Supercon is the universe where nerds and fans of pop culture, comics and wrestling unite

Meet some of the characters at Raleigh Supercon

Thousands of costumed characters poured into the Raleigh Convention Center for the annual Supercon on Friday, July 27, 2018 to kick off the three-day event.
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Thousands of costumed characters poured into the Raleigh Convention Center for the annual Supercon on Friday, July 27, 2018 to kick off the three-day event.

Sandy Martin really gets into superhero movies, but not in the usual way.

When she sees an epic “Avengers” battle in a 3D theater, she goes into what she calls an “analytical trance.” Martin’s sense of awe stems not from the massive explosions or superpowered feats, but from thinking about how many people it took to make the special effects happen. It’s not what the filmmakers intended, she acknowledges, but it’s what makes her happy. And it makes sense to her.

“I run shows for a living,” Martin says. “I do all the behind-the-scenes stuff that allows everyone to have a good time, so that also fascinates me about the genres.”

Martin’s own behind-the-scenes work comes to fruition this weekend, when Raleigh Supercon descends upon the Raleigh Convention Center. She’s vice president of Raleigh Supercon as well as the original Florida Supercon and the newer Louisville Supercon, three shows that gather celebrities from all corners of pop culture and nerd-dom to sign autographs and engage with fans.

From pro wrestlers to starship captains to comic book writers to comedians, this convention casts a wide net.

And even though this is only Supercon’s second year in Raleigh, Martin is already beyond jazzed to return to North Carolina.

This year’s roster boasts a major roster of celebrities: “Guardians of the Galaxy” (and “Avengers: Infinity War”) stars Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn, Pom Klementieff and Terry Notary; Henry Winkler of “Happy Days” and more; Caroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar!); Lou Ferrigno (Incredible Hulk); Alice Cooper; William Shatner and Michael Dorn of “Star Trek”; and Ralph Macchio, William Zabka and Martin Kove of “The Karate Kid.”

Zoe Saldana, from left, Karen Gillan, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, star in “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.” Bautista and Gillan will be at Raleigh Supercon along with other “Guardians” stars Sean Gunn, Pom Klementieff and Terry Notary. Disney-Marvel via AP

“We love Raleigh. I cannot tell you how blown away we are by the enthusiasm of Raleigh attendees,” she says, noting that Saturday daytime tickets sold out weeks in advance – much earlier, even, than the Florida show.

“I think it’s because there’s such a geek and technological influence in the city, but it’s unlike anything we’ve ever experienced anywhere else. I’m a little afraid Raleigh is spoiling us for the rest of the country.”

William Simkiss, a member of the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk Star Trek fan group, teaches the Klingon language at Raleigh Supercon on July 16, 2017.

The News & Observer caught up with Martin to talk about how Raleigh Supercon selects its many celebrity guests – and to find out what variety of nerd she is.

Q: Supercon draws from all corners of fandom. What kind of nerd are you, though? Which fandom are you?

A: You get a completely different answer from me and my husband. My husband is a mega-nerd. He is into literally all of this. Me, there’s really only one superhero I would say I’m a hardcore fan of, and I didn’t even know who this character was until a few years ago.

My touchpoint for this universe is that I love nerds, so I love the people who are into this. It was embarrassing for me a long time ago when people would ask me that question and I had no answer. I’m not fake — I don’t tell people I’m not into stuff I’m not into — but my superhero is Groot.

The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie came out I believe a month after my grandfather died, and Groot even looks like my grandfather. My grandfather taught me when I was a little girl that trees have feelings. Then, as an adult I read about trees and I came to find out about how redwoods have this whole nurturing system with their roots. They protect their own and send them sugar through the fungus on their bark and their roots and they send electrical signals. I had no idea that trees actually really do have feelings until a couple of years ago, and I dove deep because of Groot.

I think that happens for a lot of people who get into comic books and science fiction: these fantastical stories have a kernel of truth in them and they encourage kids in particular — it just took me a little longer — to dive deeper and explore their own universe beyond what’s obvious.

Actor William Shatner will be at Raleigh Supercon. Steven Senne AP Photo

Q: What else is it about nerds? Is it the passion? Is it the depth of knowledge?

A: I think I have a comfort level to start off with because my dad was a computer programmer since 1969 — super-geeky — and my mom was into science-fiction and art.

