Arkansas Comic Con brings three days of celebrities, costumes, games to Little Rock

Arkansas Comic Con brings three days of celebrities, costumes, games to Little Rock
Sean Clancy
Special to the Free Weekly

The Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock becomes the epicenter this weekend for three glorious days of pop-culture geekdom during the Arkansas Comic Con.

Actors William Shatner, Christopher Lloyd, Shameik Moore, Jonathan Frakes, Felicia Day and Little Rock native George Newbern will appear along with musician-actor Paul Williams; Hall of Fame wrestlers Lex Luger, Ron Simmons and Scott Steiner; voice actors Jim Cummings, Steve Blum, Maile Flanagan and Erika Harlacher; comic book artists, cosplayers and more.

Throughout the convention center will be panels, question-and-answer sessions, video and tabletop game tournaments, a cosplay contest, exhibitors and fan groups like Central Arkansas Ghostbusters and the Star Wars-inspired 501st Legion. Fans will be able to check out a replica of the Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from “Smokey and the Bandit,” the “A-Team” van and a custom “Star Wars” Jeep, as well as play vintage video games and pinball machines.

Oh, and the people-watching will be tremendous.

The first Arkansas Comic Con took place over two days in 2017. The headliners were Austin St. John and Walter Jones from “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” and about 1,500 people attended, according to Jay Branch, owner of Jackson, Miss.-based VXV Events LLC, which puts on the Arkansas Comic Con and more than a dozen other events.

This event has ballooned since that inaugural show, with last year’s edition pulling in about 20,000 fans over two days, Branch says.

“Every year it’s gotten bigger and bigger. This year we had to expand it to three days to get more people in. Now we are in every corner of the convention center. It’s been pretty amazing.”

Getting a chance to meet pop culture heroes is what makes events like the Arkansas Comic Con unique for fans and stars. Jim Cummings, the voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Darkwing Duck, Taz and many others, has taken part in more than a few comic conventions (though this is his first in Arkansas) and has experienced what it’s like to interact with those whose lives have been touched by his work.

“It’s a blessing,” he said last month from Hot Springs where he was vacationing with his wife, Margaret. “People will come up, grown adults, and they will be in tears because Winnie the Pooh helped them through a tough time when they were in third grade.”

It’s especially heartening for voice actors who, Cummings notes, often work alone in a studio without a lot of feedback.

“People have told me they were latchkey kids and they’d come home from school and watch a two-hour block on Disney and I was on every single show. It was as if I was their babysitter, and I’m very touched to know that my characters and my work has found their way into people’s hearts.”

Cummings, who has a podcast called “Toon’d In! with Jim Cummings” and who effortlessly drops into various voices — Tigger, Daffy Duck — during our interview, started his career at Disney Studios in the early ’80s. His voice work has been featured in “The Lion King,” “Hercules,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Aladdin,” “Shrek” and many other films.

His decision to make voice acting a career can be traced back to when he was 4 or 5 and saw Mel Blanc, the voice of, among others, Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck on “The Jack Benny Program.”

“My dad says [Cummings drops into a gruff, old-man voice] ‘You see this guy right here? He’s the one who does all those cartoon characters.’ And all I could think of is that he doesn’t have to stand in the corner for being a weirdo, does he? I’m going to do that, and so I did.”

For newbies, a trip to the Arkansas Comic Con can be like diving into a pop culture phantasmagoria. Where else can one see people walking around in elaborate costumes inspired by “Star Wars,” superhero films, horror movies, manga, anime, cartoons and everything in between?

Cosplay is a huge part of the comic con experience and one of the biggest events of the weekend will be the Costume Contest, where judges will choose the best costumes in various categories. One of those judges is Mississippi-based Christy Holt, otherwise known as Little MS Cosplay, who is also among the weekend’s featured guests.

Growing up, Holt was into painting, drawing, theater and choir. Cosplay took over in 2016 when she attended her first comic con in Jackson, Miss.

“It was like stepping into a whole new world,” she says. “I went home that night and started on my first costume. I really enjoy bringing to life characters that I love.”

Holt doesn’t confine herself to just one character.

“I’m not like a normal person who can just watch TV or anime and go, ‘Oh, that’s a cool character.’ I go, ‘I have to make that!’”

Today she he will attend as Enid Sinclair, the irrepressible sidekick from “Wednesday” played by Emma Myers; on Saturday she will dress as “fan favorite” Jester Lavorre from the web series “Critical Role.” As for Sunday, well, Holt was undecided on her final costume when we spoke last month.

One thing she is sure of, though, is that the Arkansas Comic Con will get her creativity flowing.

“I always leave conventions way more inspired and excited to make my next costume than when I came. It’s so amazing to see all the hard work that people put into their costumes. Being able to judge the contest you really get to hear their creative process during pre-judging and I always learn something new.”

The “comic” in comic con is a reference to comic books, and that industry is well-represented on the program, too, with appearances by artist-writer Michael Golden (“Batman,” “Daredevil,” “Micronauts,” “The Nam,” “Adventures of Superman,” “Doctor Strange” and others) and comics colorist and editor Renée Witterstaetter (“Silver Surfer,” “Avengers,” “Spider-Man,” etc.).

Little Rock-based comics inker Jeremy Clark will be there as well. His work can be seen in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Punchline” and “Blade Runner Origins,” among others.

“It takes a village to make comics,” Clark says of his job. “I’m the middle cog of the machine. You have a penciler who begins with the sketching and layout, then it’s my job to do the final rendered ink work before it goes to color and to print.”

Clark’s entry into the industry came through attending comic cons and meeting others in the business.

Events like the Arkansas Comic Con “provide a unique experience to anyone interested in this medium,” Clark says. “They can ask questions about how the process works and get to meet people who work on the characters that they enjoy so much. It’s always nice to interact with those people who truly find what you do to be important.”

Comic cons attract a diverse array of fandoms to express their passion for the slice of pop culture that they love, Branch says.

“Just seeing all the costumes, the joy on people’s faces and how happy they are to come and enjoy something from pop culture that they love. Whether they’re coming to meet wrestlers, or voice actors, or to get comic books signed, or chat with an artist about how they got started, you see so many facets that bring joy to people.”



Arkansas Comic Con

WHEN — 3-8 p.m. today; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — Statehouse Convention Center, 101 E. Markham St., Little Rock

COST — $25 today, $40 Saturday, $35 Sunday, $80 weekend


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