CINCINNATI — Like Batman to the Bat-symbol, thousands are expected to flock Downtown for the Cincinnati Comic Expo, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Duke Energy Convention Center.
The centerpiece of the three-day celebration of comics and pop culture will be an appearance by Burt Ward and Adam West, who played the dynamic duo of Robin and Batman in the 1960s TV camp classic "Batman."
"Each year we ask, what we can do to get a little bit bigger and then a little bit bigger?" said Matt Bredestege, spokesman for the expo, which is now in its sixth year. "We listen to our fans. Who do they want to see, what do they want to be involved with?"
Other celebrities will join West and Ward. There will also be vendors hawking their wares, people clad in superhero costumes, zombies dancing, and artists manning booths.
For the uninitiated, experiencing so much pop culture with an estimated 16,000 other fans can be a little overwhelming.
So, here are nine tips on what to do, and who to see, if this weekend's Cincinnati Comic Book Expo is your first.
1. Take a minute to soak in the atmosphere.
That’s the advice Michael W. Surber gives to anyone visiting the Expo for the first time.
“I’ve been a comic book fan for years myself and the first time I went to a con, the first words out of my mouth when I walked in were, ‘I am among my people!’” Surber remembered.
His first Expo was in 2013 and he has gone every year since. Of course, Surber takes his fandom a bit further than most: He creates and dresses as his favorite superheroes and then plays the part. (More on that as a moment.)
2. Take a victory lap
After the shock of arriving in your geekdom wears off, take a lap around the convention center floor. Don’t buy anything. Don’t stop. Maybe take a few notes. Usually, if there’s a cool T-shirt or collectible at the first vendor booth you come across, someone else is probably selling similar wares, maybe cheaper. Guys like Surber even wait until Sunday to buy some items. On the last day of the expo, vendors can be more willing to negotiate a cheaper price, which might net you a sweet deal.
3. Speaking of spending ... come with a budget.
If you want that photo snapshot with Steven Guttenburg from "Police Academy" prepare to pay.
Celebrities set their own prices for photos and autographs. Those prices can vary wildly. Hint: You'll pay more if you want Ward and West to ink that poster you brought. So, ask yourself now, how much are you willing to spend? You’ll save yourself, and your wallet, some grief.
4. Be prepared to have your heart broken.
Okay, 90 percent of the special guests will be nice when politely approached. Still, warned Jozzy Miller, another comic fan and costume dresser attending the expo, we build expectations of what a person will be like before meeting them. “Be prepared -- they might not be that way,” she says. They are, after all, just people. Many spend long hours at expos across the country, meeting hundreds of fans, all while trying to earn a living.
5. With that said, visit Artist Alley.
Artist Alley is the reason comic book conventions began. The alley is where fans can mingle with people who display and sell their work ... and offer autographs. A few even do commissioned pieces for a fee. Most artists are happy to chat about their craft.
6. Recommended artists to see
Neal Adams is a comic book artist legend for his work on Batman, Superman and other titles from the 1960s throughout the 1970s. He helped modernize the industry by interjecting socially relevant themes dealing with race, war and addiction into once simplistic tales. Adams was inducted into the Eisner Awards’ Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1998. Think of the Eisners as the Academy Awards of comic books.
Darwyn Cook is another artist who transformed the medium. He illustrated a revival of a classic comic strip, "The Spirit" and brought grit to "Catwoman."
And Cook continues to impress. His 2004 graphic novel “New Frontier” won industry accolades. Most recently he adapted a series of Richard Stark’s “Parker” novels into hard-boiled graphic novels.
In the words of longtime comic book collector Geoff Runge: “IF I WERE TO GO, because that remains undecided, it would be to meet Darwyn Cooke. Hands down. New Frontier is the best love letter to comics you'll ever read. His Parker books are badass, and exceptional executions of storytelling. I am tearing up at my desk thinking about New Frontier.”
Yeah, some people take their comics that seriously.
7. Let’s talk cosplay ...
If you aren't a comic fan, this is an entertaining reason to go to the expo.
“My aunt has no interest in comics, but she loves coming down to see people in costumes,” said Bredestege.
The people in costumes often call themselves cosplayers, shorthand for costume players. These folks, like Surber and Miller, craft their own outfits and play the part of fictional characters. Cosplay has different genres of dress, but most people, at the Expo will be in full superhero garb. Surber will show up as Iron Man and Miller as Loki.
“We go through in character the entire time,” said fellow cosplayer Matt Charlston (aka Sebastian Hexx), who makes up the Cincinnati Cosplay Combowith Miller and Surber.
Be courteous while admiring their work. Want a pic with Loki? Ask; don’t just walk up and demand or take a picture of her as she’s in the middle of eating a sandwich. Most of these folks are there to enjoy the expo just like you. If you want to get an amusing reaction, maybe ask a cosplayer about "con-funk." And don’t forget, there’s a costume contest at 5 p.m. Saturday.
8. Turn heads yourself as the Undead.
Why not dress up for the expo yourself? The best excuse might be the Zombie Walk, sponsored by the comic convention. Drag yourself around the Expo as a zombie Saturday, then head to the Freestore Foodbank at 1141 Central Parkway. (Take a few canned goods with you to feed the living.) The Zombie Walk starts at 7:30 p.m. and ends back at the Convention Center with a zombie-themed dance. (Admission to the dance is $10.)
As far as crafting your own costume, “thrift stores are your best bet,” said Charlston.
9. And if that doesn’t work for you ...
End Saturday evening with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra watching “Back to the Future.” This year is the 30th anniversary of the sci-fi classic, and to mark the occasion, Claudia Wells, Marty McFly’s girlfriend, and James Tolkan, who played Principal Strickland, will sign autographs at the expo. You might even spot the duo at a special concert with the Pops, who will perform the soundtrack to the film live at 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall.