Back in the fall of 2014, when I saw that Wizard World, that latter-day arbiter of pop culture sensibilities, was having its first-ever convention in Raleigh, North Carolina on March 13-15, I thought, Cool. I had been to the Minneapolis and Chicago shows, traveling hundreds of miles to write about each (see here and here, respectively). Raleigh is only 45 minutes from my house.
When I later saw that William Shatner would be at Raleigh Wizard World, I thought, Sweet. Who better than the Captain to explore this strange, new world? I watched as more excellent guests were announced—Sean Astin, John Schneider, Kevin Sorbo. And when I saw Rob Liefeld, the creator of Deadpool, added to the list, I thought, Awesome! Liefeld is one of the hottest comic artists of the last twenty years. I need some more stuff signed by him.
And when I received an email on February 24 from Wizard World’s PR person telling me that Doctor Who’s David Tennant would be in Raleigh, I thought, Oh. My. God.
David Tennant! No offense to other guests, but this was huge. Poll after poll shows him as the most popular Doctor among Whovians (see here, here, and here). Tennant’s Doctor is charming, funny, and passionate. Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor, did the hard work of rebooting the twenty-year-dead series in 2005; Tennant presided over its expansion both in the UK and across the pond. Plus he is a rarity on the convention circuit. Raleigh would be, in fact, his Wizard World debut (his second appearance will be in Philadelphia this May).
I am a middling Doctor Who fan. My wife and daughter? Rabid. And their favorite, of course, is David Tennant. My wife makes and sells fandom-related jewelry, and she had another convention that weekend in Winston-Salem, about two hours away. Urban Dictionary defines fandom as “a cult that will destroy your life”; I prefer to think of it as the impetus for restructuring your life on the fly. Thus, after much wrangling and a pair of David Tennant VIP tickets ($399 each!), we settled on the following schedule:
Friday: My wife and me at Wizard World, our daughter at the Winston-Salem convention
Saturday: All of us at the Winston convention
Sunday: My wife and my daughter at Wizard World to see David Tennant, me at the Winston convention
Actually, my weekend started on Thursday, at the Wizard World launch party. It was held at the Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh.
Advertisements for the party indicated that celebrities (plural) would be in attendance, though the only one I saw was Kevin Sorbo, star of the 90s hit series Hercules. Still, we had a nice chat:
Kevin: There are a lot of people who have faith. All the polls show like 80% of people believe in God. We tend to skim over that, and Hollywood doesn’t put out movies that deal with that. And when they do, they sort of bastardize it. Look what they did with Exodus. Look what they did with Noah, for crying out loud. Why would you hire atheist directors to do something out of the Old Testament? It’s weird to me.
Me: The emphasis there seems to be more on special effects.
Kevin: Yeah. We went to a private screening of Noah, and my wife said, “This is like Transformers meets Water World.” Visually, it’s beautiful, but you’re like, does the Bible talk about Noah being schizophrenic, alcoholic, and hell-bent on killing his own family at the end?
Me: You’ve had a varied career, but of course you’re most known for Hercules . . .
Kevin: Yeah, that and Andromeda.
Me: Right. How did your role in Hercules come about?
Kevin: It was a typical audition through Hollywood. My agent called me up and said, “They’re casting five Hercules movies, and they want to see you.” I said, “I’m a big guy, but don’t they want some steroid dude with no neck or some bodybuilder who weighs 280 pounds?” He said, “No, they’re looking for an athletic-looking, sort-of decathlon, Joe Namath-type quarterback.” So I went and read. They called me back and called me back. Seven times they called me back. I was up in Vancouver, Canada filming an episode of The Commish, and they called me and said, “You’re Hercules.” I thought it was going to be five two-hour movies. Then, boom! It became a series, and it passed Baywatch to become the most-watched show in the world.
Me: Before filming, how did you get into the role? How did you prepare yourself to play a mythical hero?
Kevin: It was all in the writing. They made the character very 90s. It was a very Malibu sort of Hercules. He was very hip and accessible and approachable, very self-effacing. There was a lot of humor. The fight scenes were never very violent. Our spin-off show, Xena, was a much more violent show, killing guys. We never killed a guy.
Me: Speaking of writing, you did a book a couple of years ago. What was that like?
