They gathered from all regions of the universe, some traveling light years just to say they participated in one of Earth’s rare moments. Some wanted to spot an acclaimed alien or two. Thousands of beings embarked on to the concourse of the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa, for the third annual O Comic Con.
The three-day convention that celebrates pop culture and its varied branches – sci fi, horror, comics, movies, books, television and games – welcomed celebrity guests, artists, writers and, of course, cosplayers.
My favorite part of comic cons are the cosplayers. It’s interesting to see a person display their version of a beloved character. Some people will stock close to formula and dress like their hero, while others will create their own version of how they interpret the character. Neither school of thought is wrong and both are welcomed with open arms.
People will invest thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in creating their look. Others look for more economical ways to celebrate cosplay.
One woman stood out to us as Black Widow from “The Avengers” movie franchise. Portrayed by Scarlett Johansen in the movie series, O Comic Con’s Black Widow dressed and looked the part.
Others went for a whimsical approach. A group of young people dressed as DC Comics characters Harley Quinn, Joker, Riddler and Poison Ivy. Each is a foe of Batman. And each usually ends up captured by the Dark Knight.
Speaking of the Dark Knight, a family of caped crusaders stopped by O Comic Con. Dad, Mom and a child dressed as Batman, Batgirl and Robin.
Not to be outdone by anyone, “Star Wars” fans showed why the Empire continues to dominate comic conventions. Panels covered all things “Star Wars” related. Cosplayers dressed the part. The 501st Legion was on hand with its Storm Troopers and series of Boba Fetts.
In addition to the Empire’s attempt to capture Princess Leia (again!), I ran into two of my favorite action movie heroes – Indiana Jones and Han Solo. The two O Comic Con visitors dressed well for their roles.
I got a kick of two women dressed as Flo from the Progressive insurance commercials.
Comic cons are a great opportunity for vendors to sell their wares to fans. Andrea Hurtt of Omaha, who has been a vintage Bombshell dress designer and former owner of Atomic Bombshell at Midtown Crossing, travels the country attending conventions related to the “Supernatural” television series. She attended O Comic Con to sell pillows related to the series. The pillows resemble characters from the shows.
The pillows have been appreciated by fans of the show and are used by some people to ease their anxiety issues, Hurtt told us previously.
She travels 1-2 times a month with the “Supernatural” conventions. She was accepted on her initial application, Hurtt said. We’ve seen her work with “Supernatural” and as a dress designer. Hurtt is talented.
Another Omahan was at his first O Comic Con as a dealer. Oscar Gonzalez is a collector of comic books, statues and toys. He decided it was time to reduce his collection of duplicate items. So, he thought O Comic Con would be the right place for it. He brought about 30 boxes of comic books, as well as toys and figurines to see. Each box contained about 300 comic books. He has another 20 or so boxes at home, he said.
Artists were at work on creations during the convention. Nationally known animator Phil Hester had a booth and was busy drawing and working while meeting with fans. His professional career includes drawing for The Green Arrow, Swamp Thing and Ant-Man.
We were not immune to being fans during O Comic Con. We picked up a couple of animations while browsing.
Another favorite attraction of ours includes participating in celebrity panel sessions. Guests are always willing to talk career and other items with fans during these sessions. We’ve seen some well-known celebrities over the past few years attending conventions. From Walter Koenig of “Star Trek” fame to Sean Gunn of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” O Comic Con has brought some interesting celebrities to Omaha.
This year’s list included Alison Arngrim of “Little House of the Prairie,” David Yost of “Power Rangers.” Carroll Spinney of “Sesame Street” and Ray Park of “Star Wars – Phantom Menace.”
Park came across as very energetic, a little ball of energy as I called him (not to his face). He shared stories of working to become a great martial artist and turning his skills into a movie career. He had no idea that his role as Darth Maul in the first “Star Wars” sequel would turn into a cult following. The movie premiered in 1999.
