On an unusually humid Saturday afternoon in downtown Fresno, sworn enemies set aside their differences and embraced one another. Stormtroopers and Jedi walked side-by-side along aisles lined with art and board games. Batman and the Joker played cards together, and Thor hosted a panel with his brother, Loki.
These unlikely interactions were only a small part of the second annual Zappcon, the central San Joaquin Valley’s largest comic book and gaming convention. By noon Saturday, more than 500 people – about half donning some sort of costume or nerd-related garb – had descended on Valdez Hall in downtown Fresno. The event, which continues Sunday, is expected to draw around 2,000 attendees.
Among those going Saturday was Symana Symanski, 8, of Visalia, who spent three hours getting ready for the convention. Her costume, a custom-made Sith Lord of “Star Wars” fame, required a liberal application of red body paint and fixing large, tentacle-like appendages called Lekku to her head.
“She really wanted to be a Twi’Lek (an alien race in “Star Wars”) Sith, so I altered my Jedi costume and we made hers,” said Mark Symanski, Symana’s father and fellow weekend villain. “Our costumes took about three months to put together.”
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I get the most enjoyment when people talk to me about characters and stories I created, and you can only get that at a con.
Ron Randall, creator of “Trekker” and former artist at Marvel and DC Comics.
Symana isn’t just a costumed fan; she is also an exhibitor. The published comic book author is already a seasoned convention veteran, having shared “The Girl Who Rides Rainbows” at last year’s Zappcon and similar events throughout California.
Ron Randall, a comic book artist and author with a little more seasoning then Symana, also had a booth. The 30-year comic veteran is signing and selling copies of his “Trekker” comics, as well as displaying pages he drew for “Supergirl” and “Wonder Woman” books.
“I get the most enjoyment when people talk to me about characters and stories I created,” Randall said. “And you can only get that at a con (convention). We work in isolation at our drawing boards, and this is how we can get out and interact with fans.”
Randall has attended more than 100 comic book conventions across the U.S.
Aubrey Webber, one-half of the nerd-folk sister duo The Doubleclicks, arrived in Fresno last night. Under strict orders from friends, Webber and her sister immediately drove to The Chicken Pie Shop in The Tower District.
The verdict? “It was really good.”
The Doubleclicks taught a few dozen attendees a ukelele song Saturday evening as part of their performance. The band could only perform Saturday, as the Webbers have to fly to Melbourne, Australia to continue a tour promoting their latest album, “President Snakes.”
One room just inside the entrance was transformed into a spaceship bridge similar to the main setting of “Star Trek.” Six computers, each set up as different stations playing the space simulator video game “Artemis,” allowed attendees to feel as if they were on a working space ship for a one-hour session.
1,400; 2,000The number of people who attended last year’s Zappcon vs. the projected attendance for 2015.
This reporter’s engineering skills were on point, but the ship was doomed from the beginning. Our weapons specialist was dressed as a red-shirt ensign, the expendable characters who were often killed during “Star Trek” episodes. He accidentally blew us up about 10 minutes into our mission.
Above the main convention space, conference rooms were transformed into autonomous geek worlds.
In one room, members of video gaming group, The Fresno Gaming Community, were giving “Ultimate Street Fighter IV” pointers to anyone willing to grab a joystick. They were also offering prizes to anyone who could best Mikey Chia or his fellow members at the game. It won’t be easy; Chia finished 17th out of 2,300 competitive players at this year’s Evolution Championship Series, which is essentially the Super Bowl of fighting video games.
Another room served as a staging area for various miniature games. Each table contained a different tiny city or world, and a few actual-sized people circled them with focused looks on their faces.
Several rooms featured panels hosted by actors. Joey Oglesby and Troy Ogletree discussed “The Walking Deceased,” in which they played roles spoofing popular zombie movies and TV shows. Dozens packed into the largest conference room to listen to Andrea Libman talk about her nearly 30 years as a voice actress for shows like “My Little Pony” and “Dragon Ball.”
With hundreds of things to do and see, Zappcon is a one-stop shop for the Valley’s nerds. That was the entire point, said Jennifer Ward, owner of Crazy Squirrel Games in Fresno and a member of the Zappcon board.
“We want everyone to feel at home here,” she said. “This is a safe place to come geek out.”