Lexington's first major comic and toy convention filled to capacity faster than a speeding bullet Saturday, drawing about four times more visitors than organizers expected.
At least 4,000 people visited the convention to meet celebrities, get their pictures taken with costumed superheroes, and chat up local and national comic book artists.
The turnout at downtown's Lexington Center thrilled organizers, exhibitors and fans, who had questioned whether Lexington could successfully host a convention that caters to a limited subculture of pop culture fans.
"Lexington has tried comic conventions before, but they were much smaller scale," said fan John Stith of Harrodsburg. "This one is really impressive. I'm really enjoying it, and I would like to see it get bigger and better."
Stith's wish will likely come true; after witnessing Saturday's successful turnout, organizer Jarrod Greer announced over the loudspeakers that the convention would be held again over two days next year. The announcement drew cheers from thousands crammed into the convention center.
Greer said he already had tentative plans to hold the convention again.
He expected it would take a few years for the convention to hit high attendance numbers, so Saturday's results blew away his expectations.
"I wouldn't have invested my money in it if I didn't expect people to come out, but I didn't expect it to turn out this good," Greer said.
Part of the convention's success likely had to do with celebrity guests Greer lined up, especially those from the iconic kids' show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
The show, about a group of teens imbued with superpowers to fight alien forces, first aired in 1993 and has generated cult-like adoration among fans.
Hundreds of fans were in line at any given time to meet Jason David Frank, who originated the popular role of the green ranger and went on to play other Power Rangers. Drawing no less excitement were Paul Schrier and Jason Narvy, who played the dimwitted bullies Bulk and Skull, and Catherine Sutherland and Nakia Burrise, who played the pink and yellow rangers, respectively, in follow-up series' Power Rangers Zeo and Power Rangers Turbo.
About 160 people crammed into a small conference room to hear the actors speak about everything from injuries they sustained on set to whether they ever get the show's catchy theme song — Go, Go Power Rangers — stuck in their heads.
For many, interacting with their childhood heroes was surreal.
"Seeing them in person, it's weird, because when you're that young you don't think that they have lives outside of TV. And then, all of a sudden, they're here," said Stephanie Nowicke, 22, of Richmond.
Nowicke recalled being forbidden from watching Power Rangers in preschool because "we got so riled up and excited when we saw it," she said.
Getting the actors on board started with a simple demand from Greer's son.
"My 6-year-old is a Power Rangers fanatic, and he kind of told me that I was going to have a power ranger here. He made that rule," Greer said.
Not knowing what to expect, Greer sent Frank a Facebook message asking if he would like to come to a convention in Kentucky.
"I got an e-mail back pretty quickly from him that just said, 'Sure, let's put it together,'" he said. "It was a painless deal."
As more and more actors, singers and artists signed on, more vendors began signing up, Greer said. In all, about 200 exhibitors were on hand.
They ran the gamut from professional to virtually unknown. Some booths were set up by retail stores, others were set up by regular people just looking to sell off some of their collectibles. Likewise, independent, unsigned artists shared space with nationally known artists like Bob McCleod, Allen Bellman and Mike Grell.
"We weren't quite sure how the indie comic creators would be accepted at an event like this, but it has been very encouraging," said Sara Turner, a self-published comic creator from Lexington and owner of Cricket Press.
Like any good convention, some visitors dressed in elaborate costumes and took pictures with fans. Stormtroopers from Star Wars, a team of Ghostbusters and two young women dressed in spandex X-Men costumes were the biggest draws for those with digital cameras.
"The attention people give you is amazing, and it's part of the reason I enjoy wearing a costume," said Jillian Hendricks, 24, who was dressed as Dark Phoenix from the X-Men. "They get very excited when they see one of their favorite characters."
Next year's convention should be bigger, with more exhibits, celebrities and people in costumes. It has been scheduled for March 16-17. Visitors were excited that Lexington was on the road to having a nationally recognized annual show.
"I've been living in Lexington for going on five years now, and I have always had to go out of town for something like this, to Louisville, Cincinnati, Columbus," said Chris Brown, a member of the charity group Mandalorian Mercs. The group is inspired by the warrior race that includes Boba Fett in Star Wars. "I love that somebody in town finally said 'Let's do something here.'"
Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197 Twitter: @HLPublicSafety