Hello and you’re welcome!
This is a guide to Denver Comic Con, and whether or not you should go. It’s very thorough, which should make up for the fact that I’m publishing it shortly after the end of Denver Comic Con.
(OK, it’s also a wrap-up of Denver Comic Con 2017.)
On to the guide!
What should I know about the crowds and lines?
Saturday is completely insane, can be hard to navigate, tough to find your friends, etc. I saw multiple people run into lightsabers, giant mallets, big cardboard versions of that wall with the letters on it in “Stranger Things.” But Saturday’s also the best day for costume-watching. If crowds are absolutely not your thing, just go Friday. It’s way more chill. If you’re worried about it, it’s probably worth one vacation day, if you have the option.
On avoiding lines:
There are many things that do not require waiting in line. Most panels have empty seats. The exhibitors’ hall is crowded, but less so early in the day. Plan your day out in advance and you’ll do less waiting.
On unavoidable lines:
If you’re hoping to see the marquee guests, get in line at least 45 minutes early. Seriously. A full hour is wiser. Bring conversation or comics. Or eat. Which, by the way …
Buying food? That’s a line. Send a scout ahead with your order. But also be cool about not getting what you want, because stuff sells out. For example, let’s say you want a veggie burrito on Day Two. How about a plain bagel in plastic wrap instead?
All that said, people often say that they meet people waiting in lines and have fun conversations with people who share their passions.
In the land of celebrity meet-and-greet lines on Saturday, I met Phillipe LeHardy. Here he is, with his homemade Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot puppets:
A longtime fan of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” LeHardy was in line to meet Felicia Day, who stars as the villain in the current run — which LeHardy helped Kickstart. He said it took about a month and a half to make Crow and about three days to make Tom Servo.
“I think I’m going to get Crow signed,” he said.
His favorite ep of the new series? “Avalanche.”
The original? “Hobgoblins.”
But he answered like he was picking the favorite of his children. (Which, again, he said he was going to get Crow signed, so it’s not totally foreign to pick a favorite child.)
Other observations in the weird desert of celebrity lines?
Here’s the line to meet Nathan Fillion — everybody in this photo is in line, and it’s not the entire line:
The line for John Cusack, which I did not photograph, was sparse. About six people deep. When Stephanie checked in, there were no people in line at all, and Cusack stepped away from the table. He was a late addition to the schedule, and people didn’t seem to know he was there.
The lines for celebrities of color skewed toward fans of color. The lines for female celebrities skewed toward female fans. Just saying. Programming matters.
I really want to see my favorite celebrity.
Build your day around that. More on lines below, but get in line an hour early. Maybe an hour and a half! If you’re at the convention to see someone like Nathan Fillion, line up outside the convention center well before the doors open.
If you’re there for your fave — and a lot of people are — do it right.
The most talked-about moment of the con, by the way, came in one of Fillion’s events: “At one point he was asked to call his buddy Alan Tudyk. Fillion got an automated message, signaling that Tudyk hadn’t set up his voicemail. At the end of the message it started to give out Tudyk’s phone number, which the audience could hear.”
The 13-year-old Brown ribbed Denver’s Chris Parente as he interviewed her.
Parente: “Were you ever terrified on set, even a little?”
Brown: “No. Does that upset you?”
Other highlights of the interview were pretty tame, but if the point is to get a sense of who your favorite actor is, fans got a taste of Brown, for sure.
She didn’t learn much about ’80s culture before shooting “Stranger Things” — “Eleven doesn’t know about that.” She did watch “Stand By Me,” “Poltergeist” and “E.T.,” though.
“The thing I’m jealous of is the freedom,” she said of kids in those ’80s movies.
She’s the on-set joker, and appears to take it somewhat seriously. “I would never be the victim of a joke. I’m the mastermind of the jokes.” Fake roaches in food, prank calls, stuff like that. Sure enough, when Parente stood up to call on the audience for questions, Brown tried to sneak away. Didn’t quite make it without being caught, though.
Plans for a few years from now? “I want to study forensic science.”
Does she have time to do kid stuff? “This is kid stuff. Right now. I’m surrounded by kids.”
Did she get tired of eating waffles on set? “I’d rather eat pancakes. Maybe next season.” Also, she loves eating carrots.
