Wizard World Philadelphia Highlights: From Fan Communities To Celebs

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Most of the time, the most famous fan in Philadelphia is a large green fuzzball in a Phillies baseball jersey. Not so during the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con last weekend where the largest fanatic was literally Lou Ferrigno, a formerly green Hulk, also rocking a Phillies jersey. But the fans who came to see the notable names in nerd culture, and to support innovators and creators in comic arts, might give the Phillie Phanatic a run for his cannon-launched hot dogs in terms of zeal.

From Thursday, May 30 through June 2, Philadelphia Comic Con overtook the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown. Thousands joined a cosplay and fan brotherhood of mutants (evil and otherwise), heroes, Jedi, zombies, Time Lords and more that spilled out into the streets. Though the draw of celebrity appearances created long lines at panels and for diehard autograph-and-photograph seekers, the event maintained an active marketplace of vendors and entrepreneurs, and boasted a healthy programming lineup.

With regards to celebs, yes, this con definitely had enough of both the nerd-famous and mainstream- famous set that an individual could spend an entire four days, and a life savings, to be around them. (Bemoan this if you like, but it is a reality of the modern con, and no one is forcing anyone to pay for a photo op with Stan Lee).

Anecdotally, it seemed to this writer that “The Walking Dead”’s Norman Reedus continues his recent streak as con god with endless lines; the event center inadvertently turned the lights out on the man and his fans as he continued signing after hours just to get through everyone waiting. William Shatner, Henry Winkler, Stan Lee and John Barrowman also appeared to draw the masses but there was no shortage of support for personalities such as Michael Rooker (“The Walking Dead”), James Marsters (“Buffy The Vampire Slayer”), Shawn and Aaron Ashmore (“The Following,” “Warehouse 13,” respectively), Giancarlo Esposito ("Revolution"), Ray Park (“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”) and half the cast of “Firefly” (Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Summer Glau and Gina Torres).

Since you probably have a pretty good idea of how many of these events work, let’s chat about a few of my highlights from Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con.

Comics and Fan Community

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A good con can always be judged by the fans that show up to share their passion through cosplay, art and crafts, and Wizard World Philly definitely delivered in this regard.

Neither Marvel, DC nor Dark Horse had a corporate presence, but the event did have an impressive roster of creators. A personal favorite was being able to catch definitive “Invincible Iron Man” artist and Valiant Comics architect Bob Layton. Now operating as a screenwriter and producer, Layton was available for sketches and autographs, but also drew a fair amount of gawking at the “Demon in a Bottle” artist and writer.

Not far from the iconic artist was a replica of an iconic car, the Batmobile from the 1966 Adam West series. For $10 fans could get multiple photos taken inside the car, and though Batmobiles are a staple at cons these days, the draw for me was the Bat-cowl available to wear in the photos – if one’s head was small enough to fit in it. Of course Batman cosplayers flocked to the car, but the highlight was on Sunday when a group dressed as Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Catwoman from the same series arrived for an extended photoshoot.

Also on the cosplay front, Emma Lipschutz and her sister Hannah cosplayed as Catwoman and a steampunk character, respectively. Hannah, a huge “X-Men” fan said she’d “just die” if she got a chance to meet Stan Lee, and Emma was geeking out over Adam Baldwin from “Firefly.” But Emma was also using the weekend as a chance to talk about her acting work. As an advanced actor combatant certified in weaponry, the Sarah Lawrence College grad said her goal is to replace Scarlett Johansson as “Black Widow,” or at least take over for her in the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” series.

Then there was the Tillett family from South Jersey; parents Lisa and Wayne, and sons Ryan and Patrick, showed up to Wizard World all dressed as “Doctor Who” characters. Wayne was Fourth Doctor Tom Baker and Lisa was companion Romana, Ryan was Fifth Doctor Peter Davison and Patrick was current Doctor Matt Smith. The young family that watch “Who” together were making their way to one of the most buzzed-about stops at the con: The TARDIS.