I found this book in a used book store once. It was written in the 1970s, and it was a guide to managing programmers. I picked it up and I thought it was the funniest thing, because it talked about how temperamental they were and hard to manage and (that they) resisted wearing traditional business attire. I thought it was so funny because that pretty much hasn’t changed. It was a description of my father.

I think it’s the underlying personality traits, creating something out of your imagination. I didn’t realize how artful programming was until I was much older, but both of my parents were artists.

Dressed as superheroes, cartoon characters and pop culture figures, thousands flocked to the Raleigh Convention Center on Friday, July 14, 2017, as the three-day Raleigh Supercon convention kicked off.

Q: Supercon draws from wrestling, from comics, from sci-fi, from TV, from animation, and you get some big stars. How do you get all these people, and is there a common thread?

A: We try really hard not to have too much of a common thread, because we want to appeal to as many geeks as possible. Sometimes we do team-ups, which enhances a certain fandom experience, like “Guardians of the Galaxy” this year with Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Sean Gunn and Terry Notary. That provides a really solid “Guardians” experience. It’s nice to sometimes go all-in.

Part of how it comes together really depends on the schedules for the celebrities and how well we think we’re meeting a broad base of interest, so I don’t think we dive deep on more than a couple of things. This year we’re diving deep on “Guardians” and also on “Overwatch,” in terms of voice actors.

We try to hit the high points — we try to hit the “Star Trek” and the “Star Wars” when we can. They’ve been harder to get lately. Some actors and some genres have really strict contracts with studios. If there is something that’s ongoing, it’s oftentimes hard to get them.

Q: You started Supercon in Florida and expanded into North Carolina and Louisville, Kentucky. What are the expansion plans?

A: We’re expanding. We have three cities on the board that I can’t mention because I’m afraid it’s a jinx.

We are very excited to take this concept of conventioning, this brand of fandom event, this experience of bringing everybody together under one roof from all genres of geekdom — that’s what we do. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but we feel like we do it better than most and there are some cities that are underserved, that don’t have a giant, multi-genre convention or cities that have had one pull out or cities that maybe just have one type of genre represented, you know? We’re looking at cities like that.

Actress Alex Kingston, who plays River Song on Doctor Who, reacts to breaking news that Jodie Whittaker was named the 13th Doctor. Kingston is a guest at Raleigh Supercon on July 16, 2017.


What: Raleigh Supercon

When: July 27-29. 12 noon to 1 a.m. July 27; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m., July 28; 10 a.m .to 8 p.m. July 29

Where: Raleigh Convention Center, 500 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh

Cost: Friday pass, $20; Saturday after dark pass, $30; Sunday pass, $30; children 9 and under get in free with a paid adult. Many 2-day and 3-day passes are sold out.


Guest highlights

All appear Friday to Sunday unless noted.

Caroll Spinney: The man who plays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch appears in Raleigh as part of his farewell tour.

William Shatner (Fri-Sat): Capt. James Tiberius Kirk needs no introduction. (Correction: A previous version of this story said Shatner will be in Raleigh Friday to Sunday).

Tom Kenny: Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Kenny is the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Erica Lindbeck: North Carolina native Lindbeck (who the N&O featured in 2016) is the voice of Barbie!

Michael Dorn: Dorn put in more screen time on “Star Trek” than any other actor, considering that Worf was in all of “The Next Generation” and half of “Deep Space 9” (plus, one of Worf’s ancestors was a Klingon attorney in “Star Trek VI!”).

Alice Cooper: Schoooooooooooool’s out / for evah!

Paige O’Hara (Saturday and Sunday): O’Hara is the voice of Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Dave Bautista (Saturday only): Drax the Destroyer from “Guardians of the Galaxy” (and wrestling superstar) Bautista appears Saturday only.

Lou Ferrigno: The O.G. Hulk himself!

Henry Winkler: From the Fonz to “Arrested Development” to “Parks and Recreation,” Winkler has been consistently funny since the mid-70s.

Walter Koenig: At the height of the Cold War, there was a Russian on the bridge of the Enterprise – Koenig’s Ensign Pavel Chekov.

Kimberly Brooks: Brooks voiced Ashley Williams in the “Mass Effect” trilogy.

Dana Snyder: If you’ve watched Adult Swim, you’ve heard Snyder. He’s the voice of Granny on “Squidbillies” and Master Shake on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” not to mention roles on “Bob’s Burgers,” “Adventure Time” and others.

Margaret Kerry: In the early ‘50s, Kerry was the model for Tinker Bell as she appeared in Disney’s animated film “Peter Pan.”

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