UPDATE: Over the weekend, two of the convention’s celebrities, actor Paul Bettany of the Marvel movies and Dr. Who’s Christopher Eccleston, canceled their appearances in Tampa.
TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Comic Convention returns this weekend for what will feel like its first normal fan gathering since 2019, with thousands of costumed fans ready to get their hands on lots of merch and pictures with celebrities.
The superhero count is high this year, with appearances from William Shatner, the original Capt. Kirk from “Star Trek”; and Dean Cain, the hunky ‘90s Superman from the television series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.” There are also actors from “Doctor Who,” “Once Upon a Time” and “The Walking Dead,” as well as artists, writers and voice actors making appearances. This weekend brought a last-minute cancellation by critically acclaimed actor Paul Bettany, who plays Vision in the Marvel universe.
The fan convention — don’t call it “comic con” because they were sued by San Diego over the name — will be Friday through Sunday at the Tampa Convention Center. It was canceled in 2020. In 2021, it opened the doors with mask warnings as the Delta variant was raging through the state. Even though there is a new subvariant circulating, organizers say things are feeling a little closer to normal this year.
The convention, which started in 2010, drew more than 50,000 people before the pandemic. Organizers said ticket sales are strong, and that they’re on track to exceed last year’s attendance and be on par with pre-pandemic attendance numbers.
Bettany was going to be at the convention on Saturday and Sunday doing paid photo ops and autograph sessions. Those who purchased access to those events will be able to get refunds. And comedian James “Murr” Murray from the hit TV show “Impractical Jokers” will be performing his show “Murr Live” on Friday night. Tickets start at $40.
For the comic geeks there will be lectures, question-and-answer sessions and subsets of geekdom, like the foam sword-fighting arena and a giant assortment of Lego displays including sci-fi, Harry Potter and Star Wars displays. A Lego play brick area will be set up for kids of all ages to create their own masterpieces.
New this year is a Haunted Hints escape room, and video game fans can try out new ones in the Gamers Edge exhibit. After taking a pause last year, the Lip Synch competition is back by popular demand, said Ro Malaga, spokesperson for the comic convention.
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More than mere karaoke, ”they have movements and choreography,” Malaga said. “It’s great people-watching.”
There will be a massive dealers room, which sells fans both commercial and handmade merchandise. Expect to see lots of professional cosplayers milling about and available for pictures.
An after-party Saturday night will take attendees via the city’s free trolley service to the Loft in Ybor City, Malaga said.
Download the app: The convention’s daily schedule of events is available for smartphones, with a reminder feature for events of interest. Find it at tampabaycomicconvention.com/app.
Arrive early: There tends to be a long line that snakes out to the street on a blistering summer day. Bring a fan and hydrate.
Download tickets: When you buy your tickets in advance you still have to get in a line, but that line moves much faster. Order tickets at tampabaycomicconvention.com.
Bring cash: Some autographs and photo ops are cash only. There will be multiple ATMs on site.
Parking: See tampagov.net/parking for parking locations and maps. Come very, very early if you want a spot in the convention center’s parking garage.
In addition to Shatner, Bettany and Cain, other celebrities schedule to appear for photo ops and autographs include:
- James “Murr” Murray of “Impractical Jokers”
- Gates McFadden, who played Dr. Beverly Crusher in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”
- Rebecca Mader, the evil Wicked Witch of the West on ABC’s “Once Upon a Time”
- Charles Martinet, the voice actor best known for voicing Mario in the Super Mario video game series. (He also voices related characters such as Baby Mario, Luigi, Baby Luigi, Wario, Waluigi and Toadsworth).
- “Walking Dead” actors Khary Payton, Paola Lázaro and Ross Marquand, who will also be available for a group photo
- Elizabeth Maxwell, voice actor for Ymir in “Attack on Titan” and “My Hero Academia”
- James David Frank, the Green Ranger Tommy Oliver on “Power Rangers”
If you go
Tampa Bay Comic Convention: Day passes are available for $30 for Friday or Sunday and $40 for Saturday. Children younger than 10 get in free with the purchase of an adult pass. Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St. tampabaycomicconvention.com.
Hours: 11 a.m-10 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.