In the arena of comic book and pop culture fan conventions, Wizard World is kind of like the Hulk – big, impressive and impossible to ignore. The company, which began as a small comic book trade press publisher, now hosts a series of rolling fan conventions across North America featuring high-profile celebrity guests and VIP ticket packages that can run upwards of $500.
This weekend, Wizard World is bringing the party to Raleigh for the first time with the Wizard World Raleigh Comic Con, running Friday through Sunday. The show will feature the usual convention attractions – exhibitors, costume contests, movie screenings, autograph sessions – plus a rather formidable lineup of celebrity guests.
William Shatner, “Star Trek’s” immortal Captain Kirk, will make appearances throughout the weekend. “Dr. Who” fans, meanwhile, will be pleased to hear that David Tennant – the “Tenth Doctor” and star of the popular BBC series reboot – was added as a last-minute guest, and will be attending several events Saturday and Sunday.
Other special guests include Ian Somerhalder (“The Vampire Diaries”), John Schneider (“Dukes of Hazzard”), Sarah Wayne Callies (“The Walking Dead”), Kevin Sorbo (“Hercules”) and Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
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Clearly, the Wizard World conventions now encompass much more than just comic books. In recent years, the company has grown radically, purchasing smaller regional conventions and expanding the events to embrace all of pop culture. The Raleigh show is one of 28 conventions that Wizard World will host this year, said CEO John Macaluso.
Among the biggest challenges of running a series of rolling conventions is the sheer logistical odyssey of lining up the special guests, celebrities and artists – who in turn draw the fans.
“We have a fantastic logistics team, they handle everything from show to show to show,” Macaluso said. “But yeah, it’s madness.”
Mancuso said the fan convention business has grown rapidly in the last decade or so, largely as a result of the changing media and pop culture landscape. “Look at the biggest grossing films of the last several years, they’re almost all fanboy movies. And look a the biggest TV shows. Five years ago, ‘The Walking Dead’ had 400,000 viewers. Today it’s 23 million. That show alone has put 22 million more fans on the map.”
Much of the appeal of giant fan conventions, Macaluso said, is the sense of community people experience when they rally around whatever obsession they share. “It’s the opportunity to be around thousands of people that think the way you do,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”
So does the CEO of Wizard World have any nerdy obsessions himself?
“Well, I’m 58 years old, so I grew up on Superman, Batman and The Jetsons,” Macaluso said. “Those were my shows growing up.”
What: Wizard World Raleigh Comic Con
When: 3-8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St.
Cost: 3-day pass $75-$85; Friday $35-$45; Saturday $45-$55; Sunday $40-$50
Info: 919-996-8500 or wizardworld.com