Has she seen all of the “Star Wars” movies? “I’m trying … I’m just getting through them.”
What’s her ideal day off? “In the morning, I like to prep my skin. In the afternoon, carrots.” And watching movies with friends at night.
She got into performing because she loved to sing. An audience member asked her to sing. She did.
In the final episode, was her scream digitally enhanced? “That was my scream — and I held it for 10 seconds.”
There was a ground rule set at the beginning of the event — no questions about season two. So a person dressed as the Demogorgon — the big baddie from season one — asked, “Will you be in season three?” Nice try.
I don’t read comics.
This con — and there is some minor nerd strife around this! — is very pop culture-centric. Movies, TV shows, books … it’s all here. Even facts! There are facts!
The panels are the things that first drew me to Denver Comic Con — discussions around movies, TV shows and all the rest, asking questions about the way we consume pop culture, what we’re reading, who’s making it, who has the opportunity to make it, and more. I like coming away from the convention with notes and a reading/watching list. There’s even a mini literary convention within DCC, where scholars present their work in geeky fields.
Sometimes the panels are bad. That happens! There are hundreds of hours of programming at DCC, and the odds that it’s all gonna be good, well … look, it’s just not. Maybe somebody’s underprepared. Or just not that knowledgeable. You should have a backup panel in mind, and bail after 10 minutes if your gut tells you to. You spent a bunch of dough on this ticket — go find something that opens your mind a little.
The NASA panels seemed popular, and the one I went to was great. There was enough demand for these that there was a separate room for the line:
I came home and talked to my daughter about Enceladus, Tethys, Titan and Iapetus. Why are there red streaks on Tethys? (We don’t know.) Why was it so important that the Cassini mission go out of its way to avoid Enceladus? (Wouldn’t want to accidentally exterminate life in one of the places scientists think it might be hiding out there.)
Great stuff. Drs. Carly Howett and Anne Verbiscer used their hour wonderfully. They’ve both worked on Cassini for more than a decade — it launched in 1997.
“We’re thinking of having Puffs or Kleenex sponsor the mission closing, because there are going to be a lot of tears,” Verbiscer said. Cassini will end spectacularly — by hitting Saturn — in September of this year.
“It’s amazing how you can get attached to inanimate objects,” Howett said.
Someone asked how much Cassini cost.
“Over 20 years as a flagship-class mission … $4 billion,” Verbiscer said.
“Less expensive than most football stadiums,” Howett quipped.
Not quite true, but a couple of sources put the stadia for the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants all well above $1 billion. And while you can see Saturn from them (with the lights off) … it’s not quite the same.
If you don’t read comics but want to, you can get some recommendations.
“READING ADVICE — FREE!”
This year, an adorable “Peanuts”-style booth offered “if you like this, try this” recommendations from the Colorado Association of Librarians. When I stopped by, Lara Beckwith of Aurora’s Hoffman Heights branch and Kaiya Schroeder of Adams County’s AnyThink Libraries were on duty.
“Groups of kids have been a big portion of our demographic,” Schroeder said, of the folks approaching them.
“And the odd librarian,” Beckwith said.
While I was there, a mom with two kids stopped by. They saw another interactive portion of the booth — the librarians had a board asking what conventiongoers thought Wonder Woman would read.
One of the boys shouted “Batman!”
The woman suggested something a little more specific — the Paksenarrion series, by Elizabeth Moon.
Next, two girls: “The dictionary! Our first answer was ‘Everything,’ but we didn’t think you’d put that up there.”
“I totally will,” Beckwith said. And she did.
(Earlier, someone else had suggested “50 Shades, but in reverse.” Something like that’s probably out there somewhere, I guess.)
I do read comics and still don’t see why I should go.
You do you! This is a huge, blockbuster-type event, and it’s not for everybody. Check out DINK, for sure.
But you can still find locals, interesting conversations and unusual stuff at Denver Comic Con.
I checked in with Dailen Ogden, who’d guest-edited one of our geek newsletters. Her booth catches the eye, with richly colored medium-sized posters featuring a variety of familiar characters from Harry Potter, Sailor Moon, Game of Thrones, Captain America and others, in addition to original art.
“Denver is a really good show for regulars for me,” she said, “and so is Phoenix.”
