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What It Means to Be a Fan at Dallas Comic Con

I'm pretty sure these were costumes.
I’m pretty sure these were costumes.

There I was, feeling as though I’d evolved to a higher plane, free of the gross material desires that once consumed me. I walked across a floor filled with aisle after aisle of the sort of pop cultural knicks and knacks that would have moved my 11-year-old self to sensations akin to lust. In those days, I’d have turned over nearly any amount at my disposal — without even thinking really, surrendering decision-making to my reptilian brain — to take home some pleasing signifier of my self-identification with an iconic science-fiction franchise. But a Starship Enterprise pizza cutter no longer sets my heart afire.

My self-satisfaction in knowing that I no longer need kitschy merchandise tangentially related to television series and films that have brought me a significant amount of pleasure soon gave way to a wave of melancholy. As I circulated among the tens of thousands of science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans who descended upon the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas for Dallas Comic Con this weekend, I felt an unusual detachment. My own fandom, it seemed, had waned — at least compared to the veritable army of people having a blast dressed as Star Wars storm troopers, or sparkly cartoon princesses, or robots, or superheroes, or demons.

Then, sorry to say, my detachment gave way to a few flashes of being judgmental — like when I saw a 40-something guy fix his eyes with severe concentration upon the rear end of a teenage girl wearing the tight skirt of an anime character as she walked away after graciously posing for a picture with him. (I was nearly inspired to grab his camera phone and destroy it as a public service.)

How many of those "Firefly" hats can you spot?
How many of those “Firefly” hats can you spot?

Even the noon Sunday panel featuring most of the cast of Firefly, a great, short-lived series the praises of which I’ve sung on this blog before, caused me to feel unqualified to have ever considered myself a sci-fi geek. The hall was packed with several thousands of seated conventioneers, along with hundreds more in standing room at the back. Nathan Fillion (the captain of the ship on Firefly, who’s gone on to greater TV success on the ABC show Castle) charmingly led his former cast-mates in a discussion that focused mostly on how much they love the fans and how much the fans love them in return. Meanwhile, I felt like an outsider, not dressed in a knitted orange-and-yellow hat like so many of the “Browncoats” (the preferred term for Firefly super-fans) present.

So when the time rolled around for the convention’s closing event — a panel with most of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation moderated by William Shatner, Capt. James T. Kirk on the original Star Trek series — I truly was concerned that I’d lost some part of the person I used to be. Earlier in the day I’d even walked past the various autograph lines for each of these actors and never really considered paying to spend a few moments face to face with them. Even though none of their lines were lengthy at the time. Who had I become? What had happened to that bright-eyed kid who stayed up all night to watch all six original-cast Trek movies in a row? The kid who’d stood in line for Yeoman Rand’s autograph, for god’s sake (albeit that one was a freebie)?

Turned out, nothing happened to him. He’s still around. I know this because as soon as Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby, John de Lancie, and William Shatner took to the stage, I had a big, stupid grin on my face.

The joys of convention fandom: standing in line (foreground) to spend money in order to stand in an even longer (background) to get your photo taken with a minor celebrity. Not pictured: Standing in line at the ATM.
The joys of convention fandom: standing in line (foreground) to spend money in order to stand in an even longer (background) to get your photo taken with a minor celebrity. Not pictured: Standing in line at the ATM.

These actors have been working together — first on their show, then making movies, and now often seeing each other at events like Dallas Comic Con  — for about 27 years. They’ve formed friendships that translated into good-natured ribbing and play-fighting in front of the audience. And for someone like me — who has spent hundreds of hours watching various incarnations of Star Trek, the largest share of which has been from The Next Generation — it’s comforting to see that camaraderie. You watch a show that much for that long, and the characters and the actors who portray them begin to feel like family. A panel like this one therefore seems like a family reunion.

Which actually would be a fitting description of Dallas Comic Con itself — if it were normal to have to pay to get your photo taken with your relatives.

OK, so the Enterprise pizza cutter wasn't appealing, but I was kinda digging these retro-futuristic posters.
OK, so the Enterprise pizza cutter wasn’t appealing, but I was kinda digging these retro-futuristic posters.