In its second year now, Comic Con Revolution at Ontario, California (not the Canadian province, just to be clear) has seen its attendance numbers grow in leaps and bounds over last year. In 2017, my wife and I tried this local convention (only 20-odd minutes away by freeway) in its inaugural year.
It was charming. A scrappy little con that had much of the heart and spirit of the bigger cons, such as WonderCon or even San Diego Comic Con. The main difference being that you could easily find parking at the Ontario Convention Center with no problem.
This year was a little bit different.
Instead of just one day as it was in 2017, the event was expanded to two. We arrived on time, at 10 am on Saturday May the 19th, to find the primary parking lot full (!), so we went to an auxiliary lot opened across the street which was already half-full, and filling up rapidly. We then waited in a somewhat lengthy, snaking line where we met friends of ours who were bringing their son, Joshua, to his (and their) first convention, as well as our longtime convention partner-in-crime Alison. Good friends certainly help pass the time.
Outside the convention center security checkpoint, there were screen-perfect replicas of the “Back to the Future” time-machine DeLorean as well as “Herbie the Love Bug,” from the Disney movies.
I was never a big fan of the “Herbie” movies, so needless to say, I took a lot more pics of the DeLorean. The “Back to the Future” movies are one of the most perfect movie trilogies in all of pop culture (in my humble opinion). This particular DeLorean was seen in the “Back to the Future” documentary “Back in Time”, which premiered on Netflix.
I, of course, wore my traditional Fred Flintstone cosplay, and my wife wore a custom-made t-shirt (custom made by her) with a very clever “Avengers: Infinity War” joke printed on it (front and back), as well as a can of ashes containing dead…um, characters (it’s a MAJOR spoiler if you haven’t seen the movie, so I’ll just leave it at that…).
Anyway, the line to get in wrapped all the way around the east end of the convention center. This was a stark contrast to last year, when there was nearly zero waiting and we pretty much walked right in. There were also a lot more volunteers and security checks as well (I don’t mind; par for the course). After about a half hour or so in line, we finally got in.
Last year, approximately 5,400 people showed up for CCRO. I don’t have exact attendance numbers for this year’s turnout yet, but I’m pretty sure they were at least double last year’s. As a longtime veteran of San Diego Comic Con, I’ve gradually become used to (or numb to?) crowds approaching/exceeding 130,000 people.
But for a relatively smallish California city 40-odd minutes east of Los Angeles and practically in my own backyard? This was pretty impressive… and pleasantly surprising.
Some of the guests were very interesting as well. There was Kevin Conroy (voice actor from the animated “Batman” series), Timothy Zahn (“Star Wars” novelist, author of “Heir to the Empire,” which introduced ‘Admiral Thrawn’ to the Star Wars universe), and the co-creator of Marvel’s “Deadpool,” Fabian Nicieza. I also spotted actors Herb Jefferson Jr. (“Battlestar: Galactica”, 1978 version) and Sam Jones (“Flash Gordon”, 1980).
The one celebrity I was most looking forward to meeting was actor/artist Lance Henriksen (“ALIENS,” “Terminator,” “Pumpkinhead,” “Millennium”). I’ve been a fan of his movies for decades. My friends and I went to his table, and right away, he got a nice chuckle out of my Fred Flintstone costume (it’s a hell of an icebreaker, that’s for sure). I then bought an autographed copy of his biography, “Not Bad For a Human.” We took a group picture (Henriksen, myself and my friends). He and I got on so well that he signed the book, “We’re of the same tribe.”
I came back on Sunday to talk to him a bit more (and get another pic of him and his book for this blog). After I’d had a chance to read some of the book the previous night, I found him even more impressive. This is a guy who, as he’ll freely admit, left school after the third grade and lived on his own for most of his earliest years. After stints in the navy (and even in jail), he pulled himself up to eventually make a name for himself in art (his paintings, pottery and sculpture are sublime), and then break into acting. All of that while being functionally illiterate. He only began to learn to read through reading scripts for movie roles. In fact, he used to memorize early roles by having the lines read into a tape recorder and memorizing the playback. Everything he has accomplished has been through a combination of luck, willpower and self-determination. Nothing was given to Lance Henriksen. I admired him even more for his incredible honesty and humility.
