his inspiration for the work he's done on Swamp Thing. He said he likes to marry different color schemes and emotions into his illustrations. His method creates a paradox of hopeful optimism and dreadful pessimism only he can truly forge.

Shock rocker Alice Cooper made his Dallas Comic-Con debut. His question and answer panel was very enlightening. He shared his faith with the audience and was very vocal about his Christianity. He explained to the crowd that Alice is his stage persona and his performance is no different than what an actor does when he stars in MacBeth or any other theatrical role.

I had the opportunity to speak with Cooper about the time my father and sister traveled with him on a plane from Chicago. My eight-year-old sister sat next to him the whole flight and they chatted with each other. He jokingly said he was very surprised at her age because she kept ordering rum and Cokes.

It was very timely for Dallas Comic-Con to host Japanese actor Akira Takarada with the new "Godzilla" movie hitting theaters. Takarada has shared the screen with the King of the Monsters in several of his films including the original "Godzilla," "Mothra vs. Godzilla," "Invasion of Astro-Monster," "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster," "Godzilla vs. Mothra," and "Godzilla: Final Wars." He had a cameo appearance in Gareth Edwards' 2014 reboot, but it ended up on the cutting room floor. It will no doubt show up in the deleted scenes when the Blu-ray and DVD is released. Takarada was a wonderful gentleman, doing everything he could to communicate through his facial and hand gestures. He didn't speak English but this posed no problem when it came to him showing his enthusiasm for being at the event.

Manu Bennett is fresh on the minds of comic book geeks everywhere as the face of super-villain Deathstroke on "Arrow." The actor showed his excitement for the role as he made sure my picture of him captured the spirit of the character. He demanded I take the photo with him standing up against two curtains that split in half behind his head as he put his hand over one eye. Bennett's other request was to make sure I got his Texas Rangers jersey in the picture as well.

"My Bloody Valentine" director George Mihalka shared space with horror magazine Rue Morgue. I could barely contain my enthusiasm as I approached him and exclaimed my love for the classic slasher film. It was one of the first genre movies I saw, even before "Friday the 13th" and "Halloween." As the man who helmed the movie, Mihalka was a major influence on my love of slasher flicks. He spoke with me for quite a while about the making of the movie and the aborted attempt to make a sequel.

The standout panel for Dallas Comic-Con was no doubt the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" one hosted by William Shatner. It's not every day you get the original captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise onstage with the entire crew of his predecessor. Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby, and John DeLancie all had a good time answering questions from Shatner and the audience.

Literally hundreds of vendors were vying for the attention of eventgoers. There was an artist area where you could get original sketches and commissions from your favorite illustrators. Another booth featured autographed albums, guitars, and photos of bands like KISS, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and others. Others sold t-shirts, jewelry, and other accessories.

From an attendee's point of view, Fan Expo's acquisition of Dallas Comic-Con is a definite positive move in the right direction. There was plenty of room and seating for people to sit and rest their legs from all the walking. The lines for the celebrities and concession stands all appeared to be moving at a steady pace. Although the lines were long for registration and ticket pickup, they were in a climate-controlled room. I was definitely left with a good taste in my mouth and a renewed excitement for the next free fan appreciation convention in August.

For more information on future events, go to FanExpo's official website.

You can see pictures from Dallas Comic-Con 2014 right here.