Comic book enthusiast Adam Wells of Minneapolis admits to being “boisterous and emotionally out there.” But this weekend, he will be cool and collected, in a dark suit and aviator glasses, the very model of a modern Marvel superhero-type character — the dignified Agent Phil Coulson.
Wells will be among gobs of geeks, many in costume, descending on the Minneapolis Convention Center Friday and this weekend for a major nerdfest called Wizard World Minneapolis Comic Con.
This event — part comic-book and costume confab, part pop-culture extravaganza — is among more than a dozen such Wizard World conventions around the country, and the first ever staged in the Twin Cities.
This Comic Con is hardly the only event of this kind locally. A range of other comic-book get-togethers — such as CONvergence and the sibling shows SpringCON and FallCON — are already held here, and draw devoted followings.
But the Wizard World show will be bigger than those. The star-studded guest list includes William Shatner of “Star Trek” fame, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” horror franchise), Karen Gillan and Matt Smith of “Doctor Who” and Nathan Fillion of the shows “Castle” and “Firefly.”
Comic Con, like all such events, also will be notable for the “cosplayers” — fans of comic books, science fiction movies, animated shows and the like who engage in costume play to varying degrees.
Wells said he has dressed as hockey-masked horror-flick baddie Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) and “Mortal Kombat” character Sub-Zero at events, but is less hardcore than other devoted cosplayers.
His emphasis on Agent Coulson, lead character in the “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” television show, has a purpose: He’s co-host of a podcast devoted to the show, and he’ll be co-hosting a panel on this topic at Comic-Con. His sidekick for both, Mitra Nelson of Minneapolis, portrays “S.H.I.E.L.D.” character Skye this weekend.
Wells said he and his partner in crime fighting have been “freaking out” ever since their panel proposal was approved. The two are stoked about Comic Con in general, as well.
“It is a place where you can be the geek you’ve always wanted to be, but worried about people making fun of you,” said Wells, by day a construction-company service-department and tech-support director. “There is an unspoken geek camaraderie.”
“Comic Con” is something of a generic term because events with that name around the country and the world are not affiliated with each other.
Wizard World, with its 17 Comic Cons around the country, is not related to the likes of the San Diego Comic-Con International and New York Comic Con, which are among the biggest and most prominent such events.
But the various Comic Cons have a host of nerdy elements in common, including hordes of cosplaying attendees, numerous rows of comic-book and related merchandise vendors, and scads of appearances by film and TV stars, past and present, prominent and less so.
When Michael Rooker of “The Walking Dead” fame wraps up at Minneapolis’ Wizard World Comic Con, he is off to Puerto Rico Comic Con, not affiliated with Wizard World, later this month.
Lou Ferrigno, famous as the 1970s “The Incredible Hulk” on TV, is a Wizard World Comic Con regular who will be in the Twin Cities this weekend.
Ferrigno, a weight lifter as well as performer, said he has seen it all, from cosplayers in Hulk outfits seven and eight feet tall, to fans who tell him they hit the gym and lost 100 pounds because of his influence, to the steady stream of visitors wanting to be placed in chokeholds for pictures. Women have cried or fainted in his presence, he claims.
“It’s hysterical,” Ferrigno said in a phone interview.
The Comic Cons are “great, clean shows,” he said. “Everyone has been respectful. I have never had a problem,” aside from the occasional inebriated attendee.
Comic Con-style gatherings were once humbler and truer to the name, focusing almost exclusively on comic books and permitting comics fans to meet famed artists and score their favorite issues in plastic covering and cardboard backing.
The events, though still focused to a large extent on comics, have long since morphed into all-purpose pop-culture events that often have little to do with their roots, and arguably not even pop culture. A Chicago version of Wizard World Comic Con once had among its star attractions disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, on the seemingly flimsiest of pop pretexts — that he once appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“The rationale was that he was not just a politician but a part of pop culture,” Elliott Serrano, a writer on nerdy topics for the Chicago Tribune’s Chicago RedEye, recalled. “That was a bit of a stretch.”
Inflated star egos are another Comic Con wrinkle, said Serrano, who once moderated a panel of actors who at one time played “Star Trek” starship captains. That turned out to be a bit of an ordeal.
Scott Bakula, who starred on “Star Trek: Enterprise,” was “one of the kindest people I will ever meet,” Serrano said. But Shatner, of the original 1960s “Star Trek” series, “is very much the center of the world, and he knows it. He has gotten a lot of deference over the years … (and) you have to to play to that.”
The cosplayers make it all worthwhile, Serrano added. Such people range from those in store-bought costumes to some who spend months of work and thousands of dollars on elaborate outfits with intricate hand stitching and custom molding.
“The people who come out and cosplay is one of the greatest things about the show,” he said. “You can be an adult dressed up like a favorite character, and no one makes fun of you. And if you have a really nice costume, everyone stops you to take your picture, and you get to be the center of the world for that day.
“This is Halloween meets the senior prom, with a dash of debutante ball,” Serrano said.
Wizard World’s Comic Cons around the country are not without controversy. At times they have incensed comics stores and organizers of other, lesser-scale Comic Con-style events for what is considered heavy-handed, overly competitive tactics.
In Minneapolis, for instance, Wizard World’s event lands just two weekends before SpringCON, which is put on by the St. Paul-based Midwest Comic Book Association. What’s more, Wizard World Comic Con on Saturday coincides with Free Comic Book Day, when comics shops count on clientele coming through the door and not being distracted by a glitzy geek event across town.
“On both of these fronts, it seems like not the most considerate thing on their part,” said Andrew Troth, who runs Mind’s Eye Comics in Eagan, of Wizard World’s timing.
Nick Postiglione, the MCBA’s co-director, said he would have been delighted to help Wizard World push its event under different circumstances. “The more the merrier,” he said.
But he said Wizard World first tried to purchase SpringCON, which isn’t practical because it’s a volunteer event. Then, he went on, Wizard World proceeded with its problematic scheduling even though the Minneapolis Convention Center had lots of other openings (he checked).
Postiglione points to similar situations elsewhere in the country. A Pacific Northwest version of Wizard World’s Comic Con last year was held within five days of a regional event called Emerald City, which caused controversy even though they were not in the same cities (Comic Con was in Seattle and Emerald City was in Portland, Ore.)
A similar dust-up occurred in the U.S. South in 2006 with a Wizard World event held on the same weekend as a regional event dubbed HeroesCon (though, again, in the same region but not in the same cities).
“We set up our events with our calendar and that of the Convention Center in mind,” Wizard World spokesman Jerry Milani said. “These were the optimum dates in Minneapolis.”
Milani added: “We have offered SpringCon the opportunity to promote at our show, as they have in the past at our Chicago event. We hope they have an outstanding show, as all successful events are good for the industry.”
There’s a bright side, said Postiglione, who also runs Source Comics and Games in Falcon Heights: Traffic to the SpringCON site is up.