For millions of Americans, comic books have been an escape from our regular reality for nearly a century. Characters like Batman or Spider-Man inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves, while also showing us that it’s okay to be “super” and still have faults.
Fans have been able to connect in the modern age like never before, thanks to social media. But long before the age of Facebook and Twitter, comic book conventions brought together fans from all walks of life in celebration of the characters they hold most dear.
Madison’s own comic book convention — Wizard World Comic Con — returned to the Alliant Energy Center this past weekend. Thousands from all over flocked to the three-day celebration of all things comic book, fantasy, anime and pop culture.
Located primarily in Exhibition Hall, the entire floor space was filled with booths and set ups for artists and vendors to show off their beautiful work. Towards the center of the room were the tables for fans to take photos and obtain autographs from the selection of celebrities assembled for the convention.
For those looking for a special experience, fans were also able to take professional photos with the celebrity guests in a curtained photo op area near the back of the hall. A large gaming station, face painting and a large Nerf gun play area also were made available to convention goers with kids.
The dining options featured a nice variety. Food ranged from pizza and paninis to ice cream and sweets while soda, coffee including lattes and alcohol were all available to drink.
The celebrity guest list for this year’s Con heavily featured actors from The CW’s “Smallville” – which originally ran from 2001 to 2011. The show was a retelling of Superman’s origin story, starting as a teen and still only known as the mild mannered Clark Kent. Tom Welling (Clark Kent), Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor), Erica Durance (Lois Lane) and Laura Vandervoort (Kara/Supergirl) were all in attendance.
Recently, it was announced that both Tom Welling and Erica Durance would be returning to The CW as part of a crossover event involving their current slate DC Comics-inspired shows like “The Flash” and “Arrow”. The potential return of their particular portrayals of Clark and Lois, respectively, had fans visibly invigorated.
Actors Dichen Lachman (“Altered Carbon”), Teddy Sears (“The Flash”) and Kelly Hu – who has seemingly been a part of nearly every hit show from the last twenty-plus years – also made the trip to Madison and offered fans a rare chance to talk with artists that they have watched on the big and small screens.
Legendary actor/bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno — the Hulk from “The Incredible Hulk” which aired on CBS from 1977 to 1982 — and WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Kevin Nash, who recently spoke with The Daily Cardinal, were larger than life on screen and certainly off of it as well.
“Gremlins” Zach Galligan and Samm Levine of “Freaks and Geeks” fame were also in attendance, with Levine involved in a wide variety of events during the weekend including hosting panels.
Other celebrity guests ranged from voice actors like Chris Sarandon and Ken Page of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” — the 1993 Tim Burton classic — to Jewel Staite and Sean Maher of the cult-favorite “Firefly” and its feature length spin-off “Serenity”.
Dozens of comic book and independent artists made their work available for purchase at their stations. But many of them also took part in demonstrations, showing the audience certain drawing techniques.
The pricing for the event varied depending on which day or how many days one wished to attend. Certain VIP packages allowed Con goers the chance to receive exclusive gifts from Wizard World, as well as the opportunity to spend time one-on-one with certain celebrity guests.
Michael Rosenbaum and Tom Welling of “Smallville” also hosted two special events for those that wished to be able to talk with them in an even more intimate environment. A cocktail party on Friday night and an acting workshop of sorts called Smallville Nights on Saturday offered fans the once in a lifetime chance to discuss one of their favorite shows with two of its stars.
Two panels — one for “Smallville” and the other for “Firefly” — highlighted the discussions offered at Wizard World. For me, seeing the cast of “Smallville” together again was surreal. Smallville was a consistent watch in my household when it originally aired, and I still re-watch some episodes on occasion.
Wizard World is a unique experience. Walking through the hordes of cosplayers and costumed characters while wearing a simple Batman logo shirt, it became clear just how much these actors and the characters they play mean to fans – even many years after their work has been done.
Attendance was down from last year, which may have had to do with it sharing a weekend with Freakfest as opposed to 2018’s Wizard World that was held at the beginning of December. But for the thousands which made their way to Madison, Wizard World was truly a great experience. I strongly look forward to next year and hope for the chance to meet even more incredible artists.
John Everman is an arts editor for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.