Wizard World Comic Con weaves its magic in Winston-Salem
Never mind the weak, but it appears that the geek shall inherit the Earth – and that’s said with all due affection.
Given the mammoth, worldwide popularity of all things fantastic, 21st-century fandom is big business. The Marvel Cinematic Universe just notched its 20th film – Ant-Man and the Wasp – and there’s no end in sight, particularly given the box-office grosses each have generated. We’re on our third Spider-Man (Tom Holland, following Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield), and more than 40 years since it revolutionized Hollywood and moviemaking in general, Star Wars is as popular as ever, with prequels and sequels either in development or in active production.
The cult culture has become a dominant force (no pun intended), and now that force is coming to Winston-Salem. Come the first weekend in August, the Wizard World Comic Con will make its debut at the Benton Convention Center in Winston-Salem– bringing with it stars, fans, fun and surprises. It’s pop culture at its zenith, with something for every fanboy or fangirl, no matter their favorite.
During the three-day event, something’s always happening, whether a panel discussion, autograph or photo sessions, special exhibitions and attractions, plenty of memorabilia on display or for sale, and undoubtedly a surprise or two.
There’s also a star-studded line-up of celebrity guests scheduled to attend, including Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor and David Mazouz from “Gotham,” Lisa Berry and Ruth Connell from “Supernatural,” Will Friedle from “Boy Meets World,” Christy Carlson Romano from “Kim Possible,” Charisma Carpenter from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the Expendables films, Holly Marie Combs and Brian Krause from “Charmed,” Samantha Newark from “Jem and the Holograms,” and Thomas Ian Nicholas from the American Pie franchise – and that’s not including the many artists, creators, filmmakers, and illustrators who will also be coming to Winston-Salem.
Audiences have literally watched Nicholas grow up on screen. He made his feature debut at age 11 in Radio Flyer (1992), then scored as pre-teen Chicago Cubs pitching phenom Henry Rowengartner in Rookie of the Year (1993) and time-traveling teenager Calvin Fuller in A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995). He lost his virginity in American Pie (1999) – and helped himself to a few more slices in the sequels. He fell victim to Michael Myers in Halloween: Resurrection (2002). He’s played kidnapping victim Frank Sinatra Jr. in Showtime’s acclaimed Stealing Sinatra (2003), Abbie Hoffman in the award-winning, fact-based 2010 political drama The Chicago 8 (2010), and no less than “Uncle Walt” himself – Walt Disney in the 2015 biographical drama Walt Before Disney – a performance that Nicholas, a life-long Disney devotee, is particularly proud of.
“I’ve been doing every Wizard World Comic Con since June 2017,” revealed Nicholas, in an exclusive interview with YES! Weekly. “It’s been a great opportunity to experience the fun of a Comic Con and meet the folks one-on-one, and to thank the for their interest in my career.”
In one of those “six degrees” scenarios, this writer’s friend Matt Holly was an aspiring actor who auditioned for the role that would ultimately be played by Nicholas in Halloween: Resurrection. When I told him I’d be interviewing Nicholas, Holly quipped: “Tell him thanks for taking my role!” (This was course, about four rewrites and three directors before the film actually went into production.)
“Thank your friend for not taking my role,” Nicholas replied with good humor. “Actually, when I arrived on location the script was different than the one I’d originally read. My character was sycophantic to Michael Myers – which is rather self-defeating, if you think about it – and I was the one who brought the Michael Myers costume to the internet broadcast. But Busta Rhymes decided he wanted to be the one who wore the costume. ‘OK,’ I said. ‘How about killing me off first, then?’
“The producers were reluctant, because they didn’t want to kill off one of the ‘bigger names’ that early,” he recalled, “but I told them that since I wasn’t wearing the costume my character really didn’t have anything to do except stand around and wait to get killed. ‘We know how this goes,’ I told them. ‘I’m not getting out of this alive one way or the other. Besides, let’s mess with the horror aficionados a little bit and surprise them by killing off the kid from American Pie earlier than they might expect.’
“They thought about it for a little while and finally said: ‘OK.’ I wasn’t being difficult, and they eventually did understand my point of view.”
(Indeed, Holly told me that when he auditioned, he was told straight-out that Rhymes might want to wear the Michael Myers costume, so that concept evidently survived all subsequent rewrites!)
Rookie of the Year was a sleeper hit in the summer of 1993 and found an even larger audience on cable and home-video. After all these years, Nicholas is delighted by its ongoing popularity. “I have a handful of Rowengartner jerseys that I bring to the shows, and not long ago I was on Yahoo Sports talking about its 25th anniversary. I opened a 25-year-old pack of baseball cards on-camera, and as a joke snuck in one of my Henry Rowengartner cards!