She sells well in both places, and says she’s up to about 12 cons a year now, selling art full-time for the past two years. This was her fifth year at Denver. One thing that’s changed, she said, is that as she becomes more established, people who she’s looked up to have become peers.
Although she still manages to get a little starstruck. “It’s foot in mouth — immediately.”
For example, she’s a big fan of Matt Wilson, colorist of “The Wicked and the Divine.” He wasn’t at this con, but meeting him at another one was a big moment.
She said she has regulars who swing by to pick something up every year, some folks who come by and buy something in kind of a businesslike way, people who’ll chat a bit and then buy, people who come time and again to tell her they love what she does but don’t buy anything. I made the mistake of joking that they’re both nourishing, in a way.
“My wallet needs more nourishing than my ego, admittedly,” she said.
I don’t want to wear a costume.
That’s cool, most people don’t wear costumes. Look:
See? That’s a lot of people not wearing costumes, who nobody’s looking at because of all the costumes. Kind of perfect.
I want to see a lot of costumes.
Yeah, you got it, there are so many costumes. Here are some of Kevin’s photos from 2017.
I was just shooting on my phone. But I want to at least share with you these fantastic steampunkish Ghostbusters from Greeley:
And you can and should ask people about their costumes! Two women in outstanding long, silver quidditch robes caught my eye. It wasn’t the brooms and great-looking gauntlet-y gloves they had — although those were cool — it was the logo on the robes. “Denver Dementors,” it said, with an embroidered black dementor — “a gliding, wraith-like dark creature (considered one of the foulest to inhabit the world) employed by the British Ministry of Magic as the guard of Azkaban Prison.”
“We finished them last night,” Jessica Richardson told me.
“She designed them two years ago,” Susan Brandt said.
“I originally made three designs,” Richardson said. “Two were actually from ‘Harry Potter.'”
The third she made was a Denver design, and her friends voted to make that the official logo for their group costume. Oddly enough? There’s already been a Denver Dementors quidditch team. (I found their Facebook group: “2nd Place in the Northern Colorado Cup 2011. 5th Place in the Utah Snow Cup 2012.” They’re hosting a pick-up game this Sunday at 6 p.m. in Cheesman Park.)
Richardson said she had once thought about playing quidditch, or getting involved in one of the leagues — actual quidditch games happen, and my alma mater turns out to be one of the traditional collegiate powerhouses.
“I read the rulebook and I was going to be a ref,” she said. But it turns out to be kind of a big time commitment.
I saw Richardson again Saturday, this time with friend Dao Tran, also in one of the robes.
I’m not a nerdy white dude.
Well, I am, so take this with a grain of salt (and email me if you have thoughts on this! firstname.lastname@example.org): Denver Comic Con is one of the most diverse and — seemingly to me — inclusive major cultural events in the Denver area.
The programming features panels on diversity, feminism, LGBTQ and race in pop culture, in addition to programming featuring women, LGBTQ speakers and speakers of color that is not about being a woman, LGBTQ or person of color. The organizers have said that inclusive programming is a priority, and to my eye, they do a better job of it each year.
Antonella Correa and Ana De Leon, students at Aurora Community College, gave presentations on pop culture as viewed through a lens of intersectional feminism. De Leon focused on the Disney movies “Snow White” and “Moana” and how the character Moana flipped the Disney princess archetype on its head.
Correa spoke about toys. She said she’d been redoing her bedroom for the first time since she was 12 years old and uncovered her old toys — Barbies, Bratz and her Quinceañera doll. It made her think about the toys and the way they were gendered, and the way they looked.
“It would’ve been super cool to see more people that looked like me,” she told me after her presentation.
She said the course she originally did the research for pleasantly surprised her.
“I thought it would be more narrow, on women’s issues,” she said. But her instructor broadened it out and looked at race, disabilities and more.
Kimberly Tenure, the instructor, had the idea to have her students present when she saw other students presenting at last year’s Denver Comic Con.
“It gives the kids a chance to present, and especially in a community college, it’s great to see them in that professional setting,” Tenure said.
I don’t want to spend much money.
Good news/bad news. If you’re here just to hear people talk, show off your cool costume, meet fellow fans — you can get a lot out of DCC without spending much money. The bad news is that there are endless ways to spend money at this event, including a bazillion square feet of vendors.
