By Jared Huizenga
Since 2014, the sci-fi nerds, the anime geeks and pop culture junkies (all meant as terms of endearment) of the Twin Cities have converged on the Minneapolis Convention Center to get their fill of celebrities, comics, cosplay and entertainment.
That trend will continue this weekend when Wizard World Comic Con returns May 5-7 for its fourth Minneapolis run.
While Wizard World Minneapolis is still in its relative infancy, the Wizard World brand has been on the comic convention map since 1998 when it launched its first show in Chicago, Wizard World spokesman Jerry Milani said. Three years later they added another show in Philadelphia, and shortly thereafter added a third show that rotated among other markets. By 2014, Wizard World expanded into 24 markets, before scaling back to the 16 shows they have on the calendar for 2017.
“Every one of these events is big for us,” Milani said. “Chicago and Philadelphia are more established, and then there’s a second tier of shows that has been around for about six or seven years that are also growing rapidly.”
Minneapolis, he added, is a market that Wizard World sees with a ton of potential for growth. That confidence is reflected in the guest lineup that Wizard World has lined up for this year.
“It’s a big puzzle in lining up celebrity guests,” Milani said, noting that everything – from a celebrity’s availability to whether they’ve been to the market in previous years – is taken into consideration. “There’s also a bit of luck involved,” he noted.
That luck managed to secure a list of notable comic con favorites that includes Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman from “Doctor Who;” Nichelle Nichols from “Star Trek;” James Marsters, Charisma Carpenter and Nicholas Brendan from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer;” and John Barrowman from “Doctor Who” and “Arrow.”
But perhaps the biggest, or at least the most infamous, name on the list is Charlie Sheen, who will be making his Wizard World debut this weekend.
Milani said they’d tried in the past to get Sheen on board, but the timing never worked out until this year when Sheen signed on for three shows, starting this weekend.
But the stars who will be on hand this weekend aren’t only those who were in front of the cameras. Like all good cons, Wizard World features a slew of comic book artists and others who left their mark by animating some of the most beloved TV shows and movies of all time.
Among those animators is Tom Cook, whose résumé is a virtual who’s who of TV animation: “Scooby-Doo,” “The Flintstones,” “The Smurfs,” “The Jetsons” and “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” to name only a few.
“One of the things we hear most often is ‘you drew my childhood,’” Cook said of fan reactions to meeting him and other animators like Phil Ortiz and Mike Toth, who will both be in attendance this weekend as well. “We joke about how much money we’d have if we got paid every time someone says ‘childhood.’”
The trio sticks together in what Cook likes to call “Animators Alley” where they chat with fans and sell both pre-drawn and custom-ordered art featuring their most beloved characters. And, while they’ve worked on several of the same projects – “He-Man” being one of them – they make sure they’re each doing something different from the others.
For instance, while both Ortiz and Cook have worked on “The Simpsons,” it’s Ortiz who will draw fans’ likenesses in that style (with Cook adding the color), while Cook will handle He-Man duties and Toth will handle the Disney items – his Disney credits include “Aladdin,” “Mulan” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
One thing that all three insist upon in any work they sell during a convention is that it’s quality work.
“They’re really show pieces that people can hang on their walls,” Cook noted. “Things that they’ll be able to hang on to forever.”
But beyond that, Cook said that it’s very important to all of them to connect with the fans.
“We always knew we had cool jobs,” he said. “But it’s very humbling to know that these shows still have an effect on people.”
In addition to animators and artists selling their artwork, Wizard World will feature panels run by artists and the celebrity guests; sessions on cosplay; “Doctor Who” and “Buffy”-themed yoga; a vendor expo; and plenty of family friendly options – such as dancing, music and magicians, with free admission for children 10 and younger with a paid adult admission.
“We’ve really tried to make it family friendly,” Milani said. “As well as an entertainment and pop culture extravaganza.”
Hours for Wizard World are 4-9 p.m. Friday, May 5; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, May 6; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 7. For more information go to wizardworld.com/comiccon/minneapolis.
Jared Huizenga is a contributing writer for Sun Newspapers. His Scene & Heard blog features movie reviews throughout the year, as well as features about other local events, including film festivals. His work can be found in the entertainment section of the Sun Current, Sun Focus, Sun Post, Sun Sailor and Press & News websites, and online at facebook.com/jaredmovies.