For the past few months, Bakersfield Comic-Con organizer Steve Wyatt has waged a battle against possibly his greatest foe: lack of awareness.
"I've been doing some real grass-roots advertising. I've set up for every First Friday as an artist. I've been pumping away, and people say, 'Oh, there's a (local) Comic-Con?'"
Yes, there is a Bakersfield Comic-Con, and it takes place this Sunday. In its sixth year, the event seems to have been hit by powerful gamma rays, Hulking out with a bigger venue (Bakersfield Marriott), new contests and classes and a guest list more than tripled from last year (up to 24 from seven).
This year's headliners include actor Parker Stevenson, who starred in "Baywatch" and the 1970s series “The Hardy Boys”; famed cartoonist and creator of "Groo the Wanderer" Sergio Aragones; and Kathy Garver, best known for her role as Cissy in the late-'60s sitcom "Family Affair."
The show will feature appearances from Bill Morrison, co-founder of Bongo Comics, known for its "Simpsons" comics; "Simpsons" comic artist/writer Scott Shaw; Dan Brereton, creator of "The Nocturnals"; Tone Rodriguez, associated with Bongo Comics and the TV show "Dexter"; current "My Little Pony" artist Tony Fleecs; and Derek Fridolfs, now writing "L'il Gotham" for DC.
Also filling out the roster are local artists or those with local ties, including Erwin Ledford, Stu Livingston, Ashleymarie Sey Lively, Jacqueline Monroe and Dale Berry.
Along with signing at the show, some guests lead the four classes about how to build and publish a comic. Shaw will discuss character creation; Brereton will cover story and script writing; Rodriguez and fellow artist Drew Johnson will illustrate drawing using Brereton's sample script; and Stephanie Lesniak and Brandon Bracamonte will get into how to publish your comic.
"I've been wanting to run a show with classes for many years," Wyatt said. "I like teaching. It's just a matter of scheduling. And I had to build the show up to a point that I could fill the classes. The class can accommodate up to 50 people, and I think we can fill the classes."
Building up the show has also included the introduction of an official costume contest. While always encouraged, costumed guests will now be able to compete, with the top adult winning $100 and the top child (15 and under) netting $50. There are cash prizes for second through fourth place and fan favorites as well.
Adding to the fun is a Bakersfield Comic-Con mascot contest, which Wyatt has been promoting online. The focus is on the design, not the drawing, and guests can bring two sketches (any medium) of their proposed mascot. The winner will be announced at the show and will receive lifetime passes to the con and Bakanime, the other local show Wyatt organizes in November.
In a strike against the Empire, attendees can "shoot the stormtrooper." For $1 for three Nerf dart shots, guests will take aim at members of the San Joaquin Squad of the 501st Legion, a Star Wars costuming group.
Calling for your hard-earned dollars will be the raffle, which includes some comic hardcovers, Simpsons and other action figures, an assortment of DVDs, Muscle Machines toy cars and a rare "Spider-Man" teaser poster that was pulled in the aftermath of 9/11. Tickets are $1 and can be put toward the lot of your choice.
Last year, Wyatt said the raffle raised about $1,700, which he divided among two local Vons locations that conduct a food- matching donation effort in November. Those donations go to the Bakersfield Rescue Mission, which Wyatt said is a cause that hits home for him.
"I'd been poor too long to not help out people. We've stood in line for government cheese. It was a long time ago before my daughter was born -- she's 23 now -- but my son was born."
With a jam-packed guest lineup, gaming area and 40 vendors, Wyatt hopes to draw a larger crowd.
"Last year we had just over 1,000, up from 750 the year before. (This year) I'm hoping 1,200 to 1,500. That's my goal."
And Wyatt isn't worried about any competition with the Kern County Fair.
"Comic-Con comes once a year. The fair comes once a year -- for two weeks. Most of the kids want to do the night stuff, and the games are open later. They can still do that."