Biggest tips: Don’t buy food at the convention. Some artists have signs that say they’ll give you a free sketch. (Probably nice to at least tweet it out with their info if you take them up on this and don’t buy anything.) Even the cheapest celebrity autographs and photos will set you back $30-40.
I need everything to be tailored perfectly to me and I hate waiting and if 15 minutes of something isn’t fun, I will complain forever.
I don’t know, maybe grow up? You know who you are. (Unless you are an actual kid, in which case…)
I’m thinking about taking my kids to Denver Comic Con.
Let’s start with this: Sometimes going places with kids doesn’t work out! Sometimes your kids are cranky. Sometimes you’re cranky! So if you go because of this guide and then you have a bad time, please do not create a Yelp listing for Dave Burdick and then give me a one-star review. You make your own choices, man. Know your kids, know your limits, etc., etc.
Denver Comic Con is put on by the nonprofit Pop Culture Classroom. More on them here. But the short version is that they use comics and board games to teach literacy skills, and they have a kid-targeted stage all weekend at the con.
On Friday, two character pros — a designer and a voice actor — spent an hour demonstrating character design to kids. They’d ask for suggestions (“Iron Man!” “Dinosaur!” “A monkey!”) and Greg Guler, who’s designed characters for shows like “Phineas and Ferb,” would try to piece them together into a character on an easel the 30-ish kids, some in costumes, could see.
After a bunch of physical descriptions (“Star-Lord!” “A pug!” “A car!”), voice actor Brian Cummings asked the kids for an emotion or an attitude or some other kind of internal character trait.
A little girl shouted, “Narwhal!”
So, you know, they gave it a horn.
A dad, carrying a girl on his shoulders, to her mom: “There are so many characters from things I don’t even know. I used to be up on things!”
I hear you, dude.
Saturday: “You want to learn how to make a conflict?”
Becky Franks-Cassidy started the morning inviting kids to create stories for comics. A volunteer told me that the morning sessions never get very many people, and sure enough, only three kids sat down with Franks-Cassidy to begin with, including one Doctor Strange and another costume I didn’t recognize — although the group grew to about six eventually.
She quickly showed them a familiar-looking story structure with jagged peaks of rising action, falling action and a climax. But to get that rising action, characters need a problem.
“I want you to think about problems in your world,” she said. “That gives you a realistic problem to write a story around.”
After a little more explanation, one girl offered, “I’m too much of an introvert for my own good.” Another kid said he gets sunburns sometimes. The problems, in other words, were varied.
Franks-Cassidy, manager of the Pop Culture Classroom Laboratory at Denver Comic Con and a former instructor for PCC, asked the kids to draw a bullseye, identifying smallest circle as a problem that can affect you, the next ring for the way it affects family and friends, then close communities like school, then your city, your state, your country, your world, and finally (of course) the universe.
Using the examples of bullying and discrimination, which she said might fit in as that third level, at school or the community, she talked about how the same problem affected other levels. For example, in “you” circle at the center, the problem might cause self-doubt.
Another problem the kids identified? Climate change, a world problem. What does that look like at the national level? “Consumerism,” one boy offered.
“Now, who’s going to fix this problem, or talk about this problem?” Franks-Cassidy asked, prompting the youngest in the group, a girl, to come up with a climate change-fighting hero.
“A critter,” the girl said. “A fish.”
“A super fish?” Franks-Cassidy asked.
“A super squid,” the girl said.
The speed of suggestions and engagement had picked up from the beginning. A boy suggested another character: “A living plant, like Groot, maybe?”
Someone suggested a setting: The floating plastic island in the Pacific. After about a half hour, they’d generated rough ideas for a couple of stories.
“And that was all just from piking one problem,” Franks-Cassidy said.
Was there Dippin’ Dots? Yes, there was Dippin’ Dots.
Verdict: I would say that I’m not planning on taking my own kids to DCC until they’re at least, I don’t know, 6. Maybe 7. But, hey — I ran into a friend on Saturday and she was trying to convince her son to have a good time at a totally magical place full of people in amazing costumes. He wasn’t having it. She’s a cool mom who takes her kids to cool things. That happens! Kids! There’s a lot of walking, there can be some waiting in line, but there are a lot of hands-on kid crafts and activities, in addition to the incredible costumes which, generally speaking, don’t get too sexy.