“I’m not a big ‘sports guy’ in general, but because of Rookie of the Year I have a special affinity with the Cubs. I’m still friendly with (team owner) Tom S. Ricketts and the Cubs organization, and it was great to see them win the World Series – finally! – in 2016.”
Just recently, Nicholas enjoyed a reunion with Ricketts when he took his son, Nolan, to see the Cubs play the Dodgers in Los Angeles. “The Dodgers beat the Cubs that night,” Nicholas sighed, “but they won the next night.”
The evening proved unexpectedly special in other ways, too. Nolan is himself an aspiring actor, and recently appeared in an episode of the hit Fox sitcom “New Girl.” A few seats away at the game sat Jake Johnson, who played Nolan’s father on the episode, and also in attendance with actor Joe Mantegna, who played Nicholas’ father in the 2014 crime thriller 10 Cent Pistol.
“My son saw his screen father Jake Johnson, and I saw my screen father Joe Mantegna … only in Hollywood!”
Recently, Nicholas has broadened his his horizons into screenwriting, producing, and directing.
“I’m still acting but I’m also the boss,” he said, laughing. “It’s a combination of narcissism and nepotism!
“I definitely love movies,” he said. “I’ve seen all the Hitchcocks – at least once – I’ve seen Fellini, Truffaut … I gave myself my own education without going to film school.”
In addition, Nicholas is a talented musician. In fact, he’ll play an acoustic set at Wizard World Comic Con. He released his debut album Without Warning in 2008, and his subsequent albums include Heroes Are Human and Security, and with the Thomas Ian Nicholas Band he’ll be performing in August at the Viper Room in Los Angeles and then at the House of Blues in Chicago.
Next up for Nicholas is a role in James Franco’s adaptation of Steve Erickson’s novel Zeroville, opposite James and Dave Franco, Joey King, Megan Fox, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride, a featured role in the horror remake Nosferatu opposite Doug Jones in the title role, the indie comedy BitCoin, and Honor, a gritty New York cop drama set in the ‘80s in which he stars and directs – which he compares to such ‘70s cop cult classics as Across 110th Street (1971) and The Seven-Ups (1973). He’s also working on a new television series, “The Strange Ones.”
Actor, filmmaker, husband, father, rock ‘n’ roller … where does he find the time to do everything?
“I don’t do a lot of sleeping,” he joked. “I think the key for me is really to get a sponsorship from a coffee company, because I live on coffee.”
Although Wizard World bills itself as a Comic Con, it could just as easily be labeled a full-blown bacchanal commemorating all things – and there are many — pertaining to pop culture.
“Wizard World combines all areas of pop culture in one place,” observed John D. Maatta, the CEO and President of Wizard World, Inc. “Whether it’s movies, T.V., music, art, comics, science fiction, anime, cosplay – there is something for everyone. From our entertainment stage, which has activity from the start of the event all the way to the end, from our programming with a wide variety of panels, to the celebrity autographs or photo ops, we give fans many options at all times. Some refer to it as a ‘Comic Con’ but it’s really a pop-culture celebration, as you suggest.
“We do 16-20 shows per year, and our staff is very experienced at running the event efficiently,” Maatta praised. “That experience helps us solve problems quickly and enhance the experience of attendees, exhibitors, celebrities, artists, and guests.”
With so much scheduled over the three-day period, “We’ve enhanced the WizardWorld.com website to help fans better plan out their day,” he said. “Sure, there will be plenty of surprises, but the best advice is to prioritize the programming sessions, autograph and photo ops, and entertainment they want to experience first, since those are at set times. But also set aside time to explore. Many attendees tell us they never knew they were so interested in art or learned something in a panel they (simply) happened to drop into.”
As a Wizard World veteran, Nicholas concurs. “I always tell people that they really ought to go every day, because there’s always something fun going on. There’s great entertainment on stage, and non-stop action the entire time. There’s a little bit of everything and a lot to digest.”
“We couldn’t be more excited to be putting on our first show in Winston-Salem,” Maatta said. “Also, kids 10 and under are (admitted) free, and we have a dedicated area for them with games, coloring, two-kids costume contests … Wizard World is really for the whole family.”
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2018, Mark Burger.
The Wizard World Comic Con will be held 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Aug. 3, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Aug. 4, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Benton Convention Center, 301 W. Fifth St., Winston-Salem. There are numerous ticket packages available at varying prices. For a complete (and updated) schedule of events, advance tickets or more information, visit the website.