by Steven Sanchez
Ask all the avid comic book readers, film buffs, toy collectors, video game players, and costume-wearing aficionados who love to play dress-up year-round, what’s the most popular gathering for this unique crew of individuals to congregate, only one place comes to mind: San Diego Comic-Con International. It’s a massive, celebrity-fueled event that celebrates everything that was once (or is still) considered “geeky.” This pop-culture destination has been going for 48 years, and much luck to those who are fortunate enough to attend. The tickets vary from the high hundreds to thousands (all-inclusive), and you have to be put on a wait-list. On the day the Convention ends, that’s when you’re eligible to purchase tickets. Even though the Central Valley is just a few hours away from San Diego, it’s still a financial endeavor to go. But one Valley city is offering another option for these people to convene. And that place is—Bakersfield?
The Sixth Annual Bakersfield Collector-Con 2018, was held on the weekend of August 11 to 12 in downtown at the Rabobank Convention Center. It had everything for all local fanboys and fangirls to enjoy, ranging from comic books, collectibles, and costumes. The event was the brainchild of promoter and Kern County resident Nick Avalos. Nick already deals with toys and comics, and he realized that there’s a big community of graphic novel enthusiasts in the area, but with no convention to call their own. That’s when the light bulb went off. Instead of driving up and down California or going out of state to these events, why not bring it to the Valley for the geeks and nerds to rejoice in their interests? It would also be a way for the businesses which specialize in this kind of inventory to gain exposure, and to cater to their demographics.
There were no guarantees that this would work, since there hadn’t been many such conventions before, and certainly none as ambitious as what Nick had in mind. “I can still remember how nervous I was with my very first one. Will people come out and support this event so it could grow every year, or will it just flop and not go nowhere?” said Nick.
He didn’t have to worry. The convention I saw shows no signs of slowing down. Every vendor and booth had all types of collectibles for sale, old or new. And of course, the majority of the participants who showed up came dressed as their favorite characters. There was a cosplay contest for each day of the event to highlight their efforts, and a chance to win cash and prizes. (Note: For those of you who don’t know, cosplay is a culture of people who dress up as characters they admire from various storytelling outlets. They are supposed to make their own costumes and props and do their own makeup to make a fictitious character come to life. They do it either as a hobby or as a means for making a living to come to these functions in their attire). Ranging from Star Wars, Marvel’s Avengers, DC’s Justice League, to Disney princesses, the variety was pretty eclectic.
Celebrities and guests included: Michael Copon, who played the Blue Power Ranger on Power Rangers: Time Force, and Felix in One Tree Hill; Vernon Wells, who portrayed Wez in Mad Max 2; stuntman Nick Palma, playing Michelangelo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze; Margo Apostolos as an Ewok in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi; and Danielle Kennedy, an actress from Narcos and Insidious: The Last Key. Also present were Disney cartoon illustrator, Len Smith; artist Tavisha Wolfgarth-Simons and her husband, Rikki Simons, a voice actor/writer/artist; TV actor Rico E. Anderson; actor/producer, Ryan T. Husk; George “The Giant” McArthur, a famous sword swallower and actor from the film Big Fish (whose brother Terrance McArthur writes for KRL), and Fresno’s own Michael S. Rodriguez, writer/director/producer of independent horror movies.
As an extra treat, Philip Cable, director of the upcoming film Night Mistress, brought his cast and crew to the event. Not only did they sign autographs and mingle with fans, but they shot a scene at the Convention Center that will be seen in the completed picture. Tracee Lee Cocco, actress/model who is a familiar casting choice in the Star Trek universe, and who has acted in several TV shows and movies in the franchise, was another guest and will star in the upcoming film. They, along with the other guests, were given slots on the panel in which to talk to fans about their upcoming projects, careers, and have a Q&A chat with them.
The convention had an assortment of entertainment options. On Saturday, once the Con was done, there was live music with local acts Second 2 None, Stereo Citizen, Missing Autumn, Hate Drugs, and Kaybab. Admission to the concert was free for those who had tickets to that day’s activities. During the prime hours of the Con, George “The Giant” McArthur did a sword swallowing showcase, and “The Central Valley’s cleanest comedian” Lonnie Pelley performed a stand-up comedy set. There was a section designated for anybody who wanted to play video games, and they had an array of games and consoles from which to choose. The Bakersfield Astromech Droids group exhibited famous Star Wars droids, which they handcrafted themselves, and had a replicated, remote-controlled R2-D2 roaming around. Local face-painting artist Azucena from Shine Face and Body Art was there to turn the children’s faces into murals to display her craft.
Despite all the fun that was taking place, it was all for a good cause. There were raffles and drawings with proceeds going to Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Central Valley. Michael S. Rodriguez has been traveling the convention circuit in and out of state to promote his movies, and even though this is only his second time at the Bakersfield Con, it stands out to him. “I love everything, the atmosphere, the fans, the vendors, they got so many things to look at. You got video games to your left and collectibles to your right. It’s a fun time all around,” says Michael. He believes that this is a meaningful way for local artists, filmmakers, and businesses to exhibit their work and to connect with one another. “I like the sense of community,” he says, “The people here are local filmmakers and vendors from other shows that I’ve done, and it’s a family atmosphere.”
Tracee is no stranger to the convention world. Being a part of the Star Trek world, she’s a veteran at dealing with the fanatics and the faithful, and it’s the people who keep drawing her back. “I love meeting my fans, meeting new fans, and meeting new people. It’s the camaraderie they have that I enjoy the most. And I really like the cosplay stuff, that’s kind of fun,” confesses Tracee. Having been to every size con, it’s these intimate ones that she prefers. “This one is a little smaller, and I like the smaller ones, because you get to know the people better, instead of rushing them in and out, and having bigger waits with them in line to meet you.”
With 2018 in the books, there’s no rest for Nick and his team to top it for 2019. “The fans always want bigger and better everything. With that said, Bakersfield Collector Con planning starts now,” says Nick.
Check out the video that Steven put together from Collector Con.