Thousands of self-professed nerds gather in Kansas City for Planet Comicon’s 25th year

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Celebrities, artists and tens of thousands of fans proud to call themselves nerds are converging in Kansas City for the Missouri city’s 25th annual Planet Comicon this weekend.

Devotees ranging from “Potterheads” — lovers of the popular Harry Potter series — to “furries” — people dressed as cartoonish animals — can test niche trivia skills, compete in Pokémon battles and show off intricate, handmade outfits in homage to their fictional heroes.

Top guests include Ian McDiarmid, who event organizer Chris Phelan described as the “ultimate bad guy” in his portrayal of Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine, infamous for luring Darth Vader to the dark side.

Organizers expect record-breaking attendance this year at the three-day event, which began Friday and typically draws 50,000 to 60,000 fans, Phelan said.

Phelan said “Midwestern hospitality” contributes to the convention’s welcoming nature.

“Whether you wear a costume or you don’t wear a costume, this is your place to be who you are,” Phelan said.

Planet Comicon Kansas City CEO and founder Chris Jackson started out buying and selling comics at the now-famous San Diego Comic Convention in the 1980s.

He recreated those experiences when he moved to the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas in the 1990s, Phelan said. Roughly 12,000 people attended the first Planet Comicon in 1995, a fraction of expected attendance this year.

Phelan said it’s unique that Jackson continues to run Planet Comicon Kansas City compared to other large cons, which he said are typically run by corporations.

“Kansas City kept its hometown roots while still becoming one of the largest and longest-running comic book pop culture events in the entire country,” he said.

Thousands of costumed fans typically attend the event and roam downtown Kansas City, Phelan said. He predicts lots of “Scream” lovers will wear the iconic Ghostface mask to meet the actors who played the killers in the original film, and that there may be a few attendees cosplaying as Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift.

This year’s gathering coincides with the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship at Kansas City’s nearby T-Mobile Center.

“There are people that are going to be wondering why is everybody dressed up?” Phelan said. “Because they have no clue what what might be happening just down the street.”

Attendees must pay for autographs or photographs with celebrities, although Q&A sessions with celebrities are mostly free.

Marvel’s Chris Claremont — who created characters including Dark Phoenix, Rogue and Legion — is among a slate of comic writers at the fest.

Actors available for meet-and-greets include:

    1. Paul Bettany, who played Vision in “WandaVision” and “The Avengers: Infinity War”

    2. “Scream” actors Matthew Lillard (who also starred in “Five Nights at Freddy’s”) and Skeet Ulrich

    3. Stars of “Boy Meets World,” including Topanga actor Danielle Fishel

    4. Henry Winkler, who played The Fonz in the sitcom “Happy Days”

    5. “Lord of the Rings” star John Rhys-Davies

    6. The voice actors behind the beloved “Avatar: The Last Airbender” characters of Toph, Prince Zuko and Uncle Iroh


Ballentine contributed to this report from Columbia, Missouri.

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