Tampa Bay Comic Con returns to the Tampa Convention Center this weekend, expected to attract more than 55,000 like-minded nerds mingling with cosplayers, celebrities, artists and sellers of comic books and collectibles.
The star power took a dramatic hit with the last-minute cancellation of actor Val Kilmer. But the lineup this year still includes actors Rose McGowan (replacing Kilmer), Kate Beckinsale, Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek's original Lt. Uhura) Khary Payton (Ezekial in The Walking Dead) and the "inconceivable" Wallace Shawn from The Princess Bride.
Here are five things to know before you go to Tampa Bay Comic Con:
1. Leave realistic guns at home: After an incident at Phoenix ComicCon on May 25, when a heavily-armed man allegedly bypassed security and blended in with the costumed crowd, realistic metal weapons have been banned at comic cons across the country.
Stephen Solomon, co-founder of Tampa Bay Comic Con, said there are some aspects of security he doesn't want to publicize for fear of anyone trying to get around it, but you can expect bag checks and lines like in years past.
"Security makes the call on what is recognizable," Solomon said. For cosplay artists, "we recommend you use something that's instantly recognizable as fake."
Items specifically banned:
• Any real firearms.
• Any metal weapon with an exposed point or sharpened edge (swords, spears, arrows).
• Metal or wooden baseball bats or clubs.
• Any weapon or prop that produces a flame.
• Airsoft, paintball or pellet weapons.
2. Get the app: With a packed schedule of Nerdy Speed Dating, a cosplay contest and parade, a film festival and celebrity Q&A sessions, plan your day well in advance to make the most it. This is the first year without a printed program. All the schedules, panels, contests, registrations and a list of celebs and their Q&A sessions can be found at tampabaycomiccon.com or on the event's free phone app.
3. Brace for long lines: Expect a long, snaking line in the hot sun to enter the convention center, so pack snacks, water and an umbrella if you want some shade. You can skip one line by buying tickets online in advance, but there will still be a line to pick up your ticket and security checks.
4. Essentials: Bring cash if you want celebrity photo ops and autographs. Wear comfy shoes for a lot of walking. Bring a portable phone charger — you don't want your phone to die when you're trying to get a selfie with Captain America.
5. Don't miss: Events and features you'll want to check out include:
• Celebrity Q&As: They are all held in Ballroom D, so line up early to see: Payton at 4:30 p.m. Friday; Michael Biehn (Terminator and Aliens) 1:30 p.m. Friday and also Saturday at 6 p.m.; Beckinsale at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday; McGowan at 1 p.m. Saturday; and Shawn at 10 a.m. Sunday.
• Make time to check out the artist alley, where comic artists, authors and local crafters are selling the geekiest wares.
• See elaborate costumes in the cosplay contest 2:30-4 p.m. Saturday. And anyone can join the cosplay parade at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
• Give Back to Hogwarts: A special concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter series is from 7:30-9 p.m. Friday.
• Rick and Morty parkour show: Watch your favorite characters parkour out of trouble, performing cirque-style feats Saturday at 10:30 p.m.
• Geeky talent showcase: Sign up for this talent show Sunday at 12:30 p.m. when guests will show off their Pokerap skills or Avatar-esque juggling moves, among other hidden talents.
• TBCC film festival: With films all weekend and awards on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. celebrating local filmmaking.
• Penguin Knife Fight: This improv show will be at 2 and 8:30 p.m. daily.
• Ultimate Manly Man Facial Hair Contest is at noon Saturday in Room 24.
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Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SharonKWn.