The three-day convention draws thousands to the Tampa Convention Center for bold-faced celebrity meet-and-greets and some 400,000 square feet of merchandise mania, panels, vendors, comics, cosplay, videos, toys, action figures, Star Wars, anime and video games. That means you need more than a Darth Vader costume to survive. Here's what you need to know
The masses will get lectures, Q&As and good ol'-fashion foam fighting. Wait — foam fighting? Herewith, our picks and best guesses for the coolest, or at least oddest, panels at Comic Con:
Way of the Sword
Apparently there's a statewide "foam-fighting organization" that encourages "medieval combat in a safe, intense, action-based environment." Which, of course, sounds AWESOME. Noon-9 p.m. Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Room 3-4.
Nerdy Speed Dating
More than a few events at this year's Comic Con are geared toward pairing up the lovelorn, which we find hopeful and downright life-affirming. (Really!) Interestingly enough, for this buzzworthy event, women get in free; men have to pony up $5. Our advice to potential daters? Do your best to NOT quote Star Wars, Star Trek or basically any movie, book or video game with "star" in it — for the first few minutes. Just go with us on this, okay? You'll want to stand out among all the fake-cocky Han Solo impressions. 1-2:30 p.m. and 8-9:30 p.m. Saturday, 1:30-3 p.m. Sunday, Room 5-6.
Myth of the Fake Geek Girl
The main gist of this panel appears to be: "Dude, does that Victoria's Secret model really watch Doctor Who?" Yes. Yes, she does. Deal with it, guys. 4-4:50 p.m. Friday, Room 24.
How to Make Friends and Fall in Love (in Video Games)
You see the trend here, right? With the increased mainstream popularity of Comic Cons the world over, the not-just-for-shut-ins demographics are changing rapidly. This panel will examine "how video games do friendships, relationships and romance and why it's important that we improve the way it's done." 9-9:50 p.m. Friday, Room 25.
How I Met Your Mother and Learned to Move On
Enough love talk! Let's have ourselves a rip-snortin' pop-culture throwdown! Get ready for an intense debate about the best, and worst, season finales, including The Sopranos, Lost, Dexter, The Office and, of course, How I Met Your Mother. 10:30-11:20 p.m. Saturday, Room 7-9.
Sean Daly, Times pop music critic
Nerdy Family Double Dare
Children of the '80s and '90s fondly recall Double Dare, the messy game show that elevated the then-fledgling Nickelodeon channel. It pitted teams of kids to answer trivia questions or accept physical challenges like catching a ping-pong ball with cymbals while blindfolded or running an obstacle course while plopping into piles of whipped cream. It was hosted by Marc Summers, and he will be in Tampa to host Nerdy Family Double Dare contests (entries are closed but you can watch) at 12:30 and 4 p.m. Sunday. Summers will even sit down for a panel at 2 p.m. to wax nostalgic about the early days of Nickelodeon and the series.
If you go
The convention runs noon to 6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday (after hours events 6 p.m. to midnight both nights) and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St., Tampa. Admission is $30 each day or $60 for three days. 12 and under free. (610) 570-4273.
Tip: Buy tickets in advance: The first thing you see when arriving at Comic Con is the long line that snakes out to the street on a blistering August day just to get in. Buy your tickets in advance and you still will have to get in a line, but that line moves much faster. Thursday is the last day to order tickets online at tampabaycomiccon.com.