With Emperor Palpatine, King Joffrey and Daryl Dixon, Tampa Bay Comic Con will be a magnet for local geeks, gamers and cosplayers with their wallets out at the Tampa Bay Convention Center this weekend.
The three-day celebration of all things nerdy is back again, with another lineup of artists from comic books, cartoons, science fiction, fantasy and other fandoms. The "con," as people in the know call it, is as much an excuse to dress up like your favorite characters and go people-watching as it is to meet celebrities, watch panel discussions and buy hard-to-find fan gear from vendors.
But this year's fest will also be for lovers with not one but two weddings planned for Saturday. And several sessions of Nerdy Speed Dating will be set up for geeks to find their matches.
Last year, the convention drew an estimated 50,000 people. This year may match that with fan favorites like Sean Astin of Lord of the Rings, Ian McDiarmid of Star Wars, Jack Gleeson of Game of Thrones and Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead.
Here are some tips for making the most of Comic Con.
IF YOU GO
Getting in: Admission is $30-$40 single day, $60 for three days, 12 and younger free at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St., Tampa. Doors open at noon Friday, 8 a.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday.
Early ticket pickup: You can pick up will-call tickets at the convention center from 5 to 8 p.m. today at the second-floor box office. Online ticket sales end today, so you still have time to order tickets online and print them at home to save yourself from a line.
• Check out the event schedule in advance at tampabaycomiccon.com.
• If you plan on buying photo ops or autographs, do that first before they sell out.
• Autographs and photo ops are cash-only. There will be multiple ATMs on site.
• Get there early because parking spaces disappear and lines to get in are long. See tampagov.net/parking for parking locations and maps.
• Expect to line up at least an hour early for the most popular celebrity panels.
• Wear comfortable shoes. Again, there are long lines, many in the heat outside.
Star Wars panel: Sith Lords unite! Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) and Ray Park (Darth Maul) recall their time in a galaxy far, far away on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Ballroom D. And McDiarmid holds a Q&A Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
Norman Reedus: A fan favorite from The Walking Dead, Reedus (Daryl) won't appear on any panels, but will be in the building for autograph ($80) and photo ($100) sessions on Saturday and Sunday in the "star autographs" area of the main hall.
Sean Astin: The Lord of the Rings star, left, will be on panels at 1 p.m. Friday and 3:30 p.m. Saturday and doing autographs and photo ops throughout the weekend. Read or interview with Astin at tampabay.com/things-to-do.
Game of Thrones: A bad boy of GoT, Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon), right, shares his experiences making a mess of Westeros at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday in Ballroom D.
Jenna Coleman: The darling of Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), left, recounts experiences in the Who-Verse at 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday in Ballroom D.
Ninja Turtles: All four voice actors from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series will be on a panel Friday at 4 p.m. in Ballroom D. That's Cam Clarke (Leonardo), Townsend Coleman (Michelangelo), Barry Gordon (Donatello) and Rob Paulsen (Raphael).
Ivana Baquero and Terry Brooks: Writer Terry Brooks (the Shannara series) and actor Ivana Baquero (The Shannara Chronicles, Pan's Labyrinth) talk about the fantastic world that has been adapted from Brooks' books to Baquero's new television show. Saturday 9 a.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in Ballroom D.
Live stream of celebrity panels: Don't feel like waiting in a huge line? Watch a live stream of all celebrity panels happening for the day in Room 3.
Two weddings: Keep your eyes peeled Saturday for the lord of the ring bearer uniting two couples in geeky matrimony Saturday. The weddings are scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in Room 24 of the convention center.
Manly Man Facial Hair Contest: Judging is Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Room 16. Compete in categories Just the Stache, Best Partial Beard, Longest Beard, Grizzliest Beard, Best Beard Styling and Audience Favorite.
Twisted Toonz Presents: Star Wars Episode V Celebrity Script Read: It's the only place where Princess Leia can sound like Yosemite Sam. Saturday at 1 p.m. in Ballroom D.
Cosplay Contest: One of the most popular events, hosted by LeeAnna Vamp with a special musical performance by Geekapella, Orlando's only geeky a cappella group. It begins at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Ballroom D. Categories include TV, movies, comics, video games, anime and Star Wars. Prizes of $50 to $500 for best in show.
Cosplay Parade: No judging, just show up and show off Sunday. Meet at 11 a.m. in Room 5 for the 11:30 a.m. parade Sunday.
The Game Cave: In Ballroom A, there's "more fun than your mom's basement," with 8,000 square feet of board games, card gaming, tabletop gaming, role playing games, Werewolf and more from morning until midnight each day.
League of Little Legends Kids Zone: For families with children age 10 and younger who are looking for fun and free crafts and activities. Noon-6 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Comic Con Film Festival: Room 3 of the convention center will be running films all weekend for the second annual film festival, where you can vote for the Audience Choice Award.
Nerdy Speed Dating: For 18 and older only. Several sessions of matchmaking will be set up on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Sign up at event registration.
Dagorhir Foam Sword Fighting Arena: The fast-paced, full-contact combat simulation is both a sport and a game, with a nationwide network of fans. The area is in Room 7 from noon to midnight Friday; 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Times staff writer Christopher Spata contributed to this report. Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.