We also talked about his time on the set of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (he has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as one of Francois Truffaut’s entourage). He told me he was on that hot, mothership set for six months for what became (after editing) little more than a cameo. We also briefly chatted about his role in the 1987 cult vampire flick “Near Dark” (a film that I’d rented in the late ‘80s on VHS, and have loved ever since). He said the promotion for “Near Dark” was bungled somewhat, and that the first print ads for the premiere were the size of a business card. Speaking of cards, I gave him mine (to let him know of this post), and he remarked how my card reminded him of an Edward Hopper painting, both in its colors and composition. I’d never noticed that before. Henriksen’s easygoing, humble manner masks a truly keen observer of art. I told him that my art teacher wife would greatly appreciate that remark. Lance Henriksen was easily one of my most intriguing celebrity encounters in my 17 or so years of conventioneering. I highly recommend his book as well; it would make for one hell of a biopic someday…
Back to Saturday…
My friends and I (my wife scouted ahead) also briefly sat in on a few panels together as well. First up was a panel on cosplay protocols (the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’) that was very interesting. Then there was another panel on the Batman Animated Series (with Kevin Conroy), but we didn’t stick around too long for it, because it crossed with another panel on Star Wars cosplay, with the 501st Legion of cosplayers. The 501st is an international group of Star Wars cosplayers famed for their charity fundraising work, as well as their innumerable visits of children’s hospitals. I have great admiration for these folks. They’re the best of the bad guys…
Where we had the most fun was in the Dealer Hall.
We had a great time just people-watching all of the colorful cosplay. My friends’ six-year old boy Joshua (who came dressed as Batman) loved playing with all the toys (the ones he was allowed to touch, of course). Being with him reminded me of how utterly awesome all of this would’ve been to me if I were his age (or even older). I think my head might’ve exploded (ala 1980’s “Scanners”). The little guy was a bit overwhelmed at first, but after a while? He really started to get into meeting-and-greeting of the various cosplayers. For him, it was like a giant mishmash of Halloween and Christmas morning.
At one particular booth (the “Hoth Trading Company”) the generous proprietor even allowed him to partake in a lightsaber duel. Joshua simply loves playing with lightsabers, and he knows far more about Star Wars than I do (and I grew up with it!). Joshua loved the toys, and we took many pictures of him posing with the cosplayers, as well as meeting his first life-sized R2 unit. I’d seen a million of these R2 units at other conventions, but seeing this little boy’s reaction to it was like seeing it for the very first time.
There were also cosplayers walking on stilts in near life-size “Transformer” costumes. I’d seen them (and other variations of Transformer cosplay) at WonderCon and Comic Con many times, but for Joshua? They were new and utterly amazing…and perhaps even a little scary. He was a bit too shy to approach them himself and ask for a posed picture, but he’d still look out for them whenever he heard their car-like horns honk. The cosplayers used these horns on their costumes to clear their path, as their costumes were cumbersome and difficult to control. I was never a big Transformers fan, but those costumes were simply magnificent.
Those amazing Transformers were but one piece of my favorite part of conventions…
There was also a cool booth of fossils and dinosaur recreations from the Western Science Center natural history museum in Hemet, California. The Center’s representative also wore a very clever “Jurassic Park” Alan Grant cosplay (a cosplay so subtle it might’ve be lost on the more casual observer…).
Joshua got a kick out of the baby Allosaurus puppet, as well as a huge, full-size cast of a real-life mastodon skull (the largest found in North America). This is a place I’d love to visit someday.
Later on, my friends and I bought a couple of toys for him, because it would be just too cruel to walk through a giant dealer hall loaded with collectibles and not get anything for a six year old boy. To see so much of this stuff that I’d become so familiar with over the past 17 years through the eyes of a child was priceless. It made it all seem new for me as well.
Comic Con Revolution in Ontario California is growing in leaps and bounds; doubling attendance in one year. Here’s hoping it continues to grow in popularity, but also that it doesn’t lose some of its smaller-city convention charm that makes it so accessible, especially to new convention attendees.
As it is now, it offers the best of both worlds; big enough, but not too big.