TAMPA — Janet Varney breezed into Room 4 of the Tampa Convention Center, iced Americano coffee in hand, ready to talk about Korra. The hit Nickelodeon cartoon The Legend of Korra, where Varney voices the eponymous teen heroine, opened a whole new world of fandom to the veteran actor.
"There are fans for all kinds of shows but we really hit the jackpot in terms of a show that's so quality that it inspires this love and this loyalty," she said.
Dante Basco, voice of Prince Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender series, explained how his decade-long relationship with Avatar creators has given him a whole new generation of fans, kids whose parents remember him as Rufio from Hook.
"I was on the set of (Antonio Banderas film) Take the Lead and I'm playing a teenager so there's all these younger guys. We were acting one day and I said 'I've got to go do this cartoon,' " he recalled. "The guy said, 'You're Prince Zuko?!?' I started realizing from hanging out with him that this show is that big and also a generational thing."
Both actors will spend Saturday signing autographs, meeting fans and answering questions about the shows that have endeared them to the big crowds expected at Metrocon, Florida's largest anime convention.
Neither has appeared at the festival before, but appreciated the intimacy of smaller conventions.
"As I started doing these cons around the world, this is going on everywhere. That's this magical thing. And it's cool to be unique and it's cool to like different things," Basco said. "It's the time of the geek. The geek inherited the earth.''
Varney saw the parallels between Metrocon and smaller film festivals.
"The smaller cons are more manageable. Because Comic Con in San Diego is crazy and it's very commercialized and it's corporate and it's all about money and selling, selling, selling. ... I think people want to go to smaller specialized cons. Cons like this feel more about the groundswell of fans."
Basco hasn't been to Tampa before, but the weather certainly felt familiar as he stepped off his plane Friday morning.
"It's like the Philippines. Just wet, the weather. Humid," he said. "I'm all about fraternizing with the locals, so you never know what might happen."
Varney has visited once before with friends and found out something surprising.
"We were out on a boat in the gulf and everyone was saying 'Just jump in the water,' " she said. "I thought, 'No way!' But it was surprising ... the water being warm like that."
Fans can talk 'toons with Basco and Varney at Metrcon panels Saturday. Autograph sessions start at 1 p.m. and Basco will hold a meet and greet at 5:30 p.m. Metrocon continues through Sunday at the Tampa Convention Center. Daily passes at the door are $30-$35. (813) 898-1310. metroconventions.com