This time last year, Jarrod Greer was preparing to lose his shirt on the first Lexington Comic and Toy Convention, which he had organized.
Nobody knew how many Central Kentuckians would attend a one-day mishmash of superheroes, science fiction, horror and pro wrestling.
"The night before, I was talking with my sales manager at the Lexington Convention Center," Greer said. "She asked me, 'I know you've invested a lot in this. How many people do you need to break even tomorrow?' I said, 'At least 2,600.' She said, 'I'm sorry, I don't think you're gonna get there.'"
In fact, more than 4,100 people showed up — packing the hall and guaranteeing an even bigger convention in 2013.
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The second annual show is Saturday and Sunday at the Lexington Convention Center. It will offer more celebrity guests, vendors and activities, including panel discussions and a costume contest. As many as 8,000 people are expected; some booked advance tickets from as far away as Canada and Brazil.
The actors who played Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) in the Star Wars franchise will appear, as will Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in Superman: The Motion Picture.
And instead of the five Mighty Morphin Power Rangers who attended last year, there will be a dozen. People love the Power Rangers, candy-colored warriors from a 1990s hit children's program.
"I credit my son for the Power Rangers being there," Greer said. "He's 7 years old, and that was all his idea. He's obviously the brains in the family. They were huge last year. When we were closing, we still had somewhere between 120 and 150 people in line for Jason David Frank, who plays one of the Power Rangers known as Tommy Oliver. We invited him back this year."
At the heart of the show are comic books: retailers selling old comics to fans, and writers and artists autographing and chatting about the old comics they created, never realizing at the time that anyone still would care decades later.
Much of the draw is nostalgia for middle-age men who remember plucking comics from the 7-Eleven spinner rack. But comics also are the source material for popular television shows, including The Walking Dead (created by Kentucky native Robert Kirkman) and movies like The Avengers, which grossed more than $1.5 billion at the global box office last year.
For veteran comics creators Roger Stern and Mike Grell, both of whom will attend this weekend, Hollywood lends new cachet to their work. Stern spent years writing Marvel Comics characters, including Captain America, who now are international movie stars. Grell's gritty take on DC Comics' second-string hero Green Arrow was adapted last year into the successful CW television series Arrow.
"Even people who don't read comics are now more aware of (the) characters, in much the same way that non-sports fans are aware of Michael Jordan or Jeff Gordon," Stern said in an interview. "A few years ago, I doubt that the average individual would have heard of Iron Man. But now — well, he just got his own Super Bowl ad."
The downside to comics being nostalgia fodder for adults is that few children read them anymore, the creators said. Most comics cost $3 to $4 a pop and are sold only in specialty stores. Their content — blood-spattering violence and convoluted story lines — is aimed at older, longtime readers. The creators said they hoped some kids would be exposed to good comics this weekend.
"It's unfortunate that the major comic book companies have lost that incoming audience," said Grell, a writer and artist who broke into the industry in the 1970s. "They really need to supply books that appeal to the younger reader so that we'll still have older readers later on. We all have a soft spot for that first comic book that caught our eye as a kid."
IF YOU GO
Lexington Comic and Toy Convention
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. March 16, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. March 17
Where: Lexington Convention Center, 430 W. Vine St.
Tickets: $20 per day Saturday and Sunday, or both days for $30. Tickets available at the door only. Event is free for ages 10 and younger with paid adult.
Learn more: Lexingtoncomiccon.com
For the full guest list, go to Lexingtoncomiccon.com. Highlights include:
Jim Duggan, top right, professional wrestler known as "Hacksaw"
Jason David Frank, actor who played Tommy Oliver on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and spin-offs
Mike Grell, writer/artist on comic books including Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters and Iron Man
Jamal Igle, artist on comic books including Supergirl, Firestorm and Nightwing
Margot Kidder, middle right, actress who played Lois Lane in Superman: The Motion Picture and sequels
Peter Mayhew, bottom right, actor who played Chewbacca in Star Wars and sequels
Felix Silla, actor who played Cousin Itt on The Addams Family and Twiki the Robot on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Roger Stern, writer on comic books including Superman, Captain America, The Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man
Billy Dee Williams, actor who played Lando Calrissian in the Stars Wars franchise