The Lexington Comic & Toy Convention has some unlikely roots: reptiles.
Founder Jarrod Greer initially approached the Lexington Convention Center staff about hosting one of the many reptile expos he organized across the state. When that didn't work out, the staff asked whether he had another event in mind.
"I've always been into toys and comics," he said.
Thus was born the convention that expects to draw about 15,000 visitors this weekend.
"I won't say we didn't expect a successful turnout our first year, but we didn't expect this kind of thing to happen in three years," Greer said.
The first convention, held only on a Saturday in 2012, attracted more than 4,000 visitors. The next year saw an expansion to Sunday, with nearly 10,000 in attendance. This year includes Friday night festivities, although they are limited to holders of now-sold-out VIP tickets. The convention sold 1,000 VIP tickets, said Greer, who organizes the event with his wife, Jaime, while working at the ESM Group machine shop in Ashland.
For repeat visitors, this year's convention is all about more of everything. With nearly double the floor space, the convention isn't sharing space, as it did last year, when a gun show was held the same weekend.
"We joked that you never knew who had a real gun and who had a ray gun," Greer said.
The convention will use all of the Heritage Hall meeting space, he said, plus space in the adjoining Hyatt Regency hotel. Greer has secured even more space for next year's event, already booking upstairs rooms at the convention center.
That will allow for additional vendor booths and panels next year, and a "slight time expansion, possibly," he said.
So who does Greer credit with the convention's success?
Primarily the Power Rangers.
The teens who morph into costumed heroes and pilot large machines, or "zords," to fight villains have been a fixture on television since 1993. Over that time, there have been numerous cast members and several hundred episodes.
Greer said he first focused on booking former Power Rangers cast members because his son was a fan of the series.
"Having that group in there the first couple of years was probably the best thing we ever did in terms of developing a niche market," Greer said. "There just aren't that many places in the country where you can see that many Power Rangers in one place."
That focus allowed the convention to draw in Power Rangers fans from great distances.
Jeremy Pung, 30, is traveling from Swartz Creek, Mich., for this year's convention, because it's the first to feature Amy Jo Johnson, who in the mid-1990s portrayed the first pink Power Ranger.
"I never thought I'd see the day where Amy Jo Johnson would attend a con," Pung wrote via email. "I couldn't pass up the opportunity to meet her."
Pung has watched the show since the beginning.
"I was 10 and there was something that appealed to me about 'teenagers with attitude' piloting Dinozords in colored spandex. I couldn't get enough," he wrote. "Sure it can be campy and cheesy, but the show has heart and the cast members are phenomenal with their fans. I still watch the show to this day for those reasons, plus the fight sequences are amazingly done."
The convention continues to line up more and more former Power Rangers, but Greer said his son has moved on.
"I joke and say he left me behind, since, as a convention, we're so invested in them," Greer said. "He's becoming a Pokémon fan more and more."