July 21st, 2024

In year 25, Planet Comicon Kansas City celebrates its origin story as fans embrace their inner nerd

By Nick Ingram And Summer Ballentine, The Associated Press on March 8, 2024.

Members of the Star Wars costuming group, the 501stlegion, stand for photo opportunities with fans at Planet Comicon Kansas City, Mo., on Friday, March 8, 2024. Planet Comicon Kansas City is a weekend long event featuring cosplayers, artists, celebrity guests, comic book creators and more for fans of all areas of pop culture. (AP Photo/Nick Ingram)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Celebrities, artists and tens of thousands of fans proud to call themselves nerds are converging in Kansas City for the Missouri city’s 25th annual Planet Comicon this weekend.

Devotees ranging from “Potterheads” – lovers of the popular Harry Potter series – to “furries” – people dressed as cartoonish animals – can test niche trivia skills, compete in Pokémon battles and show off intricate, handmade outfits in homage to their fictional heroes.

Top guests include Ian McDiarmid, who CEO and founder Chris Jackson described as the “quintessential villain” in his portrayal of Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine, infamous for luring Darth Vader to the dark side.

Organizers expect record-breaking attendance this year at the three-day event, which began Friday and typically draws about 60,000 fans, Jackson said.

Event organizer Chris Phelan said “Midwestern hospitality” contributes to the convention’s welcoming nature.

“Whether you wear a costume or you don’t wear a costume, this is your place to be who you are,” he said.

ORIGIN STORY

Jackson started out buying and selling comics at the now-famous San Diego Comic Convention in the 1980s. He tried to recreate those experiences in the first Planet Comicon in suburban Kansas City.

“I really wanted to bring in the creators so the fans could meet the people who created their comic books,” Jackson said.

Roughly 1,200 people attended the first Planet Comicon, Jackson said, and the only celebrity guest was Star Wars’ R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker.

Phelan said it’s unique that Jackson continues to run Planet Comicon Kansas City compared to other large cons, which he said are typically run by corporations.

“Kansas City kept its hometown roots while still becoming one of the largest and longest-running comic book pop culture events in the entire country,” he said.

HALLOWEEN FOR ADULTS

Guests on Friday cosplayed as characters including Star Wars stormtroopers (who stayed in character and directed fans to “move along”), Darth Vader, Batman, Harley Quinn, Spider-Man and creepy, larger-than-life animatronics from “Five Nights at Freddy’s.”

“Scream” lovers wore the iconic Ghostface mask to honor the actors who played the killers in the original horror film, who also are at the fest.

“It’s been nice, having been the nerd who was weird in the beginning now be the person who’s cool for doing the same weird stuff I did in high school,” said Kori Couldry, who wore pointed ear prosthetics and horns to cosplay as a demon from the video game “Baldur’s Gate 3.”

Jackson said the rise in cosplay at the event also led to more women participating.

“The comic shows were kind of a little boys club for many years, let’s face it,” he said. “But now, as you can see, when you wander the floor, you’re going to see a much more broad base of people here. And I think that’s really great.”

Humorously, this year’s gathering coincides with the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship at Kansas City’s nearby T-Mobile Center.

“There are people that are going to be wondering why is everybody dressed up?” Phelan said. “Because they have no clue what what might be happening just down the street.”

ICONS IRL

Attendees must pay for autographs or photographs with celebrities, although Q&A sessions with celebrities are mostly free.

Marvel’s Chris Claremont – who created characters including Dark Phoenix, Rogue and Legion – is among a slate of comic writers at the fest.

Actors available for meet-and-greets include:

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Ballentine contributed to this report from Columbia, Missouri.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Championship, not the men’s championship, is this weekend in Kansas City.

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