By John Benson
Imagine a world where Gene Simmons, Kato Kaelin and Lou Ferrigno are all under the same roof. Now, walking around these pop culture icons picture thousands of fans dressed up as their wannabe alter-egos for what amounts to a cosplay pageant.
This, of course, is Wizard World Comic Con Cleveland. This year, Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the popular “Stranger Things” character, is coming to Northeast Ohio for the annual gathering of the geeks taking place Thursday through Sunday at Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland.
“It’s a celebration of everything in pop culture, and that’s such a broad thing these days,” said Wizard World Comic Con Public Relations Manager Jerry Milani, calling from Bloomfield, N.J. “It could be everything for everyone. You can go as a family. Dad may want to meet Lou Ferrigno.
“Someone else might love comic books and they want to meet an artist. Or someone may want to go and sit in a panel for the day. There are so many different things that go on in the show that are all connected because they’re all pop culture.”
Normally such cliched talk is just that, but Wizard World Comic Con Cleveland is truly designed to cater to many interests – comics, gaming, movies, television, live entertainment, sci-fi, graphic novels, toys, original art, collectibles and more.
This year’s celebrity lineup features Simmons (Kiss), Ferrigno (“The Incredible Hulk,” “The King of Queens”), Anthony Mackie (“Avengers,” “Captain America”), Jennifer Carpenter (“Dexter,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”), Loren Lester and Kevin Conroy (“Batman: The Animated Series”), WWE Superstars Kurt Angle and Becky Lynch and Barry Bostwick (“The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Spin City”).
In addition to appearing at the convention, Simmons and his band (not Kiss) will perform in concert Saturday at the Agora.
Something new this year to Wizard World Comic Con Cleveland is the entertainment stage, which is separate from the aforementioned celebrity meet-and-greet stations.
“There’s something happening on the stage all through the show,” Milani said. “For example, the magic guys from CW television series ‘Masters of Illusion’ will be entertaining audiences followed by a juggler or a DJ playing music.
“Also, [O.J. Simpson’s former roommate] Kaelin will sometimes be the emcee. He’s the personality who keeps it all going.”
Speaking of personality, the appearance of Bostwick at Wizard World Comic Con Cleveland is apropos considering “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is arguably ground zero of cosplay. Fans will get to screen the movie with the actor Saturday night at the Convention Center (extra admission required).
“That’s a great way to put it because ‘Rocky Horror’ has been going on for 40 years,” Milani said. “Barry says it began as a cult film that people started watching at midnight. They came dressed up, shouting and acting out the lines.”
Regarding the concept of cosplay, which is nothing more than dressing up as your favorite character, inherently this interest seems more suited for the overzealous fans. Granted, while we all wouldn’t go to the trouble of buying a costume and then, gasp, wearing it in public, odds are there’s some character from our youth who would be our cosplay choice.
To prove this point, Milani, who is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, disclosed his closet cosplay pick.
“Oh, my goodness, I was a Batman kid growing up, but I’d probably go off the board and pick a character from the ‘70s show ‘Emergency,’” Milani laughed. “I’m a little older, so I’d go with nostalgia. I’ve never seen anybody dressed as paramedic Roy DeSoto in cosplay.”