Kevin: It’s been great because of the number of speaking appearances I get. I did a dozen last year, and I’ve already got about eleven more lined up this year. It’s been amazing to get out there and do all the talking I’ve been doing about the book, which is about a health scare I suffered. I was the healthiest-looking guy in the world in the 90s, and I had three strokes and almost died. It took me out of the show [Hercules] for four months. We had to re-write everything.
Me: Which is harder, writing or acting?
Kevin [laughs]: I think writing is much harder. Writers take much of the blame for everything in Hollywood, so God bless them. It’s the toughest job around.
Me: How did you get started doing conventions?
Kevin: You know, conventions really didn’t kick off until about fifteen years ago. The growth has been astronomical. In the 90s, comic cons weren’t that big. They were around, but there wasn’t the publicity and the push and the hype. I got invited during the 90s, but I could do only one or two a year because I was in New Zealand ten months out of the year [filming Hercules]. Now, I go to a lot around the world. I’m doing two in April in Australia. I have one coming up in Belgium. I get invited to about five a month, and I go to six or seven a year.
Me: Are there things you won’t do for fans? Are there lines fans try to get you to cross that you push back against?
Kevin: Not really. Women have not exposed their breasts to me, but they have wanted me to sign the top of their chests. Some people get very nervous because they know you from TV, and now they’re seeing you in the flesh. It’s a surreal moment for them, and I get that because when I first moved to L.A., I started meeting some of the celebrities I used to watch on TV, and I was like, “Wow. That’s really him standing there.” For me, it was Anthony Quinn [who played Zeus in Hercules]. Meeting him blew me away.
The next night, Friday, was my night at Wizard World. It is often said that Wizard World, with its deep pockets and runaway costs, delights in squeezing out local conventions. See, for example, this article decrying “William Shatner at $199 an autograph,” which is ludicrously inflated. Shatner charges less than half that amount, and he has charged it for years.
What has changed, and not for the better, is the number of comic book artists who now charge for an autograph. Michael Golden charged $10. Dean Haspiel (who?) charged $10. Tom DeFalco gave one or two free signatures, but he charged after that due to, as the sign on his table exhorted, the miserable capitalists who sell his stuff on eBay.
And Rob Liefeld. When I saw him in 2012, he charged $20 to sign copies of New Mutants #87 (first appearance of Cable) or #98 (first appearance of Deadpool). Everything else was free. Now he charges $30 for any Deadpool item, $20 for any New Mutants or X-Force issue, and $20 for any book being witnessed by CGC. He’s still a cool guy, though, and he did not charge me for this picture.
I get that writers and artists are trying to make a living. A market exists for their autographs that they did not create and are merely tapping into. But their judgment—or is jealousy?—of collectors feels wrong-headed. eBay does not lower payments to creators (a buyer’s market does that) nor deprive them of ownership of their work (publishers retain this). Besides, CGC’s fees are rich enough. To pay an extra $20 for the signature hurts.
Perhaps it was this increase in signing fees that was responsible for the small crowd.
Or the fact that few celebrities showed up for opening night (aside from Tony Stark).
The dealer’s room was livelier, but what struck me most there was the dearth of comic book dealers. I counted two. The rest had toys, decals, T-shirts, etc. Curiously, there were also the Lasik Vision Institute and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, giving the dealer’s room a festival-in-the-park feel. I left without buying anything (or scheduling eye surgery).
I tried to buy a third David Tennant autograph ticket for Sunday, the day my wife and daughter would be there, for my daughter’s friend. But they were not selling any more tickets until Sunday morning—possibly (as it turned out, they didn’t have more then, either). “It’s the first time we’ve worked with him,” said the apologetic young woman, “and we’re not sure what to expect.” Translation: they had under-prepared. Wizard World has remedied this (sort of) for Philadelphia, making David Tennant photos and autographs available only to VIP ticket buyers. It’s an imperfect solution: a limited quantity of tickets at a cost that prices a lot of people out of contention. But at least they won’t run out by the first day of the con.
So my daughter’s friend lost out. My wife and daughter, however, racked up, each of them receiving (1) any item autographed, (2) a professional photo-op, (3) a David Tennant collector’s card, (4) other Doctor Who stuff, and (5) a limited edition Walking Dead comic book with a black-and-white sketch cover by Dean Haspiel (so that’s who he is!). And they got into the Tennant Q&A, which, we found out, was open only to VIPs because the room was so small. (My question: why didn’t they rearrange the rooms? It’s David Tennant. You can bump the Harry Potter fan fiction panel to a snack bar table.)
