It's a lovely time to be a devoted fan. Of pretty much anything, really.
Tampa Bay Comic Convention once again turns the Tampa Convention Center into a palace of pop culture this Friday to Sunday. The annual event draws more than 50,000 people downtown to celebrate under the vast umbrella of geeky interests, the tent poles of which are superheroes, sci-fi, video games and anime. There will be celebrity guests, performers, discussion panels, games and thousands of square feet of shopping.
You'll see plenty of Wonder Women and stormtroopers wandering about, but just as many fabulous yet obscure costumes that will make casual fans ask "Who is that?"
Comic books and the movies they wrought were the genesis off all this, of course, but these days, the word "comic" in a big convention's name is more a nod to history, a signifier of a certain pop culture attitude, than a literal tie to stories told via panels and speech bubbles on paper.
Comic conventions covering way more than just comics isn't new, but it feels like convention fandom is growing again to include — confusing and loaded as this term might sound — "the mainstream."
This year's celebrity guests include Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy), who are firmly planted in comic book universes. Bonnie Wright, whose role of Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films has no tie to comic books, is still unquestionably a part of traditional geeky fandom.
But another guest on the list this year who caught our eye: Creed Bratton, best known for playing Creed on The Office. A hit, legacy-network sitcom at a comic con? Nothing seemed cult or geeky about The Office when it premiered in 2005, and yet still, it feels right that he'll be there.
Infinitely cool pop star Billie Eilish has called The Office her "strange addiction" and sampled it for a song. Teenagers continue to discover it (and name-drop it in New York Times profiles, as Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter Apple did). So many people watch and re-watch it via streaming that it has been called the most popular TV show on Netflix, with no qualifiers.
Blogs aggregate news tidbits of a possible Office reboot like they're poring over Marvel movie casting rumors. It might be more popular now than when it was still on TV.
Yet so many people still feel like The Office is their thing. That's what these cons are all about, right? Find your thing, broad or obscure, and geek out unabashedly.
Here's what else is happening at Tampa Bay Comic Convention this year.
NEW THIS YEAR: A WEDDING CHAPEL
Though there have been weddings at Tampa Bay Comic Convention before, it has never been this easy to get hitched at the event.
Pandamonium Events, a new company specializing in niche theme weddings, will perform free wedding ceremonies and vow renewals from 1 p.m. to midnight Friday in Room 17.
Wedding parties should come in cosplay. Ordained minister, notary and Pandamonium owner Lisa Lawson will wear a neutral black robe while she performs the ceremony, though she will be wearing her Wonder Woman watch.
She'll be taking walk-ins all night, but you can make a reservation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. There will be a DJ and some complimentary champagne after each ceremony for a quick, 15-minute reception.
"They just need to stop by the courthouse and get their marriage license first, and it will be official," Lawson said.
SPECIAL EVENTS HIGHLIGHTS
Cosplay Contest: The con's most popular event, with costume categories including TV/movies, comics, video games, anime, Star Wars and kids, and prizes ranging from $50 to $500. Sign up to compete in Room 1. 1 p.m. Saturday in Ballroom D.
Celebrity Q&As: Amy Jo Johnson (Power Rangers), 2 p.m. Friday; Bob West (voice of Barney), 5 p.m. Friday; Bonnie Wright (Harry Potter), 9:30 a.m. Saturday; Adam Baldwin (Serenity, Firefly), 11 a.m. Saturday; Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy), 3:30 p.m. Saturday; Kevin Conroy (voice of Batman), 5 p.m. Saturday; Creed Bratton (The Office), 2 p.m. Sunday. All take place in Ballroom D.
I Want to Be a Pokémon Master: A popular Pokémon trivia contest with prizes for both competitors and audience members. 10 a.m. Saturday, Room 13.
Voice Over — I Want In!: Interested in getting into voice-over work? Hear how from working voice actors for TV, movies and commercials. 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Room 13.
Find a full schedule of events at tampabaycomicconvention.com.
ALL WEEKEND LONG
Exhibitor Hall: Comic books, graphic novels, toys, magazines, cards, artwork, games, apparel, cosplay, guest artists and celebrity guests. Noon to 7 p.m. Friday, Exhibitor Hall, third floor.
Florida Foam Fighting Sword Fighting Arena: Learn the rules and some basic fighting techniques from representatives of several foam sword combat organizations from around Florida. Then choose a foam weapon and shield and step into the arena for three short rounds of soft, spongy combat. Noon to 9 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Room 24.
Padawan Kids Zone: An area for families with kids 10 and younger featuring crafts and activities. Noon to 6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Room 10.
The Grid: A whole room for console gaming and casual tournaments hosted by Gamers on the Edge, a charity that maintains and raises money for game rooms at children's hospitals. Noon to 10 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Room 10.
Nerdy Speed Dating: Get ready to have six 10-minute dates over the course of an hour using the Project: First Dates card game, which uses story-based questions to help break the ice. There are five sessions daily. Sign up at Room 1 or in advance at tinyurl.com/y2vs5hoq.
Contact Christopher Spata at email@example.com or @SpataTimes
IF YOU GO
$30 to $60 (12 and younger are free). Noon to midnight Friday, 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St., Tampa. tampabaycomicconvention.com.