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Pac Con Spokane draws enthusiastic crowds

Fans of all types are swooning in delight as a convention featuring Star Trek icon William Shatner and comic book legend Stan Lee hits the Spokane Convention Center this weekend.

Comic cons, as they are called, are a booming pop subculture, attracting fans of comics, zombies, science fiction, anime and much, much more.

The show is one of the first organized by Pacific Conventions, which offered a small show in Pullman earlier this year with no celebrity names. “We have a much richer guest list in Spokane,” organizer Jake Mackessy said.

This weekend, fans also can mingle with TV star Denise Crosby, who played Tasha Yar on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and currently is in “The Walking Dead”; Dirk Benedict, who was Starbuck in the original “Battlestar Galactica” TV series; Jim Cummings, the official voice of Tigger and many other Disney characters; Bill Farmer, the official voice of Pluto and Goofy; and Chuck Huber, a voice actor for anime and video games.

Mackessy has attended about 200 conventions in the past four years representing his art studio, Mercenary Art, and made the leap into organizing conventions this year. He plans to make the Spokane comic con an annual event.

Mackessy said he believes part of the surge in popularity in comic cons is because of Disney’s purchase of Marvel Comics and the release of several movies based on comic book characters.

“I think that’s really fueled the advancement and growth in the comic book industry,” he said. “The majority of the (comic) shows are more pop culture centered. I think that broadens the audience appeal.”

Attending comic cons isn’t just for geeks anymore, said Matthew J. Smith, director of cinema studies at Wittenberg University in Ohio. “For years it was seen as marginal to cosplay [costume play] and go to cons,” he said. “Now it’s much more mainstream. It’s OK to come out as someone who appreciates and celebrates those parts of their interest.”

Britney and Scotty Morgan came to the comic con Friday to see Stan Lee, co-creator of classic comics such as Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and X-Men. “I’m shaking right now because I talked to Stan Lee,” said Scotty Morgan, who was dressed in a Riddler outfit.

His wife, Britney, was dressed as Poison Ivy, a villain in the Batman comics. “We’re so excited we don’t know what to do with ourselves,” she said.

The couple were attending their first comic con and wore the costumes they planned to wear on Halloween.

David Binford wasn’t in costume, but he looked as excited as a kid at Christmas after he paid $20 to have his picture taken in a 1966 Batmobile, one of the original touring cars made.

“You see it all the time on TV,” he said of the car. “It’s actually nice to get to see it.”

But Binford was really there to see Shatner. He paid extra to get the sci-fi legend’s autograph and have a picture taken with him. Binford said he loved Shatner as Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek, but also liked him in later shows like T.J. Hooker. “A lot of fun memories,” he said.

Aaron Tinsley was wearing a Star Trek uniform he received as a Christmas gift 15 years ago when he got an autograph from Shatner. “I’ve been a Star Trek fan for 40 years,” Tinsley said. “The original is still my favorite, far and away.”

Tinsley was also there to get an autograph from Benedict. “I’m a big ‘Battlestar’ fan,” he said. “I talked to him for about five minutes.”

The fans that attend comic cons form a large and impressive community, Smith said, but they’re not all there for the same reason. “Most of the people at comic con are not comic book readers,” he said. “They like comic book films or they like Star Trek or they like Tolkien. In reality, it’s lots of smaller communities coming together because their interests overlap and they’re tolerant of one another.”

Smith teaches a pop culture class at Wittenberg and for the past eight years has done a field study with a group of students at Comic Con International in San Diego, where the students do research on whatever aspect of fandom appeals to them.

“For an academic, it’s about knowledge,” he said. “Students always learn something about fandom, about the con, about pop culture, that I absolutely knew nothing about.”

Smith and one of his former students, Ben Bolling, recently edited a book of essays written by other students titled “It Happens at Comic-Con: Ethnographic Essays on a Pop Culture Phenomenon.”

But the fans at Friday’s comic con weren’t thinking about how acceptable it is to wear costumes or how different types of fans mix freely. They were just excited to be in the same room as some of their idols.

“This doesn’t come to Spokane that often,” Binford said.


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