Park’s session was about 80 percent capacity of the large conference room. Fans were excited when he suggested taking a group picture. As he ended his session, he took a fan’s light saber and did some moves with it. The crowd erupted in applause and cheers.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect of Yost’s panel. I wasn’t a fan of the Power Rangers. Neither were my daughters. So, I thought it might be a nice time to sit, relax and plan my strategy for the remainder of the day at O Comic Con.
But, as I listened to the Council Bluffs native talk, I found myself tuning him in more and more. Then, I reached for my camera and started taking some photos of his at the table. After that, I opened my notepad and started taking notes. Yost was deeply interesting. He loved being the blue Power Ranger of the 1990s series and movie.
But, his personal story was what captured my attention. The man, 48, almost committed suicide as a younger man. He left the Power Rangers TV series after 200 episodes because he couldn’t tolerate the harassment he said he received because of his sexual orientation. He had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. It was during this period he thought about suicide.
He came out as gay in 2010 because he felt he needed to, in order to help young LGTBQI people. There was an increase in attempted and completed suicides during the time by young gay people, he said. He works with the Matthew Project, which runs a suicide prevention hotline for youths. He encourages anyone with suicides thoughts to call the hotline or the national suicide prevention hotline.
Yost, whose family moved from Council Bluffs during his youth, lived in Montana and Colorado, as well. He attended college at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. Following graduation, he headed to Los Angeles to be an actor. Within three months, he was cast in Power Rangers.
He’s a producer, in addition to acting. He has produced reality shows. He was a location manager for two seasons for “Burning Love,” a parody of the “Bachelor”-type programs. It made me happy when he said he liked that series, because my daughters got me hooked watching that show. I despise reality shows in general, but love parodies.
Arngrim portrayed Nellie Oleson on the NBC hit “Little House on the Prairie” during the 1970s and ‘80s. She embraces her time on the show, even writing a book about her role as a not-so-friendly girl. She does stand-up comedy and had the decent-sized crowd laughing throughout her visit.
Arngrim loves new media and has an internet-based show called “Life Interrupted.” It stars other actors from the ‘60s and ‘70s, including Michael Learned, Dawn Wells and Erin Murphy.
You’d recognize Spinney as soon he starts talking – Big Bird! The Sesame Street character has the voice of Spinney, just a tad higher pitched. The 82-year-old muppeteer also voices Oscar the Grouch on the PBS children’s program. He developed Oscar’s voice from a gravelly-sounding New York cabbie.
Spinney completed his 48th season as Big Bird. The head of PBS wants to build the 50th season celebration around Spinney and Big Bird, he said.
Another celebrity we enjoyed visiting with was Jonathan Lipnicki, of “Jerry McGuire” and “Stuart Little” fame. The 26-year-old actor has done other work since those movies. He wowed members of the audience when he mentioned that he played a white supremacist as a teen. He researched the role during the time of his Bar Mitzvah.
“Imagine telling your grandfather, who survived Auschwitz, that you’re going to play a white supremacist,” he said.
Lipnicki also writes and produces projects. He is surprised when producers don’t want to cast him, because they sometimes see him as that little kid on the big screen. “I’ve grown up.”
Cosplayers, games, movies, merchants and celebrities – the things that make a comic con work. The fact that Matt Fujan has created a successful comic con in the Omaha area is a credit to his talents and skills. We can see O Comic Con continuing to build, eventually challenging the larger cons around the Midwest for celebrities and other talent, if he wants. O Comic Con attracts about 10,000 people annually. As a smaller venue, it creates an intimate environment and allows people to roam freely.
This was our third time attending O Comic Con. We look forward to more in the future. If it wasn’t for O Comic Con, I may not have attended a comic convention. I appreciate it being here.
When dates and guests for the 2018 convention are announced, we’ll be quick to share them with you. In the meantime, two things – if you haven’t attended O Comic Con, plan to do so in 2018. You’ll have a blast. And, secondly, if you haven’t attended a comic con ever, I suggest you check the internet and go. Each con is special and unique and always fun, no matter the size or location.
For more information on O Comic Con, please visit www.oconexpo.com.
Disclaimer: Thank you to O Comic Con for the media passes for the convention. However, all opinions and views are ours.