If the crowd was meager on Friday, it had Hulked up by Sunday. There were 500 VIP ticket holders that day (600 on Saturday), plus who knows how many who managed to get a one-day autograph or photo ticket before they were sold out. My wife took over 100 pictures during the Q&A, enough to allow us to play a game called The Many Faces of David Tennant.
David ponders why the TARDIS isn’t cleaner on the inside.
David does his Gilbert Gottfried impression.
David whistles “Dixie,” because he’s in the South.
David tries to hypnotize the crowd but puts himself to sleep.
This is David Tennant, not David Bowie.
“Blimey, Rose! I told you to close the TARDIS door before take-off!”
Tennant is surprised at how popular Doctor Who has become in the United States—surprised but pleased. Asked about his acting career, he said he likes the variety of roles (in his new drama, Broadchurch, he plays a character as far from the Doctor as you can imagine). Whom would he cosplay as at a convention? “Someone with a mask, so I could enjoy the convention.” One questioner recommended that he try the barbecue before leaving North Carolina. This apparently led to a discussion of food in which he dissed American bacon (too dry and crunchy). Another asked him who he fanboys over. Answer: Marvel Comics, which he had recently toured.
After the Q&A came photos, and about an hour after that, the signing line started. When my daughter reached the table, she asked Tennant if she could record him saying hello to her friend (the one who got gypped on the autograph). Most celebs won’t do this, but in the absence of an advertised prohibition, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Astonishingly, he agreed! Then a Wizard World staffer stepped in and put a stop to it. Normally, I would rail against this, but the staffer had a point. If Tennant did that for my daughter, he would have to do it for everyone, which would slow the line to a crawl. The lesson for convention goers is this: guests aren’t being rude or aloof when they refuse some of your requests. The refusal may simply be a matter of convention policy.
So the inaugural Wizard World Raleigh was a success. Great city, great guests, friendly service—and the Doctor. One woman my wife talked to had driven eight hours from Alabama with her two kids to see him. On top of the arm-and-leg-ness of VIP tickets, this struck me as insanely devoted. “Would you do that?” I asked my wife on Monday as she stared out the kitchen window, a melancholy smile on her face. “Yes,” she said without hesitation. “Yes I would.”
Well-played, Wizard World. Well-played.
And the list is complete with the release of the Sunday SDCC programming schedule.
This one brings us Robert Englund, David Tennant, Jim Lee, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Eric McCormack, and Dan DiDio.
Some highlights include:
10:00-11:00 The Spectacular Spider-Man— This Q&A session—with supervising producer Greg Weisman (Gargoyles), supervising producer/supervising director Vic Cook (Hellboy: Blood and Iron), character designer Sean “Cheeks” Galloway (Hellboy animated films), the voice of Spider-Man, Josh Keaton, and the voice of Sha Shan Nguyen Kelly Hu (Scorpion King), and the voice of the Vulture, Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street)—highlights the animated series that hearkens back to the webslinger’s junior year in high school, when a not-so-typical 16-year-old must conceal his secret identity, endure the pressures of teenage life, and combat never-before-seen supervillains. Based on Marvel Entertainment’s popular superhero, The Spectacular Spider-Man is produced by Culver Entertainment, a Sony Pictures Television Company, premiering its second season on Disney XD on June 22. Room 6A
10:00-11:00 Dr. Who— Actor David Tennant, writer/executive producer Russell T Davies, director Euros Lyn, and executive producer Julie Gardner discuss their creative process and experiences working on BBC America’s Doctor Who—television’s longest-running sci-fi series—with exclusive clips and a Q&A session. Ballroom 20
10:30-11:30 Smallville Screening and Q&A— Comic-Con favorite Smallville returns, as showrunners Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson join cast members Allison Mack (The Ant Bully), Erica Durance (House of the Dead), Cassidy Freeman (Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee), Justin Hartley (Gemini Division) and new series star Callum Blue (The Tudors), who will be playing the villainous Zod, to talk about the year ahead, answer fan questions and give an exclusive sneak peek at clips from season nine. Award-winning comic book writer, Emmy-nominated film and television writer/producer, and Smallville alum Jeph Loeb (Heroes) will moderate the session. From Tollin/Robbins Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television, Smallville will air Fridays at 8:00 PM this fall on The CW, premiering September 25. Smallville: The Complete Eighth Season will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Hi Def August 25. Room 6BCF
11:45-12:45 Supernatural Screening and Q&A— Supernatural stars Misha Collins (24) and Jim Beaver (Deadwood), creator/executive producer Eric Kripke (Boogeyman), and executive producers Ben Edlund (Angel) and Sera Gamble (Eyes) present an exclusive sneak peek at footage from the highly anticipated fifth season premiere of this thrill-ride series. They’ll also answer questions and show a portion of the special features from the upcoming fourth season DVD release. Produced by Wonderland Sound and Vision in association with Warner Bros. Television, Supernatural airs Thursdays at 9:00 PM ET/PT on The CW, premiering September 10. Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Hi-Def September 1. Room 6BCF
12:30-2:00 CBLDF Live Art Jam— Witness live art created before your eyes by comics masters and bid on the chance to carry one home! Join Jim Lee, Terry Moore, and surprise special guests as you get a glimpse behind the scenes of their artistic processes! The Live Art Jam is a treat for fans and students alike. All art will be auctioned to benefit the First Amendment legal work of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. You will need a bidder number to bid on art at this event, which will be distributed at the start of the event. Winning bidders will be able to claim their art from the CBLDF’s booth 1920. Room 5AB
1:00-2:00 Ghost Whisperer Season Five: Everything New Is New Again— The cast and executive producers present an exclusive first look at video clips from the new season of Ghost Whisperer, along with hints and revelations about the game-changing addition of Melinda and Jim’s new baby. Find out how the new character will bring new powers, new challenges, and new rules to the show, and how he will open doors to a whole new paranormal dimension—a dimension that will pit Melinda and her friends and family against entities darker and more dangerous than any she’s ever faced, thrusting her into a battle between forces of good and evil, forces that she never knew existed. Featuring cast members Jennifer Love Hewitt, David Conrad, Christoph Sanders, Jamie Kennedy, and Camryn Manheim and executive producers Ian Sander, Kim Moses, and P. K. Simonds. Room 6BCF
1:30-2:00 Image: Alien Trespass— Directed by X-Files veteran R. W. Goodwin and filmed in classic fifties sci-fi retro style, Alien Trepass is being released on DVD & Blu-ray by Image. If you love such vintage sci-fi epics as It Came From Outer Space and The Blob, come learn more about this tale of an Interstellar lawman whose deadly prisoner, the grotesque Ghota, escapes when their flying saucer crashes near a small desert town in 1950s California. Appearing for the first time: Emmy Award-winning actor Eric McCormack (Will & Grace, Andromeda Strain, and star of fan favorite Free Enterprise) joining co-star Jenni Baird (The 4400) and director R. W. Goodwin. Ballroom 20
2:00-3:00 Sunday Conversation with Dan DiDio— As Comic-Con comes to a close, sit back and unwind as Dan DiDio and friends invite you to a relaxed Sunday afternoon comics discussion. Share your opinions and listen to others as some of comics’ biggest names talk about their love of all things comics. All are welcome, no RSVP required. Room 2
2:15-3:45 BBC America: Being Human/Torchwood— You won’t want to miss these special back-to-back panels on Being Human and Torchwood! Being Human creator Toby Whithouse and cast members Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow and Aidan Turner appear on stage to give an inside look at BBC America’s U.S. premier sci-fi drama about the lives of three twentysomethings and their secret double-lives—as a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost. Following that, Torchwood actor John Barrowman, creator/writer/executive producer Russell T Davies, executive producer Julie Gardner, and director Euros Lyn talk about the making of the epic five-night television event Torchwood: Children of Earth as well as take questions from the fans. Ballroom 20
2:45-3:45 Kamen Rider Dragon Knight— Meet the cast of TheCW4Kids new action-packed, monster-clobbering masked-heroes series Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. Stars Stephen Lunsford (Kit), Matt Mullins (Len), and Yvonne Arias (Maya) will answer all your Kamen Rider questions! Plus, fans will get to view never-before-seen footage from future KRDK episodes! Lucky attendees will get the chance to win prizes from Bandai’s KRDK toy line and more! Room 6DE
In support of BBC AMERICA’s U.S. premiere of four Doctor Who Specials, the Doctor himself, David Tennant, will appear alongside writer/executive producer Russell T Davies at this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego. They will take part in a Doctor Who panel along with executive producer Julie Gardner and director Euros Lyn, Sunday July 26, 10:00-11:00am PT.
