Fan conventions used to be the domain of — in the words of Grace from Ferris Bueller's Day Off — geeks and dweebies (and to a lesser extent, wastoids and dickheads). Having attended gaming cons in the early '80s, I can personally attest to the overwhelming unkempt white maleness of such gatherings.
But times change, and thanks to the internet giving nerds of all stripes a chance to share their obsessions and the mainstreaming of comic book movies, conventions are now home to obsessives of all ages, color, and gender.
Having said that, Houston's Comicpalooza 2021 still felt a little ... hesitant? Restrained? Returning after a COVID-forced hiatus last year, the convention was shortened to just Saturday and Sunday, which may have kept the number of celebrity guests down. Meanwhile, the weekend's premiere event — the Q&A with several cast members from The Mandalorian — likely meant Saturday was your day to see and be seen.
There were still plenty of the expected comic book, anime, and movie merch vendors in the Exhibit Hall, along with Battlefield Houston laser tag and MechCorps Entertainment, providing BattleTech Cockpit pods that allow you to simulate piloting a "mech" and blowing away your friends for a mere $7 a pop.
And if you were looking for cosplay, Comicpalooza came through as usual. In addition to the expected cavalcade of Batmen, Links, and (at least one) Nezuko, this was the year of Loki. The newly anointed fave from Disney+ was a big hit, and I stopped counting variants (heh) at around 20. Lady Dimitrescu, from Resident Evil Village, was also fan fave, judging by the number of times she was stopped for photos on her way to the restroom.
Up on the second floor, folks were finding some relief from the crowds. It was also the place to play classic console games, oversized versions of Jenga and Connect4, or something called Ultimate Werewolf, which I suspect does not actually combine lycanthropes and Frisbees.
Panels also returned in 2021, though they still trended toward the oddly specific ("Bob's Burgers: Prevalent Feminism and Positive Masculinity," "Crowley and Aziraphale: A True Love Story"). There were also some heavy hitters (no pun intended). Martin Kove spoke about playing John Kreese in Cobra Kai and the enduring legacy of The Karate Kid, while Danny Trejo reflected on his remarkable life and career (while also finding time to pimp Trejo's Tacos).
But every Comicpalooza has its marquee attraction, and this year was the Mandalorian panel. "A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away: A Mandalorian Cast Q&A" assembled Carl "Greef Karga" Weathers, Katee "Bo-Katan Kryze" Sackhoff, Ming-Na "Fennec Shand" Wen, and Giancarlo "Moff Gideon" Esposito in what will surely stand as the hottest ticket of 2021.
The panel, questioned in appropriately gushing fashion by KRBE's Ryan Chase, opened by pontificating on reasons behind the popularity of The Mandalorian. Short answer: baby Yoda. Longer-ish answer, Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni's fidelity to the mythology and keeping the show focused on the spirit of the original trilogy.
The Q&A, like most, was pretty self-congratulatory, though there were some nice moments. Esposito told us Moff Gideon is coming back in season 3 whether they want him or not, while Sackhoff wondered aloud why stormtroopers are so easy to kill. MIng-Na also talked about how empowering the Star Wars Universe has (recently) been to women over the age of 30.
She's 57 years old, which I only add because looking at her on stage made me feel like the Crypt Keeper.
The fan questions weren't too obnoxious, even though the first one — directed at Weathers — sought dirt on the production of Predator. Esposito remarked how prevalent POC are on The Mandalorian set, and the cast continued to joke(?) about how none of them met Pedro Pascal until the season 2 finale.
As the sun set on Saturday, it was pretty safe to say Comicpalooza was back. The persistent ignorance of a not-insignificant portion of the populace who refuse to vaccinate themselves may yet send us back into lockdown, so enjoy the company of your fellow dweebies while you can.
Comicpalooza continues today, July 18, with photo ops with the Mandalorian cast and Tati Gabrielle and Gavin Leatherwood from Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a Saved by the Bell Q&A with Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and a Q&A with Ron Perlman of Hellboy and Sons of Anarchy fame.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.