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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas’ largest comic convention returns, drawing diverse crowd of fans

More than just a celebration of comic books, Comicpalooza is a massive, three-day celebration of all things pop culture. The Houston event is the largest comic convention in Texas.

HOUSTON (CN) — For Erin Stahmer, a cosplayer who works by day as a video editor at a marketing company, it’s not the celebrities who have kept him coming back to Houston’s Comicpalooza.

Rather, the event was a chance for him to show off his latest handmade costume. 

On Friday, Stahmer wore a suit of red-and-white armor inspired by characters from “The Mandalorian,” a Disney+ “Star Wars” show that follows a race of armor-clad warriors across the galaxy. Stahmer spoke to Courthouse News from the convention’s cosplay repair area, where cosplayers like him go for costume touch-ups. As a like-minded “Star Wars” fan worked on a section of his thermoplastic armor, Stahmer said that tinkering with his outfits was part of what made cosplay so enjoyable for him.

“Cosplay-making of any kind is just a series of problem-solving,” Stahmer said. “Finding out how other people solve their problems or the same problems that you might run into is always a good learning experience.”

Every year in downtown Houston, popular-culture fans like Stahmer find community at Comicpalooza, the Lone Star State's largest comic convention.

The event’s size was on full display on Friday, as organizers opened the doors to hundreds of waiting guests from across a range of different fandoms. Held inside the 1.9 million square-foot George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Comicpalooza caters to all those who love movies, video games, comics and art. 

Comicpalooza launched in 2008. Throughout its history, it has ballooned from humble gathering to a Texas-sized festival held every Memorial Day weekend. With the exception of 2020, when Comicpalooza was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the pop-culture celebration is still going strong more than 15 years later.

While some attendees come to shop or play board games, it’s the chance to meet big-name celebrities that attracts many others. Among this year’s headliners were actors Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, both of the “Back to the Future” film trilogy, as well as actor/director Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. 

From left to right, "Star Wars" fans Lance Kinney, Riggen Kinney, Megan Wallace and Georgia Steif attended Comicpalooza 2024 with the Houston chapter of The Saber Guild, a costuming club and fighting choreography charity group, on May 25, 2024. (Kirk McDaniel/Courthouse News)

These stars from the ‘80s may have been the biggest names gracing the convention, but they’re hardly the only ones drawing in attendees. Taking a moment to rest with her family, teenager Mia Calvo told Courthouse News that she was most looking forward to seeing actor and WWE wrestler John Cena. 

“He’s, like, the only one that I know,” the teen said. For Comicpalooza, Calvo wore a long black cloak and was armed with a prop chainsaw splattered with fake blood.

Conventions like Comicpalooza create a space for people with similar interests to meet and connect. 

Those connections are particularly important for fans who come not to relax but to work. Each year, hundreds of exhibitors attend Comicpalooza to sell goods like comic books, trading cards and handmade art and clothing. 

With his booth set up along the main thoroughfare of the convention hall, Fred Derf of Derf Designs chatted with passersby who’d stopped to admire his Houston-centric take on comic book and anime characters. His love for Marvel Comics was reflected in his wares, including one shirt parodying the ‘90s logo of the comic book publisher and another with the letters “H-TX” written in “X-Men” font.

Nothing was more exciting, Derf said, than getting to talk with what he called his “fellow nerds.” His voice brimming with enthusiasm, he noted how Comicpalooza had continued to grow over the years, with tens of thousands of guests expected over this Memorial Day weekend. 

“It's pretty impressive that we can draw this kind of crowd, and it's only Friday,” Derf said. “Saturday is an absolute madhouse, from the doors opening at 10 a.m. until seven when it closes.”

Julie Mann talks with convention-goers at Houston's Comicpalooza as passersby stop to admire her colored-pencil artwork of popular characters on May 25, 2024. (Kirk McDaniel/Courthouse News)

A madhouse is just what some attendees hope for and expect from a convention of Comicpalooza’s size.

The expansive roster gives fans of all kinds an opportunity to rub shoulders with their stars. Maybe they come for Texas All-Star Westling’s latest title match, in which contestants compete for the Dragon Belt on Friday evening. Or maybe they’re drawn to the autograph signings, celebrity panels and shopping experiences that are hallmarks of Comicpalooza’s Saturday and Sunday lineup.

On the other side of the convention hall from Derf, artist Julie Mann has made a full-time job out of crisscrossing the country for comic conventions like this one, where she sells colored-pencil renderings of popular characters from franchises like “Star Wars” and the animated Japanese films of Studio Ghibli. For this year’s Comicpalooza, she’d traveled from her home in the Austin suburb of Georgetown, Texas, to sell her artwork. 

Working the comic-convention circuit could be a tough business, Mann confessed. Like Derf, the opportunity to connect with fellow fans has kept her coming back to events like this one.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Why do I do this?’” Mann said. Then she remembered: “Putting a smile on someone's face, brightening their day or making them cry because they saw something that brought back their childhood.”

Texas All-Star Wrestlers Cam Rockwell and Chris Cruz face off in the ring for the Dragon Belt at Houston's Comicpalooza on May 24, 2024. (Kirk McDaniel/Courthouse News)
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Categories / Arts, Entertainment, Regional

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