David will travel to Comic-Con, fresh from the Doctor Who set, having shot his final scenes as the tenth Time Lord. He and fellow panelists will discuss the latest incarnation of television’s longest running science fiction series and take questions from the floor. There will also be exclusive sneak peeks from the upcoming specials.
Fans can visit the BBC AMERICA booth (#3629) to capture their own photograph alongside part of the Doctor Who set – as well as purchase exclusive merchandise including David Tennant figures.
Fans of BBC AMERICA’s highest rated show ever, Torchwood, which will have just completed the five-part special, Children of Earth, will get to chat with the stars and makers of the show first-hand. Just 48 hours after the last episode, the show makes a return visit to Comic-Con with a panel featuring star John Barrowman, writer/executive producer Russell T Davies, executive producer Julie Gardner and director Euros Lyn, Sunday July 26, 2:15-3:45pm PT.
As part of the same panel, Sunday July 26, 2:15-3:45pm PT, catch the talent from BBC AMERICA’s most buzzed about new sci fi drama, Being Human. Creator and writer, Toby Whithouse, plus lead actors Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow and Aidan Turner, talk about the inspiration for the show and what it’s like to play three twenty-somethings with secret double-lives – as a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost. All four panelists will be signing exclusively at the BBC AMERICA booth, Saturday July 25, 3:00-4:00pm PT.
Cult comedy favorite and BAFTA-nominated, The Mighty Boosh, comes to Comic-Con for the first time to celebrate the airing of all three seasons on Adult Swim, and the BBC’s DVD release, just two days before the convention begins. Inspired by the Perrier Comedy Award-winning live comedy show, creators-stars Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, along with actors Michael Fielding, Rich Fulcher and Dave Brown, will be on stage to discuss the magical, bizarre and exciting world of The Boosh, Friday, July 24, 4:45-5:45pm. The hit UK comedy series follows crazy zookeepers Howard Moon and Vince Noir and was described by The San Jose Mercury News as “an acid-trip fantasy-comedy [that] is seriously deranged and seriously funny.”
Fans can also catch exclusive BBC AMERICA screenings during the convention with back to back episodes of Doctor Who and Torchwood. Key talent from both shows introduce the last episode of the five part series Torchwood: Children of Earth and a U.S. premiere viewing of Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead, the first of four specials starring David Tennant.
Underground Toys (#3949) will be selling their entire Doctor Who and Torchwood lines of toys and novelty items. In addition, this year they will once again introduce new limited edition Comic-Con action figures that have never been seen before.
BBC AMERICA Comic-Con Panel and Signing Schedule
Friday, July 24
4:45-5:45pm The Mighty Boosh: creators-stars Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding along with actors Michael Fielding, Rich Fulcher and Dave Brown will be on stage to discuss the magical, bizarre and exciting world of The Boosh, currently airing on Adult Swim and released on DVD by the BBC two days before the convention begins. The San Jose Mercury News describes the show as “an acid-trip fantasy-comedy [that] is seriously deranged and seriously funny.” Room 6A
3:30-4:30pm The Mighty Boosh signing in the Autograph Area.
Saturday, July 25
3:00-4:00pm Being Human: creator Toby Whithouse and actors Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow and Aidan Turner signing at the BBC AMERICA booth (#3629).
7:30-10:00pm Torchwood/Doctor Who: Key talent from both shows introduce the last episode of the five part series Torchwood: Children of Earth and an advance viewing of Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead, the first of four specials starring David Tennant. Room 6A
Sunday, July 26
10:00-11:00am Doctor Who: actor David Tennant, writer/executive producer Russell T Davies, director Euros Lyn and executive producer Julie Gardner discuss their creative process and experiences working on BBC AMERICA’s Doctor Who with exclusive clips and a Q&A session. Ballroom 20
2:15-3:45pm Being Human/Torchwood: Being Human creator Toby Whithouse and cast members Russell Tovey, Lenora Crichlow and Aidan Turner, are on stage to give an inside look at BBC AMERICA’s U.S. premiere sci-fi drama about the lives of three twenty-somethings and their secret double-lives – as a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost. Following that actor John Barrowman, creator/writer/executive producer Russell T Davies, executive producer Julie Gardner and director Euros Lyn talk about the making of the epic five-night television event Torchwood: Children of Earth as well as take questions from the fans. Room 6BCF