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Live long and prosper: Comic and sci-fi festivals come of age

By Nick Thompson, for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Thousands of comic book and sci-fi fans will attend Dallas Comic Con this year
  • Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy and Star Wars' Carrie Fisher will sign autographs
  • One organizer says the ninth annual convention will be biggest ever in Dallas

(CNN) -- While space may have been the final frontier for Mr. Spock, Dallas is the destination for fans wishing to meet the "Star Trek" icon at a comic convention this weekend.

Actor Leonard Nimoy will join a star-studded guest list in signing autographs and answering questions from diehard comic book and sci-fi fans at Dallas Comic Con.

Carrie Fisher from "Star Wars" and Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee will also be on hand to answer questions and sign autographs for thousands of costume-clad fans at the Irving Convention Center starting Saturday.

Mark Walters, the co-organizer of the event, says the ninth Dallas Comic Con will be the biggest yet.

Comic book fans get pegged as 'comic book guy' from 'The Simpsons'. I don't think that's a fair characterization.
--Felipe Garza, Comic fan

"We'll probably hit 10,000 people, if not more," says Walters, who catalogues rare comic books for an auction house.

Anticipation for this year's convention dwarfed that of last year's, according to organizers who say that VIP and Priority passes to the event sold out in record time.

Felipe Garza, a 33-year-old Dallas native who has attended several times in recent years, says the convention is an opportunity for fans to meet with artists they often speak to in online forums.

"I speak to some artists on the internet and through Twitter, but the convention allows us to meet face to face," says Garza, whose favorite comic book character is Batman.

Although he won't be dressing up in costume for the convention, Garza says he enjoys seeing and speaking to the "cosplay" (costume play) participants every year.

"The cosplay people are pretty unique, and the dedication they put into their costumes is admirable," says Garza. "They do it out of the love for the characters and the comic books."

Comic conventions have a reputation as being geeky affairs, a characterization both Walters and Garza say is unfair.

Walters says a great deal of science fiction and comic book elements have worked their way into popular culture in recent years, rendering false the "nerdy conception" of comic con fans in the process.

Stan Lee's almost 90 years old and he's got more energy than you or I will ever have. The guy is a machine.
--Mark Walters, convention co-organizer
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"Twenty years ago you were a goofy nerd that no one wanted to talk to if you were into comic books or Japanese animation," says Walters. "Now, kids wear anime backpacks to school, it's accepted and embraced openly."

Garza agrees: "Comic book fans get pegged as the stereotypical 'comic book guy' from 'The Simpsons,' and I don't think that's a good characterization of what we represent."

"I see the convention as a gathering of people who love art and storytelling."

One reason for the buzz surrounding the 2011 Dallas Comic Con has been Nimoy's statement that he will retire from conventions following the four public appearances this year.

"Leonard Nimoy's Spock defined science fiction in the 1960s," says Walters, who also founded movie review site bigfanboy.com in 2004.

Another reason Walters attributes to growing interest not only in the Dallas Comic Con, but in comic conventions in general, is the success of comic book films -- particularly ones based on Marvel comics.

"Whether it's 'Thor', 'Captain America' or 'X-Men', now is a really good time for Marvel comic movies," says Walters, "and having Stan Lee at the convention is really exciting."

Walters says the most admirable thing about the legendary co-creator of so many comic book icons is his energy.

"Stan's almost 90 years old and he's got more energy than you or I will ever have," marvels Walters. "The guy is a machine."

While Lee, Nimoy and Carrie Fisher are the big draws at this year's event, the Dallas Comic Con also features stars of the hit American television series "The Walking Dead," John Romita, Jr., the co-creator of Kick-Ass, and over fifty other comic book artists.

An exhibition by Joe Peacock called "Art of Akira" will showcase the world's largest private collection of original cells, original paintings and drawings from the famous Japanese anime film.

"We're just trying to pepper in things that we haven't really done before," says Walters. "I think each show we're going to see more things coming through that fans will find really special."

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