Crafted by Michael Consentino of MichaelCCollectibles, the full-size (on the outside) replica of the “Doctor Who” time machine was a free photo op and likely the biggest non-celebrity draw at the convention. Along with sons Jimmy and Nick, who cosplayed as the Eleventh Doctor and as actor Arthur Darvill’s Centurion, the Consentinos are a family of craftsman nerds brought closer through their work. Michael, a “Star Trek” fan, got into “Doctor Who” with his sons and together built the most durable and authentic David Tennant TARDIS I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen many.  A 5-foot square, 10-foot tall police call box made out of pine, the detail is perfect down to the weathered blue color (and four layers of it with a clearly high-grade furniture finish), frosted glass windows and small door for the phone. Currently Michael creates the on-camera prop of Dexter’s box of slides for the Showtime series, but the family is holding out hope BBC America will invite them to bring the TARDIS to a “Doctor Who” 50th Anniversary event.

The Panels

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John Barrowman may have had the most amusing panel. After showing off (and screaming about) his super-hero boxer “banana hammock,” the always-cheeky actor joked about how much he enjoyed filming the kissing scene with James Marsters in the “Torchwood” episode “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang.” He said Marsters made out with his girlfriend after each take to re-assert his masculinity, and Barrowman assured the scene would have to be redone “many, many times.” He asked fans not to talk about the reveal in the “Doctor Who” season finale, which also prevented questions about Matt Smith’s departure, but did answer a fan’s “marry/shag/kill” question about Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith:

“I’d have to marry Matt Smith … he’s skinny and he would break, so that’s OK but it’s not really John Barrowman’s thing so he would be married because he’d run around the house protecting it with his bowtie and fez. I would probably shag David, he knows that! (Only if you got the “10”) … and chuck off the cliff would have to be Eccleston … but I might shag him first before I do it.”

Fun fact: Barrowman has the animatronic Dalek that killed him in “Doctor Who” in his living room.

The next best panel moment for me in Philadelphia was on the one I moderated for brothers Shawn and Aaron Ashmore. Shawn couldn’t dish much about Iceman in “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” but that audiences will see a more mature Bobby Drake who has evolved in the 14 years since we first saw him in Bryan Singer’s “X-Men.” Aaron said that based on what he knows, fans will be satisfied with the finale of “Warehouse 13.”

Aaron also said his best geek out moment was when Patrick Stewart and William Shatner were walking next to each other at a con, as a thousand people followed them, and then “popped in to” the booth he shared with his brother.

“I literally couldn’t speak,” said Aaron. “I was like uh, hey, hey, hey, and Shawn worked with Patrick on the ‘X-Men’ thing and I was like, ‘Oh, you worked with my brother’ … I was like, ‘Why did I say that?’ and had a totally fan moment.”

Celebrity Tidbits

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Lou Ferrigno had his own fan moment on Thursday night when he threw out the first pitch in a Philadelphia Phillies game against the Boston Red Sox: “It was the first time in my life [that I threw out a pitch. I played baseball before so it was a lot of fun … I’m from New York originally and would go with the Yankees but love the Phillies so I was happy to be associated with them and I got all the autographs from all the players.”

Kevin Sorbo from “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Andromeda” said there are things fans quiz him on that he doesn’t remember: “I’m rewatching ‘Hercules’ because my kids, my 9 and 11-year-old boys are hooked on them. So I will go down and watch one a month, and will remember each episode in its entirety, but I will look at a scene and have no recall of doing it.”

As for ever returning to his role as Herc, Sorbo said he’s too old but would like to appear in some way in new films featuring the mythological hero: “They’re doing two movies and I’m not appearing in either of them, which kind of pisses me off, to be honest with you … to not use me as a cameo in either of them – not the leading role, but as a cameo – is stupid.”

Actor and horror effects guru Tom Savini, who appears in the upcoming “Machete Kills,”  said he’s not looking to do more practical effects, but is proud to see the approach coming back: “They bragged about not using CGI in the ‘Evil Dead’ remake … the greatest effects are the combination [of CGI and practical effects] to enhance that stuff ... At these conventions, I see a lot of zombies made up as specific zombies from what I’ve done, and it’s always fun to know you’ve inspired someone.”

Nick Gomez, who played the inmate Tomas on “The Walking Dead” -- and will play a “memorable” character in two episodes this season on “Dexter” --  was a newbie at the comic con scene: “This is my first comic con and it’s pretty wild; I had no idea that it had this magnitude. When I went to do ‘The Walking Dead,’ I was going to do another TV show, and didn’t realize the gravity of the situation. And doing these, you can see it’s bigger than anyone thinks it is.”